Mind Meet Matter
”The Psychoneural Translation Hypothesis suggests that thought can influence the physical nature of our brain, similar to how the physical structure of our brain influences our thought.
Skip this part if you hated stats class with every fibre of your being
You know to never take someone’s word for it. You want to see the cold, hard, numbers. Admittedly, the number of participants in the study was a little on the small side – 12 participants with spider phobia and 13 without (the control group). This makes it a little more difficult to generalize it to the entire population.
A second study was completed on spider phobia and CBT also found that brain activation changes once therapy is successful (The fact that a separate group of researchers were able to come to similar conclusions with a similar experiment is called reproducibility and is a major indicator that these results are applicable to a wider population). Interestingly, the regions of the brain in this second study activated in the phobic participants were different than that in the study I talk about above. This can be due to a host of factors. The take away message, however, is the same – change your thoughts, change the way your brain physically responds to events.
In the first study, participants were asked to rate their fear while viewing the images of the spiders. Before therapy, the phobic participants gave an average “fear rating” of 6.3/8. After therapy, they gave an average fear rating of 0.1/8 – close to the control group’s rating of 0.4/8. The researchers were able to call this significant as the comparison of the before/after rating had a P-value of less than 0.001. That’s an awesome number – typically we like our P-values to be less than 0.05.
(P-values are significance tests that help indicate how often the results we are seeing are do to random chance. In this case, that would mean we assume therapy doesn’t help and that there is a small chance that people will randomly “get over” their phobia. Based on their sample size, the researchers will deduce how often this random occurrence can be expected to happen. Then, they take the numbers of how many people reported that their phobias went away after therapy and compare it to how many people they expect will randomly get over their phobia. If more people report they felt better after therapy than the number assigned to chance, we will get a small p-value. The smaller the p-value, the more we believe the therapy actually played a role in helping participants get over their phobia.)
Until then, we can take refuge in the fact that through learning about a previously terrifying subject, participants were able to overcome their fears. We do have at least some measure of control over the way we react to the world. Now it’s time to pick up the phone and tell your mama she was right: knowledge is power.
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