Archive for ‘Science’

April 21, 2011

Mindfulness Meditation Changes Decision-Making Process

ScienceDaily (Apr. 21, 2011) — If a friend or relative won $100 and then offered you a few dollars, would you accept this windfall? The logical answer would seem to be, sure, why not? “But human decision making does not always appear rational,” said Read Montague, professor of physics at Virginia Tech and director of the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.

According to research conducted over the last three decades; only about one-fourth of us would say, “Sure. Thanks.” The rest would say, “But that’s not fair. You have lots. Why are you only giving me a few?” In fact, people will even turn down any reward rather than accept an ‘unfair’ share.

Unless they are Buddhist meditators, in which case — fair or not — more than half will take what is offered, according to new research by Ulrich Kirk, research assistant professor with the Human Neuroimaging Laboratory at Virginia Tech; Jonathan Downar, assistant professor with the Neuropsychiatry Clinic and the Centre for Addition and Mental Health at the University of Toronto; and Montague, published in the April 2011 issue of Frontiers in Decision Neuroscience.

Their research shows that Buddhist meditators use different areas of the brain than other people when confronted with unfair choices, enabling them to make decisions rationally rather than emotionally. The meditators had trained their brains to function differently and make better choices in certain situations.

The research “highlights the clinically and socially important possibility that sustained training in mindfulness meditation may impact distinct domains of human decision making,” the researchers write.

The research came about when Montague wondered whether some people are capable of ignoring the social consideration of fairness and can appreciate a reward based on its intrinsic qualities alone. “That is,” he said, “can they uncouple emotional reaction from their actual behavior?”

Read more…

Advertisements
April 20, 2011

In the Rhelm of Hungry Ghosts – Close Encounters With Addiction (Gabor Maté)

In this new book, bestselling writer and physician Gabor Maté looks at the epidemic of addictions in our society, tells us why we are so prone to them and what is needed to liberate ourselves from their hold on our emotions and behaviours.

The mandala, the Buddhist Wheel of Life, revolves through six realms. Each realm is populated by characters representing aspects of human existence–our various ways of being. In the Beast Realm we are driven by basic survival instincts and appetites such as physical hunger and sexuality, what Freud called the Id. The denizens of the Hell Realm are trapped in states of unbearable rage and anxiety. In the God Realm we transcend our troubles and our egos through sensual, aesthetic or religious experience, but only temporarily and with an ignorance of spiritual truth. Even this enviable state is tinged with loss and suffering.

The inhabitants of the Hungry Ghost Realm are depicted as creatures with scrawny necks, small mouths, emaciated limbs and large, bloated, empty bellies. This is the domain of addiction where we constantly seek something outside ourselves to curb an insatiable yearning for relief or fulfillment. The aching emptiness is perpetual because the substances, objects or pursuits we hope will soothe it are not what we really need. We don’t know what we need and so long as we stay in the hungry ghost mode, we’ll never know. We haunt our lives without being fully present.

[…]

There are a host of questions to be considered. Among them:

• What are the causes of addictions?
• What is the nature of the addiction-prone personality?
• What happens physiologically in the brains of addicted people?
• How much choice does the addict really have?
• Why is the “War on Drugs” a failure and what might be a humane, evidence-based and approach to the treatment of severe drug addiction?
• What are the some of the paths for redeeming addicted minds not dependent on powerful substances-that is, how to approach the healing of the many behaviour addictions fostered by our culture?

The narrative passages are based on my experience as a medical doctor in Vancouver’s drug ghetto and on extensive interviews with my patients, more than I could cite. Many of them volunteered the hope that their life histories may be of assistance to others who struggle with addiction problems or that they will help enlighten society regarding the experience of addiction. I present information, reflections and insights distilled from many other sources, my addictive patterns among them. Also given here is a synthesis of what we can learn from the research literature on addiction and the development of the human brain and personality.

Read more…

April 20, 2011

Brain Development & Addiction – Talk by Gabor Maté

“Only in the presence of compassion will people allow themselves to see the truth.” – Gabor Maté

A recurring theme in [the books by Gabor Maté] is the impact of a person’s childhood on their mental and physical health through neurological and psychological mechanisms; which he connects with the need for social change. In the book In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, he proposes new approaches to treating addiction (e.g. safe injection sites) based on an understanding of the biological and socio-economic roots of addiction.

Dr. Maté describes the significant role of “early adversity” i.e. stress, mistreatment and particularly childhood abuse; in increasing susceptibility to addiction. This happens through the impairment of neurobiological development, impairing the brain circuitry involved in addiction, motivation and incentive.

He argues the “war on drugs” actually punishes people for having been abused and entrenches addiction more deeply as studies show that stress is the biggest driver of addictive relapse and behavior. He says a system that marginalizes, ostracizes and institutionalizes people in facilities with no care and easy access to drugs, only worsens the problem.

Gabor Maté also argues the environmental causes of addiction point to the need to improve child welfare policies (e.g. U.S. welfare laws that force many single women to find low-paying jobs far away from home and their children) and the need for better support for families overall, as most children in North America are now away from their parents from an early age due to economic conditions. As well as the need to change policies that disadvantage certain minority groups, causing them more stress and therefore increased risks for addictions.

Read more…