Dreaming

April 18th, 2014 in Article 0 comments

I am assuming that whoever is reading this right now has had a dream before. Am I right? But have you ever had a dream with a person in it whom you have never seen before in your life? It may seem that way, but it is impossible. It is believed that the human brain is incapable of  ”creating” a new face. Every person you dream of has been someone you have either known personally or merely came across looking through your friend’s Facebook photos. Even those whom you do not consciously notice but still look at as you pass by may be an implanted image in your brain and show up later when you are dreaming.

Sigmund Freud is most famous for his definition and study of dreams. He taught about the unconscious and based it on repression and how some ideas and events in one’s life are repressed and brought up later in life. Freud believed in a cycle where these repressed ideas remain in the mind while removed from consciousness. They reappear and become a part of our consciousness only at specific times, for example, in our dreams.

Dreams, according to Freud, are our own way to bring up a conflict in our lives that we may not realize is there until it is shown to us. We solve this conflict with what Freud defines as “wish- fulfillment”. Each dream symbolizes our conflict and how we want to solve it with physical structures like people and places. But, as believed, the people in your dream are real faces and they may be in your dream because you had a repressed thought about them.

Carl Jung, with Freud as his mentor, took on a different view of the unconscious. He leaned more toward the spiritual side of dreams. Jung believed that dreams are used to solve our problems in the real world and that we use dreams to communicate  with our unconscious. Jung believed that dreaming makes us who we are, and it reveals to us things about ourselves that we may not have figured out before. We are capable of understanding our own dreams and interpreting them with regard to our own lives.

Although every dream is unique to each person, Jung characterizes seven of the same “characters” that may appear universally. The first is the persona which is the thing that defines who you are in the dream. It may not actually be you but you know that is who it represents. The second is the shadow which is the thing that you want to hide from others; it is something about you that you are insecure about and may represent anger or fear. The anima and animus are your feminine and masculine sides. Each person has a little bit of both and may be a guide to express those sides of you. The fourth character is the divine child which represents innocence and who you want to be and how you want to get there. With this character you have no fear of accomplishing things and you realize your full potential. The wise old person is the one who helps you follow the right path in your dream. The great mother is the one who gives you the strength to keep going. She gives positive reinforcement, but she may also be an evil character represented by seduction or death. The last character is the trickster who comes into your dreams as a representation that you are misjudging something or someone in your life or that you are confused or uncertain about something.

Next time you dream of one of these characters it will be of a real person who you have seen before in your conscious life. If you can remember your dream, try to figure out who the person is and which character they represent so that you can interpret your own dream and maybe solve a repressed conflict in your life.

-Gianna Absi

 

Sources:

Sigmund Freud – Wikipedia

The Interpretation of Dreams – Wikipedia

Carl Jung – Dream Moods

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Just Forget It!

April 17th, 2014 in Uncategorized 0 comments

Have you ever lost something, yet had the feeling that you knew where it was?

Have you ever studied hours for an exam only to forget most of what you have learned?

I am sure you have had an experience in which you were frustrated by a spotty memory. Memory is an extremely complicated process. In a nutshell, it is the ability to store, connect, and retrieve information over time. The key stages are encoding, storage and retrieval. In the encoding phase, our minds process sensory information and convert it into enduring memories, a process that primarily occurs at the hippocampus. As its name suggest, the storage phase is maintenance of information in memory over time. Finally, retrieval is the process by which information is brought back to the consciousness from storage. There are various types of encoding, various types of memory storage, various retrieval cues, as well as many limitations to our memory process.

Although memory is an instrumental part of human existence, it turns out that, despite our constant struggles with it, forgetting is an incredibly important ability. Every day we are exposed to an immeasurable amount of information, and the human brain cannot handle it all. Fortunately, our brain has the ability to forget. But more importantly it has the ability to suppress irrelevant memories and highlight the important ones.

Oliver-Burkeman-column-fo-007

Brain imaging studies using fMRI have shown that our brain’s ability to disregard unimportant information allows us to remember what is important. Every time we are exposed to something, our brain automatically remembers similar situations, transforming them and using them for our benefit. Our brain’s ability to forget gives us the talent of prediction. By forgetting irrelevant memories, our brain is able to access those that are important rapidly and effectively. By doing this we are somewhat able to accurately make predictions about life without having various different competing memories or having to sift through a vast amount of recollections.

Forgetting, a process that mainly occurs in the prefrontal cortex, is key to our neural processing system. By avoiding competing memories, we are able to remember what is crucial for our lives. Retrieving relevant memories is not a simple task; it requires energy and uses many mechanisms of the prefrontal cortex. As such, having only important memories permits us to go through our day to day lives in a much more productive and efficient manner.

- Roberto Barroso Luque

Further Reading:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-the-wild-things-are/201007/the-importance-forgetting-or-not

http://news.stanford.edu/news/2007/june6/memory-060607.html

A Bad Joke Won’t Fool The Brain

April 15th, 2014 in Article, News, Opinion, Pop Culture, Uncategorized 0 comments

LaughterI think I’m funny. Some people say I’m funny. But when the moment presents itself where its my time to shine, all lights on me, this ‘one’ is going to be a knee slapper…nope, not so much. The first time I realized I wasn’t funny was in the eleventh grade in my calculus class. My teacher’s name was Mr. Butke and he easily is ranked in my top 3 ‘all-time’ of the math professors I’ve encountered in my lifetime. He had a mustache that covered his mouth and you never knew whether he was smiling, smirking, or grimacing at you. It kept you guessing, I liked that. He also presented stories of how he slayed cobras in Kenyan villages while pursuing a multi-purpose cure for malaria, encephalitis’ of sorts, and maybe AIDS. Bottom line, he was memorable and his stage presence resonated with my classmates and I.
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Popularity and Your Brain

April 13th, 2014 in Uncategorized 1 comment

 

Whereas the fields of psychology, sociology, and anthropology have extensively studied group dynamics and popularity, neuroscience is barely starting to scratch the surface. Although the role of power in social status has been well-investigated, research into popularity has been minimal. However, recent research by Kevin Ochsner of Columbia University is exploring how likability determines social status within a group. Using previously established social groups (specifically student organizations), Ochsner used individual ratings to determine which students were the most liked among each group. Then, using fMRI, Ochsner measured each students’ brain response to pictures of the other students in the group.

Ochsner found that how much the displayed student was liked correlated with the activity of two brain systems: the emotional evaluation and reward system centering on the ventral striatum, amygdala, and ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and the social cognition system, centering on the temporopariatal junction, precuneus, and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex. The activity of the former could be explained by the brain recognizing previous pleasure from interactions with those who are likable, and anticipating further rewards. The latter could come from the social awareness required to understand and be cognizant of the complexities of social interactions, and how they could be most advantageous.
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The Numbers are All in Your Head

April 11th, 2014 in Article, News 0 comments

Numbers. Those arithmetical values that allow us to analyze and measure our surroundings. Without them, our understanding of the world we live in would be far less interesting. But what may be even more interesting is the way we process those numbers and how closely related that process is to spatial reasoning.  The connection between space and numbers, specifically how we materialize values in our heads through mental number lines has been studied over the years, revealing that spatial orientation is incredibly important to this hypothetical number line. One study led by cognitive neuroscientist Stanislas Dehaene investigated how number magnitude is spatially organized in our minds and introduced the phenomenon of Spatial-Numerical Association of Response Codes, or the SNARC effect for short.
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The Human Bias

April 10th, 2014 in Article, Opinion 0 comments

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Philosophers since the time of Plato have considered the extent to which we can truly perceive the physical world, or the so called ‘mind independent’ universe. Modern science has given us further insight into the question, through experiments designed to understand the way in which our brain receives and manipulates sensory information. While it has been known for some time that human perception is subject to various priming effects and spatiotemporal biases, psychologists at the University of California, Berkeley have discovered that visual perception is also influenced by something called the ‘continuity field.’

To put it simply, the continuity field is what allows us to view our surrounding environment as a continuous perception. In his recent article in Nature Neuroscience, David Whitney and his colleagues have shown that our perception of the orientation of a certain object in our visual field is actually strongly biased towards the orientation of that object 10 seconds prior. This means that our brain ‘smoothes out’ small changes in the physical world so that we perceive a continuous image. Without the influence of this continuity field, we would be hypersensitive to the smallest changes in our visual field, and presumably have trouble determining which changes in our surroundings would be most relevant to our immediate needs.

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Taking Your Brain On a First Date

April 7th, 2014 in Uncategorized 0 comments

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Have you ever been interested in someone on a date yet could not figure out if you were truly attracted to them? Well, this is pretty much all up to your medial prefrontal cortex, located near the front of the brain. This area plays a major role in romantic decision-making, and is specifically responsible for judging physical attractiveness within milliseconds of seeing someone’s face.  The medial prefrontal cortex  helps you know intuitively whether the person in front of you is the one immediately after seeing them.

A study done in Ireland examined how the brain makes initial romantic judgments when participants took part in speed-dating. Before the dates, fMRI was used on half of the participants in order to record their brain activity while looking at pictures of the people they were going to meet. They were told to rank each person on the scale of 1 to 4 based on how much they would want to date them, how attracted they were to them, and how likeable they thought their dates would be. After the participants spent 5 minutes with each other on the speed dates, they filled out a form indicating who they would want to see again. About 63% of the participants were consistent with their initial level of interest based solely on the photographs, and held similar opinions after the date. 10 – 20% of these ended up seeing each other after the “blind” date.

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New Research Suggests a Prenatal Cause and a Possible Treatment of Autism

March 31st, 2014 in Article, News 2 comments

puzzle brain

 

For years, the brain of a child with autism has been a mystery.  Doctors and parents wondered about the cause of autism, and it seemed that they would never get those answers.  Autism is characterized on a spectrum with various expressions of difficulty with social interaction including difficulty with verbal and nonverbal communication.  Children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder, the official title of ‘autism’ after the May 2013 publication of the DSM-5) are associated with difficulties with motor coordination, attention, intellectual disabilities, and physical health problems like sleep and gastrointestinal problems.  Autism is usually presented by age three and the process of diagnosing autism continues to change, according to the Autism Speaks foundation.

Dr. Thomas R. Insel, director of NIMH at the NIH says that “while autism is generally considered a developmental brain disorder, research has not identified a consistent or causative lesion.”  The newest reports show that the architecture of the autistic brain is “speckled with patches of abnormal neurons.”  In the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, there is evidence that the brain irregularities of children with autism are due to abnormal prenatal development.

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New Blood Test Can Predict Alzheimer’s Disease

March 28th, 2014 in News 0 comments

alzheimer's blood test

For years doctors have been able to detect the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease through scans, lumbar punctures, and genetic testing. While these methods can be painful or expensive, a new blood test has recently been discovered that can easily and accurately predict the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Doctor Howard J. Federoff of Georgetown University Medical Center conducted a research study in which he took blood samples from hundreds of healthy, elderly men and women over the age of 70. Over the next five years, some of these healthy individuals developed Mild Cognitive Impairment or Alzheimer’s Disease. Federoff then compared their blood samples to the samples of the healthy individuals. He found a group of ten lipids, or fats, that were present in lower amounts in the blood samples of the participants who had developed Alzheimer’s Disease.

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New Study Shows Lack of Sleep Leads to Permanent Brain Damage

March 24th, 2014 in News, Pop Culture 1 comment

We all know that sleep is one of the best ways to restore our body. For example, when we become sick, we just lie in bed and sleep all day; or after a long day bustling between class, the gym, meetings, and extracurricular activities, our body yearns to fall into a deep slumber to restore itself to its peak state. Recently, it was published that the reason sleep is so restorative is because while we sleep, cerebrospinal fluid flows more efficiently through the brain, essentially “clearing” the brain of any metabolic waste products that build up during the day (for more on this, refer to the December 9th blog post). However, just as we all understand that great feeling of satisfaction that comes after the so rarely obtained 8-9 hour sleep cycle (yes, young college-aged adults should ideally be getting 8-9 hours of sleep a night), we also can all relate to the groggy, confused, cognitively impaired state that comes after the all-night cramming and three hours of sleep, and before the double espresso from Starbucks. Until recently, this chronic state of unrest considered normal by college students, shift workers, and truck drivers, wasn’t thought to have any long lasting damage; it was considered common knowledge that catching up on sleep during weekends or vacations made up for the hours of sleep lost during finals week. However, a new study published on March 18th in the Journal of Neuroscience refutes this; the study, out of University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, shows that chronic sleep loss may be much more destructive than previously thought, leading to permanent cell damage and neuronal death.

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