Saturday, September 3, 2011

On the Brain: Free will and stress

                     On the Brain: Free will and stress

Is every action you take predetermined, or are your choices truly your own? If our behavior results from chemical reactions in the brain, how much freedom do we have? Research suggests that even if free will is a lie, we may be better off believing in it. People behave more selfishly and dishonestly if they're led to believe that humans don't control their own actions. Check out this article from New Scientist (free registration required) to learn more about what scientists have to say about whether you make your own decisions.

It's no secret that meditation has many mental and physical health benefits. Now, researchers say meditation may even make people behave more rationally in their decision-making, USA Today reports. Scientists did brain imaging of people who practice Buddhist meditation and others who do not, and found that those who meditate used different parts of the brain when faced with an "unfair" choice.

Want to beat stress before it hits you? Scientists at Leicester University in the United Kingdom are working on a treatment that would do just that, the Medical News Today reports. A study published in the journal Nature focused on a protein called neuropsin, created by the amygdala, the brain's fear center. When the amygdala ramps up production of neuropsin, that leads to chemical reactions that result in feelings of anxiety. In mice, at least, researchers showed that blocking such proteins could reduce the stress response. This could lead to treatments for people with anxiety disorders such as post traumatic stress disorder one day, but bear in mind that these are only preliminary findings in animals. They used mice in mazes to measure stress reactions (and how often do you find yourself feeling stressed in a maze?).

Also intriguing for mental health treatments, but only in mice, MyHealthNewsDaily via MSNBC reports on a new study showing that antidepressant medications may help brain cells grow and survive after a trauma to the brain. The drugs may even result in enhanced memory and brain function, the study authors found.

Speaking of brain injuries, a high-calorie, high-protein diet may improve the outcome for some military service members with brain injuries due to battlefield explosions, we at CNN reported. The Institute of Medicine report released a report Wednesday calling for changes in nutrition - namely, providing more energy and protein to traumatic brain injury patients early after the injury.

Finally, in case you missed it, doctors are suggesting a new definition of Alzheimer's disease. They recommend having a "spectrum" of symptoms that range from early signs of dementia to severe impairments.