Huberman Lab - The Science of Emotions & Relationships

Welcome to the Huberman Lab Podcast,

where we discuss science

and science-based tools for everyday life.

My name is Andrew Huberman,

and I’m a professor of neurobiology and ophthalmology

at Stanford School of Medicine.

This podcast is separate from my teaching

and research roles at Stanford.

It is, however, part of my desire and effort

to bring zero cost to consumer information

about science and science-related tools

to the general public.

In keeping with that theme,

I’d like to thank the sponsors of today’s podcast.

Our first sponsor is Athletic Greens.

Athletic Greens is an all-in-one

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I’ve been taking Athletic Greens since 2012,

so I’m delighted that they’re sponsoring the podcast.

The reason I started taking Athletic Greens

and the reason I still take Athletic Greens

once or twice a day

is that it helps me cover

all of my basic nutritional needs.

It makes up for any deficiencies that I might have.

In addition, it has probiotics,

which are vital for microbiome health.

I’ve done a couple of episodes now

on the so-called gut microbiome

and the ways in which the microbiome interacts

with your immune system, with your brain to regulate mood,

and essentially with every biological system

relevant to health throughout your brain and body.

With Athletic Greens, I get the vitamins I need,

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There are a ton of data now

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Even if we’re getting a lot of sunshine,

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And K2 is also important

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That means the exact ratios of electrolytes are an element,

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Today’s episode is also brought to us by Thesis.

Thesis makes what are called nootropics,

which means smart drugs.

Now, to be honest, I am not a fan of the term nootropics.

I don’t believe in smart drugs in the sense that

I don’t believe that there’s any one substance

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I do believe based on science, however,

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I’m pleased to announce that the Huberman Lab Podcast

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We partnered with Momentus for several important reasons.

First of all, they ship internationally

because we know that many of you are located

outside of the United States.

Second of all, and perhaps most important,

the quality of their supplements is second to none,

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There you’ll see those supplements,

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Again, that’s slash Huberman.

This month, we’re talking all about the science of emotions

and tools related to the science of emotions.

We’ve talked about the science of stress and resiliency,

tools to access more calm,

tools to raise your stress threshold

to become more resilient.

We’ve talked about motivation

and the role of the dopamine system.

I’d like to make a couple of announcements

about some new resources.

The first one is that we have now captioned

all the Huberman Lab episodes in English and in Spanish.

We were able to do that

thanks to your support of our sponsors and on Patreon.

So now all of the podcasts

have a captioning feature on YouTube,

and those were done by experts.

So while there might be the occasional error,

for the most part, they’re very precise.

We’ve done that so that people

that prefer to consume the content in Spanish

or that like to read the content

from the English subtitles can do so.

And we’re going to continue to expand

the number of languages that are captioned

for the Huberman Lab podcast.

So we want to thank you for that resource.

It’s now available for all episodes.

In addition, in previous episodes,

I’ve talked about NSDR or non-sleep deep rest.

NSDRs come in a variety of different forms.

There’s self-hypnosis.

I’ve pointed you to some resources for that previously.

There’s yoga nidra.

NSDR is really about achieving calm quickly

and doing that in a self-directed way for many reasons,

in order to access sleep more readily,

in order to de-stress very deeply,

in order to replace sleep that you’ve lost.

It also seems to aid neuroplasticity.

It can enhance the rearrangements of connections

in the brain that occur during learning.

There’s scientific support for that.

There’s a link in today’s episode caption to a new site.

This is a YouTube video that was brought free of cost

by the folks over at Made For,

a company that’s been a sponsor of the podcast previously.

So this is an NSDR script

that doesn’t contain any of the intentions

or some of the more typical language of yoga nidra.

Instead, it’s focused purely on the breathing protocols,

as well as includes a sort of body scan,

where you direct your attention

to different locations around your body.

It has all the core elements of non-sleep deep rest,

but is distinct from yoga nidra.

I just offer this to you as a resource,

if you’d like to use it.

It’s about 30 minutes long and should be very effective

in bringing you into deep states of relaxation

for all the reasons I mentioned before.

So let’s talk about emotions.

Emotions are a fascinating and vital aspect

of our life experience.

It’s fair to say that emotions make up

most of what we think of as our experience of life.

Even the things we do, our behaviors,

and the places we go,

and the people we end up encountering in our life,

all of that really funnels into our emotional perception

of what those things mean,

whether or not they made us happy or sad or depressed

or lonely, or we’re awe-inspiring.

Now, one thing that is absolutely true

is that everyone’s perception of emotion

is slightly different.

Meaning your idea of happy is very likely different

than my idea of what a state of happiness is.

And we know this also for color vision, for instance.

Even though the cells in your eye and my eye

that perceive the color red are identical

right down to the genes that they express,

we can be certain based on experimental evidence,

what are called psychophysical studies,

that your idea of the most intense red

is going to be very different than my idea

of the most intense red,

if we were given a selection of 10 different reds

and asked which one is most intense,

which one looks most red.

And that seems crazy.

You would think that something as simple as color

would be universal, and yet it’s not.

And so we need to agree at the outset

that emotions are complicated,

and yet they are tractable, they can be understood.

And today we’re going to talk about a lot of tools

to understand what emotions are

for you to understand what your emotional states mean

and what they don’t mean.

And in doing that, that will allow you to place a value

on whether or not you should hold an emotional state

as true or not true,

whether or not it has meaning or it doesn’t,

as well as whether or not the emotions of others

are important to you in a given context.

We’re going to talk a lot about development.

In fact, we’re going to center a lot of our discussion today

around infancy and puberty.

We’re also going to talk about tools

for enhancing one’s emotional range

and for navigating difficult emotional situations.

I am not a clinical psychologist, I’m not a therapist,

but I do have some background in psychology.

And today I’m going to be drawing from the psychology greats

not me, but from the greats of psychology

who studied emotion, who studied emotional development

and linking that to the neuroscience of emotion.

Because nowadays we understand a lot about the chemicals

and the hormones and the neural circuits

in the brain and body that underlie emotion.

So while there’s no one single universally true theory

of emotion at the intersection

of many of the existing theories,

there are really some ground truths.

So today we’re going to visit those ground truths.

We’re going to talk about the tools that emerge from them.

And we’re going to talk about some absolutely wild

and wacky experiments that people are doing out there

right now that I don’t necessarily recommend you do

of inhaling different types of hormones

and trying to get attached more quickly.

You’re actually going to do some experiential stuff today.

If you like, there’s some things that you can do

in real time while listening to the podcast

in order to tap into some of the mechanisms

that I’ll be referring to.

So today’s going to be very interactive

in a way that previous podcast episodes have not.

If we want to understand emotions,

we have to look at where emotions first develop.

In fact, this is a critical central theme.

If you want to understand brain science and psychology

there’s a rule in neuroanatomy

because if you look at 50 different brains of humans

or you compare the brains of dogs and humans,

there are a lot of differences.

Certain things are the same,

but certain things are different.

And the rule that every good neuroanatomist knows

is that if you want to understand

what a part of the brain does,

you have to address two questions.

First, you have to know what connections

does that brain area make?

What is it connected to?

Where does it get inputs from?

And where does it send inputs?

So for instance, if there’s an area of the brain

that gets direct input from the neurons in the nose,

you can be pretty certain that it has some role

in analyzing smell, in measuring something about odors

or analyzing something about odors.

Now, if it also gets input from the eye,

you can also conclude that it gets input

from the visual system,

that it cares about light and photons.

This is sort of obvious.

And yet you need to know that connectivity

and you need to know what’s called

the developmental origin of that structure.

You need to know where it was early in development

because things move around a lot as the brain develops.

The brain, of course, is this more or less squishy thing

floating around in some liquid

that’s stuffed inside your skull.

And as a consequence, things move around a lot.

They are not always in the same place

in two different species

or two individuals of the same species.

So you have to know where they started out

because where they started out

informs what they do as well.

And when we’re talking about emotions,

we cannot point to one area of the brain.

We can’t say that’s the area of the brain

that’s responsible for emotions.

There is this so-called limbic system

that has been linked to emotions in various ways.

We’re gonna talk about that today.

But the limbic system is just one component

of the inputs to create emotions.

It’s not the place for emotions.

You can’t go in and lesion one location in the brain

and eliminate emotions entirely.

It just doesn’t work that way.

So first of all, we have to ask,

what are the circuits for emotion?

What are the brain areas for emotion?

And nowadays there’s a lot of debate about this.

For years, it was thought that there might be circuits,

meaning connections in the brain

that generate the feeling of being happy

or circuits that generate the feeling of being sad, et cetera.

That’s been challenged.

In fact, Lisa Feldman Barrett

has been the person who’s really challenged this head-on

and has very good evidence for the fact

that such circuits probably don’t exist.

And yet I think there’s good evidence

for circuits in the brain,

such as limbic circuits and other circuits

that shift our overall states

or our overall level of alertness or calmness,

or whether or not they bias us

toward viewing the outside world

or paying more attention to what’s going on

inside our bodies.

If none of this makes sense right now,

I promise it will make sense soon.

But the important thing to understand

is that emotions do arise in the brain and body.

They arise because there are specific connections

between specific areas in the brain and body.

And if we want to understand how emotions work,

we have to look how emotions are built.

And they are built during infancy, adolescence, and puberty.

And then it continues into adulthood,

but the groundwork is laid down early in development

when we are small children.

So let’s think about what happens to a baby

that comes into the world.

A baby comes into the world,

you were born into this world

without really any understanding of the things around you.

Now, there are two ways that you can interact with the world

and you’re always doing them more or less

to some degree at the same time.

Those are interoception,

paying attention to what’s going on inside you,

what you feel internally,

and exteroception,

paying attention to what’s going on outside you.

Hold that in mind, please,

because the fact that you’re both interocepting

and exterocepting is true for your entire life

and it sets the foundation for understanding emotions.

It’s absolutely critical.

As an infant,

you didn’t have any knowledge of what you needed.

You didn’t understand hunger,

you didn’t understand toys

when you first came into the world,

you didn’t understand cold or heat or any of that.

When you needed something,

you experienced that as anxiety.

You would feel an increase in alertness

if you had to use the bathroom,

you would feel an increase in alertness if you were hungry,

and you would vocalize, you would cry out,

you would act agitated,

you might coo,

you might do a number of different things,

but all you knew was what you were feeling internally,

and then your caregiver,

whoever that might’ve been,

would respond to that.

So you would feel some agitation,

a caregiver would come and make a decision.

Oh, you need food and give you milk,

or change your diaper,

or wrap you in a blanket if you were cold.

But they didn’t know if you were cold,

they could just assume that you were cold.

So this is actually really important to understand

that a baby, when you were a baby and when I was a baby,

we didn’t have any sense of the outside world

except that it responded to our acts of anxiety essentially.

Now this isn’t Freudian theory, right?

There are components of it

that are embedded in Freudian theory,

but all developmental psychologists agree

that babies lack the ability

to make cognitive sense of the outside world.

But in this feeling of anxiety

and registering one’s own internal state

and then crying out to the outside world,

either through crying or subtle vocalizations,

or even just cooing, making some noise,

we start to develop a relationship with the outside world

in which our internal states, our shifts in anxiety,

start to drive requests

and people come and respond to those requests, hopefully.

And the reason I say hopefully is that we’ve all heard,

presumably about these cases of neglect.

There are a lot of cases where if you neglect a baby,

you neglect an adolescent or a teenager,

development doesn’t go well.

And we’ll touch on some of those,

but those are really extreme cases.

They’re sort of like the parallel to experiments

that are often done in the laboratory with animals,

where you’ve probably heard of these enriched environments

where they’ll give mice a bunch of toys

and they’ll give them some different foods

every once in a while

and they’ll house them together with other mice.

And what you find is that the animals,

they will say, oh, you know, their brain is thicker

and their neurons have more branches to them and all that,

but that’s really comparing deprivation with normalcy.

What we want to center on today instead

is what happens when things go well

and why things might not go well

in certain circumstances is interesting,

but to me, not as interesting

as what healthy emotional development looks like.

And if you haven’t achieved healthy emotional development,

what can be done as an intervention at later times

in order to rescue that?

So the baby, you as a baby,

you’re flopping around there in your crib,

you’re getting care where you need it

and when you need it, presumably.

And this gets to the basis of what emotions are about,

which are emotions are really about forming bonds

and being able to predict things in the world.

That’s really what emotions are about.

Whether or not the baby feels angry or happy or sad,

we don’t know.

We can guess, but we don’t know.

In fact, most of the time, we don’t even know how we feel,

let alone how other people feel.

And that’s true for adults.

So if I ask you how you feel right now,

I don’t know that you could tell me

in any kind of rich language that I would say,

oh, I really understand.

If you said you were very, very depressed

or very, very happy, I’d have some sense

because of how extreme that is,

but I don’t know that I would really know.

And I don’t think you know how I feel right now either.

I could be furious right now or I could be very happy.

You don’t have any idea.

Of course, we have these things called expressions.

Our pupils dilate.

There are various cues of how people feel.

We’re going to talk about those cues,

but you really don’t know.

And at this point, I actually just want to pause

and mention a really interesting tool

that is trying to address this question

of what are emotions and what do they consist of

that you can use if you like.

This is an app.

I didn’t develop it.

I don’t have any relationship to them,

but the app was developed by people at Yale,

by groups at Yale who do research,

and it’s called Mood Meter.

And it’s actually quite interesting.

I think it’s either free or it’s 99 cents.

Again, no business relationship to them,

but what they’re trying to do is put more nuance,

more subtlety on our words and our language for emotions

and be able to allow you to predict

how you’re going to feel in the future.

And it’s actually quite interesting.

I’m on the app right now, and I know you can’t see this,

but it’s called Mood Meter,

and you can find it on Apple or Android.

And you go into it and it asks you,

it says to me, hi, Andrew, how are you right now?

And I click the little tab that says, I feel,

and I can either pick high energy and unpleasant,

high energy and pleasant,

low energy, unpleasant, or low energy, pleasant.

And I would say right now, I feel high energy, pleasant.

So I just revealed to you how I feel.

So I click on that,

and then it gives you a gallery of colors

and you just move your finger to the location

where you think it matches most.

And as you do that, little words pop up.

I know some people are looking at this on,

or listening to this on audio only.

So it’ll say motivated, cheerful, inspired.

I would say I’m feeling right now, cheerful.

So you click that,

and then you just go to the next window

and it just says, what are you doing?

And this feels like play to me,

but I’m going to call it work.

And then that’s it.

And then what it does

is it basically starts to collect data on you.

You’re giving it information,

and it starts to link that to other features

that you allow it access to, if you like.

And it starts helping you be able to predict

how you’re going to feel at different times a day.

It’s actually quite accurate in certain ways,

quite interesting.

And it points to a couple of really interesting features,

which is that we don’t really have enough language

to describe all the emotional states.

And yet there’s some core truths

to what makes up an emotion.

And I want to review that twice during today’s podcast,

because this can really help people,

kids and adults, understand better what they’re feeling

and why, and when best to engage in certain activities,

and thankfully, when best to avoid certain activities too.

So the way this works is the following.

You need to ask yourself at any point,

you could do this right now if you like,

what’s your level of autonomic arousal?

Autonomic arousal is just the continuum,

the range of alert to calm.

So if you’re in a panic right now,

you are like 10 out of 10 on the arousal scale.

If you’re asleep,

you’re probably not comprehending what I’m saying,

although maybe a little bit,

but let’s say you’re very drowsy,

you might be at a one or a two.

So you always have to ask,

where are you on the arousal scale?

And then there’s this other axis, this other question,

which is what we call valence.

Now valence is a value.

Do you feel good or bad?

I would say I feel pretty good right now

on a scale of one to 10.

I’m like, I don’t know, I feel like a seven.

I got a good night’s sleep last night,

had a good walk with Costello this morning,

I’m fed, I’m hydrated, I feel good.

So I’m like a seven.

So I’m alert and I feel pretty good.

And then there’s a third thing,

which is how much we are interocepting

and how much we are exterocepting, all right?

So how much our attention is focused internally

on what we’re feeling

and how much it’s focused externally.

And this is always going to be in a dynamic balance.

So for instance, if you’re really, really stressed,

oftentimes that puts you in a position

to be really in touch with what’s going on in your body.

If you start having a lot of somatic,

a lot of bodily sensations,

like your heart is beating so fast that you can’t ignore it,

then you’re really strongly interoceptive.

But also sometimes you’re really stressed

because someone’s stressing you out

or somebody sends you a text message

or makes a comment about a YouTube thing you posted

or something and you’re really triggered by it.

That never happens to me.

But if it does happen to you, then you’re exterocepting.

So there’s these three things,

how alert or sleepy you are, that’s one.

How good or bad you feel, that’s two.

And then whether or not most of your attention

is directed outward or whether or not it’s directed inward.

And much of what we call emotions

are made up by those three things.

And so let’s return now to development,

but tuck that away and just kind of think about it.

Alert versus asleep, good versus bad,

and focused internally or focused externally.

Because when I looked at the whole of all the theories

of emotion that were out there,

there were a lot of different components to them,

but they all seem to center back

to these same three features in some way

or to some degree or another.

And it can be very powerful to understand

and look at your emotions through that lens.

So let’s return to the infant.

There’s the baby in the crib.

It’s mostly interocepting.

As caregivers bring it what it needs, you hope,

milk, diaper changes, et cetera,

a warm blanket if it’s cold,

pull off the blanket when the baby’s fussing

and it’s too warm, because babies get too warm also.

It starts to exterocept, excuse me, I misspoke.

I want to be very clear.

It starts to exterocept.

The baby starts to look into the outside world

and start making predictions.

It starts wondering how much it needs to cry

or predicting, well, if I cry like a little bit,

then mom comes over and I get my milk.

Or if I cry a lot, mom doesn’t come over and give me milk.

So I need to really scream at the top of my head.

So babies are starting to evaluate and do all this,

but they’re not doing it consciously.

They’re doing this strategically

in order to relieve anxiety.

And I won’t propose that that’s what we do into adulthood,

but a lot of what we do in adulthood

is when we feel something, we start exterocepting.

Some people are much better at just sitting as a container

and just interocepting and paying attention

to what they’re feeling internally.

But most people do a little bit of a balance of both.

We don’t feel good, so we look for an item of food

that might make us feel better.

We’re feeling anxious, heading into the dentist

or something like that, so we text somebody.

We do this almost reflexively.

It’s not always conscious.

So infants do this, and we continue to do this.

We start to now balance our interoceptive

and exteroceptive focus,

our looking inward and looking outward.

And as we do that, we’re starting to figure out

what gets our needs met.

Remember, emotions are really there to form bonds

and to make predictions.

And so our needs are going to be met to some degree or not.

Sometimes, sadly, there is neglect.

Sometimes people don’t show up for us

the way that we would like.

And in general, our responses to that

have to do with whether or not we predict

whether or not they would or not.

When we expect something and it doesn’t happen,

it’s a big letdown.

That was the discussion about dopamine last episode.

So the many theories of emotion,

the triune brain theory that you have a primitive

and evolved brain,

something that’s a little bit on shaky ground these days,

the idea that Darwin proposed

that there are these universal expressions of emotions,

the work of Helen Fisher on love,

that you have circuits in the brain for lust,

circuits in the brain for love,

and circuits in the brain for long-term bonds,

as well as the work of Lisa Feldman Barrett

saying that emotions are contextual,

that they have a social component.

And I’ll be talking more about this,

but the work of Alan Shore,

a clinical psychologist and researcher at UCLA

about right brain, left brain,

and its role in emotional development,

all of them have strong elements of this idea

of paying attention to what’s going on inward and outward.

As a young creature, an infant and young toddler,

you were mainly focused inward

and you started to understand what was going on outward

as a way of predicting what would bring you relief,

what would remove your anxiety.

And that’s where the fundamental rules of your experience,

your emotional experience were laid down.

Now, I realize that’s a lot of information

and it’s somewhat of an academic talk,

but there were two tools in there

that I just want to highlight.

One is the Mood Meter app, if you’re interested in it,

can give you some insight

into the different kinds of nuance within emotions

and allow you to actually predict emotional states.

If you want to try that,

you might find that interesting.

The other one is this idea

that there are three axes to emotion,

three continuum that interact,

the level of alertness and calmness,

how good or bad you feel,

and whether or not you’re mainly focused inward or outward,

because those are going to form a useful toolkit

for the information going forward.

So now let’s talk about what kind of baby you were,

because that actually informs your emotionality now.

These are classic, they’re actually famous experiments

done by Bowlby and Ainsworth.

Anyone that studied psychology

or has taken a psychology class

might’ve learned about this.

This is this classic experiment

of what was called the strange situation task,

in which, and I’m describing it very coarsely here,

I realize, but a mother and child come into the laboratory.

Yes, this has now also been done with fathers.

The baby and the mother or father play together for a bit,

and then the mother leaves.

The mother leaves for some period of time

and then comes back.

And the research is devoted to understanding

the response of the child when the caretaker,

the mother or the father, returns.

Most all children, not every child,

but most children will cry

when their primary caretaker leaves.

They don’t like that.

And there are good reasons for that.

They formed a bond and an attachment,

and we will talk about some of the deeper chemical reasons

for those bonds.

However, the experiment is focused

on the return of the caregiver,

because Bowlby and Ainsworth

and many of their scientific offspring and colleagues

identified at least four patterns

that babies display when their caretaker returns.

And they grouped these into group A, B, C, D,

so much so that the kids were referred to as A babies,

B babies, C babies, or D babies.

You may know which one you were,

but the categories are really interesting.

The first babies are the A babies.

So these were kids that would get upset

when their caretaker would leave,

but when their caretaker would return,

the infant would respond with happiness,

with what looked like delight.

They would go to the caretaker, they seemed happy.

If they had been fussy before or sad, they felt relieved.

These are referred to as secure attached kids.

So they have a healthy response to separation,

and they have a healthy response

to re-engaging with the caretaker.

The B babies, as they’re called,

were less likely to seek comfort from their caregiver

when the caregiver would return.

So they would sometimes continue to play with their toys,

or they had an adult in the room while the parent was gone,

they would stay with them.

It was sometimes complicated and nuanced,

but these were referred to as avoidant babies.

Don’t run away with any conclusions

about the language here just yet.

It’s not clear that avoidant babies

become avoidant adults, but bear with me.

The C babies would respond to the return of the caregiver

with acts of annoyance.

They seemed kind of angry, right?

So it wasn’t that they ignored them,

they seemed kind of angry.

And those were referred to as ambivalent babies.

Not to be confused with A babies,

these are the C babies were the ambivalent babies.

So the infant’s reaction to the returning caregiver

were inconsistent.

It seemed like they wanted to bond with them again,

but that they seemed kind of annoyed.

I think we’ve all felt this way before

with people that we care very much about,

especially people we care very much about.

And then the third category, the D babies,

were the disorganized babies.

That’s what they called them.

They weren’t disorganized in that they were messy.

The child avoided interactions with everyone

and acted fearful when the caregiver returned.

And their behavior didn’t really change

whether or not the caregiver was there or not.

And that fourth category

was actually added rather late

in the course of this research.

I should mention these experiments have been repeated

with a huge variety of different contexts.

There was work done by Mary Main at UC Berkeley

and many others,

looking at all sorts of variations on this theme.

But over time, it made it clear that certain babies

are able to feel secure upon re-engaging

with their caregiver and others don’t,

or they’re confused about it.

So we probably don’t know whether or not

you were an A, a B, or a C, a D baby,

unless you were in these experiments

and somehow you had that knowledge.

But this work, this classic work,

opened up a huge set of important questions

that related to what is the reestablishment

of the bond really about?

I mean, what’s actually being figured out here

is not whether or not there are four categories of babies.

That’s interesting.

But it presumably is more interesting to focus on

what is it that defines a really good bond,

a secure attachment, or an insecure attachment,

or an avoidant attachment?

And the four things are gaze, literally eye contact,

and doesn’t have to be direct beaming eye contact

with no blinks like people have accused me of before.

It can just be gaze that, you know,

people look at each other.

You see couples, they look at each other.

They don’t always stare each other long periods of time.

Sometimes they do.

Vocalizations, so what we say and how we say it.

Affect or emotion, so the way that we express,

you know, crying, smiling, et cetera.

And touch, those four things.

And you probably could add a fifth dimension

once language and written language develops,

which is written word.

Exchange of letters, exchange of texts,

exchange of things of that sort, emails,

are another way in which people can bond.

But gaze, vocalization, affect, and touch

are really the core of this thing

that we call social bonds and emotionality.

Now that’s important.

We know, for instance, that there are brain areas

like the fusiform face area, which is deep in the brain,

that is responsible for the processing of faces.

Children’s recognition of their parents’ faces and voices

is extremely accurate and strong.

Likewise, parents’ recognition

of their child’s vocalizations, not just voices,

but cries are remarkable.

If you’ve ever had the experience of being at a party

with somebody who has small children

and you’re talking to them,

and all of a sudden they hear something, but you don’t,

it’s as if they’ve got wolf hearing.

And all of a sudden they go running into the other room

and indeed, you know, the kid is like, I don’t know,

some kid is beating up their kid

or their kid’s beating up some other kid

or the kid has injured themselves

or feels emotionally injured.

This perception of voices,

there’s very good evidence to support the fact

that we are tuned to the frequencies of voices

and vocalizations of people that we care about.

That’s not just true in rodents

and in birds and other mammals,

it’s definitely true in humans as well.

And babies are very tuned in

to the sound of their mother’s voice.

Even, yes, while they’re in the womb,

there’s this whole world of what’s called motherese,

which is the particular style of speech

that mothers and other caretakers now we know

use with children.

So those are the core elements, right?

How you look at somebody and how they look at you,

what you say, what they say,

what they seem to be feeling

and how that makes you feel, smiles, frowns.

If you know someone really well,

you can read inflections in like even little subtle things

like, you know, they don’t really believe me

or, oh, they’re really excited by this

or, oh, you know, now I know what they’re thinking.

That kind of processing,

some people are better at it than others,

but everyone’s better at doing that

with people that we recognize and know.

In fact, couples come to know each other exceedingly well,

so much so that it can both benefit

and injure their relationship

to constantly be making these perceptions.

But there’s a range.

Some people are more tuned into this than others.

And that probably has roots in the sorts of attachments

that you form early on.

So Bowlby and colleagues developed these ABCD thing

and it has a lot to do with face processing

and gaze and vocalizations and touch.

All of those happened on return with the mother,

but they weren’t parsing those.

They weren’t looking at them individually.

So this raises a really interesting question,

which is what is it when we feel something?

Is it because of something

that happens spontaneously in us?

It’s a memory or it’s something that we realized

we saw on the internet or we got news about somebody.

You know, nowadays people get so much information

about the people they know,

both the people they like and dislike

by way of viewing online activities, right?

So they’re exterocepting

and then it’s impacting your internal state.

And it’s clear from most all of the theories

of emotional health,

that an ability to recognize when your own internal state

is being driven primarily by external events

as important for being able to emotionally regulate, right?

People who are constantly being yanked around

by the external happenings in the world,

you would say are emotionally labile.

They are not in control of their emotions.

Even if they’re calm all the time,

if that calmness only arrives

because they’re in a placid environment

and then you put a cracker in that environment

and they freak out, well, then they’re not really calm.

They’re calm insofar as there isn’t something disturbing

in the environment.

So how much the outside environment

disrupts your internal environment

has everything to do with this balance

of interoception and exteroception.

And it very likely has roots in whether or not

you were secure attached or insecure attached,

disorganized or ambivalent as a baby.

Of course you can’t travel back in time and know,

but there are some hints as to what kind of emotionality

each of us has by examining two periods of development.

One is adolescence and puberty and the other is adulthood.

So while we can’t travel back in time,

there is an exercise that you can do

to address at least in this moment,

whether or not you have a bias for exteroception

or a bias for interoception,

whether or not you are better at least in this moment

at paying attention to what’s going on

internally or externally.

And of course this will vary with circumstance.

I think we all know people that maybe it’s you,

you go to a party and you get there

and everyone seems to be talking

and having a really good time.

And you’re wondering whether or not

you have any food in your teeth

or whether or not there’s something on your face

or whether or not your hair is right

or whether or not you said something the wrong way,

whether or not you’re turning red.

People also experienced this a lot with public speaking.

It’s not just about learning to clamp your level of stress.

It’s also about how much you’re exterocepting,

how much you’re out of your head, they call it,

but how much you’re focused on the events around you

versus the events inside you.

Actually, it’s interesting when you talk to people

who are very effective athletes

or they have very high stress, high consequence jobs,

they talk about this notion of getting out of your head.

You only have so much attentional resource

and it can be split between two things.

You’ll see that in a moment.

They can be anchored to one thing.

It can be fully focused on what’s going on internally

or it can be fully focused on what’s going on externally.

And if you want to be effective in the world,

effective being in quotes,

it is useful when in very dynamic environments,

especially social environments,

to have a lot of your attention focused outward

as opposed to trying to pay attention

to whether or not you’re saying things correctly

or the timbre of your own voice.

That is more or less destructive

for the ability to engage socially.

So here’s the exercise.

You can do this.

Please don’t do this if you’re driving,

but let’s just try and illustrate

or allow you to experience

this interoceptive, exteroceptive balance

and the extent to which you can move interoception

and exteroception deliberately.

If you close your eyes right now

and concentrate on the contact of any portion of your body

with say the chair or your car seat,

although please again, don’t do this while you’re driving,

anywhere that you are,

even if you’re just standing up or you’re in the kitchen,

you’re lying on the couch

and trying to bring as much of your attention

to that point of contact as possible.

And then from there,

you’re going to move your attention even more deeply

into say the sensation of what’s going on in your gut.

Are you full?

Are you empty?

Are you hungry?

Are you not?

Is your heart beating at what rate?

What’s the cadence of your breathing?

Basically bringing your focus and attention

to everything at the surface of your skin and inward.

So I’m going to do a rare thing

on the Huberman Lab Podcast.

I’m going to introduce about five to eight seconds of silence

in order to allow you to do that a little bit.

Okay, now this is an exercise

that you can continue afterward

if you want to extend how long you do this,

but now try and do something that for most people

actually is a little bit harder,

which is to purely exterocep,

put your eyes or your ears or both

on anything in your immediate space, one thing.

And I would restrict that thing to something small enough

that at least in your field of view,

it would occupy 20% of your field of view.

So it doesn’t have to be a pinpoint

unless the pin is right in front of you

and you’re holding it real close.

I would say, look across the room,

pick a panel on the wall or a leg of a table or something

and try and bring as much of your attention

to that as possible.

And again, I’ll take about five seconds of silence

to allow you to exterocept.

Okay, so what you probably found

is that you were able to do that,

but that some degree of interoception is maintained.

It’s hard to place 100% of your attention

on something externally,

unless it’s really exciting, really novel.

If you’ve ever watched a really great movie,

presumably you’re exterocepting

more than you’re interocepting

until something exciting happens

and then you feel something.

You’re actually tethering your emotional experience

to something external.

And now you can also do this dynamically.

You can decide to focus internally and then externally.

You can decide to split it 50%, 50% or 70, 30.

One can develop, you can develop

a heightened ability to do this.

And the power of doing that is actually

that when you are in environments

where you feel like you’re focused too much internally

and you’d like to be focused more externally,

you can actually do that deliberately.

But as you’ve noticed, it takes work.

It involves taking your attentional spotlight

and what we call the aperture of your attention

and narrowing that aperture to either the self

or something externally or splitting the two.

And yet there are practices that have been developed

that center on moving interoception and exteroception

from one being more heavily weighted than the other,

more focused outward or more focused inward.

And it’s dynamic.

And the circuits in the brain that underlie intero

and exteroception aren’t exactly known,

but they are anchored in the areas of the brain

they’re involved in attention,

like the frontal eye fields and areas

that when you third person yourself,

when you can see yourself doing something,

like if you put your hand out in your environment

and you focus on your hand,

you know that that’s your hand

as opposed to some random object.

There are areas of the brain they’re involved in that,

in recognizing location of self

relative to the rest of your body.

These exercises are really what are at the core

of these development of emotional bonds.

Because as we mentioned before, these four things,

the gaze, vocalization, touch, and affect,

those are happening very dynamically.

So if somebody winks at you,

you’re paying attention to their wink,

but then you also notice how you feel.

Then they might say something.

Then you might say something.

This is very dynamic.

So if it seems overwhelming to try and interocept

and exterocept and then shift the balance,

you do that all the time.

Your brain and nervous system are fantastic at doing this.

Now, some people have a very hard time

breaking out of a very strongly interoceptive mode.

Some people have a harder time

breaking out of their exteroceptive mode.

It’s very interesting to note the extent to which

we have biases in how interoceptive or exteroceptive we are.

Remember those three axes that we talked about earlier.

You have valence, good or bad.

You have alertness, alert or calm.

And you have interoceptive or exteroceptive bias, right?

And it’s going to differ across the day.

It’s going to differ across the lifetime.

It’s certainly going to differ

according to whatever it is that you’re engaged in.

But early in development,

you start off with this interoceptive bias.

You are starting to develop expectations,

predictions about how the outside world is going to work.

And you are trying to figure out the reliability

of outside events and people.

And where things are reliable, when people are reliable,

we are able to give up more of our interoception.

There’s literally trust that our interoceptive needs,

our internal needs will be met

through bonds and actions of others.

This starts to veer toward

the discussion about neglect and trauma.

We are going to devote entire episodes,

probably an entire month to trauma and PTSD.

But those have roots in what we’re talking about now.

And it’s important to internalize

and understand what we’re talking about now

in order to get the most out of those future conversations.

So, if all of this seems like a lot of information

and very complicated,

I just invite you to pay attention from time to time,

how much you happen to be interocepting or exterocepting.

Because emotions and the intensity of those emotions

will grow or shrink

depending on how much we’re interocepting.

If we are feeling extremely sad

and there is an outside event that made us sad,

chances are there’s going to be a balance,

but that the extreme grief, the extreme sadness

is going to lead us to mostly interocept.

Whereas when we’re feeling extremely happy,

the same is true.

Something great happens in the world

and we’re just going to feel it.

Most of our perception,

most of our awareness is going to be on an internal state.

So, we are always tethered to the outside world

to some degree or another.

That was true when you were an infant

and it was true when you were an adolescent

and it’s true as an adult.

So, now I want to just pause,

just shelve the discussion about interoception,

exteroception for a moment.

And I want to talk about what is arguably the second most,

if not equally important aspect of your development

as it relates to emotionality.

And as it relates to this, what I call trust,

but this ability to predict

whether or not things in the outside world are reliable

or not reliable in terms of their ability

to help you meet your interoceptive needs.

And that period is puberty.

So, up until now, we’ve been talking mainly about psychology,

not a lot of biology, not a lot of mechanism.

And now we’re going to transition

into talking about mechanism, hormones, receptors, et cetera.

Puberty is a absolute biological event.

It has a beginning and it has a specific definition,

which is the transition into reproductive maturity.

So, there are a lot of hormonal changes.

Yes, there are also a lot of brain changes

and most people don’t realize it,

but the brain changes occur first.

The brain turns on the hormone systems

that allow puberty to occur.

Puberty is occurring earlier nowadays

than it did in the past.

The current numbers that I was able to find

is that in females and girls,

the transition is starting around age 10,

whereas in boys, it’s about age 12.

That’s going to differ by way

of a number of different factors.

Those are averages.

So, it depends on where you are in the world,

depends on all sorts of things.

One of the primary triggers for puberty

is actually body fat.

This is interesting.

The peptide hormone, leptin,

some people call it a peptide,

some people call it a hormone,

but it meets both definitions

depending on how you look at it,

is made by fat.

So, leptin had a lot of popularity in the 90s

because it was discovered as being produced by fat

and it was seen in animal studies

that it could promote leanness.

It actually communicates to the brain

that there’s enough body fat

in order to allow the metabolic factors

and processes to occur to liberate more fat.

This is why people have trouble losing

that last five pounds.

It’s because leptin levels are very low.

This was actually the basis

for the whole cheat day refeed thing

that the idea was if you eat a lot

for one day a week while dieting hard,

that you can signal to the brain

that there’s enough leptin.

I don’t know if that’s the reason

or whether or not the cheat days

just provided some psychological relief,

probably both.

But in any case, leptin is made by body fat.

And when there’s enough leptin,

it signals the brain to trigger puberty.

There was a paper published in the mid 90s

in the journal Science, excellent journal,

showing that leptin could be injected

into younger females

that would not have yet gone into puberty

and you could accelerate the onset of puberty with leptin.

So more body fat, the earlier puberty, that’s true.

Leptin is also involved

in various growth effects in the body generally.

And it’s interesting, very obese children

don’t necessarily undergo puberty earlier.

Sometimes they do, but they do tend to be larger boned.

Their bones actually grow more quickly

and they tend to have higher bone density

because leptin is also involved in bone density.

The whole issue of onset of puberty

also has some really interesting social effects.

And I want to really highlight

that most of these effects are so-called pheromone effects.

Remember a hormone is a substance

secreted from one area of the body,

travels and impacts tissues

and cells elsewhere in the body.

A pheromone is a chemical that’s released

by one member of a species that goes and acts on

and impacts other members of that species

or even other species.

So for instance, rodents are very good

at detecting the urine and the scent markings

of large carnivores that want to eat them.

So that’s a pheromonal interaction.

Whether or not there are pheromonal effects

in humans is very debated.

I did a post on this on Instagram a little while ago

about some pheromone effects that were reported in humans.

And I had a couple of people come at me saying,

look, it’s never really been shown in humans

that there’s a pheromonal,

what’s called the vomeronasal organ.

There’s something called Jacobson’s organ.

It’s rudimentary.

Some people have it, some people don’t.

Very controversial.

So I want to point out that human pheromone effects

are controversial, although I think there’s,

in my opinion, there’s ample evidence for them.

Synchronization of menstrual cycles for many people report.

Then people say there’s some studies

that show that it’s not true.

Then there’ve been some data showing very impressive

pheromonal effects of female partners

being able to detect the odor of their significant others

on t-shirts that were washed several times.

So they can’t consciously perceive it,

but they say this one smells like them.

This one smells like my partner.

And indeed, the match was way above chance.

So there does seem to be weak pheromonal effects,

at least in my opinion, when I look at the data,

but much more needs to be done.

So one of the more interesting pheromone effects

that impacts puberty, at least in animal models,

is the so-called Vandenberg effect,

which is if you take a pre-pubertal female,

so a female that has not undergone sexual maturation,

and you introduce a novel male that is not the father

or a brother, not a sibling,

she will undergo puberty almost immediately.

So this is really striking.

For years, this was thought not to occur in primate species,

but there was a paper published last year

in Current Biology, Cell Press Journal,

excellent journal, showing that mandrills,

a particular type of primate,

they exhibit this Vandenberg effect.

There are also all sorts of other pheromone effects.

There’s the most infamous one is called the Bruce effect,

where the introduction of a novel male

to a pregnant female animal causes spontaneous miscarriage.

And that effect seems to be protected against

by the presence of the father.

So another, you know, these interpretation of this,

and I want to really highlight that this is,

these are animal studies,

but the way this works is that if a pregnant female

is in the company of the male that impregnated her,

then her young are protected by his scent presence

or his pheromone presence.

But if he’s gone and a novel male shows up,

there’s a tendency for her to spontaneously miscarry,

and essentially for the fetus to be lost.

Now, whether or not this occurs in humans

is still very controversial,

but nonetheless, these pheromone effects exist.

And that one is called the Bruce effect,

named after Hilda Bruce,

who is the scientist that discovered it.

The one that’s relevant to the puberty discussion

is the Vandenberg effect,

which I mentioned a few minutes ago,

which is a novel male showing up,

has to be a sexually competent male,

so he has to have already passed through puberty.

And his presence triggers activation of puberty

in a female that otherwise would have remained

pre-pubertal for longer.

Again, whether or not this happens in humans, unclear.

Well, what can we be sure about when we think about puberty?

Puberty is triggered by a number of different factors.

There are changes in GABA expression in the brain

and inhibitory transmitter.

One of the more interesting molecules

that triggers puberty in all individuals

is something called Kispeptin,

K-I-S-S-P-E-P-T-I-N, Kispeptin.

Kispeptin is made by the brain

and it stimulates large amounts of a different hormone

called GNRH, gonadotropin-releasing hormone, to be released.

Gonadotropin-releasing hormone

then causes the release of another hormone,

something called luteinizing hormone or LH,

which travels in the bloodstream

and stimulates the ovaries of females to produce estrogen

and the testes of males to produce testosterone.

Kispeptin has other effects as well,

but those are some of the main ones

as they relate to puberty.

Now, this is interesting because at this point,

the testes in males start churning out tons of testosterone

in order to trigger the development

of secondary sexual characteristics,

body hair and all the others, deepening of voice, et cetera.

And in females, estrogen is doing various other things,

breast development, et cetera.

Normally in an adult, somebody who has passed puberty,

a big increase in gonadotropin-releasing hormone

and luteinizing hormone would eventually be shut down

because the way that the brain works,

the hypothalamus and the pituitary

are actually measuring how much hormone is in the blood.

And if testosterone or estrogen

or any other hormone goes too high,

they shut down the release of things

like luteinizing hormone.

It’s a way, it’s called a negative feedback loop.

It basically is like a thermostat in the house.

It’s more complicated than that,

but once levels get too high in the bloodstream,

it shuts down.

But kispeptin is able to drive very high levels

of these hormones in an ongoing way

so that puberty can commence and can continue.

And incidentally, kispeptin has now become yet another

of the panoply of hormones and peptides

and cocktails that athletes take

in order to try and stimulate natural hormone production,

essentially to create their own performance-enhancing drugs


No judgment there, but that’s a fact.

There’s a lot of kispeptin use.

People, I’m truly not suggesting anyone do this,

but people are buying and injecting kispeptin

for the specific reason that even past puberty

can stimulate the large increases in things like estrogen,

large increases in testosterone

and things of that sort.

Has a number of psychological effects too.

Seems to have big effects on libido, et cetera.

All these things, of course, are subject to feedback loops

so they don’t work indefinitely.

And I’m going to highlight, again,

I’m not suggesting anyone do it,

but I do like to pay attention to what’s out there.

And kispeptin, because it wasn’t discovered that long ago,

is one of the things that you don’t often hear about

when people talk about performance-enhancing drugs

or therapeutic endocrinology.

These things also have therapeutic uses

in the endocrine setting.

So for instance, kids that don’t undergo puberty

or kids that are hypogonadal

or adults that are hypogonadal,

they’re not making enough hormone,

will take things like kispeptin among other things.

So that’s how puberty happens at the biological level,

gets triggered by leptin and kispeptin.

And then this young child

is now a different creature to some extent.

Not just because they’re reproductively competent,

of course, but because there’s a shift

in a number of the things that underlie these social bonds.

There’s a market shift in a number of the things

that allow children and adults

to engage in predictive behavior about each other.

And the whole nature of adolescence and puberty

is to take a child that was a generalist

and to make them a specialist.

And this is very important

as it relates to the conversation about emotionality.

But it’s important in terms of all aspects

of brain function and in terms of learning

and in terms of who each and every one of us

will and has become.

In adolescence and in childhood,

sure, there are some genetic biases,

hair color, eye color, height, and things like that.

A lot of that’s programmed into the genome.

There are other genetic biases too, of course,

that we inherit.

But it’s in adolescence and puberty

that we go from essentially being somewhat good

at a bunch of things or somewhat poor at a bunch of things

to becoming very good at a few things

and very poor at a lot of other things.

And that’s because of the relationship

to puberty and neuroplasticity.

This ability to change the brain

in response to experience is starting to taper off

such that by our early 20s, it’s harder to achieve.

The transition from generalist to specialist

is one aspect of adolescence and puberty,

but the other is the formation

of social and emotional bonds.

And most of what consumes the minds

and waking hours of adolescents

and children who’ve gone through puberty

and going through puberty is questions

about how they relate to social structures,

who they can rely on,

and how they can make reliable predictions in the world

now that they have more agency,

that they are physically changed.

In fact, you could argue that puberty

is the fastest rate of maturation

that you’ll go through at any point in your life.

It’s the largest change that you’ll go through

at any point in your life in terms of who you are,

because your biology has fundamentally changed

at the level of your brain and your bodily organs,

all your organs from the skin inward.

So I want to visit a little bit of the research

about some of the core needs

that occur during puberty and adolescence,

not just for parents or for the people

that might be in puberty and adolescence,

but also so that people can reflect

on which of these sort of boxes were checked off for them

as they approached emotional maturity.

So there’s a terrific review article

that was published in the journal Nature,

which is, if not the premier,

then certainly among the top three premier journals

in the field of science

about the biology of adolescence and puberty,

as well as some of the core needs and demands

that have to be met for successful emotional maturation

during that time.

We will provide a link to that,

but I just want to highlight a few of the things

that they place in the final table.

I don’t want to go through all the results right now,

because you could do that on your own if you like.

They mainly highlight a lot of the changes in neurons

and neural circuits.

For instance, I’ll just highlight one.

There’s a connection between the dopamine centers

in the brain and an area of the brain

that’s involved in emotion and dispersal.

Dispersal is very interesting.

What you observe in animals and humans

is that around the end of adolescence

and during the transition to puberty,

both because of changes in the brain

and changes in hormones,

there’s an intense desire on the part of the child

to get further and further away from primary caregivers.

Not permanently, they always return,

similar to a child that walks off and then looks back

and sees if everything’s safe and then continues on.

During adolescence and puberty,

both in animals and in kids,

it almost seems like there’s a bias for action,

and the action is always in a direction away

from the primary caregiver.

As soon as I say that, I can just imagine in my mind

that somebody out there saying,

well, no, my kid, as soon as they hit puberty,

they just want to stay home with us all the time.

That’s not typical.

It happens, but it’s not typical.

Mostly there’s a desire to start spending more time

with friends, more time with peers, and less time with adults.

And I find it extremely interesting to note

that that’s not just true in humans.

That’s true in other primate species.

That’s true in rodents.

That’s true in almost every other mammalian species.

There’s something about these hormones

that don’t just allow sexual reproduction.

They don’t just change the brain and bodily organs

and the shape of us.

They also bias us towards dispersal,

getting further and further away

from primary caregivers in particular.

So parents of teenagers or future teenagers,

it is not just normal.

It is baked in to the biology of humans

to disperse around adolescence and in the teen years.

So again, I just want to highlight a few of these,

what were listed as intervention strategies

to promote healthy adolescence and puberty.

And it’s very interesting because the entire article,

I should mention who wrote this article, apologies.

One of them is a friend of mine.

So the first author is Ronald Dahl,

not the children’s book author, I’m assuming.

No, from the School of Public Health

at University of California, Berkeley.

And Nicholas Allen, Linda Wilbrecht,

and Anna Ballenhoff-Suleiman,

forgive me for the pronunciation of the last one.

I know Dr. Wilbrecht quite well.

She’s done the work on dispersal,

is quite well known for that work.

And it’s a very extensive review,

but I think you’ll find it accessible.

A lot of changes in thickness of the brain

at different stages, et cetera.

But I think most people will be interested

in what that translates to in the real world.

And what’s interesting is during puberty,

there’s increased connection, connectivity as we call it,

between the prefrontal cortex,

which is involved in motivation and decision-making,

being able to suppress action

for making long-term goals possible,

as well as dopamine centers and the amygdala.

So there’s this really broad integration and testing.

I think this is the key element here,

testing of circuits for emotions and reward

as they relate to decisions.

And I think that’s useful

because when you look at the behavior

of adolescents and teens,

they are testing social interactions.

They are testing physical interactions with the world.

Oftentimes they’re engaging in unsafe behavior

and I would never try and justify that

with the underlying neurology.

But the neuroscience points to increased connectivity

between areas of the brain

that are related to emotionality

and to threat detection like the amygdala, but also reward.

So it’s a time of testing behaviorally

how different behaviors lead to success or not.

It’s how different behaviors lead to fear states or not.

Now, of course, you could say that

of any stage of development,

but it seems like puberty is a very, very heightened stage

in which testing of contingencies,

good or bad, is taking place.

And of course, this is happening,

it’s operating in a body

that’s now more capable than the infant.

So an infant can damage themselves through error,

but it’s harder for them to damage themselves

through deliberate planning.

That’s why it’s important, of course,

to lock up all the medications in the house,

make sure infants can’t get to them.

But it’s not likely that the infant

is going to devise an extremely diabolical plan

to get into the cabinet to get a certain substance,

whereas a teenager might, right?

So you can start to map the neurology

onto some of this emotional exploration.

I do realize that this episode is about emotions.

Puberty is a time in which the internal state

of the person or the animal is being sampled

and tested against different extra receptive events,

only now they are able to guide those events

with more agency, right?

It’s no longer just about whether or not the caregiver

is bringing you milk or bringing you food.

Now, of course, the parents will all say,

yeah, but I’m paying for everything that they’re doing.

I’m paying for the car and I’m paying for the food.

Ah, true, but the biology doesn’t care about the source.

The child or the adolescent is now able,

the teen really, is able to now sample many,

many more extra receptive events through behavior.

So some of these recommendations are interesting.

The theory is that one of the motivations

is to learn to mitigate the risk of famine and malnutrition.

As teenagers get older, they start questioning

whether or not their parents

are everything they thought they were,

whether or not they’re the greatest thing that ever was

or the worst thing that ever was, perhaps,

including whether or not they will be able

to provide them resources.

So they test whether or not

they can actually feed themselves,

whether or not they can support themselves.

Although rarely, certainly it happens,

but rarely are they really taking care of themselves,

although some teens are forced

to take care of themselves, of course.

And other caretakers aren’t available.

The recommendations that map to the biology include later,

there’s been a big push for later start times in schools

to match their shifts in circadian rhythms

and the need for extended sleep,

something we talked about during the sleep episodes,

to insist on sleep interventions for youth

who are at increased risk for mental health problems.

Almost every mental health issue is supported

by getting regular quality sleep of sufficient duration.

Sufficient duration is going to vary from person to person.

Leveraging different kinds of social relationships

that reinforce positive behavior.

This is starting to sound like kind of a boiler plate stuff.

And yet really the goal is during puberty

to encourage as many safe forms of interaction

that allow children, teens really, and adolescents,

I keep calling them children,

but what I mean are people, children going through puberty,

that allow them to test this thing of autonomy

so that they can start to make good assessments

about their extra receptive events that they are selecting

and how those make them feel internally.

So they’re essentially doing a buffet.

The buffet has now broadened to not just include the events

and experiences that their parents

and other caretakers bring them,

but they can now expand the buffet

into things that they can provide themselves.

And so adolescence and puberty is really seen

as the period of development in which one self-samples

for these two elements that we talked about

at the beginning, which are how do I form bonds

and how do I make predictions

about what will make me feel good

at a level of interoception?

Some of that might sound a little transactional,

you know, that all we’re trying to do is figure out

how we can bond with people so we can get what we need,

so we can feel how we need.

I think that’s true to some extent.

Of course, there’s a richer,

more abstract aspect to relationships too,

which are, you know, in relationships,

you can access things you couldn’t do before,

you can cooperate, there’s things like teamwork,

you can do all sorts of things.

But in terms of the biology,

it’s clear that there’s this stage of development

where more autonomy, more physical capability

is triggered by these hormone changes in the brain

and these peptide changes in the brain and body.

And that nonetheless brings us back to the exact same model

that we started with in infancy of alert or calm,

feel good or feel bad.

Primarily exterocepting, primarily interocepting.

So I keep going back to this,

I’m sort of like a repeating record on that

because the same core algorithm,

the same core function is at play throughout the lifespan.

And that’s a useful framework in my opinion,

because it allows you to sort through all the data

and information that’s out there about,

well, this area, the stria terminalis is active

or the basal lateral amygdala is active

or gray matter thickening or this hormone or that hormone

and return to a kind of kernel

of certainly not exhaustive truth,

it doesn’t cover all aspects of emotionality,

but at least establishes some groundwork

from which you can start to evaluate

how different behaviors might or might not make sense,

how certain emotional responses

might or might not make sense,

regardless of the age of the person or the organism.

A discussion about emotions would not be complete

without talking about the right brain, left brain stuff.

And this is a very interesting aspect of sociology,

psychology and neuroscience.

There’s a theory of emotional development

that I find particularly interesting,

which is from Alan Shore at UCLA,

that talks about how most of our testing of bonds

and relationships is this seesawing back and forth

between very dopaminergic, so driven by dopamine

or serotonergic driven by serotonin states.

And this starts with infant and mother or infant and father.

I talked a little bit about this in the previous episode,

but just to remind you,

or for anyone that didn’t hear about it,

that during development,

healthy emotional development clearly begins

with an ability for the caretaker and child

to be in calm, peaceful, soothing, touch oriented,

eye gazing type of behaviors.

Those really drive serotonin,

the endogenous opioid system, oxytocin,

things that are very calming

and are centered around pleasure with the here and now,

as well as excited states of what we’re going to do next.

There’s actually a kind of characteristic sign

of the dopaminergic interaction,

where both caretaker and child are wide-eyed,

the pupils dilate, that’s a signature of arousal.

They get really excited.

Oftentimes the baby will look away if it gets really excited.

Those are signatures of dopamine release in the body.

And in adolescence, these same things carry forward,

where they’re good bonds are achieved

through hanging around, watching TV,

just kind of playing video games

or texting together or talking,

whatever it is that the soothing local activity

happens to be, as well as adventure

and things that are exciting.

So it could be sports, it could be shopping,

it could be a summer adventure,

it could be the next big thing.

And so this kind of seesawing back and forth

between their different reward systems

seems to be the basis

from which healthy emotional bonds are created.

And I invite anyone who’s interested in this

to look up some of Dr. Schor’s work.

I think I misspoke on the last episode.

He’s not a psychiatrist.

He’s a clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst,

but has deep rootings in neuroscience.

It’s, I think, a fascinating aspect.

But the way it’s framed in that book and in his book

and in some of the language around that

is around right brain, left brain.

And we’ve all heard this stuff before

that the right brain is thought to be the emotional side.

This is the characteristic thing that you hear out there,

that the right brain is holistic, that it’s emotive,

and that the left brain is logical, sequential,

and analytic.

And that’s not what Schor was proposing.

There are some right brain, left brain differences,

but the idea that the right brain is synthetic,

holistic, and emotive,

and that the left brain is logical, sequential,

and analytic is false.

There is zero neuroscience evidence for that whatsoever.

We’re going to address this in more detail

during a month talking about learning

and memory and dementia,

but let’s talk about some truths,

some differences between the left brain and right brain,

because we can’t have a discussion about emotion

without doing that.

The left brain, at least for people who are right-handed,

is linguistically dominant,

meaning most of language is centered

in the left side of the brain for right-handed people.

If you were a left-hander

and you were forced to become right-handed,

chances are this is still true

because of when language gets laid down in the brain.

For left-handers,

people that naturally write with their left hand

and always did,

language is still mostly in the left side of the brain,

but it’s also found more often

in the right side of the brain.

So it’s not as lateralized as we say.

It’s kind of distributed between both.

Okay, so right-handers,

most of your language is coming

from the left side of your brain.

Left-handers, it’s probably a little bit

more evenly distributed.

And there are some variations,

whether or not you’re a hook righty or a hook lefty,

there’s all sorts of nuance to this,

but that’s the general aspect.

So language tends to be centered

in the left side of the brain.

And that includes lexicon, grammar, syntax, all of it,

except for one.

And we’ll talk about one aspect of language

that seems to be more right brain that’s very interesting.

There does seem to be some arithmetic advantage.

So ability in math in the left side of the brain.

And I’m going to talk about

how all this was discovered in a minute.

The right brain, however, is linguistically primitive.

Most people don’t realize this

because the right brain is always described

as the emotive side.

It’s super emotional and holistic,

but it’s actually linguistically primitive.

And there’s a way that that’s been teased out

through experiment.

It’s very good at manipulating spatial things

and visual spatial tasks.

It’s primarily handling that stuff,

but it’s sort of non-language except one aspect.

And there isn’t a ton of evidence for this,

but the evidence is strong, which is prosody.

Prosody is the lilting and falling of language.

So a good example would be Italian.

I don’t speak Italian.

I only know a little bit of Italian,

but most of the Italian I know

is when my Italian colleagues have said to me,

ma cosa dici?

Which means like, what are you trying to say?

Or what are you saying?

I think I’m getting that right.

Basically, they’re saying I don’t speak Italian,

which is true.

Or because one of them knows and loves Costello very much,

they always say, un pigrone, which means big lazy guy,

which accurately captures Costello.

So even those few examples, right?

Ma cosa dici?

Un pigrone.

There’s a lot of lilt and fall in Italian.

Other languages, not so much.

And it varies by language.

One of the reasons I find Italian so beautiful,

not the Italian I speak,

but the Italian that other people speak.

So beautiful to listen to is that prosody

and the shifts in intonation are really quite remarkable.

It’s almost like a sing song listening to them speak.

And I used to like to go to scientific meetings

and I always hang out with the Italians

because I had some good friends in Italian labs,

but also because they always knew where the best food was.

Their standards for food are incredible.

They would rather starve than eat terrible pasta.

And the pasta they do find

and that they’re willing to eat is always fantastic.

But in addition to that, they always brought a guitar.

They were a lot more fun than a lot of my other colleagues

to hang out with at meetings.

So in any event, the right brain is doing things

that are more about manipulating spatial information.

And I’ll talk about this more in a future episode,

but this was discovered in split brain patients,

so people that lack connection

between the two sides of the brain.

And this had to be teased out

through very complicated experiments.

People like Roger Sperry, who won a Nobel prize for this,

who was at Caltech, Mike Gazzaniga and others

figured out these lateralized differences.

But let’s just try and demolish the myth

that the right side is synthetic and holistic and emotive,

and that the left side is logical, sequential and analytic,

that you’re a left brain person or a right brain person.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

There’s no scientific evidence to support that.

And there’s a few lesion studies

that can tease out effects

that make you think that’s what’s happening,

but the really careful work

points in a totally different direction.

We can’t have a complete conversation

about emotions and bonds and social connection

without talking about oxytocin.

Oxytocin has come to such prominence

in the last decade or so, and seems to be everywhere.

Anytime you hear a discussion

about neuroscience in the brain or hormones in the brain,

oxytocin is released in response to lactation in females.

It is released in response to sexual interactions.

It is released in response to non-sexual touch.

It’s released in males and females.

And indeed, it’s involved in pair bonding

and the establishment of social bonds in general.

How it does that seems to be by matching internal state.

It seems to both increase synchrony

of internal states somehow.

Maybe it sets a level of calmness or alertness.

That seems like a reasonable hypothesis.

As well as raising people’s awareness

for the emotional state of their partner.

And again, this brings us back

to this alertness calmness axis

and this interoceptive exteroceptive axis.

In order to form good bonds,

we can’t just be thinking about how we feel.

We also need to be paying attention to how others feel

and we’re evaluating a match.

We’re trying to see whether or not

there seems to be some sort of synchrony between states.

And oxytocin both seems to increase that synchrony

and increase the awareness

for the emotional state of others.

Now, I know many of you are probably screaming

mirror neurons, mirror neurons.

Mirror neurons, as some of you may know,

and some of you perhaps may not,

are neurons that were discovered in animals and humans

for their ability to respond

when people engaged in certain physical actions

like lifting of a pen,

but the same neurons would respond

when somebody watched someone else lift a pen.

So they were really mirrors of

or representing mirrors of behavior,

both in self and in others.

Mirror neurons are very controversial.

There are many neuroscientists who I respect a lot

who don’t think they exist

because they look at the data

and the data, at least in their mind,

were over-interpreted in the realm of empathy

and in assigning value to the emotional states of others.

And when I look at the literature,

my opinion is that indeed there are neurons in the brain

that clearly represent the actions of others,

but it’s not clear that they’re wired into the emotion

and empathy system in any direct way.

And I think the growing consensus is that mirror neurons,

while the name is terrific,

and it’s so catchy and encompasses so much

of what you would love for it to encompass,

but that the data don’t really support that.

But this is controversial,

and I’m perfectly happy to get experts on here

that could debate it better than I could.

There are, however, neurons in the brain

that were discovered by my colleague,

Karen Harush at Stanford

when she was working in Noam Ziv’s lab

that clearly point to the fact that primate species

are making assumptions and are trying to predict

the behavior of other members of their species.

It’s an experiment I don’t have time to go into

in real detail.

We should probably just get Karen on here.

For those of you that are familiar

with the prisoner’s dilemma,

which is really a model of cooperation,

you can either cooperate,

or one member of a given interaction

can cooperate and the other one won’t,

or you can both not cooperate.

There are ways in which you can solve

this so-called prisoner’s dilemma

by looking at previous behavior

and making predictions about the likely next behavior

that the other individual will engage in.

And there do seem to be neurons

that are doing these sorts of predictions or computations.

And again, I’ll go into this in more detail in the future.

So rather than think about mirror neurons,

like neurons for empathy,

I think it’s more correct to think about neurons

that are trying to predict the behavior of others.

And that’s, as we said,

one of the core features of emotions,

which are to establish bonds,

and through those bonds to be able to predict behavior.

So oxytocin is one component of this ability

to predict others’ behavior and to guide our own behavior.

So here are some experiments

that involve the administration of intranasal oxytocin.

People now, I think you need a prescription,

although in some places you don’t.

There are people who are taking intranasal oxytocin

in order to try and increase the depth of bonding.

And I don’t recommend you do that.

I’ve never tried that.

Whatever oxytocin I’ve released,

I’ve made without an intranasal exogenous application.

But what’s been reported

is increased positive communication among couples.

So people have taken intranasal oxytocin in studies.

So that study, just for those of you who like,

was published in Biological Psychiatry,

which my psychiatry colleagues tell me is a fine journal.

And the title is,

intranasal oxytocin increases positive communication

and reduces the stress hormone cortisol levels

during couple conflict.

They have them fight,

or they have them fight with and without oxytocin.

So interesting.

Very much in line with the idea

that oxytocin is the quote-unquote trust hormone.

That’s sort of in keeping with that.

That was a 2009 paper.

There’s other evidence, for instance,

that men report a greater sense of connection and intimacy

with their partners during sex

after taking intranasal oxytocin.

There are studies in autistic children

giving them intranasal oxytocin

as a way to try and help them

establish better social connection

and quote-unquote empathy or theory of mind.

I’ve talked about theory of mind before.

We’re understanding of what other children

and adults are experiencing.

So, oxytocin does seem to create these general effects

and how nuanced they are in one situation or another,

I don’t know.

I’m aware and I was told,

and I’m definitely not recommending this,

that there’s a marketed oxytocin ketamine nasal spray.

Now, I have no idea.

Maybe someone can put in the comments

why you’d want to combine oxytocin and ketamine.

I can’t imagine why.

Ketamine is a dissociative anesthetic

that’s used for the treatment of PTSD.

It used to be used as a recreational drug.

It’s very similar to PCP, seems quite dangerous, in fact.

I don’t know why those two things would be combined,

why one would want to combine them,

but there are products out there

that seem to combine those two things,

and I’m not certain why one would do that,

but it’s interesting to note that it’s happening.

A particularly interesting study about oxytocin

is that that was published in the Journal of Neuroscience,

which is a good journal,

that oxytocin modulates social distance

between males and females.

So, this is interesting.

What they did is they gave oxytocin

to people that were in monogamous relationships,

and then they evaluated the extent to which the,

in this case, the males in those relationships

would pay attention to, visual attention,

to attractive other potential partners,

and it seemed like that the general takeaway from the study

is that oxytocin administration

seemed to promote monogamous behavior,

so behavior that was in line with monogamy

of the relationship that they were in,

as opposed to foraging for potentially new mates.

Now, of course, these are somewhat artificial experiments

or very artificial experiments,

depending on how you interpret them,

but the general theme is that oxytocin is promoting monogamy,

monogamy, it’s promoting pair bonding,

it’s promoting a understanding

of the internal state of others,

which requires enhanced exteroception

for those particular others.

So, not just generally having them look everywhere

and see what’s going on in the world,

but particularly paying attention

to the emotional states of others.

I’m sure several of you will be asking,

well, what can I do to increase oxytocin,

if that’s your goal?

There’s some evidence, and I invite you again

to go to or another such site,

like PubMed, if you want to forage PubMed,

that vitamin D is required for proper production,

and in some cases can increase levels of oxytocin

when supplemented, which is interesting,

and that, believe it or not, melatonin,

our old friend melatonin,

which I have pushed back against as a supplement for sleep

because of some of the, what I view

as untoward side effects of melatonin in most cases,

but it seems like melatonin in some cases

can prime the system

for slightly increased oxytocin release.

There’s even one report,

although it didn’t look that strong to me,

that low doses of caffeine could increase oxytocin release,

but that, to me, falls under the category

of what was once described as a drug,

when injected into a person or animal,

is always effective at producing a scientific paper,

meaning that you can get a result,

but the result isn’t always so robust,

so you always want to read past the titles and the abstracts

and get into the meat of the paper,

and when I did that, the effects were pretty negligible

with caffeine on oxytocin,

but it’s interesting that vitamin D and melatonin

may have some positive effects on oxytocin release,

but like I said, many people are just taking oxytocin

directly through these intranasal sprays.

I’m pretty sure it’s prescription in most places,

but check, and again, I’m not recommending anybody do that.

I’ve never tried it.

I don’t know that I will.

I think I’m going to stick with the oxytocin

that I’ve got.

The other molecule that we make that’s extremely important

for social bonds and emotionality

is one that we’re going to talk about more

in the month on hormones, and that’s vasopressin.

Vasopressin suppresses urination.

It was actually developed, it’s made by the body,

but it was developed as a treatment

for something called diabetes insipidus,

where people urinate excessively

and they actually risk dehydration

and they can lose a lot of electrolytes, et cetera,

so it causes water retention.

Alcohol consumption inhibits vasopressin,

so large amounts of alcohol

make people excrete a lot of fluid and so forth.

Vasopressin has effects on the brain directly.

It actually creates feelings of giddy love.

It also increases memory in very potent ways.

There’s a whole biohacking community

that has been dabbling with vasopressin for some time.

I have never tried it.

I certainly don’t recommend it.

It is prescription and it is a pretty serious compound

to start messing with

because it has so many different effects in the body.

It’s interesting because it creates the sense of giddy love.

It’s also used somewhat as an aphrodisiac,

so it’s similar to oxytocin.

It also has very interesting effects

on monogamous or non-monogamous behavior.

This, again, we will revisit in the future,

but there’s a beautiful set of experiments

that have been done in a little rodent species

called a prairie vole.

It turns out there are two different populations

of prairie voles.

Some are monogamous.

They always mate with the same other prairie vole,

and some are very robustly non-monogamous.

They mate with as many other prairie voles as they can.

And it turns out that levels of vasopressin

and or vasopressin receptor

dictate whether or not they’re monogamous or not.

And there’s actually some interesting evidence in humans

when people report their behavior,

assuming they’re reporting it accurately,

that vasopressin and vasopressin levels

can relate to monogamy or non-monogamy in humans as well.

We’re going to talk about this in the month on hormones.

If we’re talking about the neuroscience of emotions,

we have to talk about the vagus nerve.

I described what the vagus nerve is in a previous episode.

That’s these connections between the body and the viscera,

including the gut, the heart, the lungs,

and the immune system, and the brain,

and that the brain is also controlling these organs

so it’s a two-way street.

There’s this big myth out there that I mentioned before

that stimulating the vagus in various ways

leads to calmness, that it’s always going to calm you down.

And that is false.

I just want to repeat, that is completely false.

In fact, there was just a paper,

yet another paper published the other day,

which is fantastic, which is from David McCormick’s lab

up at the University of Oregon.

It’s published in Current Biology, excellent journal,

showing, I’m just reading the title,

vagus nerve stimulation induces widespread cortical,

the neocortex, and behavioral activation.

I’ve read the paper, it’s fantastic.

It illustrates yet again,

stimulation of the vagus increases dopamine release,

increases activation of the brain alertness.

It is a stimulant of alertness.

It is not calming people down.

Now, this is interesting in light of emotionality

because of work that’s been done

by many groups, but in particular,

I’m going to focus on the work of a colleague of mine,

Karl Deisseroth at Stanford, who’s a psychiatrist,

but has also developed a lot of tools

to adjust the activity of neurons in real time

using light and electrical stimulation and so forth.

I’ll refer you to an article in the New Yorker

that was published about this a few years ago.

I’m going to read a brief excerpt,

but I’ll put the link in the caption as well.

He’s talking to an extremely depressed,

suicidally depressed patient

who has a small device implanted

that allows her to adjust her vagus nerve activity.

Now, vagus stimulation was originally developed

for the treatment of epilepsy.

It’s now being used for various other purposes.

Vagus stimulation can even increase plasticity, it seems.

So again, increasing activity of the vagus

increases alertness, and it’s just incredible

to see what happens in real time to emotionality

when the vagus is stimulated.

Again, not calming, but activating alertness.

They’re in his office and they’re talking,

and he asks her how she’s doing,

and she describes how she’s been doing previously

as quote-unquote going pancake,

which for her just means totally laid out flat,

not much going on.

She talks about how she doesn’t want to pursue a job.

She’s really depressed.

And he says in typical good psychiatrist fashion,

well, that’s a lot to think about.

That’s actually the quote.

And they talk about her blood pressure, et cetera.

And then she says, mood’s been down, just spiraling down,

talks about insomnia, bad dreams, low appetite.

So this is severe depression.

This is what we call major depression.

And then she requests,

can we please go up to 1.5 on vagus stimulation?

She’d been receiving 1.2 milliamps of stimulation

every five minutes to 30 seconds,

but was no longer able to feel the effects.

So he says, okay, I think we can go up a little.

You’re tolerating things well.

They start the stimulation and quote,

in the course of the next few minutes,

her name was Sally, underwent a remarkable change.

Her frown disappeared.

She became cheerful,

describing the pleasure she had had

during the Christmas holiday

and recounting how she’d recently watched

some YouTube videos of Dyseroth.

She was still smiling and talking when the session ended,

and they walked out to the reception area.

So this is just by stimulating and activating the vagus.

Now, why am I bringing this up?

Well, for several reasons.

One is the vagus is fascinating

in terms of the brain-body connection.

Two, I’d like to keep trying to dispel the myth

that vagus stimulation is all about being calm.

It’s really about being alert.

I don’t know how that originally got going backwards,

but it’s about being alert.

And once again, level of alertness or level of calmness

is impacting emotion,

that this access of alertness and calmness

is one primary access in emotion.

It’s not the only one

because there’s also this valence component of good or bad.

And those two aren’t the only ones

because there’s also this component of interoceptive,

exteroceptive that we talked about earlier,

and there will be others too.

Again, it’s not exhaustive.

But I find it fascinating,

and it really brings us back to where we started,

which is what are the core elements of emotion?

And what can you do about them?

And before we close up today,

I just want to make sure that

even though I’ve mentioned some tools,

I talked about the Mood Meter app,

I talked about oxytocin

and some of the things that impact oxytocin,

I talked about some of the ways

that you can conceptualize emotions.

This business of how you conceptualize emotions

is really the most powerful tool you can ever have

in terms of understanding and regulating

your emotional state.

If you’re willing to try and wrap your head around it,

I realize it’s not the simplest thing to do,

but rather than think of emotions as just these labels,

happy, sad, awe, depressed,

thinking about emotions, excuse me,

as elements of the brain and body

that encompass levels of alertness

that include a dynamic with the outside world

and your perception of your internal state,

and starting to really think about emotions

in a structured way

can not only allow you to understand

some of the pathology of when you might feel depressed

or anxious or others are depressed and anxious,

but also to develop a richer

emotional experience to anything.

Now, of course, I don’t expect that

as you’re out there interacting with friends

and you’re watching TV and experiencing life

that you should be parsing every bit of your experience

in some sort of reductionist and mechanistic way.

That’s not the goal here.

But for those of you that are practitioners,

teachers of any kind,

for those of you that are kids,

for those of you that are trying to understand

what your emotional life and your consciousness,

dare I say the word, really consists of,

I do believe that these are fundamental elements

that are well-supported by the science

across a variety of researchers

doing things from a variety of different perspectives,

and some of whom agree with one another

and some of whom don’t.

So I offer it to you as a source of knowledge

from which you can start to think about

your emotional life differently, I hope,

as well as others in a way that builds more richness

into that experience, not that detracts from it.

One last point as it relates to that,

many of you have asked me about psychedelic therapies

that are now emerging, things like psilocybin and MDMA.

We are, of course, going to dive into that topic deeply.

We have an expert guest coming on to discuss that topic.

Those compounds clearly affect the aspects of emotionality

that we were talking about today,

calmness, alertness, valence, good or bad,

interoceptive, exteroceptive, positioning.

And so rather than just do a kind of cursory exploration

of those compounds and what the therapeutic

and scientific community is thinking about them

and how they function, I think it’s more important

to embed that framework in our thinking

so that when we address psychedelics

and we address other sorts of therapies,

cognitive behavioral therapy,

different types of emotive therapies

that relate to individuals and couples, et cetera,

that we are able to think about them

with some sort of structure and rigor

rather than just talk about them as a bunch of chemicals

that produce these amazing experiences

that people need to tell you about.

Because if there’s one truth,

it seems that psychedelics seem to promote activity

of storytelling about psychedelic experience.

But that itself is not really what

the therapeutic community and the academic

and communities are interested in.

They’re interested in trying to understand

the universal truths, the universal biological shifts

and psychological shifts that occur

in the clinical use of those compounds.

And so we’re going to hold off for now,

but we will get to them.

Once again, we’ve covered an enormous amount

of material today.

It’s really the equivalent of two,

if not three university lectures in one podcast episode.

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