It’s just about that time of year again – in just over a week’s time we’ll be sitting down to a huge feast consisting of turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes; we’ll be watching the Macy’s Parade soon to be followed by two football games; and we’ll be giving thanks for our reunion with our grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers, sisters, parents, and more. Thanksgiving definitely holds a special place in my heart – however, up until recently, it always used to provide just a little bit of stress. That is because, at least in my family, somewhere between polishing off the last roll and preparing for pecan pie one relative or another always asks me, “so what are you studying in school again?” And when I answer “Neuroscience!” I typically get one of two responses: the confused look, followed by “Neuroscience? What is neuroscience?” (typically from the older crowd in the room), or the rolling of the eyes, followed by “What are you going to do with a degree in neuroscience?” (typically from the former engineers and business majors). I love neuroscience, and I know I’ve found my passion studying it here at BU, but those questions always seem to bring with them a certain pressure that I always felt I cracked beneath. However, I recently discovered the perfect way to address both of these questions, and I’m here to let you in on the secret so you can impress your relatives at the thanksgiving dinner table as well. This year, when Grandma or Uncle Tony ask me “why neuroscience?” my answer will be simple – because neuroscience is changing, and will continue to change, the world and how we approach it.
I can already imagine the taken aback look crossing my relative’s faces, and the comment that I’m perhaps being a little dramatic – neuroscience is changing the world? Not only will my answer definitely get their attention, but I’m confident that my answer is correct, and proving my point to my disbelieving family will only make Thanksgiving that much more fun. Neuroscience is the science of understanding the nervous system (that is the system that essentially allows for all of our functioning) on a basic scientific level, and then applying that knowledge to do a bunch of things, from eradicating the diseases that plague the system (Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s), to applying the knowledge in the classroom so that students of all ages can learn to their full potential. If you take a step back and view the whole picture, it’s not surprising that neuroscience will change the world in our lifetime; as opposed to some other fields, neuroscience is constantly acquiring completely new information about systems that not too long ago used to be a complete mystery – this knowledge is overflowing and already being applied to the real world to make beneficial changes. I will quickly outline two fascinating new outlets of neuroscience that are changing the world right before our very eyes, so that you have solid proof to further widen the eyes of your relatives this holiday season.
As we approach the loved holiday season, we also approach the dreaded weight gain that comes along with it. It probably won’t come as a surprise to you that our brain, specifically the hippocampus, plays a role in resisting immediate or delayed temptation.
The hippocampus deals with memory, including recalling past events and imagining them in the future. A study called “A Critical Role for the Hippocampus in the Valuation of Imagined Outcomes” examines healthy people as well as people with Alzheimer’s disease, which impairs memory and is associated with atrophy of the hippocampus. The study looked at “time- dependent” choices having to do with money in addition to “episodic” choices having to do with food, sports, and cultural events.
Yes, I know it’s a little bit early to be bringing this up. While the holiday itself may have already passed, many of you are probably still recovering from the hangover that the entire country was forced to endure. I mean really, this isn’t even a good feeling to wake up from this hangover, not that a hangover is something you should usually look forward to. But lets be honest, there is more damage done than overall achievement. This isn’t the morning after where you reminisce about the absolutely stupendous series of events that took place hours ago. This isn’t one of those mornings where you are left in shambles in a downright disgusting alley looking around for your best friend who was lost the day of a wedding. Plain and simple, this is not a good time.
Your groggy, you must resume your daily routine, you have to be at work in an hour, the clock already says your going to be 30 minutes late with the estimated travel time, and you probably gained a minimum of 5 lbs considering how many potatoes you’ve consumed. Hell, you nearly re-enacted the exact opposite of the Irish potato famine in your dining room, not to mention the 20 loafs of bread consumed in ‘this that and another’ stuffing. And then to add insult to injury, you have to open the fridge and think to yourself, “Hmm what the hell am I gonna have for lunch today” right? Wrong! What your really saying to yourself is, “How the hell am I supposed to make turkey or thanksgiving leftovers of any sort sound appetizing again?” And while this may be true, that should be the least of your problems. What your primary worry should be is, “How am I going to stay awake for this crucial late afternoon presentation my boss conveniently scheduled the day after this lovely thanksgiving massacre, when I’m stuffing (pun intended) down marshmallow covered sweet potatoes, [explicit] turkey sandwiches, and some classic Campbell’s green bean casserole at the 2 o’clock lunch break?” Tie all these delightful dishes together and you yourself have found the ultimate thanksgiving myth: Are turkey and all the other thanksgiving fixings responsible for your holiday hangover? Let us find out shall we… More