The Old and New Brain Phenomena

Recently, I was reading a book called, “Quiet-The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain and was very interested in how the brain’s biological processes can impact our behavior or personalities. The book was basically about how the extrovert ideal of this generation really suggested for quiet people to step out of their comfort zone, which isn’t necessarily bad. However, it talked about some of the rewarding aspects introverts, and highly-reactive or sensitive people had, based on scientific research.

This whole concept of neuroscience really struck me and I wanted to go deeper and deeper. Of course, I can’t go that deep into it because I would have to be a neuroscientist or an M.D. to understand certain things. Regardless, there are some things that are just so interesting about the human brain!

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So, the book referred to the limbic system of our brain, which we share with the most primitive animals, to be the “old brain.” Now, this “old brain” is emotional and instinctive. It includes various structures, including the amygdala, which is our fear and emotional response center, and that is connected to our nucleus accumbens (a.k.a. the brain’s pleasure center.) There is also a part of the old brain that plays a huge role in reward-seeking and pleasure.

The “new brain,” on the other hand, is the neocortex, which evolved many thousands of years after the limbic system. The new brain was described to be responsible for thinking, planning, language and decision-making- some of the very faculties that make us human. So what is the correlation between the old brain and the new brain?

The old brain, as mentioned before is instinctive, and is interested only in survival, whereas the new brain is where our feelings are stored. So, if the old brain senses some danger, it may send a message to your new brain, making you in turn, fearful to that situation… Isn’t that wicked?! The brain works in amazing ways that we sometimes can’t even seem to comprehend.

Going back to the “pleasure center” of the brain, including the orbitofrontal cortex, the nucleus accumbens and the amygdala, we can really get excited about potential goodies like money or pictures of attractive people. It’s amazing to see that there is a certain part of the brain that lights up during an fMRI for a particular rewarding feeling! In fact, research has now proven that the more dopamine your brain releases, the more likely you are to go after rewards like sex, chocolate, money and status.. Isn’t that crazy?! That’s why cocaine and heroin make you euphoric, but that shouldn’t convince you to go risk your life on these drugs. However, going out to experience positive rewarding experiences are amazing, and there is simply no way that could go wrong for you..

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With that being said, this book has made me realize that there is a neuroscientific explanation for almost every single activity you perform, and that certainly impacts your personality. If you seek status or money, then you are likely to be using your old brain, but if you value family relationships and love more than you do money and status, then you may be using your neocortex or your new brain. If you think about this from an evolutionary aspect, we don’t have to fight so hard now to get food and shelter. Don’t get me wrong. There are millions of people struggling through poverty today but it would make sense to say that we are using more of our new brains now, because this is a new era. That’s why evolution makes SO MUCH sense! There is a need to emphasize that!…

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You Don’t Even Need Drugs

While studying about the different types of stimulants, depressants and hallucinogens in Psychology class today, we talked about how these type of drugs affect certain neurotransmitters, especially dopamine.

People usually take drugs like MDMA (ecstasy), Cocaine, Amphetamines etc., to boost the dopamine activity in their brain. Their emotions for the particular drive that dopamine produces, another words, the motivation that they need all comes from drugs. There are millions of people who become so dependent on these drugs to function normally as well, and it is just so sad. I’m not stating that drugs are absolutely horrible, because they are not. Marijuana can have miraculous effects on cancer patients and can fix headaches! However, in terms of motivation, and the joy that everyone craves for, it isn’t necessary to take drugs that may have potential adverse reactions. Ever heard of the “Runner’s High?” You can even train your brain to release dopamine by simply exercising.

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Who would’ve thought feelings of euphoria could be associated with strenuous exercise like prolonged running.?! An article in the New York Times called, “Phys Ed: What Really Causes the Runner’s High?” explains this phenomenon very well!

Not only does running provide that amazing rapture, there’s also other motivating ways to boost dopamine activity in the brain, or at least bump it up to a point where you’re satisfied. See, the thing is, you don’t want to have excess dopamine, because then you may be schizophrenic, and you definitely don’t want to have too less of it because then you will be depressed. So how can we naturally have an equilibrium in our brains?

It all comes down to our DIET! Remember that famous quote I mentioned earlier as well, “You are what you eat…” ? Well, your brain’s neurotransmitters will definitely act upon their receptors in response to what you eat. ¬†Eating protein-rich foods like eggs, and fish-oil supplements or eating the fish itself, is essential to increasing the brain’s dopamine activity. Also, eating bananas can help since they’re a good source of tyrosine, which is an amino acid that neurons eventually turn into norepinephrine (another neurotransmitter boosting adrenaline or alertness) and dopamine.

Really, one of the easiest ways to stay active, have an elevated mood, and maintained levels of dopamine, is to be Bulletproof! (:

P.S..: Just in case you think I’m stupid for stressing dopamine again and again, be sure to check out this cool article that explains part of the reason why:

http://news.vanderbilt.edu/2012/05/dopamine-impacts-your-willingness-to-work/