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Modern Neuroscience Research Supports Physiocognitive Medicine
By Heather Rupp PhD

Over the past few years I have been faced with medical challenges for which conventional western medicine offered little satisfactory explanation. I have been routinely offered surgery and pharmaceuticals to ‘fix’ symptoms that were part of a larger problem that could not be understood or diagnosed. As a scientist, truth and the understanding of cause and effect drive my motivations and I could not accept a treatment approach that could not offer me these answers. So I looked elsewhere and found Physiocognitive Medicine.

The approach of Physiocognitive Medicine offered me the root cause I was seeking as well as tools to heal at this source rather than treating or masking symptoms. This root cause was in my own thinking. I learned of the detrimental effects that negative thinking can have on our bodies, and experienced first-hand the healing that can occur when negative thoughts from the past are removed and replaced with positive thinking. Personally, I am thrilled to be healthy and happy and drug free for the first time in years. But as a scientist I wondered, how is this possible?

Recently, I attended the Annual Society for Neuroscience meeting along with 30,000 other neuroscience researchers. This is where scientists share their work investigating brains and behavior. Ranges of topics included addiction, emotion, decision-making, perception, attention, stress, development in children, and aging. At its core is an attempt to explain and understand the human experience by describing the underlying chemical and neural systems through careful and methodical experimentation. Although I was there for another professional purpose, the research I learned about made me think of the Physiocognitive work I was doing. During this conference, two critical findings struck me as having implications for the use of Physiocognitive Medicine techniques:

1. Multiple researchers reported findings showing that a person’s internal state determines the value of an external stimulus. Rather than there being an objective ‘true’ value of something, there is only a person’s own subjective value based on their individual internal state. Our reality is in fact our very own personal creation that we can grow and can shape. Researchers can change the rewarding and aversive value of very objective stimuli such as money and pain by changing a person’s mood, social context, or motivation. These personal evaluations are stored in our brains as the filters through which we process the world.

2. Researchers found that when they measured the functional brain activity of people making decisions the same activity occurred in the brain whether people actually performed the outcome of their decision or simply thought about what they would do. This means that for your brain and body there is no distinction between thinking and doing during decision making. Thinking something causes a similar neural response as doing it. The implication of this is that imagining good or bad outcomes can have physiological impact even if we aren’t doing anything but thinking.

To me, the neuroscience findings described here support the use of Physiocognitive Medicine’s positive thinking techniques with the demonstration that individually determined internal states alter our evaluation of external cues. Furthermore, the decisions we make and responses we have to these evaluations trigger the same neurophysiological responses whether we act or simply think about what we would do.

I was very excited about these findings and their possible implications, so I asked an expert in Physiocognitive Medicine, Devatara Holman, what she thought about the research and whether she felt they could be applied to Physiocognitive Medicine. Her response:

“From the perspective of a physician and practitioner of Physiocognitive Medicine, these findings help us to understand several important things about the impact of just our mere thoughts. First we must remember that a certain brain wave pattern sends information into the body in the form of nervous system reactions, hormone excretion and various other chemical reactions in the body. If we had a negative experience in the past and we think about it again and again, this functions in the body and mind in the same way as if we were actually having the experience over and over again; each time reengaging the same negative biochemical and hormonal cascade in the body. This rethinking of a negative event is a negative meditation and the body establishes a pattern based on this – a negative physiological pattern that gives rise to physical illness and suffering. As we say in the physiocognitive approach, ‘Everything we think grows’ But it is possible, however, to spiral upward, to have your positive thinking grow in our mind and body thereby maintaining health or paving a pathway out of illness and suffering and into health and lasting happiness.”

In sum, Neuroscience and Physiocognitive Medicine come together at the idea that a positive internal state has direct impact on how we view and respond to the world and the resulting neurophysiology. From my perspective as a patient of Physiocognitive Medicine and my perspective as a scientist, I am excited to see this convergence of modern scientific discovery with Physiocognitive Medicine which suggests an exciting path forward in understanding how our thinking can influence our behavior, health, and happiness.


Heather Rupp received her PhD in Psychology from Emory University where she investigated the role of hormones in the human brain and cognitive functioning. She worked at Indiana University using fMRI to examine the neural systems underlying women’s social behavior, decision-making, and emotion, resulting in numerous federal grants and peer-reviewed publications. For the last several years she has worked in the private sector applying cognitive neuroscience to business and market research. She is passionate about the positive impact our minds can have on our bodies and inspired to explore and share about how modern neuroscience can support the teachings of physiocognitive medicine.

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