This is your brain on conflict

How deeply is the tone of conversation on Anglican blogs influenced by brain chemistry? Have a look at this essay by Jonah Lehrer and join me in bearing it in mind the next time you are tempted to write in anger:

If I could only fix one design flaw … I’d focus on our stress response. We’re stuck with a mind that reacts to the mundane mundane worries of modern life – a falling stock market, a troubled marriage, taking the SAT – with a powerful set of primal chemicals that, once upon a time, were reserved for moments of “fight or flight”. In other words, we treat everything like an existential threat, which is why a multiple choice exam can leave us panicky and breathless. The hypothalamus, it turns out, is an excitable drama queen, suffusing the bloodstream with adrenaline and cortisol whenever things get a little uncertain or unpleasant.


While the mental illness is typically defined in terms of its emotional symptoms – this led a generation of researchers to search for the chemicals, like serotonin, that might trigger such distorted moods – researchers are now focusing on more systematic changes in the depressed brain, such as reduced neurogenesis and increased cell death. What causes this neurodegeneration? You guessed it: chronic stress. Those same hormones that make you alert and escalate your pulse can also damage the brain.

(emphasis added)

Hat tip, Andrew Sullivan.

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