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Busy Hands, Happy Brain (Dr. Kelly Lambert Part 1)

Are active, busy hands the key to happiness?


Well, of course, we’ve always thought so.


We learned a lot about the power of hands-on activities and hands-on learning during a recent podcast conversation with renowned neuroscientist Dr. Kelly Lambert from the University of Richmond.


Come with us now to the motor cortex, the area of our brain that controls all of our muscles.

What consumes most of the “real estate” (as Dr. Lambert calls it) in the motor cortex? It’s not the legs or the back. Those body parts only require “just little, little bits of the motor cortex area,” said Dr. Lambert.


It’s our hands and face.


“So if you're doing anything that uses the hands, you are engaging in more brain activity,” she said.


In the cerebellum (Latin for “little brain”), about 78 percent of all the neurons are involved in motor coordination. The basal ganglia, a group of nuclei (clusters of neurons) located deep within the brain’s cerebral cortex, are also involved in motor control in addition to other functions. 


“So anything you have that's in real time movement, especially when it's using the hands, it's going to be incredibly important,” said Dr. Lambert. “One other benefit is that the left side of your brain controls the right side, your right hand and vice-versa. It's called contralateral control. So if you're using both hands, you're activating both the right and the left hemisphere in an interesting way. So it's so engaging for the brain.”


You’ve heard of pharmaceuticals. The word ‘pharma’ goes back to ancient Greece and loosely references “the practice of the druggist.” And ‘ceutical’ means “something of healing or therapy.”

Well, Dr. Lambert invented the term ‘behaviorceutical’ after studying how working with your hands reduces stress. (There are no side effects to behaviorceuticals and they are cheaper, she points out in this video.)


Fashioning something with your hands, she added, “gives you this sense of control—and gaining a sense of control over a crazy environment that we live in is very helpful and is a wonderful behaviorceutical to reduce the stress hormone levels and stress hormones. gaining a sense of efficacy, autonomy, control.”


In fact, the body may produce dopamine when finishing a hands-on project, such as knitting a sweater or preparing a meal. 


A surge of dopamine, she added. “brings our attention to things that are important that we've accomplished. And, and when you accomplish one thing, it gives you the courage and the confidence to try to accomplish something else.”


Bottom line?


Hands-on learning works.


And hands-on keeps our brains happy.






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