Thursday, May 30, 2013

Lessons from Mother #3

Here are more tongue-in-cheek lessons from mother. When you were a kid did you ever tell yourself, “I will NEVER say that to my kids,” only to hear yourself doing so?

• My mother taught me medical science: “If you don’t stop crossing your eyes, they are going to get stuck that way! Then what will you do?”

• My mother taught me the circle of life: “I brought you into this world, and I can take you out!”

• My mother taught me about weather: “You room looks like a tornado went through it!”

• My mother taught me about contortionism: “Just look at the dirt on the back of your neck, will you?”

• My mother taught me about politics: “You can’t go out in public looking like that! What will people think of me?”

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Physical Benefits of Laughter

Studies have shown many positive physical benefits from mirthful laughter. These include:

1. Deeper respirations with increased oxygen to your brain

2. Temporarily lowered blood pressure

3. Enhanced immune system function

4. Reduced aches and pains from endorphin release

5. Decreased levels of cortisol and adrenalin (stress chemicals)

6. Reduced muscle tension

Are you getting a minimum of thirty (30) mirthful laughs per day? If not, your body and immune system are waiting!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Congruence and Marketing

Researchers have known for years that a lack of congruence (verbals, tonalities, and nonverbals do not match) can negatively impact a two-person communication; the receiver typically picks up on the nonverbals more than the verbals. Now researchers have moved on to study neuromarketing, with similar results. Neuroscientist Spencer D. Kelly of Colgate University studied the effects of gestures by measuring “event related potentials,” brain waves that form peaks and valleys. A specific negative-valley wave, known as N400, occurs when the brain stumbles over an inappropriate word (e.g., “She spread shoes on her muffin”). Gestures and body language appear to be at least equally important to the verbals in commercials and, ideally, need to be congruent for successful marketing. A mismatch between the verbal and physical means of marketing communication caused a shift in the viewers’ brain waves that was similar in reaction to misused or unexpected words.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Thales and the Brain

Thales (was that a first or a last name?), an engineer by trade, was the first of the Seven Sages or wise men of Ancient Greece. He was thought to be born about 624 BC in Miletus, Asia Minor (now Balat, Turkey) and died approximately 547 BC. Known as the first Greek philosopher, mathematician, and scientist, he founded the geometry of lines, so is given credit for introducing abstract geometry. He is also acknowledged by a number of sources as the one who defined the constellation Ursa Minor and used it for navigation. Impressive. What caught my attention, however, is a quote attributed to him: Know yourself¾the most difficult thing in life is to know yourself. Yesterday I was contacted by an individual who had just arrived at an increased awareness of his brain’s innate energy advantage, this after taking the BTSA 10 years ago and being upset at the time because the feedback results didn’t match either his current job or his developed skills). Now, years later, exhausted and diagnosed with an autoimmune disease, he is now open to looking at his data from a different perspective. I think Thales figured out an important truth way back then, a truth that somehow appears to have disappeared from general consciousness. It is difficult, often a huge and rather frightening difficult, to figure out who you are in terms of innate brain function, especially if you’ve spent a good portion of your life being told by others who you are, even though they have no idea who they are, much less who you are. My experience? Knowing yourself is worth the work! (By the way, another quote attributed to Thales:A multitude of words is no proof of a prudent mind." I like that one, too!)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

More on Brain Plasticity

The hippocampus is believed to be the brain’s primary learning and memory center and plays critical roles in processing, storing, and recalling information. This seahorse-shaped structure is highly susceptible to damage through stroke or lack of oxygen and is thought to be critically involved in Alzheimer’s disease. Life scientists from UCLA and Australia have now identified regions of the brain that are able to create alternate pathways to help compensate for the lost neural function. These complex new neural circuits are often far from the damaged hippocampus site. In rat-brain studies, parts of the prefrontal cortex were seen to take over when the hippocampus was disabled. Areas in the prefrontal cortex compensated in different ways, with one sub-region (infralimbic cortex) silencing its activity and another sub-region (prelimbic cortex) increasing its activity. This is the first demonstration of such neural-circuit plasticity and could potentially help scientists develop new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, stroke, and other conditions involving damage to the brain.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Six Degrees of Neuron Separation?

Complex behavior always involves multiple parts of the brain communicating with one another, with one region’s message affecting how another region will respond. Fortunately, the brain is heavily interconnected. Researchers say you can get from any neuron in the brain to any other neuron in about six synaptic connections. Classically, specific brain circuits have been linked to dedicated types of brain functions. Recent research by UCLA’s Michael Fanslow and Moriel Zelikowsky in collaboration with Bryce Vissel at Sydney Australia’s Garvan Institue of Medical Research has revealed some fascinating and encouraging results about the ability of the brain to develop alternate brain function connections. Studies of rat brains with damage in the hippocampus revealed that the brain was able to recruit alternate circuits that allowed the brain to compensate for some of the damage. This is exciting as it offers promise for targeted treatment of memory disorders. More tomorrow . . .

Thursday, May 23, 2013


Did you hear the news item reporting that a famous actor apparently is convinced that he suffers from face blindness or prosopagnosia, (from the Greek prosopon for face and agnosia for ignorance)? it’s not that the individuals are unable to recognize a human face, it’s that they have difficulty recognizing the same set of features when they see them again. For a good many years prosopagnosia was believed to be very rare and stem from some type of brain injury. That impression has changed based on studies by a team of German researchers. Their conclusions, published in the American Journal of Medical Genetics, showed that this is a highly heritable condition (e.g., they speculate it may be caused by a defect in a single dominant gene). It is more common than previously believed, estimated to affect about 1 in 50 people. Of course the condition varies widely: some individuals are able to memorize a limited number of faces, while others have difficulty recognizing their own face in group pictures. Most prosopagnosics learn to cope early on by training themselves to distinguish people based on cues like hairstyle, voice, gait, or body shape; or avoiding places where they could unexpectedly run into someone they know; or pretending to be lost in thought (unfortunately giving rise to the assumption that they are “stuck up”); or acting friendly to everyone; and so on. While I typically have some sense about whether or not I’ve seen a specific face before, I rarely know WHERE that was. My modus operandi is simply to say, “I believe we’ve met before. Please remind be when and where.” Knowing about prosopagnosia and its estimated prevalence gives you the option of not taking it personally when it appears someone has failed to recognize you . . .

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Names and More Names

Have you paid attention to the names that have been given to offspring of the "famous," so called? If you are born in the United States, chances are good that your parents may give you any names they want—no matter how bizarre they may seem to others. If you are born in some other country, maybe not. New Zealand reportedly released an updated list of 77 unacceptable baby names (e.g., Royal, Duke, Major, Bishop, Majesty, J, Lucifer, Knight, Lady, Judge, Royale, Messiah, T, I, Queen, II, Sir, III, Jr, E, V, Justus, Master, Constable, Queen Victoria, Regal, Emperor, Christ, Justice, 3rd, C J, G, Roman numerals III, General, Saint, Lord, . [full stop], 89, Eminence, M, VI, Mafia No Fear, 2nd, Majesti, Rogue, 4real, * [star symbol], 5th, S P, C, Sargent, Honour, D, Minister, MJ, Chief, Mr, V8, President, MC, Anal, A.J, Baron, L B, H-Q, Queen V). And New Zealand isn’t the only country taking an interest in names foisted on babies. In Germany, the baby’s names must clearly indicate gender. And in Iceland, if the names are not already on the National Register of Persons, the parents must submit an application, which will be reviewed by a federal committee that ultimately rules on the application, addressing grammatical concerns along with potential effects the name will have on the child later on. In Sweden, first names are not to cause offense or discomfort for the one using it. ( has some interesting commentary.)

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Choking and Rumination

Rumination can interfere with concentration and performance of motor tasks, resulting in the phenomenon of choking. Athletes usually perform better when they trust their bodies rather than thinking too much about their own actions or what their coaches told them during practice, at least according to researcher Juergen Beckmann PhD, chair of sport psychology, Technical University of Munich in Germany. Something as simple as consciously trying to keep one’s balance, for example, may produce imbalance, as was seen in some sub-par performances by gymnasts during the Olympics in London. Research has shown that rumination is associated with the brain’s left hemisphere. It’s the right hemisphere that is associated with superior performance in automated behaviors, such as those used by some athletes. The right hemisphere controls movements of the left side of the body, and the left hemisphere controls the right side. Too much “rumination,” therefore, appears to activate the left hemisphere, which may result in choking. Researchers have been attempting to find ways to activate the right hemisphere and capitalize on the brain’s automated behaviors. More on that tomorrow.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Enacting Metaphors and Creativity

People are often encouraged to “think outside the box,” especially in corporations that are trying to increase profitability and/or turn an enterprise around. Creativity is a highly sought-after skill (although outside-the-box thinking actually terrifies some administrators who ask for ideas and then shoot them down almost as fast as they are presented—perhaps from fear of taking a calculated risk that has no guarantee of success). The “think outside the box” is, of course, a metaphor. And as with many metaphors, suggests a connection between creative cognition and concrete bodily experiences. (It reminds me of the many times my brother and I built creations from large cardboard boxes and played “inside the box”). A group of seven researchers led by Angela K. Leung of the School of Social Sciences at Singapore Management University developed five studies to explore the impact of enacting metaphors for creativity on outcomes of creative problem solving. For example, participants were provided with large boxes and then told to solve a specific problem “outside the box.” Literally. Results showed that embodiment of a metaphor can active cognitive processes in a way that promotes both convergent and divergent thinking and that facilitates the generation of new ideas and connections.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Cortisol and Belly Fat

Is it possible to reduce belly fat? Can you do something to stop the fat-layering impact of cortisol that is released in the presence of phyhsiological and emotional stress including anxiety? Some researchers say yes. When you understand that belly fat is impacted by chronic stress then it seems almost intuitive to develope strategies to manage the chronic stress. Practicing the 20:80 Rule works well for me, as do other relaxation tools such as Brain Breathing, engaging in 10 minutes of mindfulness a couple of times a day, and getting sufficient sleep for your brain. Some people benefit from taking a stress management course. Others make time to play or listen to favorite music. Still others have learned to stop trying to control everything in life, to know your own opinions and to realize that others have different opinions and (all things being equal) that just reflects different brain perceptions rather than an absolutely "right or wrong." Getting regular physicial exercise and drinking plenty of pure water can help as well. Bottom line? The more strategies you have for reducing anxiety and emotional stressors before the adrenalin and cortisol pours out, the more likely you are to reduce the deposit of fat in abdominal cells. This is another of those instances where prevention is typically much better than cure..

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Belly Fat and Stress

Human beings often complain of "belly fat," perhaps females more than males, and studies have linked increase in weight in the belly area to a variety of increased health risks. Studies have revealed that the body tends to respond in the same way to both physiological and emotional stress. When a zebra is chased by a lion, the zebra's body releases adrenalin and cortisol to help is escape. The physical exercise (assuming the zebra outruns the lion) helps to compensate for the adrenalin and cortisol and the zebra doesn't pile on belly fat. In this culture, the human body responds to emotional stress with the release of a similar cocktail of hormones and chemical substances, which can make you feel hungry. Not only that, the body keeps releasing cortisol as long as the stress continues. Cortisol, in part, is designed to tap into your body's fat stores to deliver it to the working muscles... or to move it to another location if your muscles are not exercising. In the presence of anxiety and/or a prolonged stress response, cortisol moves fat from storage areas and relocates it to fat cells deep in your abdomen. Cortisol is also the hormone that helps little fat cells grow into bigger fat cells, all of which contributes to weight gain in the abdominal area (weight gain that doesn't seems particularly interested in reducing itself through exercise or even dieting). So what can you do? Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Gender Speech Differences and FOXP2

In a March Blog I reported on research related to FOXP2, sometimes called the language gene, in a variety of species. For example, when researchers studied vocalization by young rat pups that had been separated from their parents they discovered that the male rat pups made twice as many cries as females. No surprise, the male rat pups had twice as much FOXP2 in brain areas involved with vocalization.. Studies conducted by researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (published in The Journal of Neuroscience) have connected this gene with a possible biological explanation of the reason that female humans generally tend to talk more than male humans. Previous studies have shown that women talk about three times as much as men (an average female speaks 20,000 words a day compared to the average male's 7,000). There are other diferences, as well. Women typically speak more quickly, devote more brainpower to speaking, and tend to be better at small talk. Biologically, the female brain contains higher levels of the FOXP2 language protein, essential for human speach. A small study of human children aged four to five years, who had died in accidents within the previous 24 hours, showed that the brains of the girls contained 30% more FOXP2 than the brains of the boys.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Cajun Words and Phrases

The word “cajun” is slang for the Acadians, French-speaking people from Nova Scotia who moved to the southern part of Louisiana in the 18th century. Cajun French is the label for the phrases and words that the Acadians (or Cajun) speak in Louisiana. A very popular way to speak prior to the 1960’s, it reportedly is once again being taught to the younger generations. Here are some of my favorites:

• Lagniappe (lan-yap) – A little something extra or a nice surprise

• Beignet (ben-yea) – Unique square-shaped donuts

• Wanna get down? – Do you want to get out of the car?

• I was so haunt! – I was embarassed

• I can go wit’ you to de store? – May I go with you?

• Where you at? – Where are you

• What you was doin’ yesterday? – What were you doing yesterday?

• I got a bad wheel! – There is a pain in my ankle or leg

( wonder how they'd say I got a new hip joint? My doc says I now have a far better joint than I had at birth. Smile!)

• Rat cheer – It’s right in front of you

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day

The other day an acquaintance asked me if I celebrated Mother's Day, "since yours has died." Of course I celebrate Mother's day! It give me the opportunity to consciously and deliberately reminisce about the beneficial things my mother did for me. As the years go by, it also allows me to reframe some of the less-beneficial (my brain's opinion) things that happened and let them go. In a larger picture, I also recognize with gratitude all the encouragement and assistance that I have received from other women. Yes, women generally have been socialized to compete with each other (primarily for male attention). Having said that, many women have moved beyond that and provided tips, affirmation, and links with other sources of education and collboration willingly and generously. The farther along I progress in my career, the more certain I am that success results from a complex constellation of factors--one of which is support by a village of wise, caring female brains. On Mother's Day I give thanks for my village of caring female brains and purpose to be a village member for others, as well.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Birth Order and Gay Orientation

According to a large Norwegian study, “the more older brothers a boy has, the more likely he is to be gay. This ‘fraternal order effect’ is thought to stem from prenatal influences, such as male hormone levels in the womb (because boys raised with nonbiological older brothers are not more likely to be gay).” For those of you who have asked, the October/November 2007 issue of Scientific American Mind ( contains an article about the impact of birth order.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Sexual Orientation Continuum

Based on his survey of 18,000 people, Researcher Robert Epstein believes that the terms "gay" and "straight" can be highly misleading.  "Sexual orientation actually lies on a smooth continuum, and the way people state their orientation is often a poor predictor of their true sexual behaviors and fantasies.” Studies have shown that the same continuum of scores exists in the United States and in the average of scores from a dozen other countries. Fewer than 10% of subjects scored as “pure” heterosexual or homosexual. Characterizing sexual orientation properly requires two numbers. One number reflects the person’s mean sexual orientation (e.g., the placement of the person on that continuum). The other number reflects the sexual orientation range (e.g., the amount of “choice” the person has in expressing his/her orientation, which also forms a continuum). According to Epstein, a quiz is available at the following URL:

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Insomnia Foods #4

Did you know that chicken or any type of protein is going to be counterproductive to sleep if consumed at night? According to Russell Rosenberg, PhD and CEO of the National Sleep Foundation, digestion is supposed to slow by about 50% while you’re sleeping. If you eat a lot of protein, you digest the food even more slowly. Instead of focusing on sleeping, your body is focusing on digesting. If you insist on eating a high protein dinner at night, then include complex carbohydrates in your meal to try to moderate the impact of protein on keeping your brain alert. Better yet, eat the protein earlier in the day and try a few complex carbohydrates at dinner, like Jasmine rice or quinoa.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

DFSA and Alcohol

Centuries of experience have confirmed that the drug of choice for drug facilitated sexual assault (DFSA) is alcohol. As the old saying goes, candy is dandy but liquor is quicker. Current statistics from the U.S. Justice Department confirm that 70% of "acquaintance rape" or "date rape" involves the use of alcohol. (Two other drugs are commonly used as well: gamma-hydroxybutyric acid or GHB and benzodiazepines.) Many assailants use alcohol because their victims often willingly imbibe it and can be encouraged to drink enough to lose inhibitions. Some assailants have gone on to commit "rapes of convenience" (e.g., assaulted a person after he or she had become unconscious). Also of note, in most jurisdictions, ex with an unconscious victim is considered rape. According to Wikipedia, the most common types of DFSA are those in which a woman, in a social or business setting at which alcohol is being served, has either ingested drugs willingly for recreational purposes or had them administered to her surreptitiously.

Monday, May 6, 2013

ASE and Food Package Size

How does your brain perceive size of packaging? Studies have shown that food presented in small packages can paradoxically increase consumption. Additional studies by Jennifer J. Argo of the University of Alberta and Katherine White of the University of British Columbia have added to the research. Their research suggests that some women who are low in Appearance Self-Esteem or ASE, are very sensitive to the packaging size of food. Although small packages are sometimes said to help people regulate their food intake, women with low ASE are drawn to such packages by the illusion of control that they offer. In an experiment, undergraduate women with ASE ate more than twice as many gumdrops when the candies were presented in small packages (four to a package) instead of just being available loose in a bowl. Knowledge is power. Knowing this, you have the option of working with your brain to deemphasize the perceived control over overeating that package size provides.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Music and the Brain #3

Another important finding of a study conducted at McGill University in Montreal is that the brain’s nucleus accumbens (involved in forming expectations that may be rewarding) doesn't work alone. The nucleus accumbens interacts with the auditory cortex, an area of the brain that stores information about the sounds and music you have been exposed to. The more a given piece was rewarding, the greater the cross-talk between these regions. Similar interactions were also seen between the nucleus accumbens and other brain areas, involved in high-level sequencing, complex pattern recognition and areas involved in assigning emotional and reward value to stimuli. It appears that the brain assigns value to music through the interaction of ancient dopaminergic reward circuitry, involved in reinforcing behaviors that are absolutely necessary for human survival such as eating and sexual activity, with some of the most evolved regions of the brain, involved in advanced cognitive processes that are unique to humans. This means that the integrated activity of brain circuits involved in pattern recognition, prediction, and emotion allow human beings to experience music as an aesthetic or intellectual reward. (

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Music and the Brain #2

A study conducted at McGill University in Montreal and published in the journal Science in April ‘13 has revealed new information about music and the brain. Researchers wanted to pinpoint the specific brain activity that makes new music rewarding and predicts the decision on the part of a listener to purchase the music. Participants in the study listened to 60 previously unheard music excerpts while undergoing functional resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning, providing bids of how much they were willing to spend for each item in an auction paradigm. An innovative aspect of this study was how closely it mimiced real-life music-listening experiences. Researchers used a similar interface and prices as iTunes. To replicate a real life scenario as much as possible and to assess reward value objectively, individuals could purchase music with their own money, as an indication that they wanted to hear it again. Since musical preferences are influenced by past associations, only novel music excerpts were selected (to minimize explicit predictions) using music recommendation software (such as Pandora, to reflect individual preferences. Watch for study conclusions in the next two blogs. NOTE: you may listen to the music excerpts used in the study:

Friday, May 3, 2013

Music and the Brain #1

A study conducted at McGill University in Montreal and published in the journal Science in April ‘13 has revealed new information about music and the brain. Researchers wanted to pinpoint the specific brain activity that makes new music rewarding and predicts the decision on the part of a listener to purchase the music. Participants in the study listened to 60 previously unheard music excerpts while undergoing functional resonance imaging (fMRI) scanning, providing bids of how much they were willing to spend for each item in an auction paradigm. An innovative aspect of this study was how closely it mimiced real-life music-listening experiences. Researchers used a similar interface and prices as iTunes. To replicate a real life scenario as much as possible and to assess reward value objectively, individuals could purchase music with their own money, as an indication that they wanted to hear it again. Since musical preferences are influenced by past associations, only novel music excerpts were selected (to minimize explicit predictions) using music recommendation software (such as Pandora, to reflect individual preferences. Watch for study conclusions in the next two blogs.
NOTE: you may listen to the music excerpts used in the study if you're so inclined

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Nagging and Communication

Do you know any naggers? I'm not talking about the "nagging" at the back of your mind when you're worried about something. Rather the individuals who annoy or irritate others through persistent faultfinding or continuous urging to do something or other. According to Barbara and Allan Pease, authors of the book Why Men Don’t Have a clue and Women Always Need More Shoes, nagging is a term that is applied almost exclusively to females, although there are males who are naggers, too. Nagging is a human behavior that often occurs when one person wants another person to be different from who they actually are or tries to change the other person into someone he or she was never meant to be. If you are nagging a child, the child may perceive this as "attention." Negative attention is better than no attention and the child will likely continue to exhibit behaviors that result in his/her receiving more of the nagging attention. Nagging is likely a combination of inappropriate expectations combined with less than stellar communication skills. If you are the person being nagged, you may need to set your personal boundaries and kindly communicate to the nagger that their expectations do not work for your brain. If you are the nagger, think again. Do you know of any studies that have shown "nagging" results in positive change?

Read more:

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May Day

Did you grow up celebrating May Day? I did. Perhaps because I grew up in Canada. In fact, the honor of having the longest continually-observed May Day in the British Commonwealth—since 1870—is claimed by the British Columbia city of New Westminster. We typically decorated a little Maypole in our community and although reportedly fading in popularity, we also would make little paper "May baskets," fill them with candy or flowers such as lily-of-the valley. Then we'd place them anonymously on the porches of good friends, ring the door bell or bang the door knocker, and then run away as fast as we can. Somehow this seemed like an extremely fun thing to do! (Reportedly the use of lily-of-the valley goes back to King Charles IX of Franch who received this flower as a lucky charm on the first of May, 1561. There are also reports of "Queen Guinevere" going Maying.) So, regardless of whether we share a May Day history, have a wonderful day. I wonder if I can find a lily-of-the-valley just for old times sake?