Neuroscience of despotism

Last month, there was a suspected coup to overthrow Zimbabwe’s President Robert  Mugabe, who has held a powerful, poverty-spurning grip on the country since the 1980s.  But can neuroscience shed light on the brain processes of despotism, and how we might avoid it in future?

By Dr Samantha J. Brooks Ph.D.

The 19th Century American writer and poet Thomas Bailey Aldrich once famously said, ‘The possession of unlimited power will make a despot of almost any man.  There is a possible Nero in the gentlest human creature that walks.’ Nero was the last Roman emperor of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. Adopted by his great-uncle Claudius, Nero became a leader with lavish, extravagant tastes, ending his life by committing suicide when he found that he had been condemned to death as public enemy number one. We should take heed of his story, because with unlimited access to power and influence, it can be easy to let go of the reins of sensible thinking and behaviour, in favour of dangerously pandering to one’s desires at the expense of others.  Giving up control in light of self-indulgence is a common human condition that can lead us down a perilous road. But neuroscience can help us to understand the basis of the desire for power, and how to curb despotism, for individual benefit and for society at large.

Despotism is a form of government that exerts absolute power, often at the expense of its people.  This is often achieved by an individual – and a group of loyal followers – who use charm and the suggestion of influence to promote the enjoyment of both indulgence and wielding of control of others. Despotic personality characteristics are reflected in brain activity often housed in a hot-head (in other words, a person prone to arousal and anxiety, especially if not getting their own way, like a child). A despot derives pleasure, but also a stubborn sense of safety and reduction of anxiety, from hoarding the spoils, at the same time as gaining pleasure from denying the same benefits to others, who are regarded as ‘lesser mortals’. It is when common personality traits are left unchecked in our minds, or if they are unchallenged by others, that they can become personality disorders and habits that are difficult to break.

Traditionally in psychology textbooks, personality traits are grouped into “The Big Five”, namely neuroticism, extroversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness.  Taking one step further in neuroscience, we tend to refer to the current version of the formal psychiatric guidelines – known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual version 5 – for categorising personality disorders into 4 clusters, that have origins in brain dysfunction. Cluster A represent odd traits, including paranoia (worried about persecution) and schizophrenia (delusional ideas about reality).  Cluster B are dramatic traits reflecting anti-social behaviour (starting of wars, arms deals, illegal drugs trade, human trafficking) and narcissism (extreme self-absorption and expecting idolatry from others). Cluster C are anxious traits such as avoidant (reclusive leaders who do not address their people’s concerns), dependent (leaders who rely on criminal organisations) and obsessive-compulsive (habits that continue over years). The final cluster is less well defined, but includes haltlose (charming pleasure-seekers with future goals that are vague) and psychopathic personality disorders (not seeming to care about the suffering of others).  It is easy to align the despots we hear about today with many of these traits!

So, what then, are the brain patterns that might contribute to the development and maintenance of despotic individuals who were once virtuous?  Most folk who become tyrannical (it is a matter for debate whether tyrants are born or made!) adhere to the acronym AGE – arrogant, greedy and egotistical – and these are traits that can easily be mapped in the brain.  Arrogance - having an inflated sense of self-importance, especially over others – likely involves activation of the medial prefrontal cortex and reduced activation in the error-detection network involving the anterior cingulate cortex (despots rarely feel that their behaviour is wrong!).  Greed is easier to spot in the brain, and relates to excessive activation of the wanting and liking area of the reward centre, known as the nucleus accumbens – and this likely gives a despot a strong sense of entitlement, and the want for more!  Finally, egoism is a term originating from Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory – referring to a sense of being self-absorbed (“navel gazing”) with a lack of empathy for others. Modern neuropsychoanalysis – a combination of Freudian theory and neuroscience -  has been able to map self-absorption to prefrontal cortex networks too.  For example, the psychopathic personality traits often found in despotic leaders have at their root self-interest, impulsivity, an absence of guilt and superficial charm, which relates to a clear pattern of reduced executive control network in regions of the prefrontal cortex that regulate behaviour and emotions.  Combined with this, psychopaths and despots also have increased reward activation in the striatum area of the mid-brain due to the prefrontal cortex not being able to control it properly, which allows for risk-taking, impulsivity and a disregard for the feelings of others.

With all this information about the brain processes of despots in mind, how can we avoid it in ourselves and others in future?  And since we always seem to have despots in our midst – remember back to Nero – do these personality traits perhaps even have some beneficial value for the survival of humankind?  While it could be that many despots begin with good intentions - to be strong, world-changing leaders who rally people together - more severe personality traits such as paranoia, fear and arrogance may be allowed to develop if power and influence is left unchecked, and even inflated by loyal followers who would like a taste of power for themselves. But in South Africa, the sovereign, democratic constitution is founded on the values of human dignity, achievement of equality, advancement of human rights and freedoms, non-racialism and non-sexism, and supremacy of the rule of law. And this means that despotism, no matter how good the intentions of its leaders are at the start, will not be allowed to run amok for long.








Dr Samantha Brooks is a neuroscientist at the UCT Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health, specialising in the neural correlates of impulse control from eating disorders to addiction.  For more information on neuroscience at UCT and to contact Samantha, see www.drsamanthabrooks.com.

Click to read all previous articles by Dr Samantha J. Brooks Ph.D. 


Norgarbs Guide to Firewood



In South Africa, we do fires like it’s no bodies business! And I don’t mean the ones that sweep through the Cape once a year, I mean good old braai’s/ indoor fires/ bonfires/ fire pits/ you name it. There is an art to fire making and not all wood is made the same; but how to know which is which? Here we’ve put together a simple guide on the best firewood and where to get it, so that you never get caught in the cold in Winter and or without the braai master title in Summer.

Sekelbos
This native tree gives an extremely popular, dry and hardy wood that burns long and gives off an intense heat. Great for both the fireplace and the braai, creating very little smoke but with the natural oils enhancing the flavours of the meat.

Blue Gum


Not an indigenous tree but found in abundance nonetheless, this wood burns hot but also burns far quicker than most. Due to the resin, this wood is often a little wet. Great for pizza ovens as it generally produces less ash than other varietals.
*Eco friendly

Black Wattle
Another alien tree, this wood is easy to light, burns extremely long and offers the perfect coal. When used for cooking, it gives a lovely, smoky flavour to the meat. Also great for indoors due to the long burning quality, it does however tend to “spit” and crackle so avoid using near flammable materials.
*Eco friendly

Rooikrans
Popular in the Western Cape, mature Rooikrans offers dry, dead wood and flammable seed pods which are great for both braai and fireplace use.
*eco friendly

Kameeldoring


Another native, this tree provides extremely dry, heavy wood which burns long, at a very high temperature, and creates almost no smoke.

Mopani
Also indigenous to South Africa, this tree stands alongside the Sekelbos as the king of braai wood. The wood is dry and hardy, creating very hot, long burning coals in very little time. Mopani is however hard to light, making it a little more difficult to get the fire started off. A bonus is that it is termite resistant and as such is ideal for storing outside.

Pine
A very quick burning wood, it’s not ideal for a long-burning fire but is great for use as kindling to get the fire started. Pine cones are however great to use in the fireplace as they give off a wonderful, earthy scent when burned.

When choosing wood, rather opt for alien trees. These drink a lot of water and with the current drought in the Cape, it is a much wiser and eco-friendly option.




Buy the best wood here:
Firewood 4 Africa
Cape Storm Fire and Braai Wood Suppliers

Andre Ter Moshuizen: 082 602 1367   |   andre@norgarb.co.za  |  www.norgarbproperties.co.za

Some home truths about home pricing

Oddly enough, the last thing most home sellers want to think about when their property is not attracting offers is price – even though they themselves may be extremely value conscious when looking at homes to buy.

This is clearly evident, says Shaun Rademeyer, CEO of BetterLife Home Loans, SA’s biggest bond originator, in the latest statistics from First National Bank which show that 88% of sellers have to drop their asking price in order to achieve a sale.

“And the average drop is around 7%, which means that the majority of sellers are undoubtedly out of step with what buyers are actually willing or able to pay.”

He says sellers often argue that prospective buyers can always make lower offers if they don’t like the price - but the fact is that serious buyers will usually not make any offer at all on a home they consider to be overpriced, especially if the market favours buyers as it does at the moment and there are many alternatives for them to choose from.

“A few may shy away from making a lower offer because they don’t want to offend the seller, but most will just walk away from the prospect of a lengthy and stressful negotiation, even if they like the look of the property.”

Sellers also often say that if a buyer loves their home enough, he or she will happily pay a premium for it. “But the fact is that very few buyers, if any, are ever willing to pay more than a fair market price – and buyers usually know market value better than sellers,” says Rademeyer.

“The reason is that while sellers may look at a few homes before listing theirs for sale, buyers have frequently looked at dozens of possibilities over a few weeks or months by the time they decide to make an offer - and in the process acquired a finely tuned idea of value as well as a sense of which way the market is tending.”

Meanwhile, he says, sellers who over-price are also sending a message to estate agents that they are unrealistic and will probably be difficult to deal with. The best agents will thus not be keen to have their mandate or to show their homes, because they don’t want to risk their own credibility or sales record.

“The overall result will be a property that attracts no interest - and the only antidote for that is to reduce the asking price as soon as possible and to enlist the help of a qualified and experienced agent to reboot the marketing effort. Those who do not do this and stubbornly decide to stick to their price will, inevitably, end up with an unsold property that is ‘stale’ – or about as attractive to buyers as last week’s bread.”

Contact us today and let’s get you into that dream home.

Anne-Marie Bamber
Home Loans consultant
Tel: +27 (0)21 851 3568 | Fax: +27 (0)21 441 1494 | Cell: +27 (0)82 071 1665
E-mail: anne-marie.bamber@betterlife.co.za



Take the headache out of Fica'ing your docs


I tried to open a bank account, a client went to SARS to Verify herself and her docs, a client tried to change the directors of their company with CIPC. Oh! What a headache, a lot of time wasting, a lot of standing in queues .....

Keep a file with your documents that you know you are going to have to FICA. Ensure the following are in order;

1. Your name on all documents agree, tie up to your identification documents. Do a spell check and a spacing check. Yes, a space check. How many time does your name get spelt wrong. 

I went to the bank to open a new account, at a different bank. I used the normal docs to fica, City of Cape Town Invoice, ID and Bank statements. Well I couldn't use my City of Cape Town bill it wasn't valid. My Surname didn't have a space in it, e.g Mac Pherson / MacPherson. I have used these documents to Fica myself at my old bank. Makes you wonder?

2. Ensure the spelling of your address is correct. The correct number of double letters, whether it is an Avenue or a street. e.g Son Street (you know your son or die son not the sun)
Make sure it is correct on your bank statement. Otherwise, after standing in queues at SARS for hours, you will be sent home to get it corrected.

3. If you are registering with CIPC for a company. Ensure sure you submit the correct spelling of the company name. e.g Through the Grape Vine or Through the Grapevine.

4. When changing directors at CIPC, you need a letter of resolution, and you need to complete CK2 docs to amend. Make sure the ID matches, to the names on the letter of resolution and the CK2 docs. You know us girls get married, and we change surnames. So, make sure everything matches, it cuts down on time - something that would take a day to change now takes weeks.

What a headache!

A list of documents you should always have on hand. For verification / FICA purposes is available at www.thebookkeepingcompany.co.za/business-tools.

Healthy Festive Feasting

The festive season is upon us and with it comes the challenge of maintaining your healthy lifestyle! This is generally a time of lots of eating opportunities with delicious meals, desserts and drinks and a time of decreased exercise.  So how can you make better holiday food choices this year?

As you may already have discovered in your journey of a healthier lifestyle, being prepared is one of the most important aspects to make sure you stay on track.  If you know what the challenges of your holidays are you will be able to come up with solutions to manage them.  It is also important that you consciously decide that your healthy lifestyle is worth preserving! 


 Let’s explore some of the simple things we can do so that our healthy habits stay intact.

]1.    One of the first things people often do when holidays arrive is lose the eating routine, specifically they stop eating breakfast!  Try to stay in the habit of eating first thing in the morning.  A good breakfast will always set you up well for the day.  Also remember to continue to eat regularly in the day (ideally every 3-4 hours) even if you are eating slightly different foods – this will ensure that you will not overeat later in the day.

2.       If you have healthy snacks available at all times you are more likely to eat these when you are hungry even if unhealthy snacks may be around too.  Make it a habit to take some healthy snacks with when you are dining elsewhere.  But keep snack portions small!  They are just meant to tie you over until the next meal.  If you get into the habit of snacking between your meals you will not get too hungry for the next meal and you will be more likely to keep your portions controlled. 

3.       Don’t go out to dinner hungry!  You can cut back a little during the day if you know you are going for a higher calorie meal, but eating too little during the day will only undo your attempts at healthy eating.  If you are a bit hungry before going out have a small snack so that you won’t devour the snacks before the meal.

4.       When serving your meals think veggies.  Start by filling your plate with salad and plain vegetables (those without sauces) so that there will be less space on the plate for the higher calorie options.

5.       If you have a function to go to, enjoy the food that is served but remember that you do not need to eat everything that is served and you should try to ‘taste’ the high fat foods rather than fill up on them.

6.       Try to listen to your body signals even when at a function – it never feels good when we are completely stuffed so try to stop eating when you are ‘satisfied’ – this is not the last time you will ever eat this food again!

7.      When on holiday, have the occasional treat but fill up on the healthier foods that will keep you fuller for longer.  Treats should be eaten in small amounts, and remember to eat them slowly, perhaps with a cup of coffee/tea, to savour the taste.   Have some festive season treats occasionally, but try not to get into the habit of having them every day. 

8.       Very important is that you don’t feel guilty when you do have something that you would normally not choose to eat.  If we decide to have some dessert, and enjoy a small bit of it, guilt will only spoil the enjoyment of the dessert!  Remember too that you don’t need to have something ‘special’ every time it is presented.  Consciously choose the times that you are going to indulge.  This is part of the planning!

9.       The occasional meal/day of overeating will not ‘ruin’ your weight/health goals.  As long as you get back into the better habits the very next meal/day, no harm is done.

10.   Be aware of your alcohol intake.  Aside from all the calories, drinking also makes us less inhibited around food, and it becomes far harder to remember health!  An excellent holiday drink is sparkling water with a splash of cranberry and lime served in a tall glass.

11.   When you arrive at a function, always order water first (make it sparkling for variation) and only start with the alcohol at a later stage.  Make a wise decision about WHAT you will be drinking – sometimes it is better to have a spirit with a ‘free’ cooldrink (e.g. vodka and coke light or whiskey and water) instead of wine – if bottles of wine are being ordered, your glass will be constantly topped up and you easily lose track of how much you are drinking!

12.   If you do want to drink wine, ‘dilute’ it with (sparkling or soda) water, ice cubes or sprite zero, and rather order your wine by the glass than ordering a bottle – make the excuse that you feel like a different wine.  Similarly with beer or cider rather have a shandy.

13.   To help you to drink less alcohol, have an event planed for the following day – book a session with your trainer at the gym or organize a run with friends – you will WANT to drink less as doing these activities without a hangover is so much more pleasant.  Or be the designated driver!

14.   Stay hydrated.  It’s so easy to forget to drink water, but being hydrated is important as hunger is often confused with thirst.  Our bodies are often in an under-hydrated state with the warmer weather, increase in salty snacks and alcohol.  The best strategy is to keep your water bottle handy.   Add some lemon, mint leaves or cucumber to your water if you do not enjoy the taste of water.

15.   Just enjoy yourself!  And I don’t mean only with food.  Focus your attention on your family and friend and on the fun and celebrations.  Laugh a lot.  This is what the festive season should be about!


Kim Hofmann is a Registered Dietician with an added Honours Degree in Psychology.  She has been working in private practice for 13 years and has successfully assisted hundreds of people, from those seeking to lose weight to those with special needs (sports, allergies and intolerances, disordered eating and eating disorders, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease).  Kim’s passion lies in combining her psychological studies with nutrition and food, and she often helps clients understand the reasons behind their binging and other unhealthy habits.  She is totally dedicated to delivering nutrition information that is accurate, practical and easy to follow. She teaches clients how to follow an easy-to-use healthy plan that has enough energy and takes into account individual likes and lifestyle.



Kim Hofmann RD(SA)
Phone: 021 674 4666
Cell: 084 206 2715

Laser Therapy

Laser Therapy

Laser therapy sounds futuristic or am I just old? but the technology has been in medical use for decades. It has been found to be useful for applications ranging from eye surgery to skin treatments. But will it be useful for YOU? Well, that depends.




What does laser even do?

There is the type of high-powered laser that is used to ignite nuclear reactions or take out missiles mid-air, and then there is the type that we’re talking about: low-level laser therapy (LLLT), also known as photobiomodulation (PBM). This uses wavelengths of red and near-infrared light applied to the body. So, wait - it’s just light? What could that possibly do?

At this point, we know of several mechanisms that could be driving the treatment effects we see in patients [1-3]. [BRACE FOR SCIENCE JARGON] The main targets seem to be mitochondria (our little cellular power stations), and calcium ion channels (important cellular communicators). This seems to produce an increase in cell energy (ATP), modulation of calcium and other modulators inflammation, and increased protein synthesis. This all leads to increased cell metabolism, survival, and growth that has been seen in skin, muscle, nerves, lungs, hair... But is that useful? It can be.




What can it help?

Laser has shown the following benefits:

· LLLT has little to no adverse effects [3-7] which is especially clinically useful in vulnerable populations like the ill and the elderly

· Significant and nearly immediate pain relief for sports injuries [8]

· Reductions in pain/diability and improved quality of life (QoL) in chronic neck pain (cNP) in both the short and medium term [5, 6] and in chronic low back pain (cLBP) in the short term [4]

· Pain reductions in shoulder tendon pathology when used alone or in combination with exercise [9]

· Pain relief in jaw pain (TMJ disorder) was seen [10], but the effects were probably limited if the causes weren’t also treated e.g. stress, anxiety

· Increases in wound healing, but in conditions like ulcers the effects need to be combined with treatment of the cause (e.g. diabetes) to be effective [7]

· Increased bone healing and pain relief after surgery [11] but no evidence to show benefit in knee osteoarthritis [12]

· May be beneficial for nerve rehabilitation/regeneration [3, 13] and show good short-term pain relief in carpal tunnel syndrome [14] and neuropathic pain [15] but other applications require a lot more study

· There is even early evidence that LLLT can have beneficial effects on brain conditions such as depression, anxiety, or traumatic brain injury, but this still requires rigorous study [3, 16, 17]

When should I use it?

Based on the available evidence, laser (LLLT) seems best for conditions which require:

  1. Pain relief e.g. neck pain, back pain, sports injuries
  2. Increased tissue regeneration e.g. sport injuries, wound or bone healing
  3. When minimised adverse effects are needed in treatment e.g. elderly, other illnesses
So, what we can see is that LLLT has broad application, but requires accurate evaluation and diagnosis to create a comprehensive, holistic treatment plan. So perhaps now is the time to make an appointment with your chiropractor.



References

1. Hamblin, M.R., Mechanisms and applications of the anti-inflammatory effects of photobiomodulation. AIMS biophysics, 2017. 4(3): p. 337-361.

2. de Freitas, L.F. and M.R. Hamblin, Proposed Mechanisms of Photobiomodulation or Low-Level Light Therapy. IEEE journal of selected topics in quantum electronics : a publication of the IEEE Lasers and Electro-optics Society, 2016. 22(3): p. 7000417.

3. Hashmi, J.T., et al., Role of Low-Level Laser Therapy in Neurorehabilitation. PM&R, 2010. 2(12, Supplement): p. S292-S305.

4. Huang, Z., et al., The effectiveness of low-level laser therapy for nonspecific chronic low back pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Arthritis Research & Therapy, 2015. 17: p. 360.

5. Chow, R.T., et al., Efficacy of low-level laser therapy in the management of neck pain: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised placebo or active-treatment controlled trials. The Lancet, 2009. 374(9705): p. 1897-1908.

6. Gross, A.R., et al., Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT) for Neck Pain: A Systematic Review and Meta-Regression. The Open Orthopaedics Journal, 2013. 7: p. 396-419.

7. Loreti, E.H., et al., Use of Laser Therapy in the Healing Process: A Literature Review. Photomedicine and Laser Surgery, 2015. 33(2): p. 104-116.

8. Takenori, A., et al., Immediate pain relief effect of low level laser therapy for sports injuries: Randomized, double-blind placebo clinical trial. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 2016. 19(12): p. 980-983.

9. Haslerud, S., et al., The Efficacy of Low-Level Laser Therapy for Shoulder Tendinopathy: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Physiotherapy Research International, 2015. 20(2): p. 108-125.

10. Shukla, D. and M.R. Muthusekhar, Efficacy of low-level laser therapy in temporomandibular disorders: A systematic review. National Journal of Maxillofacial Surgery, 2016. 7(1): p. 62-66.

11. Santinoni, C.d.S., et al., Influence of low-level laser therapy on the healing of human bone maxillofacial defects: A systematic review. Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B: Biology, 2017. 169(Supplement C): p. 83-89.

12. Huang, Z., et al., Effectiveness of low-level laser therapy in patients with knee osteoarthritis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Osteoarthritis and cartilage / OARS, Osteoarthritis Research Society, 2015. 23(9): p. 1437-1444.

13. Mojarad, N., et al., The role of low level laser therapy on neuropathic pain relief and interleukin-6 expression following spinal cord injury: An experimental study. Journal of Chemical Neuroanatomy, 2017.

14. Franke, T.P., et al., Do Patients With Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Benefit From Low-Level Laser Therapy? A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 2017.

15. de Andrade, A.L.M., P.S. Bossini, and N.A. Parizotto, Use of low level laser therapy to control neuropathic pain: A systematic review. Journal of Photochemistry and Photobiology B: Biology, 2016. 164(Supplement C): p. 36-42.

16. Cassano, P., et al., Review of transcranial photobiomodulation for major depressive disorder: targeting brain metabolism, inflammation, oxidative stress, and neurogenesis. Neurophotonics, 2016. 3(3): p. 031404.

17. Rojas, J.C. and F. Gonzalez-Lima, Neurological and psychological applications of transcranial lasers and LEDs. Biochemical Pharmacology, 2013. 86(4): p. 447-457.


SECURITY TIPS FOR THE HOLIDAY SEASON


SECURITY TIPS FOR THE HOLIDAY SEASON:
  • Make sure your alarm is in working order by testing it.  Advise the control room beforehand. Testing should be done outside of peak hours (between 8am and 4pm, or after 8pm).
  • Advise your security company if you are going away and ensure that you supply all the necessary information regarding nearby key holders, in case of an emergency.
  • Ensure key holders have keys, alarm code, and password.
  • Consider giving your security company access to your property by using a lock box or electronic keypad.
  • Inform your neighbours of your holiday plans so that they can keep an eye on your property.
  • Be discreet about going away.  Park cars behind a gate or in a garage if possible.  Don’t leave a message on your answering machine saying that you are away, or advertise it on social media.
  • Stop all newspaper deliveries and ask a friend or neighbour to collect your post. A bulging post box is a dead giveaway that you are not at home.
  • If hiring a house sitter, ensure that you teach them how to use your alarm correctly.
  • Before going away, spray indoor motion sensors with bug spray to reduce the risk of insects setting off your alarm.
  • Never leave a key in the inside of an outer door which has glass panels or glass near the door lock.
  • Sliding doors can be secured simply by placing a piece of timber cut to size in the sliding rail. Make sure that sliding doors cannot be lifted vertically.
  • Have good exterior lighting, preferably on a timer.
  • Do not leave tools like ladders or spades outside, as they can be used to break into your house.
  • Do not leave your dustbin outside your premises during the holidays. It advertises that you are away and can be used to access your property. (Ask a neighbour or a friend to put it out on collection day.)
  • Clear signage indicating that you have security also helps to discourage burglars.
We wish the residents of Harfield Village a very happy and peaceful festive season.

JENNI COLEMAN
Manager - Harfield Village Community Improvement District (HVCID)
Cel: 081 412 6109   E-mail: admin@hvcid.co.za