Posts Tagged ‘nature’

Oxytocin

May 30, 2020

This post is based on content taken from Love 2.0 a book by Barbara L. Fredrickson. Oxytocin is commonly known as the “cuddle hormone” or the “love hormone.” Technically it is a neuropeptide acting not just within our bodies, but also within our brains.

Evidence of oxytocin’s power to shape social lives first surfaced in Europe, where laws permitted the use of a synthetic form of oxytocin, available as a nasal spray for investigational purposes. In one study 128 men from Zurich played what is called the trust game with genuine monetary outcomes. These men were assigned at random to the role of “investor” or “trustee.” Each participant was given an equivalent pot of starting funds. Investors made the first move. They could give some, all, or none of the allocated funds to the trustee. During the transfer of funds, the experimenter tripled their investment while letting the trustee know how much the investors had originally transferred. Trustees made the next move. They could give some, all, or none of their new allotment of funds (the investors tripled investment plus their own original allocation) back to investors. The structure of the game puts investors, but not trustees, at risk. If an investor chose to entrust the other guy with his investment, he risked receiving nothing in return if the trustee chose to selfishly keep the entire monetary gain for himself. But if the trustee was fair, they could each double their money.

Prior to playing this game, using a double-blind research, participants received either oxytocin or an inert placebo by nasal spray. The effect of this single intranasal blast of oxytocin on the outcome of the trust game was dramatic. The number of investors who trusted their entire allotment to their trustee more than doubled. Related research using this same trust game showed the the mere act of being entrusted with another person’s money raises the trustee’s naturally levels of oxytocin, and that the greater the trustee’s oxytocin rise, the more of his recent windfall he sacrificed back to the investor. So the neuropeptide oxytocin steers the actions of both the investor and the trustee, shaping both trust and reciprocity. These findings suggest that through synchronous oxytocin surges, trust and cooperation can quickly become mutual.

Since this original study was published in Nature in 2005, variations on it have abounded. We now know, for instance, that Oxytocin doesn’t simply make people more trusting with money, it also makes them far more trusting—a whopping 44% more trusting—with confidential information about themselves. It is interesting that this simple act of sharing an important secret from you life with someone you just met increases your naturally circulating levels of oxytocin, which in turn raises you confidence that you can trust that person to guard your privacy. Fortunately, additional research shows that oxytocin does not induce trust indiscriminately, making people gullible and open to exploitation. The effects of oxytocin on trust turn out to be quite sensitive to interpersonal cues, like those subtle signs that tip you off if another may be the gambling type of irresponsible in other ways. So if oxytocin spray were aerated through you workplace ventilation system, you’d still maintain your shrewd attunement to subtle signs that suggest whether someone is worthy of your trust.

Oxytocin serves as a lead character in the mammalian calm-and-connect response, a distinct cascade of brain and body responses best contrasted to the better known fight-or-flight response. Rather than avoid all new people out of fear and suspicion, oxytocin helps you pick up on cues that signal another person’s goodwill and guides you to approach them with your own. The author notes, “Because all people need social connections, not just to reproduce, but to survive and thrive in this world, work, oxytocin has been dubbed ‘the great facilitator of life.’”

The author writes, “It too, can jump the gap between people such that someone else’s oxytocin flow can trigger your own. A biochemical synchrony can then emerge that supports mutual engagement, care, and responsiveness.”

She continues, “The clearest evidence that oxytocin rises and falls in synchrony between people comes from studies of infants and their parents. When an infant and a parent—either mom or dad—interact, sometimes they are truly captivated by each other, and other times not. When an infant and parent do click, their coordinated motions and emotions show lots of mutual positive engagement. Picture moms or dads showering their baby with kisses, tickling their baby’s tiny fingers and toes, smiling at their baby, and speaking to him or her in that high-pitched, singsong tone that scientists call motherise. These parents are super attentive. As they tickle and coo they’re also closely track their baby’s face for signs that their delight is mutual. In step with their parent’s affectionate antics, these attentive babies babble, coo, smile and giggle. Positivity resonates back and forth between them. Micro-moments of love blossom. “

The author concludes, “It turns out that positive behavioral synchrony—the degree to which an infant and parent (through eye contact and affectionate touch) laugh, smile, and coo together—goes hand in hand with oxytocin synchrony. Researchers have measured oxytocin levels in the saliva of dads, moms, and infants both before and after a videotaped, face-to-face parent-infant interaction. For infant-parent pairs who show mutual positive engagement, oxytocin levels also come into sync. Without such engagement, however, no oxytocin synchrony emerges.
Positivity resonance, then, can be viewed as the doorway through which the exquisitely attuned biochemical tendencies of one generation influence those of the next generation to form lasting, often lifelong bonds.”

Ambiguous Anatomical Differences

January 18, 2020

This post is based on content in Gender and Our Brains by Gina Rippon, At first glance, nothing could be a clearer way of distinguishing the sexes than by anatomical differences. All one would need to do was to determine how the person urinated. Standing up, male, squatting or sitting down, female. An XX individual will have ovaries and a vagina; an XY individual will have testes and a penis. But there are individuals born with ambiguous gentalia or who later develop secondary sexual characteristics at odds with their assigned gender. These individuals were viewed as intersex anomalies or disorders of sex development (DSDs) requiring medical management, possibly including very early surgical interventions.

In a 2105 article in Nature by Claire Ainsworth called attention to the fact that sex can be more complicated than it at first seems. She found that individuals could have mixed sets of chromosomes (some cells XY, some XX). It was found that this was not a rare occurrence. The evidence that expression of the gonad-determining genes could continue postnatally undermined the concept of core physical sex differences being hardwired. This suggests that manifestations of biological sex occur on a spectrum, which would include both subtle and moderate variations, rather that as a binary divide.

In a 1993 article titled The Five Sexes Anne Faust-Sterling suggested that we need at least five categories of sex to cover intersex occurrences. She felt that this grouping should include males with testes and some female characteristics, and females with ovaries and some male characteristics, as well as “true” hermaphrodites, with one testes and one ovary. Some suggested that gender should not be determined by genitals, but certainly the existence of more than two categories (however defined) should be acknowledged.

Apart from ambiguous anatomical differences, there are behavioral and preference differences in homosexuality. Homosexuality is found across all cultures. What differs is the degree to which it is tolerated, persecuted, or accepted.

At one time it was thought that the hippocampus and the amygdala were larger in males than in females. Subsequent research has encouraged the revision of this position to one of there being no substantial differences when other factors are considered.

These comparisons occurred in a variety of areas and it became clear that there were neither black and white differences nor shades of gray. With further research the difference diminished and the dichotomies disappeared.

A Positivity Toolkit

September 3, 2019

This post is based on a book by psychologist Barbara L. Fredrickson, “Positivity: Discover the Upward Spiral That Will Change Your Life.”

Tool 1. Be Open. The goal here is to experiment with mindful awareness while carrying out your day. Make your motto “be open.” Temporarily rid your mind of expectations and judgments. These can cloud your ability to be open. Instead, give yourself permission and time to experience the richness of the present moment. No matter what you encounter, no matter what happens, experiment with both awareness and acceptance.

Tool 2. Create High-Quality Connections. Any social interaction—whether with family, co-workers, or someone ahead of you in line—is a chance to create a high-quality connection. According to Jane Dutton, cofounder of the Center for Positive Organizational Scholarship at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, your moments of connection with others form a dynamic, living tissue that can be either life-giving or life-depleting. High quality connections are life-giving. You recognize them instantly by several telltale signs: they foster mutual appreciation and encourage truly being or doing things together; they recharge your energy and your vitality; they bring real physiological changes. You can literally feel high-quality connections resonate within your body.

Tool 3. Cultivate Kindness. This tool draws from research done by Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness. Give yourself the goal of performing five new acts of kindness on a single day. Aim for actions that really make a difference and come at some cost, such as donating blood, helping your neighbor with her yard work. Assess what those around you might need most. Although some of the kind acts you choose may take some advance planning, make a point to carry them all out on a single day. At the end of the day, take stock. Notice the good feelings that come with increasing your kindness: the positive connection to the person you helped, the fitting sense of pride you get from making a contribution. For lasting impact, make your kindness day a recurring ritual. Be creative each week. Find new ways to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Try it for a few months and see the difference it makes.

Tool 4. Develop Distractions. The suggestion is to make two lists. Label one healthy distractions and the other unhealthy distractions. Ask, “What can I do to get my mind off my troubles?” Then brainstorm, identifying things you already do,as well as new activities you’d like to try. Try to come up with things you can do in good and bad weather, at work, at home, or on the road.

Write down the unhealthy distractions that tempt to you. For each unhealthy distraction that tempts you, come with a healthy alternative: a drink or snack that doesn’t take a toll; a movie, computer game, or song list that’s more uplifting.

Tool 5. Dispute Negative Thinking. This exercise comes from the Penn Resiliency Program. This requires a set of index cards. On each one, write one of your typical negative thoughts. Write down negative thoughts that are realistic and truly yours. Capture your inner critic, that voice in your head that’s skeptical of you, of others, and of everything around you—the voice of ill will.

Then shuffle the cards and pick one at random. Read, then as fast and as thoroughly as you can—dispute it. When you’re satisfied that you’ve shot down your menacing negativity with rapid-fire facts, move on to the next card. Repeat. As you work your way through your negativity deck, let you conviction grow as you become a seasoned disputer. Whenever you find gratuitous negativity lurking in your mind, externalize it by adding it to your deck of cards. Challenge yourself to meet it out in the open—out loud—with your rapid fire facts. Be sure that these are facts and that you are not lying to yourself.

Tool 6. Find Nearby Nature. Locate places you can get to in a matter of minutes that will connect you to green or blue, to trees, water, or sky. Ample research has shown that these boost positivity.

Tool 7. Learn and Apply Your Strengths. One way to learn your strengths is to take a free, online survey that Martin Seligman (the founder of Positive Psychology) and Chris Peterson developed with support from the Values in Action Institute. Allow yourself plenty of time to take this survey: it contains 240 items to measure 24 character strengths. You can find it by visiting Seligman’s website at the University of Pennsylvania’a Positive Psychology Center, or point your browser to http://www.AuthenticHappiness.com. After completing the survey, you’ll receive a report that ranks the 24 strengths by the degree to which they characterize you. The report will also feature your top five strengths, and encourage you to reflect on which ones truly resonate for you, which strengths, when you act on them, make you come alive. This self-reflection is critical. It’s how you locate your “signature” strengths among your top five.

Tool 8. Meditate Mindfully. There are many healthy memory blog posts on this topic. Go to healthymemory.wordpress.com and enter “relaxation response” in the search box.

Tool 9. Meditate on Loving-Kindness. There are also posts on this tool. Go to
healthymemory.wordpress.com and enter loving-kindness in the search box.

Tool 10. Ritualize Gratitude. Being grateful simply requires that you notice the gifts that surround you. If you’re drawn to record your thoughts in writing, consider buying a blank book to be your gratitude journal.

Tool 11. Savor Positivity. You need two things to experiment with savoring. First is a genuine love, joy, pride, or any other flavor of positivity in your life; second a willingness to think differently about it. The key is to think about the event in away that stokes your positivity flames right now. Truly cherish the event, and its benefits to you will grow.

A Word of Caution from HM. This is an enormous toolkit. It easily overwhelms. It’s even more overwhelming when you consider your obligations. Some of the tools here should be helpful in dealing with your obligations. But you need to be selective, picking and choosing what you think is most helpful and what you think you’ll be able to devote your time to.

Nature vs. Nurture: Genetics, Environment, and Cognition

June 17, 2014

This is the title of Chapter 12 in Greenwood and Parasuman’s Nurturing the Older Brain and Mind. They begin the chapter with a quote from Rene Dubos, So Human an Animal. “Genetics and experiential factors shape the biological and behavioral manifestations of human life, but they do not suffice to account for the totatality of human nature. Man also enjoys a great degree of freedom in making decisions; he is par excellence the creature that can choose, eliminate, organize, and thereby create.”

It is unfortunate but all too often the nature vs nurture issue is regarded as a deterministic dichotomy. Behavioral geneticists have done studies, identical twins have been frequently used, to estimate topics such as how much is IQ determined by genetics and how much is determined by the environment. What these studies neglect is the interaction between genetics and the environment. Neither exists in isolation from the other. Behavior and performance are the result of the interaction between genes and the environment.

Fortunately molecular genetics provides an alternative approach to behavioral genetics. The molecular approach allows for the study of specific genes and their alleles. This research has found that a particular allele of the apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene is a major risk factor for the development of Alzheimer’s. Pay attention to the term “risk factor.” Rather than causing Alzheimer’s this particular allele increases the risk of suffering from the disease. Moreover, it is possible that age-related cognitive decline may occur only in those who possess one or two copies of this allele. It is estimated that this could include about 14% of the US population.

The weight of evidence from research on this allele suggests that this risk factor interacts with lifestyle factors. Carriers of this allele obtain a greater benefit from exercise than non-carriers for late-life cognitive functioning. This benefit is most strongly evidenced when the exercise is carried out in mid-life. Cognitive experience also confers stronger benefits on allele carriers than people who do not carrier the allele. Understand that cognitive experience benefits everyone, but it is even more beneficial for those carrying this threatening allele.

So no evidence has been found that condemns any of us to Alzheimer’s or dementia. The activities covered in Nurturing the Older Brain and Mind and the healthymemory blog should be undertaken by all of us. This advice is further underscored for those with risk factors.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.