Neuroscience is discovering and uncovering more rationale behind our behaviors, attitudes and choices than ever before. At 40 Years of Zen, we put together a short list of fun facts about the neuroscience behind some common life experiences that we thought you might enjoy as well.
Did you know that active dry yeast is the new gold? With COVID-19, a trend has emerged of people posting photos of delicious looking homemade bread in every shape, size and color. So much so that there is now a global shortage of yeast. What does this have to do with the brain? During times of stress our bodies crave the relaxing, pleasurable neurotransmitter, Serotonin. The bread boosts our insulin levels which in turn raises our tryptophan, an amino acid, levels. With the increase of serotonin, we can sleep and relax better in times of stress. Just keep in mind that the gluten from bread is going to increase inflammation and weaken your immune system. So, it’s best to stick to gluten free baking ingredients such as coconut flor, nut flours, cassava, tapioca, arrowroot and even white rice flour. Get the carbs and serotonin you need, while keeping your immune system strong.
In a study, The Brain and Mind Institute measured the brainwaves of a group of people listening to a live music performance and compared it to them listening to a recording. While listening to the live performance, the participants’ brain waves sync’d up. The researchers concluded that the concert goers have a more enjoyable time due to this unique bond that allows the individual to feel a part of a collective. According to Jessica Grahn, who co-led the study, “When the brain waves were synchronized in this live condition, they synchronized around the rate at which people tend to feel the beat.” So not only do the brainwaves sync up, but they adjust to music being played! Perhaps musicians are playing their audience as much as their instruments.
A few years ago, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio made a groundbreaking discovery. When he studied people with damage in the part of the brain where emotions are generated, they could not make decisions. They could describe what they should be doing in logical terms, yet they found it very difficult to make even simple decisions, such as what to eat. Many decisions have pros and cons on both sides — shall I have the chicken or the turkey? This is because emotions drive action. The emotions signal that the thought processing is complete. A brain without emotion is like a car that is in motion but has no breaks.
When we see a loved one in emotional distress, it’s our very nature to reach out and touch them, to soothe them. Just like a toddler asking his mother to kiss his new bruise. Does human touch actually reduce someone’s pain? Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience Lab at CU Boulder designed a study to investigate this. They discovered that when one partner of a couple was in pain and touched by their counterpart, their brains shared a high level of synchronization through the Alpha Mu band. The more the couple’s brains synchronized the more their pain diminished!
Two friends gazing out a lake, witnessing a dance performance or reviewing some new science discovery will share the same levels of engagement as well as the same distraction and attraction cycles. The study, “Similar neural responses predict friendship”, indicates that people tend to be friends with individuals who see the world in a similar way. When their neural response patterns are measured as they engage in an activity together, a clear pattern emerges which allows researchers to predict the strength of two people’s social bond.
With a cutback on our social activities and social connections, many of us have more free time on our hands. This extra time has led to an uptick in the number of people who are pursuing new skills and studies. There is also a rationale behind it related to our brains. This may be because human beings are motivated to learn new skills to invoke a feeling of accomplishment related to their personal growth during periods of high stress and hardship. When we learn we are generating new neural activity patterns which assists us in building resiliency to handle life’s challenges.
We will not be going to a concert anytime soon, but when we do finally get the chance to attend, we will be paying more attention to our connection with the performers and all of the people in the audience with us. Learning about the latest discoveries in neuroscience is interesting and gives us more opportunity to bring awareness to our responses in any given situation. We can enhance our responses with science and lean into the things that are going to make us do and feel better.