Friday, November 28, 2014

Boosting Your Brain's "Positive", 4

But you say; "I come from a long line of depressed ancestors, including immediate family members." Many of us did. That's no reason to throw up your hands and wallow in an unhappy mindset, negative feelings, and listless behaviors. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a positive psychologist at the University of California at Riverside, and colleagues have been studying sets of twins. The results have led to the idea of an inborn set point of happiness. Current estimates are that half of one's happiness set point is inherited, 10 percent relates to your environmental circumstances, and 40 percent is under your own power to control. What can you do to up the ante for happiness?  Regardless of your inherited predisposition, gratitude can be honed. Robert Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Mike McCullough of the University of Miami suggest keeping a daily gratitude journal. Just write a few sentences (long-hand electronic) about something for which you are grateful. Research participants who did this for just three months reported higher levels of optimism and fewer visits to physicians. It helped them focus on what they had rather than what they did not have. Remember the old proverb: If you plan to be thankful for what you'll get, be thankful for what you already have.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Gratitude Perspective

Researchers are taking another look at gratitude and how a grateful mindset positively impacts mind a and body. Today is Thanksgiving in America. Not every country even celebrates Thanksgiving. One think for which I'm grateful is that the two countries I have lived in both have a special day earmarked--not the same day in each country, but a day nevertheless. Although Thanksgiving celebrations dated back to the first European settlements in America, it was not until the 1860s that Abraham Lincoln declared the last Thursday of November to be a national holiday in the United States. After the harsh winter of 1620 killed a sizable portion of the community, the American colonists reportedly decided to collaborate with locals in collecting food for the upcoming winter. It worked and in 1621 they had a potluck to give thanks for the abundance. If you're not "up" on Thanksgiving history, take a few minutes to watch a video clip or two. And find at least one thing for which to be thankful. It will positively impact your brain and body!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Boosting Your Brain's "Positive", 3

As you may already know, studies have shown that the left cerebral hemisphere appears linked with positive emotions, while the right cerebral hemisphere appears appears to be associated with the protective emotions: anger, fear, and sadness. Both PET scans and electroencephalography have revealed that the brains of generally happy people tended to show greater activity in the left prefrontal cortex; whereas the right prefrontal cortex tended to show greater activity in the brains of those who experienced more negative emotions, anxiety, or depression. And what is happiness? It can be defined in many different ways. Proponents of positive psychology tend to use the term 'happiness' to describe a subjective sense of well-being including the sense that your life is worthwhile (along with a relative lack of negative feelings, so-called, such as sadness, fear, and anger). Since your have a whole brain and, unimpaired, can access all parts of your brain, this is an emerging belief that you can choose to control your thoughts--at least at some level. When you become aware of a negative thought, be mindful of it and take action as appropriate and needed. Then choose to replace that negative thought with a positive one. Bottom line? You're not responsible for every thought that crosses your brain. You are likely responsible for the thoughts you choose to hang onto, ruminate over, and take action around.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Booting Your Brain's "Positive", 2

Think of your brain as your innate command center for the molecular chemical--neurotransmitter and hormonal--changes that occur in both your brain and body when you embrace and live a positive mindset. When your brain receives a pleasure stimulus (or even anticipates a pleasurable experience), it activates its reward system in the limbic system. This results in the release of dopamine, the feel better chemical that goes at least to the amygdalae (those twin almond-shaped brain organs that process emotion) and to the prefrontal cortex (the portion of the brain right behind your forehead that contains high-level executive functions including conscious thought).   [Dopamine release is also associated with addictive behaviors, many of which may be pleasurable but are harmful in the long term such as smoking, taking drugs, gambling excessively, engaging in promiscuous sexual activity or even viewing pronography.]  Endorphins, your brain's opiate-like chemicals, are also associated with pleasurable sensations be they released by eating chocolate or by physical exercise. Turns out than maintaining an attitude of gratitude can also have a similar effect.  More tomorrow.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Booting Your Brain's "Positive"

How positive is your mindset? How positive is your self-talk? How positive is your communication? How positive is your life? Turns out the emerging field of positive psychology is designed to study happiness, vitality, and meaning in life. Where do you place yourself on Andrews & Withey’s single-question Delighted-Terrible Scale?
How do you feel about your life as a whole, taking into account what has happened in the last year and what you expect to happen in the future?
7  delighted
6  pleased
5  mostly satisfied
4  mixed
3  mostly dissatisfied
2  unhappy
1  terrible 
Andrews, F. M., & Withey, S. B. (1976). Social indicators of well-being: Americans’ perceptions of life quality. New York: Plenum Press.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Choices, Choices, 2

Your brain has only two hemispheres. When considering options it will assign an option to each hemisphere for consideration, dividing its brain power, if you will.  If you give it three or four or five options to consider, it will focus on two of them and, consequently, may miss or overlook an option that could be important or desirable in the long term.  Interestingly enough, people who try to analyze multiple options at the same time and agonize over making the perfect or optimum choice, often end up less satisfied with the decision they finally do make, which sometimes is to not make a choice (a choice in and of itself). Practice evaluating only two options at a time. Compare A and B, and make a choice. Let's say you select A. Now compare A and C and choose between those two options, and so on.  Knowing that you never can have it all, that you always give up something to get something, you may prefer to weigh the pros and cons of each option separately. Ask: "What do I get with A and what do I give up? Which one outweighs the other, what I get or what I must give up?"  Practice.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Choices, Choices

Are you the type of person who wants to evaluate all the possible choices that could possibly be available to you before selecting one?  The more choices you have to consider, the smaller the number that seem really viable.  It can be so confusing that you find yourself just walking away and not making a selection, which, of course, is a type of choice in and of itself. Making choices can be exhausting whether you're doing it in a shopping mall or searching for something on the internet. Researchers at the University of Minnesota did a study in a shopping mall. They found that people who made more shopping choices were less able to pay attention and complete simple mathematical problems. The study conclusion was that if you want to focus your attention on an upcoming activity or if you need emotional energy to handle challenging situations, you are much better off to limit the number of choices you make beforehand. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Aging Perspective and Humor, 2

Old is when:

  • A sexy baby catches your fancy and your pacemaker opens the garage door
  • Your sweetie says, "Let's go upstairs and make love," and you reply, "pick one because I can't do both."  (Anyone for one-story living?)
  • Getting l"ucky" means you find your car in the parking lot
  • Getting "some action" means you don't need to take any fiber today 
  • You'd don't really mind where your spouse goes as long as you don't have to tag along
  • Going braless is an instant and inexpensive face lift
  • An "all-nighter" means not having to get up to pee
So be glad you are still around to grow older and hone your sense of humor so you can stay younger longer . . .

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Aging Perspective and Humor

Yes, things do changed as the brain and body age. It would be downright ludicrous to pretend they don't. However, if more than half the factors that impact aging are within your partial if not complete control, and if 70 percent of how long and how well you live is in your hands--you have a huge role to play. And humor can play a very positive part in healthy aging. Think ahead. Prevent what you can. Identify and manage what you can't prevent. Be serious about life and avoid taking every little think too seriously. Laugh about aging--a lot. Humor is just an exaggeration of real life. It's healthy medicine or at least it helps the medicine go down more easily. The other day I got an email containing definitions for "old." I'd love to know the author but none was listed. Nevertheless, here are a couple definitions and I'll include the rest tomorrow. Enjoy them. Think up some more and send them along--I'd be happy to pass them on. Old is when:

  • Your friends compliment you on your new alligator shoes and you are barefoot
  • Your friends mention that your shirt is rather wrinkled and you don't have one on
  • Your doctor cautions you to slow down (instead of the police doing so)
More tomorrow.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Autism Spectrum and Seinfeld

In September I reported new research from neuroscientists at the University of Toronto and Case Western Reserve University related to the brain and the autism spectrum. Imagine my delight when I heard an interview with Seinfeld that mentioned autism. The interview was reported on many sites, Huffington Post being one of them. Seinfeld mentioned he thought his brain was likely somewhere on the autism spectrum and described it as just an "alternate mindset." Another time he reportedly said it was just "another way of thinking." Brilliant! Naturally, people only know their own brain, and there is a great tendency to stereotype what has come to be the preferred way of thinking--your own will likely fall into that box--and other ways of thinking tend to be perceived as disordered. Education typically teaches to the stereotype; business hires to the stereotype; parents raise children to the stereotype. Those that fall outside the stereotype are often marginalized if not outright ostracized, bullied, punished, or you name it. And yet the world loves those "outside-the-stereotype" brains, especially comedic brains that share so much laughter as they bring to the listener's attention a perspective hitherto never perceived in exactly that same way before.  I so agree with Seinfeld. The autism spectrum brains do exhibit "another way of thinking." It is only "bad" if compared against the stereotype. It is often "great" when compared against itself and what that brain offers to the world. In this, the age of the brain, my brain's opinion is that it is high time people started looking at what different brains can offer rather than whether or not they match the age-old stereotype...

Friday, November 14, 2014

Brain and Trick Eye

Having never had the opportunity to experience a Trick Eye Museum, imagine my delight to discover that one had recently opened in Singapore. I had the great good fortune to experience this trompe l’oeil with a personal tour guide, Roger Wong. Located at Resorts World Sentosa's Waterfront, the Singapore Trick Eye Museum includes more than 80 three-dimensional paintings and optical illusions in 800 square meters of space. These works are presented in six themed zones: Love, Circus, Masterpiece, Safari, Fairytale, and Adventure. And “adventure” is exactly what it is! Created with the local context in mind, the works reportedly aim to capture Singapore's essence as a cosmopolitan city with a thriving ecosystem, and feature influences from both Eastern and Western cultures to reflect the island's status as a cultural melting pot. If you get the opportunity to go to a Trick Eye Museum, take it. I had lots of fun when I went. For once in my life I felt “taller.”

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Brain and Trick Eye

Enter Trick Eye Museums. They’re based on trompe l’oeil—a French phrase meaning ‘deceive the eye.’ And that’s exactly what they do. The museum’s 3D artworks look as if they’re coming out of the frame or that you’re stepping into the frame or putting yourself in the picture, so to speak. There are any number of interactive settings that allow you to become part of the landscape from flying on a witch’s broom, careening through Alaska on a dogsled pulled by enthusiastic and energetic Huskies, to water skiing on the snouts of two powerful dolphins. Cameras are allowed (no flash) and by carefully taking pictures from just the right angle, you can come away with interesting photos of yourself interacting with trompe l’oeil settings. I had heard of these museums but never been in one. There reportedly are now three Trick Eye Museums in South Korea (Seoul, Hongdae, and Busan) but they were opened after my trip to that country. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Brain and Trick Eye, 2

Trompe l’oeil is sometimes referred to as perspectival illusionism. A comparable illusion to Trompe-l’oeil is found in forced perspective, a technique that employs optical illusion to make an object appear farther away, closer, or larger or smaller than it actually is. Used primarily in filmmaking, photography, and architecture, it manipulates human visual perception by using scaled objects and the correlation between them and the vantage point of the spectator or camera. You’ve likely seen this in a variety of movies and may not have realized what was happening. For example, Wikipedia points out that this technique was utilized in The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring with some enhancements for use in moving shots. Portions of sets were mounted on movable platforms that would move precisely according to the movement of the camera, so that the optical illusion would be preserved for the duration of the shot. The same techniques were used in the Harry Potter movies to make the character Hagrid appear to be a giant. Props around Harry and his friends are of normal size, while seemingly identical props placed around Hagrid are in fact much smaller. More tomorrow.

Brain and Trick Eye, 3

The technique of forced perspective is used in some theme parks, as well. You may have seen it, too, but may not have realized what you were actually seeing. Disneyland, for example. The Sleeping Beauty Castle in America’s Disneyland and in the Hong Kong Disneyland makes use of forced perspective. The actual height is reported to be 77 feet. However, the scale of the architectural elements is much smaller in the upper portions of the castle as compared with the scale at the foundation. This makes the castle seem much taller than it really is. A similar technique is used for Cinderella’s Castle at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and at Tokyo Disneyland. The actual height is listed at 189 feet. Again, the scale of the architectural elements gets smaller the higher up you go on the castle. The human eye thus perceives the height of the castle to be significantly taller than it really is. Hmm. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Remembrance Day

I grew up knowing it as "Remembrance Day." Later I learned to refer to it as "Veterans Day." The name is not all that important. What the day stands for--is. If you know your history, what was known at the time as “The Great War”  officially ended when the Treaty of Versailles was signed on June 28, 1919, in the Palace of Versailles in France. However, the actual fighting had stopped seven months earlier when an armistice between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th in the year 1918 (the year my father was born). Voila, Remembrance Day in Canada and Veterans Day in the United States. I love living in a "free" country. The debt I owe to those to fought for this can never be repaid. I can remember.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Brain and Trick Eye

Does your eye really see what is actually there? Although you are sure it does, maybe not. Trompe l'œil is an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create optical illusions that the objects or landscapes depicted are three dimensional. Many of them actually exist on a flat surface, however. (You may have seen this in some sidewalk murals.) Dating from before the Baroque period, murals from Greek and Roman times were known to exist in places such as Pompeii, where a typical trompe l'œil mural might depict a window, door, or hallway, intended to suggest a much larger room. There is an old Greek story that purports a contest between two renowned painters: Zeuxis (born around 464 BC) and Parrhasius, a rival artist. Zeuxis produced a still life painting so convincing that birds flew down to peck at the painted grapes. Parrhasius asked Zeuxis to judge one of his (Parhasius’) paintings that was behind a pair of tattered curtains in his study. Parrhasius asked Zeuxis to pull back the curtains, but when Zeuxis tried, he could not, because the curtains were Parrhasius’s painting. Of course, that made Parrhasius the winner. More tomorrow.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Momilies and the Brain, 2

Momilies are phrases you heard in childhood that keep repeating themselves over and over in your brain. You may want to keep some of the momilies you heard in childhood because they are affirming and encouraging. You also may want to replace some momilies with new ones. Take a look at these.  Send me examples of what you create.
  • You are worth my time, money, and energy--simply because you exist
  • I love you, regardless of the fact that I don't always like your behaviors
  • Everyone makes mistakes, it's part of being human
  • Mistakes give you the opportunity to learn to do things in a better way
  • I don't have all the answers, no one does. Together we can create a plan.
  • In life, you always give up something to get something; some things cost too much--and I'm not just talking money here
  • I understand you want a tattoo; you can do that after age 18. Right now you can use the stick-on style.
  • I am always willing to listen to your opinion; but as the parent, I need to make the final decision
  • We can afford _________  or __________ so we need to choose one option
  • I want you to live a long time and have a happy life. Let's talk about the pros and cons of becoming sexually active at age 15

What do you want your children, nieces, nephews, their friends, or students to recall about you?  Create new momilies that may change what the next  generations remember.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Momilies and the Brain

Are you familiar with  the term "momilies?" It rhymes with the word homilies. Whether or not you know that word that rhymes with homilies, your brain is likely filled with them. phrases you heard in childhood; phrases that keep repeating themselves over and over in your brain. Some common ones include:

  • Because I said so
  • Don't cross your eyes or they'll stay that way
  • I'm only doing this for your own good
  • Don't talk back to me; I'm the adult here
  • If I ever spoke to your Grandma that way, I ...
  • You're full? Then I guess you're too full for dessert
  • Just because your friend jumped off the bridge doesn't mean I have to let you do it, too
  • Stop crying or I'll give you something to cry about
  • Eat what's in front of you--think of all the starving children in China 
  • Don't you dare look at me in that tone of voice
  • I may not be right but I am definitely your mother...

From the perspective of adulthood, you may chuckle at momilies but the bad news is that you tend to "do to others as we were done to." What do you want your children, nieces, nephews, their friends, or students to remember? You can create new momilies that may change what the next generation recalls.  More tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Chemobrain, 2

Do you have chemobrain? Do you know someone who does? Take heart. Several studies now indicate that there is likely something you can do about it. That is great news! Study conclusions include:
·         Memory training and speed of processing training are promising treatment options for breast cancer survivors with self-reported cognitive concerns. (Chemobrain.)
·         Speed of processing training also had positive effects on memory performance which warrant further study. Importantly, both interventions also had transfer effects on specific self-reported measures of cognitive function, symptom distress, and quality of life which impact individual functioning and well-being.
·         In addition, both interventions were highly satisfactory/acceptable to breast cancer survivors.
·         These pilot study findings point to the importance of full-scale efficacy testing of these interventions in a larger, more diverse sample of breast cancer survivors, and possibly other cancer survivors.

There’s one caveat: you are the only one who can do it! Start now!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Chemobrain--Fact or Fancy

The word "chemobrain" has circulated for years, often slightly below the radar: something that has been touted, denied, argued about, and you name it. It is now pretty well accepted, however, that perhaps 75% of cancer survivors may experience “foggier” thinking as an outcome of cancer and chemotherapy treatment. Although scientists are divided on the exact cause of chemobrain, it can be a difficult and limiting residue of cancer treatment. But what to do about it?  An independent peer-reviewed study has found that breast cancer survivors who used a set of Posit Science's visual brain training exercises available as part of BrainHQ showed significant improvements in memory, brain speed, anxiety, depression, and health-related quality of life--post surgery and chemo. Avoid discounting the recommendations simply because the study used brain training exercises that were part of the BrainHQ programs. There are other options available ( for example) to investigate. The bottom line is to get serious about doing challenging mental aerobic brain exercises for at least 30 minutes a day. More tomorrow. 

Disclaimer:  The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. Posit Science Corporation is the developer of the speed of processing (Insight®) program used in this study. Posit Science Corporation holds the patent for and a proprietary interest in this software. The software was provided at cost of the CD by Posit Science. Dr. Karlene Ball is on the Board of Directors of Posit Science and has stock in the company. Dr. Unverzagt has received support for training for an investigator initiated research from Posit Science.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Chemicals and Autism, ADHD, etc.

Abstract of Lancet Neurology paper

Neurodevelopmental disabilities, including autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, and other cognitive impairments, affect millions of children worldwide, and some diagnoses seem to be increasing in frequency. Industrial chemicals that injure the developing brain are among the known causes for this rise in prevalence. In 2006, we did a systematic review and identified five industrial chemicals as developmental neurotoxicants: lead, methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls, arsenic, and toluene. Since 2006, epidemiological studies have documented six additional developmental neurotoxicants—manganese, fluoride, chlorpyrifos, dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, tetrachloroethylene, and the polybrominated diphenyl ethers. We postulate that even more neurotoxicants remain undiscovered. To control the pandemic of developmental neurotoxicity, we propose a global prevention strategy. Untested chemicals should not be presumed to be safe to brain development, and chemicals in existing use and all new chemicals must therefore be tested for developmental neurotoxicity. To coordinate these efforts and to accelerate translation of science into prevention, we propose the urgent formation of a new international clearinghouse.