More ArticlesDevelopmental psychology

Monday, January 16, 2017

Why we have sudden memory lapses while speaking

memory lapses

It will probably be happened more than once: you are speaking and suddenly get stuck, a memory lapse, simply you don’t know what to say, it is as if all the information in your mind had been deleted at once. It can happen when we are speaking in public, or when we are in a very important event for us as an exam or a job interview.

What happens in the brain when we forget the words?

There are several reasons why we find ourselves with an empty mind. In fact, in some cases it is an aging signal, other times it is a symptom of a neurodegenerative disease.

But usually it is due to stress and anxiety. In fact, it is a common phenomenon when we expose ourselves to a strong emotional stress, because of an excessive responsibility or the situation worries us greatly.

The problem is that when we feel anxious the process of our thoughts changes and we enter into what might be called the "reactive mode". In these cases, our muscles get tensed, senses become more acute, and there are changes at neurochemical levels that allow us to react physically faster, but all these phenomena do not help the memory.

One of these changes is the release of corticosterone, a hormone that comes into play especially in situations of stress, fear and anxiety, or when we remember a "traumatic" event of the past. This hormone is synthesized in the adrenal cortex and among its functions is precisely that to block the systems for recovering information.

The corticosterone affects the operation of the different areas of the brain, including the hippocampus, which is crucial for memory, the amygdala, associated with emotions, and the cerebral cortex, which is involved in memory retrieval. Moreover, neuroscientists at the University of Bordeaux saw that corticosterone literally floods the hippocampus 15 minutes after being subjected to acute stress.

In this regard, it was discovered that if the glucocorticoid are administered before a learning test, it is easier to recover the information. In addition, this hormone also influences the duration of memory lapses, which can sometimes reach the 90 minutes. This is why the data we could not remember during the exam, a job interview or presentation, re-emerge easily later, when we are more relaxed.

How to avoid this situation?

As you can imagine, the best strategy to avoid having memory lapses is to control the stress. So if you know you're going to face a situation that creates stress and anxiety, you may first practice some relaxation techniques or breath control.

It will also help you not to adopt a hyper-critical discourse toward yourself, because maintaining constantly this dialogue in your mind will end saturating the brain, which will produce a loss of memory in an attempt to reset itself.

Another trick is to try to retrieve the information in the same way that you have acquired it. In fact, one of the most common mistakes for which we don’t remember a thing is because we are looking in the wrong memory cluster. In practice, we try to activate a circuit that was not used during learning, for this reason we can’t find what we're looking for.

Marks, W. N. et. Al. (2015) The effect of chronic corticosterone on fear learning and memory depends on dose and the testing protocol. Neuroscience; 289:324-333.
Chauveau, F. et. Al. (2010) Rapid stress-induced corticosterone rise in the hippocampus reverses serial memory retrieval pattern. Hippocampus; 20(1):196-207.
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Friday, January 13, 2017

Don’t give up too soon, but don’t insist neither too long

personal growth

Life is not a fast race, but a marathon, and to go far maintaining the best shape we have to learn to keep the balance, knowing when it's time to hurry up, slow down or even stop to regain strength. And in any case, maintaining the delicate balance is difficult, it’s easier to get carried away by emotions and fall in the extremes, especially in a society where everything is hyperbolized.

Fight, but keep the perspective

The society sends us a very clear message: persevere and you will be successful. Abandonment is synonymous of failure, lack of firmness, temperance and laziness, but the truth is that sometimes to give up indicates intelligence, common sense and even a simple spirit of survival.

In this sense, a very interesting study conducted at the University of Concordia of which few speak, immersed as we are in the "dictatorship of the positive psychology", indicates that giving up the unattainable or too ambitious goals is much more beneficial than what we might think, especially for our health.

According to these psychologists, pursuing these objectives at all costs may be counterproductive. To reach these conclusions were involved 204 persons, who were asked to remember their most important goals of the last five years and what results they obtained. In addition, it was assessed their psychological and health condition, starting from the presence of stress and level of cortisol in blood, up to the appearance of health problems.

At the same time, were followed for an entire semester 81 students, to analyze how they dealt with their educational objectives and how these could affect their health and psychological well-being.

This way they appreciated that the ability to resize the goals was an important indicator of physical health and emotional well-being. Those persons aware that their goals were not realistic and adapted them to the new circumstances, were less stressed and suffered less from health problems. In fact, their cortisol levels in blood were lower. On the contrary, those who insisted in achieving their goals, despite repeated failures, showed higher levels of stress, guilt, sleep disorders, depression, anxiety, were more likely to suffer from viral diseases and gastrointestinal disorders, headache and rash.

Where is the limit? The Stockdale Paradox

It is true that in life many of the most valuable things require effort, patience and sacrifice. Giving up too early will lead to a life marked by the abandonment of dreams and projects, and this will produce dissatisfaction and fuel the feeling of failure. However, even the excessive optimism can play tricks, as evidenced by the Stockdale Paradox, a term coined by Jim Collins and inspired by the personal experience of the Admiral James Stockdale, the American prisoner of majority status during the Vietnam War.

Stockdale remained as prisoner in the "Hanoi Hilton" and was tortured repeatedly during 8 years. Later he told that the most optimistic prisoners, those who continued believing that they would be released next Christmas, were more likely to die. The problem is that when their hopes didn’t came true they tended to get depressed, so ended up throwing in the towel much earlier than those who were more objective, but still not abandoned hope and optimism.

This indicates that, although optimism is important, there are moments when it may turn against us, generating some very negative feelings. For this reason, just as important as persevere in our objectives, is to be able to detect the signs that indicate that it came the time to modify or even change completely direction.

3 signs that indicate that it is time to change

1. You don’t reach the expected results. If you are giving the best of you, if you're trying hard since long time and have not achieved the results that encourage you to go ahead and indicate that your goal is achievable and that you're moving in the right direction, it's time to stop and review your goals.

2. You're exhausted, physically and/or emotionally.
There are moments when, even though you're getting results, these will cost a huge sacrifice, both in terms of health, emotional well-being and interpersonal relationships. In this case you should ask yourself if this goal is well worth such a sacrifice, maybe you can consider some more modest goals that require less effort.

3. Circumstances have changed profoundly. Sometimes we can be so obsessed with our goals to not realize that the conditions have changed and have become hostile. Perhaps you can’t count with the same support from the others, the world around you has changed, and this project turned obsolete, or maybe you no longer have the same capabilities, disposition or skills you had before. In this case, the smartest thing to do is to review your goals.

Wrosch, C. et. Al. (2007) Giving up on unattainable goals: benefits for health? Pers Soc Psychol Bull; 33(2): 251-265.
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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

What do reveal your eyes about you? Are they truly the soul mirrors?


It is said that the eyes are the "mirror of the soul", that when we look someone in the eye, we are able to perceive its essence. And the truth is that this statement is not entirely wrong, because the eyes offer a lot of information concerning the emotional state of a person.

When people are sad or worried frown the forehead, this makes that their eyes look smaller. But when they are happy we say that their eyes shine, because this emotion makes that the eyebrows raise, so that the eyes appear bigger and brighter.

In addition, we can distinguish between a genuine smile, also known as "Duchenne smile" and a fake one, just by looking in the eyes of the person. In fact, the mouth movements are easy to imitate, we do it continuously for courtesy, but the eyes don’t lie: when we are really happy not only we smile but also wrinkle the corners of the eyes, forming what are called "crow's feet”. However, when people feign a smile, they usually forget the eyes, which remain expressionless.

What the pupils and eye movements tell

If the eye is the mirror, the pupil is literally an opening in the eye. The pupil functions as the shutter of a camera, expanding and contracting to adjust the amount of light that enters the eye. Therefore, our pupils contract with light and expand with the darkness.

But the pupils do not simply respond to light, also express our emotions and intentions. In fact, the pupils dilate even when we are excited, because our body activates a warning network involving the autonomic nervous system by preparing to respond when we are faced with a threat or an opportunity. For this reason it is considered that the dilation of the pupil is a true signal of sexual interest.

However, the pupils dilate even in response to a stimulus that draws our attention. When we are exploring the environment, for example, the pupils dilate to capture as much visual information as possible. Therefore, the dilation of the pupils is considered a signal of great interest even in conversation.

But the pupils are not the only ones that offer information. Even eye movements are important. In fact, a study conducted at Arizona State University found that curious people move continuously their eyes. These psychologists evaluated the level of curiosity of the participants, such as the desire to acquire new knowledge and new experiences. Later they asked them to see a series of images, while their eye movements were monitored. So they saw that the most curious people were even those who constantly moved the eyes looking for information.

Also closing the lids we may reveal information about us. In this regard, some psychologists from the University of Portsmouth have discovered that the way we blink the eyelids can indicate whether we are lying or not. The researchers asked a group of people to tell a false story and to others to remember an event that really happened in their lives. Analyzing their behavior they saw that when a person is lying does not close his eyes continually.

It is interesting, because normally opening and closing the eyes several times is considered a sign of nervousness, and keeping our eyes open for a long time means we're doing a cognitive effort. In fact, when we lie our brain can suffer a cognitive overload, which prevents it from maintaining the same level of control over various functions that normally occur automatically.

So, now you know that the eyes are the mirror of the soul, or at least a small window that shows a part of us and discover a part of the other. The English writer Gilbert Keith Chesterton was right when he said that "there is a path between the eyes and the heart that does not go through the intellect".

Mathôt, S. & Van der Stigchel, S. (2015) New light on the mind’s eye: the pupillary light response as active vision. Current Directions in Psychological Science; 24: 374-378.
Risko, E. F. et. Al. (2012) Curious eyes: Individual differences in personality predict eye movement behavior in scene-viewing. Cognition; 122(1): 86–90.
Mann, S.; Vrij, A. & Bull, R. (2002) Suspects, Lies, and Videotape: An Analysis of Authentic High-Stake Liars. Law and Human Behavior; 26(3): 365-376.
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Monday, January 9, 2017

How to "tune" the brain to relieve pain


Between 20 and 50% of the world population suffers from chronic pain. Chronic pain, as the name suggests, is persistent, even if at some stage it becomes acute.

But even if is a very common problem, there are not many treatments that can provide the relief of which these people need. Now scientists at the University of Manchester have discovered that if the brain is "tuned" to a specific frequency, it is possible to relieve pain.

Brain waves against pain

The nerve cells of the brain surface are coordinated with each other in a specific frequency, depending on the state of brain activation. In fact, a previous study conducted at the University of Oxford found that the intensity of the pain can be identified through the neural signals.

These researchers found that some cells of the brain that show a binary response to pain; that is, which are activated only in the presence of painful stimuli, when we don’t feel pain remain "inactive”. When we feel pain these cells are activated, which "tune" on low frequency waves. And the more the pain is intense, the greater the duration of these waves.

In particular the alpha waves, which are tuned to 12 cycles per second, have been associated with the activation of the brain areas associated with control and it was appreciated that are able to influence the operation of other areas of the brain. In fact, the alpha waves of the frontal zone are connected to the feeling of anesthesia caused from the placebo effect. So neuroscientists wondered whether "tuning" the brain because it emits alpha waves could reduce pain.

The interesting thing is that you can "tune" the brain simply by using glasses that emit flashes of light or acoustic devices that emit sounds in both ears at the same frequency. Both the visual stimulation and the auditory reduce the intensity of pain, this occurred by applying small pain stimuli on the arm of those who participated in the experiment.

What are brain waves?

At the base of our emotions, thoughts and behaviors there is the communication between neurons. The brain waves are produced by the synchronization of electrical impulses sent by sets of neurons to communicate with each other.

When slow waves are produced we feel tired, we're about to fall asleep or we experience a state of relaxation. Conversely, the higher frequencies dominate when we are awake and active.

The alpha waves, in particular, will originate mainly in the occipital lobe and are dominant in the state of relaxation and meditation, when the brain remains at rest, but is not completely disconnected from the environment. Maybe that's why other studies have revealed that meditation helps to relieve pain.

Ecsy, K. et. Al. (2016) Alpha-Range Visual and Auditory Stimulation reduces the Perception of Pain. European Journal of Pain.
Smith, K. (2007) Brain waves reveal intensity of pain. Neural signal offers objective measure of subjective experience. Nature; 450: 329.
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Friday, January 6, 2017

The incredible effects of incense on the brain


If you have the habit of burning incense at home, you should know that you are directly stimulating your brain. In fact, for several centuries religions have claimed that burning incense is good for the soul. And everything seems to indicate that were right, since now a team of biologists at Johns Hopkins University and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, claim that it has beneficial effects on the brain and explain that its psychoactive properties could be the reason why many people continue to burn incense during religious services around the world.

Incense has anxiolytic and antidepressant effects

These researchers have discovered how the frankincense resin, a component of sacred Boswellia, also known as the frankincense tree, works in the brain relieving anxiety and depression. So we might have at hand a powerful tool to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

In essence, the healing power of this plant would be in the incense acetate, a compound extracted from the resin of incense. In fact, these researchers exposed some mice to this substance, and saw that it had antidepressants and anti-anxiety effects.

Further analyzing its action it was found that the incense acetate acts on certain areas of the brain associated with emotions, as well as acts on the same circuits on what act the medications for depression and anxiety.

In fact, it was discovered that incense activates a protein called TRPV3, which is present in the brains of all mammals, including humans, and plays an important role in the perception of temperature through the skin and the emotional regulation.

The incense acetate has also anti-inflammatory properties. A study at the Ariel University Center of Samaria found that this incense component inhibits inflammation and prevents cognitive deficits after ischemia. Therefore, in addition to its anti-depressive effect and the anxiolytic action, this substance also has a protective effect against neurological damage.

But before you burn incense as a therapy you need to know that some studies indicate that the other components of the incense smoke may cause mutations in the genetic material, so it is recommended that in the environment in which you burn incense there is good ventilation.

Zhou, R. Et al. (2015) Higher cytotoxicity and genotoxicity of burning incense than cigarette. Environ Chem Lett 13: 465.
Moussaieff, A. et. Al. (2012) Protective effects of incensole acetate on cerebral ischemic injury. Brain Research; 1443: 89-97.
Moussaieff, A. et. Al. (2008) Incensole acetate, an incense component, elicits psychoactivity by activating TRPV3 channels in the brain. The FASEB Journal; 22(8): 3024-3034.
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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A bad relationship can break your heart, literally

couple relationships

Love is one of the most beautiful things that exist, however, a bad relationship is just the opposite, it can become a nightmare. In fact, the people involved in a conflictual relationship in the couple have a higher risk of suffering from heart problems.

A conflictual relationship damages the heart

Several studies have shown that married people tend to be healthier than single or divorced. But not all relationships are positive, the quality of the relationship is a key factor that will determine if the person next to you helps you resolve problems or, on the contrary, causes them.

In fact, the negative effects of a poor couple's relationship are found mostly in women, according to a study conducted at the National Institute of Health. These psychologists followed 1,200 people aged between 50 and 80 years old for a period of five years

The researchers mainly focused on cardiovascular health by analyzing the levels of cholesterol and cases of heart attacks and strokes. They following comparing their state of health with the degree of satisfaction in their marriage. It was investigated the emotional affinity with the partner, happiness in marriage and how critical and demanding was the person with whom they shared their lives.

Crossing the data, the researchers discovered that the quality of marriage was linked to the heart health, particularly in women. This way they discovered how a bad relationship in the couple is a constant source of stress, which causes changes in the body that have a cumulative effect and may end up causing cardiovascular problems.

In reality, this doesn’t mean that a discussion can cause a heart attack. The researchers explain that our body remembers, so that the consequences of a bad relationship appear over time.

Why are women more vulnerable?

This is not the first study to find a correlation between marital conflicts and cardiovascular problems in women. In fact, a research conducted with 300 Swedish women, found that the risk of suffering from a heart attack is multiplied by 3 when there are serious problems in the relationship. It is curious to note that the stress generated by an high level of stress at work does not represent a health risk so high.

Researchers believe that women are more vulnerable because tend to the somatization of their feelings, get depressed more easily and are more sensitive to marital problems. In this regard, it was also seen that when women become ill, the couple's relationship often tends to deteriorate, but it does not happen the same when is the man who gets sick. This could be due to the fact that women assume more easily the role of carers and care not to increase the stress while men may not be as sensitive when their partner becomes ill.

Liu, H. & Waite, L. (2014) Bad Marriage, Broken Heart? Age and Gender Differences in the Link between Marital Quality and Cardiovascular Risks among Older Adults. Journal of Health and Social Behavior; 55(4): 403-423.
Orth, K. et. Al. (2000) Marital Stress Worsens Prognosis in Women With Coronary Heart DiseaseThe Stockholm Female Coronary Risk Study. The Journal of the American Medical Association; 284(23): 3008-3014.
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Monday, January 2, 2017

7 signs that you're arguing for nothing

communication skills

Words are one of the most powerful tools at our disposal. Through them we can express what we feel and think, we can convince the others and reach an agreement. Words can heal wounds, solve conflicts and lead to mutual understanding.

But the words do not have a magic power, so that sometimes are not enough. Because a word is effective on the other side there must be a receptive ear. If the other person is not willing to give up even one millimeter, words will be in vain. In these cases it is better not to scramble as anything we could say would fall on deaf ears. Sometimes, for our own emotional balance, we must learn to recognize when it is time to abandon a discussion.

Discussing it only makes sense if we can reach an agreement

The word "discuss" has taken on a negative meaning, but originally meant "shaking" so that in the ancient Rome was used to refer to the action of shaking something to separate the components. Figuratively meant "examining carefully things to separate and distinguish them”.

Therefore, the purpose of the discussion is not to win but reach an agreement and, in a sense, change the perspective in this regard. But for this to happen it is necessary that both people are willing to engage in such analysis, to build a bridge that leads to understanding. Otherwise, the discussion becomes a battle to be right and it loses its meaning, as well as make us lose patience and inner peace.

It is therefore important to learn how to detect these signs that indicate that we are discussing unnecessarily.

1. They seek constantly pretexts. The person who doesn’t assumes responsibilities and continually seeks pretexts, is not prepared to take the necessary steps to reach an agreement. When your interlocutor resorts to excuses to explain his words or behavior, basically wants to shirk its responsibility or just "get away", making sure that his interests prevail regardless of the needs of the others.

2. They masquerade as victims.
If your interlocutor takes the role of the victim, will be very difficult to make him understand that he has responsibilities in what has happened. When a person does nothing but complain about what happens, blaming the others, the fate or misfortune, it is difficult to take a proactive role and move forward in the discussion.

3. They use a condescending tone or an authoritarian one. There are very self-centered people who feel to be above the others and believe that only their arguments are valid because they think they have the absolute truth. Generally these people do not discuss to reach agreement, but to impose their opinions, so it is very difficult to talk with them and gain ground.

4. They don’t show signs of empathy. Our brains are programmed to feel empathy. Mirror neurons are activated before the pain or the joy of the others, therefore it is said that emotions are "contagious”. Empathy is essential to reach an understanding, without this all discussion is doomed to fail because each party will hide behind its position and won’t give in.

5. They attack you verbally. When a person becomes aggressive it is better to immediately stop the conversation because it's very difficult to get him/her back into himself/herself. The aggressivity is a sign that the emotional brain took control, so it will be very difficult to talk and reason with that person.

6. They use recriminations.
Sometimes discussions generate negative emotions, but if the person hopes that it is possible to reach an understanding nothing is lost. But very often, especially in longstanding relationships, one of the two people thinks the battle is lost in advance, so instead of arguing with the aim of reaching a solution, uses only recriminations.

7. They don’t respect you. Any discussion must be based in respect of the individuals. Although there are different opinions, each party must respect each other and do not use derogatory words. If not, and some barriers are broken, it is better to end the conversation, at least until the waters calm down.
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Friday, December 30, 2016

The dark side of emotional intelligence

emotional intelligence

We tend to think that the skills are always positive. Therefore, the more skills we develop the better is. We also commit the mistake of believing that a person with many skills is better than another with less. Thus, we prefer to have at our side, both at work and in everyday life , the most able people. But the skills are not inherently positive, it depends on how we use them.

The Emotional Intelligence is essential because narcissists can reach their goals

The Emotional Intelligence, a concept created in 1990 by Salovey and Mayer and popularized by Daniel Goleman, has been touted as a key skill for success. Everyone wants to develop their emotional skills and want to have in their team people with a high level of emotional intelligence.

It is not surprising, since a great number of studies show that people with higher emotional intelligence tend to have fewer health problems, a brilliant career, are more efficient and satisfied in their personal lives, as well as have less interpersonal problems.

However, this construct, which implies the ability to perceive and understand their emotions, manage them properly and express them assertively, is not a panacea. There are other studies that have received less media attention, in which the researchers focused on the analysis of how people use these skills, they concluded that the emotional intelligence has a "dark side”.

In fact, recently a group of Austrian psychologists examined 594 people and found a correlation between emotional intelligence and narcissism, indicating that this ability is often used to "seduce and conquer" the other, to satisfy their own interests at the expense of the needs of the others.

But this is not the only study that has found this correlation. A research conducted at the University of Michigan with 184 people discovered that the narcissistic traits are deeply linked to the ability to recognize emotions, a key factor to manipulate the others.

In fact, the ability to grasp and understand the emotions of the others often generates empathy, but it can also turn into a manipulative behavior, such as what are practicing the narcissists.

As if that were not enough, another study conducted at the University of Toronto found that people with high emotional intelligence are more likely to embarrass the other in public, often just to get recognition. Interestingly, this study also found that these people are more likely to recognize negative emotions rather than positive ones.

This indicates that they have developed a special ability to detect emotional states where we are most vulnerable, in order to exploit them in their favor and manipulate us. For example, it was found that these people can easily identify when we have doubts, interpreting facial expressions that denote uncertainty and lack of confidence. Obviously, when we doubt we are more vulnerable to the opinions and pressures of the others, then to manipulators is easier to achieve their goal.

Of course, this does not mean that all people with high emotional intelligence are narcissistic and manipulative, but it is important to note that the ability, in itself, is not negative or positive, depends on how we use it.

Nagler, u. et. Al. (2014) Is There a ‘Dark Intelligence’? Emotional intelligence is used by dark personalities to emotionally manipulate others. Personality and Individual Differences; 65: 47-52.
Konrath, S. et. Al. (2014) The Relationship Between Narcissistic Exploitativeness, Dispositional Empathy, and Emotion Recognition Abilities. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior; 38(1): 129-143.
Côté, S. et. Al. (2011) The Jekyll and Hyde of Emotional Intelligence. Psychological Science; 22(8): 1073-1080.
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