Oof. It was yet another “gotcha” moment for me working here at Scientific American Mind. Walking home from the train a few days ago, I was running through my mental to-do list. I realized that, yet again, I somehow had not gotten around to the simple task of making appointments for routine dental and physical checkups. Fact is I still haven’t done so even as I type these words.
Why do I do that, when it’s so obviously smarter to get a quick screening now rather than risking the bother and expense of treating a possible cavity later? Thanks to the feature article “I’ll Do It Tomorrow,” by Trisha Gura, I now know why—and you will, too. Almost everyone procrastinates, as Gura explains, especially when we find a task disagreeable. But we can take steps to short-circuit such tendencies.
Interrupting—or correcting—circuits is also the key to an intriguing therapy called deep-brain stimulation. “The brain is an electrical organ, so there is little that goes wrong with it that could not, hypothetically, benefit from finely calibrated pulses of electricity,” write neuroscientists Morten L. Kringelbach and Tipu Z. Aziz in “Sparking Recovery with Brain ‘Pacemakers.’ ” A battery implanted in a person’s chest can, like a pacemaker, provide pulses of electricity to targeted areas of the brain to treat ailments such as Parkinson’s, chronic pain and depression.
At the lead of another kind of treatment front are scientists who are trying to better understand “mild” traumatic brain injuries such as those sustained by hundreds of combat veterans in Iraq. In “Impact on the Brain,” neuropsychologist Richard J. Roberts explains how a nearby blast that may knock out a soldier only briefly can nonetheless bruise brain tissue, resulting in later emotional trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. Sports and accidents cause hundreds of thousands of similar injuries every year in the U.S. as well. A growing appreciation of the problem of mild brain trauma is spawning research into welcome treatments for this hidden plague.
Note: This article was originally published with the title, "Charge Forward".