Two Guys on Your Head

Each week on Two Guys on Your Head, Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke, explore different aspects of human behavior and the brain.

In conversations hosted by producer Rebecca McInroy, the two renowned psychologists cover everything from the effects of sugar on the brain, to what's happening in our minds while we sleep, and much, much more.

Listen to the Two Guys every Friday at 7:51 a.m., 1:49 and 4:51 p.m. on KUT-FM. You can always dig into the posts below or checkout and subscribe to podcasts via iTunes

We'd love to know what you're curious about!  Email us your topics and suggestions at twoguys@kut.org. And follow Two Guys on Twitter: @2GoYH

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Whether we like it or not, time marches on. And as it does, we age. 

One of the most challenging realities for everyone to face in life is that we are all, inevitably, destined to grow old (if we’re lucky, that is).

Aging correlates to a steady decline of functional abilities, both physical and mental. Memory and cognition peak in our early twenties, and we begin a very slow, steady decline of those functions as we near our senior years.  

After age 80, many bodily functions – including brain function – seem to have reached the average limit of their operation. So what can we do to preserve our brains for as long as possible?

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Merriam-Webster defines delusion as “a belief that is not true; a false idea.” But who’s to decide what is true? 

Being tagged as delusional carries a negative, unpleasant connotation – calling to mind straight jackets, or maybe some scenes from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” But thanks to our powers of perception – and Drs. Bob Duke and Art Markman – you can choose to change your definition of delusion. 

When you get down to it, much of human existence is delusional. We use our imaginations to fill in meaning, value, expectations and definitions around a small sliver of what we can actually observe in our surroundings. Our mental state – essentially our level of happiness or unhappiness – is based on how we choose to define and perceive our circumstances. 

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For many of us, Thanksgiving means spending time with our families, carrying out traditions that we’ve practiced for years.

While it can be very stressful, messy, and challenging to spend time with family members you don’t see very often, it can also be a beautiful time of recentering. 

Traditions serve a psychological function. By repeating the same traditional activity with the same group of people over the years, we construct a chronological record of who we’ve been before – and who we are now. It’s a hidden way of staying in touch with the consistent elements of our identities, and it allows us to track ourselves as we develop and change. 

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‘Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.’

Popular as they are, those words really aren’t as accurate as we would like them to be.

Words are a part of almost every aspect of our lives, and the words we use impact not only those we are speaking to, but the very way we see the world – and even the chemicals released in our brain.

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Even though competing sports teams who consider themselves rivals like to highlight their supposedly apparent differences – in actuality, rivals are more alike than they are different. They share a common goal, for which they are competing.

Rivalries allow us as humans to have a friendly competition. They can be energizing, and allow us to bond with our communities over success or failure. 

Flickr user apdk, bit.ly/Rvw4I8

We may think we’re making conscious decisions about everything we do on a daily basis – but a large portion of things we do during each day, we do without thinking about them.

Take turning on a light, or consuming snacks in front of the TV. These automatic behaviors are great because they allow our brains to consider more complex ideas and thoughts. They’re great, that is, until we are doing things automatically that are harmful to others or ourselves.

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Failure is a scary word that carries a very negative connotation: “I’m a failure.” “He’s a failure.” “I don’t want to be a failure.” 

The word failure arouses emotional responses that we’d usually rather avoid.  What about the word success  The thought of success arouses images of comfort, ease and satisfaction.  Why?  It’s because of something in our brains. 

We’re wired with a dopamine reward system that releases positive or negative chemical affect in our brains depending upon the success or failure of our efforts.  Success feels good, while failure feels bad.  So we tend to seek success and avoid failure. It’s simple.  

But hang on a minute and let the Two Guys on Your Head, Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke, tell you about a function of failure that is too often overlooked and discredited: Failure is a learning tool. 

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So how do we define Locus of Control?  Essentially, it’s our positioning of ourselves within our perception of the world and the way that we perceive our power and influence. We can either feel in control of our lives – which is reassuring – or we can feel subjected to forces outside of our control – which we are then forced to endure. When that happens, we can feel stuck. 

Feeling stuck, with no other options, often leads to prolonged periods of stress. That in turn can depress our health – physically, mentally and emotionally. But since we construct our perceptions of reality, we have the option to shift our locus of power. That way we can then redefine the source of power in any circumstance – taking it when needed, or giving it up when needed. (In some stressful circumstances, having less control over the outcome of a situation can actually be preferred.)

Learning an instrument, especially as adults, provides us with a type of "brain food" that can help to protect our brains against damage. Experiencing music together is also an important part of being human.

We like to be in sync. Experiencing live music with others, whether you're playing an instrument or not, provides a certain synchronized relationship that boosts our feelings of togetherness and enjoyment.

Don Draper from Mad Men may have been unaware of the neuropsychological reasons that he intuitively constructed advertisements the way he did, or he may not have cared, but there are reasons.

Have you ever found yourself in a shopping isle at the grocery store, mindlessly putting products into your cart? Why do you prefer one brand over another?  Why does one item seem to just call out your name? Effective advertising might be the reason.

Do you take pride in your ability to divide your focus and energy into more than one task at a time?  Do you think you’re a good multitasker?  Chances are, you’re probably not.

We need to sleep for a host of reasons, but what exactly is happening in our brains while we’re unconscious? We've only scratched the surface of understanding all that happens during sleep, but we do know that while our bodies are resting, our brains are very busy.

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