In 2011, photojournalist Lynsey Addario was covering the civil war in Libya when her team was “ripped out” of their jeep by Moammar Gadhafi’s troops. After enduring one week of being bound up, tortured, and continually threatened with execution, Addario and her teammates were released. Despite being kidnapped twice (once in Libya, once in Iraq), caught in an ambush in Afghanistan, and witnessing the destitution of famine and war, Addario exhibits not a single trace of trauma. What is it that makes some of us more resilient than others in times of extreme panic or fear?
Valentine’s Day inspires a post about someone who has dedicated her career to studying the science behind attraction and desire. For more than thirty years, Helen Fisher, Ph.D., has studied the link between brain chemistry and romantic love, in hopes of better understanding the patterns that occur when human beings choose their mates.
In an article published last week, a team at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge recognized signs of post-traumatic stress disorder in writings dating as far back as 1300 BC. Though they of course did not use that term, recovered accounts of soldiers from ancient Mesopotamia described the familiar symptom of being visited by “ghosts they faced in battle” long after their return from war. Today, approximately 7.7 million war veterans and other adults in the US are impacted by PTSD and the long term health concerns it carries.
Seeking to ease their pain, Dr. Richard Davidson, named as one of Time magazine’s top 100 most influential people in 2006, conducted a seven day experiment to investigate whether short-term meditation exercises could be used to help alleviate the anxiety and anger that often arises with PTSD. His findings were showcased last week at NYC’s Rubin Museum of Art in a documentary entitled “Free the Mind.” The research took place at the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, founded by Davidson, as part of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is also a faculty member of the Nalanda Institute for Contemplative Science. The institute’s founder, Dr. Joseph Loizzo, introduced the documentary at the Rubin Museum with a few remarks on his determination to “weave mind science into everyday work.” Loizzo has published many scientific articles covering Indo-Tibetan mind and health science, the role of mind-body methods in modern medicine, and meditative approaches to psychotherapy.
The question of how individual differences in behavior and personality develop—especially in terms of the interaction between genes and the environment—has proved to be a formidable challenge in neuroscience. In “One of a Kind: The Neurobiology of Individuality,” the featured Cerebrum article for June, Richard J. Davidson, Ph.D., impressively summarizes mounting new imaging evidence that suggests brain circuits involved in our emotional responses are highly plastic and change with experience, affecting our disposition. He also points to new research that suggests that psychological interventions can further harness brain plasticity to promote positive behavioral changes—changes that increase resilience, well-being, and altruistic behavior.
Have you ever thought you knew something, then tried to explain it to someone else and realized you didn’t? Researchers call this the illusion of explanatory depth: We humans think we understand the world better than we really do. This is a problem. “When you teach something to someone else, that’s when you really learn it,” said Arthur Markman, Ph.D. “Because you discover all the pieces you didn’t understand.”
Markman, a psychology professor at the University of Texas and the executive editor of Cognitive Science, spoke at the Learning & the Brain Conference yesterday in New York. He argues that acquiring real knowledge—a true understanding of how something works—and being able to communicate that knowledge are among the most important skills a student can have.