Where Does The Will To Persevere Come From? Discovery Pinpoints Persistence Trigger In The Brain
Perseverance may not just be in the mind, not just about summoning up the will to push through difficulty to accomplish a goal. The trigger to perseverance may actually be in a specific part of the brain, according to a chance discovery by researchers at Stanford University.
Neurologist Josef Parvizi of the Department of Neurology and Neurological Sciences at Stanford and a team of researchers were working with a patient who previously had epileptic seizures when they discovered that electrical stimulation to a portion of the brain created a mood change, as well as a psychological spark. "Our study pinpoints the precise anatomical coordinates of neuronal populations, and their associated network, that support complex psychological and behavioral states associated with perseverance," Parvizi said in a press release.
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The findings were published in "The Will To Persevere Induced By Electrical Stimulation Of the Human Cingulate Gyrus" in the Dec. 5 issue of the journal Neuron. The team first discovered the reaction when working with the patient who had gone without seizures for more than a year. The goal was to find the affected part of the brain that had caused the seizures and possibly remove the responsible tissue. Electrodes were implanted into the man's brain and when he responded to questions about his thoughts and emotions, researchers were surprised.
The patient reported feeling a vibration or shakiness in his chest, his heart rate sped up significantly and he gained a foreboding sense that he was going to face something challenging. However, he said he felt positive about the trial and was determined to overcome the challenge, according to Scientific American.
The research team also worked with another patient with epilepsy who had electrodes implanted in his brain to help doctors learn about the source of the seizures. The electrodes were implanted in the anterior midcingulate cortex, a brain region thought to be involved in emotions, pain, and decision-making. The second patient described a similar reaction — a feeling of expectation of imminent challenge along with a determination to overcome the obstacle.
Both patients reacted to the electrical current which happened to stimulate one of the key nodes of a brain circuit known as the "salience network," according to Quanta magazine. "It was a fortuitous opportunity, providing a rare piece of data that we can't get from any other setting," Stanford neurologist Michael Greicius told Quanta. "It's nice to have a human lend this first-person insight into what it feels like to have your salience network stimulated."
When the patients thought their brains were being stimulated but no electrical charge was delivered, they didn't experience the psychological or physical effects related to the perseverance. The effects related to perseverance also did not occur when a region of the brain five millimeters away was stimulated. "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," said Parvizi.
The findings suggest that inborn differences in structure and function of this area of the brain may be linked to an individual's ability to cope with difficult situations. In more extreme pathological conditions, the brain structure may offer clues as to why some people have a lower capacity to endure physical or psychological distress. "These innate differences might potentially be identified in childhood," said Parvizi. "And they might be modified by behavioral therapy, medication or, as suggested here, electrical stimulation."
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