New Love Deadens Pain but Maybe Also Protective Common Sense

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The early stages of a new, romantic relationship are associated with feelings of euphoria, which likely arise from brain mechanisms responsible for sensations of pleasure or reward.  Imaging studies have shown that viewing pictures of a new, romantic partner elicits brain activity in multiple reward processing centers in the brain.

Interestingly, these findings have now been replicated in a sample of Chinese participants, suggesting that patterns of brain activation elicited by viewing pictures of a romantic partner may be universal.

Viewing pictures of a new, romantic partner significantly reduced pain, but viewing pictures of the acquaintance did not.  Continue reading

Attention and Awareness Uncoupled | Neuroscience News

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Big implications for marketing, business and education

Bottom Line

“The experiment is one of a kind, showing differences in modulation between awareness and attention in the primary visual cortex, hence supporting the idea that neural activity corresponding to attention and awareness are, if not more, partially dissociated.”

Take Aways

  • Attention and awareness are fundamentally different processes and not necessarily connected
  • “We knew from previous experiments that visual awareness can occur without attention, and attention without awareness.”

Attention and Awareness Uncoupled | Neuroscience News

Brain imaging experiments uncouple two apparently intimately connected mental processes

In everyday life, attention and awareness appear tightly interwoven.

  • Attending to the scissors on the right side of your desk, you become aware of their attributes, for example the red handles.
  • Vice versa, the red handles could attract your attention to the scissors.

However, a number of behavioural observations have recently led scientists to postulate that attention and awareness are fundamentally different processes and not necessarily connected. Continue reading

“…people of an angry disposition are more susceptible to nicotine’s effects, and are therefore more likely to become addicted to cigarettes.”

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One region that lights up, called the thalamus, is considered to be the key relay point for sensory information flowing into the brain. Some of the symptoms of withdrawal among people trying to quit stem from the inability to focus thoughts and the feeling of being overwhelmed, and could thus be explained by changes in this region, according to the researchers. The researchers found that changes in this region were most dramatic among those who said they smoked to calm down when under stress.

Another region that lights up is a part of the pleasure system of the brain. Changes in this region, called the striatum, were most notable in people who smoked to satisfy craving and for pleasurable relaxation, the researchers said.

A third region that lights up, called the anterior cingulate cortex, is vital to cognitive functions such as conflict, self regulation, decision making and emotion. People whose brain scans showed the most differences in this region also reported that they smoked to manage their weight.

Brief on Current Medical Research Strategies on Addiction – “It’s All About the (Broken) Dopamine” System (NYT)

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Here is a good brief on the latest thinking, research and remediation ideas from NYT, focusing on very public Nora Volkow.  Just Google her name to get the latest on the brain science of addiction.  It’s all about a broken dopamine (feel good) system.

Take Aways:

  • We think we have free will, she continued, but we are foiled at every turn.
  •   First our biology conspires against us with brains that are hard-wired to increase pleasure and decrease pain.
  •   Meanwhile, we are so gregarious that social systems — whether you call them peer pressure or politics — reliably dwarf us as individuals. “There is no way you can escape.”
  • While the overall success rate for curing drug addiction with medications, therapy or both is not high (about half of treated individuals return to active substance use within a year), it is quite similar to overall successful treatment rates for other chronic medical conditions like asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure. Failure to take prescribed medications and backsliding to old bad habits is endemic, no matter what the condition.
  • A General in the Drug War – Nora D. Volkow
    She must say it a dozen times a day: Addiction is all about the dopamine. The pleasure, pain and devilish problem of control are simply the detritus left by waves of this little molecule surging and retreating deep in the brain.

    The toll from soaring rates of prescription drug abuse, including both psychiatric medications and drugs for pain, has begun to dwarf that of the usual illegal culprits. Hospitalizations related to prescription drugs are up fivefold in the last decade, and overdose deaths up fourfold. More high school seniors report recreational use of tranquilizers or prescription narcotics, like OxyContin and Vicodin, than heroin and cocaine combined. Continue reading