Saturday, October 28, 2006

the half life of the autonomic nervous system

We were listening to NPR while doing errands today. There was a program called Radio Lab which is like Nova for the ears. This particular program was about how the mind and body connect and disconnect called, "Where Am I?.

We only listened to the first part (I'm currently downloading the rest of it). There was alot in it discussing the autonomic nervous system. Essentially, how the body knows things really before we consciously know it and that in one sense the brain is reflecting the body's reaction. The heart beats faster, the muscles clench, and the mind thinks hmmm...we should be feeling fear or anger or something. The autonomic nervous system keeps us out of alot of trouble like pulling our hand away from fire faster than we can realize out hand is burning.

Ah, but you may have known that already, afterall it's part of biology class. The part that I hadn't known before and explains a WHOLE HELLUV ALOT, is that although men and women react as quickly, it takes longer for women to calm down from the reaction. One of the radio hosts enacted a fight with his wife. They both get tense and their hearts beat faster as the argument goes. Then the husband starts to calm down and he thinks the fight is over, but the wife's body is still tense and the heart is beating fast and even though consciously she too agrees that the fight is over, her body is still saying, no, you're still angry. So what does her mind do? Bring up something else to argue about. In this case, she starts saying, "you always do this, don't you remember that last time when you did this." and her brain brings up something to still be angry about. And of course, the husband is standing there, like "where did this come from? I thought the fight was over." Women stay angry longer than men, or the more accurate statement is that after an autonomic nervous system reaction, it takes women's bodies longer to return to calm state than men. I'm sure there's an evolutionary explanation for this, but they didn't go over that during the show.

The expert that they were consulting with about this is also married but since they are both scientists they know what their bodies are doing. So whenever they have a fight, he always mentions to his wife, "Honey, don't forget the half life of the autonomic nervous system."

The hubby and I being the science geeks we are, just about peeled with laughter on that remark. And I'm sure the next time we get into it, he'll probably bring it up!

OK, time to listen to the rest fo the show. Fascinating stuff!

1 comment:

Maddy said...

I have just been listening to that same programme [podcast] and had a very similar reaction - although I am not the geek. Seems like its probably a good idea for me to commit this to memory and practice calming breathing at just that point when the row should technically be over.