The Bright Side of the Blues

i-58dd0e11c26815241d6f451a39005412-moodbuzz.jpgOn The Frontal Cortex, Jonah Lehrer explores the cognitive consequences of depression and happiness, explaining that the way we feel has a huge impact on the way we think. First, Jonah shares an article he wrote for the New York Times Magazine, in which he says the blues can be “a clarifying force, focusing the mind on its most essential problems.” For the notoriously down-in-the-dumps Charles Darwin, depression “may actually have accelerated the pace of his research, allowing him to withdraw from the world and concentrate entirely on his work.” Jonah answers critiques of his article, writing that “since 1980, the diagnosis of depression has been rapidly increasing across every segment of the population.” Jonah also weighs studies which show depressed people are prone to cognitive deficits, explaining that it’s hard to concentrate on “some artificial lab task” when the mind is wracked with painful thoughts. Finally, Jonah looks at the bright side, writing “while negative moods might promote focused attention and rigorous analysis, there’s good evidence that happiness promotes a more freewheeling kind of information processing.” So chin up, or chin down, keep the wheels turning.

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Coming Back for More

i-f4e887b87e87aa1fc777d4a8da672872-morebuzz.jpgGood things are great, but too much of a good thing can be bad. Especially when you can’t get enough. On The Frontal Cortex, Jonah Lehrer introduces us to ChatRoulette, a website that allows you to get “rejected, propositioned and yelled at” by other live strangers with webcams. With a single click, users can dump whomever they’re looking for a new face, hopefully. Jonah says it “reminds me of Vegas, where people are willing to endure big losses for the occasional thrill of a surprising gain.” Of course, if chocolate is your choice compulsion, gain is to be expected. Jessica Palmer on Bioephemera describes an experiment where mice subjected themselves to electric shocks so they could eat some chocolate, but only if they had once been starved. Now healthy and well-fed, these mice were willing to suffer if they could just get some extra calories. Finally, read about a few other favored habit-formers on Neuron Culture and DrugMonkey. David Dobbs discusses the last things any civilized expedition would run out of, and DrugMonkey digs through case reports for a rare and unpleasant consequence of chronic cannabis consumption.

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Inspiring One Another

i-e6a35c505bbdd20a1ae1857ced98dd94-zinnbuzz.jpgWe inspire each other with our everyday actions and attitudes–monkey see, monkey do. On The Frontal Cortex, Jonah Lehrer describes an experiment in which individuals who observed their peers choosing carrots over cookies were more likely to make the same thoughtful choice themselves. Jonah explains that self-control “contains a large social component” and plays a very important role in our development. But what can you do when everyone beats their heads against the same wall? On Aardvarchaeology, Martin Rundkvist recounts the “tragicomical” history of bog reclamation, which has continued over the past three centuries despite peat proving uncompetitive and reclaimed bog infertile. Dried-out parcels would simply “sink back down into the lowered water table,” leaving nothing but destroying “the environment and the archaeological record.” Finally, on The Primate Diaries, Eric Michael Johnson honors the legacy of Howard Zinn, who died this week at 87. Zinn challenged the historical status quo with his view that history is driven by “a network of dedicated individuals,” and not merely the “Big Men” whose names are printed and remembered.

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Now and Later

i-8cbf5e1a26d518767613df7de58c8f1e-metastasis.jpgSometimes, present circumstances can belie the uncertainty of the future. On Not Exactly Rocket Science, Ed Yong discusses experiments on “restraint bias” which show that many people overestimate their powers of self-control. He notes that “we’re generally bad at predicting the future,” arguing that those who feel the strongest are the most likely to risk temptation and defeat. On Respectful Insolence, Orac critiques the latest “kerfuffle over screening for cancer,” which questions the value of routine screening. While early detection may seem like a no-brainer for an improved prognosis, the equation is more complicated and the margins slimmer than one might think. Greg Laden also warns in his blog against mistaking the present trend for the bigger picture. While swine flu may be peaking, he says, it’s no time to let down our guard. In other words, once the cop car passes, “don’t just wander blissfully out into the middle of the street like it is all over, because you will be flattened by the firetruck that you illogically assume is not coming next.”

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