5 Ways to Fight the Blues…with Science!

So you’re stuck in that mid-week slump…the weekend lies on the other side of a scorching desert of work, and you have no canteen because you gave up water for Lent (in this metaphor, “water” refers to alcohol…just to be clear). But fear not! Neuroscience knows how to cheer you up! Nope, this isn’t another post about sex or drugs…though those are coming soon. This one’s about five things science says you can do right now – with your mind – to chase your cranky mood away. 1.Take a look around Research shows that people who focus on the world around … Continue reading 5 Ways to Fight the Blues…with Science!

Stress Intervention

Scientists have discovered a way to shut down the brain’s “stress process” before it gets going, says a new study. By blocking the brain’s ability to manufacture certain chemicals called neurosteroids, researchers have managed to temporarily cut off a biological process crucial for stressful behavior – and for many stressful feelings as well. Animals from amphibians all the way up to humans produce a hormone called corticosterone in their adrenal glands. Corticosterone levels become elevated under stress, and this hormone is a major ingredient in a number of stress-related biological processes, from feelings of nervousness to aggressive behavior. Corticosterone does most of its … Continue reading Stress Intervention

Psychopathic Anatomy

The brains of psychopaths have a significant physical difference from those of non-psychopaths, says a new study. In a psychopath’s brain, white matter (connective neural tissue) links between the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and amygdala are unusually weak. This means a major brain area involved in anticipating risk (the vmPFC) is only weakly connected with an area crucial for processing fear and sadness. Though the word “psychopath” gets thrown around a lot, it doesn’t necessarily refer to a maniacal killer. It’s simply a term used to characterize personality disorders in which a person has difficulty linking their actions with feelings like empathy, … Continue reading Psychopathic Anatomy

Chemical Parasites

A certain brain parasite actually turns off people’s feelings of fear by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter chemical dopamine, says a new study. Toxoplasma gondii, a parasitic protozoan (a kind of single-celled organism), mostly likes to live in the brains of cats – but it also infects birds, mice, and about 10 to 20 percent of people in the U.S. and U.K. This might sound like science fiction, but plenty of microbiologists will assure you it’s very real. In fact, T. gondii isn’t the only parasite that controls its hosts’ behavior – a fungus called Ophiocordyceps unilateralis makes infected ants climb to the highest point they can find, sprout fungal spore … Continue reading Chemical Parasites

The Sound of Fear

A certain inaudible sound frequency may directly trigger feelings of “creepiness” and physical symptoms of fear, one scientist says. A sound frequency of around 19hz – just below the range of human hearing – has been detected in several “haunted” places, including a laboratory where staff had reported inexplicable feelings of panic, and and a pub cellar where many people have claimed to see ghosts. Though no peer-reviewed studies have examined this phenomenon yet, I think it’s still intriguing enough to be worth talking about – and after all, it is that special time of year. So huddle up close, and … Continue reading The Sound of Fear

Facing Fear

New neuroscientific studies are shedding light on the allure of dark forests and eerie old houses…and cliff diving. In psychology, this drive to explore the unusual is one manifestation of the behavior pattern known as “sensation-seeking” – the tendency to pursue intense, novel experiences out of curiosity, or just for the sheer joy of excitement. Though the behavior of sensation-seekers has been thoroughly studied, the exact reasons for that behavior – and the neuroscience behind those reasons – are only now beginning to be unraveled. As a report in the journal Psychological Science explains, the brains of people who seek out thrills and mysteries actually behave differently … Continue reading Facing Fear