Science Article

Addiction and the Brain

As an intricate system of neurons, interconnected circuits, and messages, the brain oversees cognitive and bodily function allowing us to live our lives. Neurons send and receive signals that connect throughout the nervous system, including the brain, the spinal cord, and the rest of the peripheral nervous system. Messages are sent through neurotransmitters across the synaptic gap between neurons and are recycled by transporters.  Substances like drugs and alcohol greatly influence the brain’s function by interfering with its circuitry and preventing full cognitive function. Some drugs can activate neurons, while others mimic the effect of natural chemicals. Altogether, dependence on substances affects the physical and psychological health of those suffering from addiction.  Parts of the Brain  Drugs alter the functioning of various parts of the brain. For instance, the basal ganglia are central to motivation through pleasurable activities which activate a reward circuit. Drugs, like cocaine, over-activate such circuits creating …

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Neurobiology of Aging

age, youth, contrast

In our mid-twenties, our physical performance peaks when mild cognitive decline begins. When we turn fifty, our eyesight worsens and in our sixties, we become more prone to disease and sickness. Our increased mental and physical vulnerability is rooted in biological and neuroscientific reasoning from the weakening of neural connections within the brain to the deterioration of the immune system.  Cognitive Decline  Our brain contains over one hundred billions neurons which are utilized to send information to the brain and elicit responses. Neurons are nerve cells, which act as the building blocks of the nervous system. At one end of the neuron is the dendrite, whose branching extensions receive messages and conduct impulses across the axon. Sometimes the axon is encased by a myelin sheath which is a fatty tissue layer that enables faster transmission speed. The resting potential of neurons is based on the fluid outside the axon’s membrane, …

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What is Epilepsy? 

When I was ten years old, I was diagnosed with benign rolandic epilepsy, which was really frightening because I had no knowledge of epilepsy or neuroscience. I hope this article can help those going through a similar experience or are just interested in learning more! In this post, I will share some information about epilepsy and raise awareness of its causes, diagnosis, and treatment. What is epilepsy? Epilepsy is a neurological disorder marked by recurring seizures, or brief moments of involuntary movement in particular parts of the body or the entire body. Seizures occur when there is an excessive electrical discharge in a group of brain cells, and can happen in various parts of the brain. Seizures can present themselves as loss of consciousness, convulsions, muscle jerks, loss of bodily control, and can occur with varying frequency. Having a singular seizure does not signify epilepsy. According to the World Health …

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Psychological Development Through Life

clocks with silhouettes

Many of the concepts of psychology can be used to better understand how we develop through life. As we age, our nature and nurture impacts who we are, our parents’ behavior impacts our future actions, and our morality develops as we go through different life stages.  To begin with, much of our understanding of the world begins with what we observe in our childhoods. For instance, gender identity plays a large role in one’s development through perceived gender roles, which are a set of expected behaviors for male or females. Over time, children develop gender schemas, which are concepts that help children make sense of the world by categorizing characteristics. In doing so, children notice behaviors and appearances associated with men and women, which ultimately affects how they act.  In addition, the social learning theory states that we learn social behavior by observing and imitating and by being rewarded or …

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Aphasia (Language and the Brain)

One of the central features of our lives as living creatures is our ability to communicate- particularly, our ability to use language. When learning about how our brain processes, understands and utilizes language, we can study various brain functions and psychological processes.  Evolutionarily, language is what makes us distinct from other species as our brains developed to be specialized for language function. The biological perspective of linguistics discusses language comprehension, production, and language as it relates to our evolution and traits as a species.  Aphasia  One way we study brain functions related to language is through the parts of the brain affected when one is diagnosed with aphasia. Some crucial parts of the brain necessary for language include the occipital lobe (the visual center at the back of the brain), the temporal lobe (the auditory center on the side of the brain), and the parietal lobe (which contains the motor …

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head with neurons and pixels

Our memory is what allows us to remember new information and retrieve old information in order to make sense of the world. Memory is the persistence of learning over time, involving the storage and retrieval of information. This process can be defined by three steps: encoding (new information enters our brains), storage (information being kept in the brain), and retrieval (information being remembered for later use).  Retention Measures  In order to measure our retention of information there is recall, recognition, and relearning: all of which are used in our daily lives testing how much information endures in our long term memory. Recall is similar to a fill in the blank question, in which information must be retrieved without cues. In contrast, recognition is more similar to a multiple choice question where a certain stimuli can be matched to previous information. Lastly, relearning can determine how much one remembers because it …

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Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month

June is Alzheimer’s & Brain Awareness Month, so it is the time to spread awareness of Alzheimer’s and inspire action to aid individuals suffering from the disease and the path to a cure.  Alzheimer’s Disease is the most common cause of dementia, causing memory loss and cognitive decline. According to the Alzheimer’s Association,  Alzheimer’s disease accounts for 60-80% of dementia cases. The majority of individuals with Alzheimer’s are 65 and older, yet the disease is not a normal part of aging. Although Alzheimer’s has no cure, aducanumab is used as a treatment to potentially delay clinical decline. However, the disease is progressive, where sympyoms gradually worsen over time going from mild memory loss to losing the ability to perceive the environment and interact with others. As the sixth-leading cause of death in the U.S., a person with Alzheimer’s generally lives 4 to 8 years after diagnosis.  Signs and Symptoms One …

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Sleep is crucial to our ability to survive: it is the periodic, reversible loss of consciousness. Through our body’s circadian rhythm, our bodies are regulated in a 24 hour cycle, and when sleep does occur, it is in a 90 minute cycle of REM sleep. Sleep has many imperative functions for survival, yet many individuals face sleep disorders.  Circadian Rhythm  Our body has a circadian rhythm, which is a biological clock that occurs on a 24 hour cycle. The cycle is altered by and experience and influences body temperature, arousal, and energy throughout the day.  At around 2am is the deepest sleep, with the lowest body temperature around 4:30 am. Around when we wake up, about 6:45 am, there is the sharpest rise in blood pressure: over the next few hours, melatonin secretion stops, bowel movement likely occurs, there is the highest testosterone secretion and the highest alertness. Between noon …

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Non-Verbal Learning Disorder

blue arts and crafts

Children with non-verbal learning disorder (NLD) have a combination of social, emotional, and learning deficits. Unlike other learning disorders, NLD does not impact the ability to process language; instead, it affects social interactions, executive function, organization, and problem-solving. According to the Child Mind Institute, five major areas are impacted by NLD. Firstly, visual and spatial awareness is an area of weakness for those with NLD. Oftentimes, this leads to children with NLD being physically awkward and unable to perceive shape and position. Another aspect of NLD is higher-order comprehension, which is the ability to relate the big picture of something and to smaller details. This weakness makes it difficult for children with NLD to take notes in school because they tend to write everything being said, rather than identifying important information. Additionally, students with NLD struggle with math that goes beyond the data memorization. The importance of recognizing concepts and …

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chalkboard with math

Intelligence can be defined as the ability to learn from experience, solve problems, and use knowledge to adapt to new situations. Simply Psychology states that intelligence “has been defined in many ways: higher level abilities (such as abstract reasoning, mental representation, problem solving, and decision making), the ability to learn, emotional knowledge, creativity, and adaptation to meet the demands of the environment effectively.” Specifically, psychologist Robert Sternberg defined intelligence as “the mental abilities necessary for adaptation to, as well as shaping and selection of, any environmental context.” With its many definitions, intelligence is a fascinating and multifaceted topic with a rich history and diverse explanations.  History of Studying Intelligence  To begin with Charles Spearman, an English psychologist, established the two-factor theory of intelligence in 1904, using factor analysis. By identifying custers of closely related test items, factor analysis revealed that people who did well in one skill area also tended …

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