View of Mortality Affects How We Live Our Lives

View of Mortality Influences the Way We Live Our LifeThinking about one’s own death seems to heighten our concern for others, according to a new study that looks at how our thinking about death affects how we live. In the study, led by doctoral student Laura E.R. Blackie and colleagues from the University of Essex, researchers had people either think about death in the abstract or in a specific, personal way. They found that people who thought specifically about their own death were more likely to demonstrate concern for society by donating blood. The researchers recruited 90 people in a British town center. Some were asked to respond to general questions about death — such as their thoughts and feelings about death and what they think happens to them when they die. Others were asked to imagine dying in an apartment fire and then asked four questions about how they thought they would deal with the experience and how they thought their family would react. A control group in the study thought about dental pain. Next, the participants were given an article, supposedly from the BBC, about blood donations. Some people read an article saying that blood donations were “at record highs” and the need was low; others read another article reporting the opposite – that donations were “at record lows” and the need was high. They were then offered a pamphlet guaranteeing fast registration at a blood center that day and told they should only take a pamphlet if they intended to donate. Researchers discovered people who thought about death from a theoretical or abstract perspective were motivated by the story about the blood shortage. They were more likely to take a pamphlet if they read that article. Conversely, people who thought about their own death were likely to take a pamphlet regardless of which article they read; their willingness to donate blood didn’t seem to depend on how badly it was needed. “Death is a very powerful motivation,” Blackie said. “People seem aware that their life is limited. That can be one of the best gifts that we have in life, motivating us to embrace life and embrace goals that are important to us.” When people think about death abstractly, they may be more likely to fear it, while thinking specifically about your own death “enables people to integrate the idea of death into their lives more fully,” she said. Those who think about their mortality in a more personal and authentic manner may make them think more about what they value in life. The study will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science. Source: Association for Psychological Science

Dopamine Release Fuels Anxiety in Brains of Anorexics

Dopamine Release Fuels Anxiety in Brains of AnorexicsAlthough most people find pleasure in eating and even have a difficult time refraining from foods they love, individuals suffering from anorexia nervosa often say that eating makes them feel more anxious. Instead, refusing to eat — something called food refusal – is what brings more pleasure. New research, published online in the journal International Journal of Eating Disorders, helps explain why these symptoms occur in anorexia. For the study, scientists administered a one-time dose of the drug amphetamine which releases dopamine in the brain; positron emission tomography (PET) was then used to visualize the subsequent dopamine activity. In healthy subjects without an eating disorder, the amphetamine-induced release of dopamine was associated with feelings of extreme pleasure in the brain’s “reward center.” However, in people with anorexia, amphetamine made them feel anxious and activated the part of the brain that worries about consequences. “This is the first study to demonstrate a biological reason why individuals with anorexia nervosa have a paradoxical response to food,” said Walter Kaye, M.D., professor of psychiatry and director of the Eating Disorder Treatment and Research Program at the University of California-San Diego School of Medicine. “It’s possible that when people with anorexia nervosa eat, the related release of the neurotransmitter dopamine makes them anxious, rather than experiencing a normal feeling of reward. It is understandable why it is so difficult to get people with anorexia to eat and gain weight, because food generates intensely uncomfortable feelings of anxiety.” Significantly, the study included individuals who had recovered from anorexia for at least a year, suggesting that the feeling provoked was possibly due to pre-existing traits, rather than a response to being extremely underweight. Currently, there are few treatments proven to reduce core symptoms in anorexia, including eating-induced anxiety. Finding ways to help anorexic individuals eat and gain weight is necessary for treatment, even when food is still accompanied by severe anxiety. The study was supported in part by the National Institute of Mental Health and the Prince Foundation. Source:  University of California

Crossing Arms Confuses Brain, Relieves Hand Pain

Crossing Arms Confuses Brain But Relieves Hand PainIf your hand hurts, simply cross your arms; it will confuse the brain and reduce your pain intensity, according to scientists at University College London. Researchers believe this happens because of conflicting information between two of the brain’s maps: the one for your body and the one for external space. Since the left hand typically performs actions on the left side of space (and the right hand performs on the right side), these two maps work together to create powerful impulses in response to stimuli. When the arms are crossed, however, the two maps are mismatched and information processing becomes weaker — resulting in less pain. “Perhaps when we get hurt, we should not only ‘rub it better’ but also cross our arms,” said lead author Giandomenico Iannetti of the UCL department of Physiology, Pharmacology and Neuroscience. Using a laser, scientists produced a four millisecond pin prick of “pure pain” (pain without touch) on the hands of a small group of eight volunteers.  It was then repeated with their arms crossed. The partipants’ brain responses to the pain were measured through electroencephalography (EEG); the volunteers also gave a rating on how much pain they felt during each circumstance. The results from both the EEG and the participants’ reports revealed that the perception of pain was weaker when the arms were crossed. “In everyday life you mostly use your left hand to touch things on the left side of the world, and your right hand for the right side of the world — for example when picking up a glass of water on your right side you generally use your right hand,” said Iannetti. “This means that the areas of the brain that contain the map of the right body and the map of right external space are usually activated together, leading to highly effective processing of sensory stimuli. When you cross your arms these maps are not activated together anymore, leading to less effective brain processing of sensory stimuli, including pain, being perceived as weaker.” According to the scientists, this new research could lead to novel clinical therapies to reduce pain that exploit the brain’s way of representing the body. The study is published in the journal PAIN. Source: University College London
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