March 29, 2012

love & brain

The Brain on Love

By DIANE ACKERMAN

Diane Ackerman on the the natural world, the world of human endeavor and connections between the two.

A RELATIVELY new field, called interpersonal neurobiology, draws its vigor from one of the great discoveries of our era: that the brain is constantly rewiring itself based on daily life. In the end, what we pay the most attention to defines us. How you choose to spend the irreplaceable hours of your life literally transforms you.

All relationships change the brain — but most important are the intimate bonds that foster or fail us, altering the delicate circuits that shape memories, emotions and that ultimate souvenir, the self.

Every great love affair begins with a scream. At birth, the brain starts blazing new neural pathways based on its odyssey in an alien world. An infant is steeped in bright, buzzing, bristling sensations, raw emotions and the curious feelings they unleash, weird objects, a flux of faces, shadowy images and dreams — but most of all a powerfully magnetic primary caregiver whose wizardry astounds.

Olimpia Zagnoli

Brain scans show synchrony between the brains of mother and child; but what they can’t show is the internal bond that belongs to neither alone, a fusion in which the self feels so permeable it doesn’t matter whose body is whose. Wordlessly, relying on the heart’s semaphores, the mother says all an infant needs to hear, communicating through eyes, face and voice. Thanks to advances in neuroimaging, we now have evidence that a baby’s first attachments imprint its brain. The patterns of a lifetime’s behaviors, thoughts, self-regard and choice of sweethearts all begin in this crucible.

We used to think this was the end of the story: first heredity, then the brain’s engraving mental maps in childhood, after which you’re pretty much stuck with the final blueprint.

But as a wealth of imaging studies highlight, the neural alchemy continues throughout life as we mature and forge friendships, dabble in affairs, succumb to romantic love, choose a soul mate. The body remembers how that oneness with Mother felt, and longs for its adult equivalent.

As the most social apes, we inhabit a mirror-world in which every important relationship, whether with spouse, friend or child, shapes the brain, which in turn shapes our relationships. Daniel J. Siegel and Allan N. Schore, colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles, recently discussed groundbreaking work in the field at a conference on the school’s campus. It’s not that caregiving changes genes; it influences how the genes express themselves as the child grows. Dr. Siegel, a neuropsychiatrist, refers to the indelible sense of “feeling felt” that we learn as infants and seek in romantic love, a reciprocity that remodels the brain’s architecture and functions.

Does it also promote physical well-being? “Scientific studies of longevity, medical and mental health, happiness and even wisdom,” Dr. Siegel says, “point to supportive relationships as the most robust predictor of these positive attributes in our lives across the life span.”

The supportive part is crucial. Loving relationships alter the brain the most significantly.

Just consider how much learning happens when you choose a mate. Along with thrilling dependency comes glimpsing the world through another’s eyes; forsaking some habits and adopting others (good or bad); tasting new ideas, rituals, foods or landscapes; a slew of added friends and family; a tapestry of physical intimacy and affection; and many other catalysts, including a tornadic blast of attraction and attachment hormones — all of which revamp the brain.

When two people become a couple, the brain extends its idea of self to include the other; instead of the slender pronoun “I,” a plural self emerges who can borrow some of the other’s assets and strengths. The brain knows who we are. The immune system knows who we’re not, and it stores pieces of invaders as memory aids. Through lovemaking, or when we pass along a flu or a cold sore, we trade bits of identity with loved ones, and in time we become a sort of chimera. We don’t just get under a mate’s skin, we absorb him or her.

Love is the best school, but the tuition is high and the homework can be painful. As imaging studies by the U.C.L.A. neuroscientist Naomi Eisenberger show, the same areas of the brain that register physical pain are active when someone feels socially rejected. That’s why being spurned by a lover hurts all over the body, but in no place you can point to. Or rather, you’d need to point to the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex in the brain, the front of a collar wrapped around the corpus callosum, the bundle of nerve fibers zinging messages between the hemispheres that register both rejection and physical assault.

Whether they speak Armenian or Mandarin, people around the world use the same images of physical pain to describe a broken heart, which they perceive as crushing and crippling. It’s not just a metaphor for an emotional punch. Social pain can trigger the same sort of distress as a stomachache or a broken bone.

But a loving touch is enough to change everything. James Coan, a neuroscientist at the University of Virginia, conducted experiments in 2006 in which he gave an electric shock to the ankles of women in happy, committed relationships. Tests registered their anxiety before, and pain level during, the shocks.

Then they were shocked again, this time holding their loving partner’s hand. The same level of electricity produced a significantly lower neural response throughout the brain. In troubled relationships, this protective effect didn’t occur. If you’re in a healthy relationship, holding your partner’s hand is enough to subdue your blood pressure, ease your response to stress, improve your health and soften physical pain. We alter one another’s physiology and neural functions.

However, it’s not all sub rosa. One can decide to be a more attentive and compassionate partner, mindful of the other’s motives, hurts and longings. Breaking old habits isn’t easy, since habits are deeply ingrained neural shortcuts, a way of slurring over details without having to dwell on them. Couples often choose to rewire their brains on purpose, sometimes with a therapist’s help, to ease conflicts and strengthen their at-one-ness.

While they were both in the psychology department of Stony Brook University, Bianca Acevedo and Arthur Aron scanned the brains of long-married couples who described themselves as still “madly in love.” Staring at a picture of a spouse lit up their reward centers as expected; the same happened with those newly in love (and also with cocaine users). But, in contrast to new sweethearts and cocaine addicts, long-married couples displayed calm in sites associated with fear and anxiety. Also, in the opiate-rich sites linked to pleasure and pain relief, and those affiliated with maternal love, the home fires glowed brightly.

A happy marriage relieves stress and makes one feel as safe as an adored baby. Small wonder “Baby” is a favorite adult endearment. Not that romantic love is an exact copy of the infant bond. One needn’t consciously regard a lover as momlike to profit from the parallels. The body remembers, the brain recycles and restages.

So how does this play out beyond the lab? I saw the healing process up close after my 74-year-old husband, who is also a writer, suffered a left-hemisphere stroke that wiped out a lifetime of language. All he could utter was “mem.” Mourning the loss of our duet of decades, I began exploring new ways to communicate, through caring gestures, pantomime, facial expressions, humor, play, empathy and tons of affection — the brain’s epitome of a safe attachment. That, plus the admittedly eccentric home schooling I provided, and his diligent practice, helped rewire his brain to a startling degree, and in time we were able to talk again, he returned to writing books, and even his vision improved. The brain changes with experience throughout our lives; it’s in loving relationships of all sorts — partners, children, close friends — that brain and body really thrive.

During idylls of safety, when your brain knows you’re with someone you can trust, it needn’t waste precious resources coping with stressors or menace. Instead it may spend its lifeblood learning new things or fine-tuning the process of healing. Its doors of perception swing wide open. The flip side is that, given how vulnerable one then is, love lessons — sweet or villainous — can make a deep impression. Wedded hearts change everything, even the brain.

March 28, 2012

addicted

So besides checking twitter every 5 minutes - I'm now playing words with friends and draw something. Of course I don't have friends so it is with strangers. This guy right now on words is either sitting with a dictionary or getting me with made up words. He is kicking my but, but only cause I started at night and had to stop at 11:00 for bed. Like I said addicted but I'm not giving up my twitter.

Really??

So yesterday at lunch time I was driving across the hennipen ave bridge to NE Minneapolis with my friend Trish and the 2 dogs. Guess what I got a fucking ticket for speeding - really excess acceleration. Really!!! Can any really say that I drive with excess acceleration. I was even in the volvo. Again with the girls - like I would ever drive like a manic with the girls.

March 27, 2012

new documentary

Check this out!

March 26, 2012

gym

You know how you have your work family...well since I don't have a job I have a gym family. I have been going to the gym now for 2 years and it have developed into a family a little dysfunction but a family no less. Tomorrow I go to see my trainer brother and maybe my other brother ted with join me on the tread mill again...I get to listen to both of them complain about their wives.

March 21, 2012

pub crawl

In Dublin I went on a musical pub crawl. These 2 guys took us to different pubs and explaining traditional irish music. It was really fun and not to mention there was only 12 people at the most. I thought it was going to be packed due to it was a friday night but nope. They said thursday night they had about 25 people.

March 19, 2012

TV

This week the 2 show that I attended tapings of are airing - 2 broke girls on tonight monday and wednesday is hot in cleveland. Check them out they were funny.

maybe blogger later - brought people to the airport very early and need a nap.

March 16, 2012

St.pats

This was taken on the Guinness tour! I actually had a conversation on the bus back from Galway with a man about March 17th in Ireland. I told him that I was Irish on St. Patty's day little did I know that had this up in the brewery.

March 15, 2012

twitter

Hey everyone I joined twitter - here is my twitter link to follow me - my name is @only2jill


https://twitter.com/#!/only2jill

shopping

I thought there would be no shopping in Dublin...what was I thinking. I forgot that the clothes fit me so much better and the styles are better. So I did more shopping than I thought I was going to do is the point of this blog.

March 14, 2012

BEER!

Like I said all they do is in Ireland is drink - and being the home of Guinness I had to take a tour. You got a ticket for either a free beer or a lesson on how to pour a guinness. I took the lesson on how to pour a perfect Guinness.

The building the tour was in was 7 or 8 levels tall - I actually got really bored on the tour which was self guided. I'm sure I missed alot I just went to the pouring spot then up to the sky bar to get a look at Dublin.





There was about 10 people watching me do this...talk about stress



My perfect pour - even thought I had beer running down the side of the glass oops.

March 13, 2012

group photo

Here is my Hawaii group. I spent a whole week with all these people and survived.

March 12, 2012

Whiskey

For someone that doesn't drink going to Ireland was crazy. That is all they do - I know I heard the stories but I didn't really think they were really that bad. I'm here to tell you that all they do in Ireland is DRINK. So if you can't beat them join them.


I found out I like Jameson and cranberry juice - who would have though that. Jameson is so smooth and good again who would have thought I liked whiskey. I had a shot of it once in Chicago and didn't care for it.

people in my group tour doing a taste test at the jameson distillery.


The tour guide. He asked me where I was from when I was getting my ticket, when I said Minnesota he showed me he had Packer sweat wrist bands on...there are even weird packer fans in Dublin.

March 9, 2012

galway girl

Galway Girl is my favorite irish song and it was the first song I heard in Dublin. Here are some photos from my day trip to galway. It was a cute little town.

Sorry for nothing snappy about it - my writing juices are being used up for something else important. I am smart enough to know that if I didn't blog I would get hate emails of where my ireland photos are :)


Galway

My nephew and his friends - or aka my son's...I think I looked really tired that day that some guy thought they were my son's.

my first guinness with my nephew (jet lagged that is why the glasses)

A pub

Who knew Ireland fought for my Belgium

A tree on campus that got yarn bombed. I heard of yarn bombing but never saw it before.

March 8, 2012

pot of gold?

One of my objectives of going to Ireland was to see a leprechaun Here he is...it is the back of him cause I couldn't get a front one he was a scary one. I'm surprised I didn't have nightmares from him.

March 7, 2012

Luggage


Last week I decided to go to Dublin Ireland. I know that is strange but I decided I wanted to spend leap day in Ireland. It was also what I really needed after my LA trip from hell. I went to my accupunturist after my LA trip and she stated I thought you went on vacation what the heck happen you are a wreck. I was so bad she had to put needles in my boob/heart - which hurts alot. So now I can't wait to hear what she says on thursday.

Did anyone know that you go through US customs in Dublin Airport. Yup that is right I cleared US customs in Dublin. It was the weirdest thing. Also when going through customs after they swipe you passport photos of your luggage comes up on a monitor and they ask if they are your bags. It was totally mind blowing.

I took two bags to dublin and two bags left Dublin - however only one bag made it to Minneapolis. The other one caught the 8pm flight and was dropped off at 2am by a white BMW. What the heck?????


March 5, 2012

I'm back

I'm back from my irish trip! Yes I went to Dublin for a week and decided a couple days before I left. Now that is adventurous. Again it is all what you think is crazy for you !!!

to jet lagged to post a good one give me a day...

March 1, 2012

more food

More food in LA - sorry to make you guys hungry but I love the food there.

Sweet potatoe fries @ the farm in beverly hills

Yummy salad @ the farm

This is from I believe the griddle cafe on sunset but the directors or writer guild. Any way we ordered 3 different kinds of pancakes that morning. Lemon raspberry, blueberry and the one pictured is red velvet. They all were so good!!!