Every few weeks we read that some new characteristic trait has been traced to a gene variant. Some researchers have even claimed that “telling people to try to be happier is like telling them to try to be taller”. To what extent is this really true? What kinds of evidence have been used? What are the major traits that really seem to depend strongly on your genetic endowment? We’ll also discuss the new findings in epigenetics about how certain stressful experiences get 'wired in' to our genes.
We often think that we want what we find pleasurable, and will take pleasure in what we want. Neuroscientists have taken this for granted for many years, but recently several have found evidence to overturn this apparently self-evident common-sense belief.
We seem to want many things that we don't enjoy. When we do find something that we both want and enjoy it becomes quite addictive as Kent Berridge reports. On the other hand pleasure can be a useful guide, if taken with Epicurean detachment. Morten Kringelbach discusses how we might learn from our pleasures in The Pleasure Center.
Fear drives much of human behavior. Goosebumps has a simple but engaging overview of the experience of fear. Look at the first four links and videos. Researchers are trying to tease apart the 'low road' and the 'high road' to fear.
Joseph LeDoux is considered the leading researcher on fear and has written a short explanation of his work and has done a video.
Studies of Williams' Syndrome patients, who lack social fear, show that they also lack racial and ethnic prejudice.
Anger is often misunderstood, and even today researchers disagree about the fundamental aspects of anger. It is clear that some organic brain conditions can pre-dispose people to become angry more easily, but the biggest causes are life situations as Carol Tavris reports (see pp.68-75).
We’ve all had the experience of talking with someone with whom we shared an intense experience many years before, and finding out that their memory of the event is very different from ours. How does memory work? How do we misremember?
What is happening in your brain when you are in love? Both romantic love and religious ecstasy activate the caudate nucleus - the same region that is chronically active in addicts. Neuroscientists are beginning to measure what is different about brain activity in a variety of personality types. We’ll discuss what is happening differently in the brains of kind and cruel individuals.
Romantic love seems to activate many of the same brain areas as drug addiction or other compulsions. Listen to Helen Fisher’s TED talk on romantic love. If you have more time, I would recommend chapter 3 of Why We Love for a discussion of the obsessive quality of love.