Take a break from the doom and gloom of the news cycle with these happy news stories that will make you smile.
With dragged-out elections, second lockdowns looming and a general pandemic-induced pessimism spreading across the globe, everyone could do with some happy news! We’ve put together a list of some of the happier research stories from the world of neuroscience to help fill the gap left by the cancellation of SfN Neuroscience and brighten up your day! The joy of music
Everyone has had that feeling when listening to a really good piece of music that just sends a shiver down your spine as you experience a rush of pleasure and positive emotions. Now, researchers from the Université de Bourgogne Franche-Comté (Besançon, France) have use EEG recordings to locate the brain regions involved in this pleasurable feeling, identifying the orbitofrontal cortex, the supplementary motor area and the right temporal lobe as brain areas that contribute to the experience .
Study participants were asked to listen to 15 minutes of 90-second extracts of their favorite musical pieces while an EEG scan was conducted. As they listened, each participant was asked to rate their pleasure and indicate when they felt “chills”. A total of 305 chills were reported, lasting an average of 8.75 seconds. During the time period when a chill was reported, an increase of neural activity was noted in the three key brain regions.
Thought to work together, the three identified regions process the music, trigger the neural reward system and stimulate the release of dopamine – the ‘feel good’ neurotransmitter. When this is combined with the joy of listening to one of your favorite songs, the “tingly chill” feeling is experienced.
“What is most intriguing is that music seems to have no biological benefit to us. However, the implication of dopamine and of the reward system in processing of musical pleasure suggests an ancestral function for music,” commented the study’s lead author Thibault Chabin . The authors propose that this evolutionary benefit lies in the feeling of anticipation we feel when we know a particularly “chill-inducing” part of the music is coming up. Being able to anticipate what will occur next is key for survival instinct.
The present study identified regions that have previously been linked to musical pleasure in both PET and MRI studies, reinforcing the evidence for their role in the experience. Hoping to further their research, the authors now plan to measure the cerebral and physiological response to music in natural as well as social musical settings. “Musical pleasure is a very interesting phenomenon that deserves to be investigated further, in order to understand why music is rewarding and unlock why music is essential in human lives,” explained Chabin. Staying positive
A recent study has found that people who maintain a “positive affect” – who feel happy, enthusiastic and cheerful in day to day life – are less likely to experience a decline in memory function as they age.
Published in Psychological Science , the study analyzed data from 991 middle-aged and older adults over a range of time periods. In three assessment periods spread over nearly 20 years, participants were asked to report the range of positive emotions they had experienced over the prior 30 days. In the latter two assessments, they were also asked to complete memory performance tests.
Accounting for age, gender, education, depression, negative affect and extraversion, the researchers investigated the association between a positive demeanor and memory decline, finding that, while in general memory declined with age, “ individuals with higher levels of positive affect had a less steep memory decline over the course of almost a decade .”
The research team is now looking to investigate ways that could connect the two factors, including social relationships or physical health.
New role for serotonin identified in the evolution of the developing brain
Researchers have identified a potential new role for the neurotransmitter serotonin that could explain a heretofore unknown evolutionary mystery. The happiness robot
Just one hour with PARO, a Japanese social robot shaped like a baby seal, could help increase happiness and reduce pain, a new study has found. The plush, seal-like robot emits seal noises and moves its head and flippers in response to being spoken to or stroked.
In the study, led by researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (Beersheba, Israel), participants spent 60 minutes interacting with PARO and were found to have increased happiness, as well as reduced mild or severe pain, compared with a control group who did not meet the robot . Touching the robot and directly interacting with it was found to lead to a greater reduction in pain levels relative to just being in the room with it.
“These findings offer new strategies for pain management and for improving well-being, which are particularly needed at this time, when social distancing is a crucial factor in public health,” commented study author Shelly Levy-Tzedek . The mood-boosting effect of nature
As many countries enter a second lockdown, a study has demonstrated that watching high-quality nature programs can uplift mood, reduce negativity and alleviate the boredom often associated with being stuck inside. Watching such programs on virtual reality (VR) devices rather than on TV could have an even greater effect, further boosting a positive mood and increasing an individual’s connection to the natural world.
The study from a group at the University of Exeter (UK) induced feelings of boredom in 96 participants and then asked them to watch a nature program on one of three modalities: on the TV, on a VR headset using 360˚ video or on a VR headset using computer-generated interactive graphics.
All three viewing methods were found to reduce feelings for boredom and sadness; however, only the interactive VR experience increased positive feelings and the connection to nature. The authors hope that these results will be beneficial for those facing extended periods stuck at home, with nature programs offering a way to get a daily “dose of digital nature” .
“We’re particularly excited by the additional benefits immersive experiences of nature […]