Helping Hormones

I have spent a great deal of my life feeling and being independent. Perhaps I was born with some sense of it but I do think that experiences in my life reinforced it as I adopted an “I can take care of myself” or “I’ll do it all alone” mentality. In many ways, this way of living and believing did work to my benefit. I feel like I have accomplished a lot and am successful in many ways, partially as a result of that strong independence. 

"Male" and "Female" Are Not Discrete Categories, They Lie On a Continuum

My academic grandfather (i.e., my PhD supervisor’s supervisor), Dr. John Pinel from UBC, was the first person I heard argue that males and females are better considered along a continuum of maleness-femaleness rather than as a dichotomy. Considering sex along a continuum may, indeed, may be difficult, but there is substantial biological reason to suggest we are better off doing so if we are interested in more accurately understanding male-femalesness.

Curiosity

    Animals, including us human animals, and our sacrificial laboratory rodents, seek novelty quite innately and readily. We use a variety of mazes in the laboratory setting that rely on the a rat’s innate curiosity, which motivates them to explore and then move through its new environment. Without that curiosity it would be hard for us to provoke the rat into moving and then we could not test things like memory, motor skills, sensations, perceptions, fear, or motivation, which means we would not be able to create animal models of disorders like Alzheimer’s disease, amnesia, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, vision, smell, audition, anxiety, or depression. 

 

Videos Games and Emerging Neuroscience

A few months ago I found myself in a conversation with my brother about the game Grand Theft Auto. Until that point my only experience with it was through the advertising campaign that plagued the billboards of Toronto in anticipation of it’s release. This naiveness didn’t stop me from having an opinion that I proceeded to impart upon my brother. But before I went too far, I stopped and ask him what it was like. “Is it all just about killing people?” I asked. “No, no, I mean ya you kill people but they come back to life and sometimes you just kill your friends because it’s funny.” 

Exercise & The Brain: Why Canadian Winters Might Be Better for Exercising

Such a hot topic! And probably not going away anytime soon. Likewise in hotness is neurogenesis, the adult brain’s capacity to grow new brain cells, known as neurons. These two phenomena collide in a wonderful way to suggest that exercising is great for our brains and our memory! 

Neurogenesis has been noted in several brain regions but of particular interest to me (and other behavioural neuroscientists) is that there is a hot bed of new neuron growth in the hippocampus, an area that of the brain that has a very important role in memory. Typically, things that increase neurogenesis tend to correlate with increased memory and those that decrease neurogenesis tends to have a negative effect on memory. There are a few exceptions to this, which I hope to discuss in an upcoming post on hyper-plastic brains, but for now, a simple way of noting the relationship between neurogenesis and memory is that increase equals increase and vice versa.

Why Do Mistakes Happen in Our Brain?

One situation in which mistakes and errors happen more frequently is when the pressure is high. In the lab, we mimic can put the pressure on by asking people to do a task "as quickly as possible". This often leads to decreased performance and accuracy. We can also modify increase mistakes, errors, and failures by instituting punishments or negative consequences for when someone gets something wrong or we can do this by removing the rewards for getting something right. The former increases pressure (too much arousal) and the latter decreases pressure (too low of arousal) both of which negatively impact performance (i.e., errors, mistakes, and failures).

Yoga Is Neuroscience

Yoga is gaining popularity in the scientific literature as a complementary and alternative therapy for a variety of physical and mental health problems. There are studies on the benefits of yoga for chronic back pain, cancer side-effects, mental health disorders and stress-related symptoms (fatigue, insomnia, musculoskeletal pain, etc.), to name a few. Outside of hospitals or clinical studies, yoga studios are packed with people practicing yoga on a regular basis and others who give this discipline a try in the hopes of getting some positive health results.

 

Anxiety, Nutrition, and the Brain

Yoga is gaining popularity in the scientific literature as a complementary and alternative therapy for a variety of physical and mental health problems. There are studies on the benefits of yoga for chronic back pain, cancer side-effects, mental health disorders and stress-related symptoms (fatigue, insomnia, musculoskeletal pain, etc.), to name a few. Outside of hospitals or clinical studies, yoga studios are packed with people practicing yoga on a regular basis and others who give this discipline a try in the hopes of getting some positive health results.

 

The Neuroscience of Social Innovation

As a neuroscientist, I canʼt help but wonder about what might be going on in the brains of my socially-innovating colleagues at CSI. As a result, I have compiled some ideas about what might actually be happening in your brain...

 

First, letʼs consider the ability to think innovatively. An angle some researchers took to understand it better was to study people during “Aha!” moments of insight. 

How Does Coffee Cure My Depression

I’m going to admit something here, which I have admitted elsewhere, but do so somewhat reluctantly: I like to feel stimulated. In fact, my entire life is built on the idea of having a passion- and purpose-driven existence, which is a formula for stimulation, at least for me. Similarly, I love the energy of the City of Toronto, the exhilaration of competition, and the tantalizing feeling of a good argument. Anyone who knows me well, knows this about me. 

 

What I don’t like is feeling depressed, apathetic, and without purpose. In fact, it devastates me to the point where I feel, myself, as somewhat pointless. But often it is an inevitably flip side to the stimulation I seek so often. Here is an example.

 

Optogenetics: Turning On Our Brain Like a Light Switch

Science can baffle even scientists with its incredible technological power. Imagine being able to control your own brain by simply shining a light into it. All of a sudden you might feel particularly sexual or defensive or aggressive or creative or loving. This may not be possible with humans YET but some of that has been demonstrated in laboratory animals using a technique called “optogenetics”, which was the buzz word at dinners, coffee breaks, and lectures that I was at last week at the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting.  

 

Blaming Our Brains

Imagine being accused of murder and being able to blame your brain? Imagine, perhaps, you committed the crime but don’t totally remember it. You were, of course, in a fit of rage because you came home and found your spouse in bed with another person. In hindsight, of course, you know that it was wrong but at the time, you were blinded by rage and barely even felt conscious while doing it. Perhaps the head injury that you suffered from the car accident a few months before, an incident that left you never feeling the same, contributed to your rage. Perhaps, it wasn’t the car accident but, instead, it was your upbringing, the horrific experiences you endured because of an abusive parent. Perhaps you inherited experiences from your mother or father. Could you blame your brain?

 

Inheriting Our Father's Inadequacies

Last night I was out with one of my favorite characters from Dalhousie, and I say “character” because that’s exactly what she is. Rahia is creative, funny, outspoken, and has a great scientific mind. Rahia is also currently a PhD student at Columbia University in New York (http://champagnelab.psych.columbia.edu/rahia.html). 

 

Over (great) beer at this off-the-beaten-path bar, Downtown Johnny Brown’s, Rahia was telling me about her research on the transmission of experiences from fathers, via epigenetic mechanisms to the offspring (see previous posthttp://mandywintink.blogspot.com/2012/11/epigenetics-stress-science-review-part-1.html). That in itself is interesting but what was of particular interest -- both to me that night and to Rahia for the past year as she slaved away in the lab -- was whether or not the mothers could regulate the expression of the fathers experiences in utero such that it would change the fate of the offspring. Indeed, Rahia’s data suggest that moms can!  As Rahia put it, it’s like the mom looks at the dad and say “You sucks” and then compensates for that dad inadequacies!