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The Hypnotherapy Station the place to go for emotional wellness
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How the brain separates relevant from irrelevant information

This piece of research intrigues me because, in one way or another, we can most likely all filter out external distractions and the like to a certain extent. But we also know that some of us are way better at the focusing of our attention than others. How about you; can you focus when you need to? . . . . . . . . .

So while this discovery may be a huge advancement from the perspective of neuroscience, it seems to raise some very complex questions for those of us who find it so difficult to block out the external clutter or everyday life; even more so when it comes to the internal stuff! I believe that one of the reasons we find it difficult to block out these annoying things that disrupt our lives, is by the way we choose to live; although mostly we are not even aware that we have made this choice?

So what is this choice? Well it's the choice of choosing to live in a "Brain Led way" as opposed to a "Mind Led way." What's the difference? Well, the Brain Led way, allows us to live life, more or less solely, based on previous experience and memory and in some sense, that will almost always have some, small, relevance, even in the Mind Led model. However, with the Mind Led model we make extra-special use of mindfulness and introspection, kind of like micro-managing time, present and future, to predetermine states of mind, attitudes and, onward to that, behaviour.

Hypnotherapy (hypnosis) is an especially effective way to enhance this process because it allows us to experience, neurochemically, what it feels like to have a good experience; in the same way a dream of falling allows to have a fearful one? In both situations, the perceived reality is false but despite that, it is believable. The brains defensive mechanisms will take what it feels is appropriate action and in the case of the falling dream, this could lead to anxiety, chronic stress or depression. Similarly, the empowering uplifting experience in hypnosis, can lead to a boost in confidence, heightened self esteem, more ability to manage your emotions etc. Wouldn't that be nice!

So, if anxiety, stress, depression or any other mind based problem is limiting your life; you know what to do and where to go to do it?

The research: Imagine yourself sitting in a noisy café trying to read. To focus on the book at hand, you need to ignore the surrounding chatter and clattering of cups, with your brain filtering out the irrelevant stimuli coming through your ears and "gating" in the relevant ones in your vision -- words on a page.

In a new paper in the journal Nature Communications, New York University researchers offer a new theory, based on a computational model, on how the brain separates relevant from irrelevant information in these and other circumstances.
"It is critical to our everyday life that our brain processes the most important information out of everything presented to us," explains Xiao-Jing Wang, Global Professor of Neural Science at NYU and NYU Shanghai and the paper's senior author. "Within an extremely complicated neural circuit in the brain, there must be a gating mechanism to route relevant information to the right place at the right time."

The analysis focuses on inhibitory neurons -- the brain's traffic cops that help ensure proper neurological responses to incoming stimuli by suppressing other neurons and working to balance excitatory neurons, which aim to stimulate neuronal activity.

"Our model uses a fundamental element of the brain circuit, involving multiple types of inhibitory neurons, to achieve this goal," Wang adds. "Our computational model shows that inhibitory neurons can enable a neural circuit to gate in specific pathways of information while filtering out the rest."

In their analysis, led by Guangyu Robert Yang, a doctoral candidate in Wang's lab, the researchers devised a model that maps out a more complicated role for inhibitory neurons than had previously been suggested.

Of particular interest to the team was a specific subtype of inhibitory neurons that targets the excitatory neurons' dendrites -- components of a neuron where inputs from other neurons are located. These dendrite-targeting inhibitory neurons are labeled by a biological marker called somatostatin and can be studied selectively by experimentalists. The researchers proposed that they not only control the overall inputs to a neuron, but also the inputs from individual pathways -- for example, the visual or auditory pathways converging onto a neuron.

"This was thought to be difficult because the connections from inhibitory neurons to excitatory neurons appeared dense and unstructured," observes Yang. "Thus a surprising finding from our study is that the precision required for pathway-specific gating can be realized by inhibitory neurons."

The study's authors used computational models to show that even with the seemingly random connections, these dendrite-targeting neurons can gate individual pathways by aligning with excitatory inputs through different pathways. They showed that this alignment can be realized through synaptic plasticity -- a brain mechanism for learning through experience.

Story Source:
Materials provided by New York University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:
1. Guangyu Robert Yang, John D. Murray, Xiao-Jing Wang. A dendritic disinhibitory circuit mechanism for pathway-specific gating. Nature Communications, 2016; 7: 12815 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms12815

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Curiosity has the power to change our behaviour for the better

I guess having a questioning mind, maybe even being a little bit of a nosy parker, may actually be helpful? Although I would assume the motive could play a larger part in that . . . . . .

I truly believe having an inquisitive mind has been my most treasured asset, I was never satisfied with "the answer is," I was always asking "why?" These days it is so much easier to find out almost anything and everything through my trusted friend, Wikipedia! Of course, in a therapeutic context, being inquisitive is an imperative because the very thing that holds most people trapped with their own particular issue, is their beliefs. So many people, I believe, have a particular difficulty in life, precisely because they did not challenge their beliefs. It is not to say that they are deliberately sabotaging their life's prospects because many of the reasons lay deep within their subconscious. And it is precisely because hypnosis works at this deep level, that it is both revealing and thus effective. After all, you can't fix what you don't know is broken; can you?

So, this piece of research opens some potential windows of opportunity, that may help us question the staus quo a little more than we may otherwise would; or should!

The research: Resrearchers have found that curiosity could be an effective tool to entice people into making smarter and sometimes healthier decisions, according to research presented at the annual convention of the American Psychological Association.

"Our research shows that piquing people's curiosity can influence their choices by steering them away from tempting desires, like unhealthy foods or taking the elevator, and toward less tempting, but healthier options, such as buying more fresh produce or taking the stairs," said Evan Polman, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an author of the study. Polman and his colleagues conducted a series of four experiments designed to test how raising people's curiosity might affect their choices. In each case, arousing curiosity resulted in a noticeable behaviour change.

In the first experiment, the researchers approached 200 people in a university library and gave them a choice between two fortune cookies, one plain and one dipped in chocolate and covered in sprinkles. Half the participants were given no additional information and half were told that the plain cookie contained a fortune that would tell them something personal the researchers already knew about them. Participants whose curiosity was piqued (i.e., were told the plain cookie contained a fortune specifically about them) overwhelmingly chose the plain cookie by 71 percent. In contrast, when participants were told nothing, 80 percent chose the chocolate-dipped cookie.

"By telling people if they choose the ordinary cookie they'll learn something about themselves via the fortune inside of it, it piqued their curiosity, and therefore they were more likely to pick the plain cookie over the more tempting chocolate-dipped option," said Polman.

In another experiment, Polman and his colleagues increased the proportion of participants who chose to view what was described as a high-brow, intellectual video clip by promising to reveal the secret behind a magic trick.
While the results of the experiments in the library and the lab were interesting, the results of the field studies were particularly compelling, according to Polman. In the first, researchers were able to increase the use of the stairs in a university building nearly 10 percent by posting trivia questions near the elevators and promising the answers in the stairwell. In another, they increased the purchase of fresh produce in grocery stores by 10 percent by placing placards with a joke on them and printing the punchline on bag closures.

The strategies employed in these experiments and field studies are similar to those used by websites that attempt to increase traffic with sensationalised headlines containing phrases like, "You won't believe what happened next," or, "You'll be shocked when you see this," said Polman. Called clickbait, these headlines typically aim to exploit a "curiosity gap" by providing just enough information to make a reader curious, but not enough to satisfy that curiosity without engaging in a desired behaviour (i.e., clicking on a link).

While Polman and his colleagues were not surprised that curiosity could change behaviour, they were surprised at the overall strength of the effect. "Evidently, people really have a need for closure when something has piqued their curiosity. They want the information that fills the curiosity gap, and they will go to great lengths to get it."
Polman believes curiosity can be used to entice people to engage in healthier behaviours, such as exercising more or eating healthier foods.

"Our results suggest that using interventions based on curiosity gaps has the potential to increase participation in desired behaviours for which people often lack motivation," said Polman. "It also provides new evidence that curiosity-based interventions come at an incredibly small cost and could help steer people toward a variety of positive actions."

Story Source:
Materials provided by American Psychological Association. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

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Just 10 minutes of meditation helps anxious people have better focus!

Meditation, as a state of a brain/mind phenomenon, has striking similarities with hypnosis. The main difference, simplistically, is how each state is induced. How can you access these states . . . . .

In its most simplistic form, "Meditation" is entered by emptying the mind, thus creating the absence of the self. In contrast, "Hypnosis" is entered by filling the mind, albeit with something different, specific. The vehicle for such musings is our imagination, the part of the brain/mind that hears unspoken sounds and sees pictures, with the eyes closed, of such clarity as to be more vivid than the real thing. It is also the brains inability to distinguish real from false that makes hypnosis so empowering. Think of dreaming, that dream of falling, that feels so real as to elicit intense feelings of fear! Yet in reality it is a total falsehood a real experience of a non existent falseness!

So the research below, may be of help or comfort to those who suffer from abnormal or unwanted anxiety or stress. It can also help those who suffer from depression, for it is always the case that such people will have higher levels of anxiety and/or stress. It is difficult to make progress in the lessening of the symptoms and feeliings of depression when one's fight or flight response is active. By reducing the symptoms of anxiety, stress or depression, as well as the false or real underlying cause(s), normal function is eventually restord. Normal functioning meaning, in the presence of real danger or difficulty; that's what anxiety and fear are for, essentially, it is to protect and keep us safe!

The research:
Just 10 minutes of daily mindful mediation can help prevent your mind from wandering and is particularly effective if you tend to have repetitive, anxious thoughts, according to a study from the University of Waterloo.

The study, which assessed the impact of meditation with 82 participants who experience anxiety, found that developing an awareness of the present moment reduced incidents of repetitive, off-task thinking, a hallmark of anxiety. "Our results indicate that mindfulness training may have protective effects on mind wandering for anxious individuals," said Mengran Xu, a researcher and PhD candidate at Waterloo. "We also found that meditation practice appears to help anxious people to shift their attention from their own internal worries to the present-moment external world, which enables better focus on a task at hand."

The term mindfulness is commonly defined as paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and without judgement. As part of the study, participants were asked to perform a task on a computer while experiencing interruptions to gauge their ability to stay focused on the task. Researchers then put the participants into two groups at random, with the control group given an audio story to listen to and the other group asked to engage in a short meditation exercise prior to being reassessed.

"Mind wandering accounts for nearly half of any person's daily stream of consciousness," said Xu. "For people with anxiety, repetitive off-task thoughts can negatively affect their ability to learn, to complete tasks, or even function safely.
"It would be interesting to see what the impacts would be if mindful meditation was practiced by anxious populations more widely."

Story Source:
Materials provided by University of Waterloo. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:
1. Mengran Xu, Christine Purdon, Paul Seli, Daniel Smilek. Mindfulness and mind wandering: The protective effects of brief meditation in anxious individuals. Consciousness and Cognition, 2017; 51: 157 DOI: 10.1016/j.concog.2017.03.009

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Brain stimulation can be used like a scalpel to improve memory

It is often so exciting to see how science mirrors or discovers things that have been known to professional hypnotherapists. After all, the only thing we have to work with, is the clients mind! The mind comes replete with a huge store of hidden talents, not least of which is . . . . . . . . .

Memory, when you think of it, is the cornerstone of what makes us different to any other species. Of course that doesn't mean other animals do not have memories, kick a dog and they'll never forget you! But we are unique in that we can cultivate memories to create the future. I recall reading comic books as a young boy, stories about us going to the moon, that mars was alive with little green men etc. Of course for most of us at that time, this was sheer fantasy; nowadays, it's a mere fact of life (there are no green men on mars though)! History is littered with people who have made fantastic use of their imagination and memories and it is children’s ability to distort reality and then take that ability into adulthood; that makes us great. Ask any Harry Potter fan?

Essentially what happens in hypnosis, is that we tickle the imagination, introduce thoughts, ideas and concepts that lead the client to where they want to be in their life and the key component that makes that happen; is memory! The major difference between ordinary conscious, explicit (declarative) memory, is that, in hypnosis, we work at the level below consciousness and at that level it alters the way the brain processes information. How does it do that? I really have no idea, but I also don't know how a chicken lays an egg or why grass is always green (alright, I know not all grasses are green!!!). The point here, is, that not knowing doesn't prevent or make things happen. Of all the people I have helped quit smoking, not a single one refused to quit until they understood, "how it happened!" Hypnotherapy can help you achieve many things that are being prevented by the function, or dysfunction, of memory. Habits are a form of memory, as is bad or unwanted behaviour, phobias, over eating (for no medical reason) and of course smoking.

I once saw a person with traumatic brain injury forget that they smoked; can you believe that? They also forgot the names of people they loved and experienced plenty of other brain/mind anomalies. As the trauma lessened, all normal functions returned; including the urge to smoke. Of course scientists or doctors may say this was merely a result of the injury, which I agree. However, it was an interruption in the normal neural communications that occur within the brain, and however you want to cut it, that is a form of memory. For a certain amount of time, the brain's normal ability to access the names of loved ones, places, road names and all other sorts of information known to this person, including smoking, were unavailable! As the condition improved, the memories began to reconnect; truly amazing to observe!

The reason why I mention all of the above, is because in hypnosis we also stimulate the brain/mind without the need of a scalpel. We (hypnotherapists) enable clients to have permanence in their new found ability, be it to speak in public when previously they could not, stop a 100 a day smoking habit, lose a fear of flying or be able to pick up a spider, when previously, the mere mention of the word threw them into a blind state of panic. And none of this could be possible, were it not for the alteration, adaption or reconsolidation of "memory." I applaud all the great achievments made by science and in the excellent way they help many people. My aim here, is to highlight the way hypnosis can help many people, whose condition is not deemed worthy of such a medical intervention. Essentially helping ordinary people; live a more ordinary life!

The Research: Northwestern Medicine scientists showed for the first time that non-invasive brain stimulation can be used like a scalpel, rather than like a hammer, to cause a specific improvement in precise memory. Precise memory, rather than general memory, is critical for knowing details such as the specific colour, shape and location of a building you are looking for, rather than simply knowing the part of town it's in. This type of memory is crucial for normal functioning, and it is often lost in people with serious memory disorders. "We show that it is possible to target the portion of the brain responsible for this type of memory and to improve it," said lead author Joel Voss, assistant professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "People with brain injuries have problems with precise memory as do individuals with dementia, and so our findings could be useful in developing new treatments for these conditions."

By stimulating the brain network responsible for spatial memory with powerful electromagnets, scientists improved the precision of people's memory for identifying locations. This benefit lasted a full 24 hours after receiving stimulation and corresponded to changes in brain activity. "We improved people's memory in a very specific and important way a full day after we stimulated their brains," Voss said.

The paper was published Jan. 19 in Current Biology. The research enhances scientific understanding of how memory can be improved using noninvasive stimulation. Most previous studies of noninvasive brain stimulation have found only very general and short-lived effects on thinking abilities, rather than highly specific and long-lasting effects on an ability such as precise memory. The scientists used MRI to identify memory-related brain networks then stimulated them with noninvasive electromagnetic stimulation. Detailed memory tests were used to show that this improved spatial precision memory, and EEG was used to show that these memory improvements corresponded to indicators of improved brain network function.…/520-brain-stimulation…

Story Source: Materials provided by Northwestern University. Original written by Marla Paul. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference: Aneesha S. Nilakantan et al. Stimulation of the Posterior Cortical-Hippocampal Network Enhances Precision of Memory Recollection. Current Biology, January 2017 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.12.042 

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I feel like I have just come out of a long coma, I cannot believe I had never heard of Aaron Schwartz, Could he have uncovered the swamp that Donald Trump is now trying to drain?

You must watch this documentary and then share it, it is too precious not too!!!

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Our brain activity could be nudged to make healthier choices

Although not considered scientific, this research is a pretty good description of what can be achieved using hypnosis. Hypnosis is one of the most powerful ways we can influence the mind although . . . . . .

The ability we each have to self-hypnotise varies, hence why it is not so easy to be scientifically determined. However, with the assistance of a professional hypnotherapist, the odds of success increase dramatically. That the mind can be manipulated, coerced or motivated to achieve great things is old news. But what about the not so great things, like: stopping smoking, public speaking, feeling confident or losing a lifelong fear of spiders! The facts are that some very ordinary people can improve the quality of their life using hypnosis, you could too!

The article below shows, scientifically, that the chemical architecture of the brain correlates to what it is that we feel at any moment in time. So, in that context something doesn't have to be real to be believed; it often only has to be believed to feel real!. Dreams are the perfect example, take a dream of falling, it is totally false; yet feels so real! Imagination has the same power as that of dreams; hypnosis is the tool that hypnotherapists use to effect the change you want - it's all in the mind!

Netflix binge-watching versus a hike in the woods. A cheeseburger versus kale salad. Fentanyl versus Tylenol. New UC research from the University California, Berkeley, suggests our brain activity could be influenced to make the healthier choice. In recording moment-by-moment deliberations by macaque monkeys over which option is likely to yield the most fruit juice, UC Berkeley scientists have captured the dynamics of decision-making down to millisecond changes in neurons in the brain's orbitofrontal cortex. The findings, reported in the journal Nature Neuroscience, shed new light on internal decision-making processes -- particularly with regard to habitual behaviors -- and help target the brain circuitry for implants to treat such neuro-psychiatric disorders as anxiety, depression and addiction.

"If we can measure a decision in real time, we can potentially also manipulate it," said study senior author Jonathan Wallis, a UC Berkeley neuroscientist and professor of psychology. "For example, a device could be created that detects when an addict is about to choose a drug and instead bias their brain activity towards a healthier choice." Located behind the eyes, the orbitofrontal cortex plays a key role in decision-making and, when damaged, can lead to poor choices and impulsivity. While previous studies have linked activity in the orbitofrontal cortex to making final decisions, this is the first to track the neural changes that occur during deliberations between different options. "We can now see a decision unfold in real time and make predictions about choices," Wallis said.

Measuring the signals from electrodes implanted in the monkeys' brains, Wallis and fellow researchers tracked the primates' neural activity as they weighed the pros and cons of images that delivered different amounts of juice. A computational algorithm tracked the monkeys' orbitofrontal activity as they looked from one image to another, determining which picture would yield the greater reward. The shifting brain patterns enabled researchers to predict which image the monkey would settle on. For the experiment, they presented a monkey with a series of four different images of abstract shapes, each of which delivered to the monkey a different amount of juice. They used a pattern-recognition algorithm known as linear discriminant analysis to identify, from the pattern of neural activity, which picture the monkey was looking at.

Next, they presented the monkey with two of those same images, and watched the neural patterns switch back and forth to the point where the researchers could predict which image the monkey would choose based on the length of time that the monkey stared at the picture. "Effectively we could now see the decision unfold and make predictions about the animal's choice," Wallis said. The more the monkey needed to think about the options, particularly when there was not much difference between the amounts of juice offered, the more the neural patterns would switch back and forth. "Now that we can see when the brain is considering a particular choice, we could potentially use that signal to electrically stimulate the neural circuits involved in the decision and change the final choice," Wallis said.

Story Source: Materials provided by University of California - Berkeley. Original written by Yasmin Anwar. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference: Erin L Rich, Jonathan D Wallis. Decoding subjective decisions from orbitofrontal cortex. Nature Neuroscience, 2016; DOI: 10.1038/nn.4320…/525-our-brain-activity-co…

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Are we more risk averse as we get older? No, it's a grey thing matter

There may be less to the old adage, "older but wiser," at least as far as our ability to take additional risk is concerned. It seems that deterioration in a specific brain region's grey matter may be the key factor that determines our appetite to risk.

It is rarely the case that a loss of cognitive function, in one or many areas of the brain, is singular in nature. Quite what other surprises this thinning of grey matter has in store for us, is, as of yet, still a work in progress. However, the really good news is, that with simple, child like, learning, we can actually build grey matter, sometimes in only a matter of hours. The same, lack of singularity, effect works in the positive too. So. go on, get to it and grow the grey stuff - More info here -

The Research: - Age itself is not the determining factor in how an individual views or tolerates risk when making decisions; instead, it is the age-related decline in the volume of grey matter in our brains, research by NYU's Institute for the Interdisciplinary Study of Decision Making shows.

"These results provide a basis for understanding the neural mechanisms involved in risky choices and offer a glimpse into the dynamics that affect decision-making in an aging population," explains study co-author Paul Glimcher, a professor at NYU's Center for Neural Science and director of the Interdisciplinary Study of Decision Making (IISDM). "This research can help us improve how we communicate with the elderly about complex issues that may present risks to them."

"Older adults need to make many important financial and medical decisions, often under high levels of uncertainty," adds lead author Ifat Levy, an associate professor of comparative medicine and of neuroscience at Yale University and visiting professor at IISDM. "We know that decision making changes with age, but we don't really know what the biological basis of these changes is. In this paper, we make the first step towards answering this question, by showing that the decrease in gray matter volume in a particular part of the brain -- posterior parietal cortex -- accounts for the increase in risk aversion observed with age."

The study, which appears in the journal Nature Communications, focused on the right posterior parietal cortex (rPPC) -- a part of the brain involved in planning movements, spatial reasoning, and attention.

For the study, the research team presented a series of choices to 52 study participants, aged 18 to 88 years. Participants could either receive $5 or take their chances with a lottery of varying amounts and probabilities. For example, a participant could choose the certain gain of $5 or opt for a 25 percent chance of getting $20. The researchers also measured the gray matter volume in the posterior parietal cortex of each subject, drawn from MRI scans. After analyzing the risk choices and MRI measurements, the researchers confirmed that age-related decline in risk tolerance correlates more with changes in brain anatomy than with age.

Story Source:
Materials provided by New York University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:
Michael A. Grubb, Agnieszka Tymula, Sharon Gilaie-Dotan, Paul W. Glimcher, Ifat Levy. Neuroanatomy accounts for age-related changes in risk preferences. Nature Communications, 2016; 7: 13822 DOI: 10.1038/NCOMMS13822

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What's really going on in PTSD brains? Experts suggest new theory

Chronic stress, anxiety and clinical depression have to be experienced to be believed and even more so, to be understood! Of course everyone will experience forms of anxiety and stress; maybe even a low mood, this is normal. However, when it reaches the level of disorder, it's a whole different ball game. How would you cope?

The reality is, you just don't know; that is, until you've been there! It is important to to understand that PTSD or any other form of extreme anxiety/stress disorders, are pervasive in nature and create conditions that can wreck a life or family's life; that is why the sooner you seek help, the easier it is to treat. The reason for this is quite simple, it is because, in most cases, anxiety and stress disorders are progressive in their development. Meaning each experience builds on the next and ultimately lead to one adopting avoidance strategies. For example, with social anxiety, if every time you meet a group of people, eat in a crowded restaurant or go to a seminar, you feel anxious about meeting and or talking with other people, then the brains logic, is; don't go out, make an excuse. We will make excuses such as I'd love to . . . . . but . . . . . !

Some traumas though, are so dramatic that they cause an instantaneous and, almost, permanent fear response, one that can be triggered by any sensory experience, or similarity, that was present in the original fear situation. Worse still, is that you don't have to be physically present but being so surely has the potential to make it more intense. Many people just watching the events of 9/11 are still traumatised to this day; some, maybe most, weren't even in New York or the United states! Of course for those that were there outside the twin towers, it was potentially more real and for those inside, who survived; highly likely to be even more so? That said, there were some inside who's life was wrecked that day and others, like Michael Wright who were better able to cope; read his story here:

Most often when one thinks of PTSD, it is quite usual to think of war veterans and one of the most profound experiences they have of the trauma are the flashbacks. An instant of a sensory experience that elicits a traumatising event, in technicolour, maybe even 3D! The reason for this is quite logical. It is because at every event, be it a happy one or a terrifying one, all of your senses are present, they are recording the event (in a fear situation) for survivals sake. The similarity of a car backfiring or a distant rumble of thunder can provoke battle responses and an abject fear response. Watching the final episode of "Band of Brothers" one sees all too clearly that time doesn't reduce the presence of the emotions. Some 55 years later, these men were reduced to choking emotion just talking about those events!

When it comes to treating anxiety disorders, it is the self same protection mechanisms in the brain and mind that can provide the solution. If talking about something that happened over 55 years ago can elicit such strong emotions, it tells us two fundamental things: 1) that the emotion is not being caused by the event itself; but rather the memory of it and 2) that it is stimuli in the present moment, that is/was similar or the same as the event(s) and, further, that it is this which is triggering the emotion of an actual event that is no longer present!

So, how can we treat this? Well two things to understand about memory, 1) that it is not very reliable and 2) that it is capable of being changed, or reconsolidated. When we add different things or introduce new concepts or possibilities we can actually change the way a memory expresses itself; this too is progressive but in the positive. Over time the brain learns new ways to re-experience old patterns of behaviour and eventually these become the norm. There are others aspects to the overall regimen for treating such issues but because of the uniqueness of situations and individuals, these are best achieved through the therapeutic process. To that end I provide a free 1 hour consultation which gives each potential client a better understanding of their own specific needs going forward. For more details on my Free Conslutation, please go here:

The research: For decades, neuroscientists and physicians have tried to get to the bottom of the age-old mystery of post-traumatic stress disorder, to explain why only some people are vulnerable and why they experience so many symptoms and so much disability. All experts in the field now agree that PTSD indeed has its roots in very real, physical processes within the brain -- and not in some sort of psychological "weakness." But no clear consensus has emerged about what exactly has gone "wrong" in the brain.

In a Perspective article published this week in Neuron, a pair of University of Michigan Medical School professors -- who have studied PTSD from many angles for many years -- put forth a theory of PTSD that draws from and integrates decades of prior research. They hope to stimulate interest in the theory and invite others in the field to test it.

The bottom line, they say, is that people with PTSD appear to suffer from disrupted context processing. That's a core brain function that allows people and animals to recognize that a particular stimulus may require different responses depending on the context in which it is encountered. It's what allows us to call upon the "right" emotional or physical response to the current encounter. A simple example, they write, is recognizing that a mountain lion seen in the zoo does not require a fear or "flight" response, while the same lion unexpectedly encountered in the backyard probably does. For someone with PTSD, a stimulus associated with the trauma they previously experienced -- such as a loud noise or a particular smell -- triggers a fear response even when the context is very safe. That's why they react even if the noise came from the front door being slammed, or the smell comes from dinner being accidentally burned on the stove.

Context processing involves a brain region called the hippocampus, and its connections to two other regions called the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. Research has shown that activity in these brain areas is disrupted in PTSD patients. The U-M team thinks their theory can unify wide-ranging evidence by showing how a disruption in this circuit can interfere with context processing and can explain most of the symptoms and much of the biology of PTSD. "We hope to put some order to all the information that's been gathered about PTSD from studies of human patients, and of animal models of the condition," says Israel Liberzon, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at U-M and a researcher at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System who also treats veterans with PTSD. "We hope to create a testable hypothesis, which isn't as common in mental health research as it should be. If this hypothesis proves true, maybe we can unravel some of the underlying pathophysiological processes, and offer better treatments."

Liberzon and his colleague, James Abelson, M.D., Ph.D., describe in their piece models of PTSD that have emerged in recent years, and lay out the evidence for each. The problem, they say, is that none of these models sufficiently explains the various symptoms seen in patients, nor all of the complex neurobiological changes seen in PTSD and in animal models of this disorder.

The first model, abnormal fear learning, is rooted in the amygdala -- the brain's 'fight or flight' center that focuses on response to threats or safe environments. This model emerged from work on fear conditioning, fear extinction and fear generalization.

The second, exaggerated threat detection, is rooted in the brain regions that figure out what signals from the environment are "salient," or important to take note of and react to. This model focuses on vigilance and disproportionate responses to perceived threats.

The third, involving executive function and regulation of emotions, is mainly rooted in the prefrontal cortex -- the brain's center for keeping emotions in check and planning or switching between tasks. By focusing only on the evidence bolstering one of these theories, researchers may be "searching under the streetlight," says Liberzon. "But if we look at all of it in the light of context processing disruption, we can explain why different teams have seen different things. They're not mutually exclusive." The main thing, says Liberzon, is that "context is not only information about your surroundings -- it's pulling out the correct emotion and memories for the context you are in."

A deficit in context processing would lead PTSD patients to feel "unmoored" from the world around them, unable to shape their responses to fit their current contexts. Instead, their brains would impose an "internalized context" -- one that always expects danger -- on every situation. This type of deficit, arising in the brain from a combination of genetics and life experiences, may create vulnerability to PTSD in the first place, they say. After trauma, this would generate symptoms of hypervigilance, sleeplessness, intrusive thoughts and dreams, and inappropriate emotional and physical outbursts. Liberzon and Abelson think that testing the context processing theory will enhance understanding of PTSD, even if all of its details are not verified. They hope the PTSD community will help them pursue the needed research, in PTSD patients and in animal models. They put forth specific ideas in the Neuron paper to encourage that, and are embarking on such research themselves.

The U-M/VA team is currently recruiting people with PTSD -- whether veterans or not -- for studies involving brain imaging and other tests. In the meantime, they note that there is a growing set of therapeutic tools that can help patients with PTSD, such as cognitive behavioral therapy mindfulness training and pharmacological approaches. These may work by helping to anchor PTSD patients in their current environment, and may prove more effective as researchers learn how to specifically strengthen context processing capacities in the brain.…/517-what-s-really-goi…

Story Source:
Materials provided by University of Michigan Health System. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:
1. Israel Liberzon, James L. Abelson. Context Processing and the Neurobiology of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Neuron, 2016; 92 (1): 14 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2016.09.039

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The role of the physical environment in the broken windows theory -

How often do we think of how much the environment we live in plays its part in the way our life unfolds? Apperently we should because the way it affects us, in varying ways, determines the quality of life and how our dreams will also unfold. . . . . . . . .

How often do we think of how much the environment we live in plays its part in the way our life unfolds? Apparently we should because the way it affects us, in varying ways, determines the quality of life and how our dreams will unfold. . . . . . . . .

Being born into post war London, it is fair to say I had an unconscious awareness of the effects of WWII (world War Two). I remember playing on bomb sites, although I am sure at the time I had no appreciation of what a bomb site actually was. That it represented the ravaged lives of ordinary people, destroyed dreams, shattered families, was all too oblivious to me. I guess I was one of the lucky ones because at the age of 8 weeks I moved into a brand new council house with my parents and grandparents. These days living in council accommodation, for some, may seem like anything other than lucky? As Britain grew more prosperous, there was a period of pride and privilege. However, as successive generations came along, the feelings that came from really understanding the value of peace gave way to the expectation of them. Today people accept, as normal, things that are in fact so amazing that see no need to revel in their wonder. Things like cheap air travel, TV's, computers, smart phones; owning your own home etc!

This new era brought along with it a sense of apathy, taking things for granted, and with that, a general lack of appreciation for the wonder of the world we live in. In the general sense, why would it be any other way, after all, people in their early twenties have never known a world without computers, mobile phones, air travel, colour TV's, "i" this or "e" that! That said, how often do we think how lucky we, the older generation, are with such wonderful inventions?

Now living in Singapore, I have a slightly better appreciation of living in a country that is regularly kept clean, but, it is not intrinsically clean and, without doubt, there is more litter today than there would have been only 10 years ago! Also you virtually never see graffiti here. Perhaps outside of Japan, Singapore enjoys one of the most impressive standards of living, it is primarily, I believe, because we do not have the social ills and apathy of many western societies, that we actually live relatively blessed life. The irony, in the aftermath of Donald Trumps election, is that Singapore doesn't share the same social and, perhaps, moral values as many other societies. The US, Europe and many other large countries have large welfare programmes and the many treatise they ascribe to obligate them to assist other, less well off, countries and, to a certain extent, that is necessary and right. However, there is a vast difference between what your conscience tells you to do and what is actually practical. And what is giving rise to such abstract shifts in the politico norm, is the absence for the care of the indigenous peoples of a country. This lack of care for the ordinary people of Britain and the USA, is the primary cause of such unexpected political voting in the recent Brexit and US elections. The parallel and relevance of this, to this research, is that the areas that are the most deprived, neglected and forgotten, are the very ones that have had the most radical effect on the succession of new and untested ideals!

The longer term worry, unless we heed this obvious trend, is that the most disaffected peoples of modern societies, the ones, who by there very nature, are more anti-establishment and anarchical, will be the ones setting the course of history in the future. So, perhaps there is a global governmental need to care more for the people of one's country first and then , hopefully, we will be in a better position to help others. This does not necessarily mean a total abandonment of helping others, but rather, a more global sharing of that responsibility. Why wouldn't the people of abandoned cities and towns feel neglected when they see there governments pouring billions into helping other countries; while they get left behind? Or, seeing their jobs go to countries that that offer cheaper labour, or having that cheap labour come to your country?

So, I ask, how does the role of the physical environment relative to the 'broken windows' affect the way our life unfolds?

The Research: For decades, the influential "broken windows" theory has linked signs of petty crime to bigger problems in a neighbourhood. Largely left out of such discussions, however, is the role simple perceptual features in physical environments play in encouraging rule-breaking.

In a new study, researchers at the University of Chicago explored whether mostly subconscious visual cues embedded in dilapidated buildings, overgrown lots and littered streets can fuel deviant behaviour. The study, to be published in the December issue of the Journal of Experimental Psychology, finds that exposure to simple perceptual features that make an environment look disorderly affect people in ways that can make rule-breaking more likely. "There is an ever-present physical environment that people are never separated from, and our research suggests it's having an influence in marked and important ways on human behaviour and possibly the functioning of a neighbourhood," said lead author Hiroki Kotabe, a postdoctoral scholar at UChicago's Environmental Neuroscience Laboratory, which studies how the physical environment affects the brain and behaviour. "Our work in many ways is bringing attention to the importance of physical elements, particularly the visual features."

Through a series of experiments, researchers including Kotabe; Marc G. Berman, a UChicago assistant professor of psychology and the lab's principal investigator; and doctoral student Omid Kardan identified elements of visual disorder embedded in the environment -- from excessive curvy lines to a lack of symmetry. They then tested the impact of such elements on a form of rule-breaking: cheating.

Traditionally, broken windows theory has revolved around how social cues such as graffiti, litter and vagrancy can snowball into more serious and widespread crime. It posits that when people see rule-breaking in the environment they reason that misconduct is acceptable, making them more likely to break rules themselves. The theory has been particularly influential on policing in the United States, ushering in a series of controversial policies around crime prevention.

"The prevailing wisdom is that one must see social cues of rule-breaking in order for rule-breaking behaviour to spread, but many of these social cues have visually disordered components. Imagine graffiti or a broken window both of which tend to have messy and often disorganised lines," Berman said. "Our research calls into question the necessity of having a social cue of disorder to promote rule-breaking, rather one might only need to perceive disorderly lines to cause disorderly behaviour."

In the study, researchers started by running experiments to identify basic visual cues that drive perceptions of disorder. They had people rate scenes on how orderly or disorderly they looked, showing images of neatly landscaped parks and a pristine lake as well as unkempt urban lots and an overgrown forest. Such scenes then were broken down further and similar questions were asked. For example, they extracted and scrambled basic spatial and colour features of the scenes to test whether they could predict how disorderly the scenes looked based on these features, even though participants could not make out the scenes these features came from. Some of these scrambled stimuli to which the participants were exposed could be compared to a Jackson Pollock painting. They found that spatial features such as the density of non-straight lines and asymmetry were better able to predict a scene's disorder than colour features such as hue and saturation.

Next Kotabe and his colleagues created nonsense orderly and disorderly stimuli based on these visual disorder cues to test whether exposure to visual disorder cues alone could encourage rule-breaking. They turned to a commonly used test of cheating, in which researchers gave participants a challenging math test and told them they would grade their own work. The participants also were told they would receive bonus money for each additional question they reported as correct. After the test, but before grading their work, the participants were exposed to either the visually disordered stimuli or visually ordered stimuli. The researchers found for participants exposed to the visually disordered stimuli compared to those exposed to the visually ordered stimuli the likelihood of cheating increased by 35 percent and the average magnitude of cheating increased by 87 percent.

So what is happening in the brain to produce such results? The researchers theorise a few possibilities. It could be that the visually disordered images are more taxing on the brain to process, thus resulting in reduced self-control. Another possibility is that prolonged exposure to visual disorder may activate mental metaphors such as a "straight-edge lifestyle" or a "crooked politician" deeply embedded in human thought, creating effects on behaviours such as rule-breaking. "These possible mechanisms paint a completely different picture from current explanations for (broken windows theory) phenomena. Thus, they point to a vast and unattended area of research, which we encourage researchers to venture into," the researchers wrote.

Story Source: Materials provided by University of Chicago. Original written by Mark Peters. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference: Hiroki P. Kotabe, Omid Kardan, Marc G. Berman. The Order of Disorder: Deconstructing Visual Disorder and Its Effect on Rule-Breaking.. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 2016; DOI: 10.1037/xge0000240 
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