Brain and Behavior Articles

7 Tips to Make Healthy Eating Habits Easier

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

7 Tips to Make Healthy Eating Habits EasierMany people were very intrigued by my interview with behavioral scientist Brian Wansink and his ideas. He studies eating behavior and consumer habits, and has a book that just came out: Slim By Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life.

I asked him for some of his top tips, and he gave me these excellent suggestions to “Help your kitchen make you slim.”

How a Schedule Can Help You Sleep Better

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

How a Schedule Can Help You Sleep BetterThe fancy digital, pedometer-bracelet thingy around my wrist tells me I slept six hours and 25 minutes with four interruptions. As I struggle to awake, my body can tell you, that isn’t nearly enough.

An estimated 70 million Americans are sleep-deprived, according to the National Sleep Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Many nights, I am among them.

Aside from the health risks associated with inadequate sleep, such as depression, memory and attention issues, mood disorders, and the higher risk of physical illness, researchers at the University of Oxford now believe a lack of sleep or poor sleep quality may also contribute to brain shrinkage. That thought alone might keep you up at night.

The Benefits of Being Scared

Monday, October 20th, 2014

The Benefits of Being ScaredBeing scared isn’t always a negative. You can be scared in many different ways.

There is the “scary movie” kind of scared, where you don’t know what’s going to pop out on the screen. There’s the jumping out of a plane kind of scared, where you fear real death and your adrenaline is pumping loudly. Lastly, there is the taking a chance kind of scared, where you have to address someone or something that’s anxiety-producing and you don’t know if the outcome will be favorable.

It Helps to Focus on the Positive Stuff

Sunday, October 19th, 2014

It Helps to Focus on the Positive StuffThings are OK as they are. That’s the one fact I’ve been struggling with recently.

I have this image in my mind as to how I want things to be. I want to make lots of money, I want a house in the mountains, I want to get married. All of this I worry about on a near-daily basis. These are also the things that drive me to work, to be better, and to achieve more things.

What Drives a Person to Suicide?

Saturday, October 18th, 2014

What Drives a Person to Suicide?Each of us has swings in our mood or has highs and lows in our emotional feelings. If these swings are within a certain normal range, we remain self-governed and functional. But when they become extreme, they can lead us into the poles of mania and depression. In some cases if the manias become extremely high, the depressions can become extremely low.

Similar, but other forms of these manias and depressions can be fantasies and nightmares or extreme degrees of pride and shame. When we are up, manic and elated, our brain can become flooded by increased releasing of dopamine, oxytocin, vasopressin, endorphins, enkephalins and serotonin. When we are depressed the reverse can occur and cortisol, epinephrine and norepinephrine, dihydrotestosterone, substance P and other neurotransmitters can surge.

Reflect & Reframe

Friday, October 17th, 2014

Reflect and ReframeWe all know people who are well-educated but somehow aren’t very smart. We also know people without much formal education who are quite wise. So, it’s obvious that it’s not just what we learn in school that makes us smart. It’s more about how we use our mind and live our life.

To live life with a high degree of competence, it’s essential to frequently reflect and reframe.

‘Discardia’: How to Indulge Moderately

Friday, October 17th, 2014

'Discardia': How to Indulge ModeratelyI recently read Delia Ephron’s very amusing and thought-provoking book of essays, Sister Mother Husband Dog: (Etc.).

In her essay “Bakeries,” she describes visiting her favorite bakeries and eating her favorite pastries — granola cookies, pizza bread, pain au chocolat, chocolate chip cookies with walnuts, pistachio donuts — all around New York City.

As I was reading, I was thinking, “Zoikes, how can she be eating all these pastries all the time, without bad health effects?”

Interesting Person, Boring Life

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Interesting Person, Boring LifeYou might think that if you are a person who has interesting ideas and inspired imagination, you would be living an exciting life. Sorry, it’s not necessarily so.

Why not?

There may be an abundance of reasons, but the one that wins the prize for robbing you of that exciting, inspiring, interesting life you could have is (drum roll, please) an abundance of fear.

The Solitude Dilemma

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

The Solitude DilemmaThis week The Atlantic shared a video in its Editor’s Picks series called ‘The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain.’ It followed a young man named Leif Haugen, a Forest Service firefighter in Montana. For three months out of the year, Leif lives alone at the lookout on top of a mountain.

Watching the video, I couldn’t help but feel a rather fervent mix of desire and fear.

Living in solitude like that, with no one to talk to and nothing to distract you but books and chores seems like a dream to me. At the same time, though, it made me wonder if, were I to live like that, I would get lonely.

You Can’t Force Things

Monday, October 13th, 2014

You Can't Force ThingsIt’s been tough getting to sleep the last few nights.

I’ll go to bed and turn off the light and then the thoughts start pouring in. I’ll worry that I didn’t do the right thing in any number of situations during the day. I’ll worry about the work I have to do the next day. I’ll worry that no matter what I do, I’ll never be closer to my dream of buying a house in the mountains.

It occurred to me last night while I was lying there, though, that you can’t force sleep. If you try to fall asleep and see that you’re not, that’s just one more thing to worry about. The sleep will come; it always does. There’s no point in trying to force it to happen.

Circadian Rhythm Sleep Disorder: Do You Have an Abnormal Sleep Pattern?

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

Circadian Rhythm Sleep DisorderI was always bad at sleeping. My mom still talks of nightmarish times trying to get me to sleep as a baby and toddler. As a child, I kept a flashlight and a book on my nightstand so I could stay up after lights-out to read. As I grew, this trend continued.

I’m never tired at a “normal” bedtime. In fact, late nights are when I do some of my best writing. I am, however, exhausted in the morning.

I spent years trying to fit the mold, and always just figured I was a night owl until I finally heard about circadian rhythm sleep disorders.

Anger Detection and the Brain

Saturday, October 11th, 2014

angry woman screaming man 2When Greta gets angry, Dave has noticed that she tends to be quiet, almost stoic. Greta can detect slight changes in Dave’s tone of voice that signal to her he is angry. Couples like us can learn to be extremely sensitive to signs of anger in their partners, because understanding your partner’s emotional state helps you decide how to respond.

It’s also important to be able to detect anger in strangers — in some cases, your very life might depend on it! Over the years, lots of research on anger has focused on facial expressions. While “anger” does have a characteristic facial expression that is readily detected, there’s plenty of other evidence we can use to decide if someone is angry, like Dave’s tone of voice and Greta’s silence. Until the past decade, however, very little research had been conducted on another important component of anger detection: Body position and movements.

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