VIDEO: How Facebook Preys on Our Mental Health

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In an ironic turn, the recent controversy surrounding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica eclipsed another controversy brewing months before. As 2017 came to close, the million-dollar question surrounding the company was, Does Facebook make us depressed?

Back in December, even Facebook itself posted an article on its official blog, titled, Hard Questions: Is Spending Time on Social Media Bad For Us? The post cites a number of studies that prove spending time on Facebook can threaten well-being.

One study from the University of San Diego and Yale found that people who clicked on four times as many links or liked twice as many posts as the average person reported decreased mental health in a survey. A broader study found that increases in “likes clicked,” “links clicked,” or “status updates” was associated with decreases in mental health.

But though these studies might prove that Facebook brings us down, they don’t ask the important question of how Facebook brings us down. For a more thorough dive into what truly addict us to the site, ultimately leaving us feeling unsatisfied, check out this video, which explains the subject in depth:

The video presents arguments from two former employees, Sean Parker and Chamath Palihapitiya, who claim that Facebook was designed to prey on its users’ neurochemical reward systems. Dopamine, the chemical released in the brain during certain activities, such as exercising, finishing tasks at work, and finding food, has also been found to surge during social interactions. The brain desires cooperation and connection, so it sends reward signals in the form of dopamine when this cooperation or connection occurs. It could be something as simple as carrying a couch up a flight of stairs with a friend, or as profound as telling your partner you love her.

Because the brain cannot distinguish between, an interaction in real life and one on Facebook in terms of dopamine release, these rewards systems are integral to Facebook’s interface. Even the little red notification, or the ping sound we’ve all become accustomed to, produce a similar dopamine release.

The key insight in the video is that Facebook knows these dopamine hits are essential to their business model, the main driving force bringing people back to the site over and over and over again. Knowing this, they’ve ramped up notifications over the years, spiking our dopamine levels for something as mundane and uninteresting as someone having gone “live” a few hours ago, or a belated birthday, or even just to tell you that you haven’t posted in a while.

What happens, then, is a uniquely modern phenomenon. Your brain is rewarding you with dopamine for a successful social interaction, but in reality, no genuine connection has occurred, creating a disconnect between the chemical reward system in your brain and your actual lived experience.

Obviously, Facebook can depress its users in a number of ways. People often assume others’ lives are happier than theirs because of how their friends present themselves online. Teen brains are now trained to be distracted based on the interface alone. But this feeling, the dopamine hit followed by immediate disappointment with the reality of a meaningless notification, seems central to the deflating feeling Facebook can produce.

References

Shakya, H., & Christakis, N. (2017). Association of Facebook Use With Compromised Well-Being: A Longitudinal Study. American Journal Of Epidemiology. doi: 10.1093/aje/kww189

Verduyn, P., Lee, D., Park, J., Shablack, H., Orvell, A., & Bayer, J. et al. (2015). Passive Facebook usage undermines affective well-being: Experimental and longitudinal evidence. Journal Of Experimental Psychology: General, 144(2), 480-488. doi: 10.1037/xge0000057

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Mental Health is Not Just the Absence of Mental Illness

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In an increasingly globalized and mediatized world, in which mental illness is one of society’s most discussed cultural artifacts, Colleen Patrick Goudreau’s words ring out: “If we don’t have time to be sick, then we have to make time to be healthy”.

With the prevalence of mental health problems, it is clear why. Mental health issues are one of the leading causes of the overall disease burden globally, according to the World Health Organisation. One study reported that mental health is the primary source of disability worldwide, causing over 40 million years of disability in 20 to 29-year-olds.

Compared to previous generations, mental illness is now said to surpass the effects of the Black Death. The root causes of the unprecedented rise in people directly affected by mental illness, and the cost of this, can be considered across at least three levels of analysis.

If we don’t have time to be sick, then we have to make time to be healthy.

Colleen Patrick Goudreau

At the first level of analysis, the root cause of mental illness is an amalgamation of heredity, biology, environmental stressors, and psychological trauma.

Notions of specific genes being responsible for illness have been supplanted by those of genetic complexity, where various genes operate in concert with non-genetic factors to affect mental illness. That is, health-relevant biology and mental health impact each other in a complex interplay, which is inherently social.

Despite the importance of understanding the social underpinnings of biological risk factors for mental illness, there is a relative paucity of research investigating this topic. Research that does exist, is nevertheless engrossing. For example, one study, of many, found that social isolation leads to increased risk of coronary heart disease. Since low levels of social integration are related to higher levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation related to coronary heart disease, social integration is posited to be a biological link between social isolation and coronary heart disease.

Moreover, social support affects physical perception. In a landmark study, researchers demonstrated that people accompanied by a supportive friend or those who imagined a supportive friend, estimated a hill to be less steep when compared to people who were alone.

Mental health, like physical health, is more than the sum of functioning or malfunctioning parts.

At the second level of analysis, the complex bio-social interplay scaffolding mental illness points to the fundamentally chemical underpinnings of human thinking and emotion.

With recent advances in neuroscience like Clarity, we are now able to make the brain optically transparent, without having to section or reconstruct it, in order to examine the neuronal networks, subcellular structures, and more. In short, we can examine mental illness from a biological perspective.

The depth and complexity of the bio-social root of mental illness, however, paints a more nuanced picture than discussed thus far. With such pioneering work, there is an increasingly popular assumption that the brain is the most important level at which to analyze human behavior.

In this vein, mental illness perpetuates itself by virtue of the fact that people often consider it to be biologically determined. In turn, a ‘trait-like’ view of mental illness establishes a status quo of mental health stigma by reducing empathy. Such explanations overemphasize constant factors such as biology and underemphasize modulating factors such as the environment.

At the third level of analysis, the obsession with seeing mental health in terms of mental illness reveals the fallible assumption that mental health is simply the absence of mental disorder. However, the problematic landscape of mental health draws on a far wider set of working assumptions. That is, mental health, like physical health, is more than the sum of the functioning or malfunctioning parts. It is an overall well-being that must be considered in light of unique differences between physical health, cognition, and emotions, which can be lost in a solely global evaluation.

So, why do we as a society ponder solving mental illness, which should have been targeted long ago, far more than we consider improving mental health? In part, because when we think of mental health, we think of raising the mean positive mental health of a population, more than closing the implementation gap between prevention, promotion, and treatment.

Cumulatively, social environments are the lubricating oil to biological predispositions, which influence mental health, such that mental health and physical health should be considered holistically. In this vein, national mental health policies should not be solely concerned with mental disorders, to the detriment of mental health promotion.

It is worth considering how mental health issues can be targeted using proactive behavioral programs. To achieve this, it is pivotal to involve all relevant government sectors such as education, labor, justice, and welfare sectors.

In a diverse range of existing players, many nonprofits’, educational institutions’, and research groups’ efforts contribute to the solution landscape of mental health promotion. In Ireland, for example, schools have mental health promotional activities such as breathing exercises and anger management programs. Nonprofits around the world are increasingly seeing the value of community development programmes and capacity building (strengthening the skills of communities in so they can overcome the causes of their isolation). In addition, businesses are incorporating stress management into their office culture.

We think of raising the mean positive mental health of a population, more than closing the implementation gap between prevention, promotion and treatment.

The pursuit to empower people to help themselves joins up these social ventures to teach us that promoting mental health is optimized when it is preventative, occurring before mental illness emerges, and when it is linked to practical skills within a community. Furthermore, these social ventures exemplify how different types of efforts (government, nonprofit, business etc.) cater to different populations, from children to corporates.

While these social ventures bring hope to the future and underscore the importance of sustainable change, there are still too few programs effectively targeting people, who want to maximize already existent positive mental health not just to resolve or cope with mental health issues. If we continue to take such pride in our successful problem finding and solving of mental illness that we ignore mental illness prevention and mental health promotion, we are at risk of increasing the problem we are trying to solve.

References

Heffner, K., Waring, M., Roberts, M., Eaton, C., & Gramling, R. (2011). Social isolation, C-reactive protein, and coronary heart disease mortality among community-dwelling adults. Social Science & Medicine, 72(9), 1482-1488. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2011.03.016

Lozano, R., Naghavi, M., Foreman, K., Lim, S., Shibuya, K., & Aboyans, V. et al. (2012). Global and regional mortality from 235 causes of death for 20 age groups in 1990 and 2010: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010. The Lancet, 380(9859), 2095-2128. doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(12)61728-0

Schnall, S., Harber, K., Stefanucci, J., & Proffitt, D. (2008). Social support and the perception of geographical slant. Journal Of Experimental Social Psychology, 44(5), 1246-1255. doi: 10.1016/j.jesp.2008.04.011

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Skype, text or Facebook? Using technology to get most out of your long-distance relationship

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Our world is getting smaller and we are all getting farther apart.

No, this isn’t a prelude to a discussion on how technology has turned us into antisocial zombies. On the contrary, in an increasingly connected world each of us has more opportunities to work in, travel to, and meet people from different places around the globe than ever before. This means there are that many more of us falling in love with people who live far away from us—in different cities, countries, continents and, maybe one day, planets?

Alternatively, some of us have fallen in love with the girl/boy next door only to find ourselves separated from the love of our lives due to their/our work commitments. In any case, few of us are strangers to being a partner in a long-distance relationship (LDR).

While there is a healthy amount of research that looks into how couples communicate with each other within a relationship, there is, surprisingly, not that much about how couples in long-distance relationships keep the flame burning.

For many of us, LDRs are a ‘test’ to see how strong a relationship is and if it can sustain itself in the face of adversity. Sure, there was a time when the only means couples in an LDR had to stay in touch was through fortnightly letters written by hand or expensive phone calls with unclear network reception. But today, with a spectrum of communication mediums literally at our fingertips, this ‘test’ is not nearly as challenging as it once was.

In a study conducted by Hampton et al. (2018) the authors set out to find out which mediums were used the most by couples in LDRs and which were the most effective at maintaining relationship satisfaction. They had a straightforward hypothesis: couples in LDRs who communicated with each other more frequently would report greater relationship satisfaction. To this hypothesis they added a caveat: not all means of communication are created equal, and some, such as Skype, may be more beneficial to relationships than others.

The researchers surveyed 588 participants in LDRs that asked them questions about how frequently they used different kinds of communication, how satisfied they were with the communication in their relationship, and how satisfied they were with their relationship overall.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, text messages were the most frequently used means of communication in LDRs. However, Skype was the only communication medium where the researchers could discern association with relationship satisfaction. Partners who spent more time video chatting via Skype did indeed report greater levels of satisfaction with their relationship. When it came to communication satisfaction, it was the use of Skype as well as picture messaging that came out on top. As for Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat? They had close to no impact on either relationship or communication satisfaction. In fact, Facebook use was associated with lower levels of relationship satisfaction. That’s something worth thinking about.

What is surprising about this study is that the humble telephone call displayed little to no relation with communication satisfaction or relationship satisfaction, quite unlike its video counterpart, Skype, revealing that being able to see your partner is a core component to maintaining a healthy relationship even when apart.

Based on this study, it seems clear that a mode of communication that involves a visual component—as Skype and picture messaging do—is an effective indicator of relationship satisfaction. The researchers suggest this is due to the presence of non-verbal as well as audio cues resulting in greater communication satisfaction and thereby more satisfaction with the relationship overall. So if you’re in an LDR, the more you talk to your partner over Skype (with the camera on), the more satisfied you will be with your relationship. Then again, if you’re in an LDR, you probably already knew that.

Reference:

Hampton, A.J., Rawlings, J., Treger, S., Sprecher, A. (2017) Channels of Computer-Mediated Communication and Satisfaction in Long-Distance Relationships. Interpersona, 2017, Vol. 11(2), 171–187, doi: 10.5964/ijpr.v11i2.273

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Asperger’s Syndrome: Hallmark of Genius, or Just Another Form of Autism?

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Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin—what unites these three exceptional individuals? It is widely accepted that all three were geniuses, but there is something else. These days, neuroscientists believe that all three suffered from a specific neurological disorder called Asperger’s syndrome.

The whole definition of the term “neurological disorder” implies that something is going wrong in the brain. However, there is a growing recognition of the fact that when it comes to the processes in our brain, “going wrong” does not necessarily mean “going bad”. Our brain is too complicated a mechanism to be interpreted in simplistic terms. Some neurological disorders produce a peculiar state of mind often associated with high artistic and scientific achievements.

Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) is a developmental and neurological disorder that is often associated with symptoms of social withdrawal, motor clumsiness, and impaired communication skills. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental disorders (DSM-5) classified AS in the same category as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). It is often referred to as ‘High-functioning’ Autism (HFA), as individuals with AS are more intellectually capable and show less severe abnormalities compared to ASD subjects.

The story of AS and autism started in the 1940s, when two Viennese Scientists, Leo Kanner and Hans Asperger, described a syndrome observed in some children, with the unique characteristics of social isolation, impaired communication skills, and restrictive and obsessive interests. Both scientists used the term ‘autistic’ in their reports. While Kanner’s syndrome was published right away in 1943, Asperger’s report was written in German and remained undiscovered until 1991 when it reappeared in Uta Frith’s textbook Autism and AS.

Research and publications on Asperger’s syndrome reached its peak during 2000-2012. Different research groups proposed a set of criteria for AS diagnosis. While several of these criteria were overlapping, WHO’s International Classification of Diseases and Disorders set the following key characteristics that can be diagnostic for Asperger’s Syndrome:

  • Qualitative social impairment involving dysfunctional social adaptivity, impaired non-verbal communication for interaction and lack of social reciprocity.
  • Restrictive pattern of interest, motor clumsiness, repetitive behavior, and extreme obsessiveness to specific rituals.
  • AS patients must show age-specific, normal cognitive and linguistic development.

Interestingly, the father of Asperger Syndrome, Hans Asperger, described AS patients to be characteristically distinct from ASD subjects. He characterized them as intellectually-able, abstract-loving, and even overachieving in some specific cognitive domains.

Decades after Asperger’s observation, recent studies have also found that AS patients often demonstrate high verbal IQ, strong grammatical skills and they often outperform others in fluid reasoning although they are reported to show a delayed reaction time with poor performance IQ, specifically in symbol coding and processing speed.

Surprisingly, AS is more common than classical autism. Epidemiological surveys report that about 4 out of every 10,000 children are autistic whereas about 25 out of 10,000 children are diagnosed with AS. AS is more common in boys than girls. No scientific explanation behind this observation exists at present.

Like with many other syndromes, no single specific cause is responsible for AS. Rather, a milieu of factors is associated with its development.

Children diagnosed with AS show a genetic pattern, like in autism, where at least one of the parents (most often the father) is diagnosed with AS or at least have some hallmark AS characteristics. The relatives of AS children are known to have anxiety or depression related disorders.

An important causal factor behind the development of AS might be the altered level of neurotransmitters. In AS patients, higher levels of N-Acetyl Aspartate/Choline (precursor of acetylcholine) intake and increased dopamine levels were reported, suggesting an overall altered dopaminergic neurotransmitter composition in major areas of the brain. Intranasal injection of oxytocin, a neuropeptide, was shown to improve facial emotion recognition abilities in AS patients.

Apart from alterations in neurotransmitter levels, neuroimaging studies show that there are structural changes in major areas of the brain that could be associated with the development of Asperger’s Syndrome. Altered grey and white matter volumes were observed in major brain regions, and an abnormal thickness of the hippocampus, amygdala, and anterior cingulate cortex was reported to be the major contributing factor for dysregulated cognitive functions in AS.

Some researchers also proposed that environmental factors can contribute indirectly to the development of AS. Viral or bacterial infection and smoking during pregnancy particularly increases the risk factor, although no concrete evidence supporting these views was found.

Due to the substantial number of overlapping similarities between Asperger’s Syndrome and Autism, it is very easy to confuse one with the other.

Studies in recent decades showed differences between AS and ASD on both quantitative and qualitative levels. The AS subjects displayed age-specific or earlier verbal development, meticulous speech ability, higher desire for social reciprocation, and supreme imagination compared to ASD patients.

On a cognitive level, AS subjects are more perceptive, they possess superior verbal performance and visual-spatial ability compared to ASD patients.

But the major limitations of these studies is the huge variability within the study groups and contradictions in the data patterns, as with age, the distinction between AS and ASD significantly reduces. It is particularly difficult to categorize AS from other disorders as there are no known biomarkers specific to AS only.

As there is not sufficient evidence of distinguishable characteristics for AS that can class the syndrome as ‘one biologically and clinically diagnosed entity’, the DSM-V in 2013 revised and categorized Asperger’s Syndrome as another variant of ASD. Although this decision was criticized by the scientific community, most of the researchers agreed that there is a need to conduct more studies that could help in distinguishing AS from other ASDs.

The most general misconception about Asperger’s syndrome or, as a matter of fact, about autism spectrum disorders in general, is that they develop because of poor parenting and a lack of bonding between parents and their child. This concept was even termed as ‘Refrigerator Mother’ to describe cold and distant parenting. But this notion was challenged from the 1960’s when research on these neurological disorders started to grow and scientists found that it is not parenting, but rather the genetic and neurological makeup of the child that is responsible for these syndromes. Even today, the belief that neurodevelopmental disorders are caused by a traumatic childhood are common. The reality, however, is more complicated than our guesses based on limited information.

References

Barahona-Correa, J. B. and C. N. Filipe (2015) A Concise History of Asperger Syndrome: The Short Reign of a Troublesome Diagnosis. Front Psychol 6: 2024. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.02024

Faridi, F. and R. Khosrowabadi (2017) Behavioral, Cognitive and Neural Markers of Asperger Syndrome. Basic Clin Neurosci 8(5): 349-359. doi: 10.18869/nirp.bcn.8.5.349

Weiss, E. M., B. Gschaidbauer, et al. (2017) Age-related differences in inhibitory control and memory updating in boys with Asperger syndrome. Eur Arch Psychiatry Clin Neurosci 267(7): 651-659. doi: 10.1007/s00406-016-0756-8

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The 5 Second Rule: Task Initiation

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The title—The 5 Second Rule: Transform Your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage—intrigued me.

According to the publisher, Mel Robbins’s self-help book is based on a simple psychological tool that the author developed to motivate herself. Using a technique that involves counting down backwards from five to one, she gave herself the extra push she needed to complete dreaded tasks, become more productive.”

Could this technique help solve my task-initiation problem?

I am a brain injury survivor. I have clusters of thin-walled blood vessels in my brain. Two of them bled. To prevent additional bleeds, I underwent brain surgeries, which left me with a number of challenging symptoms, including difficulties initiating tasks.

Though similar to procrastination in its end result, brain injury-related issues with task initiation feel very different. I am fully aware when I procrastinate, and I often laugh at myself in the process. When I procrastinate, I make conscious choices. Instead of working on the annual report, I choose to do the laundry, edit an essay, or take my dog for a walk. And when I run out of excuses or get too close to the deadline, I get started.

Trouble initiating tasks is more akin to the difficulty of shifting to a new undertaking after completing a long and involved project, when it feels almost impossible to switch to the next activity.

I usually have no idea that I’m having trouble initiating a task. I know with absolute certainty that I will get to the task—just not right now. In my mind, starting isn’t an issue, because this internal conviction that “of course I’ll do it” is so strong. It’s as if there’s a disconnect between the belief that I’ll do the task and the cognitive action required to actually initiate it. I’m not choosing to distract myself, and I’m not trying to postpone the inevitable. There’s simply no conscious awareness and no control over it.

Compounding the challenge is that brain injury-related task initiation problems don’t follow any recognizable pattern. They arise without warning and are frequently unrelated to the nature of the task, interfering equally with tasks I enjoy and those I’d rather avoid. They can last anywhere from several days to several years. They often end abruptly, for no apparent reason. When my brain releases me, I’m off and running, all signs of struggle gone, as if the problem never existed.

To combat my difficulties beginning an activity, my neuropsychologist suggested I keep a daily list and block off chunks of time in my calendar to work on those tasks. Fortunately, my brain injury brought on a level of rigidity—once an item is on that list, I feel compelled to address it.

Alas, identifying problematic tasks to include on the list is not straightforward, because the same “I know I’ll get to it” belief means there’s no problem, and it doesn’t occur to me that it belongs on the list. And I sometimes can’t initiate writing the list—I know I’ll write it, just not right now.

I’d recently been having trouble beginning a new essay on a topic I wanted to explore. It had been simmering in my mind for a while, and I felt ready to begin writing. But I couldn’t. I tried tricking my brain into cooperating by breaking the task into smaller and hopefully more manageable chunks.

I was able to sit down in front of my computer, but my brain refused to attempt the next task. Later, I managed to open a new file, but my mind wouldn’t move beyond that chunk. I left the file open, knowing I’d get to it (just not now). A few days later, I typed a title, but couldn’t start the body of the essay. I knew exactly how I wanted it to begin. The words were there. But I wasn’t.

Galvanized into action by Robbins’ five second rule, I was determined to try it the next morning.

As I finished getting dressed, I thought about working on the essay. “5-4-3-2-1” and there I was, at my computer, tapping away, the essay taking form just as I’d imagined it.

Every time my inner voice suggested I needed to take a breather, before I had time to question my motive, I applied the five second rule. “5-4-3-2-1” and I was back on track. After finishing a first draft, I wondered about working on another troublesome essay. Five seconds later, I was back at the keyboard. Feeling like I was on a roll and afraid that I’d fall prey to my damaged brain if I paused, I moved on to sending email queries about speaking engagements and book events.

The next problematic item that came to mind gave me pause—I needed to grade a pile of essays. This time, the five second rule failed, because common sense kicked in. I had reached my limit—fatigue overwhelmed me and my brain blanked out. I absolutely had to rest, or I’d be in no shape to do anything.

I came away from that day feeling good about myself. I’d been more productive than I’d been in a long time. But I was also exhausted. Applying the five second rule had thoroughly drained me.

I have since realized that the five second rule doesn’t work for me exactly the way Mel Robbins explained it. I haven’t abandoned it, but as with so many other things post-injury, I am learning to adapt it to my particular circumstances. I have to pace myself, and as soon as I recognize the early signs of fatigue, I use the rule to take a nap.

My conclusion?

The five second rule rules.

References

Robbins, M. (2017). The 5 Second Rule: Transform your Life, Work, and Confidence with Everyday Courage. Savio Republic. ISBN-10: 1682612384

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Are Dyslexics More Entrepreneurial?

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Dyslexia is rather common: it is estimated that around 5-10% of individuals are dyslexic. Despite an apparent disability, some are famous, like Tom Cruise or Richard Branson. Obviously, they do not suffer from a lack of intelligence and are, in fact, quite successful in the business world. So what is going on in their brains? Are they developing some compensatory mechanisms that help them to do things better?

Epidemiological research studies indicate that dyslexics develop coping strategies to compensate for their weaknesses, which helps them in later life. The resilience that they acquire while in school often helps them to be more successful in developing a business, in being an entrepreneur.

Statistics show that there are twice more dyslexics among entrepreneurs when compared to the general population. However, dyslexics are uncommon in higher management. They also tend to have a different business management style. Thus, they do better in startups and are better at handling particular types of businesses.

Dyslexia is usually first identified when a child goes to school and struggles with scrambled text. Dyslexic children have difficulty in reading texts, interpreting them, and explaining the meaning of the text to others, even though they can be very intelligent otherwise. Dyslexia often results in poor academic performance, undue pressure, and psychological trauma. Each dyslexic child needs to learn to cope with these challenges.

Although dyslexic children are as intelligent as their peers at school, they are often labeled as less capable. Children with dyslexia are often targets of bullying in school. Poor self-image at school often leads to worsening of self-esteem in many of these kids. As helping dyslexic children is not easy, they are often left to themselves.

What’s going on in the dyslexic brain? Neurological basis of dyslexia

As a common disorder, dyslexia is the subject of multiple studies. Researchers agree that those living with dyslexia may have differences in the brain relative to non-dyslexic children, and these differences are the subject of intense clinical research. The recent explosion in brain imaging technology is helping us gain a deeper understanding of the matter.

The neurological theory of dyslexia is one of the earliest. The theory was proposed about a century ago when British physicians Morgan and Hinshelwood described dyslexia as a “visual word blindness.”

The study of adults living with brain trauma in the left parietal region demonstrated that many of these people develop reading difficulties. They find it challenging to process the optical image of letters. Thus, the early theory was that those with dyslexia have developmental defects in the parietal region of the brain.

Left parietal involvement was also somewhat confirmed during pathological examination of the brains of those who died at an earlier age and were known to be dyslexic.

Another important theory focuses on delayed brain lateralization in dyslexia. It is thought that some people have weak or insufficient brain lateralization that hinders the understanding of languages. This theory was the subject of multiple studies in the second half of last century.

The latest research into the neurophysiology of those living with dyslexia seems to indicate that dyslexia is phonological in nature: dyslexics have difficulty in manipulating the phoneme parts of speech. It is possible that there are developmental issues in the visual tract or other visual mechanisms in the brain may be contributing to the difficulty.

Apart from defects in a specific subsystem of the vision pathway, researchers think that there are other brain developmental issues involved as well. It is entirely possible that people with dyslexia have temporal processing impairment, and therefore they are not able to process information fast enough. Thus, dyslexia is considered the result of multi-system deficits

In conclusion

Dyslexia is probably the result of deficits in the brain at multiple levels. There is an impaired phoneme discrimination resulting in difficulty in understanding spelling. Visual perceptual impairment leads to further worsening of word recognition, and phonological awareness impairment causes speech disturbances. In the center of all this is delayed temporal processing. The end result is delayed speech development, difficulties in reading and comprehending texts, and poor academic performance.

What makes a dyslexic a successful person?

From Leonardo da Vinci to Einstein, children with learning disabilities prove that there is a limited link between disability and intelligence. Children with dyslexia are at least equally intelligent to non-dyslexic children.

The higher success of individuals with dyslexia in certain professions is probably the result of resilience or compensatory mechanisms that they cultivate during the school days to overcome their difficulties.

Some of these kids may develop better skills for interacting with others. They may focus more on specific arts or sciences. Many of them may not concentrate on studies and instead start doing business at an early age. This means that they can be found in any profession, and in the long run they are equally successful.

The compensatory mechanisms developed at a young age may provide an edge over others in specific areas when the children grow up. Even though dyslexics may score poorly in school, they may outscore other children in practical life since they spend more time perfecting their verbal skills.

As an entrepreneur, dyslexics are known to be good at delegating tasks, they are excellent mentors, and they are often creative. All of these qualities usually make them more successful entrepreneurs, though they may not be that good in roles where there is less space for creativity.

Achieving success with dyslexia is perhaps about learning different skills, mastering different approaches to solving the tasks, and developing strategies to compensate for certain limitations.

References

Habib, M. (2000) The neurological basis of developmental dyslexia: An overview and working hypothesis. Brain, 123(12), 2373–2399. 10.1093/brain/123.12.2373

Locke, R., Scallan, S., Mann, R., & Alexander, G. (2015) Clinicians with dyslexia: a systematic review of effects and strategies. The Clinical Teacher, 12(6), 394–398. 10.1111/tct.12331

Logan, J. (2009) Dyslexic entrepreneurs: the incidence; their coping strategies and their business skills. Dyslexia, 15(4), 328–346. 10.1002/dys.388

Logan, J. (2018) Analysis of the incidence of dyslexia in entrepreneurs and its implications.

Toffalini, E., Pezzuti, L., & Cornoldi, C. (2017) Einstein and dyslexia: Is giftedness more frequent in children with a specific learning disorder than in typically developing children? Intelligence, 62, 175–179. 10.1016/j.intell.2017.04.006

Yu, X., Zuk, J., & Gaab, N. What Factors Facilitate Resilience in Developmental Dyslexia? Examining Protective and Compensatory Mechanisms Across the Neurodevelopmental Trajectory. Child Development Perspectives, 0(0). 10.1111/cdep.12293

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How Weather Influences the Brain?

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We all know that the weather can strongly influence our mood and productivity. Many people feel better when the weather is nice and sunny. It is thus not surprising that people more often feel unhappy and depressed in winter. There is even a medical condition known as winter depression. Still, some researchers believe that our brain functions better during the cold days. In this article, I’ll briefly analyze what happens in our brain in relation to weather-related mood and mind changes.

Scientific studies indicate that weather conditions such as high temperature and humidity can impair mental performance by affecting brain neurochemistry. For instance, it is believed that thermal stress can cause cognitive impairment.

One recent study has investigated the impact of thermal stress on cognitive functions in soldiers spending at least one year in desert conditions. The evaluation of memory and cognitive functions indicated there is a decline in cognitive performance in hot climates when compared to normal weather. The decline was most pronounced for attention, concentration, verbal memory, and psychomotor performance.

Another recent study has investigated the impact of sand and dust storms on children’s cognitive function. Using mathematical analysis and word-recognition test scores, how prenatal exposure to sand and dust storms affects the cognitive performance of children was evaluated. The authors found a decline in both test scores, as well as a later beginning of counting and speaking in whole sentences in children prenatally exposed to storms. The findings imply that this kind of weather jeopardizes the cognitive functions of the next generation.

However, results from scientific research on the effects of temperature on cognitive functions are quite mixed and contradictory.

One study investigated how temperature affects the cognitive performance of subjects with multiple sclerosis. Healthy subjects were included as controls. The researchers correlated cognitive status with temperature in both study groups. In patients with multiple sclerosis, unlike in healthy subjects, the higher temperatures were associated with worsening cognitive status. These findings confirmed that warmer outdoor temperatures lead to a higher incidence of clinical exacerbation and T2 lesion activity in subjects with this condition (T2 lesions represent the white spots observed by MRI that are used to diagnose and track the progress of multiple sclerosis).

With regard to cognitive functions in cold weather, studies have shown both impairments and improvements.

For instance, one study investigated the impact of exposure to the cold and the following rewarming on working memory and executive functions in 10 young males. The results demonstrated a decline in the test results when the subjects were exposed to 10°C, and these impairments persisted for one hour during the rewarming period. Although the underlying mechanisms were not tested, the authors suggested that acute vascular changes in the brain could explain the observed changes. According to the authors, another explanation could be a deregulation of catecholamine levels, particularly important for complex attentional functions.

Other findings suggest that winter helps to wake up our mind and makes us think more clearly. It is well known that the brain utilizes glucose as its main energy source. Thus, when glucose is depleted, brain functioning is jeopardized. Energy, i.e., glucose, is also used for the regulation of body temperature, especially in extremely hot or cold conditions. It seems that more energy (glucose) is needed to cool down than to warm up the body. Thus, warm temperatures are more likely to deplete glucose levels and thus impair brain function and clarity of thinking.

It has been suggested that high temperatures increase the risk of mental disorders, especially in the elderly.

One recent study has analyzed data on emergency admissions linked to mental diseases and daily temperatures over a period of more than 10 years in 6 different cities. The results indicated that high temperatures might jeopardize mental health and be responsible for the exacerbation of symptoms of mental diseases. For instance, according to the results, more than 30% of admissions for anxiety were attributed to hot temperatures. Exposure to hot temperatures leads to reactions in the body that may cause an increase in stress hormone levels and brain temperature. Additionally, extremely hot weather may deregulate the dopamine and serotonin levels (these neuromediators are important for the feeling of happiness).

According to widespread belief, weather can affect our mood. Although a lack of sunshine is commonly linked to seasonal depression, some researchers believe that not all individuals respond similarly to weather changes.

Research has linked an individual’s self-reported daily mood with the objective weather over a 30 day period. Large individual differences have been found in how people react to the weather. Accordingly, four distinct types of weather responders have been identified: summer lovers (i.e., a better mood with warmer weather and more sun), summer haters (i.e., a worse mood with warmer weather and more sun), rain haters (i.e., a bad mood on rainy days), and unaffected (i.e., no particular association between weather and mood). Interestingly, adolescents and their mothers are often the same type, suggestive of familial weather reactivity.

The analysis of both scientific and popular literature permits the conclusion that extreme weather conditions can affect our cognitive function and mood. Most likely, this is caused by a decline in the brain’s energy source (glucose), which needs to be used for thermoregulation. Also, it is evident that extreme temperatures affect the level of catecholamines in the brain (such as dopamine and serotonin). Still, it seems that there is some individual variability in the brain’s response to weather, and it may run in the family.

References

Saini, R., Srivastava, K., Agrawal, S., Das, R. C. (2017) Cognitive deficits due to thermal stress: An exploratory study on soldiers in deserts. Med Journal Armed Forces India. 73(4):370-374. doi: 10.1016/j.mjafi.2017.07.011.

Li, Z., Chen, L., Li, M., Cohen, J. (2018) Prenatal exposure to sand and dust storms and children’s cognitive function in China: a quasi-experimental study. The Lancet. Planetary Health. 2(5): e214-e222. doi: 10.1016/S2542-5196(18)30068-8.

Leavitt, V.M., Sumowski, J.F., Chiaravalloti, N., Deluca, J. (2012) Warmer outdoor temperature is associated with worse cognitive status in multiple sclerosis. Neurology. 78(13): 964-968. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e31824d5834.

Muller, M.D., Gunstad, J., Alosco, M.L., Miller, L.A., Updegraff, J., Spitznagel, M.B., Glickman, E,L. (2012) Acute cold exposure and cognitive function: evidence for sustained impairment. Ergonomics. 55(7): 792-798. doi: 10.1080/00140139.2012.665497.

Lee, S., Lee, H., Myung, W., Kim, E.J., Kim, H. (2018) Mental disease-related emergency admissions attributable to hot temperatures. The Science of Total Environment.616-617: 688-694. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.10.260.

Klimstra, T.A., Frijns, T., Keijsers, L., et al. (2011) Come rain or come shine: individual differences in how weather affects mood. Emotion. 11(6): 1495-1499. doi: 10.1037/a0024649.

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