News (Home) | Righters' Blog | Hollywood Halfwits | Our Store | New User Intro | Link to us | Support Us

RightNation.US: Visiting Family Warps Your Brain, Study Says - RightNation.US

Jump to content

Visiting Family Warps Your Brain, Study Says
Research may even help explain why our relatives can drive us nuts


By Jennifer Viegas
Discovery Channel
updated 1:47 p.m. ET, Mon., Dec. 29, 2008
© 2008 Discovery Channel
© 2009 MSNBC.com


Visiting — or even just viewing photos of family members — prompts brain activity that affects how you feel about them, your friends, and even yourself, a new study suggests.

The study is the first to compare brain activity associated with seeing relatives with that linked to seeing friends and strangers. It suggests our feelings about biological relatives are at least somewhat primal.

The findings may help explain everything from why our family can get on our nerves to why people who look like us can spark immediate feelings of trust, "but not lust," said Steven Platek, who co-authored the study with Shelly Kemp.


The scientists found that relatives and self-lookalikes are processed through a self-referential part of the brain. Friends and strangers who look nothing like the viewer, on the other hand, light up entirely different areas of the brain, those linked to making important and risky decisions with respect to the self.


Since relatives are processed through areas of the brain linked to self-reference, the study could also help to explain why relatives cause us to take things personally. While we may tolerate a friend's loud laughter or snoring, for example, we may have less patience with a relative because we judge them similarly to how we judge ourselves.


It's likely, he explained, that a face we perceive as "friendly" is one that looks more like us. But how we later feel about that person could be tied to how we feel about ourselves, perhaps explaining the prevalence of arguments during family reunions.

The findings are published in the latest issue of the journal Neuropsychologia.

**** * * * *** * * * *** * ** *** * * * ** * * * * * ****

This presentation is “science as entertainment”… the title is sensationalistic (and inaccurate), and the article really doesn’t go into great depth… but it’s enough to start a discussion… or perhaps a commiseration thread. ;)

And before we go much further, if necessary, see also: Exhale: Decompressing From Holiday Family Stress. :tongue2:

For me, the most stressful part of the Christmas holiday is not familial discord… (which is extremely rare, at least when I’m around)… but the process of getting there and back, as well as staying comfortable in “unfamiliar” surroundings. True, the house is our “family estate”: It’s where my Mom grew up, where my grandmother lived as I was growing up, where I lived between the ages of 0-5yo and 16-27yo, and now where my 2 brothers and 2 sisters-in-law are living… but now it’s different from what I’m used to.

It’s a one-family converted to 2 small apartments with my younger brother, who is single, living upstairs; and my older brother, his wife, and her sister living downstairs. Altogether, that house has less livable square footage than my own home. So I’m going from ~2,100-sq-ft for one person, to a smaller residence with (when Mom and I visit) six adults in attendance… not counting the inevitable guests. So one of the reasons that I originally moved out is still sparklingly evident: There’s no privacy!

Indeed, when we were upstairs, Mom was talking to me about her concerns over how the permanent residents were caring for her house, when I interrupted her and suggested that she lower her voice. See, the old house has a forced-hot-air heating system, so there are big air ducts running throughout. Virtually anywhere in the house you can hear conversations from anywhere else in the house, often without even trying. I know this because, when we moved back when I was 16yo, my room was located in the semi-finished basement, with an air duct and register right over my bed.

So sure, there is some familial stress going on, but I manage to remain removed from it. No, actually, I strive to remain removed from it! I’m a pretty good listener and I’m willing to give my opinion when asked, but these are all adults and they should be able to work out their problems together and still get along with one another.

Although I might not always agree with what folks say and do, I’ve learned to shrug off anything that doesn’t directly affect me. That may seem selfish and distant, but I see it as enlightened self-interest, a stress-reduction survival technique.

For example, let’s say the there’s a “discussion” over what kind of curtains to put on the windows. Some folks feel strongly about this, opinions grate, and an altercation ensues. Although I too have opinions about window treatments, I simply decline to interject myself into that. Why? It’s not my house, I don’t live there, and I basically don’t care what kind of curtains they use. I choose my own window treatments for my own house, and that’s that. Work it out, folks… it’s only curtains.

I’ve repeatedly asked Mom to write a will, something she’s reluctant to do… (a little superstition there, I think). It’s just a logical thing to do, keeping the State out of one’s estate, as well directing any assets in accordance with one’s wishes. But I also have a secondary/ulterior motive for suggesting that she do this… I want her to leave that house to anyone but me… and have told her so.

Why? Because I already have my own home, my brothers need the assets much more than I do, and frankly… I don’t want to be a 1/3 partner with them in a property that I don’t need, don’t want, and don’t live in. That would drag me into the (analogous) “discussions” about “curtains”, as well as make me 1/3 responsible for any house-related costs. (C’mon, when the 50+yo furnace finally craps the bed, who’s going to have to finance the replacement?)

Mom may think that shared ownership of the house would be a way to “keep us together” after she’s gone; but from my perspective, it’s a surefire recipe for fraternal discord. I’m not saying that I don’t want to (or wouldn’t) help them if needed… I just don’t want to be unwillingly forced to do by mutual ownership. My somewhat-standoffish-yet-still-approachable methodology has worked wonderfully for many years now, and I want to protect that status… everything’s nicer that way.

By the way, I love my family, and get along famously with them… but not living with them is, I think, the key to the relationship(s).


I think the science behind the article (and the study) is kind of intuitive… we’re not the only species that (apparently instinctively) values family over other social contacts.

Although I didn’t read/couldn’t access the published research, one thing that struck me was that all articles referred to the use of MRI, when the more modern and useful fMRI is the way that most new “brain usage” studies are performed these days. (The difference between MRI and fMRI is like the difference between a photograph and a video.)

I’m not sure if this is just misreporting or if the researchers actually used the less-costly and -efficacious approach. Funding may be an issue.

2 Comments On This Entry

>>By the way, I love my family, and get along famously with them… but not living with them is, I think, the key to the relationship(s).>>

We live about 1500 miles from most of the family...there are times when we wish it was closer, but overall, things are good.

susancnw, on Jan 2 2009, 12:47 PM, said:

>>By the way, I love my family, and get along famously with them… but not living with them is, I think, the key to the relationship(s).>>

We live about 1500 miles from most of the family...there are times when we wish it was closer, but overall, things are good.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder? :2cents:
Page 1 of 1