Weekend’s Better Brain Health Breakfast # 6

Lasting Love

One of the most important things for our brain health are good social relationships, and this obviously includes our love interest.

In last week’s better brain breakfast edition I discussed how love can hurt. This week on a happier note there is a new report that suggests that love can last, even in couples married for more than a decade or two (an average of 21 years). Now the researchers selected participants that answered affirmatively to questions like, “are you still madly in love with your partner”, and it turned out they had sex on average 2.2 times per week.  They scanned the brains of these individuals while viewing a picture of their partner and compared that with when they viewed other pictures such as long-term friend; a long-term acquaintance; and a shorter-term acquaintance. What the researchers found:

Brain scans showed the ventral tegmental area and dorsal striatum lit up when participants looked at their spouse’s photo. Prior studies have shown those dopamine-rich regions of the brain, which are associated with reward and motivation, also light up in couples when they first fall in love, as well as when people snort cocaine.

“These people are not just kidding themselves. They seem to be having the same experience as newly in-love people,” Aron said.

Long-term, madly in love participants also showed more activation in regions of the brain associated with maternal attachment and pair-bonding, Aron said. Sexual frequency was associated with increased activity of the posterior hippocampus, an area implicated in hunger and craving.

To hunger and cravings.

So it is great to hear it is possible to still be ‘madly’ in love after 20 years being together. I guess one question what percentage of 20 year relationships maintain this level of love? Are there different types of love that keep long term relationships going?

The health advantages of early education

Now all this love and sex tends to lead to having children. And there is no stronger love than the ones parents have for their children and so they want them to have every advantage possible – especially when it comes down to education. We all know how important education is in our modern informational dominant world so how important is early education? It is well known that intensive education at an early age for lo-income children results in improvement in educational scores – but what about other health and well being measurements? New research now provides us with some of these answers.

Researchers found that participants had significantly better health and health behaviors and that these findings were independent of IQ, educational attainment or health insurance status…

Until it (this research project) came along, the benefit of education had never been proven using the gold standard in research methods-the randomized controlled trial. What we have found is that this educational intervention also reduced health risks like smoking and improved health outcomes as early as age 21,” said Dr. Muennig, assistant professor of Health Policy and Management at Columbia’s Mailman School and principal investigator of the new study. “The health benefits were quite dramatic.”

This research suggests that early intensive education intervention not only increases educational ability but also several long term overall health outcomes and social choices, and you could probably argue overall brain health. Increase your children’s body and brain health and provide them with as rich and varied educational environment as possible (but don’t pressure them too much).

The brain scanning game to find out if you are good at games

Now when kids grow up, no matter what educational system they have been through, they start playing computer/video games. Some people are poor players, some okay, and some great. Could we predict their ability before they ever boot up a game?

Predict your computer gaming success with a brain scan. This wired article indicates that brain activity in the basal ganglia could predict 55 to 68 % of the differences in performance of a computer game.

“Our data suggest that some persistent physiological and or neuroanatomical difference is actually the predictor of learning,” said University of Illinois psychology professor and research leader Art Kramer in a statement.

Of  course most of us don’t have access to such brain scans. What do you do then? Well, if you just spend some time playing computer games you quickly find out if you are one of the fast learners or just average like most of us. Now you know you can blame it all on your basal ganglia.

Can this technique be used to predict performance in our kids in other domains: specific sports, math, architecture, engineering, music, to mention a few possibilities ?

Hope you are all having a happy and healthy weekend.

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