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!
Ned the Neuron – Erika Warp and Jessica Voytek
A Dynamic Neuron & His Dynamic Poster At Society for Neuroscience 2012 – CENtral Science
For many feminists, this effort to better understand female sexuality can be a means of empowerment, and it is not surprising that neuroscience research has branched into this area. Many people, rightfully so, believe that to understand our body and mind we must also understand the mechanisms of behavior in the brain. Yet due to its complexity, much of neuroscience research gets misinterpreted, reduced, or even generalized when written about for the public sphere.
Naomi Wolf's Vagina: A New Biography, attempts to explain female sexuality by pulling from both subjective accounts and neuroscience to support her arguments. But what exactly does neuroscience research have to contribute to our knowledge of female sexuality? Although Wolf's attempt at writing such a boldly stated book is admirable, it fell short, especially in terms of the science. Wolf misinterprets the roles of dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin in the brain and how they could plausibly influence a female's romantic relationships.
As Maia Szalavits so eloquently wrote:
"The kind of oversimplification seen in Wolf’s book and, sadly, in many other popular accounts of neuroscience, threatens to perpetuate a psychological myth. Rather than illuminating the complex interplay between mind and body, it portrays human beings — especially women — as automatons, enslaved by brain chemicals we cannot control."
So what does neuroscience have to say about female sexuality? At last year's Society for Neuroscience Conference in Washington D.C., a 3D movie was presented of the brain during a female orgasm. Barry Komisaruk, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University, used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to map brain activity in several women. The women were required to masturbate to an orgasm in the fMRI machine. (fMRI results are brain images reflecting activation in specific areas, and these areas are said to be lit up.) More