Selfish Genes and Social Brains

Genes connected with promoting behaviors increases the odds of its survival. The most significant implication of this insight is the evolution concerning the battle between genes which uses the person as a temporary vehicle. This explains that the Homo sapiens genetic constitution doesn’t only come from reproductive success. Rather, it is related to the success of a person’s offspring to reproduce. Hunters who weren’t able to form social connections nor feel the compulsion to share their food with others were less likely to procreate again. However, because of the long period of abject dependency, their children could’ve had a lesser chance to survive and procreate. This resulted in the selection pressure of the development of information processing. It is closely related to the formation and maintenance of social interactions. Some examples of this are attachment, communication and empathy.
Eye, Blue, Iris, Gene, Seductive, Makeup, Beauty
The gene is the one who is obligatory selfish and not the brain. People make emergent organizations which are beyond their own. This is in the form of structures such as civilizations, families and international alliances. They have evolved because of the combination of neural, hormonal and genetic mechanisms. These factors support them because social behaviors were responsible for helping humans reproduce, care for their children and survive long enough to reproduce. The key evolutionary developments and increased connectivity is found within the cerebral cortex, specifically in the temporal and frontal regions. The cerebral cortex is composed of 2.6 to 16 billion neurons, each receiving 10,000 to 100,000 synapses. When the brain’s frontal regions expands, certain human abilities begin such as planning, reasoning and mental simulations. On the other hand, the temporal region is connected with memory, communication and social perception. It was prior to neocortical expansion when the means for guiding behavior through the environment emerged.

Across human history, there is clear evidence which provides support regarding the supposition that we are born as social beings. In contemporary times, the average person is estimated to spend approximately 80% of his day being in the company of other people. Most of it is spent talking with people close to them. Danny Kahneman and his colleagues conducted a more detailed assessment regarding the matter. They used the day reconstruction method to find out how people usually spend their time. It also focused on how people experience life events on a daily basis. The results revealed that people spend only 3.4 hours alone which is 20% of their entire day. On average, the time spent communicating with family and friends were more inherently rewarding. The respondents explained that socializing and nurturing intimate relationships were their most enjoyable activity. These were activities related to promoting high quality relationships and bonding. On the other hand, commuting and working were their least enjoyable activities. These results are in sync with survey data. Kahneman and his colleagues asked the participants what they thought was necessary to achieve happiness. Majority of the respondents answered their relationships with their family and friends as the most important, even though most people don’t always act like it. It is very easy to forget about the most obvious and evident reason to achieve happiness.

The Epidemic of Shyness

Shy people have lots of company. According to statistics, one of two Americans claim that they’re shy. This epidemic is rising and advancements in technology could be turning the world into a culture of shyness. In 1975, men wore polyester shirts and women wore silky dresses. You would see them dancing in the summertime with glittering disco balls revolving above the dance floor. The image of the disco era is indelibly engraved in our minds. The guest lists were filled with smiling men and women who had so much self-confidence that they were willing to “boogie on down.” In extreme contrast to this flamboyant lifestyle, there is a quieter image of Americans who emerged from psychological research. It specifically focused on people on the sidelines of the disco. Philip Zimbardo PhD, a psychologist at Stanford University created the ground breaking article called The Social Disease Called Shyness. The article explained the results of a survey conducted in several colleges in the United States. It revealed that an astonishing 40% of the 800 participants considered themselves a shy person.
Girl, Hipster, Sexy, Shy, Hands, Hiding Face
Besides documenting the pervasiveness of shyness, Zimbardo explained a surprising image of people who have the condition. Amidst having a mild mannered exterior, they are concealing a roiling turmoil inside them. The participants disclosed that they always think of themselves in a negative way, were excessively self-conscious and get extremely preoccupied with how other people see them. While the rest of the people in the room are already meeting and greeting, shy people are still planning how to manage their best public impression. They are constantly consumed by the uncertainty of being in a social setting. In these occasions, their hearts are pounding while their pulses are speeding. Butterflies also start swarming in their stomachaches. These are all clear symptoms of being genuinely distressed.

The article explained the painful experiences shy people go through. Social problems are present because they have difficulty in making new friends and meeting new people makes them feel isolated. Cognitive problems such as the inability to think clearly when surrounded by lots of people or shyness to engage in conversations makes them feel anxious. People see them as snobbish or disinterested but shy people are only extremely nervous. They are excessively egocentric being consistently preoccupied thinking about their own behavior and appearance. The article has paved the way for new research. Researchers have been scrutinizing shyness in the past 20 years. Recent advances regarding this social disease are:

• Because of changing cultural conditions, shyness in the U.S. has now increased to 48% and is continuously rising.
• Most people with the condition remain hidden. A small percentage shows obvious signs of shyness but those who keep it within themselves also suffer internally.
• Even though some people were born with a temperamental tilt to the condition, a lot of its occurrence highly depends on parenting.
• Life experiences is the main cause of developing shyness.
• The neurobiology related to this condition includes three brain centers which mediate anxiety and fear and results to shyness.
• Shyness level varies between different countries. Israelis are the least shy out of all.

Yellow, Wall, Building, Architecture, Girl, Woman

Thoughts on Escaping the Mental Prison of a Mental Illness

A person struggling with mental illness or knows someone battling mental illness could easily feel overwhelmed because of the endless choices of treatment options. The most stressful part is figuring out how to pay for the high costs of medications. Therapies are usually very expensive and sometimes patients need to be hospitalized for weeks. Mental illness has always been a very complicated health issue. It isn’t easily treated just by making a few lifestyle changes. Although, a person with a healthy lifestyle who undergoes treatment would experience results more efficiently and effectively.

Mexico, Lake, Man, Wakeboard, Wake Boarding, Ski

Exercise & Activity Level

You always hear people say how important exercise is for your health. However, there is one more reason you need it in your life. Exercise will not only control your weight and offer protection for your physical health. It is also connected to improved mental health. Recent studies revealed that it can be very effective in treating mental health conditions. It acts as a very reliable antidepressant. Exercise is also known to help reduce muscle pain which makes it the ideal choice for people with mobility problems. There is no amount of exercise which ensures that a person will be free of mental health conditions. The important thing to do is to keep moving as much as you can. If you are faced with the option to walk or drive, choosing to walk is the better option. You can also take your dog for a walk, take the stairs instead of the elevator or go for a leisurely bike ride. Most exercises are done outdoors which is the perfect chance for you to spend time outside your house. It’s a great way to improve your mood, relieve stress and be more sociable.

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Half of the people who have been diagnosed with mental illness are smokers. In the past years, therapists didn’t advice their patients to stop smoking because they believed that it actually helped decrease mental health symptoms. However, recent research has proven that this is not entirely true. Even though smokers will find it difficult to quit smoking and it may decrease a temporary downturn of mental health, it is now recognized that quitting smoking has more benefits. Results can be seen as early as a few weeks. Cigarettes contain lots of toxins which contributes to the occurrence of mood problems. Some of the physical health problems which can lead to mental health challenges are heart disease, emphysema, coughing, frequent colds, and difficulty exercising. Quitting smoking is one of the best lifestyle changes you can make for your health.
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Physical health is directly related to your diet. The condition of your physical health determines your mental health. Some examples of unhealthy choices which could undermine your health are sweets, excess processed food, and food containing low nutritional value. If you want to feel better, eating healthy fats such as Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids will do the job. Certain fats found in fruits such as avocados could improve your mood and boost brain power. For people who have a sweet tooth, dark chocolate is the healthier option.
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Physical Health

The body and mind couldn’t be easily separated. A person who has physical health conditions has an increased risk of developing mental health issues. Minor problems such as toothaches or bladder infections could undermine your stress management abilities temporarily. Having prompt medical care regarding physical health conditions is always highly recommended. There are also cases where mental health problems are directly caused by physical health related issues. For example, endocrine system disorders may lead to anxiety, depression, and other problems related to sleep cycle. After taking psychiatric drugs and noticing that it isn’t working, it’s always best to consider getting blood work done. This will help determine if a medical condition is affecting your mental health.

5 Important Things I’ve Learned after a Month of making a Lifestyle Change

light at the end of the tunnel
seeing the light at the end of the tunnel

On the first day of my decision to embark on a new lifestyle change, I felt an all-time low considering my physical circumstances. New Year’s Eve happened the night before and it involved a lot of booze and carbs. There weren’t any other activities which happened besides those two. Thanksgiving and Christmas happened a month before. It lasted between a 4-6 week period wherein I consumed a daily intake of Egg Nog Chai Lattes. My former boss was the one who introduced me to it. I took advantage of having a holiday party overindulgence. My lack of interesting activities was brought about by the fact that Seattle winter involved the sun setting at 3:30PM. I often tell my friends that I can feel my liver giving up on me during my gruesome hangovers. However, this year I didn’t feel that way at all. It seems like my internal organs have finally followed suit. Being almost 30 years old doesn’t really make me old but the truth is that I’m at the age where I should know better. I need to start making the conscious decision to treat my body well. Even though I would like to pretend that my lifestyle change was caused by a more noble reason, I just couldn’t. I started to become aware that my body needed a positive change.

As everyone knows, change is a very difficult thing to go through. As I have explained here, passing by cases and cases of Coke at the grocery was already challenging for me. I am also an avid fan of cupcakes. However, after getting into the habit of making good choices, it became a lot easier. After awhile, it also made me feel that my lifestyle change made me a better person. We are all aware that crash diets only inflicts pain and suffering. It doesn’t offer any real change to our health. It only creates an adversarial relationship between you and food which always backfires. It would feel like you’re punishing yourself. When you come across food which you know you shouldn’t eat, you’ll tend to overindulge since you haven’t eaten it for so long. During the past weeks I was able to successfully walk past platters of cupcakes and cookies without encountering any problems. This only happened because I was aware that I could eat one if I wanted to. I didn’t think of them as an enemy which I needed to consume like it was the last meal I could ever have. I trained my brain not to think of food as an adversary or as a form of comfort. I thought about food as fuel needed by my body to get through life day by day. That fuel needs to be of the highest quality. It cannot involve junk food or any other food containing additives which doesn’t contain any nutritional value. I felt very proud of myself when I decided to purchase my favorite mini Chocolate Cream Pie from a food truck. I did feel a little guilty while purchasing it. I told myself that it wasn’t a big deal as I walked back to my office. When I arrived at my desk, I consumed small bites slowly. It made me realize that I was okay with not eating the entire thing. My cravings were satisfied. I put three quarters of the pie in a box to give to my colleagues. Because I only ate a small portion, I was able to get my sugar hit just before I became too full.

The most important lesson I’ve learned in the past month is to always be attentive regarding what my body is telling me. During the first few weeks of my lifestyle change, I have planned that every Sunday would be my cheat day. It was the only time of the week when I would allow myself to eat whatever I wanted. However, this decision only lasted for two weeks. I loathed how I felt after having a heavy meal involving bad food. My body got used to taking in smaller and lighter portions. After attempting to eat a portion of fries, my body felt sluggish and terrible because of the amount of carbs it contains. This is why I decided to stop having a full-on cheat day. Instead, I started incorporating small changes into my diet. I would usually eat white rice with salmon or have a cupcake for dessert as a reward for myself.
Cupcakes, Cakes, Frosting, Decorated, Icing, Baking
A few weeks ago, my job held a big conference which was complete with delicious breakfast and daily lunch buffets. It had very enormous and elaborate meals which looked very tempting. I found myself sitting six feet a way from a tray of breakfast potatoes. My urge to eat one was overpowering. I had to use more than just self-control to hold back from taking a bite. Later that night, I attended another work function. It had a three course meal and wide range of dessert options. I didn’t want to become one of the girls on a diet who makes a huge fuss over food. I was completely aware that eating my weight in mashed potatoes wasn’t the most clever idea. I decided to indulge just a tiny bit. I though about the correct portion sizes according to my health magazines and what my cassette tape regarding protein has taught me. I ate a fist sized amount of veggies and a palm sized amount of carbs. Oddly enough, by carefully choosing my servings, I got through the dinner without feeling deprived. It also sated my desire to eat slightly naughty foods. Even though I cheated a little bit, I was still able to stay on track. Looking back, I even managed to control myself from those delicious desserts passed around the tables. It’s all thanks to eating my correct portion of braised short ribs with some mashed potatoes. I was completely full and didn’t feel the need to have dessert. Being careful about my food choices has definitely made a positive impact in my overall health.

Urban Living is being connected with mental health problems

Imagine lying down with your head surrounded by a tight fitting and noisy fMRI brain scanner, which is already unnerving by itself. The psychologists who are in charge of the experiment seem nice enough so you agreed to take part in it. They have given you a handful of confusing math problems which you are to solve within a specific time frame. Although you are doing your best to answer it correctly, the psychologists don’t seem happy with your performance. They keep telling you through your headphones, “Could you please focus more and do better?” They add, “You are really one of the worst performing participants who have taken part in this experiment.” Hearing statements like that are very stressful. It would be the best moment of your life when the time finally runs out. Only a handful of individuals would enjoy this type of experience. The volunteers who participated in the experiment were closely monitored to ensure that they were surely stressed out. However, one good thing has resulted from this experiment. The data collected has become a major study which has spread globally. Dr. Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg from the Central Institute of Mental Health in Germany conducted a research figuring out how different people’s brains coped with stressful situations. His study revealed that comparing people living in the countryside with those living in the city has shown the latter to find it more difficult to cope. Meyer-Lindenberg and his researchers focused specifically on two main brain regions called the perigenual anterior cingulate cortex (PACC) and the amygdalas. The role of the amygdalas is to be responsible for generating fear and assessing stress related incidents. On the other hand, the PACC helps regulate the amygdalas. The study revealed that the amygdalas were more active among city dwellers. People living in small towns were less active and those who lived in the countryside were the least active.
Depression, Mental Health, Sadness, Mental, Health
Studies have been conducted over the years to find out how the human brain copes with stress in various locations. Focusing on the PACC, researchers have found something even more intriguing. They have discovered that the important relationship wasn’t connected with where the subjects currently lived. Instead, it was related to what city they grew up in. Just like the previous experiment, people who lived in urban settings showed the most active PACC’s while those who lived in rural settings had the least active ones. Additionally, city dwellers didn’t have the same smooth connection of their two brain regions’ behavior compared to those observed in rural dwellers. Schizophrenia has the same erratic link between the amygdalas and the PACC. This is the main reason why people with schizophrenia are more likely to choose living in a city.

In 2011, Nature published these results which media from different parts of the world interpreted as proof that city life made people go mad. In reality, the study wasn’t able to prove this. However, it clearly suggested it. It revealed a tempting glimpse of the kind of urban warping which evolved in people’s minds. Some people have related city life to the feeling of loneliness since the days of Sodom and Gomorrah. The fMRI imaging limitations allowed for all the usual caveats. The small number of participants made people realize that there is still much to discover regarding the issue. There was another research conducted a year before the publication of the Meyer-Lindenberg study. Dr. Jaap Peen together with his team of researchers has revealed a more firm and established result regarding the existence of that link. Their meta-analysis found that people who lived in cities had double the risk of developing schizophrenia. This imposes the same level of danger which is related to teenagers who smoke a lot of cannabis. Additionally, urban living has also be found to increase anxiety disorders by 21% and mood disorders by 39%. The most interesting fact about the study is that the person’s location where they live didn’t affect the risk of addiction disorders. There was a time when people at risk of mental illness was believed to be more likely to live in cities. However, more recent research studies have ruled out that thought.

What could be the reason why living in a city is related to increased symptoms of mental illness? Dr. Mazda Adli, another German clinician and researcher, believes in one theory. His beliefs are connected to the most paradoxical urban mixture of loneliness in crowded settings. He explains, “Human brains have not been perfectly created to live in an urban environment.” He added, “In my opinion, if social isolation and social density occurs at the same time and affects high risk individuals, the consequences may lead to mental illness related to city-stress.” Researchers from Hammersmith Hospital in London believe that dopamine could be the cure to this problem. It is a neurotransmitter which has many functions. Dopamine is responsible for infusing the brain when something important happens, whether good or bad. As an example, while eating an ice cream your body may tell you to eat the entire pint while you can. When a volcano is erupting, your body may tell you to find your car keys and get away as swiftly as possible. In schizophrenic people’s brains, dopamine levels are often very high.

Does living in the city make you feel more or less lonely?

Cities are a great place which allows people to come together. It offers various opportunities and also has a rich culture. Because of this, a lot of people believe that living in the city is a great antidote to combat loneliness. However, when comparing depression and anxiety rates from urban settings to rural settings, city dwellers have higher ratings. According to Olivia Laing, the author of the new book The Lonely City, people can get lonely wherever they are in the world. She points out that city life has a very particular feeling of loneliness that comes with it. This is because people are surrounded by millions of other people they don’t know.

City, At Night, Lights, Skyline, Big City, Skyscraper

The book tells about her personal journey in New York where she shares about her own experience of solitude. She talks about how she dealt with her circumstances through the use of art. Life in the city can get overwhelming. According to George Simmel, a German philosopher in 1903, the feeling of loneliness is increased when living in a metropolis. In a 2013 survey, it was revealed that 52% of people residing in London experienced loneliness. It has since been considered the loneliest city in the United Kingdom. Acevo is a charity network who created The Loneliness Project in 2015 which aims to discuss social isolation topics among the youth.

Why city life can be detrimental for your mental health

People residing in urban settings rarely talk to their neighbors these days. A project called Talk To Me London was created to impart knowledge regarding being hesitant to talk to strangers, specifically for London residents. It discusses about how it increases the feeling of loneliness among its citizens. Its main goal is to organize special events in various cities in the United Kingdom. This will encourage people to engage in conversations, even with strangers. According to Polly Akhurst, a Talk To Me co-founder, the popular phrase “You are never lonelier than being in a crowd” holds true for people living in big cities like London. It has been consistently recognized as the loneliest city by the UK Loneliness Index. One disadvantage of city life is being less likely to be part of a close knit community. Because city life comes with a certain anonymity, it results in the lack of trust between people and makes it harder for them to socialize. We highly encourage you to share your personal stories and experiences regarding loneliness in different cities around the world. You can talk about whether living in a city reduces or heightens your feeling of isolation. Feel free to share your thoughts. Selected responses will be featured on our website.