Outthink Your Brain

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What is your Brain? How Can You Optimize Decision-Making?

Your human brain is the central organ of your nervous system, and with the spinal cord makes up your central nervous system. It controls most of the activities of your body, processing, integrating, and coordinating the information it receives from your sense organs, and making decisions as to the instructions sent to the rest of your body.

Your brain is responsible for cognition, which functions through numerous processes and executive functions. Executive functions include your ability to filter information and tune out irrelevant stimuli with attentional control and cognitive inhibition, your ability to process and manipulate information held in working memory, your ability to think about multiple concepts simultaneously and switch tasks with cognitive flexibility, your ability to inhibit impulses and prepotent responses with inhibitory control, and your ability to determine the relevance of information or appropriateness of an action.

While doing so, your brain consumes up to 20% of the energy used by your body, more than any other organ.

As your brain dynamically processes information, your brain’s transportation system causes electrical charges to zip through circuits and neurotransmitters to pass chemical molecular messages across cells. It is estimated that brains operate at one exaFlop, which is equivalent to a billion billion (1018) calculations per second!

Even with all of that sensory information, cognition and processing power, your brain’s decision-making process can improve significantly when it comes to your health.

Behavioral Economics, Decision-Making and Your Health

Your brain does not act purely rationally. The proof of this comes from case studies in behavioral economics. These situations can apply to keeping your health as well. 

Human brains are wired to respond well to immediate threats from other humans or animals. We are not good at responding to gradual, long-term threats that we cannot see.

Because we don’t see immediate impact, it is easy for your brain to lose focus on prioritizing your health. Life’s challenges get in the way for most of us. How can you recognize these situations and overcome them?

One area for increased awareness is that your brain primarily uses the last 10% of an activity to rate it and explain it. If the ending isn’t fun, then that has a much higher negative effect on the whole experience. Ever wonder why kids get a lollipop or toy when they are done with their doctor’s or dental appointment? Or why Keep.Health provides suggested rewards at the end of our articles?

Make sure to consistently reward your brain at the end of each healthy activity you undertake.

How to Improve Your Brain’s Decision-Making

Our brains are surprisingly dynamic; we do things every single day that affect their structure and chemistry. Here are 10 things you can do to change your brain with clear explanations on how they work. Did you know that sugar (#9) causes mental impairment? Beyond getting consistent quality sleep and exercising, meditation (#3) is really good for training your brain to make better decisions. People who meditate regularly show weaker connections with the “Me Center” of the brain and stronger connections with the lateral prefrontal cortex, or the “Assessment Center” of the brain. This helps meditators to take problems less personally and approach them more logically.

Your Brain on Video Games, Music and Social Media

  • Video games change your brain, improving sustained and selective attention skills. Also, your brain becomes larger in size and efficiency in brain regions related to visuospatial skills. However, on the downside, researchers have found functional and structural changes in the neural reward system which are common in addictive disorders. 
  • Akili Interactive created EndeavorRx, an FDA-cleared video game to improve the functioning of ADHD children. Their clinical trial showed significant and durable improvements in the ADHD Impairment Rating Scale (IRS). 
  • Music impacts your brain as well. Brain.FM is an internet channel which plays music scientifically designed to optimize brain performance. Emerging research is showing that the impact of music on our desired brain function is correlated with which melodies are more likely to go viral. Musicians can use this research to create more popular songs.
  • Curious to know more about your brain’s personality? Artificial intelligence algorithms can determine much of it from your use of social media. To get your brain’s computerized personality test, consider trying Apply Magic Sauce to analyze your activities on social media. In return,  you receive a detailed personality profile which includes your presumed age and sex, whether you are anxious or easily stressed, how quickly you give in to impulses as well as your political ideology.

Avoiding Addiction

Addiction is a neuropsychological disorder characterized by a persistent and intense urge to engage in a behavior that produces natural reward, despite substantial harm and other negative consequences. Repetitive use often alters brain function in ways that perpetuate craving, and weakens (but does not completely negate) self-control. Habits and patterns associated with addiction are typically characterized by immediate gratification (short-term reward), coupled with delayed deleterious effects (long-term costs).

Addiction impacts approximately 50% of Americans during their lifetime. One-third of inpatient hospital costs and 20% of all deaths in the US each year are the result of untreated addictions and risky substance use. Common addictions and prevalence rates include:

  • Alcohol (12%)
  • Cannabis (3%)
  • Prescription Drugs (5%)
  • Illicit Drugs (3%)
  • Sex (5%)
  • Gambling (2%)
  • Food (3%)
  • Shopping (6%)
  • Social Media (10%)

Do you have any behaviors which you feel are caused by addiction? Can you recognize them when they happen, override them and refocus those cravings into more positive pursuits? If not, seek help from your primary care physician or other addiction experts. Behavioral therapy and various medications can be helpful. Also, beware that lack of consistent quality sleep makes controlling cravings much more difficult. The first step to overcoming addiction is better sleep.

Protecting Your Brain from Bacteria and Viruses

Recent research has proven that microbiome bacteria and viruses can enter the brain and are likely connected to brain diseases. As examples:

  • Herpes research studies observe significantly increased herpesvirus in the brains of patients who have died from Alzheimer’s. 
  • Large research studies have found that Parkinson’s occurs 28% more often in subjects who have inflammatory bowel diseases. Multiple gut-brain pathways are being explored.
  • Conversely, Parkinson’s patients also undergo gut bacteria alterations which translate into substantial functional differences affecting host metabolism and disease phenotype. 

Fortunately, medical technology has evolved so we can now deliver therapeutics which can cross the blood-brain barrier. That said, better to take precautions to avoid these diseases in the first place. See Keep Health’s articles on creating a healthy microbiome, proper breathing and maintaining good oral hygiene.

Researching Your Brain

For further research, here are some key thought-leaders in the brain space:

Conclusion of Outthink Your Brain

This concludes this article. Thanks for reading. As your reward for continuing to focus on your health, explore deeper into how your brain thinks and how human brains are evolving in these two thought-provoking books:

  • Nudge: Improving Decisions on Health, Wealth and Happiness 
  • Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

Also, watch this six-minute fascinating video on Your Brain in Action, narrated by Alan Alda!

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