Profanity is Mindless

That’s right. Curse words are not processed in the same area of the brain as other language. Speaking requires language processing of units of sound, whereas curse words are stored as whole data chunks. Cussing requires less mental processing, and is primarily a function of the amygdala, a part of the brain’s limbic system which processes negative emotions.

The limbic system is in the center depths of the brain and composed of several organs responsible for memory and processing of emotions and behaviors. This area is also responsible for vocalizations in primates and animals. Yep, even animals use profanity, or at least it sounds like it!

Piecing the smallest units of sound (phonemes) together is slower and occurs in the cerebral cortex. This area of higher functioning is home to our abilities to reason and write, in addition to speaking. The formation of non-curse words seems to take longer and involves less spontaneous emotion. The formation of words is not only based on literal meanings but also feelings and emotions the words evoke. Since adult speech perception is somewhat automatic, words with strong negative connotations are easily retrieved and spoken almost spontaneously

Here are a few questions I’ve been asked recently: Why does profanity seem to slip out when our emotions are negative and spontaneous? Why is it so hard to complete a sentence when I’m angry or frustrated?

Since the amygdala is correlated with negative emotional associations; stimulating the amygdala can cause panic attacks and aggressive behaviors, while destroying the amygdala causes unusual calmness or fearlessness. Therefore, it makes sense that the amygdala would be activated in association with unpleasant words such as swear words.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies indicate verbal working memory tasks’ performances increase during positive emotional states but decrease during negative emotional states. Aha! “That’s why we can’t remember ‘sh_t’ when we are upset and frustrated.”

~ Dr. Doscher

Power Pose – Hijack Your Mental Focus

Feeling a little down? Hangin’ a bit from the weekend? Just can’t get motivated?

What if I could tell you how to instantly change your behavior and feel more alive? The next time you walk into a meeting or present a sales pitch, you will be on fire!!

Competitive athletes learn to go into their “zone”, so why not you. It’s all a matter of state change. Watch how athletes stand on the sidelines; shoulders back, feet shoulder-width apart, and arms crossed or hands on their hips. Gymnasts strike a strong pose prior to starting a routine. Why is this important to note? These athletes are controlling their breathing and changing their mental state. They are psyching themselves to W-I-N!

Unfortunately, posture alone cannot accomplish this change of behavior, but it can encourage an increase in testosterone (power hormone) and a decrease in cortisol (stress hormone) in both men and women. When you start feeling more powerful and less anxious, you can think and be more productive.

You try it! Stand with your arms over your head in a “V” or on your hips. If you prefer, recline with your arms over your head and legs and toes extended. These are examples of power poses, feel free to create your own. (I would love to hear your suggestions) While you are in your power pose, look around and take note and concentrate on the positives; ignore the negatives. Think of prior successful meetings or sales transactions. This will jump-start your hippocampus to retrieve chunks of related memories to encourage your productive thoughts and confidence.

Congratulations! You just hijacked your brain to think like a winner, no power tie needed.

~ Dr. Doscher

The Power of Suggestion

Although amazing, our hippocampus and amygdala have their limitations.  Both are a part of our brain’s limbic system, and both play roles in our memory systems. The synergy between the two are suspected to play a significant role in the long-term storage of emotional memories.  Yet, according to J.E. LeDoux, “Emotions are conscious products of unconscious processes.” Here is the kicker and reason for this post.

Emotions influence our declarative memories, and leave remnants of consequences from our emotional responses. These neural transmissions sometimes bypass the usual (longer) route for memory storage and recollection. Hence, this explains why a particular sound or smell may evoke a feeling of anxiousness, without you completely understanding or remembering the event responsible for the behavioral response.  Without corroboration of physical evidence, verifying reported memories can be difficult.  However, this does not mean  they are not true.

Unfortunately, research studies have demonstrated guided retrieval of memories can appear genuine to participants, especially when the participant feels pressured to remember a difficult-to-recall event.  A suggestion as simple as, “imagine this event and the sights and sounds around you, but don’t worry about the accuracy of your memories”, has been shown to elicit completely false memories or disassociated memories.

False memories of events never occurred, whereas disassociated memories are truthful and guided components of memories that meld into one memory. Previous truthful components of memories and guided components become indistinguishable.  The power of suggestion is noteworthy.

~ Dr. Michelle Doscher