How Facebook Could Be Working Hand-in-Hand With Your Own Brain Chemistry

Why do you keep going back?

Social networksDid you know that 864 million people use Facebook on a daily basis? Or that the time spent on Facebook per user per day is more than twenty minutes?

What’s very interesting is that much of the success of Facebook can be attributed to brain chemistry.  The way Facebook is set up triggers the release of dopamine, a brain chemical that is linked to pleasurable feelings of reward, and also oxytocin, the “love hormone” that helps us feel close to people we care about.

One of the things about Facebook that releases the feel-good chemical dopamine in our brains is simply looking at pictures of attractive people.  And because these people are usually folks that we know and care about, it can also increase the release of oxytocin.

Looking at pictures of people we care about can also lower our stress. According to Charles Raison, M.D., “One of the few things, I think, that is absolutely clear in the world scientific literature … is this repeated finding that the more social connections a person has that are positive, the better their health is going to be, the less illnesses they’re likely to have, and less likely they are to get depressed.”

The stress hormone that is at the root of many of the negative effects of stress is called cortisol. When we feel supported by friends on Facebook, it can help lessen the pain caused by the release of cortisol.

It’s no wonder Facebook is so popular. After all, it uses our own brain chemistry to keep us coming back!

Eat Your Way to a Healthier Mind

To Lower Alzheimer’s Risk, Eat More of These 10 Foods (And Less of These 5)

Steak BiteAccording to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alzheimer’s is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, with one in three senior adults being impacted by the disease.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that a new study offers hope for people who want to lower their risk for Alzheimer’s.

Researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, have developed a diet plan (which they refer to as the MIND diet) that they say may reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s by as much as 53 percent. That’s for people who follow the diet rigorously. But even people who follow the diet “moderately well” see results, decreasing their risk of developing Alzheimer’s by about a third.

The MIND diet divides foods into 10 food categories that are healthy, and 5 food categories that are to be avoided or limited.

The foods you should be eating come from these food groups: Green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil, wine (one glass a day).

The foods you need to limit are the usual suspects. What’s nice about the MIND diet is that that these foods aren’t eliminated, just restricted. That means that juicy steak isn’t out of your life forever.  Here are the five food groups from which you should indulge sparingly: red meat (limit to four servings a week), butter and margarine (limit to less than a tablespoon per day), cheese (limit to one serving a week), pastries and sweets (limit to five servings to week), and fried and fast foods (limit to once a week).

Introverts and Extroverts Have Different Brains

Where do you get your energy?

PrintMost people think of themselves as either an extrovert or an introvert, and they often think it has to do with how outgoing or shy they are.

And yet introversion and extroversion are actually based on where we get our energy. An easy way to tell if you’re an introvert or an extrovert is to answer this question: After a long week of work, which would you rather do: spend some quiet time alone OR go out with friends? The introverts among us would prefer some alone time, because lots of interaction can be physically and emotionally draining – introverts lose energy through human interaction and need alone time to recharge. Extroverts, on the other hand, gain energy from interacting with others, so at the end of a busy work week, they crave time with friends and loved ones to recharge.

Research shows that the brains of extroverts and introverts actually look different, with each group processing “reward” differently. Compared to introverts, extroverts show greater activity in the amygdala and nucleus accumbens (areas linked to the brain’s reward system) when faced with risky, surprising, or unfamiliar situations. In other words, the brains of extroverts are wired to experience greater reward from unfamiliar situations. These same situations, however, can be overly stimulating for introverts, which can cause them to shut down.

There’s also research that shows that extroverts and introverts also process stimuli in different areas of the brain. For extroverts, new stimulation travels a relatively short path through the areas of the brain associated with taste, touch, and auditory and visual processing. For introverts, however, new stimulation takes a much longer, more complicated path through the areas of the brain associated with planning, remembering, and solving problems.

There is no “good” or “bad” to either side of the spectrum. In fact, extroverted people can be shy and introverted people can love public speaking. What’s important to know is that the brains of introverts and extroverts are wired differently. It’s also good to know how people on each side of the spectrum like to be treated. Check out these graphics for lots of helpful tips on the care and nurturing of the introverts and extroverts in your life!

Introverts

Extroverts

Chocolate Improves Memory…In Snails!

Can I have a bite?

iStock_000003537039_MediumIn the category of “weird news of the day,” it turns out that scientists have discovered a way to study the impact of dark chocolate on memory skills. But not the memory skills of humans, many of whom would crawl on all fours to be chosen to eat chocolate for the advancement of science. No, the participants selected for this particular study were actually snails.

Researcher submerged snails for 30 minutes in either regular water, or water containing epicatechin, a flavonoid found in cocoa. Whenever the snails extended their breathing tubes, researchers poked them with a stick. The lead study author, Ken Lukowiak, Ph.D, compared it to tapping a sleepy student on the nose every time he yawned in class—eventually the student would remember not to yawn. Would the snails do the same?

Snails in “regular” water remembered the lesson for about three hours. Snails in the “chocolate” water remembered the lesson for 24 to 48 hours. According to Lukowiak, that’s huge. “To go from three hours to 24, you have to have altered gene activity in the neurons that make the memory.”

Luckily for us chocolate-loving humans, there are more pleasant ways to get our flavonoids. We say skip the chocolate bath and go straight for the Hershey’s.

Hello? Can You Hear Me?

How Smartphones Are Changing Your Brain

iStock_000028965232_Medium

People who own smartphones often end up using their thumbs—a lot!—swiping through various touchscreens on an ongoing basis throughout the day.

All that thumb action can create physical changes in the brain, researchers say, leaving certain regions more active or even enlarged.

Scientists suspected this might be the case, since something similar happens to violinists. Regions of the brain associated with dexterity are larger in musicians who have played the violin for some time. Would smartphone thumbers show similar changes in brain activity?

Deciding to test the theory, researcher Arko Ghosh hooked 37 people—26 of whom frequently used  touch-screen smartphones—to something called an electroencephalograph. Sure enough, people who had used their smartphones a lot in the previous ten days showed increased activity in the part of the brain related to their thumbs. The eleven subjects who used cellphones with regular keypads did not show that same increased activity.

The moral of the story? We’re not sure what it all means, yet, but Ghosh did sum up his research by saying, “The digital technology we use on a daily basis shapes the sensory processing in our brains, and on a scale that surprised us.”

Liar, Liar

Tempted to Lie or Cheat? Some Scientists Say You’re More Likely to Give in to Temptation in the Afternoon

iStock_000000335618_MediumNot to give anyone an excuse for bad behavior or poor choices, but researchers are saying that “cognitive tiredness” later in the day can play a role in the decision to give in to temptation.

A number of studies seem to reveal similar findings. In one study, folks were far more likely to cheat on a task in the afternoon than in the morning. In another study, they were more likely to cheat after doing other tasks (like memorizing numbers) that left their brains somewhat fatigued.

Other researchers don’t agree. They say the studies that support what some call “morning morality” don’t take into consideration the difference between “morning” and “night” people. Their point is that you can’t really assume someone is more cognitively tired in the afternoon because that person may actually be operating at their peak at that time of day.

Try Brain Training for Yourself!

aAre you ready to give your brain a workout? One of the best ways to boost your brain power is to stress your brain with intense mental exercise, kind of like you might work out a muscle. When you do this, it strengthens the brain’s core cognitive skills, which happen to be the same skills your brain uses to think and learn.

This six-minute video walks you through the first couple levels of a LearningRx brain training exercise. There are many more levels of this exercise that our trainers can get you to. And this is just one exercise! LearningRx brain trainers have more than a hundred exercises and levels to choose from as they customize every workout to give you a faster, smarter, more efficient brain.

Try it and see what you think! And if you can feel your brain working this much just from being prompted by a video, imagine what it would be like working face-to-face with a personal trainer who really knows how to push your brain beyond where you thought it could go!

The Negative Effects of Electronics

Making Your Child’s Bedroom a “Screen-Free” Zone

53411926_thumbnailWhile past studies have linked televisions in children’s rooms to a reduction in sleep, until recently few studies examined how kids’ sleeping patterns are impacted by smaller electronics such as smart phones and tablets.

Studies on the impact of small electronics and quality of sleep are emerging now, and the findings are not good.

In fact, in one recent study, researchers found that children who slept near small screens—including those on phones and other portable electronics—reported about 21 minutes less sleep than peers who slept in electronic-free bedrooms. The kids who slept near electronics also reported feeling more sleep deprived.

Why are televisions and other electronics having such a negative impact on sleep? There are a number of possible reasons, including bright lights, sounds and alerts.

Twenty one minutes less sleep per night might not seem like a big deal, but reduced or interrupted sleep is linked to all sorts of unsavory things including obesity and poor school performance.

Bottom line, experts are suggesting keeping children less than two years old away from electronic screens altogether, and creating “screen-free zones” for older children. And one of those zones, clearly, should be the bedroom.

Talk is Cheep

A Study of Bird Communication Yields New Insights Into How the Brain Processes Sound

iStock_000019872102_LargeWe’ve known for a long time that humans are capable of assigning meaning to sounds based on context. In other words, we often figure out the meaning of a sound (take “bear” and “bare,” for example) based on where the sound falls in a string of other sounds.

It’s a fabulous skill that requires rather sophisticated cognitive abilities. And now researchers have discovered that humans are not alone in this ability. In fact, the ability to interpret sounds based on context has been observed in swamp sparrows, a grey-breasted bird found in North American wetlands.

Researchers discovered that the swamp sparrows’ “vocabulary” is made up of subsets of roughly ten different notes. What’s fascinating, however, is that the birds appear to assign different meaning to the same note depending on where it falls in a snippet of song. Researchers know this because the exact same note elicited fierce territorial behavior when heard in one location in a string of notes, and no response at all when heard in another part of the “sentence.”

What does this mean for humans? The discovery may help researchers better understand the building blocks of language in humans. In the meantime, it provides a fascinating glimpse into the world of avian communication. Turns out our feathered friends may have more to say than we thought.

Use the Holidays to Develop a Critical Part of Your Child’s Brain

iStock_000017348857_LargeThe holidays provide a great opportunity for developing an important part of your child’s brain. And, no, we’re not talking about filling winter break with hours of extra homework. Between family gatherings, meals, shopping, gift wrapping, scheduling, and everything else, the last thing you want to do is carve aside time for extra math or reading—and the good news is that you don’t have to! In fact, the hustle and bustle of the holidays is the very thing you can use to help develop the frontal lobe of your child’s brain.

The frontal lobe is the part of the brain that thinks, plans, makes decisions, controls emotions, pays attention and gets things done. And the more opportunity your child has to exercise that area of the brain, the stronger and more efficient those skills become. You can give your child these kinds of opportunities by involving him or her in tasks like planning meals, creating and following a gift-giving budget, prioritizing holiday tasks, following a recipe, writing the family holiday newsletter, or planning a dinner party.

Holidays offer another brain benefit, and it has to do with all the socializing that often takes place.
Studies show that social interaction improves brain functioning, so encourage your child to put down that smartphone and interact with family friends and relatives during gatherings. What might help? Prepare your child with interesting questions he can ask an eccentric aunt, or give her a list of little known facts and tell her to discover which fact goes with which relative.

So the next time things get crazy and you’ve got a million things to do, delegate some of the fun to your kids. You will be developing their frontal lobes and possibly giving them stronger social skills, as well. At the very least, you’ll benefit from the extra helping hands.

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