Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Today I want to share revelations from just-released scientific studies which have political and cultural implications we might want to consider. All of these are taken from the excellent blog Eureka! Science News.

Fear of getting fat seen in healthy women's brain scans

"A group of women in a new study seemed unlikely to have body image issues – at least their responses on a tried-and-true psychological screening presented no red flags. That assessment changed when Brigham Young University researchers used MRI technology to observe what happened in the brain when people viewed images of complete strangers.
If the stranger happened to be overweight and female, it surprisingly activated in women's brains an area that processes identity and self-reflection. Men did not show signs of any self-reflection in similar situations."

I didn't actually need the confirmation that looking at me causes many women's brains to light up "in ways that suggest extreme unhappiness and in some cases, self-loathing" -- I'd already figured that out -- but do read the study for some interesting details.

(Japanese artist Koshi Kawachi uses old manga collections to plant and grow vegetables)

Why humans believe that better things come to those who wait

'New research reveals a brain circuit that seems to underlie the ability of humans to resist instant gratification and delay reward for months, or even years, in order to earn a better payoff. The study, published by Cell Press in the April 15 issue of the journal Neuron, provides insight into the capacity for "mental time travel," also known as episodic future thought, that enables humans to make choices with high long-term benefits.'
Short version: Maturity as reflected by impulse control and ability to plan for long-term benefit is dependent on the ability to concretely IMAGINE that long-term result. World-views or emotional states which inhibit functional imagination -- such as dependence on authority figures and hierarchies for decision-making instead of individual consideration or operating from a place of fear and avoidance -- will also interrupt rational long-term planning.

Hurts so good: Chronic pain changes brain response to acute pain

"New research reveals why a stimulus that healthy human subjects perceive as a reward might be processed quite differently in the brains of humans suffering from chronic pain." This paper requires a careful read, but what I got from it was that if you live with chronic pain, you are more likely to view a switch to acute pain as a "good thing" because it interrupts the chronic cycle, and perceive the relief of such acute pain, with return to the "regular chronic pain", as a disappointment.

Given how much disability and debilitation of health in this country is linked to chronic pain, going largely untreated by the current for-profit-ONLY health care system, this dissonance is important to remember.