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Biology 202
2000 First Web Report
On Serendip

Just Think Positively

Cameron Braswell

A woman battles cancer and pulls herself into remission, a young man in a serious accident, who's chances do not look good, pulls through "miraculously," and a teenager, who has struggled with anxiety disorder, is able to face the world again. These cases have a special mental capability in common, the so-called "power of positive thinking." The academic definition labels positive thinking as "the process of creating thoughts that focus energy (often healing) into reality"(7). Each person possesses the ability to focus this energy and to pull through any harsh or debilitating situation. By starting actions in the brain that effect the entire body constant reaction to positive stimulus will provide immediate or lasting results, "a miracle." Some people call it hope, some couple this thinking with prayer, some call it faith, strength, or even relate the power to some psychic connection, but all these are the "environmental" words related to the awesome power that the brain has over behavior of both mind and spirit (7). I personally believe in faith and prayer, but those can function in conjunction with the chemical power the brain has to control the state of one's existence. From reading several articles and using some second hand personal experience, the belief of the healing power of positive thinking is just another extension of the brain=behavior concept.

Speaking on a general level, the argument of the effects of optimism versus pessimism outlines how a generally positive attitude (output behavior >from the brain) is healthier than a pessimistic output. "Optimists are more likely to overcome pain and adversity in their efforts to improve their medical treatment outcomes. For example, optimistic coronary bypass patients generally recover more quickly and have fewer postoperative complications than people who are less hopeful" (6). On the other hand, pessimistic attitudes impede healing and suppress the full capabilities of the immune system on recovering from trauma of any kind. "One long-term study showed that people who were pessimistic in college had significantly higher rates of illness through age 60"(6). Pessimism, the negative output of the brain, manifests into a negative physical response just as optimism is a product of the brain in behavior that promotes health.

Holistic approaches to health have been tapping into the brain's control over every cell for centuries in a way that supports the brain=behavior line of thinking, external behavior controlled by the brain influencing internal behavior. The common name for such a tapped resource is called imaging or visualization, and is most helpful in cancer patients. More and more studies, such as the work going on at the Mind Science Foundation in San Antonio, Texas, (4) are proving that using such a technique, in conjunction with other treatments, works by "boosting the body's natural immunity and actually increasing the activity of natural killer (NK) cells, which then attack tumors" (5). Studies are proving people can actually send hormones or chemicals to respond to the problem area by just "thinking them up," signaling the nervous system and the organs/immune system in the body necessary to the defense to either respond or work harder. Of course, in most cases, medical course of action on the disease is necessary to truly fight off the cancer or illness, a healthy dose of positive imagery directed to output in a system response has been proven on numerous studies to aid in the healing process (5). This is the most often heard of use of positive thinking and the one that I have had second hand experience with, a friend of mine battling cancer and winning for longer than expected. A prolonged and better quality life is actually possible if you will it enough to force the brain to be stimulated with the thought and begin the necessary action potentials that send the messages to the immune and endocrine system. By the autonomic capabilities of the brain it does not take much conscious effort to produce the desired healing output, it is an unconscious process.

Where is the hard proof that there is some connection between the brain and the response of the body? There are studies that demonstrate the brain's power in this manner and known chemicals that make up a "positive" response once sent from the brain. One field that this work falls under today is known as psychoneuroimmunology, or the using state of mind (meaning brain influenced or environmentally influenced) to influence a body's immune system (4). Once the action potential has been reached, a synapse is sent out from the parts of the brain that control hormones that can trigger an immune response to an inner trauma or disease. Harnessing the power to start and stop such potentials can be attained with mental imaging of specifying positive thoughts, or induced by the known placebo effect. It has been found in numerous studies that placebos give substantial relief to diabetics, peptic ulcer, rheumatoid arthritis, Parkinson's, radiation sickness, and other serious health problems (3). The patients all were "convinced" through personal or third party suggestion that the "drugs" they were taking were what was causing relief when in actuality the "cures and symptom alleviation are triggered by the patient's own mind"(3). The placebo effect is a providing of an outside comfort that triggers the brain of the patient to think that something is being done for their problem. Usually in the form of a drug, the placebo is thought to make the problem better when actually such patients' brain just needed the suggestion to stimulate self healing. Yet another case of mere mental suggestion in control of producing a widespread effect. It is interesting to note that in a way taking some herbs like Echinacea, Goldenseal, or St. John's Wort have a placebo effect too. Many people, including me, believe that Echinacea will ward off sickness and help one get better when taking it, when it is the person's mind controlling the increased immune response rather than the herb that promises the same thing. Brain=behavior increasingly has more supporting evidence when one thinks of all the differing varieties of "placebos" there are that cover for aspects of the healing power of the brain under such suggestions.

A proven chemical response to the use of positive thought in conjunction with a placebo can be measured in the amount of endorphins present, the body's natural painkillers. A person suffering from inner trauma or pain can use a placebo to release the endorphin neurotransmitters and alleviate the pain (8). It has been proven that stress and depression as well as physical pain can be relieved by this endorphin release during times of need. How are these endorphin's accessed another way? The best way, and the way I prefer, is through laughter. What better way to project a positive attitude in just seconds then an outburst of laughter? By triggering this one positive behavioral response to a given problem a lasting array of health benefits, including stress and pain relief, ensue (2).

In looking at the scientific and nonscientific studies that have been and continue to be conducted there is quite a lot of evidence supporting the link between thoughts prompted in the brain and the positive connection in the body. Many would say that it is the use of the mind to will such positive health effects as pain relief, or reduction of cancer. And whereas I am not entirely convinced that the entire "mind" lives in the brain, a large portion is located there and most importantly the control center, without which no effects could occur. The brain is indeed in control of behavior, whether negative or positive, and most importantly the behavior of the body in response. The positive thinking method does support this hypothesis because of the evident immediate effects of either "thinking" positively (reduced blood pressure, stress, and increased blood flow) or negatively (less immune response, more effects from stress, fatigue, and increased blood pressure). Call the effect what you wish, but there is no denying the brain is behind the state of the body and we as people through our brains have control over that state. In summation, "You are what you think. You feel what you want" (1).

WWW Sources

1) 2 The Power of Positive Thinking

2)Laugh. A Lot.

3)Psychic Healing - Mind at Large

4)Biological Psychokinesis

5)Imaging Techniques and Self-Healing

6) Health Wise

7) What is Positive Thinking?

8)Psychology,5th ed. Henry Gleitman, 1999, Page 98


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