About this author
Zack Lynch is author of The Neuro Revolution: How Brain Science Is Changing Our World (St. Martin's Press, July 2009).
He is the founder and executive director of the Neurotechnology Industry Organization (NIO) and co-founder of NeuroInsights. He serves on the advisory boards of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, the Center for Neuroeconomic Studies, Science Progress, and SocialText, a social software company. Please send newsworthy items or feedback - to Zack Lynch.
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November 10, 2006

The Search for Emotional Truth

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Posted by Zack Lynch

Mindhacks points to a new series on Psyblog that will focus on the search for emotional truth, an area of inquiry of the upmost importance.

This is the first in a series of posts examining these and related ideas. But, first of all, I want to lay the groundwork for the discussion with a brief excursion into philosophy. Why start with a philosophical view of emotion? Because once you enter into the helter-skelter scramble for facts and theories that is modern psychology it can be difficult to see the wood for the trees or even which forest you're in. A philosophical view allows us to get a handle on the big picture, to have a general view about what emotions are for and where they come from, before we plunge into the details.

We'll have to see where this inquiry takes us but one thing is for sure, having spent thousands of years improving our control over the physical environment, new tools are being developed to address the mental stress that arises from living in a highly connected urbanized world. Neurotechnologies that allow people to experience life in ways that are currently unattainable will emerge, enabling people to consciously shape emotional states, improve cognitive clarity and transform sensory experiences. As people begin to experience life less constrained by their evolutionarily influenced brain chemistry how will human society change?

Because our mental perspective slants our thinking, self-reflection and recollection of events, even a slight shift in human perception will alter how people learn, feel and react to personal problems, economic crises and cultural rhetoric. When humans more directly shape their emotions, how will this impact personal relationships, political opinion and cultural beliefs?

Comments (2) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Emoticeuticals


1. Kensai on November 15, 2006 4:29 PM writes...

"When humans more directly shape their emotions, how will this impact personal relationships, political opinion and cultural beliefs?"

Well, this is a slippery path.

Neuroscience has already proved that "trust" can be influenced by oxytocin, a hormone produced in the hypothalamus. I'm pretty sure more and more emotions will find their materialistic essence with all the debatable impact in society and interpersonal relations.


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2. AmyLynne on November 17, 2006 3:05 AM writes...


In response to Heather, response #6, what the previous writer wrote in #5 does have merit using more scientific terms. She said "mentally ill use more of their brain than the mentally sane." Here is some information: "People with bipolar disorder have an average of thirty percent more of an important class of signal-sending brain cells, according to new evidence being published by University of Michigan researchers."

There is a "higher density of cells that release the brain chemicals dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. "

"These monoamines, as the chemicals are called, send signals between brain cells, or neurons. They're involved in mood regulation, stress responses, pleasure, reward, and cognitive functions like concentration, attention, and executive functions." Current scientific studies are in agreement with this.

This higher density of cells can be correlated to many of the characteristics of bipolar, included the more intense moods, 'Increased goal-directed activity or physical agitation
Disregard of risk, excessive involvement in risky behaviors or activities'" which all promote creativity. Risk taking and more lack of inhibition is essential in creativity. Increased goal-directed activity can show higher IQ scores for many people, (except verbal learning and short term/working memory are often relatively lower). The only other aspect of IQ that is adveserly affected or relatively lower to the other IQ's (maybeonly by 10-20 points or so) is executive function. This accounts for the lack of coherence in the response #5. Take for instance the following taking from the
We spoke with Dr. Dana Luck, a neuropsychologist in New York City and she explained:

Writing is a directed task and very different from speaking. Verbally, we can all mention thoughts, circle around them, move off in different directions, and hopefully get to the point somewhere along the way. Writing, however, is much slower and very much more precise. It is straight processing and it is a task of drafting, and re-drafting, revision, elaboration and polishing. Children with bipolar disorder often have such poor frustration tolerance, and very often have a very negative reaction to the demand that they write.

Dr. Luck went on to say:

If a student has trouble self-monitoring, if she or he can’t regulate a flow of ideas and can’t pace him or herself, than each piece of the task that is uncompleted becomes a stress, and the stresses begin to accumulate until the student simply shuts down and refuses to even attempt the task.

Many of these processes that are called upon when a child writes are in the domain of what is called executive functioning. It is increasingly being recognized that a significant number of children with bipolar disorder have deficits in the realm known as executive functioning.

Executive Function Deficits

“Executive functioning” refers to a cluster of mental control abilities, including skills such as the capacity to plan ahead, choose and implement strategies, and organize one’s thinking and actions. Executive functions also include abilities such as maintaining awareness of what one is doing and staying on task, controlling one’s impulses, and monitoring the quality of one’s own performance and making adjustments if necessary.

Executive functioning is performed by the advanced parts of the brain—the frontal lobes and the pre-frontal cortex. Actually, brain imaging has shown that the frontal lobes may be divided into seventeen or more subregions, each responsible for a slightly different kind of work that the human performs. So a problem anywhere in this area will impact the way a child approaches and performs any task." (These frontal lobes of the brain are where the higher densities of the monoamines we originally discussed are found (dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine).

"In addition to a motor and sequencing difficulty, a child with bipolar disorder may also have difficulties with the mechanics of writing (periods, commas, and capitals may be very late to arrive in any written product), working memory, intention (let’s get it done), and sustained attention. In a hypomanic state, the thoughts may race and ideas pour out faster than the motor or organizational controls; conversely, in a depressed phase, there may be a slow-down of thought and a paucity of ideas."


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