Electrical stimulation of a specific area of the brain may help boost a person's
ability to get through tough times, according to a tiny new study.
Researchers implanted electrodes in the brains of two people with epilepsy
to learn about the source of their seizures. The electrodes were situated in
the part of the brain known as the "anterior midcingulate cortex". This region is believed to be involved in emotions, pain and decision-making.
When an electrical charge was delivered within this region, both patients
said they experienced the expectation of an imminent challenge. Not only that,
they also felt a determination to conquer the challenge. At the same time,
their heart rate increased and they experienced physical sensations in the
chest and neck.
The patients did not feel any of these effects when brain regions only 5 millimetres
away were electrically stimulated. Nor did patients feel these effects when
they were told their brains were being stimulated but they did not receive an
electrical charge, according to the study.
The findings were published online in the journal Neuron.
Variations in network
"That few electrical pulses delivered to a population of brain cells in
conscious human individuals give rise to such a high level set of emotions and
thoughts we associate with a human virtue such as perseverance tells us that
our unique human qualities are anchored dearly in the operation of our brain
cells," study lead author Dr Josef Parvizi said in a journal news release.
The site of the stimulation in both patients was at the core of a network
linking the anterior midcingulate cortex to other brain regions, imaging
This suggests that variations in the structure and function of this network
may be linked with differences in people's abilities to cope with difficult
situations, according to the news release.
"These innate differences might potentially be identified in childhood
and be modified by behavioural therapy, medication, or, as suggested here,
electrical stimulation," said Parvizi, who is with the department of
neurology and neurological sciences at Stanford University.
The American Academy of Family Physicians offers tips for coping with life's challenges.