Friday, March 06, 2009

Passions of the brain

I'm currently reading about four or five books, something I never do. As a general rule, I like to read one thing at a time. My brain can only take so much, but lately so many books have piqued my interest. In any event, one of the books I'm reading right now is My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor. It is a fascinating and captivating book. In it, the author tells how she, a "neuoratomistis" (huh?), trained and learned in all things about the brain, had a stroke at age 37. She details how she "observed" herself having the stroke and was able to seek help as she saw what was happening to her. I told Jeff that after I finish reading it he shouldn't be surprised if I talk constantly about going back to school to get my PhD in neuro-psychology. The book reminded me how much I loved science in school and brought me back to my college days of studying psychology.

On Monday, I was listening to Fresh Air and I was totally absorbed in the program. Jonah Lehrer was Terry Gross' guest and he recently published a book entitled How We Decide. It sparked that science-love, psychology student in me once again. It is a look at how emotions play into the decision-making process. We tend to think of rational decisions as those that would be made easier if we didn't have so many emotions (um . . . some of us more than others). Lehrer said that emotions play a much bigger role in those "rational" decisions than we realize. There are people whose brain's have been damaged in certain "emotional" areas due to brain tumors or other trauma and those people who you would therefore think would be able to easily make "rational" decisions cannot make even simple decisions such as what color pen to use.

The study that Lehrer talked about that interested me the most was about how our minds are not meant to handle the amount of information we have coming at us in modern times. In the study there were two groups of people. Group A was asked to memorize a string of 2 numbers and Group B was asked to memorize a string of 7 numbers. Both groups were told they had to remember these numbers and would be asked about them later. After they memorized the numbers, they were led to another room where they were offered their choice of two snacks: one was a "sensible" fruit salad, the other a decadent piece of chocolate cake. The people who remembered the 7 numbers were two times more likely to choose the chocolate cake. He reasoned that remembering even just 5 extra numbers made people more likely to make a less sensible decision about one's health. Don't get me wrong here, I love a good piece of chocolate cake, but the observation is an interesting one.

In my mind, this translated (surprise!) to motherhood (or parenthood if you will). As a mother you have so many things you're trying to keep in your head, so many things to focus on and organize and manage. Is it any wonder that many moms struggle with weight or eating healthy or really any decisions that are "good for you"? I know that may seem simplify things a bit too much, and I don't mean to make a huge generalization that many moms are overweight or don't exercise enough or don't eat healthy because they are busy, but I do believe that it's worth adding to the conversation.

No comments: