Neuroscience and the baobab

My baby baobab

My baby baobab

The rain tip-taps on the skylights, soaked leaves dance in the wind.

I have an hour left to churn out three job applications, and zero motivation.

Doubt is seeping through me like a cold drizzle: This is not the life I wanted.

Ha, hang on a second, I can feel a bit of mid-life crisis coming on: Watch this space, as I will probably buy a Herm├Ęs bag, and take up wingsuit flying next.

Erm, ok but anyway, what’s that got to do with neuroscience and baobabs ?

Well, for once baobab trees are the symbol of a small Western African country called Senegal, where people are incredibly resourceful and athletic, and baobabs can grow incredibly old and large.

Secondly, I spent what was arguably the best week ever with Mr Nice a year ago in Senegal.

Thirdly, on our last day, I bought a cute baby baobab from a woman who said it would probably struggle to survive in Europe.

A year on, the baobab is flourishing (and will probably outlive us all at this rate), while Mr Nice has turned into someone else, and my anterior cingulate cortex is having a party.

Wow wow wow, hang on a second, your what? Have you also been smoking those baobob leaves?

Hold on, you Heathen, here comes the explanation:

Your anterior cingulate cortex (ACC if you two are close) sits in a part of your brain directly behind your brow – which I can tell is wrinkling up in concentration right now. Good. Bear with me.

Anyway, the ACC is involved in a variety of biological functions such as regulating heart rate and blood pressure, as well as cognitive functions such as consciousness and registering the intensity of physical pain. In fact, its activation is what makes it difficult to do anything when you’re in pain.

And guess what else sends your ACC into a party ? Yup, heartbreak. So there you go, this is why heartbreak feels a bit like simultaneously stubbing your toes, shins and nails on sharp objects. And why my job applications are just not getting done right now.

More on the science of heartbreak :