The Brain That Changes Itself – Chapter 4 – Acquiring Tastes and Loves

Doidge explores neuroplasticity related to love and sex. “The brain structure that regulates instinctive behavior, including sex, called the hypothalamus, is plastic as is the amygdala, the structure that processes emotion and anxiety. While some parts of the brain, such as the cortex, may have more plastic potential because there are more neurons and connections to be altered, even non-cortical areas display plasticity. It is the property of all brain tissue. Plasticity exists in the hippocampus (the area that turns our memories from short-term to long-term ones) as well as in areas that control our breathing, process primitive sensation, and process pain.” P. 97

Merzenich says, “You cannot have plasticity in isolation…it’s an absolute impossibility.” P. 97

Sexual attractions differ within different cultures. Sexual arousal occurs through all of the senses.

Doidge spends a good deal of time on pornography, other sexual perversions and addictions, which are not within the scope of what we address in our work. However, dopamine, the “reward transmitter,” has a broader affect on individuals. Exhausted winners of a race get a final boost to cross the finish line, while losers may not make it over the finish line because they did not get the extra boost that dopamine supplies. Every time a person experiences pleasure by receiving dopamine, that memory is reinforced in the brain.
P. 106

“Pleasure centers” were discovered in the limbic system (emotional systems) by Dr. Robert Health in 1950. “When the pleasure centers are turned on, everything we experience give us pleasure.” P. 113 When individuals with bipolar disease (formerly manic-depressive) approach their manic-highs, “their pleasure centers begin to fire. And falling in love also lowers the threshold at which the pleasure centers will fire.” P. 113

As the addict or the lover anticipates and or experiences pleasure, these feelings become globalized – that is the person is happy about everything. P. 114 The loss of one of these experiences can be as extreme, only negative. “Unlearning and weakening connections between neurons is just as plastic a process, and just as important, as learning and strengthening them.” P 117

Oxytocin is called the commitment neuromodulator – it reinforces bonding. It also induces trust. This helps explain why children raised in orphanages have a difficult time bonding. It may take years to raise the level of oxytocin even when in loving adoptive families. “Whereas dopamine induces excitement, puts us into high gear and triggers sexual arousal, oxytocin induces a calm, warm mood that increases tender feelings and attachment and may lead us to lower our guard.”  Oxytocin is likely to also make us commit to our partners and children. P. 119

Some individuals experience pain and pleasure together as children and become masochistic in adulthood because these two sensations become entwined – mind maps have merged.

These studies have revealed some of the physiological basis for some emotional behavior. It is easier to prevent these behaviors in children we raise from birth than to help those who already have these traumatic experiences in their past. This is a factor in our clients who are adopted.

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