Do you know how media, politicians, economics, and marketing control our brains?

Wire My Brain is a scientific forum for empowering an intellectual and behavioral revolution

  • Wire My Brain is about taking back our brains and applying the radical, new science of brain (neuro) plasticity and epigenetics, to take charge of life and our civilization
  • Wire My Brain is about providing paradigm-changing brain information to achieve personal success in business, finance, education, government, and civil society that works for the benefit of all
  • Wire My Brain is about becoming more highly effective by understanding the workings of the brains of others in order to collaboratively solve complex issues and secure a sustainable future

Can’t stop texting? Not surprising when you realized that each new message brings with it an addictive squirt of the addictive neurochemical, dopamine.  If you’re a teenager, it may be to blame for falling grades and a sleepy lack of attention and focus in school, according to a new Rutgers study.

The study, published in the Journal of Child Neurology, is the first of its kind to link nighttime texting habits of American teenagers to sleep health and school performance.Research has found that students who turned off their devices or who messaged for less than 30 minutes after lights out performed significantly better in school than those who messaged for more than 30 minutes after lights out.

“We need to be aware that teenagers are using electronic devices excessively and, that they have unique physical needs,” says study author Xue Ming, professor of neuroscience and neurology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. “Their natural rhythm is to go to sleep late and get up late. When we go against that natural rhythm, students become less efficient.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that media use among cTextinghildren of all ages is increasing exponentially; studies have found that children ages 8 to 18 use electronic devices approximately seven-and-a-half hours daily.

“During the last few years I have noticed an increased use of smartphones by my patients with sleep problems,” Ming says. “I wanted to isolate how messaging alone – especially after the lights are out – contributes to sleep-related problems and academic performance.”

To conduct her study, Ming distributed surveys to three New Jersey high schools – a suburban and an urban public school and a private school – and evaluated the 1,537 responses contrasting grades, sexes, messaging duration and whether the texting occurred before or after lights out.

She found that

  • students who turned off their devices or who messaged for less than 30 minutes after lights out performed significantly better in school than those who messaged for more than 30 minutes after lights out.
  • Texting before lights out did not affect academic performance, the study found.
  • Although females reported more messaging overall and more daytime sleepiness, they had better academic performance than males. “I attribute this to the fact that the girls texted primarily before turning off the light,” Ming says.
  • The effects of “blue light” emitted from smartphones and tablets are intensified when viewed in a dark room, Ming says. This short wavelength light can have a strong impact on daytime sleepiness symptoms since it can delay melatonin release, making it more difficult to fall asleep – even when seen through closed eyelids.

“When we turn the lights off, it should be to make a gradual transition from wakefulness to sleep,” Ming says. “If a person keeps getting text messages with alerts and light emission, that also can disrupt his circadian rhythm. Rapid Eye Movement sleep is the period during sleep most important to learning, memory consolidation and social adjustment in adolescents. When falling asleep is delayed but rising time is not, REM sleep will be cut short, which can affect learning and memory.”

She suggests that educators recognize the sleep needs of teenagers and incorporate sleep education in their curriculum. “Sleep is not a luxury; it’s a biological necessity. Adolescents are not receiving the optimal amount of sleep; they should be getting 8-and-a-half hours a night,” says Ming. “Sleep deprivation is a strong argument in favor of later start times for high schools – like 9 a.m.”

Journal Reference:
1. K. Grover, K. Pecor, M. Malkowski, L. Kang, S. Machado, R. Lulla, D. Heisey, X. Ming. Effects of Instant Messaging on School Performance in Adolescents. Journal of Child Neurology, 2016; DOI: 10.1177/0883073815624758

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Do you have trouble focusing on a single task for longer than five minutes? Feel deeply uncomfortable when you forget your phone at home and are unable to check texts, instagram, and facebook throughout the day? Find yourself chronically distracted? You’re not alone. A study by Microsoft found that our attention is now less than that of a goldfish. Teachers are noticing a blanket decrease in students’ ability to focus. According to the Center for Disease Control and prevention, the rate of diagnosis of ADHD jumped 15% between 2007 and 2013. What’s going on?

We live in a world where our attention is constantly pulled in different directions. In his post on How to Focus, Eric Barker interviews Duke professor Dan Ariely to explain this phenomenon: “The world is not acting in our long-term benefit. Imagine you walk down the street and every store is trying to get your money right now; in your pocket you have a phone and every app wants to control your attention right now. Most of the entities in our lives really want us to make mistakes in their favor. So the world is making things very, very difficult.”

At the heart of our distractibility is the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is central to the brain’s reward system, functioning as positive reinforcement for behaviors and experiences that improve chances of survival, such as eating, mating, and responding to danger. Modern life hijacks this system so that we are rewarded with hits of dopamine for engaging in behaviors that are unhelpful and unhealthy. Videos activate the startle response, triggering a hit of dopamine, which is why it’s so easy to disappear into a YouTube black hole. That mobile game you reach for the instant you feel bored is so addictive because it’s designed to get your brain to release dopamine. Even the stress of knowing you have unopened emails in your inbox releases dopamine.

Our brains have become dependent to the constant flood of this neurotransmitter, leaving us desperately craving a fix when we go too long without one. Dedicating several uninterrupted hours to studying for an exam or writing a blog post becomes almost impossible for our dopamine-addicted brains.

Luckily, the phenomenon of neuroplasticity means that, with practice and repetition, it is possible to train our brains to become more focused. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to build new neural connections throughout our lives.

The problem is, most of us are spending a lot of time throughout the day training our brains to be distracted. We check Facebook while working, text during in-person conversations, scroll through our Instagram feeds while watching TV, and fragment our attention in a million different ways.

From Eric Barker’s interview with the late Georgetown professor Cal Newport: “focus is actually a skill that has to be trained. You can’t just decide, ‘Now I’m going to go focus intensely for the next 3 hours on something.’ If you haven’t actually built up your capability to do that, you’re going to have a very hard time. When you’re checking Facebook all the time on your phone outside of work, that has an impact on your ability to perform the next day when you arrive at the office.” Several studies have supported this assertion.

So how can you utilize neuroplasticity to become more focused? Train your brain with regular practice focusing on a single task for small chunks of time, working up to larger chunks. Take breaks in between your chunks of focused concentration. A popular version of this idea is the Pomodoro technique. Eric Barker has some other great tips in his article How to Focus.

Focus is just like a muscle. Used regularly, it’s there for you when you need it.

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What is dopamania?

Normally, dopamine is released by our brains to assure survival. It alerts us to rewards of eating, procreating, and self-protection. We can’t live without it. Once dopamine has performed its essential services, it recycles back into the cell that released it.

Abnormally high doses of dopamine, pumped into the body by sustained conflict, completion, and stress can cause long-term changes in the brain, which are likely lead to addiction. Such chronic exposure to dopamine causes tolerance to develop, meaning that ever larger levels of dopamine are needed to sustain the same high. The result is a dopamaniac!

Like any junkie, dopamaniacs will do whatever it takes to feed the addiction. They will lie, attack, stir up anger and division, agitate for controversy and conflict, generate fear and hatred; anything at all, to produce big fixes of high-octane dopamine.

Symptoms of dopamania:DT - finger
• Lack of emotional control
• Euphoric breaks from reality
• Overconfidence and poor judgement
• Hyperactivity and talkativeness
• Aggressiveness
• Paranoia
• Delusions

You may never have heard of dopamania, but some of you may be thinking that this cluster of symptoms sounds familiar. In fact, it is the basis of the National Institute of Health’s check list diagnosing cocaine abuse.
Sky high on dopamine, the natural neurochemical that imitates cocaine in the brain, Donald Trump has no need of the street drug. His words and actions confirm that he suffers from all the symptoms of dopamania – my term for dopamine addiction.

Just a few of the dopamine-fueled sensationalist statements Mr. Trump has made:
• “The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal was designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone.” Later he was corrected by Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) who commented that China is not actually a party to TPP.
• Declared that the United States is the most highly taxed nation in the world.
• Referred to Mexicans as drug dealers, criminals and rapists.
• Claimed that the U.S. government is planning to admit 250,000 Syrian refugees, when in fact, the State Department is planning to take in 10,000 refugees over the next year, and possibly a small additional number after that.

Dopamania in any leader initiates a dangerous “two-fer”. While dopamaniac politicians or fundamentalist religious figures get their fix by ginning up fear, anger, and anxiety, so do followers, swept up by his or her emotional tirades. They “share the needle.” Dopamine addicted constituents become fervently loyal to the pusher.
The excitement and euphoria of dopamine highs overrides respect for reality and facts. Floods of dopamine block signals to and from the most highly evolved regions of the brain; those areas naturally capable of analyzing long-term outcomes, appreciating nuanced information, working collaboratively, experiencing empathy, or managing emotions and behavior.

Rational thought is replaced by dopamine induced fight-or-flight, black-or-white reactions controlled by the most primitive parts of the brain. The executive control center, situated in the modern human brain (prefrontal cortex), gets hijacked and held captive by the dopamine addiction.

Donald Trump may role model dopamania in extremis, still, neuroscience finds that all of us are prone to dopamine addictions. Unmanaged, dopamine’s rewards of pleasure can push anyone beyond eating for survival to consuming the quantities of fat and sugar that lead us to obesity. Uncontrolled, dopamine rewards of sexual pleasure can take us beyond responsible relationships to damaging habits of media porn. Unaware, dopamine excitement can take players beyond leisure video gaming to aggressive, and even violent behavior.

There is an urgent need to understand the major role dopamine plays behind the scenes, pulling the strings, in our personal lives, as well as in negotiations and policy making in Washington. Positions, beliefs and behavior, unwittingly shaped by dopamine, undermine relationships, achievement, and stability.

Dopamine awareness ( tee shirts and bumper stickers “Friends Don’t Let Friends Be Dopamaniacs”?) and deliberate choices, could reduce this brain chemical’s dangerous potential to cause great misery and destruction. Curbing dopamine would point the U.S. and the world in a healthier, more stable and productive direction.
Thank you, Donald. Now, enough already!

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A reason for keeping open minds, and why neuroscience research will always be exciting . . .

“We may be in the Universe as dogs and cats are in our libraries, seeing the books and hearing the conversation, but having no inkling of the meaning of it all.”
—William James (1908)IMG_28611

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McCall Snow

Holidays got you down? Are you more into bah humbug, than the jolly ho, ho, ho?
Here are some “Whys” about what’s going on, along with some “How’s” for putting more jolly into this season, and all of life!

It’s true that happiness can be influenced by your genes. Thanks Mom and Dad. Fortunately, however, neuroscience is proving that there’s a lot we can do for ourselves to be happier.

Our brain’s first duty is to help us survive. It instantly goes into action the moment we’re under attack from any kind of kind of stress. Including the depression we can feel if we’re not blissfully happy, surrounded by loved ones, and enthusiastically participating in our culture’s unrealistic holiday expectations.

In those down times, seasonal or otherwise, the brain attempts to get our attention. “Notice what’s going on here, because it’s not in the best interest of your survival”. Ignoring these messages from our  brain can manifest in anxiety and depression.

Then, in an effort to up our chances of avoiding those same unhealthy feelings in the future, we receive a reward of dopamine; our brain’s natural cocaine-like neurochemical. No surprise then that so many of us are hooked on emotional stress and worry as a way of life.

Chronic stress is a treacherous gremlin. It can result in an addiction that demands ever more dramatic stress and worry in order to satisfy what eventually becomes an unintended dopamine craving. Our health, success and happiness are the victims.

How can we kick an emotional distress habit? What would it take to boost our dopamine highs in healthy ways that pay off with better health, relationships and general wellbeing?

If you’re feeling down, there’s an easy activity that requires little energy, but offers huge returns on investment. This powerful depression defeater is gratitude.No need to be a gratitude guru. Even if you struggle to identify something to be grateful for, the simple act of looking for gratitude has been proven to raise dopamine to pleasurable levels.

Remain on the lookout for gratitude opportunities. Find reasons to express gratitude to others. More importantly, keep a dialogue going with yourself on the endless realistic reasons for feeling gratitude, small and large.

No need to wait for major successes. Get creative. Express gratitude to others in a brief email, quick text or phone call.Keep your brain busy in “conversational gratitude” when you have a flushing toilet, you have two legs that work, you don’t have to look for your keys, it was a day your computer didn’t get hacked, your kids are healthy, you arrived safely at work, you have toothpaste, etc. Develop a focus on gratitude as a personal habit.

As physical and emotional energy rise, get additional doses of dopamine from volunteering, physical activity, and a diet rich in Omega-3 fatty acids to support the body’s healthy production of dopamine. With dopamine pumped up, expect improvements in ease of social interactions, confidence, and optimism, even for confirmed introverts and pessimists, and even during the holidays!

Looking for more about the power of gratitude? ? Here are some excellent books by Robert A. Emmons.
Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier,
Gratitude Works: A 21-Day Program for Creating Emotional Prosperity

 

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December 21, 2015
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ONE SMILE = 2,000 CHOCOLATE BARS, or $25,000!

December 14, 2015

A group of researchers in the UK working with Hewlett-Packard , discovered that smiling stimulates our brain’s reward mechanisms in very powerful ways. Depending on whose smile you see, the researchers found that one smile can be as pleasurable and stimulating as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate! The same level of pleasure from that […]

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WE DON’T HAVE A CHOICE!

December 10, 2015

There’s a neuroscience explanation for why we generally opt for video content over a message communicated by reading or hearing. It’s because we don’t have a choice. The primitive regions of our brain can’t resist paying attention to moving images – on a screen, or in “real life”. It’s not surprising that video traffic made […]

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HOW CAN WE REDUCE GUN-RELATED TRAGEDIES?

December 7, 2015

by Donna-Christine McGuire Violence occurs at a shocking rate in the United States. The San Bernardino tragedy was the second mass shooting in one day, and the 355th in 2015. In a given year, 32,000 U.S. children will die from gunfire-related deaths: more than will die from cancer, pneumonia, influenza, asthma, and HIV/AIDS combined. In […]

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ELECTRONIC CRACK: MULTI-TASKING FOR A DOPAMINE FIX

November 30, 2015

From DCM’s forthcoming book – While it would be wonderful if it were true, it seems that our brains are not built to handle everything we would like them two at once. They can manage two tasks at a time, but only really do one well. Research by Eyal Ophir at Stanford University, confirms what […]

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