What's Happening When We Hear the Voice in Our Head?

Image Courtesy of iStock
Image Courtesy of iStock

The voice we hear in our head comes in many forms. It can psyche us up for a big interview, help us remember an important speech, or guilt-trip us into calling our grandparents more often. The researchers behind the Hearing the Voice project believe that studying the science behind inner speech will give us a better understanding of language, mental illness, and ourselves. 

Researchers at Durham University in England have been developing the project since 2010. Their scope stretches far outside the medical world with team members hailing from the fields of neuroscience, English literature, medical humanities, philosophy, psychology, and theology. One of the main goals of the project is a better understanding of inner voices as they relate to mental disorders, and one way they’ve been doing that is by studying the voices we all hear on a daily basis. 

Scientists already know that inner speech shares a lot of similarities with externalized speech in terms of what’s happening with our brains and bodies. When that voice “speaks” in our head, our larynx is making subtle muscle movements to accompany it. The same part of our brain we use to speak out loud is also active when we speak internally. 

Knowing this, researchers can compare what’s happening to the brain when speaking aloud to what happens to it during auditory verbal hallucinations (a term often used to describe the voices heard by people suffering from mental illness). One  recent study was conducted by scientists in Finland in which they scanned the brains of participants experiencing such hallucinations then asked them to purposely imagine the same voice. The experiment showed that while similar parts of the brain did light up, the main difference was in the supplementary motor area, which was much less active when the subjects heard voices. This supports the theory that we rely on signals from this part of the brain in order to recognize an inner voice as “ours.”

Looking at neuroscience is important to the Hearing the Voice project, but listening to and discussing first-hand experiences is also a huge factor. Last year, Hearing the Voice teamed up with Edinburgh’s International Book Festival to look at the experiences of hearing inner voices from the perspectives of writers and readers. The event included interviews, workshops, and panel discussions aimed at shedding light on the subject. 

After receiving another five years of funding this spring, the Hearing the Voice project is continuing to find creative ways to explore the internal voices that affect us all.

[h/t: The Guardian]

What Does 'State of Emergency' Really Mean?

Firefighters battle a state of emergency.
Firefighters battle a state of emergency.
Phonix_a/iStock via Getty Images

Local and state officials across the U.S. are declaring states of emergency in their efforts to manage the coronavirus pandemic. Some entire countries, including Italy and Japan, have also declared a state of emergency. But what does this phrase really entail?

Local and State Response

The answer varies a bit from state to state. Essentially, declaring a state of emergency gives the governor and his or her emergency management team a bit of extra latitude to deal with a situation quickly and with maximum coordination. Most of these powers are straightforward: The governor can close state offices, deploy the National Guard and other emergency responders, and make evacuation recommendations.

Other powers are specific to a certain situation. For example, in a blizzard, a governor can impose travel restrictions to clear roads for snowplows and other emergency vehicles.

Calling in the Feds

If a disaster is so severe that state and local governments don’t have the cash or the logistical ability to adequately respond, the governor can ask for a declaration of a federal emergency. In this case, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) does a preliminary damage assessment to help determine whether the governor should petition the president for a federal emergency declaration.

When the declaration from the president comes through, state and local governments can get funding and logistical help from the feds. What makes a crisis a federal emergency? The list is pretty broad, but FEMA shares some criteria here.

Why Does Hand Sanitizer Have an Expiration Date?

Hand sanitizer does expire. Here's why.
Hand sanitizer does expire. Here's why.
galitskaya/iStock via Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic has turned hand sanitizer from something that was once idly tossed into cars and drawers into a bit of a national obsession. Shortages persist, and people are trying to make their own, often to little avail. (DIY sanitizer may not be sterile or contain the proper concentration of ingredients.)

If you do manage to get your hands on a bottle of Purell or other name-brand sanitizer, you may notice it typically has an expiration date. Can it really go “bad” and be rendered less effective?

The short answer: yes. Hand sanitizer is typically made up of at least 60 percent alcohol, which is enough to provide germicidal benefit when applied to your hands. According to Insider, that crucial percentage of alcohol can be affected over time once it begins to evaporate after the bottle has been opened. As the volume is reduced, so is the effectiveness of the solution.

Though there’s no hard rule on how long it takes a bottle of sanitizer to lose alcohol content, manufacturers usually set the expiration date three years from the time of production. (Because the product is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, it has to have an expiration date.)

Let's assume you’ve found a bottle of old and forgotten sanitizer in your house somewhere. It expired in 2018. Should you still use it? It’s not ideal, but if you have no other options, even a reduced amount of alcohol will still have some germ-fighting effectiveness. If it’s never been opened, you’re in better shape, as more of the alcohol will have remained.

Remember that sanitizer of any potency is best left to times when soap and water isn’t available. Consider it a bridge until you’re able to get your hands under a faucet. There’s no substitution for a good scrub.

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