Tag Archives: emotions

The Emotion Compass

The Emotion Compass



Emotion Compass



This is a short introduction to the emotion compass which I designed during my last year of my Psychiatry Residency.  If you wish to see more information about this instrument, feel free to visit the article on my blog.  This is an instrument which I created based on some data extracted from the book, “Language of Emotion”, by Dr. Joel Davitz.

In short, he would give a group of people a scenario like, “you give a speech and find your blouse or pants were undone”.  Then he would ask the subjects to respond to what you would feel by a survey.  Dr. Davitiz had the subjects answer based on a categorical system as well as provide a label of the emotion.  In the case of embarrassment. the subjects agreed on the categories as, “High Energy”, “Moving Away” and “Discomfort”, for example. 

By applying the various data formats, I aligned 50 most frequently (and most reported as common) emotions on a three graduated axis. This permitted me to actually visualize some similarities about various emotions in relation to each other.



It was only sometime later that I explored how it would work in reverse; by reflecting on characteristics of emotions in order to clue me into an emotion which I would be feeling (when I was not clear on what I felt).  Sure enough, it seemed to prove helpful.  I then constructed the following chart and asked some of my clients to use it during their journaling.  It was well received and seemed very useful in helping my clients connect to their emotions more clearly.  This was then the springboard I used for Cognitive Therapy. For when my patients could own the true feelings they experienced, then they can begin asking, “what types of thoughts bring these feelings on?”.  As it seemed useful in breaking through barriers in Cognitive Therapy, I have found it useful for myself as well.  Feel free to try it out.

Brief Instructions



When you want to explore what you may be ‘feeling’, go to one bold category that you are more certain about. Here I am pointing to “Movement”, with the subcategory of, “Away”. The feelings you may be having is probably one of the emotions in a colored box as this.



Now, identify one more column which you are confident about.  Here in the example, I point to the column of “Energy-Low”. So, if I want to “move away” and have “low energy”, then the likely emotion will be where I have a color box in both columns.



So, if you look at the emotion list on the left-hand side, any emotion that has both the “move away” and “low emotion” are likely emotions I am currently experiencing. Some of the emotions in common by this example are, “shame”, “grief”, “depression” and “apathy”.


I hope you will find this Emotion Compass as useful as I do.  








If you wish to download your own Emotion Compass, feel free to click HERE



The Emotion Compass was originally published on Braindoctr’s Blog


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“I Feel Your Pain…Not”

“I Feel Your Pain…Not”


“I Feel Your Pain..Not”


Last year, I was battling my fourth week of coughing without end.  I became determined to treat my symptoms through a standard protocol. I took zinc tablets for one week for my presumed viral infection. After no relief, I started antibiotics for a 10-day schedule.  The upper respiratory infection left me with laryngitis with a continuous cough.  Frustrated with my prolonged coughing, I started using a steam vaporizer to loosen my congestion and even used a muscle thumper to areas of my chest to help clear my lungs.  However, for some reason, my deep cough continued without significant resolution.  I decided to pay the local medical clinic a visit to have my primary physician provide other strategies for treatment.



He agreed with my diagnostic impression of post-infection bronchitis and he prescribed an expectorant, cortisone along with two kinds of antitussives (cough suppressant medicines), Benzonatate and Dextromethorphan.  I had used Dextromethorphan in past years without any problems.  The other antitussive, Benzonatate was a medicine that I had never tried before.  I started the treatment right away, hoping for a speedy recovery.

After nearly a week of treatment, I began to have a resolution of my coughing symptoms.  I also became increasingly aware that my normal level of energy and emotional posture had shifted.  On one level, I was a quiet observer of the change I was experiencing.  But on a different level, I was feeling numb and apathetic, and oddly, depressed.  Clearly, I was experiencing what Mental Health professionals call “anhedonia” (no pleasure in activities ) and psychomotor retardation (sluggish) with a decreased appetite and increased need for sleep. What I found noteworthy was that I seemed to have lost interest even in my personal feelings about everything that was important to me; even my appreciation of others, especially with those closest to me.  I recognized that even during that time if I had the energy to gaze at what I was actually experiencing, it would have shocked me that I could not have cared less for anything or anyone. Since this was an experience I had never felt before, and knowing this was a clear departure from my character, I reasoned that this dysphoria had to be medication related.  I decided to stop the Benzonatate and I reduced my routine dose of Dextromethorphan.


After I recovered and was finally on the other side of my illness, I was compelled to revisit this dysphoria in order to unravel the mystery behind my mood experience.  For me to have such a profound emotional shift from a routine prescription treatment, I began to question how often I may have missed treating a depressed patient effectively for a refractory depression without considering possible iatrogenic (treatment induced) influence of their medicines?  Since I tolerated Dextromethorphan, I knew the culprit had to be the Benzonatate.


So what is unique to Benzonatate that it could actually diminish my sense of connection with others? What would interfere with my level of empathy and even the influence the deepest sense to even care about anything?   


What I found was that Benzonatate..


“ is an ester local anesthetic derived from tetracaine. After absorption and circulation to the respiratory tract, it distributes into the mucosa, anesthetizing vagal afferent fibers that contribute to both cough and hiccups.”

Benzonatate behaves like a painkiller of sorts for vagal afferent fibers. These nerve fibers actually monitor the upper respiratory tract and have motor fibers that stimulate the diaphragm.  On further reading, I found an article that surprised me and seemed to explain what I had experienced. Apparently, the blunting of empathy such as what I had experienced, had been a side effect recently attributed to some common pain killers. In this article, blunting was also associated with very common pain medicine, Tylenol.

“..acetaminophen has a general blunting effect on individuals’ evaluative and emotional processing, irrespective of negative or positive valence..”
“..It is thus conceivable that acetaminophen may also reduce willingness to help others in physical or emotional distress

This description adequately portrays what I felt.  I did not seem to value anything or anyone and I did not even care that I felt this way.  The only incongruence I experienced about this emotional state is that I knew that under ‘normal’ situations, I would be bothered about not caring for anything or anyone. It was as if I had no Will to change my state.

Understanding that pain-reducing mechanisms can because apathy and diminished empathy, it brought me to a different level of questioning.  When we speak of the blunting effect on empathy, what is it that we are describing? The first step was to define what is meant by the term, “empathy”.


According to Webster “Empathy” is:

 “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also :  the capacity for this ” (“empathy”).


Empathy plays an important part in our lives as social beings.  It is that part of our internal monitor, which appeals to fairness and justice in the world.  It helps us to “walk in someone else’s shoes” and stirs us to ponder the question, “What if that person were me?”.  Empathy is important for modifying our behavior, aligned to the survival and safety of each other.  When empathy is returned, we can depend on this emotion to assure our wellbeing as well.  This is not just about our physical safety from harm, but it includes the preservation and the welfare of others in our social circle for security, which we all require in our relationships.  As one author shared, “Empathy regulates prosocial and antisocial behavior”.

Components of Empathy

In order to empathize with others, there has to exist something within us to register “what if that person was me?”  This would require both the Will [W] to take a template of another person (like us) [T]  and recreate a similar scenario [S] of ourselves in such a situation. Then we would need to employ some sort of a “personalized assessment” [A] where our resulting emotions [E(r)] are compared to our baseline emotional function [E(b)]. If the disturbance of comfort exceeds our baseline comfort, we are motivated [M] toward action to restore the balance.

                                    [W] * [M] = [E(b)] – [E(r)], where  A (S* ( [T] ) ) = [E(r)]

If we present this process as an equation, we can see that if a baseline Emotional state E(b) is not significantly altered by the imagined self in the represented scenario E(r), there will be no motivation (M) to alter the situation. An example of this could occur , when one who is actively suffering a loss, observes another experiencing a loss. However, if the number of losses of the other person (E(r)) is exceeded by personal loss (E(b)), one might be motivated to give comfort.

What condition, based on this equation, would increase the likelihood of empathy?  First,  there would have to be a willingness (W)  to look beyond ourselves. Then there would have to be a high degree of similarity of the observed person (T) to ourselves (e.g. age, gender, traits, etc) and the assessment (A) of imagined distress (E(r)) would have to be significantly different from our baseline emotional comfort (E(b)).


The Biology of Empathy

“Simulation theories of empathy hypothesize that empathizing with others’ pain shares some common psychological computations with the processing of one’s own pain.  Support for this perspective has largely relied on functional neuroimaging evidence of an overlap between activations during the experience of physical pain and empathy for other people’s pain”


A substantial body of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) research suggests that observing others experiencing pain (e.g. observing a person receiving a hot probe placed on the hand), activates brain regions that are also activated during one’s own experience of pain—the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the anterior insula (AI) cortex.



It is not the purpose of my present writing to discuss the neurological detail of empathy.  However, it suffices at this point to say we have the brain structure which is designed to fill a particular role for Empathy. Our design supports the importance of “being wired” for this function in our lives and it also stresses the importance of our relating to each other as social creatures.

I believe this shared pain phenomenon, has something to offer us when we discuss empathy.  When we observe others suffering from specific injuries, our brains mirror a similar pattern of pain activity related to the one we observe being injured. In fact, if you consider the brain pattern activity, it is much like we experience the very same injury, just by observing the one in pain.

Pain is a subjective experience of discomfort but from a physiological perspective, there are some common characteristics behind the “pain” experience.


“…pain can result from increased activity in excitatory pathways involving, for example, substance P, glutamate, etc. decreased activity in inhibitory pathways involving, for example, noradrenaline or serotonin (5-HT) or both mechanisms..”(3)


Given that we seem to experience a similar injury pattern from observation, questions were raised on how this ‘perceived pain ‘ would be impacted after an observer is administered a painkiller. Even though it is unclear exactly how acetaminophen works, it does have analgesic and fever-reducing properties. Tylenol (acetaminophen) is believed to regulate serotonin pathways.

Paracetamol has a central analgesic effect that is mediated through activation of descending serotonergic pathways.

Paracetamol (aka Tylenol)


Empathy and Painkillers


To examine the impact of painkillers on empathy, a study was conducted where randomized subjects were given a direct form of irritation by quick air puffs. A group of subjects was tested where they were to estimate the level of pain other subjects experienced when observed in the “painful situation”.  Subjects again assessed the pain experience after an oral administration of 1000mg of acetaminophen in a double-blind study.

You can review this study here.

Surprisingly, what was discovered is that acetaminophen (aka paracetamol or Tylenol) had a profound effect not only on direct painful stimuli but also in the pain attributed to others experiencing pain.  In other words, empathy was directly diminished by taking 1000mg of Tylenol.

As hypothesized, acetaminophen reduced empathy in response to others’ pain.  Acetaminophen also reduced the unpleasantness of noise blasts delivered to the participant, which mediated acetaminophen’s effects on empathy. Together, these findings suggest that the physical painkiller acetaminophen reduces empathy for pain and provide a new perspective on the neurochemical bases of empathy (2)

This ought to raise some concern for those involved in Mental Health care.

“Based on the drug-induced reductions in empathy seen here, acetaminophen, and potentially other analgesics, might interfere with social processes that are critical for the promotion of social bonds and social order.” (2).


“Because empathy regulates prosocial and antisocial behavior, these drug-induced reductions in empathy raise concerns about the broader social side effects of acetaminophen (as well as other potential pain regulating medicines), which is taken by almost a quarter of all adults in the United States each week”. (2)

“As hypothesized, acetaminophen reduced empathy in response to others’ pain. ..these findings suggest that the physical painkiller acetaminophen reduces empathy for pain and provide a new perspective on the neurochemical bases of empathy”.

What this study implies is that most people taking Tylenol for chronic pain are likely experiencing an ongoing emotional shift just like the one I had experienced.  Tylenol (acetaminophen) is frequently administered to manage chronic pain since it does not have the same concerns that most other pain medications, which may contribute to gastric ulcers and increased bleeding risks.  Yet it seems very important to expose the impact that our medicines have on our emotional tone.  Let us face it, without the awareness that a very common pain medicine can dampen our empathy and fuel our depression we would not appreciate a different level of our emotional experience.  One can understand that taking pain medicine while being treated for a depressive disorder, it would be easy to conclude, “it is just how I feel’ or “something must be wrong with me for not caring for others in my life”.  Counseling is always important in addressing the maladaptive way we approach relationships.  It is very important to be ‘equipped emotionally’ to make necessary changes in our thinking for our progress.  If we do not consider the broad impact of our medicine strategies, many people may be left hopeless in path toward healing.  Emotional trials contribute to problems in our relationships despite all our mental health efforts to help others improve in their relationships.  The missing piece of someone’s emotional puzzle may just be as simple as a change of pain medicine.

I wonder how many people we meet in our lives who struggle with “I should care about him/her but I just don’t”?  

 I wonder how many clergy or pastors, dealing with chronic physical pain are questioning their lack of empathy for others in their congregation?  I wonder how many spiritual people actually wrestle with feel abandoned by God because they do not have the love for others as modeled by their Savior.


For some frustrated people, this post may bring some hope just knowing their pain medication may be preventing them from effectively restoring a wayward relationship.


There is so much we do not know about our treatment strategies for the many health problems we experience. Most strategies are evidenced-based, in that results of our best-known treatments guide future treatments of particular pathologies.  The scope of clinical treatment is most often based on physical goals and it rarely considers the impact efforts on other aspects of life, i.e. influence on emotions.  Medicine is not perfect, but good clinicians strive to improve their efforts by observing the impact of treatment on all planes of a patient’s life.  My post did not provide clear answers, nor did it reveal the exact mechanisms behind the dysphoria I experienced from my prescription medicine.  However,  it does likely explain what I experienced and it offers an insight to consider in treating patients with similar symptoms of depression. ,


If my readers personally experience depressive symptoms that seem untouched by prescribed medicines and applied therapeutic counseling efforts, please consider the impact of any pain medicines, which may be contributing to your prolonged dysphoria.  Always seek the alliance with mental health professionals if you are depressed and feeling hopeless.  I wish you joy and peace in your journey.  Thank you for taking this walk with me.







2). Dominik Mischkowski, Jennifer Crocker, Baldwin M. Way; From painkiller to empathy killer: acetaminophen (paracetamol) reduces empathy for pain. Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci 2016; 11 (9): 1345-1353. doi: 10.1093/scan/nsw057


n.d.: n. pag. Print. 23 April 2017


3) What do we (not) know about how paracetamol (acetaminophen) works?

K Toussaint, XC Yang, MA Zielinski… – Journal of clinical …, 2010 – Wiley Online Library











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Emotions: Of Man AND Beast


sn-jealousyHEmotions : of Man and Beast

Emotions are often ascribed to animals, regardless of scientific proofs.  Ask any pet owner; they would not even consider skepticism about this matter.  Sure, we attribute emotions to their behavior. What looks like anger, we call it anger.  Many would possibly hold to the idea that any behavior appearing to be emotional only calls forth a label from an observer, or owner.  In other words, it is a matter of projection; projecting what we feel as human beings on to the animals mannerisms we interpret.

However, I am aligned to the findings of this study below.  Emotions are a complex , active stream of conscious interpretations spinning around our values. It is active, reactive and dynamic while orbiting our Will striving for the control of our decisions for comfort and peace. 

If Animals possess emotions, what does this mean about their place in the world? How does it compare to Humanity? I am eager to write on this topic, but I must refrain for another time.  Until then, enjoy this article.


Dogs experience human-like jealousy

Many dog owners are sure their pooches get jealous, particularly when the person pays too much attention to someone else’s Fido. Now, scientists have confirmed that these dog lovers are right. Our canine pals can act every bit as resentful, bitter, and hostile as a jealous child—even if the interloper is nothing more than a stuffed toy hound. The researchers modified a test originally developed to assess the emotion in 6-month-old infants. They videotaped 36 dogs as they watched their owners completely ignore them while turning their attention to three different objects: a realistic-looking stuffed dog (which briefly barked and wagged its tail after a button was pushed), a plastic jack-o’-lantern, and a book. The dogs’ behaviors were then rated for aggressiveness, attention seeking, and interest in the owner or object. The fake pooch elicited the strongest response[1], the researchers report today in PLOS ONE. All the dogs pushed at their owners when the people talked to and petted the toy, and nearly 87% bumped it or tried to get between it and their beloved human. Almost 42% of the dogs actually snapped at the stuffed interloper. The fact that the rival was faux didn’t seem to matter—even pooches that sniffed the toy’s rear end (which 86% of the subjects did) behaved aggressively toward it. The study supports the idea that not all jealousy requires the ability to reflect on one’s self and to understand conscious intentions, as some scientists have argued, but that there is a more basic form of the emotion that likely evolved as a way of securing resources such as food and affection. Infants experience it if their mothers gaze affectionately at other babies, and so do members of another social species: dogs.

Posted in Brain & Behavior, Evolution, Plants & Animals


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Gender Minds



My wife and I are united in purpose, convictions and moral character.  We share values which are regarded as essential.  We love each other and grow in our love for each other.  Though united in common points, we are clearly different people. Her capacity to multitask, her broad social connections, her depth of emotional investment are clearly not built into my design.  I am unable to handle more than one tasks at a given time. Though happy in the community of friends, I often prefer seclusion and research in a corner somewhere. I am more apt to lean on logic and determine a clear course of action than rehash emotional dialogue, and try to forecast how my actions may stir emotional turbulence.   I have a son and daughter under in their early teens.  After school I ask, “how was your day?” . My son will just say, “fine”.  The rest of the ten minute ride home, my daughter will give me a moment by moment narrative, including emotional tones , appearance of her involved friends that day; detailing every sequential step with her relationships.  I love them both.  But, I have to admit, it is much easier on my concentration to accept “fine” than to labor with my focus on elaborative reenactments.  I would not change either one, and I know these are rare and prized moments I will cherish.  But this vast difference between their modality of life is more than just personality.  It is more about their gender design.  One prominent theory states that testosterone, the male hormone is produced at a critical period of a boy’s development, shrinks the bundle of nerve fibers that ties the right and left brain hemispheres together.  This narrowing results in males becoming more left hemisphere logic dominant in cognition. While females evolve into whole brain cognition, laden with emotional content prominence. The woman’s intuition (whole brain summation) is accredited to this wiring design.  This leads to a challenging dialogue with their male counterparts asking,”..but tell me why you don’t like John Smith (give me a logical reason)? The spouse replies “I can not explain it, but I do not trust him (whole brain summation)”. Often, the suspicious woman will be found more accurate than what reason could provide.  I have often shared with couples in counseling that we (males) are just half brained,  Many marriages could avoid erosion if it could be understood up front that the design differences and not willful acts are behind the actions we display.

Here are some articles on this topic.  Enjoy!

Greg E. Williams, MD

Clearly. “Sex Differences.” About Gender: Sex Differences. Gender, n.d. Web. 26 July 2014.



Sex Differences

The Nervous System Nerves. The Brain The Cerebral Cortex Theories About Thinking Sex Differences

Corpus callosum.

The corpus callosum itself has attracted the attention of biologists searching for sex differences. It will be remembered that it was surgery to sever it that drew attention to the differing organisation of the two sides of the cortex.

There is a great deal of dispute about whether there are reliable average differences between the sexes. Originally, it was claimed that it was larger overall in women, relative to brain size. Later the claim was that the posterior portion, the splenium was larger.

Fausto-Stirling(1,2) is extremely critical of studies in this area. Since 1982 there have been at least seventeen papers published. Since no two approach the problem in the same way, she suggests that none of them corroborate each other. What does appear is that there are changes with age, yet only one of the studies used age-matched subjects. Also, if there any sex differences at all, they show up after birth, possibly not until after adolescence.

Considering the millions of axons which must traverse this region, there is no total picture of their path. Larger nerve bundles can be traced leading to the front and back but, though a reasonable general rule is for them to take the shortest path, this is by no means inflexible..

The result of differences in the corpus callosum are said to result in a greater relative fluency of thought and speech. Reminding ourselves that no-one has actually counted the number of axons, nor traced their connections, we are told that this results in greater communication between the cerebral hemispheres of women. It is suggested that women’s greater sensitivity to emotional, non verbal communication, even their intuition, comes from the greater connectivity in their minds. A man is more purpose orientated. Emotions are kept on the right side of his brain, which, being less connected to the left, mean that he can, less easily, express emotions. Clearly, biological effects are not the whole story, for men are expected to be relatively unemotional.

There is another structure that connects between the cerebral hemispheres, the anterior commissure. It communicates visual, olfactory and auditory information and is larger in women than men. Allen has demonstrated that it is also larger in homosexual men.

Size isn’t everything.

A myth that surfaces, from time to time, is one from the nineteenth century that purported to show that women have smaller brains than men. It had been put forward in the nineteenth century in an effort to prove that women (and black people) were inferior. The authors of that time had not taken account of the fact that women are, or were, in general smaller overall than men. Even then it was pointed out that there was such a wide variation, an enormous sample size would needed to show a significant difference.

Was it, then, true? And why did it matter? Fausto-Sterling answers the first question fairly effectively. “the average male/female difference in brain weight for all ages is 9.8%. when charted as a function of either height or weight, however, the difference in adults virtually disappeared.” This from a study of over four thousand subjects.(3)

What matters is the complexity of the cortex. If overall size was all that mattered, elephants would have a considerable intellect. The human cerebral cortex contains some ten to fifteen thousand million neurons, with four times as many glial cells, and one million billion synaptic connections. Spread out, the total surface area would cover about three quarters of a square metre.

Sex and lateralisation.

Where the gender debate first arose, was from claims about differences between men and women in the way they use the two halves of the cortex.

The original hypothesis was that men used their logical left side while women used the emotional irrational right side. However, the argument soon arose that, if language was a function of the left side, how was it that women were better at expressing themselves verbally?

This is rather a simplistic view of the controversy, however, the theory was modified to suggest men have greater lateralisation, that their abilities are more compartmentalised, while, in women utilisation of the two halves is more diffuse.

From the sixties onward, Landsell was working with people who had damage to one side of the cortex or the other. The knowledge of the time indicated that damage to the left hemisphere should lead to deficits in verbal tasks, while right-side damage should produce deficits in visuospatial tasks. This proved particularly true for men, but the prediction was not borne out well for women. It led him to speculate that the abilities of the two hemispheres overlapped to an extent.

Electroencephalogram measurements have also shown a difference. When given abstract problems to work out, men showed a great deal of activity in the right side of their brain, while for women the activity was more generalised to both sides. Similar studies with teenage boys and girls gave similar results.

With women who had Turner’s syndrome, which comes about because they have only one X chromosome, XO, and are considered to behave in a very feminine manner, this diffusion of organisation was particularly marked. The phenomenon has also been found in men whose exposure to androgens in the womb was reduced.

Workers following hormonal hypotheses have found that in rats given testosterone at birth, the females developed a larger corpus callosum. Others have found that male rats showed a thicker right hemisphere, except when they were very old. One developmental theory is that high levels of prenatal testosterone slow neuron growth in left hemisphere.

However, Shute(4) analysed blood samples from groups of males and females whose hormones were within the normal range. For spatial tests, females with high androgen levels performed better than their lower androgen counterparts. However, low testosterone men performed better than high testosterone men, leading the researchers to conclude that high androgens may inhibit the acquisition of spatial skills, and that there may a low optimum level.

Other tests have claimed that females are superior in language, verbal fluency, speed of articulation and grammar, also arithmetic calculation. Their perceptual speed, for instance in matching items is better, and so is their manual precision. Males are reckoned to be better at tasks that are spatial in nature, such as maze performance and mental rotation tasks. Also mechanical skills, mathematical reasoning and finding their way through a route. Certainly, among brain injury patients, after damage to the left hemisphere, long term speech difficulties occur three times more often in males.

Some critics asked why, after a hundred years of research, these findings have only just appeared. One reason may be that most of the subjects studied originally were male war veterans. But, in any case, nobody had looked for sex differences. What we are discussing are average differences which are statistically significant but their effect is very small within a very wide range of individual variation. The investigator must be specifically looking for them, using a large number of subjects.


Differences in brain anatomy have included the length of the left temporal plane, which is usually longer than the right. Of those showing a reversal, which was assumed to reflect a lesser degree of lateralisation, most were female. However, as Springer and Deutsch(5) warn us: “the link between anatomical asymmetries and functional hemispheres is an untested assumption.”

Cerebral blood flow is used as a measure of cerebral activation and, in a mental rotation task, women scored significantly lower. Both men and women showed greater right hemisphere activity, though with men it was greater in the right frontal lobe, and with women it was greater in the temporal-parietal region. Other differences have been found in other tasks, but there is no way of telling whether they are due to a difference in structural organisation, or simply the use of different strategies.

Some of the results are difficult to compare with others. For instance in recognising melodies and familiar sounds, women have had a left ear advantage, while in men, the difference was very small. Some workers have suggested that lateralisation for certain nonverbal auditory stimuli may be greater in women, rather than less.

Another problem is that the degree of lateralisation for auditory and visual tests do not always correlate for one individual. It may be that different individuals have different organisation for different tasks, or they are bringing in strategies that the experimenter didn’t intend, thus confounding the results. Repeating the tests at a later date, with the same subject, does not always produce the same result, as though on each occasion the problem has been approached in a slightly different way.

Unlearning learning.

We have seen how plastic cortical development is. Even with laboratory rats, it has been shown that those reared in a stimulating environment develop a much more intricate cerebral organisation than those reared in nothing more than a bare cage. Development is not either predicted by biology or learning.

Brain development goes on for many years after birth. It clearly must be influenced as much by the environment after birth as it was before. Exactly how and why, and by how much, is something that psychologists and biologists generally are very reticent to explore. They continue to work on independently following their separate paradigms, and do not cross the boundary. Psychologists use the general assumption that memory is composed of patterns of neuron firing. Biologists tend to work with permanent structures. It is thought that if a particular synapse is active often enough, it becomes more permanent, operating in preference to other possible synapses.

Others(6) have made suggestions based on the assumption that the degree of myelinisation of a particular area of the nervous system is a measure of its maturity – or, conversely, its loss of plasticity.

Clearly the social experience of a young baby is limited, but even then it is interacting, soaking up experience like a sponge. In an astonishingly short time it becomes proficient in a complicated, not entirely logical language. Even before an infant begins to talk, it understands sentences containing quite complex sequences.

Socialisation begins when it meets other children. In the days of the tribal group, this may have been from its first steps. In recent England, school began at five, and its primary experience would have been its parents, its siblings, relatives and visitors, perhaps next-door’s children.

The author has, from time to time, met counsellors, and other, who claim that transvestites can be cured. Gender reassignment is seen by a prejudiced National Health Service as elective cosmetic surgery. Gay people choose their way of life. Can anyone become other than who they really are? Something that is learned can be unlearned surely? Perhaps it is in reaction to such attitudes that certain groups of TV’s and others are so insistent about the biological model – otherwise they could ‘help’ being who they are.

It is assumed that much of one’s personality is learned, with an Eysenckian biological substrate, yet it is also assumed that any extensive personality change means trouble. It’s a question that psychology has not really addressed, perhaps developmental neurobiology will, one day, provide some answers, if it can, once and for all, free itself from political gender bias.


Many critics have complained of the prevalence of what psychologists call the type 1 error in a number of these studies. That is, the differences are real when the results are actually due to chance. The problem is in extracting common features in a area where individual people vary greatly.

On balance, Springer and Deutsch(7) accept that there is a very small but consistent greater degree of lateralisation in male humans. They conclude “Our review of the lateralisation literature in general has given us a healthy respect for the type 1 error . . . . the consistency of reports of sex differences . . . . lead us to accept their reality, at least as a working hypothesis . . . . . there are true differences that are small in magnitude and easily masked by individual variability or other factors that are not controlled.”

Such differences as have been found have been labelled by most writers as differences in cognitive style. Given the difference in socialisation between girls and boys, it is hardly surprising that this occurs.

Witleson concluded that people use their ‘preferred cognitive strategy’ based on the faculties they have. It is suggested that men and women may tend to think in different ways, but every individual thinks in his, or her, individual way – each of us uses our preferred mental strategy. Let us not come to believe that all women think in one way and all men in the other.

Certainly, a study of adult male-to-female transsexuals found that they were better in verbal memory, and worse in mental rotation tasks than a control group of men. Groups of both male and female transsexuals groups also did not show a clear degree of lateralisation. Apart from the fact that, once again, they were possibly extreme cases, it does not necessarily show that their minds were ‘opposite sexed’ for biological reasons. It could just as well be argued that they acquired transsexual minds because of their conflict with the cultural criteria demanded of them.

The theory must be able to accommodate itself to allow for general differences, not stigmatising or clinicising those who do not conform. Men and women, perhaps, follow careers that utilise their individual abilities in the most satisfying and successful way. In spite of the predictions of biological determinism, there are female artists, designers, even mathematicians, and we are not short of male communicators.

As Sayers(8) says: “If boys are more able in Mathematics and girls have a greater verbal ability, it is hard to see how men can be better fitted for political life and their dominant role there.” What we have discovered should not be a prohibition against a man or a woman from entering a career normally viewed as being the province of the other gender, because of the way we suggest he, or she, ‘ought’ to think.


Throughout this chapter the difference between the cerebral hemispheres has been described as being between verbal versus spatial abilities, with a qualitative difference between women and men. Most workers believe this to be far too simple an idea. It may be that we are labelling the mental organisation in terms of the rather limited tests we are applying – we look for something, so we find it.

Considering the whole range of thought processes to which humans bring a whole range of strategies, it is possible that each problem that an individual’s brain attends to is unique, happening for the first time in human history.

What else can be said about the features of brain lateralisation? A more realistic way of describing the situation may be to suggest that each hemisphere approaches a task in a different way. Thus the left side may analyse the problem while the right considers it as a whole. This division has created a whole raft of hypotheses, such as rational vs intuitive, and western versus eastern thinking.

In turn there has been a rash of claims like “Unleash the power of your right brain. Send £50 for our five-day course.” Another is quizzes in popular journals which claim to test whether readers think like a man or a women. Naturally those completing the questionnaire already know how they ought to think, as men or women, and even know the ‘correct’ answers to the questions.

As one group of writers(9) suggest “hemispheric specialisation has become a sort of trash can for all sorts of mystical speculation.”

Nevertheless some insights have come from some more reputable sources. One needs to describe first the difference between conscious and automatic behaviours. Once we have learned to walk or ride a bicycle, we never forget. Current thinking is that such knowledge is transferred to the cerebellum. Probably, the automatic actions in manipulating the controls of a motor car are stored there also.

However, in our daily round we develop what are called action scripts, habitual procedures like making a cup of tea. If one goes to one’s bedroom to change for an outing and, instead, puts on one’s nightclothes and get into bed, it is the confusion of two action scripts. So, some workers believe that the right hemisphere handles processes for which there is an established routine, while the left side deals with novel situations. Perhaps the right brain handles more familiar tasks for which an action script is already available, while the left analytical side is better equipped to handle new situations.

This leads to an interesting speculation. We have all been cursed with the driver on the motorway, hogging the middle lane, operating on right side ‘autopilot’ mode, while his attentional left hemisphere is chatting to his passenger. If women have better communication between the hemispheres, perhaps they can switch control more easily, and they really are better drivers than men. Perhaps insurance companies should calculate premiums on the basis of brain scans taken while the person is performing a series of standardised tasks. Crazy, perhaps, but no more outlandish than the claims in some ‘pop’ psychology books.

Another hypothesis includes the function of the corpus callosum, which connects each side of the brain topographically – that is each fibre from a neuron in one side connects to its equivalent in the opposite side. This is described more fully in Springer and Deutsch,(10) but the idea is that an image in the left half, say a cow, inhibits the image in the right half, which allows it to conjure up associated images, like milk or a field.

Psychology students will be familiar with the words “Top down, bottom up,” but other speculations have included distinctions between analysis and insight, while another compares the right hemisphere to Freud’s seat of the unconscious

It has been suggested that, not only is the human brain more complex than we think, it is more complex than we can comprehend.

No doubt the debate about sex differences in general will continue ad nauseum. One study will suggest “the difference in size between the sexes has not escaped the notice of sociobiologists.” Another will point out that the size dimorphism in humans is less than for any other primate. It all depends on which side of the bread you like to spread your butter.

Bibliography and good reading.

  1. Fausto Sterling, A., (1992) Myths of Gender, Biological Theories about Women and Men, New York: Basic Books (bookshelf)
  2. Fausto Sterling, A., (1999) Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality, New York: Basic Books (bookshelf)
  3. Dekaban, A., (1978) Changes in Brain Weights during the span of Human Lives: relation of brain weights to body heights to body weights, Annals of Neurology 4(1978):345-56 in Fausto Sterling, A., (1992) Myths of Gender, Biological Theories about Women and Men, (p227) New York: Basic Books
  4. Springer, S.P., Deutsch, G., (1993) Left Brain Right Brain (Fourth ed. p215), New York: W.H.Freeman. (bookshelf)
  5. Springer, S.P., Deutsch, G.,
  6. Gibson, K.R., (1985) Myelinisation and Behavioural Development: A Comparative Perspective on Questions of Neoteny, Altricity and Intelligence, in Gibson, K.R., Petersen, A.C., Brain Maturation and Cognitive Development, New York: Aldine De Gruyter.
  7. Springer, S.P., Deutsch, G.,(p212),
  8. Sayers, J., (1982) Biological Politics, London: Tavistock
  9. Rose.S, Lewontin.R.C, Kamin.L.J, (1990) Not In Our Genes: Biology, Idealogy and Human Nature. (p146) Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. (bookshelf)
  10. Springer, S.P., Deutsch, G., (p299)

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Where are feelings felt? Here is an interesting article on emotional sensation.

This Map Shows Where You Feel Emotions

March 8, 2014 by Amanda Froelich

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By: Amanda Froelich,

True Activist.





More than just intriguing, this recently studied phenomena from Aalto University affirms what many new age healers have been describing for a lengthy period time: that suppressed emotions can and will manifest in certain areas of systems of the body.

Science has already shown that emotions, thoughts, and feelings can positively or negatively impact many systems physiologically (example: feelings of hopelessness affect the body’s hormone system and change the chemical flow within the brain). But now new findings are also revealing the intricacy of how one’s entire energetic system reacts to emotions ? and it’s fascinating!

Thanks to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, this conceptual idea has even been made visual. The findings demonstrate that different emotional states trigger different physical sensations in the body.

Emotions such as anger, impacted the body in a different area compared to the emotions of fear, disgust, happiness, or love. Interestingly, each individual emotion had its own unique part of the body that correlated to it as well.

These findings were reported by a team of bio-medical engineers from Aalto University. 700 volunteers  from Finland, Sweden, and Taiwan participated in this study.

Credit: Aalto University

Credit: Aalto University

?Emotions are often felt in the body, and somatosensory feedback has been proposed to trigger conscious emotional experiences. Here we reveal maps of bodily sensations associated with different emotions using a unique topographical self-report method. In five experiments, participants were shown two silhouettes of bodies alongside emotional words, stories, movies, or facial expressions. They were asked to color the bodily regions whose activity they felt increasing or decreasing while viewing each stimulus. Different emotions were consistently associated with statically separable bodily sensation maps across experiments. These maps were concordant across West European and East Asian samples.?

It seems there was no difference between race, age, or varying emotional states being correlated with different body parts; the results showed similar with the majority of all participants.

The assistant professor, Lauri Nummenman, shared her perception on the findings, ?Emotions adjust not only our mental, but our bodily states. This way they prepare us to react swiftly to the dangers, but also to the opportunities such as pleasurable social interactions present in the environment.?

This finding supports what can be perceived as the evolving mindset surrounding healthcare and holistic welfare. Every choice, action, and thought influences one’s ability to thrive or degenerate. Therefore, truly allow the importance of this study to integrate.

To live a abundant in happiness, acknowledging the diverse emotional states one feels is essential. Even if certain emotions – such as fear, hatred, or despair – are not deemed optimal, they must be felt for their lessons to be integrated, and for the ability to progress past such perceived limitations to be realized.

Many therapies currently exist to assist one in this process, such as the Emotional Freedom Technique. The purpose is to assist every individual in learning from what they are feeling, but also in how they may ‘let go’ and create a life of simplicity and happiness. This is not the only method, however.

Other habits one may adopt now to become more bodily aware include: meditation, better diet, engaging in enjoyable exercise, and forming kind relations with others that enjoy the type of lifestyle you wish to lead yourself.

For any change to take place, those habits that work, and those that do not, must be recognized. Perhaps this understanding will be more widely supported  in years to come.



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Anxiety: Your brain in Knots.

Anxiety and the Brain: What is happening in the brain in that moment of feeling Anxious? How does it impact our body?  Here is a good summary from Pinterest.












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