This is a paper I’ve linked before, and for good reason. It’s refreshing to see what the fields of nutrition and obesity research are actually doing, as contrasted with the caricatures and kooky pseudoscience passed around the internet (i.e. “starvation mode”). It’s also a neat illustration of how biology and environment interact to regulate body weight, which is a factor often left out of the deterministic causal-chains-of-biomolecules thought process.
In a larger scope, it also illustrates why we should be very careful of saying that any given thing “causes” or “explains” any particular outcome in a tightly-knit network such as regulation of body weight. Neat and tidy stories about molecules appeal to human brains but don’t always reflect the reality in any meaningful way.
Years ago in one of my criminology classes, the professor introduced us to various theories on social deviance. Criminologists want to know what makes people act up and steal, or rob you in the street for crack, or stab their neighbors in the face. That’s social deviance. Lots of theories have come and gone over the years, thanks to the mysterious wiles and real difficulties of doing quality sociological research.
Lots of ideas came out of the literature, ideas on social strife, class struggle, even plain old boredom. One of these in particular stuck with me over the years, thanks to my budding interest in cognitive neuroscience. The theory goes that some people are natural stimulus-seekers. For whatever reason, this group lacks something in their brains, or they have some dysfunction that leaves them feeling under-stimulated, and this leaves them with an itch. These people are always in search of a fix, always looking for the next hit of neurochemical reward, and as a consequence they’re more likely to go out and get mixed up in naughty things like drugs, sex, and, you guessed it, crime.
At the time, I didn’t think much of the idea. Not because I don’t agree with it, but I didn’t have nearly the interest in behavioral psychology and neuroscience back then. With my current investigations into the neurological factors behind exercise performance, the concept of the stimulus-seeker brain-type stands out. To understand why, we need to look at how neurological activity creates behavior.
I recently finished Jonathan Haidt’s book The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. I found it a brilliant read, but I didn’t wind up doing a full review on it because I didn’t have a clear way to relate it to exercise or performance. As you could imagine from the title, the book examines the concept of happiness–where does it arise in the brain, what causes it, and what are the circumstances that maximize that feeling of ambiguous bliss? An interesting topic, but there was no direct application to exercise, minus the vague connection to neuropsychology.