March 18, 2007

Neuroscience & Real Life

Interesting application of neuroscience to real life over at the Creating Passionate Users blog. Angry/negative people can be bad for your brain.

Kathy Sierra posted (almost a year ago; I'm slow sometimes) three reasons why it's good to avoid spending gobs of time with angry/negative people:

1. mirror neurons
2. emotional contagion
3. explanation of "happy people"

Kathy quotes neurologist Richard Restak:

"If you want to accomplish something that demands determination and endurance, try to surround yourself with people possessing these qualities. And try to limit the time you spend with people given to pessimism and expressions of futility. Unfortunately, negative emotions exert a more powerful effect in social situations than positive ones, thanks to the phenomena of emotional contagion."

My take?

1. Mirror neurons are hot in the field of neuroscience. Wikipedia says "A mirror neuron is a neuron which fires both when an animal performs an action and when the animal observes the same action performed by another (especially conspecific) animal. Thus, the neuron 'mirrors' the behavior of another animal, as though the observer were itself performing the action."

This may be a large contributor to how we learn, and is likely involved in empathy. Possibly / probably? we can mirror the emotions of other people as well.

2. Emotional contagion, Wikipedia says, "represents a tendency to automatically mimic and synchronize facial expressions, vocalizations, postures, and movements with those of another person and, consequently, to converge emotionally (Hatfield, Cacioppo, & Rapson, 1994)."

Almost like a virus! We smile when others smile, yawn when others yawn (even cats), mimicking them and "catching" their emotion.

3. Happiness & the brain. According to Kathy, "Happines is associated most heavily with the left (i.e. logical) side of the brain, while anger is associated with the right (emotional, non-logical) side of the brain."

I'm not as convinced about this, but Australia's ABC Radio National has a nifty feature on Left Brain, Right Brain and suggests that "recent studies suggest that the left brain may play a part in human happiness and the immune system."

Kathy concludes that "happy people are better able to think logically."

My non-scientific advice? Smile more and stick with the winners. :-)

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