The Effects of Stress on Memory Loss

October 21st, 2013 in Article, News 0 comments

stressStressed out? You may be at a higher risk for Alzheimer’s disease. You’re probably wondering to yourself how that is possible. Highly intelligent people who use their brains all of the time, like scientists, CEOs, and presidents, deal with stress on a day to day basis. The truth is that lack of higher education or brain activity is not the only major cause of dementia.

If keeping your brain active is a good way to prevent cognitive decline, then why did people such as Ronald Reagan and Norman Rockwell develop Alzheimer’s disease? The answer is stress. Recent studies have shown that people who deal with high levels of stress in their career or their family life are more likely to develop dementia.  Stress cannot be said to directly cause dementia, but it is a trigger for the degenerative process in the brain.

An Argentine research team examined 118 patients with Alzheimer’s disease and 81 healthy individuals whose age, gender, and educational level were comparable to the Alzheimer’s patients. Both groups were questioned about the amount of stress that they had faced in the past three years. The researchers reported that 72% of the Alzheimer’s patients admitted to coping with severe emotional stress or grief, such as the death of a loved one or financial problems. This was nearly three times as many as the control group.

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The Perfect Nap with the Most Brain Benefits

October 18th, 2013 in Pop Culture 0 comments

Nap

Who Needs a Bed Anyway?

Have you ever wondered how long a perfect nap should be? We all decide to take naps because we feel our bodies and minds start to shut down, and the thought of doing anything productive just seems absolutely impossible. So what constitutes the perfect nap?

Your brain goes through five stages of brain activity during a sleep cycle. The first stage is falling asleep; it usually lasts five to ten minutes. This is the stage in which one may feel as though they are falling and their muscles may contract, causing what is called hypnic myoclonia. The second stage is known as light sleep. There are periods of muscle tone and muscle relaxation, along with a slowed heart rate and decreased body temperature. This is the body’s way of preparing for deep sleep. The third and fourth stages are the deep sleep stages, known as slow-wave or delta sleep. The highest arousal thresholds are seen in deep sleep, meaning that waking up is the most difficult during this stage. The final stage is called REM sleep, or rapid eye movement. The brainwaves during REM are very similar to those during wakefulness and heart rate, along with respiration, speed up. The eyes move rapidly in different directions, and intense dreaming occurs due to the heightened brain activity.

With that being said, it is now important to decide what the goal of your nap is. A nap of ten to twenty minutes yields mostly stage 2 of sleep, and therefore enhances alertness and concentration, elevates mood, and sharpens motor skills. Drinking coffee right before you take a “power nap” will aid in alertness upon waking, because it takes coffee about 20-30 minutes to fully kick in. Also try to sit slightly upright during the nap. This will help you avoid entering deep sleep and potential grogginess. It is important to note that if you find yourself dreaming during your power naps, it is a sign of sleep deprivation.

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Why Are People Sexist, Racist, and Judgmental? Behind Cognitive Bias and Prejudice

October 16th, 2013 in Article, News 0 comments

A man or a woman could be of above-average intelligence, well-educated in medicine and psychology, and understand that every statistical measurement of personality and temperament can be distributed across a bell-curve in a large enough population. He or she could comprehend the determining power of genetics, the impact of cultural influence on belief systems, and how neuroplasticity molds our mental processing to respond to environmental stimuli.

A clever, sophisticated professional could understand all of this, yet still believe that somehow, all members of the opposite sex are manipulative and irrational. Not some, all 3.5 billion of them. Why?

Perhaps throughout his or her life, this person has made irrational decisions to socialize with very irrational and emotional people of the opposite sex, and through these experiences has thus formed a gender bias. Research shows we tend to mostly place people into categories of gender, race, and age. This task is so pervasive that scientists have deemed it our “primitive” categorization.

prejudice-2Once we’ve made up our mind about a group, or even someone in particular (consciously or not), it’s often hard to change our opinion. When beliefs are formed, confirmation biases kick in and begin to look for information that supports our views, and selectively ignore everything which doesn’t. Maybe someone had decided that you were shy and uptight when you first met. You were more reticent than usual because you had only gotten 3 hours of sleep the night before. Now that acquaintance may not notice all the times you’re friendly and outgoing, but instead seems to pounce on all the times you’re a little quiet.

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Are carbohydrates holding us back from our true potential? Exploring the possibilities of a ketogenic diet.

October 15th, 2013 in Article, Pop Culture 0 comments

Keto Meal

It is hard to avoid carbohydrates in the world we live in today, where since the industrial age 100-200 years ago, factories have been able to produce large quantities of sugar and white flour to feed the masses. Really though, foods high in carbohydrates (such as pasta, bread, rice, and potatoes) have only been available to us since the rise of agriculture, approximately 5-10,000 years ago. Prior to that, humans assumed a hunter-gatherer lifestyle where our diets consisted primarily of animal products and low starch vegetables, basically whatever we could find in nature without growing ourselves.

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Scientists Discover Gene Needed for ‘Memory Extinction’

October 11th, 2013 in Article, News 0 comments

ILLUSTRATION: CHRISTINE DANILOFF/MIT

Painful memories: a thing of the past?

What if you were able to erase all of your painful memories by simply taking a pill? While this might sound like something out of a sci-fi film, a recent study conducted by a group of researchers at MIT suggests that it may be possible in the future.

The researchers say that they’ve identified a gene known as Tet1 that appears to be important in the process of “memory extinction.” Memory extinction is the natural process of older memories being overridden by newer experiences. In this process, conditioned responses to stimuli can change: what once elicited a fearful response doesn’t always need to if the danger has ceased.

In the study, researchers compared normal mice to mice without the Tet1 gene. The researchers conditioned all of the mice to fear a particular cage where they received a mild shock. Once the memory was formed, the researchers then put the mice in the cage but did not shock them. After a while, mice with the Tet1 gene lost their fear of the cage as new memories replaced the old ones. However, mice lacking the Tet1 gene remained fearful.

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Traumatic Brain Injuries: Helpless to Hopeful

October 10th, 2013 in Uncategorized 0 comments


Helmets are a good thing!Traumatic brain injuries, often referred to as TBI, have  gained major traction in the field of neuroscience over the past couple years, and for obvious reasons. The name itself suggests that something has gone horrible awry with our BRAIN – you know, the mass of cells inside our skulls responsible for telling our heart to pump and our muscles to contract, the organ that controls all of our cognitive abilities and complex processing, that space between our ears that has been associated with creating the somewhat vague concept of our mind? It’s not surprising that neuroscientists have deemed it important to begin researching ways to at least partially remedy the potentially devastating effects of an injury to our most central organ.

Previous TBI research hasn’t exactly led to the most uplifting results. While research has advanced enough for us to be able to visualize TBIs and generally understand the symptomology of TBI, the field has lagged in suggesting potential therapies for patients with this condition. The broad view has always been that patients with TBI improve up to a certain point, and then they plateau, staying at a consistently impaired state – until now.

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Brain Food: What to Eat in Order to Study More Effectively

October 7th, 2013 in Article 0 comments

Food

Brain Food to Smile About

It’s almost time for the dreaded fall midterms.  Somehow, midterms manage to be even more stressful than finals.  Maybe it’s because of the time of year they fall, which is easily the most beautiful time to be living in Boston.  You just want to spend time outside walking on the esplanade, looking at the beautiful red and orange leaves on the trees that line the river and watching the rowing teams pass you by.  Well, it may actually be beneficial to take some time out of your studying to take a stroll along the river, or to just sit on a bench for a little while.  In fact, take some time to picnic this fall with some brain food, because studies show that it will enhance your studying experience.

Some of these brain foods include foods that you’d expect.  These are the foods that your mom has been forcing down your throat, whether you like them or not, for as long as you can remember.  But take a step back and think about why.  Berries, for example, provide neurological benefits.  They have a ton of antioxidants which will protect you from bacteria that make you sick when you’re stressed.   Berries mediate signaling pathways that are involved in cell survival, and they increase the neuroplasticity, neurotransmission and calcium buffering properties of the brain, all related to aging, and in turn, memory and behavioral changes.

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Mothers Eating Their Babies? – No, It’s Not Cannibalism…

October 2nd, 2013 in Article, News 0 comments

Baby

Spaghetti and Babies Anyone?

If you’ve ever seen someone with a baby, chances are you’ve heard them say something along the lines of “You’re so cute; I could just eat you up!”

Well a recent article published in Frontiers in Psychology by a research team at the Technische Universität of Dresden, Germany shows there may be a link between an infant’s smell and a female’s response, depending on the status of the female. Scientists have studied the connection between olfactory signals and the bond between a mother and her infant in several non-human mammal species. However, up until now, the research performed on mother-infant bonding in humans has only ever explored the visual and auditory senses.

What they did:
A total of 30 women were tested. Fifteen of the women had given birth for the first time three to six weeks prior to the experiment (primiparous). The other 15 women had never given birth (nulliparous). To obtain the sample odors, 18 infants each wore a T-shirt for two nights postpartum. The shirts were then placed in plastic bags and frozen to keep the odor unaltered. During the experiment, each woman was exposed to both “odorless” air and the odors of two different infants; primiparous women were never exposed to their own baby’s odor. The women were asked to rate the odor on intensity, familiarity, and pleasantness, though none of the participants were aware of what the odor stimulus was. As the women processed the different odors, an fMRI machine scanned their brain.

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You Are Not My Mother!

October 1st, 2013 in News 0 comments

Have you ever seen someone else’s doppelganger? That is, have you ever seen someone who looks exactly like a friend or family member, but is in fact just a random person? I am sure most of us have. Now, imagine that doppelganger you see is actually your mother, and it’s your brain that’s deceiving you. It could happen. In a strange and very rare syndrome called the Capgras Delusion, patients believe that someone close to them has been replaced by an impostor.

Impostor

When your brain perceives something, it actually undergoes a rather long and complicated process of perception. The image is first seen on the retina, where it travels to the occipital and temporal lobes. Within the temporal lobe of the brain, the fusiform gyrus is responsible for facial recognition (it’s known as the “face area” of the brain). Connections between the fusiform gyrus and amygdala, a structure usually associated with emotion, exchange the information and determine whether it is of emotional significance to the individual.

The Capgras Delusion is caused by damage to these connections. As the brain is no longer able to exchange information between the fusiform gyrus and the amygdala, the individual cannot assign an emotional importance to the sight of the person in front of them. In this case, the brain assumes that the person must be attempting to imitate their mother, as she looks eerily similar. There’s just too many similarities between this person and someone you know, and your brain reacts in a rather unpleasant way.

It’s a rather unfortunate syndrome, as it prevents the patient from assigning emotional significance to most things that they are able to see. However, the disorder is entirely visual: if a patient suffering from Capgras hears their mother or father (or other person close to them), they are able to easily conclude that it is actually their parent.

Imagine coming home to your parents. Except you don’t recognize them as your parents, only that they’re eerily similar to everything you know about your parents. They know your embarassing childhood stories, your scars, all your friends. Yet to you, they’re completely a stranger, a perfect replica who is undecidedly not your parent. It’s a pretty creepy thought.

-Roberto Barroso Luque

 

Further reading:

Ogden, J. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/trouble-in-mind/201208/the-capgras-delusion-you-are-not-my-wife

Ramachandran, V. (0). Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/vilayanur_ramachandran_on_your_mind.html

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Enriched Environments: Neuroscience Learns From Poverty

September 30th, 2013 in Article, News 0 comments

In the last century, treatment of social and learning disabilities has drastically changed. Through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, every student who qualifies for special education is entitled to a free and appropriate public education, delivered through an individualized education plan. An ‘IEP’ is designed through the collaboration of parents, teachers, and special education specialists. The largest category of learning disability is the specific learning disability, of which dyslexia is a typical example.

The amount of care put into special education has drastically changed the lives of many individuals, however, special education excludes those who have a learning disability due to economic situations. This reflects a longstanding social and educational belief that learning disabilities are innate, the result of genetic predisposition and not due to upbringing. The prevailing paradigm did not believe that upbringing could have a significant effect on the development on the brain.

To little surprise, neuroscience is showing otherwise.

All Children Can Learn

Every Student is Entitled to a Free and Appropriate Public Education.

We have always known that acute incidents can have a significant effect on brain development and function (such as in the effects of repeated physical trauma on function), but recent research is suggesting that external factors during development, including many associated with poverty, can have significant, long-term effects. These factors include higher levels of environmental toxins, lower nutritional levels, and increased levels of parental neglect. Recent research suggests that external factors, including poverty, can have significant internal effects on the brain, including brain development and function. Poverty affects the development of the brain in multiple ways, including through poverty-associated factors such as higher environmental toxins, lower nutritional levels, and higher levels of parental neglect. However, the research of Gary Evans and Michelle Schamberg of Cornell University indicates that solely the added stress of low socioeconomic status is responsible for these effects.

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