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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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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head with music notes

Our body’s auditory system allows us to process external sound to better understand the world around us. In doing so, we utilize the parts of the ear to absorb sound and the steps of processing in the brain to interpret what we hear.  Soundwaves  We hear sounds (measured in decibels), through sound waves, whose height, length, and complexity determine what we hear. The amplitude, or the height of the sound wave, dictates the volume of the sound. A high amplitude means that the sound is loud, whereas a low amplitude causes a soft sound. Within the ear, loudness is determined by the number of activated hair cells in the cochlea.  In contrast, the frequency, or the length of the soundwave, affects pitch: a low frequency is a low pitched sound and a high frequency is a high pitched sound. There are multiple theories used to help us understand pitch perception. …

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Associative Learning

left and right side of brain

Learning refers to the relatively permanent change in an organism’s behavior to a given situation due to repeated experiences in that situation, so long as the behavior change is not because of nature response tendencies, maturation, or a temporary state. One type of learning is associative learning, which is made up of classical conditioning and operant conditioning.  Classical Conditioning Classical conditioning refers to learning to link two stimuli in a way that helps us anticipate an event to which we have a reaction. Ivan Pavlov’s studies with the salvation response in dogs demonstrated this concept: Pavlov found that salvation from eating food was eventually triggered by what should have been a neutral stimulus, or a stimulus that does not normally trigger a response. Initially, food was the unconditioned stimulus, since it naturally triggered the unconditioned response of salivation before any conditioning took place. Prior to conditioning, the neutral stimulus was …

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Nervous System

neurons with black background

The nervous system is the body’s speedy electrochemical communication network. It consists of nerve cells within the peripheral and central nervous systems.  Central Nervous System (CNS)  The central nervous system includes the brain and spinal cord, which contain neural networks: brain neurons that cluster into work groups. The spinal cord acts as a two way information highway connecting sensory organs and the brain. Sensory information ascends up the spinal cord, while descending neural fibers send back motor control information to the muscles in the body.  One of the most important functions of the central nervous system is reflexes, which are simple, automatic responses to a sensory stimulus. For instance, a pain reflex is demonstrated when one’s hand touches a flame. As the brain receives the stimulus, it responds by causing the hand to jerk away. Reflexes are composed of sensory and motor neurons that communicate between interneurons.  There are many …

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