Scientists have discovered where anxiety comes from

Anxiety disorders are common. Yet, many find current treatments methods only partially effective.

A neuron firing. Credit: MIT.

Anxiety disorders are common and may be growing more so. 40 million US adults suffer from one in some form, about 18% of the population. Worldwide, 260 million live with an anxiety disorder, according to the WHO. Economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz reported in 2016 that anxiety disorders have doubled in the US since 2008. There are a number of different kinds. There’s general anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety, and of course, a near countless number of phobias.

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Mind & Brain

What is the physiological basis of the healing touch?

Around 100 million adults in the United States are affected by chronic pain. What can we do about it?

Dema (male) the 26-day-old endangered Sumatran Tiger cub cuddles up to 5-month-old female Orangutan, Irma at the 'Taman Safari Indonesia' Animal Hospital, on February 26, 2007 in Cisarua, Bogor Regency, West Java, Indonesia. (Photo by: Dimas Ardian/Getty

Around 100 million adults in the United States are affected by chronic pain – pain that lasts for months or years on end. It is one of the country’s most underestimated health problems. The annual cost of managing pain is greater than that of heart disease, cancer and diabetes, and the cost to the economy through decreased productivity reaches hundreds of billions of dollars. Chronic pain’s unremitting presence can lead to a variety of mental-health issues, depression above all, which often intensifies pain. And our most common weapon against pain – prescription painkillers – generates its own pain, as the ongoing opioid crisis attests. But must we rely on pharmacology to stave off pain? Perhaps there is a more natural nostrum – partial and insufficient, but helpful nonetheless – closer to hand. 

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Surprising Science

Who's smarter, cats or dogs? Science has found a clear winner.

The study also discovered a downside to having a big brain.

Credit: Getty Images.

Ever wonder about the intelligence of various animals and how they measure up? Researchers at Vanderbilt University decided to find out. Specifically, they chose a subsection of mammals called carnivorans. This group has 250 species, each with sharp teeth and claws, which allow them to hunt other animals.

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Surprising Science

How We Chase Dopamine: Porn, Social Media, and Alcohol

There's a trillion-dollar underground economy hiding in plain sight, says Steven Kotler, and it can be measured in dopamine.

What really fuels the economy? It’s not trade, free spending, or good old-fashioned elbow grease – it’s something much smaller and harder to see: dopamine. Along with high-performance expert Jamie Wheal, Steven Kotler has spent the last four years interviewing and researching trailblazers like Elon Musk, Eric Schmidt, Amy Cuddy, and institutions like Nike's innovation team, the Navy SEALs, and the United Nations' Headquarters. What did he find? That these bright people and teams are using altered states of consciousness – like ‘flow’ – to boost their inspiration, ability, and impact. Winning feels good, as does reward. It all boils down to dopamine. Many of us may not be consciously aware of the the neurochemical, altered-state highs we seek on a daily basis. Kotler runs through three ways we chase dopamine, and questions the ethics of these unchecked habits. For example, when you check your phone for a text, the uncertainty or "magic of maybe" in what the text might deliver results in a 400% spike in dopamine – roughly the same amount of dopamine as a person gets from cocaine. "We’re essentially putting highly addictive drugs into the hands of kids before they have any natural defenses against them," says Kotler. Steven Kotler's and Jamie Wheal's book is Stealing Fire: How Silicon Valley, the Navy SEALs, and Maverick Scientists Are Revolutionizing the Way We Live and Work.

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Surprising Science

Explained: How memories are 'pruned' during sleep

The pair of papers suggest that sleep is crucial in order to wipe out memories. Yep – it turns out that, sometimes, it's smart to forget.

When weaker memories aren't "pruned" during sleep, our recall of important information suffers, causing fuzzy memories. (Photo: Shutterstock)
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Surprising Science