Fairness and Feeling Good

If I am treated fairly I tend to feel good.  It’s a proportional situation rather than something so hard and fast as a particular amount.  Given the situation in which I find myself, fairness is relevant to the total.  Less in an environment of scarcity can feel as good as more does in a situation of plenty.

UCLA psychologists Golnaz Tabibnia, and colleagues Ajay Satpute and Matthew Lieberman find that separate brain regions become active depending upon whether one perceives that he or she is being treated fairly.  Unfair treatment activates the anterior insula, a region associated with the processing of negative emotions.  Treatment that is perceived as fair activates the ventral striatum, an area associated with reward.

Both areas are part of the quickly reacting emotional complexes within the brain and swiftly overrule the more deliberate, conscious utilitarianism that would evaluate the usefulness of the reward rather than its proportion of fairness.  This tends to give us a default position in which our emotional fairness response is our first response – and our unthinking and reactive response until we have time to more cognitively assess the situation.

In other words, it is an underlying process which can demand reframing of mental models, acceptance, rationalization, or any of the other more rational mental activities that we engae in.  But that being said, it is a core response, a part of TED that demands reconciliation if unfair.  The suggestion is that we are indeed hardwired for fairness.

Links:  Hardwired for Fairness

The Influence of others, Empathy and Learning to do Good

Practice Giving for your Health and Peace of Mind

Paying Taxes makes me Feel Good?

Attention is Biased Towards Emotion

Birth of a Brain Cell

As adults we continue to create new brain cells. This is good news both for future disease treatments as well as for maintaining a healthy brain as we age (so keep mentally active). Until now researchers had not been able to visualize this process.

Mirjana Maletic-Savatic, assistant professor of neurology at Stony Brook University in New York State, has developed a method utilizing a chemical marker that successfully allows scientists to see the birth of these new neurons. While the make-up of the marker remains unknown, Maletic-Savatic speculates that it is a blend of fatty acids in a lipid (fat) or lipid protein.

Link: Scientific American

The Great Dualism

We’re not talking here about THE great dualism (being and non-being), but about the great dualistic argument between thinking and emotion that is always going on in our heads. The argument goes back and forth thusly – I think this, but I feel that. This battle between thought and emotion remains one of the great management issues in our personal lives – and in the work of coaches.

The problem is that emotion has such a primacy in our hardwiring that we must often take great pains just to bring our more “rational” side to the table as it were. I have flashes of emotion that can instantly bring my whole body into sync with an emotional state. I have yet to have a flash of cognition that does the same.

This is important because I need to recognize my filters if I want to change something in my thinking or my actions. In terms of the Ladder of Inference the battle looks something like this:

  1. Something happens in the Real World.
  2. I select “data” from that event. The great dualism begins for me at the conscious level here, even though a great deal of processing has already been going on “beneath” my consciousness. The great battle begins over what I think about the event – and how I feel about the event. I select data, typically from both camps.
  3. I add meaning to this event from my culture and my personality. The great battle rages between intellectual meaning and emotional meaning. Emotional meaning carries more force unless I aggressively manage it.
  4. I now make some assumptions from this meaning that I’ve added. The great battle continues. I make immediate assumptions based on my visceral feelings. I make what I hope are fairly objective assumptions based on reason.
  5. I draw some conclusions. I hope I’m being fairly logical. I also hope I’m in touch with how I feel and why.
  6. From these conclusions I adopt some beliefs. I think this, therefore I believe that. I feel this, therefore I believe something else.
  7. I finally take actions based on these beliefs. Either passionately, coldly and rationally, or some combination of both.

That’s a pretty quick and basic thumbnail view. And of course, we’re not even addressing drives and gene expression and the other basic parts of Ted that influence our behaviors.

The point to keep in mind, both about ourselves and others, is that this great dualistic battle is always raging, and that it takes a bit of effort to keep one side from dominating the other. That’s why we have family and friends. That’s why there are coaches.

Practice Giving for your Health and Peace of Mind

“Giving is the most potent force on the planet … and will protect you your whole life,” says Steven Post, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and head of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love (IRUL). Far from being a metaphysical think tank, the Institute sponsors multidisciplinary research studies that are part of a growing paradigm-shift among scientists beginning to contextualize health within a broader framework.

IRUL research is part of a significant shift under way within key scientific disciplines from focusing just on the deficit or disease model of human nature to studying the positive, virtuous, and thriving aspects. In the process, the research is broadening the understanding of what contributes to health and longevity.

“For a long time, medicine was boxed into a biomedical model … but there’s a need for a broader view,” says Doug Oman, of the University of California at Berkeley’s School of Public Health. “There’s an ongoing, probably long process of trying to conceptualize … influences on health that take into account classical virtues and spirituality…. Compassion and altruism are key topics for expanding that understanding.”

So says a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor.

Over 50 multidisciplinary studies of altruism have been sponsored by the Institute. And their work builds upon at least a decade of over 500 such studies by other organizations.

Post emphasizes that the empirical evidence demonstrates that it is the feelings behind the acts rather than the mere activities themselves that benefit participants. (See also Paying Taxes makes me Feel Good?) Giving promotes beneficial neurological processes that are a natural part of healthy brain activity. And apparently, it may also play a natural part in our overall health and well-being.

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Saying I’m Angry makes me Feel Less Angry

Conventional wisdom has held that putting our feelings into words helps us feel better. A recent study at UCLA’s Ahmanson-Lovelace Brain Mapping Center may indicate part of the reason why. Verbalizing feelings was shown to activate a portion of the prefrontal cortex (right ventrolateral to be precise), bringing about a subsequent reduction in response from the amygdala, the brain’s alarm system.

Similar to applying the brakes to a car, verbalizing our negative feelings may make them feel less intense. The benefit – it gives us a bit more control over the semi-chaos that often characterize our emotional responses. In the words of Ted, thought trumps emotion in this case.

Link:

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Thinking and Feeling

Lumosity and tools like it exercise the brain in the way it thinks. Think faster. Think more holistically. Like fine-tuning a car engine – it just runs more smoothly when it’s tuned. All of these cognition-specific tools help us think better and of course are pretty useful.

However, we both think and feel. Our brain is very specifically wired to express both. To develop only the one aspect is akin to running a car on only one cylinder. And it invites an unbalanced perception of the world. Tools that assist in managing our emotionality form the second great subset of useful tools available to us.

A couple of things to remember about emotion – it responds quickly. Really quickly. We’ve all seen the flash of instantaneous anger that quickly changes hours of careful collaborative thinking in a team setting. The rest of the team must deal just as quickly with their own emotional responses. Lucid thinking flies out the window – though with practice, only briefly.

A second fundamental aspect of emotion is that it can be managed – and there are any number of good techniques for doing so. And because it is emotion that we’re discussing after all, there has been about as much emotional reaction as rational discussion on the matter – which just goes to show how intensely we feel.

Both cognition and emotion play a significant role in the formation and expression of who we are – which means that both have a significant impact on our relationships with others. Both can be managed to give us more rewarding results from our interactions with those around us – and that’s the bottom line.

Looking for a simple program to exercise your brain?

San Francisco-based firm, Lumos Labs, Inc. has launched a new Web service called Lumosity. In their words – “Lumosity is the brain fitness program designed by neuroscientists that is scientifically demonstrated to improve your memory, attention and processing speed.” A series of simple online sessions of some three to five games each allow users to exercise four differing areas of brain function. Use it or lose it as the old adage goes. So here’s a potential way to improve the brain that you have. And for those other types of self-improvement efforts that you may be contemplating, why not start them with the best brain possible? For more details you can check out www.lumosity.com. I’ll be going through the exercises and will post my own experiences.

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