We’ve known for some time that romantic love activates the same reward areas in the brain as cocaine. And it’s equally addictive for many of us.
Recently, Yale School of Medicine researchers have discovered a more selfless variety of love — a deep and genuine desire for the happiness of others without any expectation of reward — actually turns off the same areas in the brain that light up when lovers see each other. This phenomenon has now been documented in the minds of experienced meditators.
“When we truly, selflessly wish for the well-being of others, we’re not getting that same rush of excitement that comes with, say, a tweet from our romantic love interest, because it’s not about us at all,” reported Judson Brewer, adjunct professor of psychiatry at Yale now at the University of Massachusetts.
Brewer and Kathleen Garrison, postdoctoral researcher in Yale’s Department of Psychiatry, share their discoveries in a paper to be published Feb. 12 in the journal Brain and Behavior.
The neurological boundaries between these two types of love become clear in fMRI scans of experienced meditators. The reward centers of the brain that are strongly activated by a lover’s face (or a picture of cocaine) are almost completely turned off when a meditator is instructed to silently repeat sayings such as “May all beings be happy.” These sayings are most commonly encountered in a particular type of meditation known as loving-kindness meditation.
Such mindfulness meditations are a staple of Buddhism and are now commonly practiced in Western stress reduction programs, Brewer notes. The tranquility of this selfless love for others — exemplified in such religious figures such as Mother Theresa or the Dalai Llama — is diametrically opposed to the anxiety caused by a lovers’ quarrel or extended separation. And it carries its own rewards.
“The intent of this practice is to specifically foster selfless love — just putting it out there and not looking for or wanting anything in return,” Brewer said. “If you’re wondering where the reward is in being selfless, just reflect on how it feels when you see people out there helping others, or even when you hold the door for somebody the next time you are at Starbucks.”
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Dr. John Schinnerer
Positive Psychology Coach
Anger Management Specialist
Psychology of Music and Healing Effects of the Human Brain
I was recently included on an album of positive music (www.PositiveMusicImperative.com). I was speaking on the importance of positive music, lyrics in particular, as a critical means to offset the natural negativity bias of the human mind. The negative is more powerful than the positive by a factor of 3 to 1. Honestly, I’m pretty excited about this. I never dreamt I would be on an album. Of course, I’m speaking not singing. I can’t sing to save my life. And music has always been a passion of mine. I use it to connect with teenage clients. I use it as a healthy ‘drug’ to alter my moods, thoughts and to call up memories.
Today, a new study came out demonstrating, once again, the power of music. In a novel study, Amee Baird and Séverine Samson used top 40 music to spark lost memories in individuals with acquired brain injury (ABI).
While the sample size is small, this is the very first study to look at the effectiveness of ‘music-evoked autobiographical memories’ (MEAMs) in patients with ABIs, rather than ‘normals’ or those who grapple with Alzheimer’s Disease.
Baird and Samson played pieces of Billboard’s number 1 songs to five patients in random order. The songs were pulled from across the lifespan of each patient starting from the year they were five years old and continuing to present day. The performance of those with ABI was compared to individuals with no brain injury. All participants reported to what extent they knew a given song, the extent to which they liked it, and what memories, if any, the song brought up.
Results showed that the number of recorded MEAMs was nearly identical for ABI patients (38%-71%) and ‘normals’ (48%-71%). Only one of the five ABI patients recorded no music assisted memories. Surprisingly, the highest frequency of MEAMs out of all the participants was recorded by an ABI patients.
Across all participants, the majority of music assisted memories were of people or a life event and were most fequently positive in nature. There was a strong connection between songs that sparked a memory and reported familiarity and enjoyment of those same songs.
While the sample size was small, early indicators seem to show the strength of using music as a tool for helping patients reclaim recollections. Baird and Samson state that: “Music was more efficient at evoking autobiographical memories than verbal prompts of the Autobiographical Memory Interview (AMI) across each life period, with a higher percentage of MEAMs for each life period compared with AMI scores.”
“The findings suggest that music is an effective stimulus for eliciting autobiographical memories and may be beneficial in the rehabilitation of autobiographical amnesia, but only in patients without a fundamental deficit in autobiographical recall memory and intact pitch perception.”
As we learn more and more about the power of music, one thing seems clear…there exists a powerful relationship between attention, mood, memory, and music. We are beginning to understand the direct relationship between attention and emotion.
What we attend to affects what we feel.
How we feel influences that to which we pay attention.
How we feel impacts our memories.
What we recall affects the degree to which we judge life as satisfying.
Music powerfully influences our attention, our memory, as well as emotion. It may even impact our self-worth and our judgments of how satisfying life is. These all seem to be inextricably intertwined. So pay attention to what music you use to fill your head. It may have a larger impact than you ever dreamed!
A. Baird, S. Samson. Music evoked autobiographical memory after severe acquired brain injury: Preliminary findings from a case series. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, 2013; : 1 DOI: 10.1080/09602011.2013.858642
Taylor & Francis (2013, December 10). Music brings memories back to the injured brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 11, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2013/12/131210072030.htm
Materialism Makes Bad Events Even Worse, Lowers Resiliency
Dr. John Schinnerer
The holiday season is upon us with all it’s gift-giving glory…an interesting backdrop to new research that shows new damaging effects of materialism on our well-being.
Some of us are more prone to deal with negative emotions and stressors with shop therapy – buying more stuff. A new study out of the University of Illinois sheds a new light on the negative effect of materialism on how well we deal with a negative event. Having a materialistic approach to life when things go badly, appears to make bad situations worse.
Materialistic people tend to cope with trauma, difficulty and tragedy with impulsive buying and compulsive spending. For many, spending is a salve that soothes our inner wounds.
However, researcher Aric Rindfleisch states that a high degree of materialism is not only detrimental to our individual well-being, it also appears to amplify the inner emotional distress associated with stressful events. Stressful situations, such as robbery, car accidents, cancer and job loss, are more difficult to bounce back from when you are more materialistic.
Why does materialism matter?
“If you’re a materialistic individual and life suddenly takes a wrong turn, you’re going to have a tougher time recovering from that setback than someone who is less materialistic,” said Rindfleisch, the John M. Jones Professor of Marketing in the College of Business. “The research is novel in that an event that’s unrelated to materialism will have a stronger impact on someone because of their materialistic values. In other words, materialism has a multiplier effect. It’s a finding that I think is especially interesting given our consumer-driven economy.”
The research looked at the connection between traumatic stress and compulsive consumption using an Israeli field study and a U.S. national survey.
When confronted with a life-threatening terrorist attack, the study showed that highly materialistic individuals in Israel reported higher degrees of post-traumatic stress (PTSD), compulsive and impulsive purchases than less-materialistic individuals.
“Materialistic people cope with bad events through materialistic mechanisms,” stated Rindfleisch. “When there’s a terrorist attack in Israel, people who are materialistic suffer higher levels of distress and are more likely to compensate for that through higher levels of compulsive and impulsive purchasing.”
One of the theories is that these effects are due to lower self-esteem in materialistic individuals which reduces their resiliency in dealing with traumatic events.
“You can think of terrorist attacks as a mortal threat to your life,” Rindfleisch said. “To replicate the study in the U.S., as a corollary, we asked people to tell us about their level of death anxiety. Those who had more anxiety toward death were very similar to the groups who were under terrorist attacks in Israel.”
“Both components of the study provide converging evidence that in times of extreme stress, highly materialistic individuals seek comfort in compulsive and impulsive consumption,” Rindfleisch reported.
“At its core, materialism is a value-based response to insecurity in one’s life,” he said. “Our research more broadly suggests that it’s also about existential insecurity. This idea that we’re all aware of our mortality and focusing on that can be almost debilitating.”
And traumatic experiences may be broadly defined as any event that one perceives as traumatic, not solely terrorism-related events.
Traumatic events “…could be about a broad range of stressful life events, including serious illness, an automobile accident or a natural disaster,” he said. “So the scope is broader than a terrorist attack. It’s more like a traumatic event that leads to this insecure sense of self. Thus, our research uncovers a hidden yet potentially quite expansive domain of consequences that have largely gone unnoticed in prior research.”
According to Rindfleisch, it’s a good reminder prior to the holiday shopping season heading into full tilt.
“In times of stress, people often seek solace through shopping,” he said. “The idea here is that we need some form of a cultural-based coping mechanism, because the research suggests that there is actually a short-term fix with retail therapy. Soon after purchasing something, there is a reduction of anxiety. But it doesn’t last very long. It’s fleeting. Materialists seek that as one of their coping mechanisms. And Black Friday and the holiday shopping season play into that.”
Resiliency, the ability to bounce back quickly following adversity, is a learnable skill. My suggestion is to learn more adaptive ways to deal with and manage the negative emotions associated with trauma….tools such as mindfulness, forgiveness, gratitude, conscious cultivation of positive emotions, physical exercise, self-compassion and more.
Ayalla Ruvio, Eli Somer, Aric Rindfleisch. When bad gets worse: the amplifying effect of materialism on traumatic stress and maladaptive consumption. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 2013; DOI: 10.1007/s11747-013-0345-6
How Can I Be Happy? Refocus your attention on iPeople not your iPhone
Oct. 28, 2013 — The extent of our happiness has more to do with people and less to do with products according to a recent study at Lund University in Sweden.
Spend less time talking to your phone and more time talking to people. In an overly digital world, new studies continue to show the worth of individual, authentic relationships for boosting our collective happiness.
The world which used to be filled with cliques is now overflowing with clicks. We now have 3000 Facebook friends and 2000 Twitter followers but only 2 friends with whom we can go to the movies. More and more people are keeping up with others online – the ubiquitous Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. And it may be negatively impacting our collective happiness.
In particular, Instagram has been linked to greater depression due to the upward social comparisons it fosters. You have seen it before… your friend uploads a photo of their great vacation in Bali. By comparison, your vacation to Tahoe pales to put it politely. So you retaliate by uploading the best Photoshopped pic of you in your sexy pirate costume with Johnny Depp at a crazy San Francisco Halloween party at the Fairmont. In turn, your friends are jealous and feel worth less as their Halloween experiences were mundane at best. And the online cycle of envy-fueling competition continues unabated.
‘It’s relationships that are most important, not material things,’ says Danilo Garcia, researcher in psychology at the Sahlgrenska Academy’s Centre for Ethics, Law and Mental Health. The analysis, which analyzed more than 1.5 million words, demonstrates that words like ‘father,’ grandmother’ and personal pronouns (e.g., you, me, us, her, him) more frequently appear with the Swedish word for happiness. On the other hand, words like ‘iPhone,’ ‘Twitter’ and ‘Google’ rarely appear with ‘happiness.’ ‘This doesn’t mean that material things make you unhappy, just that they don’t seem to come up in the same context as the word for happiness,’ says Danilo Garcia.
The study is a part of a larger research project on how people communicate the positive and negative experiences. It is believed that the word analysis reflects a large-scale perception among people as to what makes us happy. It is one more methodology for science to track down what makes us happier.
‘Just as the Beatles sang, most people understand that money can’t buy you happiness or love,’ says Danilo Garcia. ‘But even if we as individuals can understand the importance of close and warm relationships on a social level, it isn’t certain that everyone is aware that such relationships are actually necessary for our own personal happiness.’
The take home message: spend less time with Facebook and more time with friends.
Dr. John Schinnerer
Positive Psychology Coach
Anger Management Specialist
Founder, Guide to Self, Inc.
913 San Ramon Valley Blvd. #280
Danville CA 94526
Positive psychology blog: http://drjohnblog.guidetoself.com
Anger management blog:
The study: ‘A Collective Theory of Happiness: Words Related to the Word ‘Happiness’ in Swedish Online Newspapers’ was published in the scientific periodical Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking. Journal Reference: Danilo Garcia, Sverker Sikström. A Collective Theory of Happiness: Words Related to the Word ‘Happiness’ in Swedish Online Newspapers. Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, 2013; 16 (6): 469 DOI: 10.1089/cyber.2012.0535
Mindfulness Increases Attention Skills in Children
October 13, 2013
A brief mindfulness training program improves children’s ability to tune out distractions and focus better.
The study was performed by University of Cambridge researchers, Dominic Crehan and Dr. Michelle Ellefson. Results were reported in September of 2013 at the British Psychological Society’s Cognitive Developmental Psychology Annual Conference at the University of Reading.
Dominic stated, “Mindfulness involves paying attention in a particular way — on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally. It has been shown to reduce levels of stress and depression, and to improve feelings of well-being, but to date researchers have not established a link between mindfulness and attention skills in children.”
Thirty children (girls and boys aged 10 – 11 years old) participated in mindfulness training during the school day. There were 2 groups trained at separate times to allow the researchers to compare the groups and measure the effects of the training.
Participants’ levels of mindfulness and attentional skills were measured before immediately following training and three months after the training. This way changes in attention skills were tracked over time.
The results showed that an improvement in the children’s ability to focus and deal with distractions was associated with the training in mindfulness.
Dominic stated, “The ability to pay attention in class is crucial for success at school. Mindfulness appears to have an effect after only a short training course, which the children thoroughly enjoyed! Through their training, the children actually learn to watch their minds working and learn to control their attention. These findings could be particularly important for helping children with attention difficulties such as ADHD. Further research on the effects of mindfulness on children’s attention is very much needed.”
Leading you down the path to happiness,
John Schinnerer, Ph.D.
Positive Psychology Coach
Anger Management Specialist