How the Brain Works with the Vagus: Empathy and More

When someone’s frowning, or beaming, or gaping in surprise, they’re wearing their heart on their face. That’s because the muscles that control facial expression are linked to the smart vagus, says Stephen Porges, PhD. Thanks to the vagus nerve, the emotions we feel are displayed on our faces and in the sound of our voices. Without the vagus nerve, in fact, we wouldn’t be able to tell how anyone else was feeling. Here’s Stephen’s explanation for why the vagus nerve makes empathy possible – and what it means to clinicians. It’s only about 3 minutes long, so please take a…

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Creativity and the Brain

Could it be time for you to get out your painter’s smock and brushes? A new study by the Mayo Clinic may be just the motivation you need. The clinic recently published findings of their four-year study on risk factors for cognitive aging. A team of researchers led by Dr. Rosebud Roberts selected 256 participants aged 85 or above, whose cognitive level was deemed within normal limits. They were interested in looking at measures of depressive symptoms, chronic conditions, and midlife onset of hypertension within this group as predictors of mild cognitive impairment. Researchers took baseline measurements of participants by…

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10 Ways Dance Strengthens the Brain

The other day, we shared some brand-new studies that investigated the neural effects of dance on people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Dance has been shown to improve motor function, cognitive function, mental symptoms, and overall quality of life in people both with and without Parkinson’s disease. These results have been found in scientific studies, but also shared by a number of you in the comments that were left on the last blog. Deb, a child trauma therapist, shared how tap dance has made such a difference in the life of a traumatized young patient. And Virginia, LPCA, highlighted how dance…

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Neuroplasticity and Trauma: Can Brain Science Give Us a New Perspective on Healing?

The brain can be a powerful ally. Our brains are always looking out for us. They’re wired to help us survive – alerting us to threats and ramping up our amygdala to help us take action. But that same survival trigger makes healing from trauma difficult, says Pat Ogden, PhD. In fact, the very systems that are designed to keep us safe can actually stimulate trauma over and over again. Knowing how to interrupt this cycle is key to treating trauma, and Pat will show us how this Wednesday. Here’s a preview clip – I think you’ll find it fascinating,…

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Parkinson’s Disease and Dance

Could dancing the tango improve cognitive function? According to the non-profit organization Dance for PD® (Parkinson’s disease), the answer is yes. Because Parkinson’s is a brain disorder, some people thought it might be uniquely affected by something like dance. So they approached the Mark Morris Dance Group in Brooklyn, New York, about creating a program for people diagnosed with the disease. We first wrote about this program in 2011, and decided it was time to look back and see if there has been any data on its effectiveness since then. Dance for PD® has been holding classes since 2001 and…

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Autism: Is There a Gut Connection?

Could there be a connection between autism and the gastrointestinal system? A team of researchers led by Elaine Y. Hsiao of the California Institute of Technology recently noted that a subset of people diagnosed with autism also display a spectrum of gastrointestinal abnormalities. So to test this, her researchers injected mice with an immunostimulant known to produce offspring that display both behavioral and neuropathological symptoms of autism. But in addition to symptoms of autism, these offspring showed a significant deficit in the structure of their intestinal walls – a condition commonly referred to as “leaky gut syndrome.” Hsiao’s team then…

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