Mind and brain: connection not only “feels” good, it is good for you

The relationship between the mind and brain is front and center for me these past few months.  Is seems, that wherever I turn, I encounter a lecture, a reading, or a discussion in some form about this.  Most recently, I was at a coaching conference in Boston where one of the goals was to provide concrete evidence on the impact of coaching.  Study after study showed how when people are connected in psyche, they are also connected physiologically.  For instance when therapists are empathetic with their patients and they report that they are feeling emotionally in synch with one another, their MRIs show similar patterns and their galvanic skin measures match.  Communication and connection occur at both the biological and emotional level.  Another study showed that a good bedside manner by doctors has positive impact on medical outcomes.  Yes, our experience of consciousness is not just epiphenomenal to our biological existence; they are linked.

The physiological power of connection also holds true for people and their pets.   Another researcher revealed data that when pet owners are petting their furry friends, then separated, then reunited, their body responses such as heart rate are matched, then disparate, then matched again.  What this says to me is that we humans need and want connection to others (of the animal and people kind).  It’s not just that it feels good on an emotional level; it is good on a biological level too.  I feel validated that labeling Psychology as “soft science” is not accurate – mind and brain really are connected.  And I am reminded over and over again why I can’t help my strong reactions to data – I was born a researcher (see Researching like a pac-man).  I am fascinated with studies that show why connection with others is so powerful.  Simply put, connection is good for our mind and brain.


Researching like a pac-man

I am always surprised to realize that I am more of a researcher than I thought.  As a child I had this aspiration to cure cancer.  Or should I say dream sequence because it was not that I really wanted to cure cancer per se, but rather that I had an image of people in white coats in a laboratory learning and discovering.  I imagined myself with goggles on and test tube in hand with boundless inquisitiveness.  I was able to articulate over the years that I enjoyed research and learning, obvious in my career choices.  But I suspect that I fell into my area of research and would have been as just as satisfied if I had fallen into another area of research.  Though I am not one to have regrets in life.

As is true with so much in life, things unfold without you necessarily consciously moving in a particular direction.  Yes, we make decisions by not making decisions, but the choice to become a media researcher was very in the moment and not a long-contemplated path.  That is not to say that I do not love media and most certainly I have enjoyed all that I have learned about media and human behavior.  But I have found that at this point, perhaps because I have gathered expertise in the field that it is not enough for me and I crave new things to explore.  It is not that I want to stop being a researcher, but rather that I want to be a researcher of a different kind.  I am grateful that my route into media allowed me to be a research psychologist in the business world.  I learned so much about the human condition and organizations in corporate America.

I research my way through life as easily as I breathe, asking questions of people and wanting to know as much about a person as I possibly can.  It is the psychologist in me, the storyteller in me, the researcher in me that wants to learn by hearing about other people’s lives.  I am a researcher gathering knowledge like a pac-man nibbles away at anything in its path.  My work has redirected to a path that includes understanding human behavior through coaching and celebrating life’s transitions through ceremony.  I can continue to be the researcher I naturally am, but with renewed energy.