Your brain can experience awe and that’s cool

Not many people hold a human brain in their hands, but I am among the lucky few.

I remember his weight, both physical and figurative. The brain itself was probably three pounds of meat—hard but pliable to the touch, and a strong smell of preservative. I tied it with both hands for fear of dropping it.

Holding on to the brain, I couldn’t help but think how this person was in my hands, that their thoughts, feelings, hopes, fears, dreams–a whole life–embodied in its folds and folds.

At the time, I couldn’t make out exactly what I was feeling–dizziness, slight lightheadedness, gasping for breath–but looking back, I know I was in awe.

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Benefits of seeking out awe

As a neuroscientist turned science journalist, one of my goals in writing this weekly column is to uncover the wonder and mystery of the brain, and why it is so important in our daily lives. And there is no better place to start than by exploring our ability to experience awe, and how seeking out amazing experiences can improve our well-being.

Researchers who study emotions say that awe has two main components. It is a response to encountering something more vast, complex, or amazing than we ever imagined, either physically or conceptually. Experience also leads to a change in the way we see the world, and produces “Small earthquakes in the mind. “

To understand the concept of awe, it is helpful to know how the brain responds to what we consider mundane. Over the course of our lives, our brains learn and code what is “normal” and anticipate what we think should happen next, based on our inner understanding of the world.

“This prediction of what will happen next guides our behavior. It is critical to be able to function in this incredibly complex world” Michelle “Lanny” Shiota, Associate Professor of Social Psychology at Arizona State University. But it narrows our perspective and narrows our vision. It simply doesn’t take into account everything.”

Awe may be the most underappreciated emotion. Here’s how to help kids find it.

Research has found it time and time again Experiencing something extraordinary may make us (and our worries) feel small. And not in a bad way.

“You know, in adulthood, we move through the world completely immersed in our own interests, our own details of everyday things, our own responsibilities, and it can be hard to keep a perspective on how they fit in,” said Shiota.

Experience more awe associated with live healthier And the clearer life. A 2021 study reported that feelings of dread were associated with reporting feeling Reduced daily stress levels. Interestingly, people who feel more intimidated also tend to do so Low levels of inflammatory cytokines.

By becoming less in line with ourselves and more in tune with the rest of the world, awe helps us re-contextualize ourselves, Paul Beef, Associate Professor of Psychological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. “It helps you feel that there are more happenings in the world than just you. And it gives you that feeling that you are part of something much bigger than you,” he said.

Emerging research shows that feeling awe can make us more curious. creative And the Kind People. Conversely, recent studies have found that people prone to phobias may be More prone to curiosityAnd people with more dread tend to, too To be more creative.

How gazing at the Grand Canyon and other amazing moments can make you a more generous person

Dread leads people to Feel more connected with others and Get to know more global categories Like “a person” or “inhabitant of the earth”, unlike more individual and limited people.

In various studies, when researchers elicited awe in lab participants, such as showing panoramic clips of places on Earth, people acted out. more socialprobably helpDonate more money and Volunteer more time for strangers.

By transforming our sense of self and meaning, and strengthening our relationship with others and the wider world, awe has the power to Improve our mental and physical health.

Awe every day

You don’t need to visit the Grand Canyon, watch your baby’s birth or have a brain to experience the awe. Amazing is all around you.

“Fear is related to this feeling of oneness with the human race,” Biff said. “I think you can make your mind explode in simple and mundane ways even in everyday environments.”

While more research needs to be done on what is best for dread, many pathways lead to dread.

Piff offers these suggestions:

  • Watching something giant like a mountain range or an ocean.
  • Discover something as small as worlds seen through a microscope.
  • Think of a piece of music or (re)discover a piece of art.
  • taking”dread walks“Through your neighborhood or in your nature, an endless source of awe.

However, his favorite suggestion is to just walk out the door. Once you step outside, pick a random number between 1 and 100. Take that number of steps, and look under your feet. If you look around to find something inspiring, Odds are, Biff said. “And I bet you, when you try to do it, you will,” he said.

Nature can affect human well-being in more ways than you think

The amazing is also within you.

Not everyone will have the experience of holding a brain in their hands, but we do have a brain held comfortably in our heads.

Our brains are capable of amazing mental feats – launching spaceships to planets millions of miles away, creating effective vaccines to fight pandemics – and coordinating our bodies to perform physical exploits.

But your brain is performing equally wonderful functions in this case, perhaps without your knowledge.

Your brain perceives the swaying on a page and turns it into meaning, while putting it into a broader context by remembering what came before. It filters extraneous sounds around you, the touch of clothing against your skin. Because of your mind, you simultaneously maintain muscle tone to maintain whatever position you are in and breathe unconsciously (although maybe not now).

Your Brain – 80 Billion – Some neurons transmit electrical and chemical signals through nearly 100 trillion connections – sense, feel, decide, evaluate, plan, adjust, and keep you alive.

And when thinking about all these simultaneous actions and duties, you might even feel a twinge of dread, a feeling our brain allows us to experience—and it’s also a source of that.

This is very cool.

Do you have a question about your brain? E-mail BrainMatters@washpost.com We may answer it in a future column.

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