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What Is The Placebo Effect?

The placebo effect is a bizarre scientific phenomenon where dummy medicines – ones which are known to have no actual medical benefits – help people recover from illnesses.

Nobody knows quite how the placebo effect works, but the results can be astounding. Patients taking placebo drugs have reported massive reductions in pain and improvements to conditions, such as migraines and stomach ulcers.

How do placebos work?

Exactly how placebos work remains a bit of a mystery, but scientists now think that actual biological changes happen in our bodies when we take them. Previously, people put the effectiveness of placebos down to ‘mind over matter’, but this is no longer the case.

In a study testing the effect of placebos on Parkinson’s disease, it was found that a pill made only of sugar caused patients to produce the chemical dopamine, which helped their condition. Placebos can also cause your brain to produce its own natural painkillers after operations.

So even though we aren’t totally sure why placebos work, we know that they can have very strong medical benefits.

Strange things that affect how placebos work

One particularly remarkable thing about the placebo effect is the way that the appearances of fake medicines change how well they work in making people feel better.

In trials using placebo drugs, larger pills were found to have a stronger impact. The colour of the pills also made a difference – red pills had the biggest impact in reducing pain and green pills were best for treating anxiety. Most effective of all was a false injection of a completely harmless solution rather than a tablet.

The person giving the so-called drug also made a big difference. If the person was not a medical professional then the outcome was less noticeable. If the doctor giving the placebo was more caring and spent a lot of time with a patient, this improved the outcome further.

What if you know the medicine isn’t real?

Weirdly enough, placebos can have an effect even if people know that they are placebos! Studies have found that improvements occur when patients are told they’re being given placebo pills for their illnesses. It is thought that perhaps the act of visiting a doctor and receiving medical advice is enough to make a difference.

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How Does Your Brain Make a Memory?

How do memories work?

In the film Inside Out, Riley’s core memories come from super important moments in her life and power aspects of her personality islands. These are maintained by Joy and the gang. However, as much as we’d like to believe that we have little emotional people roaming around our brains looking after our memories, sadly that isn’t actually how it works. Your memory isn’t really one solid thing – it’s a term that refers to the process of remembering. Experts also believe that memory isn’t actually located in one part of your brain, but instead is a brain-wide process. Here’s how that all works. Short-term memory When we talk about short-term memory we often refer to things that happened to us in the last day or so, but in reality our short-term memory only lasts between 15 and 30 seconds! Anything that can be remembered after that length of time is actually a long-term memory. A good way to think of your short-term memory is like a computer RAM, as it works with information you are currently using or thinking about. This can be brand new information or old information we have recovered from our long-term memory. Long-term memory Your long-term memory is like a computer hard drive – it stores pretty much everything! What’s even cooler is that these memories actually have a physical presence in your brain because the neurons make physical connections with each other. These connections last regardless of whether or not they’re being used. Your long-term memory can also be split into two separate forms of memory – explicit and implicit.  Explicit Memory – These are memories we’re consciously aware of and actually want to remember (a bit like the information you absorb when you’re trying to study for a test). If you have an explicit memory that is of an event that has happened to you then you would call this an episodic memory, but if your explicit memory is more general knowledge based then you would call this a semantic memory. Implicit Memory – This includes habits and skills that you can automatically do, like riding a bike and tying your shoelaces. How Do We Actually Form Memories? Before we do anything we need to encode the information by sending it to the hippocampus (a part of the brain where new memories are formed). Here all the important information is prioritised and linked together to form a new memory. Of course, all of this is useless if the memory doesn’t have a home to go to.  Your new memory is able to chill out in the hippocampus for a bit, but as more memories are formed things start to become a bit crammed. The neurons that make up a specific memory therefore move further into your cortex – and as a result your memories end up being stored throughout your brain! Watch the video below for even more on the magic of memory.

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Why Do We Cook?

Ok, so we know that we cook food to make it edible and enjoyable.

But did you know that the simple act of cooking our food is what distinguishes us from animals and is a key contributor to our evolution as human beings?

Our primate cousins (like the Gorilla) may be three times the size of us and spend a good 70% of their day eating, but the reason they’re not the superior species all comes down to the fact that they eat raw plants.

By cooking our meat and veg we’re breaking down the tough cell walls and releasing more of the nutrients that are up for grabs, which is pretty vital considering our brains use one fifth of the calories we eat! This also means we get more energy from our food and can use this to increase our general knowledge and practical skills.

That’s exactly what our ancestors did when they first started cooking their food. Because they had more energy and free time, after learning how to preserve food and crush it into more edible forms, they were able to construct new tools to cook with and also develop languages (which we now speak) and create art and literature (which we now read).

Thanks to these new tools our ancestors came up with even more ways to release all the necessary nutrients, and as such people started living longer and healthier lives. Essentially, we ate our way to becoming the stronger and superior species!

Let’s not forget the fact that back when our ancestors first started cooking their food they would have to bring it back to a central location, and in doing so started strengthening social bonds. So next time you go to Nandos with your friends, just remember, your ancestors were essentially doing the same thing thousands of years ago!

Watch the video below for even more information about why we cook!

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5 Ways To Boost Self Esteem

If you’ve ever felt low before, you’ve probably been on the receiving end of seemingly unhelpful clichés like ‘Peaks and troughs’, ‘Life is a roller-coaster’ or ‘Life is a box of chocolates’.  These clichés are actually pretty spot on. It’s true that, unfortunately, everything can’t be wonderful all the time.

There are all sorts of set backs in life which can bring us down: mean remarks, failing an exam and your phone running out of battery, just when you need it most, to name a few.These kinds of events can result in low self-esteem. We’ve put together a list of ways to remedy this, get your head out of that ‘trough’ and fast track you back towards those positive ‘peaks’…

Don’t take yourself too seriously

Pride can most definitely get the better of a lot of people. A lot of the time this stems from being reliant on external validation as opposed to internal validation. It’s our human nature to care about what other people think of us. However, it’s also important to have the confidence that our flaws can be improved upon and to remember that absolutely everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Next time someone criticises you, try not to take it too personally, they might even be trying to help you by making you aware that you are doing something incorrectly. Whether they are constructive or not, criticisms will make the compliments all the sweeter!

The power of humour

As human beings we are unfortunately pre-disposed to be very irrational when things go ‘wrong’. Small events that take place during the day, like being splashed by an oncoming car or having the wrong sandwiches in your packed lunch (who thinks plum jam and ham go together? Bleurgh!) or forgetting to brush your teeth (ew!) can really dampen a day. However, this is the stuff that fills life with experiences, that you will look back and laugh about. Why not ditch the negativity and cut right to the laughing point?

Down with shame

Research has found that shame can be intensely painful for humans – making us believe that we are unworthy and flawed. In the future unfortunate things may happen to you; you may lose your job or say something embarrassing during a presentation. However, as much as these experiences make you feel rubbish at the time, it’s counter-productive to (metaphorically) kick yourself while you’re down. The best thing you can do is learn from these mistakes, recover and be stronger for next time!

Work out those empathy muscles

The phrase ‘do to others as you would have them do unto you’ really rings true here. Seeing the world from alternative perspectives is an amazing attribute to have and will help you make great relationships with all sorts of people. The ability to socialise, work and get along with people who have led very different lives to you, and may have a different outlook on the world, is incredibly valuable. By having an open mind and being empathetic you will open a lot of doors.

Think about the future

Self-esteem isn’t automatically ingrained in anyone’s personality. It grows over time through confidence, experience and personal achievement. One day your self-esteem may be lacking, another day you may feel full of self-esteem. Things are bound to change every day depending on surrounding factors and altering events. By thinking about the bigger picture, and realising that trivial problems are nothing but tiny specs on the canvas, you will find it easier to enjoy the journey, troughs and all!