Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Seven Deadly Sins

Why does it feel so good to be bad?

Scientific research is attempting to explain where these bad behaviors come from, why we continue to engage in them -- often celebrate them even when we declare the behaviors to be 'evil.'   

LUST  -- Enlists the amygdala and hypothalamus.  It stimulates the region associated with reward, sensory interpretation and visual processing.  Scans show 'lust' sets nearly the whole brain buzzing.  If lechery is all-consuming how do we ever manage to control it?  Through the gyrus.  An evolutionary neural process that is achieved by no other creature.

GLUTTONY -- As found in drug addicts, obese people are usually less sensitive to dopamine's rewarding effects.  The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and other areas are under active, the heavier the person, the lower the activity in these areas.  Our brain evolved for us to eat in order to survive.  This kind of 'excess' is built into the brain for survival purposes.  The study showed overeating downregulates your inhibition control.

SLOTH -- Interestingly, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex showed an unusual pattern of activation related to its ability to inhibit impulses.  This region plays a role in sustaining attention over the long haul, which is necessary for motivation.  Abnormal function in this region might be connected to lethargy.  

PRIDE -- Pride gets it swagger from the self-related processing of the mPFC.  An area of the brain involved in planning to abstract thinking to self-awareness.  On the flip side, the test also revealed that humility is not the virtue that opposes pride, but rather arrogance in disguise. Humility and pride are both forms of 'oneupmanship.'  They're in the same location of the brain and serve the same purpose:  to put oneself ahead in society.  

GREED -- Is related to the phenomenon of our indignant outrage of the cheated.  Mammalian survival depends on social bonds, and fairness.  Greed engages the bilateral anterior insula, a region  implicated in negative emotions such as anger, disgust, and social rejection.  During the study it was shown that people suppressed negative feelings in order to accept a reward even it was inequitable, but appealing by activating the ventral striatum and ventromedial prefrontal cortex which involves automatic and intuitive reward processing.  Justice, apparently feels good even if it isn't the desired or most fair outcome.  This explains a persons willingness to settle out of court or accept monetary compensation in a civil suit. 

ENVY -- Activates the conflict-detecting dACC brain region.  This is the same region enlisted when feeling pain which suggests envy is a kind of 'social pain in the self.'  However, the delight felt in someone else's downfall is downright blissful.  The study also showed, a rival's defeat brings pleasure just as surely as envy brings pain.  

WRATH -- Rage is primordial.  The brain circuitry active during anger is very basic and very fast.  The medial prefrontal cortex associated with self-awareness and emotional regulation quickly activates, so does the hippocampus involved in memory.  As people fume, they repeatedly relive the negative event in their minds.  The degree of hippocampus activation predicts how much people tend to ruminate.  By deliberately inhibiting our natural social response, we make ourselves detached enough to strike out.   


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