Do you think you can’t control your emotions? If you assume that the way you feel about yourself or your spouse is not within your control, then let’s take a look at some fascinating brain research. If knowledge is power, then knowledge about how your brain functions can empower you to take a second look at your emotions, especially as they deal with your marriage.
We know that experience effects the brain. This is the brain’s neuroplasticity. However, toward the end of the twentieth century, researchers were astonished to learn that your brain’s chemistry and wiring could change just by thinking differently about sonething.
Here are a few examples:
In a 1998 study, people exposed to what they were told was poison ivy developed a rash!
In one study, people with colds either received echinacea or a placebo or nothing. People who thought that echinacea is good for colds had the shortest duration of colds by 2 ½ days even though they were given a placebo! These people were asked questions prior to the start of the study which made them think that they had been given the echinecea. And that thought alone created a placebo effect which shortened the cold. But that only was true if the people believed that echinacea works.
In 2007, a Harvard researcher compared hotel maids who were divided into two groups, one of which was told that their jobs constituted a “workout” while the other group was not told anything. Neither group changed their habits, but when the study was over, the group told that their jobs were a workout had lost about two pounds, dropped blood pressure 10% and lost ½ % of their body fat! Remember, the two groups did the same work and neither group changed after-hours habits. Apparently, belief alone raised the metabolism of the first group.
Now, researchers are investigating exactly which areas of the brain are affected by our thoughts. Scientists at the University of Toronto set out to compare placebos, antidepressant medications, and talk therapy.
Antidepressants such as Paxil usually lower activity in the limbic system of the brain (where emotions are generated) and raise activity in the cerebral cortex (where we think).
This is logical if you’re blue: Stop feeling so badly and start thinking positive.
Placebos have been found to have the same impact on depressed people’s brains, so researchers wondered: Would cognitive therapy also work the same way? They found that the people in the therapy group did improve to the same degree as the group that received the medication, but the parts of their brains that were affected were just the opposite: talk therapy, which encourages people to to stop worrying and enjoy feeling well, decreased activity in the cortex and more activity in the limbic system! Same result, different way.
In other research, brainwaves of Buddhist monks were compared to those of non-meditators. Both groups were asked to meditate on “compassion.” The monks formed very strong gamma waves. This wave occurs when information stored across the brain is brought together to create a whole impression. It represents greater conscious awareness, perception, and problem solving. The novice volunteers also developed a gamma signal, but when the meditation part of the experiment was over, the monks continued to show that gamma signal for hours after and the non-meditators didn’t.
Interestingly, the parts of the monks’ brain that displayed the greatest activity are associated with compassion and the parts that showed the least represent “self.” Furthermore, the longer the history of meditating a monk had, the greater the changes in these two areas.
What conclusions would scientists draw from all these studies? – Brain function follows thought and not necessarily the other way around. So next time you think you can’t help your emotions, think again. The brain is very powerful, and you really are its master.
I’m DrDeb, a Marriage & Family Therapist specializing in marriages in trouble. Go to my blog, sign up for my free newsletter, and get a link to download my free e-book, “Signs Your Marriage Needs Help–and What to Do About It.”
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