Understanding Light Switch Mentality

Light switch mentality refers to the physiological process of getting in the zone when one needs most to focus. This rarely happens. Athletes especially try to tell themselves they’ll be ready for game day when it comes around, instead of preparing by mentally and physically practicing proper technique and form. When game day comes around, and they realize they are not ready, the player gives up and turns their switch off.

This is an issue in athletes and performers, but the light switch mentality has shown promising results in the science community. The brain's ability to switch neurons on and off in sections is not evident in the day-to-day, but it may bring new hope to psychiatric patients. By inserting light-sensitive proteins into brain cells, the proteins enable the researcher to turn a set of cells on or off by shining laser beams at the cells. This makes it possible to highlight the exact neural pathways involved in psychiatric disease. A disruption of one particular pathway, for instance, can cause a specific mood or mental disorder.

What Is Light Switch Mentality? 

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The light switch mentality is analogous with complacency or “going through the motions.” It usually occurs when a player is playing poorly. This mindset is of little consequence when you play well, but its negative effects are obvious when you or your team are playing poorly. Light switch players quit either physically or mentally; they give up. How one develops this mentality isn’t as important as recognizing how to get out of the mindset. Not committing to every shot in practice and competition will eventually lead to a lack of execution when needed the most.

How Does It Work?

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Scientists note the light switch mentality mostly in athletes and other performers; however, this mentality applies to many parts of life. At work, there are days where you feel capable and motivated to do your job, but there are other days when you the minimum asked of you and hope that is good enough. Light switch mentality can hurt those who have not developed a healthy "switch."

The margin between success and failure is slim. At the professional level, players must be able to find small ways to maximize their potential. Maximization begins by avoiding the light-switch mentality and consistently reinforcing quality practice and play.

The Link Between Light & Mood

Light and mood are connected directly and indirectly. These connections contribute to advantages and disadvantages. When one of our photoreceptors directly responds to light, their projections reach certain brain regions that affect emotion. However, the indirect connection to certain systems, when disrupted, is believed to contribute to mood disorders. The systems that are indirectly connected to light and linked to mood disorders include disruption of sleep, brain plasticity, neurotransmission, hormone secretion, and gene expression.

In fact, studies have shown structural changes to the brain in patients with severe circadian disruption, such as international flight attendants. Monoamine is made up of some of the most important neurotransmitters targeted by modern medicine in the treatment of depression. These include serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. Scientists believe disruption to the expression of these neurotransmitters leads to depressed mood. The circadian rhythm is described as "physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a daily cycle." Monoamines respond primarily to light and darkness in an organism's environment.

In humans, the circadian rhythm synchronizes certain behavioral and biological processes through a daily cycle, partly regulated by sunlight. Artificial lighting is abundant in many parts of the world. Street lights help us see and increase security, and overhead lights help hospitals function around the clock. We also have TVs, laptops, and cell phones and many of us use them simultaneously. We are only now understanding this suspected correlation between the increase in nighttime lighting and the increase in mood disorders.

Night time lighting, specifically exposure to blue light, affects the circadian rhythm by inhibiting melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone that peaks at night to help us get a restful night’s sleep and regulates the circadian sleep phase. The problem occurs when your sleep is disturbed because your body can’t complete a full circadian cycle. As these circadian systems are suppressed, mood disorders can result. 

Advantages/Disadvantages

right and wrong

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The disadvantages of light switch mentality are more obvious than the advantages. When someone thinks they can just show up and they’ll do a good job with no preparation, whether mentally or physically, there will be a drawback in performance. This could lead to a change in behavior and cause the individual to strive for better practice sessions, but this can also cause even more lack of motivation because they didn’t have “it” when they needed “it” the most — “it” being their best performance possible.

The Research

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Finding the advantages of light switch mentality took research. In a process similar to having a light switch mentality, scientists like Karl Deisseroth at Stanford University have developed a way of using pulses of light to disconnect brain cells off at will. This pulse technique provides a way of controlling the brain that has never been possible before. Researchers have already conducted tests in monkeys, one of humankind's' closest relatives, by using light to send them to sleep.

Researchers now hope to develop the pulse technique, or optogenetics, further for humans. The technology promises to provide revolutionary new treatments for diseases that are notoriously difficult to control, like epilepsy, Alzheimer’s Disease and psychiatric illnesses. It can also help people make new memories.

Optogenetics also shows promise for defeating drug addiction. When Deisseroth exposed a set of test mice to cocaine and then flipped a switch, pulsing bright yellow light into their brains, the expected rush of euphoria—the prelude to addiction—was instantly blocked. The mice were immune to the cocaine high; the mice left the cocaine exposure as uninterested as if Deisseroth had never exposed them.

Like many scientific advances, Karl Deisseroth’s work will probably divide the public, medical, and scientific communities, since it combines three already controversial technologies.

The cells in the brain must be genetically altered so they can react to light. Such genetic modification of human cells is still an emerging science, and the long-term effects are still unknown. Then, an implant must be placed directly into the brain so it can deliver light to the brain cells using tiny fiber optics similar to those that carry broadband signals. By drawing on the growing scientific knowledge of how our brains work, optogenetics opens the ability to control behavior. Pulse technology will alarm free rights campaigners, but the implied benefits are profound.

Dr. Edward Boyden, a biological engineer, is also at the forefront of optogenetics research and he claims that as a therapy it could tackle diseases which cannot or are unlikely to be treated by other means. The first tests of optogenetics in non-human primates are shown to be safe. His group has built a prototype implant that can shine light onto specific areas of the brain and even single cells in an attempt to develop new therapies for neurological diseases.

The technology also exploits the discovery of light-sensitive molecules that are found in algae and some bacteria. Algal cells use these molecules to help move towards sources of light, which they need to help them grow. The molecules work by allowing a flow of electrical activity through the cell. Neurons in the brain also rely on similar pulses of electrical activity to send messages in the brain and throughout the body.

By using genetically engineered viruses to introduce these light-sensitive algae molecules into the neurons of mammals, the virus inserts a gene from the algae into the animal’s cells and gives them the instructions they need to produce the light-sensitive molecule themselves. Within days, the molecules begin surfacing on the surface of the neurons. When light hits these cells, they turn on or off, depending on the gene that has been inserted.

Dr. Boyden and his colleagues have also developed a wireless implant that uses thousands of tiny optical fibers to deliver light to the parts of the brain where it is inserted. This means they can switch brain cells on or off in any sequence they desire, as demonstrated by the mouse experiment.

Conclusion

For all its complexity, the brain in some ways is a surprisingly simple device. While the light switch mentality may harm an artist’s or athlete's performance, the process the switch has proven beneficial to mental health. Our brain can create shortcuts to feelings and emotions by exposure to the right environment. Those mice were exposed to a pulsing yellow light while in the presence of cocaine and had an emotional change at that moment, which in turn caused a change in their behavior. Neurons switch off and on, causing signals to stop or go. Optogenetics provides a toolkit that will enable dramatic advances in our understanding of the circuitry of the brain and potentially provide better treatments for neurological and psychiatric disorders such as Parkinson's disease and schizophrenia.

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