Maybe Being a Psychopath Isn’t Such a Bad Thing?

October 31st, 2012 in News, Pop Culture 0 comments

It’s Halloween, folks, and you know what that means: Jell-O molds of brains and punn-y costumes (Freudian Slip, anyone?), right? Amirite? Okay, maybe that’s just me, whatever, guys. But I can name at least one cherished Halloween pastime that tends to be pretty popular across the board, and that’s the horror movie marathon.

As we learned earlier this month, the mechanisms by which our brains process fear are intricate yet animalistic—after all, we’re by far not the only species that experiences the sensation of fear. Though what may be a uniquely human instinct is the propensity to actually seek out fear (and the sensation of arousal that inherently comes with it)—a concept illustrated nicely in this piece from The Dana Foundation. This purposeful seeking-out of fear-inducing stimuli is undoubtedly present in the act of partaking in the aforementioned horror movie marathon, and a particular subset of said scary flicks (and the characters therein) will serve as the main focus of this post.

There are lots of types of scary movies out there, from the psychological thriller to the slasher film and everything in between, but today, for the purposes of this entry, our interests lie in the psychopathic killers. Whether your allegiances fall with Freddy Kruger or Jason Voorhees, the psychopath is a popular character in cinema and in popular culture in general. But what makes this character profile so enjoyable and even attractive at times? And furthermore, what can we learn from the psychopaths among us?

America’s favorite psychopath.

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Ned the Neuron

October 30th, 2012 in Arts + Media 2 comments


Sometimes it can be tough to explain the research work that I am involved in right now: I can’t just say “I study the interaction between the hippocampus and the pre-frontal cortex” because inevitably, I get blank stares. So instead, I say “Neuroscience–brain stuff!” But I find this unfortunate: I want to be able to explain my research interests to people – even though they might be unfamiliar with neuroscience – without having to go into a 15-minute neuroanatomy lesson. But this is no fault of theirs: they have just never been exposed to the anatomy of the brain.

In grade school and high school most people are exposed to the body in anatomy classes and text-book diagrams. This tends not be true for the brain – the first time I was exposed to its anatomy was in my first neuroscience course, at a university. However, I think it is a necessary foundation for children to understand their own brains, even at a simplistic level. This is why I was excited to find that Erica Warp and Jessica Voytek have created an inspirational and fascinating children’s storybook called Ned the Neuron. It’s great to know that there are indeed ways that children can learn accurate information about the brain. And although this is a children’s book, I would recommend it to adults, too! This is certainly a step in the right direction toward bringing knowledge of neuroscience to the general public. I’ve already bought my copy!

Sources:
Ned the Neuron – Erika Warp and Jessica Voytek
A Dynamic Neuron & His Dynamic Poster At Society for Neuroscience 2012 – CENtral Science

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Depression and a Rave Drug: A Tale of Lost Brain Connections

October 27th, 2012 in Uncategorized 1 comment


We’ve all felt down on our luck sometimes. Maybe we didn’t do as well on a test as we would have liked, or we argued with one of our close friends, or we didn’t get that job we wanted. Maybe all we wanted to do at that moment was climb into bed and wish the world wasn’t there.

Yet those moments are fleeting sadness, a minor blip in the grand scheme of things. There’s no major brain chemistry changes occurring, unlike in medical depression (major depressive disorder). Despite years of study and investigation, the underlying cause of MDD is still puzzling to many researchers. Nearly all antidepressive medication is based on research done dozens of years ago. Furthermore, most of those drugs take weeks to months to take effect, if they ever take effect at all, making depression one of the most disabling conditions in modern society. More

New Directions: Linking Mental Illness with Microbiota

October 24th, 2012 in Article 0 comments

The gastrointestinal (GI) tract in humans provides a home for many (1014) bacterial organisms. The colonization of the GI by bacteria, or microbiota, starts at birth and continues throughout early development and life. These microbiota affect many bodily functions, aiding metabolism, modulating inflammation, and defending against harmful micro-organisms. Each person has a unique profile of microbiota, which is influenced by genetics and the environment. Healthy people, however, generally have similar numbers and distributions of microbiota. Interestingly, disorders of the GI tract have a high comorbidity with mental illness.

It is not surprising then that research in this field has grown, with labs hoping to gain a better understanding of the ‘gut-brain-axis.’ If these labs can elucidate the effect of microbes in the GI tract on the central nervous system, they could shed light on why more than half of patients with irritable bowel syndrome meet the criteria for mood disorders, or how GI tract disorders and mental illnesses can be more effectively treated.

Many researchers are currently focusing on how variations in the composition of microbiota impact physiology and contribute to disease, such as obesity and inflammation. Increasingly, studies have been revealing that these microbiota communicate with the brain and influence its function and behavior, potentially by neural, endocrine, and immune pathways.

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That Was Awkward…

October 22nd, 2012 in Arts + Media, Pop Culture 0 comments


WHEW! Nothing like drawing inspiration from some late-night Youtube videos! Especially when my editor has to: 1) Make sure that this post is indeed relative to neuroscience 2) Verify that I’ve used proper grammar 3) Make media changes such as share links etc. 4) And have all of this done within a few hours during which I’ve procrastinated until the midnight hours of the new work week. Apologies to my editor…but man, am I pumped for what I’ve got in store with this post! Let’s get started shall we?

The cream of the awkward crop

Who doesn’t love awkward situations? Well, actually, most people probably don’t like awkward situations. But why…I tend to find it hilarious when there is so much discomfort in a room that it can be cut with a knife. In my opinion, that’s what makes “awkward” so exciting. It’s a moment where everyone is out of their comfort zone, nobody is safe, nobody can run and hide, and often nobody knows what to do. For example, consider the harmonious situation when the distraught, balling girlfriend confronts her cheating boyfriend. More

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What are you afraid of? The Neuroscience of Fear

October 19th, 2012 in Pop Culture, Uncategorized 0 comments


Sorry kid, you're doin' it wrong (source: http://shechive.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/halloween-babies-3.jpg?w=500&h=500)

With Halloween fast approaching, people are going to get scared. Zombies, ghosts, and werewolves will soon be stalking the streets of Boston, frightening innocent college students. Yet, when we are jumping back in fright from costumed pranksters, what is really happening inside of our brains? For years, it was considered fact that the amygdala, a part of the limbic system in our brain that processes components of emotion, was solely responsible for this reaction. Yet, this simplistic explanation doesn’t truly explain was happens inside our brains every time we feel fear. To investigate what really happens, we need to first talk about anxiety.

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The Potential to Generate Power from Our Brains

October 17th, 2012 in Article 0 comments


Technology has largely improved the quality of life for patients needing implantable electronic devices, such as pacemakers or cochlear implants. Pacemakers allow for the heart to function properly and cochlear implants restore hearing to deaf patients. The downfall of these types of technologies is the way in which they are powered. Batteries are a common power source, and while they can be designed to have lifespans of several years, they do eventually need to be replaced. One could argue that this, to an extremely small degree, undermines the benefits of having the implantable device.

Researchers at MIT may have found a way to completely remove this inconvenience associated with having an implantable electronic device. What if we used the resources in our own body to power the electronic components we put into it after injury? More

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Tanning: A "Real" Addiction?

October 12th, 2012 in News 2 comments


Tanning is just one of those things, like chain smoking or base-jumping, that I’ve never cared to try; I am nowhere near athletic enough to attempt jumping off of a mountain face. I am also too, well, white to bask in the natural sun without SPF 50 sunscreen; like most people with skin of Fitzpatrick Scale type of I or II, I burn to a crisp and spend the next half-week smoothing aloe on my skin and crying in regret. More

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High Definition Fiber Tracking

October 10th, 2012 in News 0 comments


There are numerous brain imaging techniques that allow us to gain insight into what damage the brain may have incurred after a patient has a traumatic injury. The ever popular fMRI measures blood flow to infer neural activity. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) uses the magnetic properties of water to look at white matter in the brain, while positron emission tomography (PET) uses radiolabeling to look for a specific chemical in the brain. All of these are important for possible disease diagnosis, however, there is skepticism around how dependent we should be on this technology, as the results should never be taken as the absolute truth.

Comparison of X-Ray to HDFT

Now, a new type of brain imaging developed by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh allows researchers to look for connections that have been broken as a result of traumatic brain injury, much like an X-Ray allows doctors to look for broken bones. It is called High Definition Fiber Tracking (HDFT). Although the technology is not specific at the cellular level, it is accurate in observing specific connections that have been lost as a result of injury. These lost connections act as a reliable predictor for  cellular information, such as the percentage of axons that have been lost.

The accompanying publication in the Journal of Neurosurgery focuses on a case study of a man who sustained severe brain damage after crashing an all-terrain vehicle (public service announcement: this is why we wear helments!!!). Initial MRI scans showed hemorrhaging in the right basal ganglia, which was confirmed by a later DTI. The patient  had extreme difficulty moving the left side of his body, and it was assumed to be a result of damage to the basal ganglia. It was not until the patient had a HDFT test that doctors could pinpoint the true problem: fiber tracts innervating the motor cortex had been lost. More

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More Buzz For Your Buck: Maximizing Your Caffeine Intake

October 9th, 2012 in Article 2 comments


While up to our ears in physics homework last week, my roommate and I had a chat or two about caffeine. And I wondered (as I poured a cup of coffee), is there a way to brew this stuff to maximize the caffeine I end up drinking? After Wednesday, exam day, a day that included a shameful amount of caffeine, I became curious as to its nutritional or even neurological value…or perhaps just hopeful that it had some. Maybe this isn’t neuroscience news per say, but it’s certainly a curiosity, and certainly relevant to my success in “Elementary Physics I”.

 

I was sure I wasn’t alone in my caffeine-chemistry quest and figured there must be sufficient research published to generate some answers. As it turns out, in 1996, Leonard Bell et al. at Auburn University conducted a study with the aim of improving epidemiological analyses of caffeine intake by allowing researchers to control for the effect of brewing methods on caffeine content. It’s an interesting read, perhaps in part because the “Materials and Methods” section starts out with buying coffee beans at a local grocery store and proceeds to (very methodically) describe various ways of making coffee. More

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