the emotional life of the brain: how its unique patterns affect the way you think, feel, and live—and how you can change them
richard davidson, sharon begley 2012
quiet: the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking
susan cain 2012
"According to Jay Belsky, a leading proponent of this view and a psychology professor and child care expert at the University of London, the reactivity of these kids’ nervous systems makes them quickly overwhelmed by childhood adversity, but also able to benefit from a nurturing environment more than other children do. In other words, orchid children are more strongly affected by all experience, both positive and negative.
Scientists have known for a while that high-reactive temperaments come with risk factors. These kids are especially vulnerable to challenges like marital tension, a parent’s death, or abuse. They’re more likely than their peers to react to these events with depression, anxiety, and shyness. Indeed, about a quarter of Kagan’s high-reactive kids suffer from some degree of the condition known as “social anxiety disorder,” a chronic and disabling form of shyness.
"What scientists haven’t realized until recently is that these risk factors have an upside. In other words, the sensitivities and the strengths are a package deal. High-reactive kids who enjoy good parenting, child care, and a stable home environment tend to have fewer emotional problems and more social skills than their lower-reactive peers, studies show. Often they’re exceedingly empathic, caring, and cooperative. They work well with others. They are kind, conscientious, and easily disturbed by cruelty, injustice, and irresponsibility. They’re successful at the things that matter to them. They don’t necessarily turn into class presidents or stars of the school play, Belsky told me, though this can happen, too: “For some it’s becoming the leader of their class. For others it takes the form of doing well academically or being well-liked.”"
"The upsides of the high-reactive temperament have been documented in exciting research that scientists are only now beginning to pull together. One of the most interesting findings, also reported in Dobbs’s Atlantic article, comes from the world of rhesus monkeys, a species that shares about 95 percent of its DNA with humans and has elaborate social structures that resemble our own.
In these monkeys as well as in humans, a gene known as the serotonin-transporter (SERT) gene, or 5-HTTLPR, helps to regulate the processing of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood. A particular variation, or allele, of this gene, sometimes referred to as the “short” allele, is thought to be associated with high reactivity and introversion, as well as a heightened risk of depression in humans who have had difficult lives. When baby monkeys with a similar allele were subjected to stress—in one experiment they were taken from their mothers and raised as orphans—they processed serotonin less efficiently (a risk factor for depression and anxiety) than monkeys with the long allele who endured similar privations. But young monkeys with the same risky genetic profile who were raised by nurturing mothers did as well as or better than their long-allele brethren—even those raised in similarly secure environments—at key social tasks, like finding playmates, building alliances, and handling conflicts. They often became leaders of their troops. They also processed serotonin more efficiently.
"Stephen Suomi, the scientist who conducted these studies, has speculated that these high-reactive monkeys owed their success to the enormous amounts of time they spent watching rather than participating in the group, absorbing on a deep level the laws of social dynamics. (This is a hypothesis that might ring true to parents whose high-reactive children hover observantly on the edges of their peer group, sometimes for weeks or months, before edging successfully inside.)
Studies in humans have found that adolescent girls with the short allele of the SERT gene are 20 percent more likely to be depressed than long-allele girls when exposed to stressful family environments, but 25 percent less likely to be depressed when raised in stable homes. Similarly, short allele adults have been shown to have more anxiety in the evening than others when they’ve had stressful days, but less anxiety on calm days. High-reactive four-year-olds give more pro-social responses than other children when presented with moral dilemmas—but this difference remains at age five only if their mothers used gentle, not harsh, discipline. High-reactive children raised in supportive environments are even more resistant than other kids to the common cold and other respiratory illnesses, but get sick more easily if they’re raised in stressful conditions. The short allele of the SERT gene is also associated with higher performance on a wide range of cognitive tasks."
33% in 'Quiet' by Susan Cain
how groups can change people's perceptions
"Today, with the help of brain-scanning technology, we may be getting closer to the answer. In 2005 an Emory University neuroscientist named Gregory Berns decided to conduct an updated version of Asch’s experiments. Berns and his team recruited thirty-two volunteers, men and women between the ages of nineteen and forty-one. The volunteers played a game in which each group member was shown two different three-dimensional objects on a computer screen and asked to decide whether the first object could be rotated to match the second. The experimenters used an fMRI scanner to take snapshots of the volunteers’ brains as they conformed to or broke with group opinion.
The results were both disturbing and illuminating. First, they corroborated Asch’s findings. When the volunteers played the game on their own, they gave the wrong answer only 13.8 percent of the time. But when they played with a group whose members gave unanimously wrong answers, they agreed with the group 41 percent of the time."
"But Berns’s study also shed light on exactly why we’re such conformists. When the volunteers played alone, the brain scans showed activity in a network of brain regions including the occipital cortex and parietal cortex, which are associated with visual and spatial perception, and in the frontal cortex, which is associated with conscious decision-making. But when they went along with their group’s wrong answer, their brain activity revealed something very different.
Remember, what Asch wanted to know was whether people conformed despite knowing that the group was wrong, or whether their perceptions had been altered by the group. If the former was true, Berns and his team reasoned, then they should see more brain activity in the decision-making prefrontal cortex. That is, the brain scans would pick up the volunteers deciding consciously to abandon their own beliefs to fit in with the group. But if the brain scans showed heightened activity in regions associated with visual and spatial perception, this would suggest that the group had somehow managed to change the individual’s perceptions.
"That was exactly what happened—the conformists showed less brain activity in the frontal, decision-making regions and more in the areas of the brain associated with perception. Peer pressure, in other words, is not only unpleasant, but can actually change your view of a problem.
These early findings suggest that groups are like mind-altering substances. If the group thinks the answer is A, you’re much more likely to believe that A is correct, too. It’s not that you’re saying consciously, “Hmm, I’m not sure, but they all think the answer’s A, so I’ll go with that.” Nor are you saying, “I want them to like me, so I’ll just pretend that the answer’s A.” No, you are doing something much more unexpected—and dangerous. Most of Berns’s volunteers reported having gone along with the group because “they thought that they had arrived serendipitously at the same correct answer.” They were utterly blind, in other words, to how much their peers had influenced them.
"What does this have to do with social fear? Well, remember that the volunteers in the Asch and Berns studies didn’t always conform. Sometimes they picked the right answer despite their peers’ influence. And Berns and his team found something very interesting about these moments. They were linked to heightened activation in the amygdala, a small organ in the brain associated with upsetting emotions such as the fear of rejection.
Berns refers to this as “the pain of independence,” and it has serious implications. Many of our most important civic institutions, from elections to jury trials to the very idea of majority rule, depend on dissenting voices. But when the group is literally capable of changing our perceptions, and when to stand alone is to activate primitive, powerful, and unconscious feelings of rejection, then the health of these institutions seems far more vulnerable than we think.
27% in 'Quiet' by Susan Cain
new yorker article on resilience