August 18, 2009

"Time to relax, rewind, and remodel the brain."

Chronically stressed rats lose their behavioral plasticity -- their adaptability and cunning -- and fall back upon ineffective rote responses. The change occurs at the neural level: "regions associated with executive decision-making and goal-directed behaviors had shriveled, while, conversely, brain sectors linked to habit formation had bloomed."

The rats succumbed to the rat race.

Robert Sapolsky, a neuroscientist who is also a first-rate writer, says, "we're lousy at recognizing when our normal coping mechanisms aren't working. Our response is usually to do it five times more, instead of thinking, maybe it's time to try something new."

But genuine hope arrives fast: "with only four weeks’ vacation in a supportive setting free of bullies and Tasers, the formerly stressed rats looked just like the controls, able to innovate, discriminate and lay off the bar." (The bar they press to get a food pellet.)

“The brain is a very resilient and plastic organ....Dendrites and synapses retract and reform, and reversible remodeling can occur throughout life.”

And too many pellets can make you fat.

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