In response to anon's ADHD question--I wasn't diagnosed until I was 17 and I was very, very angry because of it. I had been showing symptoms since kindergarten--if not sooner. There are psychologists at school usually, he/she could try approaching them instead of talking to her parents. I tried telling my mom that I was depressed/suicidal in 8th grade and she just laughed at me. Nothing hurts worse that being invalidated by a parent. ADHD is a serious matter and it's not something to be taken lightly. Anon--feel free to check out my blog i've posted quite a few times about my struggle with ADHD.
Thanks for your input. Anon, if you are feeling this way you should really try visiting a doctor…
Hi, I have a question about ADHD. Well I'm a freshman in high school, and I noticed that I matched the signs of ADHD since i read about it like about 3 years ago. I try to tell my parents that i honestly think i may have it, but they don't think so. They say that we would have been able to tell earlier. I was just wondering if that ever happens, where you don't get diagnosed until you're a teenager.
From my understanding, not necessarily. I mean, if your parents have never taken you to the doctor to see if your symptoms might be related to the disorder, it’s hard to tell. And many people get diagnosed as teenagers. My sister was diagnosed when she was in her 20s…
do you think personality characteristics are mostly learned? or through genes?
I believe that when it comes to personality, there’s a definite gene-environment interaction. I believe experience and circumstances shape whatever genetic predisposition we may have. For example, an individual may have genes that are associated w/ personality traits like impulsivity and novelty-seeking, but are raised in a strict and conservative environment where these qualities are not necessarily desirable… What I’m trying to get at is that the environment (society, culture, relationships) selects for some traits, regardless of what biological predisposition you may have.
Also, I’m a firm believer that humans have to ability to choose what they want to be like. For this reason, I feel that personality is both a conscious and unconscious effort.
What is the relationship between social and physical pain?
According to MacDonald and Leary, social pain refers to the emotional reactions that accompany the perception that one is being excluded from a social relationship or being devalued by desired relationship partners or groups. Usually, when people talk about emotional/social pain (social pain is considered by some as a type of emotional pain), they think of the word pain as being an adequate metaphor for hurt feelings. But what if emotional pain caused by social exclusion, rejection and loss, for example, operates through a similar mechanism than physical pain?
MacDonald and Leary (2005) have an interesting hypothesis: reactions to rejection are mediated by aspects of the physical pain system. From an evolutionary perspective, inclusion in social groups is essential for survival (in social animals). Thus, the authors propose that threats to social connections are basically processed and perceived as threats to safety. While this group argues that the aversive state characterized by emotional/social pain is similar to that experienced when going through physical pain, others (Thornhill & Thornhill, 1989) have argued that emotional pain functions in an analogous way to physical pain. They propose that such pain (social) focuses attention on significant social events (that may be important for survival) to promote the correction and avoidance of such future events. Interesting theory, no?
However, evidence supporting the theory of overlap between social and physical pain is abundant. For example, social and physical pain overlap in attitudes and behaviors and these 2 types of pain correlate similarly with factors such as extraversion, social support, anxiety, aggression and depression. Below is some of the evidence of overlap that I found most convincing:
Shared physiological mechanisms: Both types of pain have been shown to involve the anterior cingulate cortex, periaqueductal brain structures, and opioid/oxytocin systems.
The experience of pain consists of 2 components: pain sensation and pain affect. Pain sensation conveys information about actual tissue damage and is processed by specialized mechanoreceptors. Pain affect consists of the unpleasant and negative feelings that typically accompany pain sensation as well as the emotions associated with future implications of those sensations. Emotional pain taps into the pain circuitry indirectly- via the pain affect component.
Emotional pain, like physical pain, can serve to regulate and modify future behavior. Emotional and physical pain may both serve as negative reinforcement that functions to guide the animals to safety. Increases/decreases in pain mark avoidance/approach responses and behaviors, respectively in order to minimize pain.
In the context of learning, specific early life experiences are involved in alleviating both types of pain. In babies, physical pain (hunger) or discomfort (soiled) is usually alleviated by emitting signals (crying, gestures) that elicit a caregiver response. The baby learns that physical (and social) contact may help minimize the pain so babies form attachment relationships. Basically, the baby learns that if it’s alone (socially isolated), it will be in pain (nobody will take care of it). In short, babies make this connection between social and physical pain very early on.
MacDonald and Leary. 2005. Why Does Social Exclusion Hurt? The Relationship Between Social and Physical Pain. The Psychological Bulletin. 131 (2): 202-223. DOI: 10.1037/0033-2909.131.2.202
Related seminal work: Panksepp, J. (1998). Affective neuroscience: The foundations of human and animal emotions. London: Oxford University Press.
hey there, i was wondering how long you've been studying for? and also, at what stage does one become adequately qualified to work in the neuropsych profession?
it's been my dream to be a neuropsychologist for years now, im currently in my final year of highschool and have already had interviews with universities who say that they'd accept me but I'd love to know what studying is like and what topics you look at in the first few years of the course... i'm pretty sure however that the australian system (where i'm from) is quite different to the american system but i'd just love to know your perspective anyhow because i don't know anyone else who is remotely as interested in the subject as i am around here haha...
B.S. Biology = 4 years
Neuroscience and Physiology Ph.D. program=2 years (end of my second year). My NSF grant runs for 3 more years so hopefully it won’t be more than 5 years total for my Ph.D.
Again, I’m not the right person to ask for the neuropsych because I study neuroscience, not neuropsychology.
Studying is hard but it pays off in the end. Just knowing that I can wrap my mind around these complex subjects is enough of payoff for me to be honest.
Hi. I really love your blog and am a prospective applicant into a doctoral neuro program. I am taking the GRE soon (by June) and would appreciate if you can recommend some study material. I was thinking of taking 2 subject tests in biology and psychology along with the general. Does this sound like a good idea? I'd appreciate your input so much (ie. which study materials you used, especially for the general exam as well b/c I'm told that the subject tests are easier) Thanks so much and I'm looking forward to hearing your response!
Hey, thanks :]
I didn’t study much for the GRE. It’s basically just verbal (english) and quantitative (math). I did some practice for the quantitative part. I took some reviews that the SLOAN program back at my home institution paid for. Somebody from Baylor came to help us review…
I also didn’t take any subject tests so I may not be the best person to ask. I’ve asked my friends from grad school what they’ve taken and what they’ve think and the consensus is that the biology one is way more important than the psych one. Both are a good idea, if you are up to it, but are not necessary. For the psych one I would suggest taking one in a subject you master, obviously.
I have gotten so many questions about people who are interested in neuroscience as a career that I have created this post so I can reference back to it in the future.
Note: This is a guide directed towards people that want RESEARCH careers. My graduate program’s approach towards neuroscience integrated knowledge from many areas like electrophysiology, cellular and molecular biology, and computational neurobiology relying on mathematics/physics. Also, a number of you seem to be under the impression that I am studying neuropsych, which I am not. Neuropsych is traditionally a more clinically-oriented branch within neuroscience.
First of all, if you want to become a neuroscientist, you will most likely have to complete formal graduate training in a related branch or field. You have to be ready for this, because it is something that will take a long time. Not to worry though, time flies and if you like what you’re doing you won’t mind…
In college, the most common options are majoring in either biology or psychology. Some schools have a neuroscience or biopsychology major that may be in the biological sciences department or the psych department or even a combination of both. For example, you could major in biology and minor in psych or vice versa… Because neuroscience is an interdisciplinary field, I would recommend taking courses outside your major (especially if you’re in a psych dept). Helpful and attractive courses include: physics, calculus, organic chemistry, biochem, genetics, cell and molecular biology, bioethics, and neuropsych or psych courses. Importantly, some people come from other backgrounds like electrical/computer engineering that are also helpful in areas like electrophysiology, computational neurobiology and neuronal modeling. Thus, a major in biology or psychology is not a MUST but it definitely gives you an advantage.
While in college, it is also important to gain research experience (try volunteering in labs just to learn or for course credit) while maintaining a decent GPA. And by decent I mean higher than 3.5 on a 4.0 scale. Of course, not all is lost if your GPA is below a 3.5. It will just be harder and you might not be regarded as competitive as other students. Mind you, if you have a 4.0 but all your classes are in the soft sciences and you didn’t take challenging courses, you’re in trouble as well… Third year of college (assuming you will graduate in 4 years) is crucial. This is the time to beef up your CV/resume, take the GRE, talk to people who will be your references, and complete your application to graduate schools. Graduate schools have a wide variety of programs (i.e. neurobiology, neuroscience, neuropsych) with different kinds of focus. Look at the curriculum for each program and find one that is well-suited for your interests and career aspirations. Remember to apply early and to ask for fee waivers, if available (I applied to 8 schools and got fee waivers for all but one of them!). Your personal statement is essential. And by that I mean it absolutely has to be good if not great. Different schools have different criteria for this essay and you should remember to pay attention to these criteria and follow instructions. You should also have several people proofread it before you send it. After you submit your application, send an e-mail to make sure everything is complete. If you get an interview, ask who your interviewers will be and familiarize yourself with their research and areas of expertise. Be nice, enthusiastic and ask smart questions. Also, during your interview, highlight why you want to be part of the training environment at that particular university or location and why you’d be a good match for the program and the department. Remember to send thank you e-mail to the faculty that met with you and anybody else you deem appropriate to thank.
Graduate school: Do your best to learn and understand the material presented in your intro classes, as it will be the foundation that most of the other classes will be built upon. You don’t need stellar grades in graduate school, but you do need to pass, which for most universities is a solid B. While you are during your first year, you will most probably rotate through different labs in which you will be able to get to know the lab, learn the techniques and figure out if it’s a good fit for you. After you finish classes, you will be working on your thesis. Most likely, you will need to propose your thesis, select a review committee (composed of experts in fields relating to your research), work in lab and collect data to support your thesis, and defend it. After you defend your thesis, your committee decides your fate. This is the meat of grad school. Work, work, work. Get that thesis out and publishing well. Bonus if you learn how to write grants.
Post-graduate school: Postdoctoral fellowships are a common way of learning additional techniques or addressing a different but related question. Or you could also go into something you don’t know much about. I keep hearing that a postdoc is supposed to add versatility, diversity and publications to your CV. This is also the time period in which you learn how to run a lab, work on your own independent projects, write grants, and decide where you want your career to go (i.e. industry, academia, clinical). Think about it as an extension of your training in which you get more freedom and flexibility.
Alternatively, some people enroll in medical school to pursue an MD degree in addition to the Ph.D. one while others go back to school for other degrees (ex. PsyD, law, etc…). Others find industry jobs or go into public policy.
Hope this helps. If you want to know about something more specific not listed here, contact me.
Not really. I don’t believe there is a direct link between the morphology of an individual’s skull and their character/personality. Phrenology is an interesting but unscientific attempt to localize the physical location of mental faculties in the brain/skull. Even though some functions are believed to be localized, such as planification/production of speech which is attributed to Broca’s area, and higher executive function in to the prefrontal cortex, most of these cannot be attributed to a single brain structure/area because most mental processes require connections between multiple brain areas to ensure proper function.
In short, mental processes need the integrative function of distinct structures.
Just thought I’d let you know what’s going on with my lack of posts. Since January, I’ve been busy wrapping up my final semester of graduate school coursework (!!!). In addition, I’ve been writing an NIH NRSA (F31) grant titled: Infant Trauma, Amygdala Dopamine, and Later Life Behavioral Dysregulation. It’s me and my PI’s baby and I’m head PI. If it works (aka if our predictions are right), it could be a career starter for me. So yeah, to sum it up, it’s a big deal. NYU SPA deadline is this Monday, April 4 and official NIH deadline is April 8. After that, I’m all yours ;) I have a lot of questions in my inbox and I do my best to answer all of them. I promise I will get to them soon!
Keep your fingers crossed for me please. I’m also waiting to hear back from this NSF grant I wrote last fall!
Hello, I'm not sure if you answer these questions before, but did you major in neuroscience for undergrad? Which college did you attend and which college are you currently completing your graduate studies at. Was it competitive to get into graduate school?
No. I majored in biology, minored in psych. I graduated from the University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez (Antes, Ahora y Siempre, Colegio!) and I’m currently at NYU.
You tell me: over 700 applied, about 160 got interviews, around 90 were accepted, and 40ish ended up matriculating.
The innocent, unconscious bias that discourages girls from math and science. […]
[…] Stout, Dasgupta, and their colleagues wanted to find out why women’s outstanding performance on science and math tests in high school and college correlates so weakly with their eventual interest in pursuing careers in those fields. In high school and college, girls increasingly earn math and science grades equal to or better than the grades of their male peers. But when it comes to choosing a career in math or science, more men than women choose to walk through those open doors.
The psychologists asked female students studying biology, chemistry, and engineering to take a very tough math test. All the students were greeted by a senior math major who wore a T-shirt displaying Einstein’s E=mc2 equation. For some volunteers, the math major was male. For others, the math major was female. This tiny tweak made a difference: Women attempted more questions on the tough math test when they were greeted by a female math major rather than a male math major. On psychological tests that measured their unconscious attitudes toward math, the female students showed a stronger self-identification with math when the math major who had greeted them was female. When they were greeted by the male math major, women had significantly higher negative attitudes toward math.
In a more ambitious experiment organized with the university’s math department, the psychologists evaluated how undergraduates performed when they had male or female math professors.
They measured, for instance, how often each student responded to questions posed by professors to the classroom as a whole. At the start of the semester, 11 percent of the female students attempted to answer questions posed to the entire class when the professor was male, and 7 percent of the female students attempted to answer questions posed to the entire class when the professor was female. By the end of the semester, the number of female students who attempted to answer questions posed by a male professor had not changed significantly: Only 7 percent of the women tried to answer such questions. But when classes were taught by a woman, the percentage of female students who attempted to answer questions by the semester’s end rose to 46.
The researchers also measured how often students approached professors for help after class. Around 12 percent of the female students approached both male and female professors for help at the start of the semester. The number of female students approaching female professors was 14 percent at the end of the semester. But the number of female students asking for help from a male professor dropped to zero.
Finally, when Stout and Dasgupta evaluated how much the students identified with mathematics, they found that women ended up with less confidence in their mathematical abilities when their teachers were men rather than women. This happened even when women outperformed men on actual tests of math performance.
Think about that. On objective measures of math performance, these women were outscoring men. But their identification with mathematics was not tied to their interest, determination, or talent. It was connected to whether their teacher was a woman or a man.
These experiments suggest that subtle and unconscious factors skew the “free choices” we make. The career choices of men and women are affected far more by discrimination than by any innate differences between men and women. But it is not the kind of discrimination we usually talk about. We ought to assume that male math professors at the University of Massachusetts were just as committed to teaching young women as they were to teaching young men. And those professors were just as talented as their female counterparts. (The professors and students were not told the purpose of the experiment beforehand, so the female professors and female students couldn’t have entered into some kind of pact to boost test scores.)
The traditional model of discrimination, in which people deliberately tip the scales in favor of one group over another, still applies in some cases. There are undoubtedly sexist professors. But overt sexism does not explain these findings. In fact, that model of discrimination might be an obstacle to overcoming the real challenge.
Our reasons for feeling suited to particular professions are only partially—and perhaps tangentially—tied to our interests, determination, and talent. More than three decades ago, psychotherapists at Georgia State University studied why some women, by all objective measures bright and talented, believed they were less gifted than they were. No matter the evidence, they believed they were imposters.
It is true that fewer women than men break into science and engineering careers today because they do not choose such careers. What isn’t true is that those choices are truly “free.”
I had seen this a little while ago and had saved as draft so I could reflect on it later…
When I was in undergrad, I remember being in some classrooms with 15 females and something like 3 males. Because I took most of my undergrad classes with girls, I can’t say I ever felt that gender-bias, even when most of my professors were male. Most of the time we actually “outscored” the guys and ended up tutoring them… But then, as graduation time came along, suddenly many girls didn’t know what to do afterwards (myself included). So some ended up going to medical school, some ended up in Ph.D. programs, some ended up back at their parents’ place and some ended up doing nothing related to biology. For me, however, this short period of confusion was not attributable to gender-related insecurities in the field. It was more about trying to decide how to invest some of my best years (early twenties) by doing something that I regarded as both fun and professionally relevant to my academic interests.
Now that I’m at that place, I find myself thinking long-term and trying to plan out my scientific/academic career. Then it hit me, perhaps my decisions/insecurities are tied to gender! I feel like I’m racing against time to do everything I possibly can to advance my career before I hit 35. Why 35? Because that’s approximately when my biology, in terms of sexual reproduction, will start declining. Like many other women in this field, I want it all: the degree, the great job, the high-profile publications in top journals, the extensive network, the man I want to marry, and the family I’ve always dreamed of. I wonder if men have these same concerns. In my opinion, I think it’s somewhat unfair that men’s biological clock doesn’t tick-tock the way it does for us women. Think about it: we even get a monthly reminder of our reproductive status- something I’m still unhappy about. In short, although gender does play a role in selecting careers and even timing the events associated to that career, it never made me feel less able to perform once I chose a career.
Of course, I understand that my experience may not be reflective of the majority of girls in my situation and that other factors come into play. My personality (i.e. stubbornness, obsessive-compulsiveness, determination, etc…), the fact that I have a female PI (who’s all about female empowerment and domination in the field), and my supportive parents (who’ve always told me I can do anything I want to do) have all played a part in keeping me where I’m at. And I’m grateful for that. I guess what I want to say, to all the ladies out there, is that the barrier for women in science is not like what you’re probably thinking about/expected. Women comprise a huge intellectual force that’s actually driving the field forward. Of course, there are areas like computational neurobiology, for example, in which female figures are harder to find, but they’re there. And how are we going to do something about it (and change it) if females shy away from these areas instead of tackling them? In my opinion, we’ve surrendered many areas to males, even when we have the capabilities to perform just as well- or even better. And gender has played a role in that. We seem to be somewhat intimidated by males… Especially when we say stuff like: “But males are more analytical… They’re better with numbers…” Blah blah blah. I say we own what we want to do and we do it. Let’s show the guys how it’s done ;)
“International Women’s Day offers us an important opportunity to celebrate the achievements of great women past and present. Celebrating the achievements of women should not, however, make us blind to the cultural barriers which stood and continue to stand in the way of sexual equality. Today should not just be about celebrating the achievements of great women but also about appreciating the ongoing nature of their struggle.”—
Bipolar disorder (or manic-depressive disorder) is a psychological disorder affecting a person’s mood that is characterized by the presence of one or more abnormally elevated mood, cognitive, or energy levels. These episodes are referred to as mania (manic episodes). It ranges from low levels of depression to high levels of mania (increased mood). These mood shifts may occur several times a year or several times a day depending on the severity. Bipolar disorder usually appears in people ages 15-25 and has an unknown cause. However, genetics are said to play a slight part in the disorder, as well as hormonal imbalance and neurotransmitter problems.
There are typically three types of bipolar disorder:
Type I have at least one manic episode with major periods of depression. In the US, about 1% of people have Type I.
Type II never have significant episodes of mania, but instead experience elevated levels of energy and impulsiveness. These periods often alternate with episodes of depression. Type II is significantly less severe. About ~.5% people in the US have Type II.
Cyclothymia: The mild form. The highs and lows are not as severe as the other two types. Also, about .5% of people have Cyclothymia.
It is estimated that 1 out of 3 people with bipolar disorder have attempted or succeeded at past attempts of suicide.
Globally, about 4% of the population have said they experienced bipolar disorder at some point in their life. It is equally prevalent in both sexes and every race.
Diagnosis: A physician may check past patient history, analyze thyroid hormone levels, perform a thorough physical examination to rule out physical trauma, metabolic disturbance, and by analyzing the number of episodes experienced.
Symptoms: In the manic phase, symptoms typically include euphoria, extreme optimism, rapid speech, risky behavior, increased sex drive, inability to concentrate, delusions from reality, and decreased need to sleep.
In the depression phase, symptoms include persistent feelings of guilt, anxiety, anger, sadness, disturbances in sleep and appetite, loss of interest, self-loathing, lack of motivation, irritability, and elevated suicidal thoughts.
Treatment: Psychotherapy may reduce the core symptoms and reduce episodal triggers. The purpose of psychotheraphy is to reduce negative expressed emotion in relationships, and maintaining interpersonal relationships. Medications also have a profound effect on treatment. Mood stabilizer drugs are some of the most commonly used (Lamotrigine and lithium carbonate). Antidepressants are somewhat controversial because multiple side-effects have been observed.
Additional Information: Several well-known people have said to have suffered from bipolar disorder including Russel Brand, Kurt cobain, Stephen Fry, Carrie Fisher, Mel Gibson, Macy Gray, Ernest Hemmingway, Ozzy Osbourne, Cheri Oteri, Edgar Allan Poe, Jackson Pollock, Axl Rose, Nina Simone, Patrick Stump, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Vincent Van Gogh, and Virginia Woolf.
Bipolar disorder is often used inappropriately with many people claiming they’re bipolar after experience infrequent mood swings.
Fairly accurate and concise. Except that I would classify bipolar disorder as a psychiatric disorder (Axis I disorder).
Hi :) i love your blog. I'm about to start college and I'm planning to major in neuroscience as i want to pursue neurosurgery in the future. What steps did you take to get to where you are now? Or would you happen to have any recommendations ? thank you <3
Hi, congratulations! You must be thrilled. And thank you :)
I wish I could’ve majored in neuroscience… My journey was a pretty common one: I majored in biology and minored in psychology. After that, I took the GRE and applied to a graduate program in Neuroscience and Physiology.
The route you take will depend on your professional interests. If you’re interested in pursuing a neuroscience Ph.D., then a neuroscience major is a solid foundation. If you want to be a neurosurgeon, you need to go to medical school for an M.D. and then spend a couple of years on your specialization.
Note that if you want to be an MD, you will most probably have to take a variety of courses that will not be part of your neuroscience major requirements… I’m referring to additional courses (genetics, microbiology, calculus, physics, etc) that might not be relevant for a major that’s tailored to future neuroscientists. Also, keep in mind that neuroscience programs vary depending on what department they are in (some are in the biology dept, others in a medical setting, others in a psych dept) and usually the curriculum structure will reflect this.
One last thing, if you’re sure you want to be an MD, I’d suggest you simply go check the course requirements for the medical schools that you’d be interested in applying. Most schools offers a detailed list specifying how many credits of what subjects is required to be considered for admission. Make sure you take care of all of those before you graduate.
what's your working hypothesis on this? I have masters in psychology and worked with major psychosis and addictions for a while before I got out of it. This is exactly the kind of crossover I'd love to see more research on.
DA release in the amygdala in response to early life trauma and it’s relationship to neurobehavioral dysfunction (particularly depressive-like/drug abuse behaviors) during later life.
Oh wow! <3 Sounds like the kind of thing I’d like to do.
My working hypothesis, thus far, is that an aberrant DA increase in the amygdala in response to extended (or chronic) early life stress exposure (in which CORT levels are increased) may have a role in mediating neurobehavioral dysfunction (or emotional behavior deficits) that emerge later in development.
This is tentative. As I met with my PI today and we’re still discussing our options…
To better sum up my interests, the NIH has a new RO1 that funds research on limbic system/forebrain development and it’s relation to addiction during later life. If I were a PI, this is what I would go for.
Can you clarify (having done a Psych minor yourself) that soft science is not a derogatory qualification? And that it has it's place in the study of the mind? There are aspects of psychology research that are very important, in my opinion, but cannot be studied the way in which you define Hard Science.
But of course. I never said it was. And nobody is arguing that either, as psychology has been the predominant field in the study of the mind and even behavior. Needless to say, agreed.
Whoever, if anybody, got offended read too much into it.
Last night I ran across Mercedes-Benz’s newest cool-yet-so-cringe-worthy ad campaign. While the artwork itself is pretty damn awesome, the idea that our personalities and skills are a product of the prevalence of one hemisphere of our brain over another is rubbish. Another popular claim is the one that we only use 10% of our brains, while geniuses like Newton, Einstein, Michaelangelo and Da Vinci used much more. Yes, this one is rubbish too.
The ads read:
Left Brain: I am the left brain. I am a scientist. A mathematician. I love the familiar. I categorize. I am accurate. Linear. Analytical. Strategical. I am practical. Always in control. A master of words and language. Realistic. I calculate equations and play with numbers. I am order. I am logic. I know exactly who I am.
Right Brain: I am the right brain. I am creativity. A free spirit. I am passion. Yearning. Sensuality. I am the sound of roaring laughter. I am taste. The feeling of sand beneath bare feet. I am movement. Vivid colors. I am the urge to paint on an empty canvas. I am boundless imagination. Art. Poetry. I sense. I feel. I am everything I wanted to be.
I’m sure you’ve all heard this before. It is almost a part of pop-culture and it is often repeated in movies, the press, art-schools and ads for expensive, luxurious German automobiles, it seems.
The belief that a right-brained person is generally creative, inventive and artistic while a left-brained person is typically a logical, strategic puzzle-solver may have its roots in genuine science, but is ultimately nonsense. During the 1960s Nobel laureate Roger Sperry and Michael Gazzaniga conducted experiments on “split brain” patients that demonstrated that the left and right hemispheres of the brain are specialized on different activities. The left hemisphere, for example, appears to take a leading role in speech while the right hemisphere takes care of musical and spatial perceptions. When you are drawing a map to your house so that friends know how to get to this weekend’s party, it is true that certain parts of the right hemisphere become more active. It is also true that damage to symmetrically opposed areas of the brain cause different problems (there is functional asymmetry in the brain). But to say that our personalities, interests and skills are determined by which side of the brain we “use more”, is complete hogwash.
The truth is that the way you behave and the way you think is much more complex than this left brain vs right brain dichotomy. The brain is a network of excitable cells or neurons that together as a whole, in conjunction with our senses and cultural influences create an image of the world and determine who we are. These cognitive functions and behavioral patterns require neural processes across the entirety of our brains. The very act of sitting here reading this blog while enjoying a cold beer is a good example of how nearly everyone uses the entirety of their brains every single day (Sarah Palin, Bill O’Reilly and Glenn Beck pose serious threats to the claim I just made, I am aware. That is why I said nearly everyone). As you sit in front of your computer reading this post your frontal lobes are working in reasoning and thinking. You are able to enjoy your beer thanks to your parietal lobes, which are responsible for the processing of nerve impulses related to the senses, like taste and smell. You are able to recognize the words on this page because your occipital lobes are engaged in processing what comes through your eyes. The neighbor’s dog’s barking is annoying you because your temporal lobes are processing and interpreting auditory stimuli. You haven’t fell from your chair because the cerebellum is busy in coordinating and balancing your bodily movements. You just took another sip of beer because your hypothalamus is making you thirsty. You have been blinking your eyes and taking breaths every few seconds without having to think about it because your brain stem is controlling all your involuntary functions. All while your metabolism and your hormones are being controlled by your pituitary gland. You will remember what you read because your hippocampus is constantly transferring short-term memory into long-term memory and you just realized how stupid the claims that one only uses 10% of the brain or uses one side more than the other really are while triggering function across a number of different areas in the process.
The science that backs up what I just said has been around for a long time now, so why do these pseudoscientific claims persist?
Well, I think that the way people see themselves and their shortcomings plays a very important role. They look at overachievers like Stephen Hawking and see this as evidence that the 10% claim is true. It might make some amount of sense, but that is irrelevant because the science just does not support it. Another reason, I think, is that psychics are using it to explain their ridiculous claims. They are able to speak to the dead, see the future or bend spoons with their minds because they are part of that exclusive élite that uses more grey matter than the rest of us poor bastards. While it might be true that the people pushing these myths forward do only use 10% of their brains, the rest of us happily use all 100% of ours every single day.
Finally, someone who gets the picture! Kudos for tackling this common misconception.
I feel that doesn't answer my question, since you did not define "natural/physical" and "social/behavioral" science. What are the real differences between these two types of science? If such a dichotomy exists, which does neuroscience fall under, since imaging studies first rely on the processes first discovered using the behavioral paradigms of psychology?
I’ll humor you with my opinion. For me, one of the key differences between these two is the object of study (or the hypothesis/problem), which in turn will shape what and how their approach towards it will be like.
Traditionally, hard science has been concerned with investigating things (i.e. physiological processes, structure, function, connectivity, physical relationships, etc…) that are usually observable and testable through an empiric and objective manner (Scientific Method) that can be replicated. Some examples of hard science include biology, chemistry, physics, neural science, etc… Another word that I think applies to hard science is quantitative. In contrast, soft science aims at studying things (i.e. behavior, psychological processes, society, culture, etc…) that are subjective and therefore cannot be tested in a truly empirical and objective manner (or at least not to the extent and detail that can be achieved through hard science).
I feel that the soft sciences are more qualitative than quantitative (although they can be so at times) and that there’s also less focus on replication. Of course, many fields in the soft sciences “borrow” and skillfully employ the scientific method. But does that make them hard scientists? When it comes to psychology, I relate to methodological behaviorism, which also acknowledged the distinction between external and more seemingly objective physical worlds and internal, subjective and personal worlds. Although psychologists may use objective methods, they’re still making inferences about subjective inner processes/events. Therefore, they cannot clearly and definitely establish mechanisms of interaction or causality. For this reason, when I think of soft sciences I think correlation. On the other hand, because hard science focuses on causation and related mechanisms, it has developed tools for assessing these kinds of relationships (ex. conditional knockouts, tracing, functional connectivity analyses, etc…).
It should be clear by now that I do believe that such a dichotomy exists between these two kinds of sciences and that I would classify neuroscience as a hard science. Neuroscience isn’t limited to just neuroimaging you know… Neuroscience is a comprehensive and interdisciplinary field and as such, it may overlap and borrow tools/techniques/paradigms from multiple areas. Some neuroimaging tasks may employ behavioral paradigms (I’m assuming you’re referring to conditioning tasks) but they also integrate from other fields like computer science, electrical engineering and computational neurobiology.
This is actually kind of related to the reason why I got into neuroscience in the first place. I was a bio major/psych minor who was interested in learning more about biology as it related to psychological processes. Neuroscience allowed me to investigate and manipulate the biological mechanisms underlying behavior- something psychology is not concerned with.
In the recent emotional stability & personality traits graph that you posted, is that founded in science? Do you have sources, by chance?
It’s founded in the “soft sciences”. Basically, the graph assesses different spectrums of the what psychology would call “The Big Five” personality traits, which are: openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism.
Here’s a link if you’re interested in learning more about it:
I'm writing a thesis on how dopamine modulates movement patterns,
and I too think your vision studies sound rad as hell. :D
I’m not studying vision for my thesis, but I am as part of the vision module in my Systems Neuroscience course. For my studies I’d like to study DA release in the amygdala in response to early life trauma and it’s relationship to neurobehavioral dysfunction (particularly depressive-like/drug abuse behaviors) during later life.
Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID, Formerly Multiple Personality Disorder) is a psychological disorder in which a person displays multiple separate distinct identities (alters) with their own different personalities. In order for the disorder to be classified, there must be at least two distinct alters that act on their own accord. The patient must experience a type of memory loss that goes beyond normal forgetfulness.
The “alters” or different identities have their own age, sex, or race. Each has his or her own postures, gestures, and distinct way of talking. Sometimes the alters are imaginary people; sometimes they are animals. As each personality reveals itself and controls the individuals’ behavior and thoughts, it’s called “switching.” Switching can take seconds to minutes to days.
DID is assumed to come about due to severe physical or emotional trauma. The trauma is usually severe physical and sexual abuse occurring in latechildhood. The steps leading up to DID are as follows:
A child is harmed by their caregiver and hides the awareness of the memory
The memories and feelings go into the subconscious
The process happens multiple times creating multiple different identities
The dissociation becomes a coping mechanism for the trauma when under a stressful situation.
The dissociative aspect is thought to be a coping mechanism; the person literally dissociates himself from a situation or experience that’s too violent, traumatic, or painful to assimilate with their conscious self. In mental hospitals, the case rate of DID is assumed to be in 3% of all cases. While many believe the disorder does not exist, it definitely exists and the doubt results from lack of media exposure.
Diagnosis: Psychiatrists will determine if DID is present by observing the number of alters present in the patient. As previously noted, more than two warrants DID. The other conditions required for DID include the inability to recall important information for everyday events, causes clinically significant distress in social and occupational areas, and the distrubance is not a normal part of their accepted cultural beliefs. Psychiatrists typically conduct a brief 90 minute interview to determine these factors.
Symptoms: Symptoms typically include multiple mannerisms present with different alters, severe memory loss, depression, flashbacks of trauma, paranoia, differential vocal and auditory expression, sleep disorders, and wild mood swings.
Treatment: Psychotherapy is the major component for treatment. Psychiatrists try to improve the client’s relationships with others and confront the trauma head on. Some medications may work as well.
Additional Information: DID has been featured in many movies and books like Sybil, Fight club, Thr3e, Black Swan, and my personal favorite, The United States of Tara.
of man, that sounds like an amazing study. I'm jealous and wish I could understand it on your level so I too could sit there dumbfounded and in awe. Vision fascinates me to no end. All the variables biological, psychological, and otherwise that go into the final art of everything we see is incredible. 50% of everything perceived is us and I haven't quite figured out what the other 50% is...
Many of them are. And it’s so cool when you can actually see these things. I will never be able to understand it as well as people in the field, but I guess I have a very basic neuroscience understanding of how it works… And yes, that’s a recurrent theme nowadays-interactionism.
Here are links for videos in which you can actually hear orientation selective or light intensity selective neurons firing!
If you pay attention to only one, check out the first one. I this video you can actually hear the subsets of neuronal populations firing according to orientation. Pretty amazing how cells inside the brain are able to discriminate for such things!
In reference to the idea of the field actually moving away from simple solutions for complex problems model are there people out there studying life variables algorithmically? Just curious. Attaching values to these things I know seems crazy but I guess I think of it kind of like how pandora uses focus traits
Neuroscientists have employed algorithmic models for studying things like neurobiology of learning and memory, behavioral learning, neural networks and circuitry, etc…
One of the fields that’s especially well-known for employing these kinds of models is vision neuroscience. I’m currently covering V1 (primary visual cortex) and V2 interactions, firing properties and how they are modulated by distinct subsets of neuronal populations (that respond to different kinds of visual information) and it gets intense. And you’re right; it IS crazy. Most of the time I’m just staring in awe and struggling to make sense of it haha.
Thanks for your answer. I read an article on pubmed arguing that bipolar I/II are actually more similar to Parkinson's than schizophrenia, but I see your points and understand that there is a lot we don't know and what we do know doesn't really suggest a strong relationship. Thanks again, you really helped explain the neurochemistry behind both the cognition deficits and relationship to Parkinson's.
You’re welcome. Parkinson’s/schizophrenia/bipolar are not my areas so it was interesting to look up and read about similarities differences. The article you mentioned sounds interesting; I wonder what the basis for them saying that is…
I agree, the field is finally moving in a direction in which we feel comfortable saying that perhaps assigning simple causes to complex disorders is not the way to go. I think that as time goes on, we’ll find that there’s very specific interactions and contexts that exacerbate many of the instead of just trying to attribute everything to a sole cause.
What do you think about the connection between bipolar and parkinson's vs. bipolar and schizophrenia? Also, thoughts on cognitive deficits in bipolar patients? Yes, it exists. Medication side effects or just the course and severity of the illness?
To start off, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are what the DSM-IV would call Axis I disorders (or major mental/psychiatric disorders). Parkinson’s disease is in a different ballpark because it is primarily a neurodegenerative motor disorder that may be accompanied by cognitive impairment. Parkinson’s disease is most commonly classified as a basal ganglia disorder. Basically, the basal ganglia nuclei (i.e. striatum, substantia nigra, globus pallidus, etc…) exert influence over motor neurons and their respective circuits to control motor function. However, the basal ganglia are also implicated in other kinds of deficits and diseases due to their extensive connections with other brain areas such as the limbic system.
In Parkinson’s disease, there is reduced motor function, which is commonly attributed to lesser (or lack of) dopaminergic neurotransmission. I guess this reduced dopaminergic neurotransmission is one connection between Parkinson’s and bipolar disorder (if you think about the depression end of the bipolar spectrum). A lack or downregulation of dopamine in brain areas primed for motivation/reward might certainly be a factor but bipolar disorder is much more complex…
Dopamine dysregulation is also present in schizophrenia, but again, many other neurotransmitter systems and genes are involved in this kind of disorder. Not to mention, there’s a whole continuum of schizophrenia (i.e. paranoid, catatonic, etc…) and schizophrenia-like phenotypes (schizotypal/schizoid personality disorders).
When it comes to cognitive deficits associated with bipolar disorder, I’d say it depends on what kind of bipolar disorder you have (I/II/cyclothymia) and if you have comorbidity with other Axis I/Axis II disorders… I would also like to add that perhaps what some people would call “cognitive deficits” might not really be reflective of a substantial cognitive impairment but more reflective of the episode (whether manic or depressive) during its onset and duration.
Typically, the bipolar/schizophrenia diagnoses are made prior to the prescription of medications and I would say that if you have either of those diagnoses you most probably would be medicated. Although medications are believed to help by “balancing” the neurochemistry in brain areas related to the deficits seen in these illnesses, they are not terribly specific and yes, they do bring about a myriad of changes that may or may not result in adverse symptoms. I guess that medications have this interplay with a combination of individual factors (lifestyle, environment, genetics, and so forth) that may result in negative side effects. Moreover, medications have differential effects depending on the time point in which they are given because these systems and brain structures are still undergoing development and being “rewired”….
That’s the best I can do with your question. If you wanted me to address something more specific, feel free to message or leave another ask.