In a kind of spooky experiment, scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences reveal that our decisions are made seconds before we become aware of them.
In the study, participants could freely decide if they wanted to press a button with their right or left hand.
The only condition was that they had to remember when they made the decision to either use their right hand or left hand.
Using fMRI, researchers would scan the brains of the participants while all of this was going on in order to find out if they could in fact predict which hand the participants would use BEFORE they were consciously aware of the decision.
By monitoring the micro patterns of activity in the frontopolar cortex, the researchers could predict which hand the participant would choose 7 SECONDS before the participant was aware of the decision.
“Your decisions are strongly prepared by brain activity. By the time consciousness kicks in, most of the work has already been done,” said study co-author John-Dylan Haynes, a Max Planck Institute neuroscientist.
I don’t even know where to begin here! I know from the hypnosis research that the unconscious pretty much controls everything and that consciousness is extremely limited.
But, I do find it a bit disconcerting that decisions are made by unconscious me 7 seconds before conscious me…
I am not the only one.
Watch Marcus Du Sautoy (Professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford) go through the study himself. The 7 second delay is in full effect.
Marcus is really disturbed here and brings up the subject of free will. Does this mean we really do NOT have free will? I am really curious what you think about this, please comment below.
Chun Siong Soon, Marcel Brass, Hans-Jochen Heinze & John-Dylan Haynes, “Unconscious Determinants of Free Decisions in the Human Brain.” Nature Neuroscience, April 13th, 2008.
Have you ever wondered why swearing seems to be your immediate reaction to pain?
In June 2009, researchers at the Keele University in England sought to determine why the automatic response for so many people in pain is to blurt out swears.
The question at hand was, does simply expressing pain (in a shout, yelp, or cry) make you feel better, or, is it the specific words you choose to yell that helps to lessen pain? Do curse words contain a hidden power that has the ability to help decrease pain?
To answer these questions, researchers found 68 college-aged students and asked each to submerge one hand in icy water for as long as they could possibly stand it. They were trying to test if students could keep their hands submerged longer if they used curse words or non-curse words.
During the first trial, the students were permitted to swear out loud as often as they needed to see if it could lengthen the period of time that the hand could stay submerged.
During the second trial, the students submerged their other hand in the icy water and this time, they were permitted to say whatever they wanted, as long as it did not contain swearing.
(Fact – one reason behind this study was because the head researcher, Richard Stevens of Keele University, heard his wife hollering expletives when she was giving birth. When she apologized afterward, the nurses and doctors shrugged her off, insisting it happened quite often. Her husband wondered why and sought to find out.)
The *&%#ing Results
It was determined that, on average, swearing students could hold their hands in the water over 40 seconds longer than when they did not swear. (Considering the average individual could keep a hand submerged for only a couple minutes, keeping the same hand under the water for an additional 40 seconds was quite a chilling accomplishment!)
Why were the swearing students able to keep their hands in icy water longer?
Preliminary research has pointed to the amygdala, a gland that makes the heart speed up and the resistance to pain stronger, as the key. It is basically responsible for the “fight or flight” reaction, which you probably have heard of previously.
The working theory is that using actual cuss words somehow activates deep primitive negative emotions, which somehow triggers the amygdala to choose the “fight” response.
The fight response then raises your heart rate and decreases pain sensations, just like swearing after feeling pain.
More research is still needed to determine the exact reason why using actual cuss words is able to induce this response.
So, even though cursing is often thought of as reflective of poor manners, it may be that profane language has the power to decrease pain that general speech does not.
Keele University psychologist, Dr. Richard Stevens, summarized his findings and offered this sound advice after the study was over: “I would advise people, if they hurt themselves, to swear.”
Do you follow the doctor’s orders?
If you want to learn more about the amygdala and it’s connection to hypnosis, please check out this article: click here to read more.
NeuroReport, June 2009
Perspectives on Psychological Science, March 2009
A new study published in the Feb. 11 issue of the journal Neuron, has identified areas of the brain that, when damaged, leads to a greater sense of self-transcendence.
The higher you are on the self-transcendence scale, the more you view yourself as being an integral part of the universe as a whole… So if you rank low on this scale, it is all about YOU!
And no, the researchers didn’t damage people’s brains just to find out. They somehow got permission to do pre and post personality testing with patients who had to have surgery anyway that would cause selective damage to the left and right posterior parietal regions.
Does One Need Brain Damage to Gain Transcendence?
I seriously doubt it! Remember, this is normally a stable personality trait – so some people just naturally see themselves as part of a greater whole.
And some people spend years in meditation in order to move up the scale. There has been a lot of solid research behind various forms of meditation demonstrating that not only can a person move up this scale in the personality tests…
But also make significant changes to their brain’s structure. But this takes years.
One thing (among others) that is interesting here, is that we now know that by directly altering the brain’s structure through surgery, that deep personality changes can be made… and they aren’t all bad.
Better Living Through Direct Brain Alteration?
According to Dr. Salvatore M. Aglioti from Sapienza University of Rome (one of the researchers):
“If a stable personality trait like self transcendence can undergo fast changes as a consequence of brain lesions, it would indicate that at least some personality dimensions may be modified by influencing neural activity in specific areas,… Perhaps novel approaches aimed at modulating neural activity might ultimately pave the way to new treatments of personality disorders.”
Well, this seems to be opening a whole new can of worms! I don’t mean to be an alarmist, but it seems to me that down the road this could be used to literally change the personalities of those who the powerful deem as, “subversive”.
It could also turn into something like plastic surgery where people go in to get a quick, “personality adjustment”.
And of course, it could become a very valuable tool for people who are living a life of internal pain. Nothing is as simple as it seems.
I hope you found that interesting, if you want more of this type of information – let me know.
Citation: Urgesi et al., ‘The Spiritual Brain: Selective Cortical Lesions Modulate Human Self-Transcendence’, Neuron, February 2010, 65 (3), 309-319; doi:
I just found some current research* (published in June of 2009), that appears to indicate that we are more receptive to requests made to our right ear (as opposed to our left).
This is pretty interesting stuff.
The paper, published in the German Journal, Naturwissenschaften, looks at a series of three studies of ear preference between humans.
The researchers, Dr. Luca Tommasi and Daniele Marzoli from the University “Gabriele d’Annunzio” in Italy, are pretty clever.
Controlled laboratory studies have shown a preference for right ear dominance with the reasoning being that humans process verbal information more efficiently with their left brain hemisphere.
However, the researchers wanted to see if this crossed over into the real world.
In the first study, they looked at 286 night club visitors in their natural, “night club” setting. By just watching them talking, 72% of the interactions occurred on the right side of the listener.
In the second study, the researchers approached 160 night club visitors and mumbled total inaudible gibberish – then waited for the subjects to either offer their right ear or their left ear.
58% offered their right ear – 42% offered their left ear. [Interestingly, only women showed a preference here].
In the third study, researchers approached 176 people at a night club and asked for a cigarette (they approached half to the right ear and half to the left ear).
The result was that they obtained significantly more cigarettes when they approached people to the right ear!
(I don’t know if this is really positive or not. Maybe they need our smoking cessation CDS)!!!
According to the authors, the results were significant – although it would be interesting to get this confirmed by other studies.
However, not only is this an example of very clever science, the finding could help you with communication in a lot of ways.
Of course it might help you with persuasion, but it could also help you be heard when you are just talking to your spouses, friends, co-workers and children. You could also try listening with the right ear.
(Yes, listening is important too! You might find you are more receptive – who knows)?
I am going to experiment at work and at home, then report back. It would be really cool if anyone else wants to try it and then report back to me.