Thoughts Change Brain Chemistry

This is the fourth part of a lengthy article by Joseph M. Carver, Ph.D., called Emotional Memory Management: Positive Control Over Your Memory. The link to the next segment is included at the close of this segment.

Rule: Thoughts change brain chemistry.

That sounds so simple but that’s the way it is, with our thoughts changing neurotransmitters on a daily basis. If a man walks into a room with a gun, we think “threat”, and the brain releases norepinephrine. We become tense, alert, develop sweaty palms, and our heart beats faster. If he then bites the barrel of the gun, telling us the gun is actually chocolate, the brain rapids changes its’ opinion and we relax and laugh – the jokes on us.

We feel what we think! Positive thinking works. As the above example suggests, what we think about a situation actually creates our mood. Passed over for a promotion, we can either think we’ll never get ahead in this job (lowering serotonin and making us depressed) or assume that we are being held back for another promotion or job transfer (makes a better mood).

Rule: The brain is constantly, every second, pulling files for our reference. It scans and monitors our environment constantly.

You’ve heard people compare the brain to a computer. Like a computer, the human brain has a huge database containing billions of files (memories) for our reference. As you read this document your brain pulls definitions of words or phrases. As we meet people during daily activities, the brain pulls their “file” for their name and related information. You’ll note that with people we haven’t seen for many years the brain recognizes the face first (a talent located in the right side of the brain) but often takes a while to locate the name (located in the left side of the brain). As the left-brain contains language and speech, it’s more crowded over there and processing is a bit slower.

If we travel to another city, the brain pulls up the map and landmarks. Additionally, if we are a frequent traveler to that city, our journey to Cincinnati, Ohio will pull files as we travel. Just sit back and listen to the “file pulling” that takes place on a trip. “Hey Mom, remember the bathroom in that gas station from last year – Uck!” “This is where that bad wreck was a few years ago coming back from the beach.” If the brain recognizes something (road, building, sign, etc.) – it pulls its’ file. It’s that simple.

Always on the alert and ready to pull a file, the brain has built-in protection behaviors. People that are shy and introverted (socially uncomfortable and withdrawn) tell therapists that when they enter a restaurant, people look at them, creating anxiety. It’s true. When anything enters our range of scanning, almost like our radar range, the brain looks at it. A person walking into a room is “scanned” by almost everyone else, that scanning procedure taking about two seconds. The brains looks 1) to see if we have a file/reference and 2) for protection. If the new individual is odd-looking, carrying a weapon, or naked – the brain will start a full-scan and react accordingly (long stare, fright, or “Don’t I know you?).

Individuals with physical features that are unusual will tell us about the common “double takes” they receive at grocery stores. At the same time, other people may dress unusually for exactly that reason. Some people enjoy the constant attention and double-takes that are produced by wearing a safety pin in your nose or coloring your hair bright yellow.

In the bottomline, your brain is always scanning and looking for references/files. These references are designed to help you, as when remembering an old friend, the location of the store in a mall, or when remembering needed facts/details. This is an automatic procedure, a reflex and instinct. To override or cancel this natural/normal procedure requires manual control. As an example, it is said that in a “sophisticated” restaurant, you know the diners have “class” when the busboy loudly drops a tray of dishes – and no one looks up! Now that’s overriding the normal brain response.

Pulling these files automatically is great – unless they contain uncomfortable emotional memory. This is where another rule is important.

[The next segment continues with Emotional Memory Hits]

Published on June 28, 2008 at 4:58 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. In the example you gave about the man and the (chocolate) gun, it was not the individuals thoughts that changed their brain chemistry, it was the sensory experience. The thoughts were merely triggered by the sensory stimulus that was being perceived.


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