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neuroscience

How to Stop Unwanted Thoughts

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How to Stop Unwanted Thoughts

We’ve all had our share of unpleasant experiences -- flunking a test, going through a breakup, failing an interview. Most of the time, memories of these experiences linger for a few days or weeks but eventually fade away, and we can continue with our lives stress and worry free.

However, sometimes, these unwanted thoughts constantly come back to haunt us no matter how much we try to distract ourselves or make ourselves forget them. Recently, a group of researchers at the University of Cambridge have discovered the mechanism behind why this phenomenon occurs.1

Participants of the study memorized pairs of words containing a cue and a memory. If the cue was shown in green, the participants were told to recall the memory. If the cue was shown in red, the participants were told to block all thoughts of the memory or try to “push it out of mind.” For example, if the pair was BEACH-AFRICA and BEACH was shown in red, the participant would try to suppress thoughts about AFRICA.

During the trials, researchers imaged the participants’ brains using functional magnetic resonance imagining (fMRI) and 1H magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS). These techniques allowed researchers to track the concentration of the GABA neurotransmitter in the hippocampus, a region of the brain responsible for memory.

GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, is a chemical that relays signals between nerve cells in the brain by acting as an inhibitory transmitter, meaning that it suppresses the activity of cells receiving the signal. The researchers found that higher concentrations of GABA in the hippocampus were associated with a better ability to suppress thoughts, both positive and negative. They hypothesize that GABA prevents retrieval of memories, which in turn suppresses unwanted thoughts.

According to the researchers, the ability to control unwanted thoughts is essential for mental health.2 Most of us aren’t affected too severely by negative thoughts. However, having constant intrusive memories, thoughts, or hallucinations is a symptom characteristic of mental illnesses like anxiety, major depression, PTSD, and schizophrenia. For people struggling with mental health issues, this research presents a new approach to develop treatments that could improve their wellbeing and happiness.

 

References:

  1. Schmitz, T. W.; Correia, M. M.; Ferreira, C. S.; Prescot, A. P.; Anderson, M. C. Nature Communications 2017, 8 (1).
  2. http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/scientists-identify-mechanism-that-helps-us-inhibit-unwanted-thoughts
  3. Image: https://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/03/04/how-to-turn-on-the-part-of-your-brain-that-controls-motivation/

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Colorful World: How LSD Affects Our Brain’s Attribution of Meaning

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Colorful World: How LSD Affects Our Brain’s Attribution of Meaning

What makes your world colorful? Many people would think of experiences, music, people, or even objects that significantly impacted their lives. So why might an experience be meaningful to us, but not to others? According to Katrin Preller, a psychopharmacologist at the University Hospital for Psychiatry Zürich in Switzerland,1 certain neurochemicals and receptors in the brain are responsible for creating that sense of meaningfulness. But Preller’s research has a unique twist: some of her study participants have been given LSD (lysergic acid diethylamde), a highly potent synthetic hallucinogen2 that is known to stimulate dopamine receptors.

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A New Era of Mind Control

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A New Era of Mind Control

Mind control might be more than science fiction soon.

Before you start thinking of horrible scenarios in which people become mindless zombies under the government’s control, scientists are actually hoping they can devise a kind of mind control that can “treat cognitive deficits or enhance mental abilities.”1

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Why Heartbreak Actually Hurts: The Science of Emotion

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Why Heartbreak Actually Hurts: The Science of Emotion

The brain is the ultimate controller and regulator of our every thought, feeling, and action. So then why does the heart seemingly ache with heartbreak, in line with every cheesy love song ever written? Why does it feel like our emotions have the ability to run rampantly untamed, no matter how much we attempt to control them?

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What the Parkinson’s Cure May Stem From

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What the Parkinson’s Cure May Stem From

For many of us, keeping our balance is something we never have to think about. Since it happens so naturally, why should we think about the elaborate neural connections that make it possible? However, we can learn a lot about the brain when we look at what happens when motor control is impaired. One motor-impairing condition under much scrutiny is Parkinson’s disease, and many scientists dream of finding a cure for it.

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