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Scientists Boost the "Will To Persevere" With Current To the Brain 127

Posted by samzenpus
from the volts-or-forget-about-it dept.
schliz writes "Stanford scientists say they could help boost people's motivation to overcome difficulties by electrically stimulating the anterior midcingulate cortex in the brain. The study involved two patients, who described the 'will to persevere' beautifully. One said it was like driving into a storm front and knowing that he had to get through. From the article: 'Stanford University neuroscientists passed a small current through an area in the part of the brain that deals with error detection, anticipation of tasks, attention, motivation, and emotional responses. Both patients involved in the study had epilepsy, and already had electrodes implanted in their brains to help doctors learn about the source of their seizures."
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Scientists Boost the "Will To Persevere" With Current To the Brain

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  • by themushroom (197365) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @08:30PM (#45614571) Homepage

    a) I recall there being experiments in the 1980s where rodent brains were wired to where the mouse would press a bar to get a jolt to its pleasure center, and it would procede to bang that bar until it passed out.
    b) The news and hospitals are filled with people who have already proven that psychoactive drugs such as PCP and angel dust, and of late methamphetamins, will have a "will to perservere" at whatever they're doing (be it tweaking with the heat sinks on a stereo or trying to release demons from one's brain with a hand drill and a piece of metal coat hanger) that lasts for days or until incidental death, whichever comes first.

    • by muhula (621678) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @09:36PM (#45614969)
      Except that will to persevere and pleasure are two distinctly different things.
      • by fractoid (1076465)
        And your response to point b)?
      • by nospam007 (722110) *

        "Except that will to persevere and pleasure are two distinctly different things."

        Also, if it is just an electrical current, is it still a 'will'?

      • As someone who studies organic and artificial neural networks -- Prove it. "Persevere" is such a complex emergent behaviour that there's not really one brain region responsible for it. For instance: When you're just about to have an orgasm, try to stop. It's difficult. There's a "will to persevere" during high pleasure activities, specifically at climax.

        Adding energy to a system adds energy to a system...

    • by khallow (566160)
      I strongly disagree. Addictions and habit-forming behaviors are easy to get into. The "will to persevere" is the ability to continue to do some hard or painful task in the face of easier and less painful alternatives.

      be it tweaking with the heat sinks on a stereo or trying to release demons from one's brain with a hand drill and a piece of metal coat hanger

      Don't confuse an act of desperation and confusion with an act of will.

    • by blueup (225926)

      ... psychoactive drugs ... trying to release demons from one's brain with a hand drill and a piece of metal coat hanger...

      (citation needed)
      I have heard a similar story before, but haven't been able to find any useful reference, and have presumed it to be an urban legend. (snopes doesn't have this particular one, as far as i can tell)

      As a parent, and occasional teacher of other children, though, more evidence on a subject such as this would be useful, if you have any.
      thanks-

  • Movie idea (Score:5, Funny)

    by Ukab the Great (87152) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @08:38PM (#45614627)

    You could make a film about a pile of dead body parts assembled into the form of a man being shocked by lightning and being given the will to live. You could even add some wanton violence and philosophical questions of existence to make the story interesting.

    • I have mod points but I already posted so I can merely suggest this get my proxy +1.

    • robocop was somewhat like that with more the body fully intact and no lightning.

      • This is the trolling style I prefer. Well done, sire.

    • by CTachyon (412849)

      You could make a film about a pile of dead body parts assembled into the form of a man being shocked by lightning and being given the will to live. You could even add some wanton violence and philosophical questions of existence to make the story interesting.

      You mean Frank Henenlotter's 1990 masterpiece, Frankenhooker [imdb.com] , of which Bill Murray said (and I quote [wikipedia.org]) "if you see one movie this year, it should be Frankenhooker"?

    • by Guy Harris (3803)

      You could make a film about a pile of dead body parts assembled into the form of a man being shocked by lightning and being given the will to live. You could even add some wanton violence and philosophical questions of existence to make the story interesting.

      And don't forget the enormous schwanzstucker [imdb.com].

  • by ebno-10db (1459097) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @08:49PM (#45614679)

    If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use being a damn fool about it.

    -- W.C. Fields

    With that in mind, is it a good idea to get people to continue to engage in futile endeavors? Who says quitting is always a bad thing.

    P.S. I started to write this as a joke, but now I'm not so sure. For all we glorify perseverance, sometimes it's idiotic.

    • I started to write this as a joke, but now I'm not so sure. For all we glorify perseverance, sometimes it's idiotic.

      I just think of the old phrase, "why does man climb a mountain? because it's there"... really, is that a valid reason?
      Granted, I spent most of a day getting a WiFi card to work with Linux on a circa-2000 notebook and will likely erase the hard drive in the near future. It's the challenge or the adventure or... well, ego, okay?... even if there's really no point in an endeavor. The more dang

      • by jbmartin6 (1232050) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @09:12PM (#45614797)
        I like your point. I remember once reading about a guy trapped high up on some huge mountain somewhere, maybe Everest, about to die in a storm. One of his last acts was speaking via radio to his wife, who had just had a baby. And I thought, what the hell are you doing on that mountain with a wife and newborn at home?
        • That was Rob Hall [wikipedia.org]. And the reason why was obvious: because he valued his "adventure" lifestyle more than he valued his family. Not so shocking these days, eh?
    • by wbr1 (2538558)
      Winners never quit, quitters never win. Those who never quit -and- never win are idiots.
    • by Kjella (173770) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @11:27PM (#45615611) Homepage

      With that in mind, is it a good idea to get people to continue to engage in futile endeavors? Who says quitting is always a bad thing.

      I like this one [despair.com]:

      Quitters never win, winners never quit, but those who never win and never quit are idiots.

      Persistence is good if it gets you anywhere, but if you're just obsessing over things you can't do, can't change, can't make work, can't achieve then give up and move on. Particularly I hate people who can't ever accept that the team, the project or someone in authority has made a decision they disagree with and continue to reopen the issue, dredge up old discussions and undermine the decision. I've had one extreme case where a person on the project team was trash talking it to the rest of the company during the official presentation, essentially saying this is what we're delivering and it's crap and not what I wanted or how I'd design it.

      My impression is that overall people have too much persistence and can't stop flogging the dead horse, if things are that bad or that hopeless stop trying to make it work and get out. If your boss is a total ass hat, find another job don't try to fix it. If your girlfriend is a total fruitcake don't try to reason with crazy. If nobody wants to buy what you're selling, you're probably wrong about what they wanted in the first place. Move on, try again. Except the exceptions of course, where banging your head on the same brick wall many enough times will lead to it cracking. But I wouldn't waste my head on that.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    [ ] Initial this box to consent to a motivational brain implant. Failure to initial this box will negatively affect your potential employment.

    • That was my first thought, another thing that will be practically required to compete on the job market, oh yay...just wait until those sleep substitute pills hit the shelves.

  • Motivation (Score:4, Funny)

    by SJHillman (1966756) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @09:05PM (#45614759)

    You zap me, and sure, I'll be motivated to do whatever the hell you're zapping me to make me do.

    • Problem is that my only motivation is to stop you from zapping. That can be accomplished temporarily by doing your bidding or permanently by killing you.

      • by mjwx (966435)

        Problem is that my only motivation is to stop you from zapping. That can be accomplished temporarily by doing your bidding or permanently by killing you.

        You would think that, but the zappers on a deadmans switch.

        Now my unwitting minion, about these tasks I have for you.

  • Dealing with depression, medication, associated side effects and low energy levels, I need some 'push through it'. Where do I sign up? Will it interfere with my brains internet plug, due to be installed in the 2020's?

    • by jd (1658)

      Why would you want to connect your brain to the Internet? Far too great a risk of an NSA virus.

      What you want to do is place your brain in a networked, Earthquake-proof, fire-proof enclosure, with an Infiniband connection to a Linux server. This would then be linked, via an OpenBSD firewall, to the Internet and also to some sort of ROV that can act as a relay between brain and body.

      Meanwhile, your skull would contain an embedded computer, a massive multiplexer/demultiplexer to link up the nervous system and

      • by kermidge (2221646)

        jd, you rascal. Some neat engineering there.

        The augmented remote brain - some interesting choices to be had. I wonder to what extent use of one or more expanded senses might have on psyche. One way to find out....

        I've been thinking of the dis-embodied consciousness bit on and off for a while, having first met it in some sci-fi from maybe forty years ago. Lately there's been Dmitry Itskov and his 2045 Initiative. On one hand, I'm fascinated, on another, a bit chilled. Yet, the thought that as we get ol

        • by jd (1658)

          Thank you! There are indeed lots of choices, which makes things interesting. How to balance/optimize the internal and external brain fragments could be an interesting problem and may even be the basis of another generation of culture wars.

          Once the consciousness is externalized, then so long as the API and real-time constraints are consistent, you could have multiple physical bodies. You want to go for a drive? Be the person, then become the car. Eliminates any need for mechanical controls (unreliable) and t

          • by kermidge (2221646)

            And you're entirely welcome; the pleasure was mine.

            "However, to say my writing varies is like saying gravity isn't uniform." Got the first good laugh of the day, thank you. No worries, you manage fine.

            There seem to be two possibly diverging paths - one to cyber (mind in constructs), one to nano-stuff in a physical organic body. I can see uses for both, and possibilities for mixed-mode as well. Sci-fi has done both, and I like the story-telling along with the mind-stretch.

    • Burn you brighter, live you shorter. I do not recommend over clocking your organic brains. Consider a hardware upgrade instead.

  • Impossible! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @09:07PM (#45614769) Journal
    Everyone knows that 'willpower' is an intangible substance that some people possess more of, because they are better, and other people lack, because they are bad. I don't want to hear any more of this materialist nonsense. The rest of the universe may be causal; but human behavior isn't, because something!
    • Nice. But I'll really believe you when you say something unpopular, like that intelligence is strongly heritable and all the consequences of that, for example.

      Not that I'm a materialist, in the end ... sure, a love letter "is" just paper and ink, but that's the least interesting thing about it.

    • If you think human behavior is not intangibly arcane, you haven't frequented enough women. Given that this is slashdot, there is no need for further elaboration.

      Scientists can zap synapses to make this intangibly arcane stuff more or less variated, so what?

  • through electricity! Eventually we will all have brain implants to jolt us out of unproductive or rebellious mental states. Software by Microsoft.
    • by jd (1658)

      Microsoft don't write any SCADA control applications, do they?

    • So the family of the terminally ill patient could in theory not only force feed the patient, they could also zap his brain to give him the "will to persevere"? Sign me up for hospice right now; I'm calling my lawyer to amend my living will and medical directives to keep that particular treat far away from me.
  • "Endeavor to persevere".

  • That's so wonderful, is there anything else we can do to enhance incoherent thought process?
  • by Camembert (2891457) on Thursday December 05, 2013 @10:44PM (#45615347)
    While scientifically interesting, I can imagine a dystopian future where employers mandate their works to wear special "brain helmets" so that they are fully focused on the task at hand...
    • by jd (1658)

      Been there, done that. Beanies are completely ineffective at helping concentration. Yours or anyone else's.

    • by wren337 (182018)
      Or, more likely, soldiers. Imagine all of your troops experiencing this at once just before battle.

      Current to the anterior midcingulate cortex gave both patients an increased heart rate, physical sensation in the chest or neck, and “anticipation of challenge coupled with strong motivation to overcome it”

    • by hawkfish (8978)

      While scientifically interesting, I can imagine a dystopian future where employers mandate their works to wear special "brain helmets" so that they are fully focused on the task at hand...

      Sounds like one of the creepiest books I have ever read: Vernor Vinge, A Deepness in the Sky [wikipedia.org] .

  • I stuck my finger in an electric outlet once, and my will to persevere in sticking my finger in there was reduced, not boosted.
    • by jd (1658)

      It was an incompatible finger protocol. You have to upgrade your hand and try again.

    • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

      I stuck my finger in an electric outlet once, and my will to persevere in sticking my finger in there was reduced, not boosted.

      You must have really, really small fingers.

  • "Stanford scientists say they could help boost people's motivation to overcome difficulties by electrically stimulating the anterior midcingulate cortex in the brain.

    You want motivation? I knew a guy who took two hits of crystal meth and a pint of schapps and was able to overcome a solid wall with his forehead.

    It probably didn't do much for his anterior midcingulate cortex, though.

  • So in the future my "Will To Persevere" could potentially dwarf my "Will To Say 'Fuck it' and Get a Beer"? I find that hard to believe...
  • Staff not performing to capacity? Burn them out (literally) with our new patented high-current implants!
  • How long till we get something like the Happy Helmet [liveleak.com]? (Albeit for perseverance, not happy happy joy joy.)
  • by Anonymous Coward

    This submission is electrifying the human spirit!

  • Alcohol-fueled courage is best courage.

  • I need a brain to do this. :(

  • From the article, we have two individuals with obviously abnormal brain function (uncontrolled seizures) that when an electrical charge is introduced in a specific area, it causes them to increase their perseverance (which is somewhat subjective in its measure). Extrapolating those results to a normally functioning brain seems somewhat of a leap. While the research is interesting, it doesn't really prove anything because of the extremely small sample sized, no control group and abnormal brain function to

  • ...otherwise known as "anecdotal reports", not science.

    Especially when the "result" being reported is a subjective experience described verbally by the two subjects to researchers looking for the result. What could go wrong?

    rgb

  • "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results." - widely attributed to Albert Einstein.

    When does persistence become insanity?

  • We have three states as defined in Indian ancient texts. Shristi: creative state Shithi: preserving state Samharam: destructive state In order to live "well" a proper balance is required. Practice of Yoga (along with breathing techniques and meditations) helps one to maintain the balance. Glad to see scientists getting closer to these areas. Hope this will not lead to artificially adjusted, terribly imbalanced anti-social agents.

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