How the heart makes the brain shut down and makes us dumber

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How the heart makes the brain shut down and makes us dumber
How the heart makes the brain shut down and makes us dumber

When we are nervous, angry, anxious, or worried, our breathing and heart rate increase. At the same time, we become more absent-minded, for example, we can give incorrect answers to questions, drive the necessary turn and recklessly perform an action that is in a normal state. In other words, we begin to make a lot of mistakes, as if the brain is less intelligent or does not control some of our actions. That is why they say that in critical situations, in order to make the right decisions, it is necessary to maintain a “cold mind”. But why is this happening? The answer to this question was found by scientists from the Mount Sinai Medical Center, who analyzed previous studies of monkeys. As it turned out, the brain in such situations is indeed partially disconnected from decision making and begins to perform another function related to monitoring the processes that occur inside the body. In fact, a person really gets stupid during stress, which we also need.

Why the heart affects the brain

Researchers at Mount Sinai Medical Center analyzed data from a previous series of experiments that tested the ability of three rhesus monkeys to choose between receiving two awards - a lot of tasty juice or little. As expected, monkeys normally preferred to get more juice. Moreover, it took them a little time to decide which reward to choose. But in an agitated state, when the heart was beating faster than usual, they took even less time to make a decision.

The researchers then analyzed the electrical activity of neurons at two decision centers in the brain, the orbitofrontal cortex and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex. As it turned out, the activity of about one sixth of neurons correlates with fluctuations in heart rate. In other words, if the animal's heart rate changed, it caused a change in neuronal activity.

At the same time, the activity of these neurons was not influenced by the decisions of the monkeys, which they made in relation to the awards. As for the rest of the neurons in each center, they just participated in the decision-making process.

People are most likely to make the right decisions in a state of mild arousal.

Thus, brain scans of monkeys showed that physical arousal changes the activity of decision-making centers. At the same time, scientists have a question, what can happen to the decision-making centers in conditions of increased excitement?

To answer this question, the researchers analyzed data obtained after surgical removal of the amygdala, the emotional center of the brain. Disabling the amygdala raised the heart rate to 15 beats per minute. At the same time, the Study showed that the faster the animals' hearts beat, the slower they chose the reward. In addition, they often made the wrong decisions - choosing a reward with less juice.

In anxiety or panic state, the brain cannot make the right decisions.

When the team looked at neural activity, they found that the heightened state of arousal changed the roles of neurons. In both brain centers, researchers saw evidence of a decrease in the number of neurons involved in decision-making. In the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, the number of neurons that track internal states has increased.

What is the state of the highest brain performance?

Thus, scientists came to the conclusion that both decision-making brain centers contain neurons that are designed to control the dynamics of the internal processes of the body. That is, they monitor the processes in the body, even when a person is in a calm state. In parallel with them, other neurons work, which are responsible for processing information and making decisions.

When a state of heightened arousal arises, it seems that one of the decision-making centers is completely disconnected from its main task. Instead, its neurons turn into a kind of monitors that monitor the internal state of the body. This is stated in the research results published in PNAS.

The ability to make good decisions is impaired not only as a result of over-arousal, but also too low. In this case, the brain takes much longer, and the decisions themselves are not always correct. Therefore, a cup of coffee, with which, as we know, many myths are associated, is indeed able to ensure the maximum performance of our brain in terms of decision-making.

The researchers hope the findings will help better understand the brain regions and fundamental cellular processes that underlie some mental disorders. In turn, this can help treat the conditions of increased arousal seen in patients suffering from anxiety and other mental disorders.

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