Science

The scientific research supporting Rewyre

Triggers & Thoughts

Imagine you’re taking an important exam. When you walk into the exam hall, your mind will be triggered by the things around you: the loud ticking of the clock, people fiddling with their pencils and the papers on the table. Your brain will instantly race to a number of thoughts. These thoughts could be about passing the exam or, more likely, could be worries about not having prepared enough. These thoughts are pathways of linked neurons in your brain, and are result of your previous experiences, and what you’ve been told by others.

Incredibly, the sort of thought associations you have can actually predict how well you’ll perform. In a study at Stanford University, researchers found that "positive attitude toward math uniquely predicted math achievement," - even after the scientists accounted for multiple other cognitive-affective factors1. And this isn’t just true for exams. Everything we experience triggers neural thought patterns, and whether these thought patterns are positive or negative often predict how we experience things. Studies have shown that positive thought associations about sport2, relationships3 and ageing4 can help determine how well we overcome adversity in those areas.

Negative reinforcement

Sadly, research has shown that the majority of our conscious thoughts (and many of our most common thought patterns) are negative5. These negative thought associations actually change the physical make up of our brains. If you imagine the neurons in your brain as a bundle of connected wires, a thought results in messages traveling along certain pathways. The more you think a certain way, the stronger these pathways become. Repeated thought physically alters the brain, creating well worn pathways and habitual ways of thinking. Hebbian theory, introduced by Donald Hebb in 1949, describes in simplistic terms how these pathways are strengthened: "Cells that fire together wire together."

The thoughts in your mind up of billions of interconnected neurons. (Image from Doctor Jana.)

This means that every time you have a thought about an exam, a subject, a sport or any other trigger, you’re strengthening a neural pathway between the trigger and that thought. Left uncontrolled, this can result in damaging habitual thought patterns and negative loops. But there is another way.

Changing your mind's wiring

"Habits of thinking need not be forever. One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that individuals can choose the way they think."
Dr. Martin Seligman, Founder of Positive Psychology

Excitingly, recent psychological research has shown that changing your patterns of thought can actually change the way that your brain is physically wired. This rewiring is possible because of a phenomenon called neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity allows the neurons in the brain to constantly reconfigure and change, adapting to your environment and thought patterns. London taxi drivers, for example, need to remember a vast number of streets and landmarks, and as a result their hippocampus (the main brain structure responsible for memory) is significantly larger than average6. By forcing your mind to think differently and wiring new thoughts to existing triggers, you can take advantage of this neuroplasticity and physically change the way your mind is wired.

You don’t have to actually experience a trigger to change your perceptions towards it. A study conducted at the University of Colorado showed that imagining a trigger lights up similar areas of the brain to actually experiencing it7. Lead author Marianne Reddan said: "If you have a memory that is no longer useful for you or is crippling you, you can use imagination to tap into it, change it and re-consolidate it, updating the way you think about and experience something.”

The Rewyre process

In order to successfully rewire your mind, the selective exposure to triggers and thoughts is critical. Importantly, you need to visualise the trigger and then focus on a thought8. The process that Rewyre uses to achieve this is VFR (Visualise, Focus, Repeat). Once you select a trigger and thought you want to rewire your mind to, there are three steps to follow:

  1. Visualise
    The Rewyre process begins by exposing you to a video of the trigger you’ve selected - taking an exam, going on a flight etc. When you see this video, you visualise yourself in in the scene. This visualisation activates similar areas of the brain to areas that are activated when you actually experience the trigger.8
  2. Focus
    After you have been exposed to the initial trigger video, after 3 - 4 seconds your selected thought will appear on the screen, which you focus on and repeat in your mind. This self-talk repetition draws on research that demonstrates repeated self-talk having a signifiant effect on affective emotion regulation and neuroplasticity10. Focussing on this thought creates a neural link between the visualised trigger and the thought in the mind - and the short exposures take advantage of spike-timing-dependent plasticity11.
  3. Repeat
    Once the trigger and thought have been exposed, repetition allows the neural pathways connecting the trigger and thought to be strengthened12.

Over time, the connection between the trigger stimulus and the selected thought will strengthen in the mind, helping you to change your thought patterns and take you a step further to becoming the architect of your own mind.


[1] Chen, L., Bae, S. R., Battista, C., Qin, S., Chen, T., Evans, T. M., & Menon, V. (2018). Positive Attitude Toward Math Supports Early Academic Success: Behavioral Evidence and Neurocognitive Mechanisms. Psychological Science, 29(3), 390–402. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797617735528
[2] Theodorakis, Y., Hatzigeorgiadis, A., & Zourbanos, N. (2012). Cognitions: Self-talk and performance. In S. Murphy (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of sport and performance psychology (pp. 191–212). New York: Oxford University Press.
[3] Ackerman RA, Kashy DA, Donnellan MB, Neppl T, Lorenz FO, Conger RD. The interpersonal legacy of a positive family climate in adolescence. Psychol Sci. 2013;24(3):243-50.
[4] Kato K, Zweig R, Schechter CB, Barzilai N, Atzmon G. Positive attitude toward life, emotional expression, self-rated health, and depressive symptoms among centenarians and near-centenarians. Aging Ment Health. 2015;20(9):930-9.
[5] Chopra, Kamal. Impact of positive self-talk. University of Lethbridge. Faculty of Education http://hdl.handle.net/10133/3202
[6] Maguire EA, Gadian DG, Johnsrude IS, et al. Navigation-related structural change in the hippocampi of taxi drivers. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2000;97(8):4398-403.
[7] Marianne Cumella Reddan, Tor Dessart Wager, Daniela Schiller. Attenuating Neural Threat Expression with Imagination. Neuron, 2018; 100 (4): 994 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2018.10.047
[8] Arden, John B. (2010). Rewire Your Brain. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
[9] Marianne Cumella Reddan, Tor Dessart Wager, Daniela Schiller. Attenuating Neural Threat Expression with Imagination. Neuron, 2018; 100 (4): 994 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2018.10.047
[10] Moser JS, Dougherty A, Mattson WI, et al. Third-person self-talk facilitates emotion regulation without engaging cognitive control: Converging evidence from ERP and fMRI. Sci Rep. 2017;7(1):4519. Published 2017 Jul 3. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-04047-3
[11] Caporale N.; Dan Y. (2008). "Spike timing-dependent plasticity: a Hebbian learning rule". Annual Review of Neuroscience. 31: 25–46.
[12] Dayan E, Cohen LG. (2011). Neuroplasticity subserving motor skill learning. Neuron 3; 72(3), 443-454. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22078504