FAQ

To make sure that we don’t forget experiences of any consequence to our survival, as interpreted by the mammalian region of our brain, we’re rewarded with a blast of dopamine each time we feel fearful, aggressive, competitive, confrontational, surprised, have sex or eat. The rush, and the energy that follows is dopamine’s calling card.

In its essential role, dopamine gets us out of bed in the morning, reminds us to eat and reproduce, and urges us to explore and push limits. It gives our body instructions about fighting or “flighting”. It encourages simple, instantaneous, animal-like, black or white, good or bad, friend or foe, reactions, unique to the left side of our brain. No time for analysis, or subtleties.

Dopamine is an opiate peptide, which acts just like its kissing cousins, cocaine and amphetamines. Is it addictive? Oh yes. Can we develop a tolerance for it so that we need more and more to feel good? We can and do. All of us are hanging out predominately in our left hemispheres. Most of us are addicts, just some more than others.

It’s in our genes. Imagine the sea of dopamine the pilgrims, pioneers, and astronauts must have been swimming in, and the fixes we’ve enjoyed experiencing their conquests of geography, the elements, and outer space, vicariously. We’ve been on a national high since the 1600s.

Neuroplasticity (brain plasticity) describes our brain’s natural ability to change its circuitry to compensate for birth defects, damage, disease. Every waking moment we’re wiring or reinforcing existing brain networks according to whatever we think, feel, or do. No matter what occurs, some imprint on the brain’s activity and structure is unavoidable. If you remember anything you’ve read in this description of neuroplasticity, then you’ve stored that new information in your brain via the formation of new connections, you just made!

 

Like muscle groups throughout the body, neuroplasticity promises that it’s the number of reps we give to any thought or action, accidental or intentional, helpful or destructive, that determines which circuits are the strongest and run the show called Our Life. This recent understanding about our brain’s neuroplasticity hands us a previously unimaginable source of personal power.

Great news! No extra time or money; no special education, organizations, outfits, or equipment, required. Except in the cases of birth deficits, disease, or injury, all we have to do is make a deliberate choice about how we’d like our brain to work and then, practice, practice, practice.

Nothing we think, feel, or do happens without influencing the way our brain is wired. We’re either strengthening old brain wiring or building new connections, thought by thought, feeling by feeling, action by action. Accidentally or intentionally, we can’t avoid the benefits or problems we create for ourselves.

Accidentally

Accidental’s minds, feelings, and time are primarily controlled and programmed by  sources outside themselves – like television, radio, video games, computers and social networking, which dominates between 3-13.5 hours per day (Kaiser Foundation, 2010) in the U.S.  Little time is left for contemplation, original insights, creativity, problem solving, or well formulated personal opinions.

Intentionally

Intentionals are continually asking questions and analyzing possible immediate and long-term outcomes.  While discussions with others are valued, ultimately Intentionals look to themselves for answers.  For example: “Is this the best  use of my time?”  “What will I learn, and how will I grow, by participating in this?” “Would this move me towards my goal?” “Will this wire my brain to function as I want it to work?” “Is this in the best interest of everyone?”

Each waking moment we are strengthening some part of our brain.  Our brains are neutral.  So it’s just a matter of which brain muscle group we repeat most often – intentionally or accidentally.  Some brain muscle groups are available for  problem solving, others for fear, some for leadership, and those involved with aggression; just to identify a few.

Enough crunches could eventually land us six-pack abs.  Enough mental crunches practicing a foreign language could allow us to speak Chinese. Hours practicing as a first person shooter in a violent video game, will allow us to become very familiar with violence and aggression.  We decide in which ways our brain will be strongest  with every thought, word, action and feeling.

Think of our one billion brain cells of our brains as being divided into what we could imagine as muscle groups. Whatever we pump becomes the strongest and runs the show! Spend time analyzing information, working to solve a problem. developing a new plan or product, and you’re dedicating the brain’s resources to strengthening networks of neurons in the Human Brain (prefrontal cortex). Play violent video games and you’re flexing the brain’s muscles to process incoming information through the fight or flight Animal Brain (amygdala). What do you want more of in your life?

The human brain has over 100 billion neurons interconnected by over a trillion synapses (the points of contact between neurons which transfer and store information). It’s the primary mechanism whereby, with repetition of thoughts, feelings, and activities, we lay down new memories is via “synaptic plasticity”.

Changes occur in brain wiring, modifying the strength of connections between neurons. This form of neuroplasticity can involve adding or removing new synapses. If you remember anything you’ve read in this description of neuroplasticity, then you may have stored that new information in your brain via the formation of new connections between specific subsets of neurons!

Musicians

Musicians learn complex motor and auditory skills e.g., the translation of visually perceived musical symbols into motor commands with simultaneous auditory monitoring of output. Gray matter volume differences in motor, auditory, and visual-spatial brain regions when comparing professional musicians (keyboard players) with a matched group of amateur musicians and non-musician showed between structural changes based on intensity and duration of practice. In comparing professional musicians, amateur musicians, and non-musicians, the areas with a significant positive correlation between musician status and increase in gray matter volume were found in perirolandic regions. This included primary motor and somatosensory areas, premotor areas, anterior superior parietal areas, and in the inferior temporal gyrus bilaterally. Gray matter volume was highest in professional musicians, intermediate in amateur musicians, and lowest in non-musicians. (Christian Gaser ,Gottfried Schlaug, Department of Neurology, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts 02215, and Department of Psychiatry, University of Jena, D-07743 Jena, Germany)

Athletes

Measuring cortical thickness, the neurodevelopment of the brain structure of competitive divers, as compared to novices, is significantly thicker in the left superior temporal sulcus, the right parahippocampal gyrus and the right orbitofrontal cortex. These are associated with motion, sensory integration, and spatial information, which provides a sense of body position in the space between the diving platform and the water.

(Gaoxia Wei1#, Yuanchao Zhang2,3#, Tianzi Jiang3*, Jing Luo1* Key Laboratory of Mental Health, Institute of Psychology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Beijing, People’s Republic of China, 2 School of Life Sciences and Technology, University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, Chengdu, People’s Republic of China, 3 National Laboratory of Pattern Recognition, Institute of Automation, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing,)

Taxi Drivers

Grey matter volume in the posterior hippocampus of London taxi drivers is greater than in age-matched controls, and the size of this increase correlates positively with time spent taxi driving (E.A. Maguire et al., 2000. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 97: 4398–4403).

Video Gamers

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), Simone Kuhn of the University of Ghent in Belgium, found that frequent gamers had a greater volume of gray matter, indicating a higher number of brain cell bodies, on the left side of a brain region called the ventral striatum, which plays and important role in reward and addiction. (Translational Psychiatry (2011) 1, e53; doi:10.1038/tp.2011.53Published online 15 November 2011)

Chinese study involving 7 universities, research hospitals, and National Institute on Drug Dependence, Peking University, Beijing, China, “white matter” as well as “gray matter”shrinkage in several areas by as much as 20%. The affected regions included the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, rostral anterior cingulate cortex, supplementary motor area and parts of the cerebellum. The longer the addiction’s duration, the more pronounced the tissue reduction. The study’s authors suggest this shrinkage could lead to impaired inhibition (the ability to control impulses), short-term memory damage, compromised decision-making ability, and reduced cognitive control of goal-oriented behavior.

Nothing we think, feel, or do happens without influencing the way our brain is wired. We’re either strengthening old brain wiring or building new connections, thought by thought, feeling by feeling, action by action. Accidentally or intentionally, we can’t avoid the benefits or problems we create for ourselves.

Epigenetics explains the software we’re all born with that allows us to be co-programmers in the performance of our basic DNA. All that we think, say, do, feel, eat, drink or breathe has an impact on which of our 25,000 genes will be expressed, in real time. Every experience from conception until death determines the instructions our cells receive, moment by moment, about which to activate, which to suppress, and how many of which cells to produce. Officially, epigenetics refers to changes or modifications in our DNA that alter how genes are turned on and off, without changing the DNA sequence we were given at conception.

Changing the epigenome from Wisc Institute for Discovery on Vimeo.