It may be an age-old saying that makes most people groan whenever a friend or family member feels the need to say it, but there are actual psychological benefits that come from simply putting on a smile. Researchers have been examining this phenomenon for a few decades now and even though it is not a new age, 21st century discovery, it is nonetheless amazing and unexpected. One would intuitively assume that facial expressions are an external representation of what is going on inside the brain. Classically, facial expressions are considered to be influenced by mood and thought. It seems to be a one-way street in which the brain controls the face, but this is not the case.
Charles Darwin hypothesized that emotional facial expressions are an innate and universal human characteristic. A happy face is a happy face no matter where you are in the world. This theory has been thoroughly explored and psychologists have produced evidence that supports this century-old speculation. This is convenient in a way, because if facial expressions were specific to a geographic region, people would have to learn faces as if they were learning a new language. What a challenge that would be! But the more interesting aspect to these universal facial expressions is that the physical expression can directly influence one’s emotions.
Election Day is almost here! Many people will have their minds already made up when they walk into their local voting station on Tuesday, confident in their choice for President. This is exciting, even if simply that Election Season will finally be over and we can all move on with our lives, as this disgruntled 4-year old girl so desperately wants.
And yet, there will still be some undecided voters who will make their choice on the way to the voting booth. I’m willing to bet that some of these people, especially those who will cast those critical swing-state votes, will enter their preferred candidate’s name with seemingly no sense of the democratic responsibility and power their vote yields, as evidenced by this political cartoon.
The parting words of Ken Jennings in last year’s Jeopardy match against Watson, a computer seemingly able to decipher and process language, are a milestone for robotic innovations. Advancements in neuroscience and robotics have focused on giving robots human-like intelligence and processing skills. This concept has been depicted numerous times in popular culture, many times in terms of robotic rebellion, for example in movies such as I, Robot or WALL-E.
Recent robotics research leaves us with a couple of questions. Are really focusing on the right aspects of advancing in robotic technologies? Instead of perfecting intelligence and processing, why not instead focus on perfecting human emotion? More
“Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all” says the evil Queen of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I don’t deny that growing up on Disney gave me a somewhat skewed sense of reality at times. Wouldn’t it be nice to all have our own magic mirrors, constantly reminding us how wonderful and beautiful we are in the midst of the stress that is life?
A recent study by researchers at Cornell University have shown that we may actually have such a magic mirror – Facebook, as fate would have it. There are varying opinions concerning internet use on our personalities, but this study shows that Facebook can have a short term positive effect on self esteem. More
Ever been in a situation where you had to deal with someone/something that just really PISSED YOU OFF!? Of course you have. After all, we’re all human; we’ve all felt that terrible tingle of insatiable rage wash over us from time to time. It’s a pretty intense emotion, sometimes even frightening in its potential to completely change your whole disposition from that of a mild mannered undergrad to a rampaging Hulk wannabe. Even more interesting (and a bit more terrifying perhaps) is how such an big emotion like anger can be generated by such a tiny section of your brain!
Despite the nigh inevitable incorporation of the frontal lobe in interpreting and modulating emotional responses, when it comes to generating many of the basic motivated behaviors to which mammals are bound (anger, fear, attraction, hunger/thirst, etc.) the amygdala is usually the primary suspect (or at least an important accomplice). The amygdala itself is a tiny, almond shaped bundle of neurons and fiber tracts located deep within the temporal lobes (usually near the end of the hippocampus). Countless studies from emotion-based research have targeted the amygdala as a playing a minor role in memory and, most famously, as a hot spot for emotional response. Despite all this work, researchers are still relatively hazy as to how the amygdala is able to help us feel such different emotions as fear, anger and so on. However, recent research from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at Caltech may be starting to turn all of our uncertainty about the amygdala around, as well as shedding some light on the specific neuronal origins of our most primal emotions.
Current investigations from the labs of Dayu Lin and David Anderson have led to the discovery of what seems to be a subset of neurons in the amygdala that exclusively help generate aggression in mice. Upon activation, these “rage” neurons (or “fight cells” as Anderson has dubbed them) can turn an otherwise docile male mouse into a hyper-aggressive brawler. Indeed, the effects are so strong that the mice can be induced to attack females and other males (usually castrated) that would otherwise not be viewed as a threat. Talk about domestic violence! To tease apart the action and sensitivity of these cells even more, Anderson and his team genetically modified a strain of these mice to express fight cells that respond to pulses of laser light. Upon shining this light in the eyes of mutated mice, an aggressive response in the presence of females, castrated males and even a rubber glove was able to be stimulated!
In the midst of all this bio-molecular wizardry, Anderson and his team stumbled across another interesting discovery: a population of “mate” stimulating cells that seems to be closely knit with the fight cells in the amygdala. As the name may imply, mate cells seem to play a large role in inducing and modulating sexual behavior. Interestingly though, upon analyzing the brains of modified mice, after having previously been induced to attack a rubber glove (or something similar) and then allowed to mate, Anderson’s team that a healthy amount of fight cells were activated in concert with mate cells as the mice where engaging in sexual activity.
It is this latest discovery that Anderson and his team have expressed the most excitement about, specifically because of its implications for potential remediation of violent sex offenders and predators who may be suffering from a massive “cross-wiring” of the fight cells and mate cells in their amygdalar/temporal regions. If enough homology can be drawn between these cells and their specific pathways in the mouse brain with that of the human brain, perhaps the future work of Hughes center could produce ways to untangle these connections and offer both sex offenders (and the general public) alternative solutions to their deeply ingrained problems.
Small Part of Brain Itching for a Fight – Science News
Lets face it, coaching is just a part of our everyday lives. Whether or not we accept the advice or let our alter-egos consume us with pride remains in question, but ultimately learning is the number one goal. A major topic of research at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management since 1990, coaching has withstood the test of time as research continues to be conducted to prove “effective coaching can lead to smoothly functioning organizations, better productivity and potentially more profit.”
However, there is still little understanding as to what kind of interactions can contribute to or detract from coaching’s effectiveness. Ways of coaching can and do vary widely, due to a lack of understanding of the psycho-physiological mechanisms which react to positive or negative stimulus. Internal Research done by the university has since compared varying coaching styles, from the kind and compassionate vs. the rugged and raw. The results can then be used to reveal the psychological methods by which learning can be enhanced or reduced, depending on the style of coaching in question. ”We’re trying to activate the parts of the brain that would lead a person to consider possibilities,” said Richard Boyatzis, distinguished university professor, and professor of organizational behavior, cognitive science and psychology. “We believe that would lead to more learning. By considering these possibilities we facilitate learning.”
Boyatzi believes that coaches attempt to arouse a Positive Emotional Attractor (PEA), which causes positive emotion and arouses neuroendocrine systems that stimulate better cognitive functioning and increased perceptual accuracy and openness in the person being coached, taught or advised. On the flip side, emphasizing negativity through weaknesses and flaws, yields an opposite result. “You would activate the Negative Emotional Attractor (NEA), which causes people to defend themselves, and as a result they close down,” Boyatzis says. “One of the major reasons people work is for the chance to learn and grow. So at every managerial relationship, and every boss-subordinate relationship, people are more willing to use their talents if they feel they have an opportunity to learn and grow.”
Boyatzi demonstrated his ideas, when two academic coaches with contrasting styles were each assigned to a volunteer undergraduate student. Following a series of questions, Boyatzi found that “people respond much better to a coach they find inspiring and who shows compassion for them, rather than one who they perceive to be judging them. Sure enough, we found a trend in the same direction even for the neutral questions. Students tended to activate the areas associated with visioning more with the compassionate coach, even when the topics they were thinking about weren’t so positive,” Jack said (Boyatzi’s assistant).
All and all, everyone has a few weaknesses whether the’yre willing to admit it or not, but often the focus is so much on the bottom line that we worry ourselves into the ground. Rather it is more important to focus on what gets you going in the morning and gets you wanting to work hard and stay late that truly embodies ones character.
Coaching With Compassion Can ‘Light Up’ Human Thoughts – Science Daily