Friday, 22 August 2014

The Ice Bucket Challenge: Just The Cold Water Therapy We Needed

What is it about this charity stunt that has gotten everyone from billionaires to pop stars and even a former president wanting to get drenched by a bucket of freezing water? This blog discusses the challenge, the charity, and how it can be good for your brain.

The Ice Bucket Challenge

What could possibly be the link between George W Bush, Justin Bieber, David Beckham and Oprah Winfrey? These are just some of the high profile faces that have gotten their cameras at the ready and taken time out of their busy schedules to take on the ice bucket challenge. This daring feat was pioneered by the late Corey Griffin who created this innovative way to raise money after discovering his friend had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). What started off as an ordinary fund raising idea has taken social media by storm. Now hundreds, if not thousands, have been inspired to dump a bucket of cold water over their heads and donate some of their hard earned cash to this charitable cause. So far the trend has resulted in £25.2 million ($41.8m) being raised: proof of the power and influence of social media and celebrity. 

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
What is it about this charity that has inspired so many people to subject themselves to an ice cold drenching? ALS (also referred to as motor neuron or Lou Gehrig’s disease) is a neurodegenerative disease that affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. Approximately one person per 50,000 people have been diagnosed with ALS, meaning 30,000 people living in America alone may have the disease at any given time. ALS affects a type of neuron called the ‘motor neuron’, which connects the central nervous system to our muscles. Progressive degeneration of these motor neurons eventually leads to neuron death. Following this neuronal death, the ability for the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. The exact cause of ALS is still not completely known. ALS, like any other neurodegenerative disease, affects many people lives. Donating money to this cause helps to fund research which is crucial to exploring new treatment avenues. It is clear that this charity is a very worthy cause; however this trend has also left us wondering how such a simple idea can achieve such a high profile within such a short amount of time. What is it about following the latest fad that resonates with so many people?

Why do we follow the latest trends?
Perhaps it’s because we would like to know that our celebrities are just like us. Celebrities are talented individuals who are accomplished in their particular field. Usually these accomplishments result in thousands of adoring fans who are able to follow their every move on social media outlets such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. The growing popularity of social media means fans are now given an inside view into the previously mysterious private lives of their favourite star. What is it about our minds that fuel this desire to find out what your favourite celebrity has had for breakfast every morning? Why do we gain pleasure from knowing these peculiar tit-bits? And what do we really gain from having this knowledge? Maybe by emulating our favourite celeb we can feel closer to them and we might inherit some of their good fortune. The latest trend in celeb land: the ice bucket challenge! 

Humans are social beings who enjoy interaction at many different levels and in many different ways; whether that be by sending a text, meeting up for a coffee, or by reading about David Beckham in a magazine. The reason humans gain such pleasure from social interaction is because of the reward pathway set up in our brains. Social interaction has been linked to an area of the brain called the ventral tegmental area (VTA), which is located in the brain stem. This area is where dopamine is created. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter linked with natural reward and feeling happy. This means that whenever we experience a positive social interaction our brain is flushed with dopamine.

So remember if you do decide to take on the ice bucket challenge, know that you’ll be activating your VTA and getting that vital dopamine hit! Get closer to your favourite celeb, donate to a great cause, and get those buckets out.

Read more about ALS by following this link:

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