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Mindfulness and Addictive Behavior


Dr. Judson Brewer




Dr. Judson Brewer in a thought-provoking discussion on addiction and mindfulness. Examine the similarities between addictive behaviors and ancient psychological concepts, and the challenges of breaking free from addictive cycles. Discover how mindfulness can play a pivotal role in understanding and addressing addictive behaviors in today's digital age


We have three esteemed neuroscientists here with us. Let's begin with Dr. Justin Brewer from the Center for Mindfulness at UMass Medical. Welcome, Dr. Brewer. It's a pleasure to have you here. Let's dive right into it. The scope of the issue at hand is vast. My lab focuses on addiction research, specifically the areas of smoking and behavioral overeating. In the United States, these two addictions alone contribute to nearly half of healthcare costs. It's not like curing cancer with blood pressure medications, and solving behavioral addictions isn't as simple as holding hands and singing Kumbaya. What we're striving to understand is the core of the issue – the mechanisms behind behavioral addictions – and how mindfulness practices can aid in treating them. So, let's take this journey together. I thought we could start by exploring why Facebook can be likened to crack cocaine, then delve into the realm of McDonald's, move on to how Lolo Jones might have secured the gold medal, and finally, explore the potential for us all to attain a state of mindfulness and even quit smoking. I know it's a lot to cover, but let's see what we can accomplish. 

Let's begin with Facebook's addictive nature. How does it make you feel? Neuroscientists at Harvard conducted a study where participants were given the choice between self-disclosure and earning money while their brains were scanned. The result? People chose to talk about themselves. Interestingly, discussing oneself activates the reward centers in the brain. The area highlighted by the arrow is the nucleus accumbens, the very same region that's activated during crack cocaine use. Another study found that the extent to which the nucleus accumbens is activated during self-disclosure can predict the amount of time individuals spend on Facebook.

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