Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Warm Fuzzies, Chocolate and Brains

From the BBC:
Warm, sentimental people tend to have more brain tissue in the outer strip of the brain just above the eyes and in a structure deep in the brain's centre.

These are the same zones that allow us to enjoy chocolate and sex, the Cambridge University experts report in the European Journal of Neuroscience.
The brain scan study was carried out on 41 healthy male volunteers.

The men who scored higher on questionnaire-based ratings of emotional warmth and sociability had more grey matter in two brain areas - the orbitofrontal cortex and ventral striatum.

The researchers say it is not clear whether the men were born with these brain differences or whether the brain regions in question grew in response to personal experiences.

Experts already know that the striatum becomes activated by receiving compliments and the orbitofrontal cortex is activated by attractive faces and smiling.

Lead researcher Dr Graham Murray said: "Sociability and emotional warmth are very complex features of our personality.

"This research helps us understand at a biological level why people differ in the degrees to which we express those traits.

"It's interesting that the degree to which we find social interaction rewarding relates to the structure of our brains in regions that are important for very simple biological drives such as food, sweet liquids and sex.

"Perhaps this gives us a clue to how complex features like sentimentality and affection evolved from structures that in lower animals originally were only important for basic biological survival processes."
Professor Simon Baron Cohen, of the Autism Research Centre in Cambridge, said: "This is an important study in showing that the degree to which we find socializing rewarding is correlated with differences in brain structure.

"It reminds us that for some people, socializing is an intrinsic reward, just like chocolate or cannabis. And that what you find rewarding depends on differences in the brain.
I venture to make two predictions. The first, which would astonish me if it was incorrect, is that woman have more grey matter in these areas too.

The second is that the amount of grey matter is responsive to increased oestrogen, and perhaps decreased testosterone. I only have a sample size of one there, but some of the first things I noticed about my natural transition was the remission of some of my Aspergic symptoms, an increased acuity in sense of smell, and that Chocolate was no longer merely chocolate, but CHOCOLATE!!!


Anonymous said...

A new book " Out of Our Heads" Why you are not your brain, and biology of consciousness by Alva Noe.

It is an interesting take on how consciousness of the mind is also outside the physical body.

Laserlight said...

"remission of some of my Aspergic symptoms" -- that's a serious temptation, right there. If I could, without permanently screwing up my chemistry, see how non-Asperger people think...

On the other hand, I'm allergic to chocolate -- get headaches just from the smell.

Battybattybats said...

Mmm chocolate!

I read of a study once that suggested cocoa had a benefitial effect on CFS symptoms. Well affording the half a block a day wasnt possible and they had a special chocolate made for the study with extra polyphenols iirc.

Still it was enough of an excuse for me to dramatically increase my already high daily chocolate intake and shift up the the high-cocoa stuff :)

Kathrin said...

I just read this entry - I try to avoid commenting on older posts, but this one really stood out.

My sample size was also one - as I started HRT, a number of things greatly changed for me. I find it much easier to focus, and am less irritated when others disturb me. It is also easier for me to make eye contact, to focus in the presence of noise.

The biggest change, by far, has been happiness - happiness which is actually reflected by my face, naturally. I don't have to fake it, to look around, observe others, and try to imitate it. My aunt described it as with people, instead of just talking at them.

I have actually been looking for others who have noticed similar effects - I have noticed a number of certain traits represented in significantly higher numbers in the transsexual community than in the general populace.

I think there are some interesting research projects that could be done, perhaps with the potential to do some significant good.

Zoe Brain said...

I've noticed the same thing.

Anonymous said...

Mark Espeland at Wake Forest says in women estrogen seems to lessen the amoiut of white matter...but just supposing a man had a happy sex life he'd be happeir all round...but where is he gettingthe estrogen?