On the Brain: Free will and stress
April 20th, 2011
04:55 PM ET

On the Brain: Free will and stress

Is every action you take predetermined, or are your choices truly your own? If our behavior results from chemical reactions in the brain, how much freedom do we have? Research suggests that even if free will is a lie, we may be better off believing in it. People behave more selfishly and dishonestly if they're led to believe that humans don't control their own actions. Check out this article from New Scientist (free registration required) to learn more about what scientists have to say about whether you make your own decisions.

It's no secret that meditation has many mental and physical health benefits. Now, researchers say meditation may even make people behave more rationally in their decision-making, USA Today reports. Scientists did brain imaging of people who practice Buddhist meditation and others who do not, and found that those who meditate used different parts of the brain when faced with an "unfair" choice.

Want to beat stress before it hits you? Scientists at Leicester University in the United Kingdom are working on a treatment that would do just that, the Medical News Today reports. A study published in the journal Nature focused on a protein called neuropsin, created by the amygdala, the brain's fear center. When the amygdala ramps up production of neuropsin, that leads to chemical reactions that result in feelings of anxiety. In mice, at least, researchers showed that blocking such proteins could reduce the stress response. This could lead to treatments for people with anxiety disorders such as post traumatic stress disorder one day, but bear in mind that these are only preliminary findings in animals. They used mice in mazes to measure stress reactions (and how often do you find yourself feeling stressed in a maze?).

Also intriguing for mental health treatments, but only in mice, MyHealthNewsDaily via MSNBC reports on a new study showing that antidepressant medications may help brain cells grow and survive after a trauma to the brain. The drugs may even result in enhanced memory and brain function, the study authors found.

Speaking of brain injuries, a high-calorie, high-protein diet may improve the outcome for some military service members with brain injuries due to battlefield explosions, we at CNN reported. The Institute of Medicine report released a report Wednesday calling for changes in nutrition - namely, providing more energy and protein to traumatic brain injury patients early after the injury.

Finally, in case you missed it, doctors are suggesting a new definition of Alzheimer's disease. They recommend having a "spectrum" of symptoms that range from early signs of dementia to severe impairments.

soundoff (5 Responses)
  1. ms


    April 20, 2011 at 22:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. db

    I wish that for a period of time you could experience PTSD or Manic Depression or Schizophrenia or Depression or all them combine you might come to a different conclusion.

    May 31, 2011 at 01:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dasha

      Manic depression, maybe. Probably would not be as fun with the others...

      June 1, 2011 at 11:58 | Report abuse |
  3. joseph retrossi

    this could be a huge break through , how bout for addictions and such i hope so thanks cnn

    July 2, 2011 at 10:54 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.