Imagine you’re on your first date and you and your partner are hitting it off big time. It’s probably his/her witty comments or good sense of humor, his/her intelligence or impeccably beautiful smile that makes you feel extremely attracted to your date. As time goes on, you look deeply into each other’s eyes and giggle. You wonder, “am I falling in love?” The answer is: probably not (you’re only on your first date here, come one). You may not be falling in love, but you are feeling a stronger and closer bond being formed; and you’re feeling this way with some help from the hormones norepinephrine, dopamine, and oxytocin.
That’s right, kids– everything your parents told you about your crazy hormones when you had “The Talk” is true. Your hormones really are going crazy, and they really are helping you feel the way you do. When in love, areas in the brain that are known for their dopamine and norepinephrine production light up.
At the age of 82, Laura Cuartas is watching her four children deteriorate in front of her eyes. Starting around the age of 45, they developed what she describes as “the most terrifying illness of the world”, Alzheimer’s disease (AD). This early onset of the disease is due to a genetic mutation and it progresses rapidly. Within a few years after symptoms arise, around the age of 45, almost all sensation and function is gone. At age 61, Cuarta’s daughter Maria Elsy, is mute and fed by a nose tube. Her son, Dario, is 55 and babbles incoherently. Laura Cuarta is not the only parent who must take care of her children as they fall victim to this disease. In Antioquia, Colombia, she is a part of the largest known extended family to have this familial Alzheimer’s disease. Of the 5,000 members, about a third of them have the presenilin-1 dominant genetic mutation, guaranteeing they will get the disease.
Familial Alzheimer’s only accounts for about 10% of cases of AD. Most cases come from a genetic mutation at presenilin-1, presenilin-2 or the APP gene. Mutations to these genes almost guarantee that an individual will get the disease. For many years, this extended family’s strain of the disease was thought to be isolated, giving us no information about the Alzheimer’s most of us are familiar with- Sporadic Alzheimer’s Disease. This form has an onset of 65 years old. Other than age and family history, there has been no solid risk factor to explain why more than five million American’s are suffering. The APO4 gene has found to be a risk gene, meaning that mutations to this will increase your chances of developing AD, but the disease is not guaranteed. While Sporadic and Familial Alzheimer’s may have different causes, they both result in the same brain changes and symptoms. Plaques and tangles occur in the brain, along with a reduction of synaptic density and neuronal loss.
L-S-D. For many, these three letters may conjure up images of peace signs, rainbows, and hippie circles. Some users claim it has profound, positive short and long term effects on their thinking and perception. Others may see it negatively, as just another recreational drug that naive folks may abuse. One trait that is often overlooked, however, is its potential for medicinal use for certain psychological conditions. Indeed, before it was made illegal in 1966, researchers studied its effects on patients with depression, anxiety, and alcoholism immensely, with over a thousand studies published on the subject. The first American study on the drug concerned how it could be used alongside psychotherapy; subsequently, a government-funded LSD-purpose unit was built into a hospital in Worcester, England in 1955. But now, for the first time in more than 40 years, its benefits when coupled with psychotherapy are being tested once again.
Have you ever watched the show “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant”? I don’t know about you, but I have never understood how that could happen, because of all of the symptoms and telltale signs that come with pregnancy. What I am about to talk about is a condition that is completely opposite of this reality television show. It is a condition where a woman actually believes she is pregnant and gets all of the symptoms, including an enlarged belly and breasts, but there is no baby inside of her. This is called Pseudocyesis, or more commonly, Phantom Pregnancy.
We put a man on the moon. We mapped the entire human genome. And next, we will have access to the brain and all of its connections at our finger tips.
The Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative (known most commonly as the BRAIN Initiative) is a collaborative research effort that is a “combination of approaches into a single integrated science of cells, circuits, brain, and behavior”. It will span a variety of institutes in order to engineer new technologies for the study neural systems and apply the technology developed in order to better understand how these systems function in health and disease. President Obama dubbed the Initiative “the next great American project”, following in the hefty footsteps left by the Human Genome Project and the Apollo 11 moon landing. In addition to the President’s endorsement the NIH was heavily involved in the development of the project. NIH Director Francis Collins worked closely with the President and secured a total of 4.5 billion dollars towards the cause. NIH Advisory Committees the 10-12 year project and distributed research areas through 15 NIH Institutes and Centers. Other major players, including the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Science Foundation, the FDA and several private partners, have also contributed major funds and planned specific research projects towards the Initiative. The sudden frenzy for neuroscience research raises many questions – why should this be done now and not in a few decades instead? Should we have been more proactive about advances in neuroscience sooner? What makes this area more in need of financial resources and government attention than research in cancer, nutrition or epidemics?
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.
I 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.
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.
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.
Pregnancy is…? This sentence can end in a multitude of ways depending on whose answering the question. If I ask the ‘teen-mom-too-good-to-be-true-seventeen year-old-boyfriend’ who isn’t worried about nothing, then he’d probably say…well I would’ve asked but he just stormed off in his 92′ Bronco. You know, the one with the flames on the side? If I ask the nervous husband who has been day dreaming of becoming that perfect family man ever since he got into the relationship, then he’d probably say: If it’s a girl, I will be the dragon that protects my princess’ castle. If I ask the soon-to-be-BIG-brother whose busy doing doughnuts in his fisher price corvette yelling “look mom, no hands,” he’d probably say: This doesn’t change the cookie rations, does it? And finally if I ask the pregnant mother-to-be
if she thinks she’s gained weight what she’s praying for, she’d probably say: Just not your father’s personality, PLEASE, not your father’s personality.
Pregnancy is engaging. It brings together families, can tear relationships apart, and creates changes in the daily routine. Most notable is women’s change in body size. Bodily size and the awareness of that size can create multiple obstacles. Typically, pregnant women are thought to be inhibited in their ability to adapt to these obstacles, however, pregnant women are just as capable as non-pregnant individuals. Today, we’ll discuss their ability to asses depth perception and whether or not they can fit through openings such as doorways. Thanks to perceptual-motor-recalibration, pregnant women are just as good at adjusting their spatial awareness of their environment to match their constantly changing bodies.