Archive for the ‘happiness’ Category

That warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you’re being generous or charitable happens when the brain areas involved in generosity and in happiness synchronise.

No one likes a Scrooge. It’s been shown that generous people make more popular partners, and researchers have also honed in on the brain areas linked to generosity.

But fundamentally, being generous means spending resources – be they time, energy or money – on another person that you could be spending on yourself. According to conventional economic theory, this is very surprising: prioritising others over yourself might leave you with fewer resources.

Now neuroscientists have pinpointed how generosity is linked to happiness on a neural level, in a study in the journal Nature Communications.

In a study of 50 people, half were given the task of thinking about how they’d like to spend 100 Swiss Francs (£80) on themselves over the next four weeks. The other half were told to think about how they’d like to spend it on someone else – for example, a partner, friend or relative. They took a test to measure their subjective level of happiness before and after the experiment.

The people who were told to spend the money on others had a bigger mood boost than the group who had planned more treats for themselves.

Immediately after this test, the participants took part in another one. They were put in an fMRI scanner and their brain activity was measured while they were asked questions about how to distribute money between themselves and someone else they knew.

They were given the chance to accept offers such as giving their chosen person a present of 15 Swiss Francs even if it cost them 20 Francs. The people who had been in the ‘generous’ group in the first experiment tended to be more generous in this activity.

The decisions people made in the experiment weren’t just hypothetical, they had real consequences.

“The people were told that one of those options would be randomly chosen and then realised. So, for example they would have to pay 20 Francs and we would send other person the 15 Francs with a letter explaining why they were receiving it,” study author Soyoung Park of the University of Lübeck, Germany, told IBTimes UK.

The scans revealed the brain areas that were most active during the acts of generosity. The area associated with generosity – the temporo-parietal junction – and an area associated with happiness – the ventral striatum – both lit up particularly strongly during the fMRI scans. In addition, the activity of the two regions synchronised.

People tend not to realise how happy generous giving will make them, the researchers conclude.

“In everyday life, people underestimate the link between generosity and happiness and therefore overlook the benefits of prosocial spending. When asked, they respond that they assume there would be a greater increase in happiness after spending money on themselves and after spending greater amounts of money,” the authors write in the study.

“Our study provides behavioural and neural evidence that supports the link between generosity and happiness. Our results suggest that, for a person to achieve happiness from generous behaviour, the brain regions involved in empathy and social cognition need to overwrite selfish motives in reward-related brain regions. These findings have important implications not only for neuroscience but also for education, politics, economics and health.”

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/warm-glow-you-get-generosity-real-scientific-phenomenon-1629891

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Price, who heads up the Seattle payment processing firm Gravity Payments that he founded, has pledged to make sure all of his staffers make at least $70,000 annually in the next three years.

To do that he’s cutting his $1 million salary to $70,000, and dipping into the firm’s annual $2 million in profits.

This will double the pay of about 30 of his workers and will mean significant raises for an additional 40.
Price told employees of the new pay policy at a meeting Monday. For several moments there was stunned silence before people broke into applause and high fives said Phillip Akhavan, a merchants relations worker whose $43,000 salary immediately jumped 16% to $50,000.

“It took us a moment to understand what he was saying,” said Akhavan. His first call was to his wife, who he said didn’t believe him at first.

Nydelis Ortiz, a 25-year old underwriter who only started work there in January called her parents with the news. The family had struggled with homelessness after they moved to the states from Puerto Rico when she was a girl, and Ortiz, who also is now paid $50,000 said she now makes more than both her parents combined.

“My mom cried when I told her,” she said. Her $36,000 salary was one of the lowest in the company.

Jason Byrd, 38, had struggled to get by in Seattle on his $40,000 salary as a technician. “This gives us so much freedom to just do our jobs and not have to worry about money,” he said. He said he’ll save some of his extra pay, and try to pay down some of the $42,000 he owes in student loans. “I almost bought a new Jeep today, then I decided I’ll keep driving this one until it dies,” he said.

Price said he’s the majority owner of the privately-held firm, which he started in his college dorm room 11 years ago. His older brother, who gave him seed money to get started, is the only other stockholder.

“My brother Lucas reacted with caution and questions, but not objections,” said Price. He’s single so he didn’t have to explain his pay cut to a spouse.

Price decided to hike his employees pay after he read a study about happiness. It said additional income can make a significant difference in a person’s emotional well being up to the point when they earn $75,000 a year.

He’d also been hearing employees talk about the challenges of finding housing and meeting other expenses on their current salary, and decided there shouldn’t be such a big gap between his pay as CEO and that of his workers. He described the raises as a “moral imperative.”

Price told CNNMoney he isn’t the only CEO looking to close the income gap. He’s heard from almost 100 other CEO via email and text who say they support his move. “I don’t know if we’ll see enough to move the needle, but i think people of my generation are committed to making a change.”

Price said he’ll stick with the reduced paycheck until he can restore Gravity’s profits.

“My goal is to get back to previous profit levels within two to three years,” he said.

Price said the 50 workers who already earn more than $70,000 were nearly as excited about the news as their lower paid co-workers.

“They are happy that the folks that enable them to be high earners — their team members — will be taken care of,” Price said.

Customer reaction has also been positive.

“They love our service level and think the team deserves it,” he said.

One thing he didn’t expect: “We are all surprised at the coverage this is getting,” Price said.

http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/31DlLA/uz3Yp3-Y:WMTsH3BV/money.cnn.com/2015/04/14/news/companies/ceo-pay-cuts-pay-increases/index.html

Pessimism-vs_-optimism-350x262
Older people who have low expectations for a satisfying future may be more likely to live longer, healthier lives than those who see brighter days ahead, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

“Our findings revealed that being overly optimistic in predicting a better future was associated with a greater risk of disability and death within the following decade,” said lead author Frieder R. Lang, PhD, of the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany. “Pessimism about the future may encourage people to live more carefully, taking health and safety precautions.” The study was published online in the journal Psychology and Aging.

Lang and colleagues examined data collected from 1993 to 2003 for the national German Socio-Economic Panel, an annual survey of private households consisting of approximately 40,000 people 18 to 96 years old. The researchers divided the data according to age groups: 18 to 39 years old, 40 to 64 years old and 65 years old and above. Through mostly in-person interviews, respondents were asked to rate how satisfied they were with their lives and how satisfied they thought they would be in five years.

Five years after the first interview, 43 percent of the oldest group had underestimated their future life satisfaction, 25 percent had predicted accurately and 32 percent had overestimated, according to the study. Based on the average level of change in life satisfaction over time for this group, each increase in overestimating future life satisfaction was related to a 9.5 percent increase in reporting disabilities and a 10 percent increased risk of death, the analysis revealed.

Because a darker outlook on the future is often more realistic, older adults’ predictions of their future satisfaction may be more accurate, according to the study. In contrast, the youngest group had the sunniest outlook while the middle-aged adults made the most accurate predictions, but became more pessimistic over time.

“Unexpectedly, we also found that stable and good health and income were associated with expecting a greater decline compared with those in poor health or with low incomes,” Lang said. “Moreover, we found that higher income was related to a greater risk of disability.”

The researchers measured the respondents’ current and future life satisfaction on a scale of 0 to 10 and determined accuracy in predicting life satisfaction by measuring the difference between anticipated life satisfaction reported in 1993 and actual life satisfaction reported in 1998. They analyzed the data to determine age differences in estimated life satisfaction; accuracy in predicting life satisfaction; age, gender and income differences in the accuracy of predicting life satisfaction; and rates of disability and death reported between 1999 and 2010. Other factors, such as illness, medical treatment or personal losses, may have driven health outcomes, the study said.

The findings do not contradict theories that unrealistic optimism about the future can sometimes help people feel better when they are facing inevitable negative outcomes, such as terminal disease, according to the authors. “We argue, though, that the outcomes of optimistic, accurate or pessimistic forecasts may depend on age and available resources,” Lang said. “These findings shed new light on how our perspectives can either help or hinder us in taking actions that can help improve our chances of a long healthy life.”

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/02/130227101929.htm

 

How far should doctors go in attempting to cure addiction? In China, some physicians are taking the most extreme measures. By destroying parts of the brain’s “pleasure centers” in heroin addicts and alcoholics, these neurosurgeons hope to stop drug cravings. But damaging the brain region involved in addictive desires risks permanently ending the entire spectrum of natural longings and emotions, including the ability to feel joy.

In 2004, the Ministry of Health in China banned this procedure due to lack of data on long term outcomes and growing outrage in Western media over ethical issues about whether the patients were fully aware of the risks.

However, some doctors were allowed to continue to perform it for research purposes—and recently, a Western medical journal even published a new study of the results. In 2007, The Wall Street Journal detailed the practice of a physician who claimed he performed 1000 such procedures to treat mental illnesses such as depression, schizophrenia and epilepsy, after the ban in 2004; the surgery for addiction has also since been done on at least that many people.

The November publication has generated a passionate debate in the scientific community over whether such research should be published or kept outside the pages of reputable scientific journals, where it may find undeserved legitimacy and only encourage further questionable science to flourish.

The latest study is the third published since 2003 in Stereotactic and Functional Neurosurgery, which isn’t the only journal chronicling results from the procedure, which is known as ablation of the nucleus accumbens. In October, the journal World Neurosurgery also published results from the same researchers, who are based at Tangdu Hospital in Xi’an.

The authors, led by Guodong Gao, claim that the surgery is “a feasible method for alleviating psychological dependence on opiate drugs.” At the same time, they report that more than half of the 60 patients had lasting side effects, including memory problems and loss of motivation. Within five years, 53% had relapsed and were addicted again to opiates, leaving 47% drug free.

(MORE: Addicted: Why We Get Hooked)

Conventional treatment only results in significant recovery in about 30-40% of cases, so the procedure apparently improves on that, but experts do not believe that such a small increase in benefit is worth the tremendous risk the surgery poses.  Even the most successful brain surgeries carry risk of infection, disability and death since opening the skull and cutting brain tissue for any reason is both dangerous and unpredictable. And the Chinese researchers report that 21% of the patients they studied experienced memory deficits after the surgery and 18% had “weakened motivation,” including at least one report of lack of sexual desire. The authors claim, however, that “all of these patients reported that their [adverse results] were tolerable.” In addition, 53% of patients had a change in personality, but the authors describe the majority of these changes as “mildness oriented,” presumably meaning that they became more compliant. Around 7%, however, became more impulsive.

The surgery is actually performed while patients are awake in order to minimize the chances of destroying regions necessary for sensation, consciousness or movement.  Surgeons use heat to kill cells in small sections of both sides of the brain’s nucleus accumbens.  That region is saturated with neurons containing dopamine and endogenous opioids, which are involved in pleasure and desire related both to drugs and to ordinary experiences like eating, love and sex.

(MORE: A Drug to End Drug Addiction)

In the U.S. and the U.K., reports the Wall Street Journal, around two dozen stereotactic ablations are performed each year, but only in the most intractable cases of depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder and after extensive review by institutional review boards and intensive discussions with the patient, who must acknowledge the risks. Often, a different brain region is targeted, not the nucleus accumbens. Given the unpredictable and potentially harmful consequences of the procedure, experts are united in their condemnation of using the technique to treat addictions. “To lesion this region that is thought to be involved in all types of motivation and pleasure risks crippling a human being,” says Dr. Charles O’Brien, head of the Center for Studies of Addiction at the University of Pennsylvania.

David Linden, professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins and author of a recent book about the brain’s pleasure systems calls the surgery “horribly misguided.”  He says “This treatment will almost certainly render the subjects unable to feel pleasure from a wide range of experiences, not just drugs of abuse.”

But some neurosurgeons see it differently. Dr. John Adler, professor emeritus of neurosurgery at Stanford University, collaborated with the Chinese researchers on the publication and is listed as a co-author.  While he does not advocate the surgery and did not perform it, he believes it can provide valuable information about how the nucleus accumbens works, and how best to attempt to manipulate it. “I do think it’s worth learning from,” he says. ” As far as I’m concerned, ablation of the nucleus accumbens makes no sense for anyone.  There’s a very high complication rate. [But] reporting it doesn’t mean endorsing it. While we should have legitimate ethical concerns about anything like this, it is a bigger travesty to put our heads in the sand and not be willing to publish it,” he says.

(MORE: Anesthesia Study Opens Window Into Consciousness)

Dr. Casey Halpern, a neurosurgery resident at the University of Pennsylvania makes a similar case. He notes that German surgeons have performed experimental surgery involving placing electrodes in the same region to treat the extreme lack of pleasure and motivation associated with otherwise intractable depression.  “That had a 60% success rate, much better than [drugs like Prozac],” he says. Along with colleagues from the University of Magdeburg in Germany, Halpern has just published a paper in the Proceedings of the New York Academy of Sciences calling for careful experimental use of DBS in the nucleus accumbens to treat addictions, which have failed repeatedly to respond to other approaches. The paper cites the Chinese surgery data and notes that addiction itself carries a high mortality risk.

DBS, however, is quite different from ablation.  Although it involves the risk of any brain surgery, the stimulation itself can be turned off if there are negative side effects, while surgical destruction of brain tissue is irreversible. That permanence—along with several other major concerns — has ethicists and addiction researchers calling for a stop to the ablation surgeries, and for journals to refuse to publish related studies.

Harriet Washington, author of Medical Apartheid:  The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present, argues that by publishing the results of unethical studies, scientists are condoning the questionable conditions under which the trials are conducted. “When medical journals publish research that violates the profession’sethical guidelines, this serves not only to sanction such abuses, but to encourage them,” she says. “In doing so, this practice encourages a relaxing of moral standards that threatens all patients and subjects, but especially  the medically vulnerable.”

(MORE: Real-Time Video: First Look at a Brain Losing Consciousness Under Anesthesia)

Shi-Min Fang, a Chinese biochemist who became a freelance journalist and recently won the journal Nature‘s Maddox prize for his exposes of widespread fraud in Chinese research, has revealed some of the subpar scientific practices behind research conducted in China, facing death threats and, as the New York Times reported, a beating with a hammer. He agrees that publishing such research only perpetuates the unethical practices. Asked by TIME to comment on the addiction surgery studies, Fang writes that publishing the research, particularly in western journals, “would encourage further unethical research, particularly in China where rewards for publication in international journals are high.”

While he doesn’t have the expertise to comment specifically on the ablation data, he says “the results of clinical research in China are very often fabricated. I suspect that the approvals by Ethics Committee mentioned in these papers were made up to meet publication requirement. I also doubt if the patients were really informed in detail about the nature of the study.” Fang also notes that two of the co-authors of the paper are advertising on the internet in Chinese, offering the surgery at a cost of 35,000 renminbi, about $5,600.  That’s more than the average annual income in China, which is about $5,000.

Given the available evidence, in fact, it’s hard to find a scientific justification for even studying the technique in people at all. Carl Hart, associate professor of psychology at Columbia University and author of the leading college textbook on psychoactive drugs, says animal studies suggest the approach may ultimately fail as an effective treatment for addiction; a 1984 experiment, for example, showed that destroying the nucleus accumbens in rats does not permanently stop them from taking opioids like heroin and later research found that it similarly doesn’t work for curbing cocaine cravings. Those results alone should discourage further work in humans. “These data are clear,” he says, “If you are going to take this drastic step, you damn well better know all of the animal literature.” [Disclosure:  Hart and I have worked on a book project together].

(MORE: Top 10 Medical Breakthroughs of 2012)

Moreover, in China, where addiction is so demonized that execution has been seen as an appropriate punishment and where the most effective known treatment for heroin addiction— methadone or buprenorphine maintenance— is illegal, it’s highly unlikely that addicted people could give genuinely informed consent for any brain surgery, let alone one that risks losing the ability to feel pleasure. And even if all of the relevant research suggested that ablating the nucleus accumbens prevented animals from seeking drugs, it would be hard to tell from rats or even primates whether the change was due to an overall reduction in motivation and pleasure or to a beneficial reduction in desiring just the drug itself.

There is no question that addiction can be difficult to treat, and in the most severe cases, where patients have suffered decades of relapses and failed all available treatments multiple times, it may make sense to consider treatments that carry significant risks, just as such dangers are accepted in fighting suicidal depression or cancer.  But in the ablation surgery studies, some of the participants were reportedly as young as 19 years old and had only been addicted for three years.  Addiction research strongly suggests that such patients are likely to recover even without treatment, making the risk-benefit ratio clearly unacceptable.

The controversy highlights the tension between the push for innovation and the reality of risk. Rules on informed consent didn’t arise from fears about theoretical abuses:  they were a response to the real scientific horrors of the Holocaust. And ethical considerations become especially important when treating a condition like addiction, which is still seen by many not as an illness but as a moral problem to be solved by punishment.  Scientific innovation is the goal, but at what price?
Read more: http://healthland.time.com/2012/12/13/controversial-surgery-for-addiction-burns-away-brains-pleasure-center/#ixzz2ExzobWQq

Thanks to Dr. Lutter for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

 

 

Too bad chimpanzees can’t buy sports cars. New research says it’s not just humans who go through midlife crises: Chimps and orangutans also experience a dip in happiness around the middle of their lives.

“There may be different things going on at the surface, but underneath it all, there’s something common in all three species that’s leading to this,” said study leader Alexander Weiss, a primate psychologist at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.

The study team asked longtime caretakers of more than 500 chimpanzees and orangutans at zoos in five countries to fill out a questionnaire about the well-being of each animal they work with, including overall mood, how much the animals seemed to enjoy social interactions, and how successful they were in achieving goals (such as obtaining a desired item or spot within their enclosure).

The survey even asked the humans to imagine themselves as the animal and rate how happy they’d be.

When Weiss’s team plotted the results on a graph, they saw a familiar curve, bottoming out in the middle of the animals’ lives and rising again in old age. It’s the same U-shape that has shown up in several studies about age and happiness in people.

“When you look at worldwide data, you see this U-shape,” said National Geographic Fellow Dan Buettner, author of Thrive: Finding Happiness the Blue Zones Way.

“It’s different for every country, but it’s usually somewhere between age 45 and 55 that you hit the bottom of the curve, and it continues to go up with age. You see centenarians in good health reporting higher well-being than teenagers.”

(Take Buettner’s True Happiness Test.)

Social and economic hypotheses may partly explain this happiness curve in human lifetimes: Maybe it’s tied to adjusting expectations, abandoning regret, or just getting more stuff as we grow older. But Weiss suspects there may be something more primal going on.

“We’re saying, take a step back and look at the big picture: Is there any evidence that there’s an evolutionary basis underlying this?” said Weiss, whose study was published today in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“Knowing that a similar phenomenon exists in human and nonhuman primates opens up the realm of possible explanations.”

Although the stereotype of a midlife crisis is generally negative—feelings of depression or discontentment with one’s life and where it’s headed—Weiss believes such ennui may have an evolutionary upside.

By the middle of one’s life, humans and apes often have access to more resources than when they were younger, which could make it easier to achieve goals. Feelings of discontentment may be nature’s way of motivating us to “strike while the iron is hot,” said Weiss.

“It may feel lousy, but your brain could be tricking you into improving your circumstances and situation, signaling you to get up and really start pushing while you’re absolutely at your prime,” he said. “And I think that’s a really powerful and positive message.”

Knowing that a midlife dip in happiness is a natural—and temporary—part of life could make it easier for humans to cope with the experience, Weiss said. It could also help caretakers improve captive apes’ quality of life, by identifying ages at which the animals might benefit from extra attention or enrichment.

(See pictures of places where people are happiest.)

“I don’t think this totally subsumes other explanations for age-related changes in happiness, but it adds another layer,” Weiss said.

Weiss has previously studied the correlation between personality and happiness in both chimpanzees and humans, and plans to look next at the impact of factors like sex and social groupings.

“I hope this raises awareness of all that we can learn by looking at our closest living animal relatives.”

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/11/121119-apes-happiness-midlife-crises-science-animals/