Posts Tagged ‘Tali Sharot’

The Neuroscience of Optimism

March 11, 2020

This title of a book, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges by by Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney has a chapter titled Optimism. This post is on the neuroscience of optimism section in this book.

The three brain regions that play a central role in optimism are : the prefrontal cortex; the amygdala; and reward systems including the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), ventral-segmental area, and the nucleus accumbens. The prefrontal cortex is the brain’s executive center; it is essential for guiding behavior, regulating emotions, and understanding the difference between potential rewards and punishments. It is also necessary for imagining the future and setting goals, which are functions directly related to optimism. The prefrontal cortex enables us to engage in optimistic processes such as hoping for the best and imagining a bright future, anticipating and preparing to meet a challenge, and making plans to achieve and enjoy success.

The second brain area involved in optimism is the amygdala. The amygdala plays a role in triggering “raw emotions” such as fear or excitement. In this way the amygdala plays a role in our ability to experience positive emotions. There is evidence that the amygdala plays an important role in imagining future emotional events including positive events.

The reward circuitry—the ACC, ventral-segmental area, and nucleus accumbens also appear to play a role in optimism. These are associated with the rewarding effects of social attachment, eating, sex, and other pleasurable stimuli. Not surprisingly, reward circuitry is generally active when we are engaged in behaviors we enjoy. Acute stress tends to reduce activity in these circuits. The neurotransmitter associated with reward is dopamine. Alice Isen and her colleagues have found that dopamine improves cognitive flexibility and perspective-taking. These researchers, along with others, believe that the broadened perspective and flexible cognitive style that accompany positive emotions may be related to increased dopamine.

Psychologist Tali Sharot along with colleagues instructed subjects to imagine both positive (winning an award) and negative (ending a romantic relationships) future events while undergoing fMRI in order to understand how the brain generates the positive bias that characterizes optimism. When participants imagined a positive future event, activation of the amygdala and the ACC increased. The greatest activation of these regions occurred in participants with the highest scores on a measure of dispositional optimism, the LOT-R (Life Orientation Test-Revised).

Richard Davidson and his colleagues have found that optimism is associated with high activity in the left prefrontal cortex with prolonged engagement of subcortical reward circuitry. On the other hand, depression has been associated with low prefrontal activity and inability to sustain reward circuitry activation. Heller and his colleagues have said that the ability to savor and sustain positive emotion is “critical to daily function well-being and to health.

The authors conducted research in which fMRI was used to examine emotional responses to negative stimuli among three groups of women: 14 women who have been sexually assaulted and developed PTSD, 14 who had been sexually assaulted and had not developed PTSD, and 14 who had never been assaulted. Each participant was shown 60 emotionally negative pictures during the study. Immediately before viewing each negative picture, participants were given one of three instructions: to “enhance,” to “diminish,” or to “maintain” their emotional response to that picture. Non traumatized healthy controls were best able to decrease their emotional response to negative pictures as measured by subjective ratings and degree of PFC activation. Unexpectedly, the trauma-exposed resilient group had greater PFC activation following the “enhance” instruction than did the trauma-exposed PTSD group. The authors conclude that these findings suggest that the ability to focus effortfully on negative emotional responses and engage cognitive/linguistic ares of the brain in order to manage, diminish or extinguish the negative emotion may be an important component of resilience.

The authors offer these four ways to become more optimistic:

Focus attention on the positive things around us.

2. Intentionally think positive thoughts and do not dwell on negative thoughts.

3. Reframe the negative and interpret events in a more positive light.

4. Behave and take action in ways that build positive feelings.

It’s True, Trump Doesn’t Lie

June 5, 2018

The title of this post is identical to the title of a column by Dana Milbank in the 30 May 2018 issue of the Washington Post. The column begins with examples of lies told by Donald Trump. They will not be repeated because everyone has heard these lies many, many times. Milbank writes, “Calling him a liar lets him off easy. A liar, by definition, knows he’s not telling the truth. Trump’s behavior is worse: With each day it becomes more obvious he can’t distinguish between fact and fantasy. It’s an illness, and it’s spreading.

There is a name of the illness that Trump is experiencing and that is the delusional disorder. The test that would confirm this disorder involves hooking him up to a polygraph (lie detector). If documented lies were not detected, that would confirm that he has the delusion disorder. This means that Trump has lost touch with reality. And this is truly frightening with the President who is supposed to have control of the nuclear football (let’s hope that that is wrong). Milbank writes, “Trump’s not a liar. He’s a madman.” Frankly, it does not matter whether Trump has this disease or not. Trump does not care about objective truth, and in his version of reality, what is true is whatever benefits him at the moment.

What is also of concern is what neuroscientist Tali Sharot noted that people “may sensitize to the president’s falsehoods in the same way that they do to overused perfume, making them less likely to act to correct this pattern of behavior.” This might account for why people who carry water for the president, many Republicans, Rudy Giulani, newscasters, and columnists continue to carry water rather than denounce the president.

It is quite apparent that Trump feels he will be found guilty on a number of counts. However, if he can discredit the Justice Department, that might not matter. Giuliani has already announced that this is the strategy. One can gauge the degree of Trump’s guilt by the number and intensity of his attacks on Mueller and the Justice Department. He might even fire Mueller. This would create a Constitutional Crisis from which the worst result would be Trump declaring himself president for life.

Although we all wish for successful negotiations with North Korea, the outcome of these negotiations are irrelevant to Trump’s guilt. Even if he should be successful and win the Nobel Prize, that should not exonerate him from whatever crimes he might have committed.

Remember that Jimmy Carter was awarded the Nobel Prize for negotiations he brought about with North Korea. However, it turned out that North Korea had cheated on the treaty that had been negotiated. So even given ostensibly successful negotiations, it will be some time before it can be accurately assessed whether they had been successful.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2018. 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.

How Donald Trump Manages to Do It

November 1, 2016

This post is inspired by a piece in the October 29, 2016 edition of  the “New Scientist” by an article titled, “Lying feels bad at first but our brains soon adapt to deceiving.”  The article reported an experiment run by Tali Sharot of University College London and her team.  This experiment encouraged volunteers to lie.  They were shown jars of pennies filled in varying degrees and asked to send estimates of how many there were to partners in another room.  The partners were shown blurrier images of the jar, so they relied on the volunteers’ estimates to guess the number of pennies in order to win a reward for each of them.

The volunteers were told that they would get a higher personal reward if their partner’s answer were wrong, and that the more inaccurate the answer, the greater the reward would be.  They started telling lies, which were small at first but then escalated.  For example a person who might have started with a lie that earned them one pound sterling, might have ended up telling fibs worth eight pounds sterling.

Brain scans showed that the first lie was associated with a burst of activity in the amygdalae, which are involved in emotional responding.  But this activity lessened as the lies progressed (Nature Neuroscience, DOI: 10.1038/nn.4426).

Donald Trump has had a long career lying, and his lies have rewarded him well.  HM doubts if there is any activity in his amygdalae when he lies.  Trump’s lies frequently contradict each other, so it is clear that he fails to remember lies.  The question is whether he is even aware that he is lying.  When confronted with the truth, including unequivocal evidence of the truth, he still denies it.  He invents conspiracies, which he apparently believes.  At first he complained that the Republican primary was rigged.  If so, it was rigged in his favor.  Now he threatens to disavow the results of the presidential election should he not be elected.  One concludes from this that Trump lives in an alternative reality, one which is largely divorced from reality.  A president who is divorced from reality would be disastrous.

Unfortunately, political polls have indicated that many have chosen to join Trump in his alternative reality.  This is frightening for democracy, and the size of the Trump vote will provide a good index of how frightened we should be.

One of the many ironies of this presidential election, is that Hillary Clinton is accused of lying and voters say that they do not believe her.  First of all, she is a politician.  Although the term politician has negative connotations, politicians are essential to a working democracy.  Saying that Hillary Clinton has lied is as enlightening as saying the Pope is a Catholic.  Even Honest Abe Lincoln lied.  Fact checkers have been monitoring  both candidates.  Comparing Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump regarding lies is like comparing the Chicago fire (Trump) to someone in his back yard burning leaves (Clinton).
Here is a link well worth clicking:

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2016. 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.