Category Archives: Brain Health

Information, news, useful articles about brain health. Different professionals propose advice, tricks, and recommendations that may help keep your brain balanced

Not Sure If You Should Take The Leap? Cognitive Benefits of Learning Foreign Languages

We may not look back on our foreign language classes at school with much fondness.However, after reading about the following benefits of learning foreign languages, we may all be searching for our Spanish or French class notes.

Learning a foreign language can be difficult. The older you are, the more challenging it can be. Nevertheless, learning a new language can have a range of cognitive, health and cultural benefits.

Cognitive Benefits of Learning Foreign Languages

Benefits of learning foreign languages: Beneficial for traveling, learning and communicating

Learning a foreign language means you can explore a whole new culture, country, or continent through the native tongue. Learning a foreign language also allows us to communicate with individuals who do not speak our mother tongue.

Benefits of learning foreign languages: Stay young and stave off disease

Research has found that bilingualism can help counteract cognitive decline. In fact, it was noted that bilingual older adults had better memory than monolingual older adults. Furthermore, there has been links between bilingualism and Alzheimer’s, showing the correlation to speaking more than one language and preventing Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, Evy Woumans and colleagues have found that in older adults diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, the rate of progression is slower in bilingual patients compared to monolingual patients.

Benefits of learning foreign languages: Be more creative

A review into the cognitive correlates of bilingualism, by Olusola Adesope and colleagues found that bilingualism has been associated with enhanced creativity and abstract thinking. Essentially, being proficient in a foreign language can make you more creative and can help you think outside the box.

Benefits of learning foreign languages: Improved problem-solving skills

Bilinguals tend to have better problem-solving skills than monolinguals. In addition, bilinguals tend to perform better on tasks like the Stroop test, which requires an element of conflict management. Being fluent in a foreign language has been linked to enhanced inhibitory control ability. This means that bilinguals are better at ignoring information that interferes with their ability to complete a task. The message here seems to be that learning a foreign language can help us to solve problems faster and help us to ignore irrelevant information.

Benefits of learning foreign languages: Better cognitive control

Researchers Viorica Marion and Anthony Shook tested bilinguals in experiments of task switching. Participants were required to switch between sorting objects based on colour and by shape. Compared to monolinguals, bilinguals displayed high levels of cognitive control. They find it easier to switch between tasks compared to monolinguals. Essentially, learning a foreign language may improve our task switching ability. Researchers propose enhanced cognitive control is due to the ability to balance two languages. Bilingual language processing networks for both languages are active at the same time. As both languages are activated, the individual responds in the correct language by learning to inhibit one language over the other. By doing this, bilinguals improve their inhibitory control mechanism, to the point where when processing language, the process of inhibiting the language that isn’t needed at a particular time becomes second nature. Wondering how you can train your brain and cognitive skills? Try some fun brain games!

Benefits of learning foreign languages: Changes brain structure

Bilingualism has been found to increase neuroplasticity. Researcher Rosanna Olsen and colleagues investigated structural brain differences in monolinguals and bilinguals using fMRI. Scans revealed that bilinguals display increased activation in the dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC plays an important role in tasks which require control). This part of the brain is associated with attention and inhibition. The researchers found that the hippocampus and the left superior temporal gyrus are more malleable in bilinguals (The hippocampus is associated with memory and the superior temporal gyrus is associated with sound processing). Furthermore, these structures as well as the frontal lobe are thicker in bilingual individuals (The frontal lobes are associated with executive functions such as problem solving and executive control-need some exercises to improve executive functions?). Increased volumes of white matter have been noted in frontal and temporal lobes. According to researcher Christos Pilatsikas and colleagues, when learning a second language age doesn’t matter, as adults who have learnt a foreign language have shown increase white matter. Being proficient in a foreign language can improve connections of brain regions that control our memory, executive functioning, attention and inhibition processes.

Benefits of learning foreign languages: Improves attention and attention control

Studies have shown that on tasks of attention control, bilinguals tend to perform better than monolinguals. Also bilinguals tend to have a higher attention capacity. Bilinguals are better at filtering out unwanted information and find it easier to focus on more relevant information.

Improves ability to process information– Benefits of learning foreign languages

Being bilingual can benefit sensory and information processing. Jennifer Krizman and colleagues present participants with target sounds embedded in background noise. Compared to monolinguals, bilinguals found it easier to filter out background noise. The researchers found bilingualism enhances sound processing and sustained attention. The study found that bilinguals process sound similarly to musicians. This means that one of the benefits of learning a foreign language is being able to improve the efficiency of the brain’s auditory system, and enhance our ability to distinguish between similar sounds.

Benefits of learning foreign languages

Enhances working memory– Benefits of learning foreign languages

Managing two languages puts increased pressure our working memory. To ease the pressure, bilinguals become more efficient at information processing. Combining this with their enhanced inhibitory control ability, a bilingual’s working memory capacity and efficiency us greater than monolinguals.

Learning multiple foreign languages

We have already established that being fluent in a foreign language can improve our information processing abilities and enhance our sustained attention. As a result of these enhanced processes, bilinguals find it easier to learn a third or even fourth foreign language.

Learning a foreign language can have numerous benefits on our cognitive functions. It improves executive functions, cognitive control, attention, and memory. In addition, neuroimaging studies have revealed that learning a foreign language in later life can actually grow the brain and improve the connections between different brain regions. What is even more interesting is that learning a foreign language can counteract cognitive decline and slow down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Regardless of the age at which we learn a foreign language, it is still beneficial for our brains to do so. So, although it may be a little more difficult, it is clearly never too late to reap the benefits of learning foreign languages! Encouraging young children to learn a foreign language may benefit them in later life, so schools should look at making learning a foreign language a compulsory part of the curriculum. Aside from the benefits to cognition and the brain, for all of us who have the travelling bug and want to explore new cultures, learning the lingo is obviously the best place to start!

Do you have any questions or comments? Leave me a note below! 🙂

References

Adesope, O. O., Lavin, T., Thompson, T., & Ungerleider, C. (2010). A systematic review and meta-analysis of the cognitive correlates of bilingualism. Review of Educational Research80(2), 207-245.

Krizman, J., Marian, V., Shook, A., Skoe, E., & Kraus, N. (2012). Subcortical encoding of sound is enhanced in bilinguals and relates to executive function advantages. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences109(20), 7877-7881.

Mårtensson, J., Eriksson, J., Bodammer, N. C., Lindgren, M., Johansson, M., Nyberg, L., & Lövdén, M. (2012). Growth of language-related brain areas after foreign language learning. NeuroImage63(1), 240-244.

Marian, V., & Shook, A. (2012, September). The cognitive benefits of being bilingual. In Cerebrum: the Dana forum on brain science (Vol. 2012). Dana Foundation.

Pliatsikas, C., Moschopoulou, E., & Saddy, J. D. (2015). The effects of bilingualism on the white matter structure of the brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences112(5), 1334-1337.

Woumans, E., Santens, P., Sieben, A., Versijpt, J., Stevens, M., & Duyck, W. (2015). Bilingualism delays clinical manifestation of Alzheimer's disease.Bilingualism: Language and Cognition18(03), 568-574.

Costa, A., & Sebastián-Gallés, N. (2014). How does the bilingual experience sculpt the brain?. Nature Reviews Neuroscience15(5), 336-345.

Olsen, R. K., Pangelinan, M. M., Bogulski, C., Chakravarty, M. M., Luk, G., Grady, C. L., & Bialystok, E. (2015). The effect of lifelong bilingualism on regional grey and white matter volume. Brain research1612, 128-139.

Saidi, L. G., & Ansaldo, A. I. (2015). Can a Second Language Help You in More Ways Than One?. AIMS neurosci1, 52-57.

Emotional memories: How emotions help you remember

Have you ever wondered why are there situations you can remember better and more vividly than others? How you might even experience an intense emotion just by remembering an important event in your life? And on the contrary, why are there situations we can’t remember so easily or we can’t remember at all? Emotional memories remain longer and are experienced more intensely when remembered. Let’s discuss how your brain processes them.

Emotions help you remember

We all have been surprised about how our memory works and the amount of information we are able to remember. For instance, faces, names, events in the past and in the future, and even how an object smells, tastes or feels like. Though having a bad memory is very often a complain, its capacity is similar to the one of a computer’s and is even more flexible and easier to use. (Read more on false memories)

Identity formation is also our memory’s responsibility. How? By being conscious of the experiences we’ve been through: our thoughts, emotions and reactions to those events. This is called the autobiographical memory. This type of memory is in charge of remembering everything that’s related to you and your relationships with the world.

Emotional Memories 

Emotions and feelings are present in our daily life, enriching our reality. From a person we meet, an object we possess, a trip we take, or even just appreciating nature, emotions are always making experiences richer. The role these moods play in recalling events is an interesting topic to learn about in order to understand ourselves better.

There are always certain situations that are easier to remember than others. And although many factors influence your memory’s performance, a crucial one is emotion. Giving importance or paying attention to a situation, person, object, event or idea, improves our memory’s storage process.

On this matter, memory is selective. It will register and give value to the information that is more relevant to you. This value might be established according to how something makes you feel, the emotions it evokes on you (either pleasant or unpleasant), or even by the mood you’re in. This is why you might be able to remember better if you ran into someone you hadn’t seen for many years two weeks ago, rather than what you had for lunch last Friday. This means that interest and relevance to you are main factors in emotional memories.

Emotional Memories: Our brains 

The limbic system is a part of the brain that regulates emotions and memory (read more on the functions of your limbic system). Amygdala, hippocampus, hypothalamus, cingulate gyrus are only some of them. When an emotional event is taking place, the amygdala is activated. Afterward, the cerebral cortex processes the information. Some of the cortex involved are the prefrontal cortex, cingulate, cerebellum and somatosensory cortex. Also, as the hippocampus is in charge of storing information, it will also play an important role in the process. When these brain regions are activated, a “print” or “mark” will remain for our brains to recognize this information in the future. As a result, our brain will pay more attention to the event whenever it’s repeated in the future.

Brain anatomy

Here’s an example: a friend of yours gives you some shocking news. Immediately, an emotional reaction follows this information. In this case, the activation of the amygdala, hippocampus and cerebral cortex will store this as a memory. Consequently, the amygdala orders to liberate adrenaline and glucocorticoid hormones to the blood stream. These hormones have an impact on how you experience a situation, how it makes you feel physically. This is how emotional memories have a physical response as well.

By all this, involving stronger emotions in an event activates more the amygdala. Therefore, emotions not only help you remember better but also to have more vivid memories filled with details. It’s probable that whenever you think about the shocking news your friend gave you, you might even feel sad, remember exactly what you were doing and where you were in that moment. Time will pass by and you’ll still have those fresh details with you. When recalling this event and emotion, your brain will activate the same areas as if you were experiencing it in that same moment.

Emotional Memories: Pleasant and unpleasant 

We all experience emotional events in different ways. Someone might consider a situation annoying, while it might be funny for another one. Hence, our reaction to a situation, person, object or idea, varies depending on our past experiences and our personality.

Our brain encodes pleasant and unpleasant situations differently. According to different studies, positive emotional memories are full of significant contextual details. Negative or unpleasant ones, on the other hand, are less specific. Some emotional events can be so impressive and intense that they boost brain activity. Thus, liberating hormones excessively, causing harm to your cardiovascular and immunologic system as well. As a consequence, you see damage in the neurons located in the hippocampus.

With this in mind, whenever a person goes through a traumatic situation (i.e. being a crime victim or a war veteran), there’s a hyper stimulation on some parts of the brain, like the amygdala and prefrontal cortex. Along with the hormones liberated, the event will be more memorable and terrifying, harming health and memory.

In other cases, psychogenic amnesia may occur when forgetting strongly traumatic experiences. The stress of an emotional memory can provoke amnesia. Sometimes, not only does this person forget the particular disturbing event, but also a global or temporary loss of personal memory may happen. At the other hand, some persons can repress or block a stressing event and remembering years later. It must be taken into account that brain damage is not responsible for memory loss. In any case, psychotherapy must be specially recommended.

Emotional Memories: improve your memory

Why do we forget? Some factors involved can be age, time, stress and anxiety. In any case, what can help you enhance your memory? There are many factors, techniques, and tools: as mentioned above, attention, interest, and motivation are very important to assign a value to a situation and make it more memorable. Together with this, using techniques and tools are always helpful. Mnemotechnics are brain strategies to help you remember information better, using mental images or verbal keys, relating them to previous knowledge (like the world we live in or past experiences). You may also try Cognifit, a training program that uses brain games to strengthen the user’s weakest cognitive skills according to their needs.

To summarize, emotionally charged events help remembering better and more vividly than neutral ones. Being aware of the present moment and experiencing all emotions truly, will surely make you have more meaningful memories.

Live life fully

Sex differences in the brain: Is there a male and a female brain?

For many years, science has tried to explain how women and men are different beyond sexual traits. On this matter, research continues on how sex differences in the brain extend to more internal biology, including our brain (how well do you know your brain?). Some studies support the relationship between human brain structure and behavior, personality, cognition, attitudes and gender characteristics. Maybe because of this, there are theories categorizing it into two forms: male-brain and female-brain. Nevertheless, more recent studies cannot confirm the existence of this sexual dimorphic view of human brains.

Sex differences in the brain

Anatomical Sex Differences in the Brain

As mentioned before, everything we are, from behavior, cognition and attitudes to gender expression, have a base on the brain. But it’s important to note that factors influencing brain development in both males and females include, not only biology, but also the environment. By this, we must then consider that culture, and social constructions have an important role in how we build relationships with the world. Let’s see what we know about the biology of sex differences.

Structure and Function

Research related to gender differences in the brain shows us some general differences on brain structure and function in men and women:

  • Sex differences in the brain begin as early as the fetal development. The hormone testosterone plays a role on the “masculinization” of the brain. Although this hormone is present in both men and women, males have it in a bigger proportion.
  • Males, on average, have larger total brain volume than women. Nevertheless, the volume and tissue density differs depending on the region:
    • Men have higher volume in bilateral limbic areas and left posterior cingulate gyrus. Whereas women have larger volume in the right hemisphere of the brain related to language and the limbic structures. (More on the functions of your limbic system)
    • In relation to tissue density, men have higher proportion in the left side of the limbic system, while women’s tissue density is higher in the frontal lobe.
  • Both sexes share the circuitry needed to generate male or female typical behaviors. Nevertheless, it depends on the activation or repression of these circuits, as well as the strategies our brain uses to generate them.
  • Scientists have also studied sex differences in the structure of the brain related to psychopathological conditions. In general, ADHD, autism, conduct disorders, specific language impairment, Tourette’s syndrome and dyslexia prevale on males. Women, on the other hand, prevale on suffering from depression, anxiety and anorexia nervosa.

The Environment

Without doubt, different characteristics need to be analyzed in both genders. Some brain regions are smaller or with higher tissue density in men or women, while others are bigger or have lower density. Of course this may explain why women and men have different skills and may have typical behavior according to gender.

However, it’s very important to understand that this doesn’t make it a rule. These traits are not to be present in every man or woman. Moreover, male’s or female’s typical behavior might also be constructed by society and the environment.

Thanks to neuroplasticity, the brain’s connections can change throughout our lives. This means that, the more we stimulate different areas of the brain, the more connections we’ll generate. If both sexes have the same structures and functions in the brain, it will depend on how often a person puts them in practice. For this reason, the brain’s “use it or lose it” approach is important for cognitive maintenance.

But how to activate your brain? There are many brain gym activities that can help. As you may know, there are many benefits of exercise on the brain, as well as benefits of learning foreign languages. But more importantly: get enrolled in new and challenging activities for you. The brain gets more active when doing tasks you’re not used to. It “forces” the brain to learn new pathways and create more connections between different regions. When performing a certain task, your brain learns the pathway, making it easier to achieve it over time. Brain games can also be a great way to improve neural connections, and luckily there are some programs dedicated to improving brain connections and brain areas ;).

The Brain Mosaic: A new Theory

Considering all this information, professor at Tel-Aviv University, Daphna Joel (2015), has different findings on sex differences on the brain. Her study, along with other scientists, consisted on analyzing the MRIs of 1.400 people’s brains. They observed the differences on the distribution of the gray matter, white matter and connectivity. And what did they find?

  1. Brains cannot be categorized as male or female. They are “comprised of unique ‘mosaics’ of features. Some more common in females compared with males, some more common in males compared with females. Some more common in both females and males” (Daphna et al., 2015).
  2. Brains with features belonging to the “maleness-femaleness” continuum are not common. They found low or limited amount of brains considered or categorized as “full male/full female”. The great majority have both “male-female” features.
  3. Variability prevales on these features, rather than consistency. “The forms that are evident in most females, are also the ones evident in most males”. The general characteristics of each sexes’ brain vary greatly, making a classification uncertain as they both share these features.
  4. Quantifying instead of qualifying. “It’s more appropriate and informative to refer to measures of the brain in quantitative ways, rather than in qualitative ways (e.g. “male” or “female” form)”. Describing the size, the density, the amount of connections, etc. of each brain makes it more accurate. At the end, we all have different traits beyond our sex/gender.
  5. These findings open debates about sex/gender differentiation at a social level. Are there tasks that are only appropriate for men or for women? Should education be single-sex?

Watch the following video to find out more about her study, or read her full article here.

Does it really matter?

We might as well ask ourselves whether or not categorizing the human brain is useful. All in all, categories help us understand the world we live in as well as understand ourselves. In medicine, for instance, it’s useful to categorize diseases and disorders in order to treat them. But after all, not everything can be classified and limited: human beings are far more complicated than that. Being so different from one another and expressing our uniqueness is part of idiosyncrasy. Finally, accepting gender as a social construction and not considering behavior as “male-or-female-typical”, can make us more tolerant and open to idiosyncrasy.

Brain seizures: When The Brain Has Too Much Energy

Brain seizures: Some of us have to deal with them every single day, whilst others can be witnesses of someone having a  brain seizure. Most commonly, people having to experience someone suffering from a brain seizure are overwhelmed when their loved ones jerk uncontrollably and subsequently lose consciousness. Not only are the witnesses clueless about which steps to take, but also the patients if his/her seizure occurs for the first time. This article will give you a guide on what brain seizures are, their symptoms, treatments and what steps to take in order to increase the quality of life of the patient. 

What are brain seizures?

What are brain seizures?

Brain seizures are changes in the brain’s electrical activity. This change can cause dramatic, noticeable symptoms or it may not cause any symptoms. Patients that experience brain seizures possess abnormal neural activity which is uncontrolled and happens spontaneously.

The brain function, however, is often not abnormal. The involuntary change in neural activity is considered epilepsy, in which the brain seizures are the symptoms. Though, brain seizures can also be induced in a normal brain under a variety of conditions different species, from humans to flies. Brain function is not abnormal but cognitive aspects might be threatened by many brain seizures.

Brain Seizures Types

Generally, we differentiate between three different types of seizures. Usually, they are dependent on the number of brain cells showing abnormal activity. This is crucial in order to select a suitable treatment for the patient, as different medications have to be used for each seizure type.

  1. Generalized onset brain seizures: In this case, there is no identifiable onset meaning a starting point in the brain cannot be determined. The seizure starts and spreads too quickly making a reliable decision about the trigger impossible. For this reason, treatment using surgery to suppress the symptoms is not available.
  2. Focal onset brain seizures: Whereas in generalized onset seizures the location is not known, in this type of brain seizure, doctors are able to determine the starting point of the seizures. Focal brain seizures can start in one area of the brain or in a specific group of cells either in the left or right hemisphere. Furthermore, patients can have full or impaired awareness during their fit.
  3. Unknown onset brain seizures: If the nature of the seizure cannot be determined, they belong to this group. This is mostly at the beginning or if the patient lives alone without witnesses observing the person with the seizure. As more information is obtained, the seizure is later classified as generalized onset brain seizure or focal onset brain seizure.

How is a brain seizure caused?

Aspects of the brain affected by different brain seizure

The emergence of a brain seizure can be down to several reasons, but determining the exact cause has proven to be challenging. At least half of all patients display idiopathic seizures meaning the cause is unknown. Nevertheless, depending on the age of the patient, determining the trigger of a brain seizure can be narrowed down.

Generally, genetics plays a large role whether someone will experience a seizure in their lives or not. Pinpointing the specific genes which are responsible for the symptoms though is a struggle. This diagnosis is mostly very vague as the relationship between the genes in the brain and the nature of seizures is poorly understood.

What is known on the other hand is a prevalence of about 3 out of 10 patients having a change in brain structure which leads to some sort of brain seizure. Mostly this is the case for children born with alterations in brain regions.  For the elderly, incidence such as a stroke is usually the cause of developing recurrent seizures.

When suffering from epilepsy, an imbalance in the brain’s chemistry is frequently observed. This refers to the neurotransmitters being present in the wrong concentrations (too little or too much in the brain). In general, everybody has got two kinds of neurotransmitters with opposing functions: Neurotransmitter of excitatory and inhibitory qualities, with the former increasing the firing rate and the latter reducing the activity of the neurons. The balance of both kinds has to be maintained and if not given, can result in hyperactivity of the neurons causing epilepsy.

The best-studied neurotransmitter is GABA, or gamma-aminobutyric acid, which possesses inhibitory qualities counterbalancing neuronal excitation. GABA’s counterpart glutamate, the principal excitatory neurotransmitter, plays a crucial role in the initiation and spread of brain seizures. This was demonstrated by During and Spencer in 1993 when they tested the concentration of these two neurotransmitters in the hippocampus before and during a seizure. Before seizures, the glutamate concentration in this brain area was found to be higher than in the control group, whereas the concentration of GABA was observed to be lower. During the seizure, GABA concentrations increased in both groups, however in the control group a greater increase was found. Consequently, drugs to treat epilepsy revolve around these two neurotransmitters, by either reducing the concentration of glutamate or by increasing GABA content in the synapses in order to reduce hyperactivity of the neurons.

Brain Seizures Symptoms

Clinicians group the symptoms into two categories, generalized and partial or focal seizures, in order to find out if a patient suffers from epilepsy.
The different types are:

Generalized brain seizures (produced by the whole brain)

  • “Grand Mal”: The most known form where the patient loses consciousness and collapses. The body stiffens and violent jerking begins usually lasting for about 30-60 seconds. Afterwards, the patient goes into deep sleep.
  • Absence: Individuals experiencing an absence seizure stare into space for a few seconds. They are most common in children and a brief loss of consciousness is reported.
  • Myoclonic: These seizures are brief, shock-like jerks or twitches of a muscle or a whole muscle group. This usually does not last for a long time (only about 1-2 seconds) and the person experiencing it retains full consciousness.
  • Clonic: This type of seizures is very similar to the myoclonic seizure with the difference of a more regular and sustained jerking.
  • Tonic: The muscle tone, the muscle’s normal tension at rest, is highly increased leading to tense feelings in arms, legs or body in general. Awareness usually does not change much and the symptoms subside within 20 seconds.
  • Atonic: Atonic seizures are substantially the opposite of tonic seizures. Instead of the muscles becoming stiff, a person experiencing an atonic seizure will feel their muscles going limp. For instance, a person standing might fall to the ground when suffering an atonic seizure. As tonic seizures, they do not last for a long time either.

Partial or Focal brain seizures

Focal brain seizures are known to originate from a specific brain region causing a variety of symptoms depending on the brain area affected. Generally, doctors differentiate between seizures causing a (partial) loss of consciousness and the ones where consciousness is preserved.

Symptoms of focal seizures with impaired awareness (once called complex partial seizures) could be the following:

  • Staring into space
  • Response to the environment is abnormal or impaired
  • Execution of repetitive movements (hand rubbing, chewing, walking in circles, etc…)

Symptoms of focal seizures without loss of consciousness (once called simple partial seizures):

  • Change of emotions
  • Difference in perception
  • Involuntary jerking of a body part
  • Sensory symptoms (eg. tingling, dizziness and flashing lights)

Note: If an individual experiences seizures repeatedly (once a week or even once every single day), their symptoms will most likely remain similar.

Brain seizures: Diagnosis and what to expect when visiting a doctor?

If a person suffers from a brain seizure (or thinks they have suffered one), the first stop will be consulting your general practitioner. Make an appointment and if the seizure was witnessed by someone, ask this person to join.

Depending on the type of seizure, most likely you were unconscious which makes it difficult for you to describe what happened. However, the doctor will ask you a series of questions, also called the medical interview, in which he will ask you about your general health and incidences before, during and after the seizure. Especially for the medical interview, it is advisable to have someone near you answer questions which you might not be able to answer.

The doctor will most likely be able to diagnose a brain seizure based on the answers of the patient. However, to obtain a clearer idea of the clinical picture of the patient, more tests will be necessary.

The primary physician will ask a neurologist to take a look at the inside of the individual’s brain. Every single brain is different and finding the most suitable treatment for a patient is far from straightforward. The following tests are used when attempting to diagnose brain seizures in detail:

  • Blood tests: The most common blood test is the CBC (Complete Blood count) in which the doctor determines important parameters in your blood, e.g the number of red blood cells, white blood cells, hemoglobin, etc. Therefore a blood test serves to determine the appropriate medication for infections, allergies, and other abnormalities are revealed.
  • Metabolic tests: This test assesses the functioning of your organs, more specifically your body’s ability to metabolize. The evaluation is also done via a blood sample and includes an assessment of the content of important molecules in your blood. The sodium, potassium and blood sugar levels are evaluated. Not only will this help determine an electrolyte imbalance, but also reveal any malfunction of the kidney or the liver. The importance of looking at these organs is to find out whether a disease could trigger the brain seizures, which was found to be the case for instance in patients with diabetes. In this case, doctors focus on treating the symptoms of the illness causing the brain seizures (in this case diabetes) rather prescribing drugs targeting the brain seizures directly.
  • An EEG (electroencephalography) test: The term might sound familiar to most of us, but what is this exactly and how can it help doctors make a more accurate diagnosis? An EEG can reveal the electrical activity of the brain and in which regions abnormal/normal activity is present. The specialists can make conclusions if the brain seizures come from a single area or are more widespread looking at the EEG pattern.
  • CT and MRI scan: Computer Tomography (CT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) are two techniques that will look into your brain. The aim here is to find physical abnormalities that cause the seizures. Although for a lot of people suffering from brain seizures the test results will be negative, it is still an important procedure. In cases where brain seizures are very frequent and strong, determining the exact cause is crucial since the possibility to undergo surgery could be an adequate treatment option.

What to do and not to do when faced with a brain seizure?

If we see our loved-ones suffering from a seizure, it would be normal to be frightened and expect the worst. However, most brain seizures are not dangerous and the person regains his/her normal state within a few minutes without permanent damage. Fact is: Once a seizure is going, you cannot simply force the person to stop jerking, however, you can protect the person inflicting damage to his own body.

The DO’S!

  • Make sure other people are not standing too close to the person having a seizure
  • Remove sharp or hard objects from the surroundings
  • Do not stop the movements of your friend
  • Take a look at his/her watch to record the seizure duration
  • To keep the airway clear, put the person on his/her side
  • And most importantly: Keep calm!

The DONT’S!

  • Do not restrain the person as you might injure him or get injured yourself
  • No offering of food or drinks to the sufferer: A sip of water might be a trigger for choking
  • Do not insert anything into his/her mouth! They will not swallow their tongue
  • No CPR (unless the patient is not breathing after the seizure)

Tips to reduce brain seizures

Since the underlying trigger for a brain seizure is often unknown, it is crucial to reduce the odds of a brain seizure to a minimum. Take the following provisions:

  • Reduce stress by getting enough sleep (it is best to adhere to a regular sleeping schedule)
  • Physical activity or yoga may help feeling more relaxed, as well as deep breathing
  • Limit noise sources and make sure the room is well illuminated when watching TV or when playing video games
  • When going for a run you should do it in the park, rather than in high-traffic areas or unpaved trails
  • But most importantly: Stick to your medication your doctor prescribed you unless he/she tells you otherwise!

Have you witnessed a brain seizure or are you suffering from this condition? Please feel free to comment below.

Amygdala: The powerhouse of emotions

Our brain is a palace of structures. It dictates everything we do, how we think, how we behave and how we feel. In this article, we will focus only on the amygdala (sounds like a character out of a Star Wars movie): From what it is, functions, neurophysiological aspects of the amygdala, what happens if it gets damaged, and its relationship with other brain areas.  

Amygdala

What is the amygdala?

The amygdala is a structure in the limbic system that is involved directly with motivation: Particularly related to survival and our emotions. It is also responsible for processing emotions such as fear, pleasure, and anger.

The amygdala is the house where all of our emotions are stored. One of its main functions is to help us to recognize potential threats when we encounter them. When doing this, it revs the body up in preparation for a fight or flight response by increasing our breathing and heart rates. It is also responsible for evaluating the emotional intensity of various situations. This is especially important because since we encounter certain situations repeatedly, from emotional memory, our amygdala wouldn’t need to fire up… unless our brains say otherwise.

The word ‘amygdala’ was derived from the Greek word for “almond” since this part of our brain is shaped like one. Like most other structures in our brain and in other animals, we have two amygdalae. Each amygdala is located on each of the left and right temporal lobe. Since it’s in very close proximity to the hippocampus, the amygdala is involved with the influence of memory consolidation. Memory consolidation is the process that stabilizes a memory trace right when it has been obtained.

Amygdala: The limbic system

To understand the amygdala a little bit better, this article is going to give a swift review of the limbic system and why it’s important.

The limbic system is not a separate system, but a system composed of several key structures in the brain including the diencephalon, mesencephalon, and telencephalon. The limbic system specifically includes the amygdala, thalamus, hippocampus, hypothalamus, basal ganglia, and cingulate gyrus.

You can find the limbic system nuzzled immediately underneath the cerebrum. The limbic system is important because it is responsible for the formation of memories, and our emotional lives are stored in this area of the brain. The components of the limbic system regulate endocrine and autonomic function in response to any sort of emotional stimuli. In short, the three key functions it is known to deal with are arousal (stimulation), memory, and emotions.

Hemispherical differences

Since we possess two amygdalae, it has been noted that the left and right amygdala serve a different purpose in how we process our emotions. Even though the left and right amygdala have independent memory systems, they still work as a team to encode, store and interpret our emotions.

Studies have reported that electrical stimulations to the right amygdala provoke negative emotions of sadness and fear. When looking at the left side, electrical stimulations induce unpleasant (anxiety, sadness, and fear) feelings, yet also has the ability to induce positive emotions such as happiness.

The right hemisphere is commonly associated with declarative memory. Declarative memory stores various information and facts from previously experienced events which need to be consciously recalled. The right amygdala is also responsible for the retention of episodic memory. Episodic memory stores the autobiographical memory, which allows you to recall sensory and emotional experiences of a particular event.

Development of the amygdala

The development of the amygdalae is an interesting tale that consists of developmental differences between the right and left amygdala, as well as sex differences.

When looking at this area of the brain, there are some observable differences in the growth of the amygdalae. The left is the first to develop, reaching its peak 1.5-2 years before the right. Looking aside from the early growth of the left, the right has a continuous increase in volume for a longer period of time. The right side of the amygdala is often associated with face recognition and fear stimuli. As for the left, it is said that its early development provides infants with the capability of being able to detect danger.

There are also considerable differences in the development of the amygdalae between male and females. In the early stages of development of the brain, it is seen that the limbic system in females grows much more quickly than in males. For males, the structural development of the amygdalae occurs over a longer period of time, while females reach their full growth potential 1.5 years before their counterparts. It is noted that reasoning behind the slower development of the male amygdalae is due to relatively larger sizing.

Sex distinction

In regards to the differences in sexes, this area of the brain is one of the best understood. As briefly described above, we see that the amygdala is larger in male adults and in adult rats.

Adding to size, the functioning of the amygdalae differs in males and females. In one study, participants amygdala activation was looked at by watching a horror movie. Results of this study showed a completely different lateralization in the amygdalae between males and females. They showed that enhanced memory of the film was related to more activity occurring in the left amygdala and not the right. For males, it showed that the memory of the film was related to the right and not the left.

The left is responsible for the recollection of details, which results in more thought than action in response to emotionally stressful stimuli. This can be used to attribute why we see less of a physical response in women than in men. The right has been linked to taking action and has been linked to negative emotions. In this scenario, this is why we see males respond to emotionally stressful stimuli in a physical manner.

Functions of the amygdala

  • Memory – This area of our brain has been linked to the storage of our emotional memory. The amygdala is heavily involved in calculating the emotional significance of events that occur in our lives. Since the amygdala has connections to other regions of the brain, it also has an influence on emotional perception. What this means, is that the amygdala alerts us to notice significant events even when we are not paying attention.
  • Arousal – Sexual desire is largely mediated by the limbic system. Activation of our amygdala can cause sexual feelings, memories of sexual intercourse, penile erections, orgasms, uterine contractions, and ovulation.
  • Hormonal secretions  When experiencing stressful events, our amygdala sounds the alarm by sending a distress signal to our hypothalamus. When this happens, the hypothalamus activates the SNS (sympathetic nervous system) by sending signals through autonomic nerves to the adrenal glands. Then, the glands will respond by pumping out epinephrine, also known as adrenaline. The amygdala is also strongly modulated by serotonin, norepinephrine, epinephrine, and dopamine.

What happens if the amygdala is damaged?

Because there are two amygdalae, if there is a bilateral lesion, there is a reduction in aggression and fear. This may mean you may adopt a superman complex and feel like nothing can hurt you or scare you… unless it’s kryptonite. A study was done on monkeys who had bilateral lesions of their amygdala and researchers reported a huge drop in fear and aggression, just as we see in our human counterparts.

Don’t hold your breath there though. Even though the monkeys showed a significant drop in fear and aggression, humans are faced with a lot more when the amygdala is destroyed. A bilateral lesion can cause an individual to have an impaired ability to interpret emotional facial expression. Kind of sounds like Autism. This type of lesion has actually been linked to autism, with MRI scans detecting an increase in amygdala volume.

Neuropsychological correlates of the amygdala

Advancements in neuroimaging technology have made it possible for neuroscientists to make significant findings related it. Data has shown that the size of an individual’s amygdala can be linked to anxiety, and how size may fluctuate due to antidepressant medication consumption (left). Certain studies have also shown children with anxiety tend to have smaller amygdalae.

Aside from those two interesting facts, data has shown that the amygdala plays a large role in particular mental disorders as well as other mental states.

Fear

A very rare genetic disease known as Urbach-Wiethe disease is responsible for focal bilateral lesions of the amygdala in people. Such a disease results in individual’s showing no signs of fear. This finding of the disease continues to prove that the amygdala plays a large role in triggering the state of fear.

Aggression

Several studies that have looked at animals have repeatedly shown that stimulating the amygdala induces sexual and aggressive behavior. 

Schizophrenia 

Schizophrenic patients are known to have enlarged ventricles, as well as enlarged amygdalae.

Social interaction

It has been said that there is a positive correlation between amygdala volume and the size and complexity of social networks. Size, in this case, means the number of contacts an individual may have, while complexity stands for the number of different groups an individual belongs to.

Data reveals that the larger a person’s amygdalae are the larger amount of social networks an individual has.

It has also been shown that the amygdalae are responsible for processing the violations of personal space. It has been observed in fMRI scans that this region of our brain is activated when it is sensed that a person is standing very close to them. For example, the person who is being scanned is aware when the observer is physically close to them, then when the observer is standing at a distance.

Sexual orientation

In recent studies, it has been suggested that there may be possible correlations between connection patterns in the amygdala, and sexual orientation. It has been reported that homosexual males have a tendency to show more feminine patterns in the amygdala than heterosexual males do. Homosexual females tended to show more masculine patterns in the amygdala than heterosexual females.

Bipolar Disorder

It is well documented that in bipolar disorder, there is great amygdala dysfunction during facial emotion processing. Those who have bipolar disorder have also displayed increased activity in their amygdala.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Patients who suffer from PTSD typically have a hyperactive amygdala in response to various stimuli that are in some way connected to trauma.

Depression

It is also overactive in those who suffer from depression, especially when you present them with sad stimuli. However, when presented with “happy” stimuli, their amygdala is under-active.

Anxiety

It is responsible for setting off a chain reaction for this disorder. It begins to react because some environmental stressor has convinced this area of the brain that you are in danger. However, this is only an issue to worry about when the amygdala is regularly triggered.

Amygdala and other brain regions

It holds some very special connections with other areas of the brain. It is known to make reciprocal connections with the hypothalamus, thalamus, septal nuclei, hippocampus, parahippocampal gyrus, orbital frontal cortex, the brain stem, and the cingulate gyrus.

The amygdala receives input from all senses as well as visceral inputs. Visceral inputs derive from the hypothalamus, parabrachial nucleus, septal area, and orbital cortex. Visual, auditory, and somatosensory information comes through via the temporal and anterior cingulate cortices. Olfactory sensory information is received from the olfactory bulb.

Some output pathways of the amygdala include:

  1. Stria terminals
  2. Ventral amygdalofugal pathway
  3. Directly to the hippocampus
  4. Directly to the dorsomedial nucleus of the thalamus
  5. Directly to the entorhinal cortex

Amygdala/emotional hijacking 

Emotional hijacking is an event that occurs when an individual’s cognitions are overpowered by their emotions. You normally see emotional hijacking occur in the context of fear and aggression. A perfect example of emotional hijacking to kick off this section is when Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield’s ear. According to Daniel Goleman who coined the term amygdala hijacking, this bad decision on Tyson’s behalf is the perfect example of it.

The neocortex – the “thinking” brain, has been completely overridden, and the amygdala fires up taking over total control of the brain; Thus the name “amygdala hijacking.” Hijacking can cause a person to perform irrationally, making decisions that are destructive. Not only does this take a toll on an individual (people who experience emotional hijacking are very remorseful after they realize and reflect on what they have done), their social relationships also take a huge hit. Emotional hijacking can lead to verbal or physical attacks, and such a surge of rage can easily cause an individual to severely harm a person, giving them the capacity to kill.

Something to keep in mind is that emotional hijacking is a phenomenon that requires build up. Troubling past experiences that are crippling an individual can be the direct link to why someone will have an outburst like this. When a person has an outburst, they don’t last long, but the consequences can be quite damaging as a result.

However, there is no need to worry. Not all emotional hijacks are distressing. Goleman states that there are positive hijacks. He gives an example that if a joke strikes a person as funny, and their laughter is explosive, that is a limbic response.

There are three signs you can look out for if you happen to experience an emotional hijack:

  • Strong emotional reaction
  • Sudden onset
  • Post-episode realization if the reaction was appropriate or not/regret

Areas of the brain are especially fascinating, especially when looking at them in more depth. Learning about them gives us an idea of what’s going on within ourselves, and we are able to give a reason for our behavior.

Is this your favorite part of the brain after reading the article? Do you have a favorite area of the brain? Please let us know in the comments below! We hoped you enjoyed this article. 🙂

12 pairs of cranial nerves: What are they and what are their functions?

12 pairs of cranial nerves enable us to perform our daily routine in a comfortable and efficient way, as they take part of the information of our senses to the brain and the brain to some of our muscles and viscera. Here is a small guide to know a little more about what are the cranial nerves, their anatomy, their classification and their function.

12 pairs of cranial nerves

What are the 12 pairs of cranial nerves?

The cranial nerves are 12 pairs of nerves that pass through small holes at the base of the skull. These nerves are responsible for carrying information and connecting the brain to different parts of the body (sensory organs, motors, muscles, organs, etc.)

Our brain is in continuous communication through the spinal cord with almost all of the brain nerves. That is, if for example, we notice that we are stepping on something soft, that signal is transmitted through our leg nerves until reaching the spinal cord and from there taking over until that signal reaches the brain (afferent order) and there the order is given to keep stepping because it’s pleasant.  This new order to keep stepping, will “descend” (efferent order) from our brain, passing through the spinal cord and will reach our feet again through the same nerve fibers as before.

In the specific case of the cranial nerves, what makes them unique and special is that they emerge directly from the brain without passing through the spinal cord. That is, they are located in the lower part of the brain and go through holes at the base of the skull to reach their destination. Interestingly, these nerves are not only directed to areas such as the head but also extend to other parts such as the neck or the thoracic area (vagus nerve).

Thus, it could be said, that the cranial nerves are part the nervous system. To be more specific, they are part of the peripheral nervous system that relates the brain to the cranial and cervical structures in an afferent direction, and sensory, sensorial, motor and vegetative in an efferent direction. The rest of the afferent and efferent connections between the central nervous system and the body is done through the spinal nerves.

Classification of the 12 pairs of cranial nerves

Each cranial nerve is paired and is present on both sides. There are twelve cranial nerves pairs, which are assigned Roman numerals I–XII, sometimes also including cranial nerve zero.  There are XII cranial nerves on the left hemisphere of the brain and exactly the same on the right hemisphere.

The cranial nerves numbering is based on the order in which they emerge from the brain and the function they perform.

12 pairs of cranial nerves according to their position

As shown in the image above, the 12 pairs of cranial nerves have an associated Roman numeral. These numbers range from 1 to 12 corresponding in each case to the pair in question.

The cranial nerves that emerge:  

  • Above the brain stem are pair I and pair II
  • From the midbrain are pair III and IV
  • From the pons (or Varolius Bridge) are the cranial nerves V, VI, VII and VIII.
  • From the medulla oblongata the cranial pairs IX, X, XI, and XII.

 12 pairs of cranial nerves according to their function

  • Sensitive function: formed by the cranial nerves I, II, VI and VIII.
  • Associated with ocular mobility and eyelids: cranial nerve III, IV and VI.
  • Related to neck and tongue muscle activation: cranial nerves XI and XII.
  • Considered mixed function: cranial pairs V, VII, IX, and X.
  • As parasympathetic fibers: III, VII, IX, and X.

12 pairs of cranial nerves and their function

Each cranial nerves has a specific function. The next image shows how this person’s head is portrayed through numbers according to the cranial nerve functions.  Would you dare to say what function each cranial pair has according to its number in the drawing?

Before starting, it’s important to point out the order that this explanation will have will be according to the corresponding Roman number assigned to the cranial nerve.

I- Olfactory Nerve

It’s the first of the 12 pairs of cranial nerves. It’s a sensory nerve, in charge of transmitting olfactory stimuli from the nose to the brain. Its actual origin is given by the cells of the olfactory bulb. It is the shortest cranial pair of all. 

II- Optic Nerve

This cranial pair is the second of the 12 pairs of cranial nerves and it is responsible for conducting visual stimuli from the eye to the brain. It is made of axons from the ganglion cells of the retina, that take the information of the photoreceptors to the brain, where later it will be integrated and interpreted. It emerges in the diencephalon.

III- Oculomotor

This cranial nerve is also known as the common ocular motor nerve. It is the third of the 12 pairs of cranial nerves. It controls eye movement and is also responsible for pupil size. It originates in the midbrain.

IV- Trochlear

This nerve has a motor and somatic functions that are connected to the superior oblique muscle of the eye, being able to make the eyeballs move and rotate. Its nucleus also originates in the mesencephalon as well as the oculomotor nerve. It is the fourth of the 12 pairs of cranial nerves.

V- Trigeminal

It is a mixed cranial nerve (sensitive, sensory and motor), being the largest of all cranial nerves, it is the fifth of the 12 pairs of cranial nerves. Its function is to carry sensitive information to the face, to convey information for the chewing process. The sensory fibers convey sensations of touch, pain, and temperature from the front of the head including the mouth and also from the meninges.

VI- Abducent

It is also known as the external ocular motor cranial nerve and it is the sixth of the 12 pairs of cranial nerves. It is a cranial motor pair, responsible for transmitting the motor stimuli to the external rectus muscle of the eye and therefore allowing the eye to move to the opposite side from where we have the nose.

VII- Facial or Intermediate

This is another mixed cranial pair since it consists of several nerve fibers that perform different functions, like ordering the muscles of the face to create facial expressions and also send signals to the salivary and lacrimal glands. On the other hand, it collects taste information through the tongue. It is the seventh of the 12 pairs of cranial nerves.

VIII- Vestibulo-Cochlear

It is a sensory cranial nerve. It is also known as the auditory and vestibular nerve, thus forming vestibulocochlear. He is responsible for balance and orientation in space and auditory function. It is the eighth of the 12 pairs of cranial nerves.

IX-Glossopharyngeal 

It is a nerve whose influence lies in the tongue and pharynx. It collects information from the taste buds (tongue) and sensory information from the pharynx. It leads orders to the salivary gland and various neck muscles that help with swallowing. It also monitors blood pressure. It is the ninth of the 12 pairs of cranial nerves.

X-Vagus 

This nerve is also known as pneumogastric. It emerges from the medulla oblongata and supplies nerves to the pharynx, esophagus, larynx, trachea, bronchi, heart, stomach and liver. Like the previous nerve, it influences the action of swallowing but also in sending and transmitting signals to our autonomous system, to help the regulate activation and control stress levels or send signals directly to our sympathetic system. It is the tenth of the 12 pairs of cranial nerves.

XI-Accessory 

This cranial pair is named the spinal nerve. It is a motor nerve and could be understood as one of the most “pure”. It governs movements of the head and shoulders by supplying the sternocleidomastoid and trapezius muscles in the (anterior and posterior) regions of the neck.  The spinal nerve also allows us to throw our heads back. Thus, we would say that it intervenes in the movements of the head and the shoulders. It is the eleventh of the 12 pairs of cranial nerves.

XII-Hypoglossal 

It is a motor nerve which, like the vagus and glossopharyngeal, is involved in tongue muscles, swallowing and speech. It is the twelveth of the 12 pairs of cranial nerves.

Before ending, it would be good to take a look at this video because it brings together the basic ideas outlined in this article!

Now that you know the names and functions of the pairs of cranial nerves. You can put them to the test by doing these exercises:

Olfactory Nerve (I) Gather some items with distinctive smells (for example, cloves, lemon, chocolate or coffee) record what the item is and the strength of the odor.

Optic Nerve (II) Make a Snellen Chart try to read the lines at various distances away from the chart.

Oculomotor Nerve (III), Trochlear Nerve (IV) and Abducens Nerve (VI) follow your finger sideways or up and down.

Check the pupillary response (oculomotor nerve): look at the diameter of your partner’s eyes in dim light and also in bright light. Check for differences in the sizes of the right and left pupils.

Trigeminal Nerve (V) Move your jaw up and down as if you were chewing gum.

Facial Nerve (VII) The motor part of the facial nerve can be tested by smiling or frowning or make funny faces. The sensory part of the facial nerve is responsible for taste on the front part of the tongue. You could try a few drops of sweet or salty water.

Vestibulocochlear Nerve (VIII) Although the vestibulocochlear nerve is responsible for hearing and balance, we will only test the hearing portion of the nerve here. Have your partner close his or her eyes and determine the distance at which he or she can hear the ticking of a clock or stopwatch.

Glossopharyngeal Nerve (IX) and Vagus Nerve (X) Have your partner drink some water and observe the swallowing reflex.

Spinal Accessory Nerve (XI) To test the strength of the muscles used in head movement, put you hands on the sides of your partner’s head. Tell your partner to move his or her head from side to side. Apply only light pressure when the head is moved.

Hypoglossal Nerve (XII) Move your tongue from side to side.

You can always test your cranial nerves knowledge here.

This article is originally in Spanish written by Tania Pérez Calleja, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Cerebellum: Much more than motor coordination

It is likely that a few seconds ago before you arrived here you were typing on your computer or phone. We do it quickly and automatically, but… have you ever wondered how precise and harmonious the movement of your fingers is when you type? To get you to write correctly and efficiently, various structures are activated in our brain. The part of the brain in charge of coordinating these movements is the Cerebellum and it participates in many of the activities that we do every day: from walking to organizing a sentence.

Cerebellum: Much more than motor coordination

What is the Cerebellum?

The Cerebellum is a brain structure partially concealed by the cortex. Classically it was thought that it was only in charge of harmonizing body movements, but for some years now it has become evident that it is involved in various cognitive functions. The Cerebellum has a shape similar to that of the brain, although a much smaller size. In fact, his name means “little brain.” It is divided into two hemispheres, and the portion of the cerebellum between them is called vermis. It is also the only part of the brain that has Purkinje Cells, a type of neurons essential for its functioning that allows the integration of the information it receives.

What is the Cerebellum?

Where is the Cerebellum located? What parts does it consist of?

The Cerebellum is located in the back of the brain at the level of the brainstem bridge, under the occipital lobe (slightly above the nape of the neck). It binds to the rest of the brain through the lower, middle and upper cerebral peduncles, which are a set of nerve fibers that carry information from the rest of the body to the Cerebellum (afferent), or from the Cerebellum to the rest of the body (efferent). In fact, if it weren’t for the cerebral peduncles, it would be separated from the rest of the brain.

Cerebellum

What is the Cerebellum for? Definition

The precision, harmony, and beauty of ballet dancers’ movements require a lot of dedication, practice and, above all, cerebellum. Each step of the choreography has a very determined force, rhythm, amplitude and, without the help of the cerebellum, all movement would be reduced to a set of spasms and falls (something that few people would be willing to pay for). However, in addition to this very important function of motor coordination, the cerebellum also participates in cognitive functions, without which ballet professionals could not, for example, reproduce movements by heart. Thus, the functions of the cerebellum are divided into motor functions and cognitive functions.

  • Motor Functions of the Cerebellum: This structure receives information about, among other things, our equilibrium, the position of our body, which muscles we must move to perform a specific action, the direction of that movement and integrates it (gathers and works all of the above). When he has developed the information (something he does very, very quickly), he tells the rest of the brain how to carry out the movement. Thus, it regulates the intensity, speed, precise direction, travel and other characteristics of the movement so that, as a final result, we make a harmonious, precise and coordinated movement. To perform this function, the different parts of the cerebellum specialize in specific body parts, following a correspondence between the muscles and the surface of the cerebellum. A topographical representation has been made with this correspondence, called “homunculus of the Cerebellum”, which indicates which parts of the Cerebellum are in charge of which parts of the body.
  • Cognitive Functions of the Cerebellum: For a relatively short time we have begun to study in depth what cognitive and emotional functions the cerebellum participates in. The most common way to investigate the functions of brain structures is to study the cases of people who have suffered some brain damage and, consequently, their cognitive abilities have been altered. Thus, more or less accurate conclusions can be drawn from the areas involved in the various functions (if X brain area is damaged and the person stops speaking, it is understood that this brain area participates in the ability to speak). The problem is that brain damage (such as stroke or head injury) is usually quite extensive, with more than one area affected as a result. This makes it difficult to study, as it is not known whether loss of function comes from damage in the X or Y area. However, different studies have investigated cognitive functions as well as the most recent advances, which allows us to know that the cerebellum contributes to the following cognitive processes:
  1. Language and Cerebellum: Participates in syntactic composition and grammar in general, in the articulation (that is really a motor function of the phonatory apparatus muscles), in the hidden articulation (that is, when we speak for ourselves in an internal dialogue, without making any noise), in the generation of words, in oral comprehension and in the establishment of a semantic relationship between words.
  2. Visuospatial skills: Complex visuospatial tasks such as the construction or mental rotation of images.
  3. Memory and learning (motor and non-motor): The cerebellum, along with other brain structures (basal ganglia), plays a major role in procedural memory (cycling, driving, writing your name in pencil or reading on the mirror) and in learning motor skills, habits and behaviors. It is also related to habituation and awareness, and to classical and operative conditioning. It is also activated by learning motor sequences and learning complex sequences. In conjunction with other structures (supplementary motor area and frontal operculum), the cerebellum participates in verbal operative memory, although it is not clear whether in internal coordination, in error settings, or both. On the other hand, the cerebellum can also take part in spatial memory.
  4. Executive Functions and Cerebellum: Executive functions are intimately related to the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. However, being such a complex series of cognitive functions, they require the participation of other brain structures, including the cerebellum. The functions in which the cerebellum participates (although there is not much consistency in some of them) are planning, cognitive flexibility, abstract reasoning, working memory, verbal fluency, and inhibition. Some studies suggest that the cerebellum may be active during decision making or coordination of two tasks at the same time, increasing speed and automating new movements.
  5. Attention and cerebellum: In selective attention activities or other more complex functions that require attention, such as calculus, the cerebellum is involved.
  6. Personality, emotions, and cerebellum: Some studies point to the role of the cerebellum in controlling and modulating emotions. It has also been linked to personality in regulating appropriate or inappropriate behaviors.

Do you want to know the state of your cognitive processes?

There are currently clinical tools for this. The program that specialists recommend is CogniFit, the leading tool in neuropsychological assessments, cognitive training and stimulation tools. This brain stimulation program is based on cognitive reserve and neural plasticity to measure and improve mental performance through online games. The activities presented in this tool combine different neuropsychological batteries, therapeutic exercises, rehabilitation techniques and learning oriented to retrain and improve the skills that each person needs most.

This program can be used by health professionals, researchers, teachers and teaching staff, families, etc. It is a very easy to use the tool, so it is available to anyone who wants to know and improve their cognitive status.

CogniFit’s cognitive assessment and training tools enable you to measure, activate, exercise, and strengthen important cognitive abilities (attention, memory, executive functions, planning, perception, etc.) and the more than 20 components that comprise them.

All CogniFit cognitive stimulation programs have been validated so that children, adolescents, adults, and seniors can evaluate, activate and strengthen their mental capacity and compare their cognitive state with the rest of the world’s population.

Damage to the cerebellum does not paralyze any muscle, but it has important consequences. Some of these are:

  • Ataxia: Ataxia is probably the most characteristic disorder derived from the alteration of the cerebellum. It consists of a movement disorder due to the inability to properly coordinate the different parts of the body involved. Errors of amplitude, speed, direction or force occur involuntary motor movements. Patients try to compensate for these errors, making coarse movements. Cerebellar ataxic gait is easily recognizable by uncoordinated and unbalanced walking. The problem is especially evident if the patient tries to walk with his or her eyes closed.
  • Cerebellar dysplasia: Characterized by a scandalized or explosive speech (speaks in a jerky manner, with different intensities, in a disharmonic manner).
  • Cerebellar nystagmus: It is an erratic, rapid and involuntary movement of the eyes.
  • Dysmetria: This is the inability to properly coordinate the movement of your limbs with the visual information you receive. If you try to touch your nose, you miss since the moment has passed.
  • Asynergy: The movements performed are carried out in a nonsynergistic way, that is, without coordination or harmony. The person tends to lose balance and adopt strange postures to compensate for this loss of balance.
  • Adiadochokinesia: The inability to predict the positions of body parts when movement is performed.
  • Intentional tremor: The tremor that occurs when a movement is made. Conversely, people with damage to the cerebellum do not usually have tremors at rest (being still).
  • Hypotonia: The muscles are flaccid, as they have a lower tone than normal. Because of this and lack of balance, patients with cerebellar damage tend to perform many limb movements. Coordination tests show rebound phenomenon.
  • Cognitive-affective cerebellar syndrome: When the cerebellum is affected, cognitive abilities and the control of related emotions are also altered, causing “inordinate thinking”. Cognitive abilities such as executive functions, attention, visual-spatial abilities, memory, language, or personality may undergo minor or severe changes.

Now that we know this, it is time to thank our cerebellum not only that we are able to walk, talk, type or dance in such a coordinated way, but also that it allows us to learn, structure the language correctly and plan our behaviors. In short, thank you for making it possible for us to live our daily lives with normality and harmony.

Anatomy: What are the cerebellum parts?

The cerebellum is a relatively large structure with a surface full of transverse grooves. According to these furrows, the Cerebellum is divided into the following lobes:

  • Anterior lobe (Spinocerebellum or Paleocerebellum): It connects to the spinal cord. It is in charge of muscle tone, trunk, and limb movement.
  • Posterior lobe (Brain cerebellum, Pontocerebellum or Neocerebellum): This is the portion of the cerebellum that is located near the Posterolateral Fissure. It takes care of voluntary movements and cognitive functions.
  • Flocculonodular lobe (Vestibulocerebellum or Archicerebellum): It is the portion of the cerebellum below the Posterolateral Gap. Connects with vestibular and reticular nuclei. It takes care of balance, body position, head displacement and eye movements.

What nuclei is the Cerebellum composed of? What are they for?

The nuclei are a set of neural bodies that work in a coordinated way to carry out a series of more or less specific functions. The most important nuclei are:

  • Nucleus fastigium (or of the roof). It receives the projections from the bark of the vermis.
  • Globose nucleus (back interposition). The cortex that remains between the vermis and the two cerebellar hemispheres (paravermis) is projected into this nucleus.
  • Emboliform nucleus. This nucleus also receives projections of the paravermis crust.
  • Dentate nuclei: It is divided into three parts. It receives afferent, or incoming, signals from the premotor cortex and supplementary motor cortex via the pontocerebellar system

Cerebellar connections

In order to perform all its functions correctly, the cerebellum establishes a large number of input and output connections with various areas of the nervous system. However, it is an “isolated” structure from the rest. The only gateway to and from the information is the cerebellar peduncles. The peduncles are a set of afferent and efferent fibers that, depending on their position, can be divided into three pairs:

  • Lower Cerebellar Peduncle: A set of fascicles that connect the spinal cord to the cerebellum and vice versa. It is mainly made up of afferent and some efferent fibers.
  • Middle cerebellar peduncle: A set of fascicles that connect the brainstem bridge with the cerebellum and vice versa. It consists almost exclusively of afferent fibers.
  • Upper cerebellar peduncle: A set of fascicles linking the midbrain to the cerebellum and vice versa. It is mainly made up of efferent fibers and some afferents.

In this way, the different connections of the cerebellum enter or exit through one or more of each pair of peduncles. If we look at what direction the information is going (if they enter or leave the Cerebellum), we distinguish between afferent and efferent, respectively. The afferent carry information from different parts of the body to the cerebellum. The main fascicles or tracts of afferent fibers are:

  • Vestibulocerebellar fascicule: vestibular system – PCI – flocculonodular lobe.
  • Spinocerebellar dorsal fascicule: Spinal cord – PCI – anterior lobe.
  • Spinocerebellar ventral fascicule: Spinal cord -PCI and PCS -anterior lobe.
  • Cuneocerebellar fascicule: Spinal bulb- PCI -anterior lobe.
  • Olivocerebellar fascicle: Spinal bulb- PCI- anterior lobe.
  • Reticulocerebellar fascicule: PCI and PCM-spinal lobe.
  • Tectocerebellar fascicule: Mesencephalon – PCS – anterior lobe.
  • Trigeminocerebellar fascicle: Mesencephalon – PCI and PCS -anterior lobe.
  • Rubrocerebellar fascicle: Mesencephalon – PCS – anterior lobe.
  • Corticoponticocerebellar fascicle: Cerebral cortex – PCM- posterior lobe.

On the other hand, the efferent refer to fibers that come out of the cerebellum and send information to other parts of the brain. The main efferent is:

  • Cerebelovestibular fascicule: flocculonodular lobe- PCI-  vestibular system.
  • Motor flocculo-occulomotor fascicle: flocculonodular lobe -PCS – motor-occulo-vein.
  • Cooked fascicule: flocculonodular lobe -PCI -vestibular system and oculomotor cores.
  • Intermediateolivary fascicle: anterior lobe – PCS- the inferior olive core of the spinal bulb.
  • Interproposedorreticular fascicle: anterior lobe – PCI – reticular formation.
  • Interproposedorubic fascicle: anterior lobe – PCS – Red nucleus – Cerebral cortex.
  • Interpostectal fascicule: anterior lobe – PCS -quadrigeminal tubers.
  • Dentadotalamic fascicle: posterior lobe- PCS – Thalamus.

This article is originally written in Spanish by David Asensio, translated by Alejandra Salazar. 

Brain Zaps: A glimpse into the jolting brain phenomena

Ever been shocked by your outlet when you’re going to plug in a charger? It feels like a little prick on your finger, followed by a very fuzzy sensation. However, can you imagine such a sensation happening in your brain constantly, or going weeks without a jolting sensation to feeling them almost every day? This article will introduce you to the concept of brain zaps; real phenomena that happen in an individual who is experiencing withdrawal from antidepressant medications. Continue to read below to learn more about what brain zaps are, who they affect, and what it means for an individual’s health. 

According to some individuals, sensations can feel like lightning strikes occurring inside the brain.

What are brain zaps?

Brain zaps refer to electrical shocks or jolting sensations that commonly occur after an individual has discontinued their antidepressant medications. These symptoms can also occur with benzodiazepines and sleeping pills. They have several other names that people go by such as brain shivers, brain shocks, and electrical shocks.

What a person experiences when having an episode of brain zaps, are brief, but quickly repeated electrical shocks, that can potentially spread from the head and brain to other parts of a person’s body. In some instances, the zaps are unfortunately accompanied by vertigo, disorientation, lightheadedness, and tinnitus. Moving eyes quickly from side to side is said to trigger a brain zap. Fortunately though, even with brain zaps being able to worsen over time, they pose no threat to an individual’s well being.

What do brain zaps feel like?

Here are a few quick descriptions on what a person may experience and feel when they are enduring an episode of brain zaps:

  • “Flicking cards” through your head
  • Electrical jolts, shocks, pulses of electricity
  • “Pop rocks” in the head
  • Lightning strikes in the brain
  • Shivers of the brain
  • Strobe light flashing in the brain

What causes brain zaps?

Brain zaps (also known as Antidepressant Discontinuation Syndrome) are merely a withdrawal symptom and are considered to be an after effect when there is some sort of neurochemical alteration within the brain. It is speculated that serotonin is a huge factor in the development of the zaps. The reason being is because most individuals who experience brain zaps discontinued their serotonergic antidepressants (SSRIs). It is also possible that the discontinuation of other psychotropic medications such as benzodiazepines, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), antipsychotics, tricyclic antidepressants, and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) are the cause for zaps.

  • Antidepressant withdrawal: When a person stops taking their antidepressant medication, the zaps are a very common sensation to experience. The length and severity of the zaps are said to be related to if a person comes off of their antidepressants cold turkey, or slowly weened themselves off their medication.
  • Eye movements: This isn’t something that is set in stone. It has only been speculated that side to side eye movements can intensify and provoke brain zaps. According to Mental Health Daily, they have found that people online have vouched that even looking off to the side can cause them to experience zaps.
  • Medication side effects: Just as it’s been explained that somebody who discontinues their medication experiences zaps, people who first start on psychotropic medicines can feel them too. The explanation for this would be that the adjustment of functioning in several neurotransmitters cause them.
  • Skipping a dose: This may actually prove to be a very helpful cause of brain zaps. If an individual is on medication, and they miss a dose, they may feel a sudden brain jolt. That being said, when that happens, they’ll be quickly reminded that they forgot to take their medication.
What causes brain zaps?

How severe can brain zaps be?

The severity of brain zaps differs from person to person. It all depends on an individual’s physiological makeup, level of anxiety, medication, and other drugs. Brain zaps can be long term or short term, lasting from weeks to months, or a few hours to a few days.

  • Physiological makeup: The resiliency of an individual’s nervous system and genes play a vital role in those who may or may not experience brain zaps. It is not wise to compare your zapping sensations to that of another person. Typically, when looking at multiple people who experience the electrical shocks in their head, you will find that duration, severity, and sensation differ from person to person.
  • Anxiety: Having very high anxiety can confuse a person as to how intense their brain zap episode really is. A person can trick themselves into believing that what they are experiencing is worse than it actually is and they are convinced that it is a more significant health problem at hand. Also, something to keep in mind is that because anxiety stimulates the nervous system, it can disrupt the repairs occurring after withdrawal.
  • Medication & Other Drugs: As mentioned in previous bullet points, the types of medication a person is taking can be the reason a person experiences very severe zaps. Prozac and other supplements have been said to help individual’s cope with their brain zaps.

Studies on brain zaps

Scientists have boosted memory skills in healthy volunteers by zapping their brains with weak electromagnetic pulses.

“This memory network that we targeted has been shown to be impaired in a variety of disorders,” says lead investigator Joel Voss, a neuroscientist at Northwestern University.

He used a transcranial magnetic stimulation that involves a wand emitting a changing magnetic field. This wand can induce changes in electrical patterns of nearby neurons when pressed against the skull.

Researchers stimulated an outer layer of the brain called the lateral parietal cortex which is strongly related to the hippocampus, an important brain area for memory. The researchers stimulated this area in 16 adult volunteers for five consecutive days. Each stimulation session lasted 20 minutes, during which volunteers would feel 2 seconds of pulsing, then 28 seconds of nothing, then 2 seconds of pulsing.

Another study on brain zaps established that an electrical-activity pattern in a key brain region predicts impulsive actions just before they occur. Researchers showed, in mice, that supplying a small electrical pulse to the brain region in question, called the nucleus accumbens, as soon as the electrical signature manifested prevented the mice from overindulging in fatty food, while not affecting their intake of normal food, their social behavior or other physical activity.

Brain scans of the volunteers before and after their week of stimulation showed that the treatment significantly increased connectivity between the hippocampus and four other areas, including the lateral parietal cortex. So it seems that stimulating one part of the hippocampal memory network (the lateral parietal cortex) led to more robust connections in other parts of the same network.

This shows us that brain zaps when induced might have an excellent outcome for our cognitive skills such as memory. If you want to test your cognitive skills and challenge your brain to try CogniFit scientifically validated platform for personalized brain training.

Treatments for brain zaps

Simple changes to someone’s daily routine can be very effective in helping them cope with their brain zaps. Because brain zaps don’t pose any real threat to an individual, there shouldn’t be much to worry about.

  • Time will take care of it: Even though brain zaps can be painful, frustrating, and an experience you wouldn’t wish on your own enemies – they do eventually subside. The brain is fascinating in a way that it’ll be able to repair itself over time. Once neurotransmission completely restores itself, poof go the brain zaps! It’s always an important thing to remember: Everything is temporary.
  • Do NOT quit cold turkey: It may or may not work for some, however, it is not advised. Quitting your antidepressant medication abruptly can actually increase the intensity of brain zaps when you or another individual are trying to achieve the opposite. Instead of quitting cold turkey, it is suggested that a person slowly taper off their medication.
  • Don’t forget to take your medication: A lot of information provided may seem redundant, and it’s because brain zaps aren’t as complex as many perceive. Since a person can experience brain zaps when forgetting to take their medication, the viable option is to make sure you don’t forget to take your medicine. You’re trying to alleviate yourself from the painful sensation, not make it worse.

Do you, or anyone else you know suffer from brain zaps? Are you currently taking antidepressants and are worried about this phenomenon occurring? Do you feel a bit prepared in what to expect if this happens? Please let us know in the comments below! Also, feel free to ask any unanswered questions that may have not been answered in the article! 🙂

References

Consumerhealthdigest.com (n.d.). What are brain shivers and how to cope with it?

Mentalhealthdaily.com (n.d.). Brain Zaps: Causes & Treatments for electrical shock sensations

Pollack, J. (2011). Fireworks or Brain Zaps?

Orthorexia Nervosa: The eating disorder that’s taking over

Orthorexia Nervosa. Eating healthy has become the main subject today in social media. There has been a craze over who is the fittest and who eats healthiest. While eating healthy is highly important to health and lifestyle, when staying away from unhealthy foods leads to shying away from eating out with friends, and struggling to find something on the menu that doesn’t make you cringe are good signs that you might be one of the many people with an eating disorder called orthorexia nervosa.

Orthorexia Nervosa

You might not have heard of this disorder, and it may not even seem like a classic eating disorder, but you might recognize some of the symptoms of orthorexia nervosa. Maybe a friend is obsessed with what they eat, wanting everything to be organic, low calorie, and what most people consider to be “healthy”. Do you think you might have orthorexia nervosa?

What is Orthorexia Nervosa?

Orthorexia nervosa was introduced in 1997 by doctor Steve Bratman when he suggested that dietary restrictions intended to promote health may lead to unhealthy consequences. These unhealthy consequences were social isolation, anxiety, reduced interest in other daily activities, worse cases severe malnutrition or even death. The term Orthorexia nervosa comes from the Greek ορθο meaning right or correct and όρεξις meaning appetite. The term nervosa indicates an unhealthy psychological state.

Orthorexia nervosa is not included in the DSM-5, however, authors Steve Bratman and Thom Dunn from the University of Northern Colorado proposed the following criteria:

Criterion A. Obsessive focus on “healthy” eating, as defined by a dietary theory or set of beliefs whose specific details may vary; marked by exaggerated emotional distress in relationship to food choices perceived as unhealthy; weight loss may ensue, but this is conceptualized as an aspect of ideal health rather than as the primary goal. As evidenced by the following:

  1. Compulsive behavior and/or mental preoccupation regarding affirmative and restrictive dietary practices believed by the individual to promote optimum health. (Footnotes to this criteria add: Dietary practices may include the use of concentrated “food supplements.” Exercise performance and/or fit body image may be regarded as an aspect or indicator of health.)
  2. Violation of self-imposed dietary rules causes exaggerated fear of disease, sense of personal impurity and/or negative physical sensations, accompanied by anxiety and shame.
  3. Dietary restrictions escalate over time, and may come to include the elimination of entire food groups and involve progressively more frequent and/or severe “cleanses” (partial fasts) regarded as purifying or detoxifying. This escalation commonly leads to weight loss, but the desire to lose weight is absent, hidden or subordinated to ideation about healthy food.

Criterion B. The compulsive behavior and mental preoccupation become clinically impairing by any of the following:

  1. Malnutrition, severe weight loss or other medical complications from restricted diet
  2. Intrapersonal distress or impairment of social, academic or vocational functioning secondary to beliefs or behaviors about healthy diet
  3. Positive body image, self-worth, identity and/or satisfaction excessively dependent on compliance with self-defined “healthy” eating behavior.

In 1997 the test, called OTRO-15 was designed by Doctor Bratman and has been recently been validated as a tool to detect orthorexia nervosa. You yourself might not align with any of the characteristics, but you might know someone who does.

Dr. Bratman’s Test for Orthorexia Nervosa Detection:

  • Do you spend more than 3 hours a day thinking about your diet?
  • Do you plan your meals days in advance?
  • Do you think that the nutritional value of food is more important than the pleasure that you get from eating?
  • Have you seen your quality of life decrease as your diet improved?
  • Have you become more strict with yourself over this time?
  • Has your self-esteem improved while eating healthy?
  • Have you given up food that you liked for “healthy” foods?
  • Is it difficult to practice your diet when you go out to eat, causing a distance between you and your family and friends?
  • Do you feel guilty when you don’t follow your diet?
  • Do you feel happy and at peace when everything is under control and you eat healthily?

If you answered “yes” 4 or 5 of these questions, you need to take a step back from your healthy eating and try to control what may become a food addiction. If you answered “yes” to the majority or all of these questions, you have an obsession with healthy food.

Orthorexia Nervosa Symptoms

It starts with an innocent attempt to eat better and take care of yourself, choosing foods that make you feel good. You start to cut out hydrated fats, sugar,  processed foods, animal protein, and grains, and you end up with a diet of organic fruits and vegetables and only eating “clean” foods.

While eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia nervosa aim to drop weight, orthorexia nervosa is characterized by the desire to eat “proper” food that the body needs.

People with orthorexia nervosa don’t limit how much they eat, which is generally a characteristic of other eating disorders, but it does reduce the “allowed” food groups, depending on the quality of the food, which could be a potential health risk.

We know that eating well and keeping track of what you eat is a good thing, but the problem is when you start obsessing over what you eat. Without realizing, you start planning your life around food, and it starts to affect other aspects of your life. Orthorexia nervosa causes you to lose sight of your original goal, which is to eat well and take care of yourself and leads you to create strict eating guidelines that might not be attainable.

 It’s important to understand that the problem isn’t being conscious of what you eat, but, like with any addiction, it’s when this decision to eat well is practiced in excess. The danger isn’t in the food, but rather in how to approach it.

Orthorexia Nervosa Treatment

Since orthorexia nervosa is still not part of the DSM, a structured treatment is not available. However, orthorexia nervosa is multi-faceted, therefore many areas of treatment are involved., First the person involved must admit there is a problem and be able to identify what caused it. Then the therapist needs to start working with them on flexibility and less rigid eating as well as working through underlying emotional issues.

While orthorexia nervosa is not a condition your doctor will normally diagnose, recovery can require professional help. We recommend you seek a professional or practitioner skilled at treating eating disorders.

Orthorexia Nervosa and Celebrity Diets

You’ve probably heard of celebrity diets, seen healthy eating pictures on Instagram, and seen amazing transformations after eating healthy. You might even feel like you want to copy these trends and diets because you’ve seen them work so well on other normal people like you! I’ll give you a few examples (I’m not sure if they’re really true, but if the shoe fits…).

They say that Madonna chews her food 50 times before swallowing and that Jean Paul Gaultier drinks 68 glasses of orange juice a day. Julia Roberts is rumored to be addicted to soy milk. Angelina Jolie, among many others, is said to eat cloves of garlic to stave off various diseases. Kim Kardashian was able to lose, like, 70 lbs in a few months with a protein-based diet. Gwyneth Paltrow published a book called “It’s All Good”, in which she talks about Hollywood’s obsession with “healthy” food. In her book, Paltrow suggests cutting out dairy, sugar, eggs, certain fish, potatoes, corn, soy, tomatoes, eggplant, and all types of processed foods, meat, and a long list of other “no-no’s“. No one should attempt to try this diet on their own, as it could seriously affect your health. Our brain needs nutrients to function properly, and eating disorders affect the brain.

The problem with this social phenomenon is that these celebrities don’t actually have an obsession with food, and yet it’s an ideal that they push on to their readers and society. More than one of these practices, without the supervision of a specialist, could cause major health issues.

Try it for yourself. Type in #cleaneating on Instagram and you’ll see a plethora of social media stars with their perfectly made meals, telling you how “carb free is the way to go!”. You’ll wake up one day without realizing it and open your Instagram while sipping your organic wheat-grass smoothie.

Dr. Bratman who recovered himself from Orthorexia nervosa stated:

“I pursued wellness through healthy eating for years, but gradually I began to sense that something was going wrong. The poetry of my life was disappearing. My ability to carry on normal conversations was hindered by intrusive thoughts of food. The need to obtain meals free of meat, fat, and artificial chemicals had put nearly all social forms of eating beyond my reach. I was lonely and obsessed…I found it terribly difficult to free myself. I had been seduced by righteous eating. The problem of my life’s meaning had been transferred inexorably to food, and I could not reclaim it.”

To make sure this doesn’t happen to you, take a minute to think about it. Eat well, take care of yourself, and give yourself a little treat every once in a while. Take a look at the tips below to see how to resist the urge to follow the crowd.

Following a healthy diet does not mean you are orthorexic, however, keep in mind that if it is taking up an inordinate amount of time and attention in your life; deviating from that diet is met with guilt and self-loathing; and/or it is used to avoid life issues and leaves you separate and alone, it might be time to visit your primary physician.

In the following video, you can hear first-hand from someone who suffered orthorexia nervosa and how nutritionists value this eating disorder.

Orthorexia Nervosa: Tips on Healthy Eating Without Obsessing

  1. Don’t take health advice at face value without doing your own research: Before starting the diet your favorite celebrity is doing, talk to a specialist.
  2. Find joy in eating, not food: Eating is beneficial to our bodies, and not only on a physiological level but on a psychological level as well. When we eat, we release dopamine, which is also known as the happiness hormone. If you feel guilty when you eat because your food isn’t 100% organic, you end up blocking the production of serotonin.
  3. Find beauty systems outside of the celebrity world: This is good for both you and your children. The most important thing you can do for yourself and loved ones learn to tolerate, love yourself and work on your self-esteem. After that, you have to learn how to do your own research and judge for yourself if you really think that what you’re reading is true. Compare and contrast articles and specialists, and always be wary of “magic diet pills”.
  4. No reading labels: There are no “good” and “bad” foods. Repeat this mantra until it’s stuck in your head. It’s all about moderation. Don’t obsess over calories, and enjoy the simple act of eating! You’ll see the benefits over the long term.
  5. Don’t lose sight of your relationships: People who suffer from orthorexia nervosa reach a state of social isolation because of their fear of eating out in restaurants or at friend’s houses. It might seem like a leap, but it’s just a small road from reading labels in the store to turning down dinner invites. Orthorexia nervosa is a 21st-century eating disorder.
  6. A glass of wine, a beer, some fries, or a little hamburger everyone in a while never hurt anyone!: Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you get back looks when snacking on your go-to sin, remind yourself that it’s ok! You have to be mentally flexible and tell yourself “today I’m having that chocolate, and I won’t feel bad about it.” It’s important for you- but for someone with orthorexia nervosa, it’s impossible. Your brain needs different nutrients to function properly- don’t starve it!
  7. Do a social media detox: Clean up your social networks. Unfollow, delete, and block the accounts that make you feel like you shouldn’t be eating something. Try this trick: if you go to the profile and see a picture with some lettuce and 4 nuts that are more filling to see than to eat, run away.

Mental Health: What Is It and How to Be Mentally Healthy

What is mental health? We all want to be healthy and enjoy a general well-being, but this is impossible if we are not mentally healthy. What are the main characteristics of mental health? What are mentally healthy people like? What are the causes of poor mental health and its consequences? How are mental disorders prevented? How to detect and treat them? In this article, we will dismantle the false myths about mental health and its prejudices. In addition, we will give you tips to improve your psychological well-being and that of your loved ones.

Mental Health

What is Mental Health? – Definition

According to WHO, it is a “state of complete mental, physical and social well-being, and not only the absence of disease.” This is the main definition that is often mentioned when discussing this topic. It is brief, very explanatory and reminds us that to be healthy we have to contemplate a large number of variables.

Generally, when we talk about health we think of colds, headaches or other more or less serious physical problems. However, mental health is imperative for us to find ourselves really well. Without it, it does not matter how great the results of our blood tests are.

It is impossible to separate our psychic state from our body. Both maintain a bi-directional relationship. Mental health is studied by multiple professions and different models. There is more awareness now on seeing health as a whole in order to boost our personal development. One in four people will develop at least one mental disorder throughout their life. We need not be alarmed. But if we want to live well, we must learn about health, both physical and mental. That way we can gain knowledge and basic habits to maintain it. In this article, we will give you some guidelines so that you can be mentally healthy and take care of your loved ones.

Key Features that Define Mental Health

  • Mental health affects us: It enables us to interact appropriately with the people around us, to establish healthy emotional bonds, to have an adequate work performance, to be able to carry out daily activities or actions as simple as winking one eye.
  • It allows us to develop our maximum potential: Being mentally healthy is not limited to living without many mishaps. It motivates us to achieve our goals, to develop our faculties and to face our adversities with vitality.
  • It consists of being able to reach happiness: The summit of well-being is happiness as Maslow established. If we are well, we will be able to harmonize our priorities, be part of a group or value the good things in our lives.
  • It is a dynamic process: Throughout our life, we are going through several different circumstances. Our mind is adapting to them. We may be more concerned about our normal physical activity in our teens, but now we are satisfied ourselves. Society expectations, the context or our idea of “happiness” change, always looking to improve mental health.
  • What we mean by mental health is partly cultural: who defines what is “normal”? It is mainly cultural.
  • There are certain parameters to evaluate mental health: Despite the discrepancies that may arise, it is possible to set certain guidelines that allow us to estimate mental health and improve our quality of life. For example, a person who has serious work problems or job stress due to an addictive substance needs to increase their mental, physical and social well-being.

Characteristics of mentally healthy people

Mental health is not a question of all or nothing. It is a continuum with infinite possibilities.

For example, we may be going through a bad run and this does not mean that we have a depression. Mentally healthy people don’t follow the same life model, but do share certain similarities:

  • They look at themselves realistically: They know themselves, don’t belittle themselves and don’t over-worship.
  • They appreciate what they have: They enjoy the good side of things regardless of their circumstances. They accept and don’t forget to love or value themselves.
  • Their social relationships are satisfying: We don’t need to get along with everyone. But we all know or can imagine the discomfort that comes with being isolated or not feeling accepted. Mentally healthy people have effective communication skills with people. They are emotionally intelligent and maintain pleasant relationships with their relatives.
  • They know how to disconnect from work and have fun: Lack of rest not only exhausts us physically but also affects our mental state by impairing both our cognitive abilities and our perception of reality.
  • They do not boycott themselves: Sometimes the problem is not in the environment. Sometimes we get in the way without realizing it. Mentally healthy people can become self-critical and act accordingly, but they never stop their own progress.
  • They behave well with others: We have a strong impulse that pushes us to seek others company. We wish to live harmoniously in society. Mentally healthy people maintain strong bonds with others, cherish them and wish the best for them.

Causes of poor mental health

Risk factors that determine poor mental health in people are multiple and heterogeneous. In fact, the complex diversity of mental problems makes it difficult to find its roots. Each of them has its own causes and peculiarities.

Some seem mainly caused by brain damage or genetic predisposition, some are tremendously influenced by the sociocultural context or cognitive processes, in others are bad associations between stimuli that the affected person learned during child development, etc.

In this field, innovations and continuous theories are developed which allow us to progress. From the combination of different models are emerging interesting explanations that guide the prevention of mental disorders and how to intervene. Although there is some uncertainty, we can name the main risk factors, which are a mixture of environmental, social, family, economic and individual elements.

  • Family problems: If a child’s parents have suffered or are mentally ill, have been abused or the family is a hostile environment, the chances that the child’s mental well-being deteriorates will increase exponentially.
  • Isolation: Pleasant social life is a powerful defense against poor mental health. Conditions of discrimination, such as bullying, can trigger serious problems such as eating disorders, depression or anxiety symptoms.
  • Job stress: We don’t stop hearing in the media about its devastating effects. Still, there are plenty of people who can’t think of another alternative. Unemployment and job insecurity are other factors with great weight in poor mental health.
  • Low social and economic status: Adverse socioeconomic conditions make it difficult to handle or react to a mental problem. For example, malnutrition has serious effects on both the physical and emotional levels.
  • Difficulty adapting to new situations:  The feeling of being disconnected from your surroundings is unpleasant for everyone. For example, for those who are not born in the tech age, ignorance of technology can pose a serious obstacle.
  • Addiction: We have all heard about the consequences of drugs and the consequences of alcohol to the brain. Mental health is one of the first affected.
  • War: This situation increases discrimination, tension, injustice which can destroy people’s mental health.

Not all people exposed to these circumstances will develop a mental disorder. Not all people adapted to their environment are mentally healthy. Even so, it is important to avoid these risk factors and to fight so that nobody increases their vulnerability to being involved in these situations.

Consequences and Effects of Poor Mental Health

Poor mental health has consequences in all aspects of a person’s life. Not all mental problems have the same scope, only some lead to serious disorders. Some difficulties, such as low self-esteem can affect their relationships or academic performance but can be managed in a short amount of time. However, if this lack of well-being is intensified, it can transcend physical, material, family or work problems. Poor mental health has adverse psychological and economic effects for the affected person and increases their risk of physical illness. Likewise, these problems usually involve a large part of the circle of acquaintances of the injured party. We live in an interconnected society and sometimes, those close to the individual with poor psychological well-being take the worst part.

Poor mental health has adverse psychological and economic effects for the affected person and increases their risk of physical illness. Likewise, these problems can affect the person’s close family and friends, who are witnesses to the changes a mental illness can cause.

Prevention of Mental Disorders- How to Promote Good Mental Health?

There is a great lack of knowledge in society about the meaning of mental health and the habits necessary to maintain and improve it. The first thing to do is to make people aware that anyone can have a mental disorder throughout their life and that it is not the end of the world.

The media sometimes promotes detrimental stereotypes that raise the risk of discrimination. Reality is much more extensive than the predominant clichés about mental disorders. However, they have the key to help the population understand and convey the urgency of maintaining mentally healthy habits.

Politics is one of the keys to developing measures that integrate people with any type of mental problem. As citizens, permanently connected and with the freedom to express our opinion, we have the power to demand more attention to a subject as urgent as this one.

We can also act on an individual level and try to convince our acquaintances, friends, and relatives of the importance of adopting healthy habits and measures, either verbally or through social networks. If we wish to inform ourselves more, there are public organisms like the WHO that provide prevention reports and an abundant bibliography on this subject. Keep in mind that your sources should be scientific and well-based. 

How to Detect and Treat a Mental Health Problem?

Mental health problems can affect us throughout the life cycle. Lack of sleepself-control problems, phobias, developmental disorders, abrupt mood swings and other circumstances can cause us an intense discomfort.

If you are worried about yourself or observe unusual behaviors in your close friends, you notice a surprising decrease in performance, they speak about how bad they are feeling, mention crazy ideas, inconsistent or extremely negative, there may be a deterioration in mental health.

First of all, it is best that you stay calm. It is easier said than done, but remember that mental health is malleable, not all problems are serious. There are quite heterogeneous criteria to establish a diagnosis in these cases and is often complicated. However, the best people for this process are professionals. If we look for information in unreliable sites, such as some web sites, we may make hasty conclusions and make the situation worse.

As for the treatment, it depends considerably on the problem. There are various community services, specialized centers, and professionals suitable for every occasion. In some situations, you can learn useful strategies, change habits, go to therapy, etc. Other disorders require psychotropic drugs (only if the psychiatrist says so). Likewise, you can choose a combination of several solutions. Each case is unique and unrepeatable.

Mental health: Prejudices and false myths

A prejudice is an attitude (generally negative) towards a certain collective, person or object based on a generalization that occurs in a particular social context. People with mental problems have to face various social barriers generated by misinformation and lack of empathy from other people.

A stigma is formed which negatively impacts their recovery because it increases misunderstandings and shame. Likewise, they may lead to denial or aggravation of their symptoms. It is necessary to dismantle several erroneous beliefs.

  1. Mental problems are due to poor decisions: There are people who use moral causes (laziness, lack of willpower, etc.) to explain the origin of mental disorders and other forms of psychological distress. This is an absolutely false conviction.
  2. Mental problems are unchangeable: It is true that there are diseases, such as dementias, that don’t have a cure. But there are other circumstances such as eating disorders, drug addiction or generalized stress disorders that can greatly improve. There are more and more effective therapies and remedies.
  3. People with mental problems are dangerous: In fact, it is estimated that only 3% of people with a mental disorder act violently. Their situation produces more fear, despair or bewilderment than aggressiveness.
  4. Work diversity is a utopia: Psychological distress does not have to affect all dimensions of the individual. They can be as competent and efficient as anyone.

Helpful tips to improve your mental health and that of your loved ones

1. Remember that you can influence your mental health

We ourselves are capable of maintaining positive thinking, accepting ourselves and loving ourselves. Do not forget to communicate to your friends how important they are to you. With actions as simple as verbalizing your emotions and commenting on the importance of doing so, you can promote healthy actions.

2. Take care of your social relationships

The company of our loved ones is beneficial in all areas of your life. It allows us to adapt better to the environment,  provides us with more support and makes us happier.

Mental Health- Social relationships

3. Know yourself

We must be realistic and develop our intrapersonal intelligence. To delve into what goes on in our mind, knowing our limits or exploring our feelings are good ways to notice any defect or problem in us and seek a solution. In this way, we will also learn to understand others better.

4. Try not to worry so much

Total indifference is not good, but neither should we become hypochondriacs. If you lead a healthy life; eating well, not overworking, doing physical exercise, getting enough rest, connecting with nature and doing activities that make you happy, you will become healthier. Leave behind the bad habits and relax.

5. If you have any problems, go to a professional

If something is not right, do not be afraid or ashamed. Look for an experienced professional (psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, etc.). that can help you through the process.

Even famous people have mental health problems, see the video to find out how famous stars have dealt with these issues.

Thank you very much for reading this article. Finally, it should be noted that volunteering in mental health is very beneficial for people suffering from a disorder and is also really rewarding for volunteers. Prevention and treatment are essential for mental health. Feel free to comment below.

This article is originally in Spanish written by Ainhoa Arranz Aldana, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Left Brain, Right Brain: 9 Ways Our Brain Hemispheres Work Together

What are the functions of each brain hemisphere? What does each half of our brains do? Is it true that the left side is the analytic hemisphere and the right side the emotional side of the brain? Is it true that the ‘right brain’ is the creative one and the ‘left brain’ is the logical one? In this article, we will reveal everything you need to know about brain hemispheres.

Brain Hemispheres

We have often been told that the left hemisphere of the brain is the analytic, mathematical, and logical side, the side which is in charge of reasoning. You’ve probably also heard that the right hemisphere of the brain is the emotional, creative side.

In fact, people often use this difference as a way to define personality, referring to people as either left-brained or right-brained. “If you are a creative, sensitive, and passionate person, then you use your right hemisphere more; if you are an analytical, organized, and thoughtful person you use your left hemisphere more.” We hear that all the time, so let’s check some facts to see whether there is any truth to this common saying. 

How the Two Hemispheres Work

How do the brain hemispheres work?

There is still a lot left to discover about brain hemispheres but here are some facts we do know:

  • The brain is composed of two well-differentiated halves called hemispheres. These halves are connected by a structure called the corpus callosum, which facilitates communication between the hemispheres. These two hemispheres are in constant communication, and in most activities, both work equally.
  • Experts suggest that our level of intelligence is directly related to the quality of the connection between hemispheres. The more connected they are, the more intellectual we will be, such is the example of Einstein’s brain.
  • Each hemisphere is responsible for the activity on the opposite side of the body. That is, the right hemisphere will be responsible for the movements of the left side of the body and vice versa. Therefore, an injury to the left brain will have an impact on the right side of the body.
  • The processing of visual and auditory stimuli, spatial manipulation, facial perception and artistic ability is found bilaterally, although they may show some superiority in the right hemisphere.
  • Contrary to what was thought until recently, according to a study, the visual processing of numbers is performed by both hemispheres equally.

What Do The Two Sides of the Brain Do?

The Right Hemisphere of the Brain:

It deals, to a greater extent, with the following functions:

  • The consciousness of oneself.
  • Recognizing our image in a mirror.
  • Facial recognition.
  • Processing the emotional part of language, such as prosody and intonation.
  • Feelings associated with intense romantic love.
  • Managing visual-spatial attention.

The Left Hemisphere of the Brain

The left hemisphere of the brain is responsible for:

  • Understanding and producing language.
  • Mathematical abilities and recalling facts.
  • Processing attractive faces.

In the next video, Ian Mcgilchrist explains why our brain is divided into two hemispheres, and what each one is responsible for.

The Two Hemispheres and Brain Lateralization

Brain lateralization is the idea that some brain functions rely more heavily on one hemisphere than on another. One example of this is when we process language. The left hemisphere is in charge of language processing for the most part, whereas the right hemisphere only processes verbal information in relation to emotion. However, it has recently been discovered that speech is processed in both hemispheres equally, so perhaps language is not as lateralized as we previously thought. 

Likewise, it was believed that a left-handed person’s brain was less lateralized for language development. That is, it was believed that these people would use more of the right brain hemisphere for language, contrary to the general right-handed population. It has been proven that this only happens in 1% of the left-handed population. 

It was even found that the degree of lateralization of some brain functions may vary from individual to individual.

Our brain is lateralized in some of its functions, however, most of these happen in both hemispheres. If a brain region or even a whole hemisphere is damaged or destroyed, other neighboring areas or even the opposite hemisphere may, in some cases, take over the activity typically performed by the damaged region. When brain damage interferes in the connections between one area and another, alternative connections can be developed to bridge the difficulties. This is only possible thanks to the brain’s great ability to adapt, which is called brain plasticity.

Brain Hemispheres: Do we use one more than the other?

A study from the University of Utah, USA, dismantled these myths:

There is no evidence that people use one of the brain hemispheres more than the other. This group of researchers identified brain networks in charge of process lateralized functions (brain functions that are processed more in one hemisphere than another), to see if it was true that some people used more one of the brain hemispheres more than the other.

During the study, the researchers analyzed the brains of 1,000 people and found that no individual was consistently using one hemisphere over another. They concluded that no personality type is related to the greater use of the left or right hemisphere.

Therefore, it is false that some people use one brain hemisphere more than another depending on their personality. Some functions may be specialized in a particular cerebral hemisphere, but the truth is that we use both hemispheres equally. 

Some functions may be specific to a particular brain hemisphere; however, we use both brain hemispheres equally. Even though one hemisphere is specific for a function, it will always work better in continuous communication with the other hemisphere.Scientists can’t even establish that the right hemisphere is our creative brain. Creativity is a very complex process. According to a study, creative thinking does not seem to depend on a single mental process or brain region. Nor is it particularly associated with the right brain, attention, low level of activation, or synchronization with the alpha waves emitted by our brain.

Where Did the Myth of the Right Brain and the Left Brain Come From?

This myth arose from the misinterpretation of Roger Sperry’s experiments on divided brains. Studying the effects of epilepsy, Sperry found that cutting corpus callosum could reduce or eliminate epileptic seizures.

However, these patients also suffered other symptoms after communication channels between the brain hemispheres were severed. For example, many brain-split patients found themselves unable to name objects that were processed on the right side (those in the left visual field) but were able to name those processed on the left side (those in the right field of vision).

From this information, Sperry suggested that language was controlled exclusively by the left side of the brain.

We hoped you liked our article and please feel free to comment below.

This article is originally in Spanish written by Andrea García Cerdán, translated by Alejandra Salazar. 

Rote Learning: Retaining Information Without Deepening Its Meaning

Do you remember when you learned to multiply? You repeat the same multiplication tables over and over. This is a technique called rote learning. Do you think this is a good learning method? In what cases do you think it can work? Do you often use rote learning? In this article we will delve into the characteristics of rote learning, its advantages and disadvantages, examples and also contrast with other types of learning. In addition, we will give you five tips to memorize.

Rote Learning

What is rote learning?

Learning is based on relatively stable changes in behavior or mind that take place through experience. There are several learning theories dedicated to exploring how our brain learns.

Rote learning is based on mentally retaining data through repetition without processing it carefully. The memorized contents are not understood and no attempt is made to analyze their meaning. It is just mere repetition, enough times until they are retained in our memory.

Memory is one of our basic cognitive processes. It helps us to encode, consolidate and retrieve data later. The interaction between memory and learning is essential both in our education and in all areas of our lives. However, it is also relevant that their relationship helps us process the data properly and progress in our development.

Rote Learning – Features

  • It is the most basic type of learning.
  • It’s mechanical.
  • The contents are arbitrarily related.
  • Retention data are usually stored in short-term memory.
  • The information is easily forgotten.
  • This type of learning is usually discouraged.

Rote learning – Examples

Rote learning in education

Rote learning is used quite a lot in school.  Generally, we remember repeating multiplication tables without understanding what we would do later with this information.

We also learned simple mathematical formulas and as many data related to numbers. However, it is not only used in math but also in other subjects. We used rote learning to learn the countries and their capitals, states, rivers, musical notes, elements of the periodic table, etc.

At university and even in working life, data are still retained without processing them in depth. This type of learning accompanies us throughout all the stages of our life.

Rote learning in everyday life

How did you learn your phone number, your partner’s birthday, your job address, social security number?

Rote learning helps us get throughout life without having to process everything we need at a certain point.

Rote learning

Rote Learning – Advantages and Disadvantages

Advantages of rote learning:

  • It helps us to retain important data like dates.
  • It’s a quick procedure.
  • It is relatively simple.

Disadvantages of rote learning:

  • It is easily forgotten.
  • It doesn’t allow us to examine the information in depth.
  • It doesn’t motivate us to continue learning data related to what we memorize.

Among students, it is quite common to take an exam relying on rote learning. However, when the question is relatively ambiguous or critical thinking is asked, the security of memorized information begins to fade.

Rote learning Vs Other Learning Types

Every situation requires different types of learning and each person uses their own learning methods.

1. Meaningful learning

Rote learning is closely linked to meaningful learning. David Ausubel was influenced by Piaget and developed the theory of meaningful learning. This theory maintains that we add content to the information we had previously. We adapt the data so that we can rank it and it can make sense for us.

Ausubel was a constructivist, this implies that he considered we are responsible for building our own reality and for our learning process. Meaningful learning contrasts sharply with memory, as it encourages people to learn, analyze and transform information to get new ideas.

Are rote learning and meaningful learning compatible?

We can imagine learning as a continuum at the ends of which are rote learning and meaningful learning on opposite sides. That is, it is possible to retain data using strategies relating to both types of procedures.

We can also consider rote learning as part of meaningful learning. In fact, both procedures can be complementary. Memory plays a vital role in learning. Even so, it is advisable to memorize the contents while trying to understand them.

For example, if we are trying to study US History, we are conscientiously reviewing each chapter and connecting it with experiences of our daily life, however, we will also need to memorize relevant dates to understand the historical context of the facts.

2. Associative learning

When this process occurs, we establish connections between two distinct stimuli. For example, it happens when we associate a certain smell with a certain person and we remember them every time we perceive a similar aroma.

3. Observational learning

Bandura’s theory of social learning explains how we acquire certain knowledge or behaviors through the situations we see. Still, he insists we are not robots. For example, if we live with people who speak very loudly, it is likely that we will also raise our voice.

4. Receptive learning

This type of learning is also passive, but it is not just about memorizing, it involves understanding the new information. A very common example is in classrooms when students simply listen to the teacher. Subsequently, the students reproduce the contents in the exam without internalizing their ideas or analyzing them personally.

5. Emotional learning

It is the one that helps us throughout our lives to understand and manage our own emotions. We practice emotional intelligence in situations such as patiently listening to a friend’s dilemmas or communicating how we feel at a given moment.

Rote Learning: 5 Tips to Memorize

Although it is advisable to acquire the necessary tools to know how to connect later the contents we learn with new ones, we can also benefit from rote learning for tasks such as remembering the names of our new co-workers. Find out five recommendations here to use rote learning effectively.

1. Organize information in blocks

George Miller, a cognitive psychologist, published an article called “The Magic Number Seven Plus Two” that dealt with the breadth of our short-term memory. 

According to Miller, we can retain five to nine data without grouping them together. On the other hand, if we divide them into groups (chunking), our ability to work with these elements will increase. For example, if we want to remember the list of purchases, we will find it useful to divide it into fruits, vegetables, cleaning products, etc.

2. Use mnemonic rules

The Loci Method is the oldest known mnemonic technique. It consists in associating visually the elements that we wish to remember to certain places. For example, if you want to remember what to have to say during a presentation, you can associate each part with a portion of your journey to work, and recite them. This way you will not forget the order and can relate to images you see constantly.

However, there are different modalities of mnemonic rules. It is also possible and useful to invent new words with the initials of the words we want to remember, to associate songs with sentences, etc.

3. Try to repeat out loud without making mistakes

Imagine your goal is to learn your new class schedule. Read the data you want to remember out loud as often as you need to. When you feel ready try to say it calmly.

Take it slowly and repeat them as many times as you need to since this is a matter of practice. 

4. Use color psychology

Each color transmits certain sensations and is commonly associated with very characteristic meanings. For example, red alerts us and reminds us of blood, love or suspense. On the other hand, white evokes tranquility, peace, and perfection (in our culture). You can take advantage of concepts related to colors to link them to the content that interests you.

5. Uses CogniFit

Neuroeducation is allowing amazing strides to be made in the field of learning. We can now benefit from clinical assessment tools and cognitive stimulation with which it is possible to easily detect our strengths and weaknesses at the cognitive level.

In fact, CogniFit is a leader in this field. It is an online platform that allows us to train our memory and other cognitive skills through entertaining and useful mental games. Challenge yourself, improve and train your memory!

Rote Learning

Thank you very much for reading this article. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to comment below.

This article is originally in Spanish written by Ainhoa Arranz Aldana, translated by Alejandra Salazar. 

Phantom Pain: The Feeling Is As Real As It Can Get!

Phantom pain is a sensation that various individuals perceive towards a part of the body or an internal organ that doesn’t exist. This phantom pain occurs usually when people undergo an amputation surgery. In other cases, it can also happen from birth, in those who are born with a birth defect or a congenital disorder. Sometimes, phantom pains can appear as a result of an injury to the spinal cord or avulsion. Avulsion means that a structure of the body becomes disconnected from the body. This can happen due to a surgical procedure or because of trauma when body parts like ears become removed from the body.

Some people may experience phantom pain for just a short amount of time. The pain will leave by itself eventually. On the other hand, other people might suffer for a long time. The pain is intense and extreme and they keep on suffering. If you or anybody you know might be experiencing phantom pain, do let your doctor know. A physician will be able to reduce the symptoms and provide treatment. And the sooner you get treatment for phantom pain, the better.

Phantom Pain

What is Phantom Pain?

What science knows of so far is that the majority of the people who lose a limb as a result of an accident, surgery etc. will experience a phantom limb.

This very realistic perception that the limb is still there happens quite often, apart from that it can still cause pain to those who experience it.

However, what is interesting about the phantom limb pain, is that one doesn’t necessarily need to have had a surgery to experience the effects. Maybe not the full effects and the full experience of what a real phantom pain feels like, but it can definitely come close enough. In order to understand the following example and the phantom pain, we need to say a few words about body proprioception and body ownership.

Phantom pain: Proprioception and body ownership

Body proprioception is the way we perceive each and every single one of our body parts. We know where our body parts are located to a relative degree. We are also able to subconsciously understand how strong we are which helps us with motor skills and movement. Concepts like muscle memory, hand-eye coordination are quite common in the everyday language. Both of them come from this sense of ownership of what each and every single one of us is.

Some scientists even call proprioception as the sixth sense. The other five senses that we know of – touch, hearing, sight, smell, and taste – provide us with the information from the outside world. Because of the five senses, we are able to perceive the world around us as a unified concept. In an everyday life we don’t just experience one thing at a time, however a multi-sensory integration of all. Proprioception, however, comes from the inside. Scientists call it the sixth sense because people are able to sense what is going on inside our bodies. We know the stimuli that start within our bodies, we understand our relative position in space, our range of motion and our equilibrium. We are aware of our limbs and body parts.

When we pass through a crowded area, we turn at the right moment and attempt to make ourselves smaller. We do that due to the fact that we subconsciously know how much space we occupy. We know that if we go straight on we will hit that nice lady on the left. If we move a little bit to the right, however, we will push the man in the hat who is reading his newspaper. We understand all of this because of proprioception.

Now that we understand a little bit more about body ownership and how we perceive ourselves, it’s time to go back to the example.

Phantom pain: Rubber Hand Illusion

As we have established, phantom pain involves vivid sensations in a lost limb. The general public, however, is able to experience similar sensations without losing a limb. Rubber hand illusion has a lot to do with that concept of proprioception and body ownership and you will see the link with the phantom pain in just a bit.

Ehrsson colleagues in their 2004 study explored the ownership that we as people have of our hands. We know that the hands we are looking at are ours. We can move them in every way possible, we can control the fingers, move each hand individually or clap them together. It is fully ours. Could we trick the brain into thinking another hand could be ours too? That’s the basic concept of the rubber hand illusion.

Phantom pain: Body ownership?

The illusion itself is quite ingenious. The participant will have to place both of their hands on the table, one on each side of a screen. The screen blocks the participant from seeing the left hand outside of the screen. A realistic looking rubber hand goes inside the screen. When the participant looks at the table, he or she will see their real right hand on the table and beside it the left rubber hand because their real left hand is on the outside of the screen, invisible to them. After this, the real experiment begins. The researcher will start by slowly stroking the rubber hand and the hidden left hand with a small brush. He does so in similar strokes on both hands, on the same finger and at the same pace.

The subject will see the scientists stroking the rubber hand but also feel the same stroke on their hidden left hand. After this goes on for a few minutes, the subject will start feeling like the rubber hand is part of their own body and he or she feels the strokes on the rubber hand. The scientist usually ends the illusion by hitting the rubber hand with the small hammer. Interestingly enough, the participant will usually flinch or let out a shock sound due to the fact that they truly felt like the rubber hand was their own.

This rubber hand illusion is a very common one among scientists and brings a lot of insight into our own view of body ownership. Do we really know that much about ourselves? How do we create our self-image? And what does it say about people who experience phantom pain?

Phantom pain: a little background

According to the analysis by Weinstein SM, the first mention of the phantom limb pain occurred in the 16th century, by Ambrose Pare who happened to be a military surgeon.

Elan D. Louis and George K. York in mentioned that the term ‘phantom limb pain’ was coined by Weir Mitchell, who also happened to be a surgeon but at a different timeline. In the 19th century, he practiced during a Civil War and managed to give a description of phantom pain in detail.

Phantom Pain types

Phantom pain can appear in a variety of different ways and it’s important to recognize and understand the differences between them. Identifying what it is will surely help with faster diagnosis and an easier and faster approach to treatment. The differences might come from the variation in sensations that a person might feel.

  • Movement perception where the limb used to be
  • Noticing the weight of the phantom limb
  • Feeling the length of the phantom limb.
  • Feeling different senses where the phantom limb is situated – itchiness, touch, pressure.

As you can see, there are no clear cut differences between types of phantom limbs. Those who suffer from it may experience a variety of things. Sensations help us differentiate between the different types of phantom pain.

Phantom pain: Signs and Symptoms

Phantom Pain

There is a variety of symptoms that can pop up as a result of phantom pain. As mentioned before, the majority of the people will experience some symptoms if they have an amputation surgery. The sensations that can occur during the phantom limb experience include but are not limited to:

  • Warmth
  • Coldness
  • Tingling
  • Itchiness

These sensations are phantom limb sensations and are quite common after an operation. Phantom pain is a bit more severe. Just feeling pain from where the amputation occurred is not a symptom of phantom pain.

When the pain feels like it comes from a part of the body that doesn’t exist anymore, that’s what we call phantom pain. Few things can signify the appearance of phantom pain:

  • It can be prolonged or it can show up and leave at any moment.
  • It happens very shortly after the amputation occurs.
  • People describe the pain as pulsating and vibrating and burning.
  • People feel the phantom limb being put at an angle that bothers them and a position that brings discomfort.
  • The phantom pain usually happens in the part of the body that seems to be the most remote one from the body. Common examples include a leg or a foot
  • The phantom pain can be the cause of stress
  • The phantom pain can start as a result of pressure upon the limb that is left-over after the surgery.

Phantom pain: Causes and Risk Factors

As we mentioned before, the main risk factor for phantom pain still is surgery that results in amputation. The origin of the sensation of phantom pain, however, still remains a mystery. We do not know where it comes from, however, scientists speculate the involvement of certain brain regions and the spinal cord specifically.

Phantom pain: Causes

Different studies have used a variety of neuroimaging methods in order to see the activity that happens during a phantom pain sensation. They were able to discover certain brain areas of interest. A bit of a disturbance between brain connections in the brain might be the reason for the origin of a phantom brain. The signals can become mixed up together due to a sudden loss of a body part and the loss of input from that area. A lot of scientists put it down toward neuroplasticity that has gone wrong. Due to the fact that the brain and the spinal cord stop receiving input from a certain area, the brain tries to compensate and realize what happens and triggers a pain sensation in the lost limb.

Of course, we cannot forget about certain physiological factors like scar tissue, memory of the pain before the amputation and the damage done to nerve endings in the affected area.

Phantom pain: Risk factors

Apart from the obvious amputation surgery, there are a few other risk factors that can play a role in developing phantom pain. Doctors during the surgery should be aware of these risk factors and attempt to minimize the potential for developing phantom pain.

  • Stump pain: a lot of stump pain can contribute to the development of phantom pain due to the damage to the nerve endings.
  • Bad prosthetics: your doctor needs to show you the correct way to utilize the prosthetics. He needs to make sure it fits you and you know all the little details about it.
  • Painful sensations before the surgery: people are more likely to develop phantom pain if they experience pain in the limb beforehand; remembering that pain can contribute significantly to it.

Phantom pain and the Nervous system

In order to understand phantom pain, understanding of the nervous system is important. Many scientists believe that neuroplasticity plays a big role in the development of phantom pain.

Neuroplasticity is quite a famous concept nowadays and a lot of research goes into it. It talks about how the brain is able to form new connections between neurons over the course of a lifetime. Neuroplasticity seems to be responsible for the compensatory effect of diseases and injuries. It allows the brain to re-adjust the functions and certain stimuli responses that come from the outside. Wall and his colleagues explored the notion of neuroplasticity in their 1977 study. They found that the receptive field of certain neurons changes after partial cut off from the nerve supply. Many other studies show the reorganization of the somatosensory cortex following denervation or some sort of damage. That’s why many scientists believe in neuroplasticity as one of the major contributors to the formation of phantom pain.

Neuroplasticity is supposed to lead to benefits and good reorganization in the brain. Many scientists believe that in phantom pain specifically neuroplasticity becomes maladaptive.

Other scientists disagree with the neuroplasticity view. Makin and colleagues in their 2013 study say that plasticity as a result of phantom pain and not the other way around. They looked at different individuals with amputations who have phantom pain. They found that these people actually have very strong cortical representations of the lost limb. Furthermore, they could not find re-organization of cortical representations. In fact, they found that the differences between the brains of amputees and those of non-amputees do not differ and showed similar brain activity. Of course, the sensorimotor cortex played a big role and Makin and colleagues mention it. They say that certain disconnection showed up between the parts responsible for touch and movement processing and some sensorimotor cortex parts and it linked to phantom pain.

Phantom pain: Peripheral Nervous System

Various studies mention the role of the peripheral nervous system in the formation of phantom pain. The nerve endings are disconnected during an amputation surgery. Because of this, neurons become injured and the input to the spinal cord doesn’t work properly anymore. Certain changes happen in the spinal cord. The disconnected nerves cause certain hyper-excitability and this could potentially cause phantom pain.

Phantom pain treatment

There is a variety of different therapeutic techniques that can decrease the symptoms of phantom pain and help cure it. Certain pharmacotherapy approaches should be looked at.

First of all, analgesia and anesthetics should be used before the surgery.  This could prevent the phantom pain from appearing in the first place. It could also decrease the symptoms due to the patient remembering the pain.

Here are some of the most common drugs used for the treatment of phantom pain. Make sure to consult with your physician before taking any medication!

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs: some of the most common medications for phantom pain. These drugs are involved in various brain pathways (e.g. serotonin)
  • Opioids: these drugs are able to bind with central and peripheral postsynaptic opioid receptors and they are able to provide pain relief. Can also help with the side effects of neuroplasticity that are believed to play a role in phantom pain.
  • Tricyclic antidepressants: these drugs can cause pain relief due to the fact that they affect hormones that send out pain signals.
  • Anticonvulsants: these drugs are used for seizures but they can help with nerve damage and pain.

Non-pharmacologically, patients may undergo mirror therapy proposed by Ramachandran and Rogers-Ramachandran in their 1996 study. In this technique patients will attempt to restore the proper visual and proprioceptive disengagement that happens in the brain. Surgical intervention may be needed if all other therapeutic strategies fail.

Phantom Pain: Life style and caring

It can be quite difficult living with constant pain in the lost limb. There are certain steps you can take if you or a loved one are experiencing the symptoms. These steps might be able to reduce the symptoms or at least distract you enough until you get proper treatment.

  • Support: it is very crucial to provide support for somebody who is experiencing phantom pain. Treat as if it’s real pain because to them it is very real.
  • Relax: engage in activities that can help you beat the stress and reduce muscle tension. Activities that make you happy.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Other people might be a valuable asset in distracting you from problems.
  • Do not forget your medication
  • Exercise: engage in physical activities like walking, cycling, dancing, swimming – whatever you enjoy.
  • Distract yourself: yet again, engage in activities that you love and that make you happy
  • Take care of the stump: follow your doctor’s instructions in order to let the stump properly heal.

Hope you enjoyed this article, please feel free to leave a comment below!

Synesthesia: Can You Hear Colors?

What is it like to hear colors and see sounds – people who have synesthesia might be able to give a little insight into that. Imagine the world full of new possibilities, sounds, images, and tastes. The way you are able to perceive and sense nature is so different from everybody else. You can say that the sky tastes like plums. When you hear Vivaldi’s four seasons on the piano, vibrant colors appear from every possible direction, representing spring, summer, fall, and winter. You are able to differentiate months of the year by colors and different smells by taste. Some of these are just examples. If you are able to relate to any of them, you might have synesthesia.

What is synesthesia?

Synesthesia

Scientists consider synesthesia to be a neurological and perceptual condition. It comes from Greek words that represent ‘togetherness and sensation’.  It is quite extraordinary and brings a whole different understanding to what surrounds us. In fact, people who have synesthesia most often than not, embrace it. They do not want to ‘cure’ the condition, per say. To them, the world is full of tastes and colors and sounds, depending on their particular type of synesthesia, of course. That’s how they’ve always experienced the world. They understand that Monday to have a green color, but Saturday more of a purple one and it makes sense to them.

Imagine looking at the sun each and every day and seeing that it’s yellow and one day wakes up and realize it’s a bland gray. That’s what it would be like for a synesthetic to lose their sense and understanding of the world. They would not only be very confused for a long period of time. No, despite that, they’d probably also feel sadness and grief for the loss of all of the beautiful imagery, sounds smell and touch that they will never experience again.

It’s quite difficult to understand synesthesia without experiencing it. A sky that tastes like blueberries or colors appearing when you hear music? That sounds crazy to anybody who has not experienced it themselves. Synesthesia, however, is not limited to just these people though. A lot of researchers looked into synesthetic occurrences in the regular population. These studies found that many are actually able to experience synesthesia. Sometimes they don’t even realize they are doing it.

Perhaps, in order to understand it better, you should experience a little touch of what synesthesia can be. This is what scientists call the McGurk effect

The McGurk effect

For a very long time, researchers understood speech as an auditory perception only. Now know the McGurk effect where there is an interplay between auditory and visual stimuli in the perception of speech. It is somewhat an illusion. Scientists, Harry McGurk and John Macdonald coined the effect in their 1976 study. It seems to be that when speech is paired with visual stimuli, a very extraordinary multi-sensory illusion happens.

They achieved this surprising effect by making a recording of a person voicing a consonant. After that they put the recording with a face, however, that face was expressing a different consonant. When the voice recording was heard by itself, the participants recognized it for what it was. However, when McGurk and Macdonald paired the voice recording along with a face expressing an incongruent sound – the participants heard a different sound. That sound ended up being the combination of the voice recording and the visual face articulation. The McGurk effect shows an absolutely astounding example of multisensory integration and how both, visual and auditory information can integrate and result in a unified experience.

If you can imagine, a lot of researchers found the illusion quite interesting and attempted to replicate it with different populations and conditions. What they found was quite astounding. Summerfield & McGrath found in their 1984 study that the effect happens with the use of vowels and not just consonants. The McGurk effect is present in pre linguistic infants according to the 1997 study by Rosenblum, Schmuckler & Johnson. Astonishingly enough, the effect even worked across a variety of languages which Massaro, Cohen, Gesi and Heredia showed in their 1992 study.

Synesthesia and the McGurk effect

It seems that even people who do not have the condition fall for the McGurk effect. The effect is very strong. Even when you know what to expect from it, you still cannot change it. When you think about it, it makes sense. The world we live in is full of senses and a variety of experiences. We do not just perceive sound by itself, or cannot look at something in a complete silence. There is always an ongoing integration of senses that happens all around us. It is no wonder that sometimes in our lives we are able to experience a synesthetic episode.

Types of Synesthesia

Synesthesia can appear in a variety of forms and types. In fact, researchers have been able to find over seventy types of synesthesia. We characterize the different varieties by what type of sensation they are able to cause and where that sensation came from. Here are some of the more common ones:

  • Number-Form Synesthesia: those who have this type of synesthesia are able to perceive numbers as mental maps. That means that these people will put the numbers in certain positions in space that will form a mental map. Whenever a person thinks of a number, a mental map will appear in their mind. Francis Galton introduced this type in his ‘The visions of sane persons’ work.
  • Lexical-Gustatory Synesthesia: people with this type will experience different tastes that correspond to specific words or phonemes. Badminton could taste like mashed potatoes but suitcase will taste like a chocolate cake. Quite a fun type, this one!
  • Grapheme Synesthesia: this one emerges with perceiving numbers and letters as different colors. This is one of the most common types of synesthesia. Interestingly enough, different people experience different colors in association with numbers and letters. Some commonalities occur. Letter ‘A’ often appears red for some reason.
  • Personification: A variety of ordered sequences will show up as different personalities. For example, Friday can be a happy go-lucky girl who enjoys dancing while Monday is an angry and bitter old man. Do you see any connection with real life?
  • Chromesthesia: people perceive sounds as a variety of colors. There is a variety of different experiences within this type with some people only perceiving colors during spoken speech and others seeing them during musical pieces. This type is quite common among musicians.
  • Misophonia: this one is not a particularly nice type of synesthesia. People who have this type experience very negative emotions when it comes to sounds. Examples of experienced emotions can be anger, disgust, sadness etc. Fortunately, this is one of the rarer types and it happens due to a disturbance between the limbic system and the auditory cortex.
  • Mirror-touch-pain Synesthesia: these people will experience a sensation of touch when they see somebody else being touched. The pain type can experience pain in a similar way when they see somebody else in pain. Researchers have linked this particular type of synesthesia with mirror neurons and regions responsible for empathy in the brain.

There are many other types of synesthesia. If you think you might be experiencing synesthesia but did not find your specific type above, you can type in your symptoms into google search, and sure enough, there will be somebody else with similar symptoms.

Synesthesia: Diagnostic Criteria

Synesthesia

Up to this date, there is no clear cut method for diagnosing synesthesia. Certain criteria exist that specialists adopt in order to help with the diagnosis. Keep in mind, however, that some of the leading scientists and researchers do not follow these criteria. Despite that, it gives at least a little bit of guidance in diagnosing synesthesia.

Symptoms

  • Projection: people will see the sensations outside of their body (hearing sounds outside during a musical piece)
  • Memory: associations that the synesthetic has will stick with him and will often overpower new associations that he or she might experience in the course of a lifetime.
  • Involuntary: sensations happen without the control of these people
  • Emotion: sensations can be perceived either positively or negatively.
  • Duration: the perceptions have to be stable and unchangeable.

Synesthesia and the Brain

Synesthesia

The original cause for synesthesia is still unknown. Due to such a variation in types of synesthesia, it is quite difficult to generalize brain studies to all of the different types. The brain uses different parts of the brain for the processing of different senses, therefore, with such a large variety of synesthesia types, an involvement of different brain parts happens. Researchers have to study each type separately and see whether there are some similarities between them. Some studies reported the activity in the superior posterior parietal cortex in relation with the grapheme-color synesthesia. Both visual cortex and the auditory cortex are activated during the McGurk effect because we are both listening and seeing at the same time.

The consensus among scientists is that depending on the type of synesthesia, the brain regions responsible for that sense will activate. What we speculate is that the uniqueness of synesthesia comes from a different way of network connections within the brain. Baron-Cohen and colleagues mention the excessive quantity of neuronal connections in the brain of synesthetics. According to him, during normal perceptual experiences, we have different brain areas for different senses and a different perception. The connection between those areas is present but is restricted. However, when you have synesthesia, your brain develops more connections between different neurons. This makes the restrictions between the areas to disappear and leads to synesthesia.

Peter Grossenbacher, on the other hand, says that the feedback communications are not subdued in a way that it happens in normal perception. The information that is processed from areas responsible for high-level of processing is not able to come back to each signified area. Instead of different senses going back to areas responsible for single senses, they mix together, allowing synesthesia.

Ramachandran and Hubbard support the increase in neural connection theory, but they also add that it happens due to the fact that the pruning between different sensory modalities is decreased.

Pruning is the removal process of the synaptic connections and more neurons in order to enhance the work of already existing neural transmissions.

Synesthesia and Genetics

Some studies have found a genetic link with the development of synesthesia. Asher and colleagues claim there is a link between auditory-visual synesthesia and certain chromosomes. Due to previous research suggesting a familial trend and a genetic factor helping in the development of synesthesia, they decided to look at 43 different families who had it. They found four different types of loci that could cause the variation in brain development in the brain of those who have the condition. What is interesting is that one of the genes that they identified, might be important for pruning.

Thomsen and colleagues focused on different genetic components. This leads to a variety of scientists to believe that synesthesia occurs due to a combination of a variety of genes.

Famous people throughout history with Synesthesia

Synesthesia is more common than some people believe. In fact, a variety of famous people are believed to have had this condition.

  • Vincent Van Gogh: chromesthesia
  • Lorde: music –> color
  • Vladimir Nabokov: grapheme -> color
  • Pharrell Williams: chromesthesia
  • Stevie Wonder: chromesthesia
  • Billy Joel: chromesthesia, grapheme-> color
  • Duke Ellington: chromesthesia

Prevalence

As mentioned before, diagnosis synesthesia is quite difficult so knowing its prevalence can bring some challenges as well. Before people used to think that the condition is quite rare, however, nowadays we know that it is a lot more common. Simner and colleagues in their 2006 study investigated the overall population. They found that around 1% of the population have the grapheme-color type. Around 5% have some sort of type of synesthesia. Due to the difficulty of diagnosis, this could be a very low account of the overall numbers, however.

Synesthesia is very common and a lot of people might have it. Family members, friends, co-workers, and classmates. Even you might have some sort of type of synesthesia and not know about it!

Limbic System Functions: Limbo With Your Limbic System

Your limbic system functions range from regulating your emotions to storing your memories to even helping you to learn new information. Your limbic system is one of the most essential parts of the brain that help you live your daily life. The primary structures that work together in your limbic system are the amygdala, the hippocampus, the thalamus and hypothalamus, the cingulate gyrus, and the basal ganglia. All these parts help you to be active in society, engage in social relationships, and be a well-rounded person. To learn more about the interesting ways your limbic system impacts your life, sit back and get in-tuned with all of its hard-working employees!

Limbic System Functions

1. What is another name for your amygdala?
  • Your amygdala is essential for controlling the emotions that you express. That is why it is called ''the emotional center of the brain.''

2. What is your basal ganglia involved with?
  • Your basal ganglia is the main structure that controls all of the voluntary movements your body performs

3. Where do hormones originate in the brain?
  • Your hypothalamus is controlled by the pituitary gland which regulates how many and what hormones are released throughout your body (this is all under the endocrine system)

Limbic System Functions

Limbic System Functions

Interconnected nuclei and cortical structures located in the telencephalon and diencephalon have different functions that are related to the limbic system. These nuclei main functions are of self-preservation. They regulate our autonomic and endocrine function especially as a response to emotional stimuli.

Many of the areas are related to memory and with arousal levels involved in motivation and reinforcing behaviors. Since it’s related to self-preservation, many of the areas are related to the sense of smell, since it is critical for survival.

The areas critical for functions in the limbic system are two:

  • Subcortical structures include the olfactory bulb, hypothalamus, amygdala, septal nuclei and thalamic nuclei.
  • Cerebral Cortex also is known as the limbic lobe it includes the hippocampus, insular cortex, subcallosal gyrus, cingulate gyrus and parahippocampal gyrus.

Here are some of the different parts of the limbic system and how they affect you:

Limbic System Functions: The Amygdala

Shaped like a small almond, the amygdala is located in each of the left and right temporal lobes. It’s known as  “the emotional center of the brain,” because it is involved in evaluating the emotional intake of different situations or emotional intelligence (for example, when you feel happy because you received an awesome grade on your math exam or when you might be frustrated because the heavy traffic is making you late for work). The amygdala is what makes the brain recognize potential threats (like if you are hiking in the lone woods and suddenly you hear the loud footsteps of a bear coming toward you). It helps your body prepare for fight-or-flight reactions by increasing your heart and breathing rate. The amygdala is also responsible for understanding rewards or punishments, a psychological concept known as reinforcement coined by the classical and operant conditioning experiments of Ivan Pavlov.

The amygdala works by being stimulated through the electrical forces of neurotransmitters (understand the different types of neurotransmitters). Many times, when this stimulation is very high, we show physical acts of aggression, like throwing tantrums, screaming, or hitting objects. If the amygdala was removed from the human brain, then we would all become extremely tame and no longer respond to things that previously caused us frustration or annoyance. Also, we would become indifferent to all forms of external stimuli, especially those related to fear and sexual responses.

Limbic System Functions: The Hippocampus

This part of the brain is found deep within the temporal lobe and is shaped like a seahorse. The exact role of the hippocampus is disputed between psychologists and neuroscientists, but we generally know that it is essential in forming new memories about past experiences. The three major stages of memory forming in the brain are:

1. Sensory input from your peripheral nervous system sending neurotransmitters to your brain

2. Your brain storing those stimuli in its “short-term memory,” which holds the information for about 3-5 minutes

3. If 5 minutes has elapsed and you are still thinking about that memory, then it will enter into your long-term memory, where it will stay for virtually an endless period of time.

Your hippocampus is the main brain portion responsible for going from stage 2 to stage 3, or converting short-term memories to long-term memories.

Researchers suggest that the hippocampus is responsible for “declarative memory,” which is the ability for one to explicitly verbalize their memories (i.e. episodic memories and semantic memories).

Limbic System Functions

If the hippocampus is damaged, then a person will not be able to build new memories (known in neuropsychology terms as anterograde amnesia) although he or she might be able to hold onto older memories. This individual would instead live in a very strange world where everything they experience and everyone knew whom they meet just fades away. A classic example of this is seen in the movie 50 First Dates, where Drew Barrymore plays the lead role of a girl with short-term memory who loses memory every night being with her beloved during the day.

Limbic System Functions: The Thalamus

These structures are both associated with changes in emotional reactions. The thalamus is known as the “way-station” of the limbic system because it aids in communicating what is going on in the system with the rest of the brain. It connects areas of the cerebral cortex that are involved in sensory perception and movement with other parts of the body associated with sensation and movement. It has control over your peripheral nervous system, which moves sensations from the body through the spinal cord into the brain. Specifically, it works alongside these major lobes in the brain:

  1. The parietal lobes – it sends sensory touch information to the somatosensory cortex located here
  2. The occipital lobes – it sends visual information to the visual cortex here
  3. The temporal lobes – auditory signals are sent to the auditory cortex here

The thalamus has other functions for your body as well, like controlling your sleep and awake states of consciousness. It sends signals from the brain to the rest of the body to reduce your perception of sensory information while sleeping, which is why you wouldn’t necessarily feel if an ant was crawling on you or someone put their hand on your arm gently while you were sleeping. The thalamus also is involved in motor controls, relaying sensory signals to the cerebral cortex, forming memories and expressing emotions, and perceiving pain.

Limbic System Functions: The Hypothalamus

The hypothalamus is a small piece located just below the thalamus and has lesions on it that are the driving forces behind our major unconscious activities, like respiration and metabolism. One of its central functions is homeostasis for the body, which is returning it from either too much excitement or too little pleasure to a calm “set-point” from which we behave “normally.” It is one of the busiest parts of the brain because it also helps drive other motivated behaviors like hunger, sexuality, and aggression. The lower side of the hypothalamus seems to be involved with pleasure and rage, while the middle section is associated with displeasure, aversion, and uncontrollable and loud laughter. Because the hypothalamus also regulates the functions of your autonomic nervous system, it controls things like your pulse, blood pressure, breathing, and arousal response to emotional circumstances.

Recent biological studies have shown that when we overeat, a protein called leptin is released by fat cells in our bodies. The hypothalamus is the first part of the brain to sense these high levels of leptin in the bloodstream so it will respond by decreasing our appetites. Some research suggests that some people have a mutation in the gene which produces leptin, so their hypothalamus is unable to recognize that they are overeating. However, there are many overweight individuals studied who do not have this mutation, so work is still being done in this research idea.

The hypothalamus also works in coordination with the pituitary gland, known as the “master gland.” It is chemically and neurally related to the pituitary gland, which as a result of its control, pumps hormones called releasing factors into the bloodstream. The pituitary gland has the central control over your endocrine system, so it releases hormones that are essentially important to regulating growth and metabolism for you.

 Limbic System Functions: The Cingulate Gyrus

This part is located in the middle of your brain next to the corpus callosum. Not much is known about the cingulate gyrus, but researchers suggest that this is the area that links smell and sight with pleasurable memories of previous experiences and emotions because it provides a pathway from the thalamus to the hippocampus. This area is involved with your emotional reaction to pain and how well you regulate aggressive behavior.

The anterior cingulate gyrus deals with the vocalization of emotions. It has connections with speech and vocalization areas of the frontal lobe, which includes Broca’s area, a brain piece that controls motor functions involved with speech production. People with Broca’s aphasia, or an impairment in their Broca’s area, are unable to fluently produce speech to convey what exactly is in their mind but they are able to fully comprehend the speech and writing of others.

The cingulate gyrus also is involved in the emotional bonding and attachment between a mother and her child because of the frequent vocalization that takes place between mothers and their infants, so children feel deeply attached to the voices of their mothers. Because the cingulate gyrus is connected with the amygdala, it processes emotions and is responsible for fear conditioning and relating memories to sensory information received from the thalamus.

Limbic System Functions: The Basal Ganglia

This area is an entire system within itself located deep in the frontal lobes. It organizes motor behavior by controlling your physical movements and inhibiting your potential movements until it gets the instructions to carry them out, based on the circumstances that you are in. The basal ganglia also participate in rule-based habit learning; choosing from a list of potential actions; stopping yourself from undesired movements and permitting acceptable ones; sequencing; motor planning; prediction of future movements; working memory; and attention.

In general terms the limbic system functions are as follows:

  • The sense of smell: the amygdala directly intervenes in the process of olfactory sensation.
  • Appetite and eating behaviors: The amygdala and the hypothalamus both act in this behavior. The amygdala helps in food choice and emotional modulation of food intake. Meanwhile, the hypothalamus controls the intake of these foods.
  • Sleep and dreams: While dreaming, the limbic system is one of the most active brain areas according to different neuroimaging techniques. The hypothalamus also intervenes in this case particularly the suprachiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus that controls the sleep-wake cycle through circadian rhythms.
  • Emotional Responses: Limbic system functions include modulating emotional responses of fear, rage and endocrine responses of fight or flight responses. In these responses, the amygdala, the hypothalamus, the cingulate gyrus and even the basal ganglia’s motor tasks work together.
  • Sexual Behavior: The limbic system also takes part in the sexual behavior through the hypothalamus and different neurotransmitters, specifically dopamine.
  • Addiction and motivation: Addiction is highly related to your reward system which in part is controlled by the amygdala. Therefore it’s important to know this when treating addicts. Relapse is usually related to the release of excitatory neurotransmitters in brain areas such as the hippocampus and the amygdala.
  • Memory: As we mentioned before emotional responses are related to the limbic system. Emotions are is also involved in the retrieval and consolidation of memory, therefore one of the limbic system functions is the emotional memory. Other memories that have influence from the limbic system are medial temporal lobe memory system in charge of making and storing new memories. As well as, Diencephalic memory system related to the storage of a recent memory, a dysfunction of this circuit results in Korsakoff’s Syndrome.
  • Social Cognition: This refers to thought processes involved in understanding and dealing with other people. Social cognition involves regions that mediate face perception, communication skills, emotional processing, and working memory. They help the complex behaviors necessary for social interactions. Limbic structures involved are the cingulate gyrus and amygdala.

To end this fantastic article we leave a video with a song to learn the limbic system functions. Hope you enjoyed the article and feel free to leave a comment below.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B-RLFEWTqsY

Neuroimaging: What is it and how can it map the brain?

One of the ways psychology has progressed came from the use of various neuroimaging methods. In terms of experimental psychology history, neuroimaging started with the cognitive revolution. Many scientists realized that understanding the brain plays an enormous role in the external behavior.  Scientists also use neuroimaging methods and technique prevention, diagnosis and treatment for different neurological diseases.

Today we still do not have a clear cut picture of the whole brain in itself. Not every network has been mapped, but we have moved forward a substantial amount. The development of non-invasive and invasive neuroimaging methods and their use for research and medical purposes was a definite breakthrough.

Neuroimaging

Neuroimaging-What can we map?

When one thinks about the brain and the nervous system, one can think of many things to map. Of course, we have the brain itself, its parts and the functions of the anatomical functions. We have neuroimaging techniques who deal exactly with that. Despite the anatomy, however, there are many neuroimaging methods that try to look at things on a more microscopic level.

We have methods that can view the cortical areas of the brain. Other techniques look at cortical columns and different layers. We have methods that can record a single cell by itself. Going even further, we can look at the soma of the neuron, the dendrite and, separately the axons. We can even look at the synaptic connections between the two neurons.

Neuroimaging- Method Classification

Neuroimaging methods also do not just encompass the spatial resolution. We try to look into proteins, organelles, bacteria, mammalian cells, the brain of various species and, finally, human brains. Many neuroimaging methods also differ by the temporal resolution. They differ by how quickly they are able to detect an event that happens in the brain. These neuroimaging methods differ by milliseconds, seconds, minutes, hours and days. They also differ by the spatial resolution. Some methods can show anatomical structures well, while others cannot. Apart from that, the variety of the neuroimaging methods differs by how non-invasive and invasive they are.

If one can imagine, scientists use a lot more non-invasive neuroimaging methods in research. Not many regular participants agree to something that can potentially alter their brain functions. Medical practitioners are a lot more likely to use invasive neuroimaging methods in an attempt to treat certain diseases. Various patients with neurological diseases benefit on a daily basis from the invasive neurological methods. In some cases, the patients themselves are able to control the stimulating method.

Electrophysiological techniques

For many years now we know that neurons are able to generate electric potentials. We also know that the synaptic activity of the nervous matter is similar to a battery. It acts as an electric generator.

If we recall the first class in physiology we took, we can roughly remember the structure of the neuron. Words like the cell body or the soma, dendrites and an axon come to mind. Dendrites seem to be able to receive electrical signals. Axon sends electrical signals to the dendrite of the next neuron. The cell body combines the signals from the previous neurons. Then it sends another signal along the axon for the next neuron.

Within the neurons themselves, we are able to distinguish two different types of electrical activity.

1-Action potentials

The action potential is a very common concept that many students learn in their first class on the nervous system. The entire process happens for about 1 ms and culminates with the release of neurotransmitters in the end of the axons.

  • The stimulus from a previous neuron activates the voltage gates on sodium channels which will cause the influx of positively charged sodium to the cell.
  • This depolarizes the membrane. Sometimes the depolarization of the membrane is able to reach the threshold.
  • If that happens, a series of events happen in order to send the signal along the axon to the next neuron. This is what we call an action potential.
  • The potassium channels are still closed and since we have an influx of sodium, the membrane becomes more positive on the inside then it does on the outside.
  • After that, the channels for sodium close and, therefore, the influx of sodium stops as well.
  • That’s when the potassium channels stay open and the potassium comes out of the cell and makes the inside of the cell negative one more time. This repolarization of the neuron can lead to the overall voltage to be below the original resting potential
  • This happens due to the fact that the potassium channels stay open a little longer. This ends in hyperpolarization. During this period a new action potential cannot happen and this is what we call a refractory period of the neuron.
    • Scientists cannot record action potentials via surface electrodes. As of today, we are not able to record potentials from a single neuron. What we can record is the second type of electrical activity. We can, however, use intracranial electroencephalography (EEG) to measure them which happens to be an invasive technique.

2- Post-synaptic potentials

They last for hundreds of milliseconds and it is the addition of the potential from various neurons that happen at the same time. We are able to record the potentials together. Researchers can easily record these potentials from surface electrodes. Electroencephalography (EEG) can measure these types of potentials.

So, in the end, we are able to distinguish two principal types of neuroimaging methods that measure the electrical activity of the neuron.

Two principal types of electrophysiological techniques

  • Single-cell recordings
    • These recordings are able to measure a number of different action potentials every second. The electrodes will be place inside a single cell or nearby a neuron which makes the technique invasive.
    • This technique can be useful for researchers who want to understand how single cells work.
    • Due to the fact that this technique allows measuring single neurons, we are able to see how specific these cells are.
    • A paper published saying that single neurons were firing to Jennifer’s Aniston’s face and nobody else’s. This level of object recognition falls under very high-level vision neurons and the paper gained a lot of attention due to such a strange working of a single neuron. (1)
  • Event-related potentials (ERP)
    • These recordings get the summation of different electrical potentials for a variety of neurons (millions of them). This technique places electrodes on the skull, therefore, they are surface electrodes.

Electroencephalography & Event-Related Potentials (ERP)

Since we now know that the brain produces electrical potentials, we are able to measure them. Electroencephalography helps us do that. Scientists can place various electrodes on the surface of the scalp and then measure the bio-electrical activity that the brain produces. Event-related potentials (ERP) are the potentials from various neurons that happen as a result of different stimuli given by the scientist to the participant. Stimuli and the tasks that the researchers assign can range from motor, to sensory and cognitive.

So the scientists are able to measure where and when the neurons will spike as a result of a certain assigned stimuli. Researchers have been able to find various ERP components or similarly distributed neurons that fire at the same time. They found various ERP components related to language, visual attention, auditory components (famous concepts like the mismatch negativity) and many others.

Other neuroimaging methods

Magnetoencephalography (MEG)

Neuroimaging methods don’t just stop at measuring the electrical activity of the neurons. Another famous brain imaging technique is MEG – it records magnetic fields. Electrical currents that already occur in the brain generate magnetic fields. MEG is able to directly measure the brain function which is a huge advantage when comparing it with other techniques. Apart from that, it has very high temporal resolution and high spatial resolution which is one of the rarest things when it comes to brain research. Usually, neuroimaging methods are either higher in spatial resolution or in temporal resolution, not both.

MEG is non-invasive. Scientists are able to use it with other neuroimaging methods at the same time – like EEG. One big disadvantage of MEG comes from the fact that in order to get the magnetic fields, a special room that gets rid of other types of magnetic interference needs to be built. Due to this, the machine is quite costly, but one of the best methods for measuring brain activity as of today.

Other famous types of brain imaging do not measure direct brain activity, however, they have quite good spatial resolution and are often used for clinical and diagnostic purposes.

Positron Emission Tomography (PET)

This technique gives an image of brain activity, however, in order to produce that image radioactive material needs to be either inhaled or injected by the participant. The image will then be produced due to this radioactive material going to the areas of the brain that are active.

Computed Tomography Scan (CT Scan)

This technique is able to produce brain images as well. It is able to show the anatomy of the brain, however, not the functions themselves which are a serious drawback especially if we consider the fact that X-ray lights need to go through the head to produce the image.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

MRI – Neuroimaging

One of the most common techniques nowadays. It gives an image of anatomical structures in the brain. It is non-invasive, but the patient must remain still in the MRI chamber which could prove to be quite painful for those suffering from claustrophobia. Apart from that, any type of metallic devices cannot be put in the chamber so many patients and subjects are not able to get a scan.

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)

An upgrade from the MRI – this technique detects the blood-oxygen-level dependent contrast imaging (BOLD) levels in the brain which are the changes in the blood flow and it not only gives the anatomical structures but the functions as well. Various colors will change depending on which part of the brain is active. The big drawback with this technique is the fact that it does not directly measure brain activity, but BOLD signal so we cannot for sure say that the activity that we find via fMRI studies is fully accurate and is produced by neurons.

Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI)

A technique based on MRI and it measures the way the water can travel through the white matter in the brain. It can show the activity as the colored area on the image. It’s very good in detecting concussions so can be used in clinical applications which is a huge advantage. Again, it does not measure direct brain activity which is a huge disadvantage and sometimes it also distorts the images. DTI has a quite low spatial resolution.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

The electric field that TMS is able to generate is able to interfere with the action potentials that are happening in the brain. It’s a highly invasive technique and is able to be used in research applications for the workings of many diseases and pathologies. What we do know is that repetitive TMS is able to produce seizures so, obviously, it has some sort of side effects and needs to be used with caution.

Neuroimaging- New Developments in Neuroscience

New neuroimaging methods and brain imaging techniques are being developed nowadays and, perhaps, soon enough we will be able to not only map the entire anatomical structures of the brain but functions as well. As of right now, these are the majority of the neuroimaging methods that are used in cognitive neuroscience. Maybe, in a few years, we will be able to develop a low-cost neuroimaging technique that has both high spatial and temporal resolution and is non-invasive to the participants!

References

Quiroga RQ, Reddy L, Kreiman G, Koch C, Fried I. Invariant visual representation by single neurons in the human brain. Nature [Internet]. 2005;435(7045):1102–7. Available from: http://www.nature.com.zorac.aub.aau.dk/nature/journal/v435/n7045/abs/nature03687.html%5Cnhttp://www.nature.com.zorac.aub.aau.dk/nature/journal/v435/n7045/pdf/nature03687.pdf

Experimental Psychology: Learn everything about its history

The field of experimental psychology branches out into many various sub-fields and directions with people believing in various things. Even now scientists do not have a clear picture of the connection between the mind and the body. There have been many different attempts to unravel and end the dilemma. Understanding even the majority of the connection and the brain by itself will be a major development in today’s science. The attempt has brought on many big collaborative initiatives with big names like the Human Brain Project coming to mind. Psychology in itself has had a long history and has shaped itself in various ways and directions. To understand it, one needs to look at the first mentions of what we now call psychology from centuries ago.

Experimental Psychology

History of Experimental Psychology

Experimental psychology today is completely different from what the discipline looked like years and centuries ago.  Back then we didn’t have the technology and the infrastructure available to us today. The question of mind and body was on the lips of many prominent philosophers. Names like Plato and Aristotle come to mind when the first mentions of the mind-body problem arise. The arguments and debates over free will and determinism and nature vs. nurture take roots centuries ago. These debates are still prevalent nowadays. They turn into years long research projects in the fields of experimental psychology and neuroscience.

Philosophical beginnings: nature vs. nurture & free will vs. determinism

Famous philosophers like Plato, Aristotle, and René Descartes made the first references to experimental psychology. Plato and Aristotle both contemplated the famous nature vs. nurture question. They disagreed on the fundamental point of the origin of what makes us human comes from. Plato argued from the genetic point of view, saying that certain things are a part of our biological configuration. He believed that everything is set in stone from the very beginning. Aristotle, on the other hand, put the emphasis on the nurture side of the debate. He preached that humans are sponges that soak up the information with every new experience and learning opportunity.

Descartes looked at a different question that boggles the minds of scientists and researchers nowadays. He believed that actions and behaviors of people are predetermined and free will in itself does not exist. According to Descartes, pineal gland controls every behavior in the brain. His view formed a very popular belief called the mind-body dualism. The pineal gland being the master gland for all actions was proven wrong at a later point. The free will vs. determinism debate, however, still remains open in the 21st century.

Research into decision making has become one of the hottest topics in neuroscience nowadays. We now have different research studies that show neuronal spiking activity before a decision is made (1). This sparked a lot of controversy in favor of determinism. Many started proclaiming that if there is neuronal activity before a behavior, that means, that all actions are predetermined beforehand. All the philosophical questions are still very present today and experimental psychology tries to answer the questions with various methods. It does so by looking at the problem in hand from various perspectives.

First steps to science

The beginning of psychology as a discipline emerged in Leipzig, Germany. In 1879 Wilhelm Wundt built his first experimental laboratory on the grounds of the University of Leipzig. Wundt governed the term introspection. Wundt believed that by asking subjects to talk in detail about the experience during an assigned task, he will be able to develop a guideline for the consciousness elements. That became the ultimate goal for introspection. Wundt believed that since conscious experiences could be described by people, there was a possibility to explore and observe these experiences and create a map of them.

Nowadays, looking back, the approach that Wundt had was a bit naïve. Despite that, it became the first milestone in creating what is now known as cognitive psychology. Wundt and his colleagues have discovered that there is a difference in realizing that something is happening or sensing it and understanding what that something is or, perceiving it. He noted a time difference between this notion of sensation and perception. Perception seemed to occur later than sensation.

Wundt’s impact on science today

Experimental Psychology – Laboratory

Nowadays, in cognitive psychology, measuring reaction times happening during various mental tasks is a regular occurrence. Scientists try to show exactly which events happen in the brain first and which ones occur later. Researchers are attempting to acquire the answer to the origin of consciousness. They want to unravel where and when the very first series of neuronal spikes occur in the brain with the introduction of a new stimulus. Researchers trace it back to that same question of free will and determinism. They are still trying to figure out what happens first, the behavior or the action itself or a certain event that happens in the brain.

Of course, nowadays, scientists have a lot more advanced tools to measure these time lapses and series of events. Despite that fact, we seem to not be a lot closer to the truth. We are still trying to figure out the truth behind the conscious experiences and the external behaviors and actions.

Functionalism: evolutionary psychology

Another branch of experimental psychology went into quite the opposite direction from what Wundt and his colleagues were doing. It solidified the ground for what later would become behavioral psychology. Behavioral psychology would dominate the field of the entire discipline for quite some time.

The functionalists, as they called themselves, tried to understand why humans and nonhuman animals behaved in the way they do. Functionalism thesis moved onto to what is also known as evolutionary psychology. It quite heavily operates upon the principles of Darwin’s natural selection. The notion that the best genetic components survived and the not useful ones have disappeared over the years. All actions intend to pass our genes on to our descendants with the goal of keeping our species alive.

Evolutionary psychology is still quite a prominent part of the discipline right now. Despite that it poses a slight problem in the face of experimental psychology. Experimental psychology values reliable and valid experiments. Evolutionary psychology experiments are quite difficult to arrange. Because of this, it is not as popular as some other branches of psychology.

Psychoanalysis: what do you dream of?

After Wundt’s laboratory and the waves of functionalism have died off, a new branch of psychology developed. It is the branch that the majority of the population associated with psychology nowadays. Despite the fact that not many practitioners use it nowadays, it is still quite popular.

Sigmund Freud created the psychodynamic approach was created and it focuses a lot on the unconscious. Id (the unconscious), desires, feelings, memories, and dreams are prime targets for psychodynamic therapists. Compared to other branches of psychology this one does not have very reliable results when it comes to proving its theories. Despite that fact, it came as a result of Freud’s observations of his many patients and their behaviors. Ordinary public associates it with clinical psychology and the methods of treatments for various psychological disorders up to this day.

Freud focused a lot on experiences that a patient cannot remember that could result in various disorders and dysfunctions in the adult life. Freud governed concepts like Oedipal complex, ego, superego, and interpretations of dreams. As mentioned above, not a lot of research went into the psychodynamic theory. Sometimes experimental psychology doesn’t consider the psychodynamic approach a part of it. Despite that, the contributions that the psychodynamic approach provided to the discipline still resonate to this day.

Behaviorism

Behaviorism is one of the prime examples of experimental psychology. Behaviorists believe that the true way to study the mind is by the actions and behaviors themselves and they attempt to do so in an objective and a clear way.

Ivan Pavlov and B.F. Skinner are the big names for behaviorism. Their experiments in classical and operational conditioning are popular in classes to this day. The experiments that they did became the premise for behaviorism. This approach understands everything as results of things happening in the environment – stimuli – and the actions that these stimuli produce – responses.

John. B. Watson was one of the famous American behaviorists with his experiments involving fear stimuli. His experiments were highly unethical and would be quite illegal today, but, despite that, they were the ones that brought quite a lot of light into the concepts of learning and developed phobias. Nowadays, the treatment for various phobias comes exclusively from the behaviorist point of view. Clinicians use exposure therapy to treat phobias and are quite successful in curing the majority of them.

Revolution of cognition

After behaviorism, the cognitive approach became popular as well. It did so due to the fact that scientists at that time became more and more interested in the brain and how the brain influences the behaviors that we do. The development of computers was a big step forward. Researchers saw the potential of how the brain is similar to a computer and how they can utilize information technologies in order to measure the brain and see the anatomy and functions and be able to model different events that happen in the nervous system. Cognitive psychology studies mental processes, memory, learning, attention, judgment, language and uses a variety of different methods including eye tracking and both, non-invasive and invasive neuroimaging methods.

Collaboration of all

Overall, the entire field of experimental psychology encompasses many different sub-disciplines and fields. It developed quite a bit from the first laboratory that Wundt created to hundreds upon hundreds experimental laboratories around the world today. Modern state-of-the art machinery and popular technology methods equip these laboratories in an attempt to help objectively study the mind and the body and the relationship between the two.

References

Marcos E, Genovesio A. Determining Monkey Free Choice Long before the Choice Is Made: The Principal Role of Prefrontal Neurons Involved in Both Decision and Motor Processes. Front Neural Circuits [Internet]. 2016;10:75. Available from: http://journal.frontiersin.org/Article/10.3389/fncir.2016.00075/abstract

Human Brain Project: What is it and how it’s a research innovation

Assembly of The Human Brain Project has a goal to unravel what lies within the intricately woven network that still remains a secret. Humans are always interested in discovering the unknown, solving puzzles and riddles and unraveling century-old questions. We have gone deep underwater in search for ancient civilizations and explored time-worn ruins from top to bottom in order to find the answers we so desperately seek. To this day, however, the biggest mystery that we have found is ourselves and what makes us human. The central core of the enigma that we are facing is the brain. The brain is the most puzzling, peculiar and unexplained creation that we have come so far managed to come across. Continue reading to find out more about the human brain project. 

Human Brain Project

What Is The Human Brain Project?

The Human Brain Project is a research initiative that started in 2013 and will continue for ten years. It hopes to uncover the challenge that is understanding the brain and all its functions, pathways and networks. The Human Brain Project will do so by combining and compiling the efforts from the leading scientists from the three major disciplines. By using the three disciplines it will attempt to encompass all that is the brain. It aims for a collaboration and integration between the fields of medicine related to the brain, neuroscience, and computing. This collaboration within the variety of different specialties is set to develop new insights into various neurological disorders and diseases. The initiative plans to come up with new solutions for treatment and to manufacture novel ingenious technologies. The researchers will use these new developments to study the brain.

The Human Brain Project: Neuroscience, Medicine, and Computing

Medicine and biomedical research initiative will look into neurological diseases and research into earlier diagnosis and prevention of the diseases. They will try to create individualized treatment and therapeutic techniques. All of this will allow for a faster and more efficient manufacturing of drugs. This will potentially lead to making drug discovery more cost-efficient.

Various neuroimaging techniques that scientists use in neuroscience are able to come with a vast pool of experimental data. Further research will use this data for future progress with the knowledge of the network. Both, invasive and non-invasive tools that differ in spatial and temporal resolutions attempt to provide a fuller picture of the brain both, anatomically and functionally. These tools include electroencephalography (EEG), intracranial EEG, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) etc.

Researchers will then process and analyze all of the neuroimaging obtained data. They will then be able to draw clear and concise conclusions that are statistically significant and relevant for further research. That’s where computing can come in with the variety of different programming languages. Programming languages will help guide the analysis of the data in a step-by-step way in an approachable fashion.

Computing also works in order to develop new ways of brain imaging and stimulation. It optimizes the ones that are already available on the market. It will also create computational and theoretical models that explain various time and spatial events in the brain. Computer specialists are also looking into possibilities of creating artificial intelligence programs. Intelligent programs could be able to mimic the functions of the brain.

The Human Brain Project – Goals and Objectives

Implementing clear and concise goals will help guarantee success. Collaboration between medicine, neuroscience, and computing will help to accomplish that. The Human Brain Project aims to create advanced information communication technologies that are able to lift the curtain to not only comprehend the human brain but to be able to stimulate it. This stimulation needs to be as painless, easy and side effect free, as possible.

Main Objectives

  1. Create and design a way to arrange, synthesize and analyze experimental brain data and learn to develop models based on this data. Comprehend both human and nonhuman brains at every level. Start from the genetic components and move on to cognitive makeup and resulting in conscious and unconscious behavior.
  2. Analyze the experimental data via the use of created technologies. Understand the mathematical and psychophysical assumptions and criteria that govern the connections amid various levels of brain organization. Try to understand the functions that these connections play in the brain’s ability to gather, express and collect information. Develop a technology that is able to visualize this data. Allow for creation of online models and reciprocate simulation.
  3. Develop information communication technologies that are useful for researchers in the field of biomedicine, computing, and neuroscience. Provide a platform for creating new technologies associated with artificial intelligence that is useful for understanding and stimulating the brain.
  4. Create new example bioinformatics tools. Immediately use them for pharmacological research and diagnostic criteria for various neurological diseases, online simulations of the disease action. Progress with understanding the newly created tools. Learn about protein on protein docking and interactions and subsequent drug effects to different brain disorders.

Models for brain research

Mice models

These objectives also contain mini-objectives for specific goals and guidelines for research projects and future collaborations. Neuroscience will look at projects in regarding with building a multi-layered model of the mouse brain structure. Various up-to-date scientific studies showed that mice models are some of the most useful models to apply to the rest of the mammal population, including humans.

Due to this, it is important to look at the structure and functional capabilities of mice in order to see how certain neurological diseases are able to develop and progress in their brain. This can help with knowing how certain drugs and protein interactions will work in combination with the disease. Drug interactions will then help to speculate and make an accurate prediction of how the disease will work in the human brain.

Creating a mice model will allow a prototype for the future study of the human brain and a guideline for further research. Using various tools can help with progress, including non-invasive and invasive neuroimaging techniques and in vitro and in vivo studies with neuronal mice cells.

Human models

Scientists also have to create a similar multi-layered model of the human brain. They will have to pool the information from the experimental data that they had gathered. Apart from that scientists will need to use the data they are working with at the moment. In the end, the researchers will be able to create a holistic model of the whole human brain. Again, they can do so by using various methods for this particular goal.

Apart from creating the model of the human brain, researchers have to look into understanding the link between the anatomical structures and the various functions that the brain displays. They need to start measuring spiking activities (action potentials) and relationships between different neurons. This will help with searching for some specific neurons with very specific functions (e.g. the grandmother cells) or networks of neurons responsible for similar functions.

Theoretical and computational tools

Researchers can then use various theoretical and computational models in order to hypothesize and speculate about the actions of these neurons. We need to be able to know exactly what happens on the neuronal level. That will allow us to understand the internal cognition and the external behavior that can happen as a result of this spiking activity.

In order to gain this insight into the brain scientists will implement these objectives. They will include the collaborative and ongoing use of all of the techniques available on-hand and feedback and forward communication between the various disciplines. Surprisingly enough, this mirrors the feedback and the feedforward way the brain sends and receives inputs and signals.

Human Brain Project Obstacles

Various different organizations have voiced questions regarding the ambitious initiative that is the Human Brain Project. These questions are valid on a scientific level, as well as a more cultural and an ethical level. Considering them is important before continuing along with the project.

Questions that were raised include ethical considerations.

  • Why do we need to know more about the brain?
  • If we do find out, what will we do with the knowledge that we have will gain?
  • Would there be any repercussions for the knowledge in regards to how we live on a daily basis?
  • Is intervening and stimulating such an important organ ethically reasonable and how would that affect our consciousness and cognition?

Obstacles like this need to be considered in every experiment and study that becomes a part of the whole Human Brain Project.

Human Brain Project Criticisms

There have been many concerns regarding the Human Brain Project. The attempt to model and build a simulation of the entire brain is quite ambitious. Sometimes, however, it is not as doable as one might hope. The amount of money spent on the project is very large and there is still no real advancement with building that holistic brain picture. A thorough experiment needs to be well thought out and planned out and the Human Brain Project seems to pursue a grand idea but with no clear steps to success.

In order for it to work, the brain simulation needs to working as soon as possible so that scientists can test it and make sure that it works, however, there is no such thing on the horizon just yet. If the researchers spend all the money now and then find out the errors, it can become quite catastrophic. Apart from that, how do you describe a brain? There are many different parts of the brain. It seems a bit too ambitious to encompass all that is the brain in one single model including the neurons and protein, DNA makes up etc. It’s impossible to know where the researchers should start.

We have a huge pool of data but it’s all so vast and different from one another, it can be virtually impossible to put it all together into one single brain simulation. Before we do that we need to formulate a theory and a hypothesis about how we think it works and builds from there, and not just throw all the data available to us in a computer and hope for the best. The thought of that, however, is mind-boggling and exciting.

The Impact of The Human Brain Project

Breakthroughs in neuroscience and medicine come as a result of the ongoing research. Different research groups look into different problems regarding the brain. Even with all of the ongoing research, there is still so much to learn and so little that we do know.

The questions are grand and they branch out in many different ways. Some scientists look at how babies are able to learn and speak their native language. Others connect language learning to bilingualism and its possible role in neurological diseases like dementia. Researchers look into reward systems and decision making. They try fully understanding object recognition, feature integration and biased competition of the visual neurons. The scope of the information that they need to study is endless and all of that encompasses The Human Brain Project.

The Human Brain Project Collaborative Initiative

With the advancements in all three of the fields, including research and advanced technology development, it will become possible to understand cognitive processes, advanced behavior, critical thinking, and reasoning. It will be easier to understand the genetic and environmental factors playing into the development and progression of various neurological diseases. Knowing about the diseases will help learn more about the cognitive consequences that show up as symptoms. After that, it will become possible to develop new treatment strategies in the form of drugs and therapy.

The Human Brain Project is, therefore, very ambitious. If it manages to succeed, it can become one of the greatest collaborative initiative in the world that can help us fully understand our species.

References

Markram, H. (2011). Introducing the Human Brain Project. SciVerse ScienceDirect (pp. 39-42). Lausanne: Procedia Computer Science.

Markram, H. (2012). The Human Brain Project – Preparatory Study. Lausanne: The HpB-PS Consortium.

Pregnancy Changes the Brain: Does Pregnancy Brain Have Negative Effects Long Term?

Pregnancy changes the brain. She took her pregnancy test and it was confirmed, she was going to bring a new life into this world. What an exciting time in a mother’s life when she discovers she is pregnant, the bliss fills the life of her loved ones, and from that day onwards, she lives a life of not only a woman or a wife but also takes up a new role of a mother. It is natural to have mixed feeling when a woman realizes she is pregnant, especially if she is experiencing it for the first time. She has to educate herself on many aspects of the new change, the do’s and the don’ts and, most importantly, the changes her body is going to go through. As science and technology have progressed, the awareness that pregnancy has the ability to alter a woman’s life in terms of the hormonal, physiological and emotional state of the body is much talked about, and everyday new studies are being contributed to the understanding of these changes. But did you know besides the established facts of gaining weight, hormonal changes, change in taste buds, sometimes sore feet and elevated levels of blood pressure and sugar levels, there is a strong connection between pregnancy and the brain? Let’s get educated on how pregnancy changes the brain!

How pregnancy changes the brain

Do you have “pregnancy brain”? Take the test below to find out!

4. How often do you walk into a room meaning to do something, only to forget what you were supposed to do?
  • The surge in hormones directs your attention elsewhere, which may cause you to forget things more often than usual!
5. How often do you forget common, everyday things (Ex. forgetting to put on shoes, forgetting names of family members)?
  • Sleep deprivation combined with all of your hormones can contribute to memory loss. But fear not, brain games can help you bring back some of your usual clarity!
6. How often do you feel overwhelmed?
  • It's completely normal to feel overwhelmed, especially if it's your first child! There's a lot to worry about between preparing for the new baby and caring for your own health. Just remember to take a deep breath every once in a while, and try out the tips below.
7. How often do you feel frustrated about not remembering as much as you used to?
  • It's common to feel frustrated, especially when you don't feel like your normal self. Check out the tips below to learn how you can combat this, and feel more like yourself!

Pregnancy changes the brain-General body changes

The development in a pregnant female’s body is a week by week progression and as they cross each trimester (a period of three months), the changes are more evident and noticeable. What are the changes that occur? Why do these changes happen? Are the changes reversible?

Many scholars and organizations are advocates to answer basic and complex questions that may arise during pregnancy for mothers to be. The Office on Women’s Health, U.S Department of Health and Human services (OWH) is an organization that is dedicated to educating women around U.S towards various female health related topics such as cancer, birth control, pregnancy and much more. According to OWH, the following basic information on stages of pregnancy is significant for women,

  • First Trimester (week 1 to week 12) a female’s body goes through a major hormonal change which further affects each and every organ in their body. Furthermore, the hormonal change is responsible for the tiredness, headaches,  mood swings, and food cravings.
  • Second Trimester( week 13 to week 18) observes changes such as body aches, darkening of the skin around the nipples, itching on the abdomen, sore feet and palms, stretch marks and weight gain. These changes may vary from person to person.
  • Third Trimester (week 20 to week 40), the mother can feel the baby move, but many of the discomforts of the second-trimester increase and as the baby grows, the pressure on the mother’s bladder is increased adding to the uneasiness.

As stated above, the changes mentioned (along with many others) are due to the hormonal changes that take place during pregnancy. Elevated levels of Estrogen and Progesterone (main pregnancy hormones) are primarily responsible for the variations in a female body at the time of pregnancy both externally and internally. This may also indicate how and why pregnancy changes the brain.

Pregnancy changes the brain- Gray Matter

Now that we have a basic idea of how the body changes during pregnancy, let’s try to understand how pregnancy changes the brain.

In a more recent study published in 2017 by, Hoekzema and colleagues “Pregnancy leads to long-lasting changes in human brain structure that focused on the brain change that occurs during pregnancy. The pre and post pregnancy MRI testing of 25 first-time mothers and fathers study highlighted the fact that pregnancy alters the brain structure of the mother substantially. The MRI reports suggested that Gray Matter(GM) volume was reduced in a few areas. However, this reduction was not noticed in fathers and women who did not experience childbirth. Also, the brain changes were noticed 2 years post pregnancy, confirming long lasting effects of how pregnancy changes the brain.

“Loss of volume does not necessarily translate to a loss of function,” said Hoekzema, “Sometimes less is more.”

The study of the brain and how pregnancy changes the brain has been a subject of study for many neuroscientists and other in related fields. Many studies have suggested that the gray matter is responsible for emotions, sensory perception, decision making, cognition, speech, self-control, and memory. Modifications in the gray matter might limit a mother’s social cognition skills but it prepares her with adaptive methods during the motherhood transition. The study also concentrated on the evidence that the depletion in gray matter volume overlaps the part of the brain that is actually responsible for a mother being able to recognize her baby’s needs after the baby is born. In addition, the study also provided us with significant evidence reflecting the association between the quality of mother and infant attachment is predicted due to how pregnancy changes the brain.

Pregnancy changes the brain- Hormones

As you already know, the brain gets flooded with hormones during pregnancy. During the first trimester, it’s common to feel a mix of happiness, anxiety, or even upset after an unplanned pregnancy. These feelings can intensify in the second trimester. And as you grow more uncomfortable in the third trimester, your feelings of anxiety might grow as well. For some mothers, these emotions can be more intense than usual, leading to severe anxiety symptoms or depression. And while some of the blame can be placed on the stresses of becoming a parent, we can also blame the hormones for changing the chemical balance in the brain.

But this all helps the mother to prepare for childhood by being less responsive to stress and more responsive to her child. Although it seems like all it does is change your cognitive processes or functions, it’s really helping you to be a more sensitive mother. For example, some studies actually show that when a fetus moves, the mother’s heart rate, emotions, and skin conductance increase, even if she’s not aware of the movement. A hormone, called oxytocin, also plays a major role in pregnancy. It helps to contract the muscles of the uterus during birth and is actually used by doctors to slow down bleeding during birth. And during pregnancy, the hormone helps the mother feel calmer, get more sleep, and to get more nutrients, to help with her energy levels. Once the baby is born, oxytocin is released by both mother and baby, which helps to create a sense of euphoria and to foster the mother-child bond. Want to read more about the types of neurotransmitters?

Pregnancy changes the brain

Pregnancy changes the brain- Pregnancy brain explanation

In an article published by Lisa Galea 2014 “Mother’s Day Science: From ‘Baby Brain’ to Cognitive Boost”  it was stated there are studies that provide evidence yielding that a female brain shrinks between 4 to 8 percent during pregnancy which causes a mother to be forgetful which is also called as “baby brain” or “pregnancy brain”. In addition, Galea also stresses that the changes in the brain occur due to the elevated levels of progesterone and estrogen hormones which further results in memory impairments in a pregnant female.

 Even if we place some of the blame on the hormones, only some studies show cognitive deficits during pregnancy. In fact, other studies actually show that pregnant women perform just as well as other women in cognitive tests. So what really is to blame?

Well, some people argue that, while the hormones are preparing you for motherhood, it’s directing your attention away from things you would normally pay attention to. Combine that with worries about the baby, your health, and sleep deprivation, it’s a wonder you can even function at all! So the bottom line is, just because your brain feels a little “foggier” than usual, doesn’t mean you’re losing any IQ points. It just means that your brain is getting you ready to be the best mom you can be. It means that pregnancy changes your brain in fact but in a positive way. Luckily, you can still train your brain with cognitive brain training programs, which will help you keep your cognitive skills in top shape throughout your pregnancy!

Pregnancy changes the brain: Your brain after birth

The fogginess felt during pregnancy eventually goes away after birth. And while your brain is trying to rebalance its chemistry, it’s also directing its activity to places that will help you as a mother. For example, during pregnancy, activity increases in areas controlling social interactions, empathy, and anxiety. In the postpartum period, these changes are amplified by even more hormone surges. In addition, a mother will start to feel overwhelming emotions of love, protectiveness, and worry about raising a baby. You can see the crazy effects of how pregnancy changes the brain!

Some research has shown that there is growth in the amygdala and the hypothalamus. This helps with emotional regulation, survival instincts, and the production of hormones. This growth increases weeks and months after birth. This has been linked to mothers having a positive view and positive feelings towards their baby. It also allows a mother to wake up in the middle of the night when their baby is crying, without getting too frustrated as explained in the video.

Knowing about all of these emotional changes allows us to understand things like postpartum depression, obsessive compulsions, and anxiety. In fact, amygdala damage is associated with higher depression rates in mothers. Studies also show that reward centers (such as the thalamus and amygdala) in the brain actually light up whenever a mother just stares at her baby. This causes the attentiveness and the affection a mother feels towards her baby. But in depression, this activity isn’t as prominent.

The process of childbirth is the most beautiful experience that a woman goes through and what is more amazing is to learn the changes her body goes through prior and post pregnancy. Researchers and neuroscientists are working to investigate more about how pregnancy changes the brain and body. As studies are being published, there are other questions that may arise, like “would brain change have a negative effect on a woman if she gets pregnant more than once?”

How to keep your brain sharp?

Pregnancy changes the brain can be overwhelming and it can add greatly to your stresses. Follow these tips to keep your brain sharp, and to keep you mentally healthy!

  1. Sleep deprivation can lead to much of the forgetfulness experienced during pregnancy. Not having enough sleep prevents the brain from focusing on caring for your baby. So the answer is obvious, get more sleep! This might seem like an impossible task, but getting at least 8 hours a night can really help you feel back on your feet. Fight the urge to be productive while the baby is napping and instead, opt to take a nap. And when the baby wakes up in the middle of the night, try to trade it off with your partner, so you feel less groggy in the morning.
  2. Write things down. Or more specifically, write everything down. Writing will help you greatly in trying to remember things. Not to mention, having everything in one place will keep you sane. Invest in a planner or notebook, and carry it with you everywhere, so you’re always on top of things.
  3. As established before, try playing some brain games. Brain games allow you to use your cognitive abilities and stimulate your brain using specific training exercises. CogniFit offers a large variety of free online mind games, which are specifically designed to target your overall brain health.

However, with the studies published, we can now confidently say that the changes that occur in a female’s brain due to the reduction in the gray matter are a positive change for both the mother and the child.

Do you have any questions or ideas? Leave a comment below! 🙂

References

Hoekzema E, et al. (2017) Pregnancy leads to long-lasting changes in human brain structure. Natural Neuroscience 20, 287–296.

 

Emotional Contagion: Everything You Need to Know

Emotional Contagion. Have you ever been in a bad mood and all of a sudden it seems like everyone around you is in a bad mood, too? Do you feel that your emotions and mood can be “caught” by others? Psychology says emotional contagion is the one responsible for how moods and emotions can affect others. Let this emotional contagion guide help you find out how “contagious” you are!

Emotional Contagion

What is Emotional Contagion?

Emotional Contagion is the ability to influence the emotions and behaviors of others, either directly or indirectly. The etymology of “Contagion” in emotional contagion comes from the conscious and unconscious acts of sharing our emotions with others via verbal or physical expression. Though the word “Contagion” sounds intimidating, emotional contagion is used as a strategy in work settings and relationships. Our brain adapts to an “emotional culture” and it helps us to read other’s emotions to show us how appropriate our responses should be.  Neurologists have found that mirror neurons are responsible for this phenomenon and are a useful learning tool.

Some people are more sensitive to emotional contagion rather than others. Because it can influence thoughts and feelings, the results are changes in mood as well. It is sure to note that there are certain moods and personalities that are more susceptible to being “contagious” than others.

Why is Emotional Contagion important?

Humans are social beings. We are born equipped with the evolutionary capacity of emotional contagion to help synchronize our emotions and express our wants and needs. A simple expression is a newborn baby crying to be fed because it’s the only way they know how to get food from their caretaker. This is a primitive tactic that assists in later recognition and processing of feelings and understanding how to deal with them in an appropriate manner.

Emotional Contagion is also found to be closely linked with empathy. Lack of empathy can be a sign of psychological disorders or cognitive disabilities. Scientists agree that there is an emotional climate and culture that tells us which emotions we should or should not display. And those who lack empathy may not be sensitive to processes of emotional contagion, therefore result in situations where inappropriate emotions or behaviors are expressed.

Emotional Contagion is the result of our own and others’ interpretations of thoughts and feelings. The result is expressed via mimicry and facial expressions. Imagine that you made plans with a friend but they need to cancel and perhaps you didn’t want to go in the first place. You may say, or express, that it’s a pity, but in reality, you feel a sense of relief. This is an example where one’s thoughts and behaviors don’t match. But you wouldn’t want to tell your friend that you didn’t want to go after all and that you’re ultimately relieved, right? A situation like this uses emotional contagion to let us act appropriately and remain successful in our emotional climate. Self-control and afferent feedback processes allow us to execute this correct emotional behavior.

Research shows emotional contagion is detectable in how verbal and nonverbal cues are processed by. Emotional intelligence, specifically recognition, and understanding can help us in identifying how we process emotional cues. Particularly, studies have found that our conscious assessments of other peoples’ feelings are influenced more by what others said—and in contrast, peoples’ own emotions are influenced more by nonverbal cues and opposed what they were really feeling. The act of being emotionally contagious is universal and automatic.

Because certain people and moods can be more contagious or susceptible to emotional contagion, research has also found that the energy in those moods influences can be more powerful than the actual emotion displayed. Emotional Contagion can ultimately affect our moods and the moods of others.

Importance of Emotional Contagion

Types of Emotional Contagion

We can better understand emotional contagion and how it affects our mood by learning about the two types that exist, implicit and explicit.

Implicit acts of emotional contagion

They are said to be automatic and less conscious. This includes non-verbal cues and through media communication. Texting and social media platforms are the best examples of implicit emotional contagion. A study done through Facebook users showed that the use of specific advertisements and posts by Facebook friends indirectly influence emotion and mood.

The process of afferent feedback is how we receive and translate information to provide appropriate responses to others in any specific situation, particularly with implicit acts of emotional contagion. Implicit acts require more attention ultimately because we are expending energy to process each situation, and reading others’ emotions is not always an easy task. But by doing this, we do a social comparison of our emotions with others to see if they are appropriate for the situation or not.

In fact, the science of emotional contagion shows that negative emotions are perceived stronger and quicker than positive emotions. In addition, higher energy in implicit emotional acts create stronger and quicker responses than lower energy implicit emotional acts. The more negative the emotions are and the higher the energy, the stronger our reactions may be. This is what results in our changes in mood and the feeling of being emotionally “contagious.”

Explicit acts of emotional contagion

They are used when one intend to achieve something with a purpose through manipulation. Relationships and the workplace are perfect examples where explicit acts of Emotional Contagion are perceptive enough to be effective. Affective influences, like enthusiasm by a colleague or a boss, are how ones’ influence can produce wanted results like better work ethic and goal achievement. Explicit acts of Emotional Contagion refers to the emotional labor that is most appropriate for the case and consequently may feel obligated to express, especially in work environments. Drama and acting skills are said to be a form of explicit Emotional Contagion because it is intentional and acts as a representation of internal thoughts and feelings, otherwise known as “affective impression management.”

A Two-Step Process proposed by Dr. Elaine Hatfield states that we first, imitate the people we are surrounded by and second, that there is a change in mood through “faking” the emotion

Emotional Contagion’s Physiology

Mirror Neurons are the physiological and biological reason behind emotional contagion. Here we have all the information on mirror neurons for a more in depth look at how we use them. In humans, the premotor cortex and the parietal area of the brain, hippocampus and limbic system are responsible for the execution and perceiving of emotions. The mirror neurons are fired when goal related actions are seen or performed by others. Research says that emotional contagion triggers a similar neurological activation as a process of directing experiential understanding. The mirror neurons and neural activation act as a functional mechanism to synchronize what is experienced and what is perceived.

Mimicry and facial feedback are the results of emotional contagion. Mimicry is said to be a foundation in the process of emotional contagion. Synchronization and facial motor representation are the result of the process of afferent feedback and mirror neuron firing. The amygdala is responsible for empathy and emotional response and allows us to experience and express emotion. The brain stem and basal areas, located near the amygdala, recreate the physiological state and in turn allow emotion to affect emotional expression.         

Here is a short, informational video that overviews emotional contagion!

Tips to Keep Emotional Contagion at Bay!

Now we know that it can affect our mood and affect the moods of others, even without realizing it. Here we have some tips if you think yours or others’ moods seem to “infect” the way you behave!

Be Present

When you’re in a situation and you feel any sort of emotional peer pressure, take a moment to think, “Is this how I truly feel or is this how I think I should feel?” By simply giving yourself the option that your feelings may not match your thoughts, you can come to understand which feelings are true to you or only true to who you’re with.

Fake it ’till you make it!

Everyone has bad days—but if your mood or someone else’s mood “contaminating” others, smiling and laughing are simple exercises. The muscle recognition of smiling triggers your facial memory and mirror neurons into believing you are happy, and before you know it, your appearance of happiness may be contagious for others also!

Seek Professional Guidance

If you find that your more aware or sensitive to the moods of others, you can always evaluate those relationships and those triggers. Talking with a trained professional can help you in thought pattern recognition and guide you into healthy coping skills and ward off Emotional Contagion.

Hope you enjoyed this article and feel free to leave a comment below!

Korsakoff Syndrome: inventing memories to compensate forgetfulness

Korsakoff syndrome is a memory problem that is usually due to alcohol abuse or overly restrictive diets that lead to vitamin deficiency. Find out here what it consists of, what are its main symptoms, causes, treatment and how we prevent it.

Korsakoff Syndrome

What is the Korsakoff Syndrome?

Korsakoff syndrome is a chronic memory disorder due to severe deficiency of thiamine, or vitamin B1.

Thiamin helps the brain produce energy from sugar. When levels fall drastically brain cells can’t generate enough energy to function properly and as a result, Korsakoff syndrome can develop.

It is believed that this deficiency causes damage to the thalamus and mammillary bodies of the hypothalamus. Mammillary bodies are brain parts or small structures with many connections to the hippocampus (an area closely related to memory). There is also general brain atrophy, loss, and neuronal damage.

Research has shown that this deficiency alters the substances responsible for transmitting signals between brain cells and storing memories. These alterations can destroy neurons and cause bleeding and microscopic scars throughout the brain tissue.

This syndrome is often, but not always, preceded by an episode of Wernicke’s encephalopathy. This consists of an acute reaction of the brain due to a severe lack of thiamine. Wernicke’s encephalopathy is a medical emergency that causes severe life-threatening brain disturbance, mental confusion, uncoordinated movement and abnormal and involuntary eye movements. Because Korsakoff syndrome is commonly preceded by an episode of Wernicke’s encephalopathy, the chronic disorder is sometimes called Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. However, Korsakoff can develop without a previous episode of this encephalopathy.

Korsakoff Syndrome Symptoms

Korsakoff is characterized by memory problems but retaining consciousness. This may give the impression during conversations that he is in full possession of his faculties.

However, he has severe alterations in recent memory. The person will ask the same questions over and over again, read the same page for hours, and is not able to recognize the people they have seen several times in the course of his illness.

Memory problems can be very severe, both short-term memory and long-term memory with many memory gaps or memory loss, while other skills such as social or thoughts may be relatively intact.

The main symptoms are:

  • Anterograde amnesia: inability to form new memories or learn new information.
  • Retrograde amnesia: severe loss of existing memories, prior to the beginning of the disease.
  • Confabulations: invented memories that are believed by the individual himself as real because of memory gaps.
  • Conversation with low content.
  • Lack of introspection.
  • Apathy.

Individuals with Korsakoff syndrome may show different symptoms. In some cases, a patient may continue to “live in the past”, convinced that his life and the world remain unchanged since the beginning of the disorder.

Others may display a wide variety of confabulations. Retrograde amnesia does not happen to all memories alike but affects more in recent events. The older the memories, the more they remain intact. This may be because recent memories are not fully consolidated in our brains, therefore, being more vulnerable to their loss.

Confabulations in Korsakoff Syndrome

One of the most characteristic symptoms of people with Korsakoff syndrome is the confabulations. They often “collude” or invent information they can’t remember. It is not that they are “lying”, but actually believe their invented explanations. There is still no agreed scientific explanation as to why this happens.

Korsakoff Syndrome-Confabulations

Some people may show constant, even frenetic, conspiracies. They continually invent new identities, with detailed and convincing stories that support them, to replace the reality they have forgotten.

Causes of Korsakoff Syndrome

We know that excessive intake of alcohol can harm our nervous system. In fact, in most cases, Korsakoff’s syndrome is due to alcohol abuse and its consequences on our brain.

Research has identified some genetic variations that may increase the risk of this disorder. In addition, poor nutrition can also be an important factor.

Korsakoff syndrome can also be caused by eating disorders, such as anorexia, overly restrictive diets, starvation, or sudden weight loss after surgery. Also by uncontrolled vomiting, HIV virus, chronic infection or cancer that has spread throughout the body.

Treatment of Korsakoff Syndrome

Intervention for Korsakoff syndrome should be approached from a multidisciplinary point of view, in which doctors, psychologists, and neuropsychologists will work to achieve the best results.

Some experts recommend that people who consume large amounts of alcohol or have other risks of thiamine deficiency, take oral supplements, always under the supervision of a doctor.

It is also recommended that anyone who has had a history of alcohol abuse or symptoms associated with Wernicke’s encephalopathy be injected with thiamine. For people who develop Korsakoff Syndrome, treatment with oral thiamine, other vitamins and magnesium may increase the chances of symptoms improving.

A psychological intervention will revolve around maintaining alcohol abstinence. From the neuropsychological point of view, it will help to compensate for their deficits, so that the patient can integrate socially and lead a life as normal as possible. CogniFit is a tool that trains different cognitive skills affected by Korsakoff Syndrome. 

Prognosis of Korsakoff syndrome

Some data suggest that about 25 percent of people with Korsakoff syndrome recover, half improve but don’t fully recover, and another 25 percent remain the same.

According to these researchers, the mortality rate is high, between 10 and 20%. This is mainly due to lung infection, septicemia, liver decompensation disorder and an irreversible thiamine deficiency state.

Early attention and treatment for Korsakoff symptoms is very important. Early treatment of Wernicke’s encephalopathies may improve prognosis and prevent Korsakoff’s syndrome. For example, eye problems begin to improve in hours or days, motor problems, in days or weeks. Although some 60% of patients may have some residual symptoms.

According to these authors, once the Korsakoff syndrome has been established, the prognosis is quite pessimistic. Approximately 80% of patients are left with a chronic memory disorder. These can get to learn simple and repetitive tasks that involve procedural memory (motor memory).

Cognitive recovery is slow and incomplete and reaches its highest level of recovery after one year of treatment. Although recovery may occur, it depends on factors such as age or alcohol withdrawal.

Tips for Preventing Korsakoff Syndrome

Tips for Preventing Korsakoff Syndrome

The primary advice is to reduce your alcohol intake to a minimum. The less alcohol, the better. Although we think that drink very little, the fact is that even in small amounts, we are already damaging our body.

  • A healthy and non-restrictive diet will ensure the synthesis of the vitamins needed to function properly and in particular thiamine or B1.
  • Go to the doctor whenever we detect memory problems. He will establish if it is a problem associated with normal aging or some kind of dementia.
  • Maintain a good support system, since loved ones will be of help in case any disturbing symptoms appear.
  • If you think you drink more than you do and don’t know how to quit, go to a professional who will help you reduce your alcohol intake.

Feel free to leave a comment below.

This article is originally in Spanish written by Andrea García Cerdán, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Hippocampus: the orchestra director in the deepest part of our brain

Hippocampus. Have you ever gone blank and forgotten what you were going to say? Our brain is full of important data and information that we have stored over the years. Sometimes we have so much information that we force our brain to get rid and ignore some data. The part of the brain in charge of such important functions as memory and learning is the hippocampus. Without this brain structure, we would lose the ability to remember and feel the emotions associated with memories. You want to know more? Keep reading!

Hippocampus

What is the Hippocampus?

The hippocampus is named after the anatomist Giulio Cesare Aranzio who in the 16th century observed that this brain structure bears a great resemblance to a seahorse.

The word hippocampus comes from the Greek Hippos (horse) and Kampe (crooked). In his discovery, this part of the brain was related to the sense of smell and he advocated the explanation that the hippocampus’ main function was to process the olfactory stimuli.

This explanation was defended until in 1890 when Vladimir Béjterev demonstrated the actual function of the hippocampus in relation to memory and cognitive processes. It is one of the most important parts of the human brain because it is closely related to memory functioning and emotions. It is a small organ located within the temporal lobe (approximately behind each temple), which communicates with different areas of the cerebral cortex in what is known as the “hippocampus system.” It is a small organ with an elongated and curved shape. Inside our brain, we have two hippocampi, one in each hemisphere (left and right).

The hippocampus is known as the main structure in memory processing.

Where is the Hippocampus?

It is very well located, connected to different regions of the brain. It is located in the middle temporal lobe.

The hippocampus along with other brain structures such as the amygdala and hypothalamus form the limbic system and are responsible for managing the most primitive physiological responses. They belong to the most “ancient, deep and primitive” part of the brain, in a part of the brain known as “archicortex” (the oldest region of the human brain) that appeared millions of years ago in our ancestors to meet their most basic needs.

The blue part is the hippocampus

What does the Hippocampus do?

Among its main functions are the mental processes related to memory consolidation and the learning process. As well as, processes associated with the regulation and production of emotional states and spatial perception. How does the brain learn?

Some research has also linked it to behavioral inhibition, but this information is still in the research phase as it is fairly recent.

Hippocampus and Memory

The hippocampus is primarily related to emotional memory and declarative memory. It allows us to identify faces, to describe different things and to associate the positive or negative feelings that we feel with the memories of the lived events.

It intervenes in forming both episodic and autobiographical memories from the experiences we are living. The brain needs to “make room” to be able to store all the information over the years and for this, it transfers the temporal memories to other areas of the brain where memory storage takes place in the long term.

In this way, older memories take longer to disappear. If the hippocampus were damaged, we would lose the ability to learn and the ability to retain information in memory. In addition to allowing the information to pass into long-term memory, it links the contents of the memory with positive or negative emotions that correspond depending on whether the memories are associated with good or bad experiences.

There are many types of memory: semantic memory, visual memory, working memory, implicit memory, etc. In the case of the hippocampus, it intervenes specifically in declarative memory (it covers our personal experiences and the knowledge we have about the world), managing the contents that can be expressed verbally. The different types of memory are not governed solely by the hippocampus but are formed by other brain regions. It does not take care of all the processes related to memory loss but it covers a good part of them.

Hippocampus and Learning

It allows learning and retention of information since it is one of the few areas of the brain that have neurogenesis throughout life.

That is, it has the ability to generate new neurons and new connections between neurons throughout the life cycle. Learning is acquired gradually after many efforts and this is directly related to it. For new information to be consolidated in our brains, it is vitally important that new connections are formed between neurons. That is why the hippocampus has a fundamental role in learning.

Curiosity: Is it true that the hippocampus of London taxi drivers is bigger or more developed? Why? London taxi drivers must pass a hard memory test where they must memorize a myriad of streets and places to get the license. In the year 2000, Maguire studied London taxi drivers and observed that the posterior hippocampus was greater. He also noted that the size was directly proportional to the time the taxi drivers were working. This is because of the effect of training, learning and experience changes and shapes the brain.

Spatial perception and its relationship with the hippocampus

Another important function in which the hippocampus stands out is the spatial orientation, where it plays a very important role.

Spatial perception helps us to keep our mind and body in a three-dimensional space. It allows us to move and helps us interact with the world around us.

There have been different studies with mice where it is stated that it is an area of vital importance for orientation capacity and spatial memory.

Thanks to its correct functioning, we are capable of performing acts such as guiding us through cities we do not know, etc. However, the data concerning people are much more limited and more research is needed.

What happens when the hippocampus is disturbed?

An injury to the hippocampus can mean problems generating new memories. An brain injury can cause anterograde amnesia, affecting specific memories but leaving intact learning skills or abilities.

Lesions can cause anterograde or retrograde amnesia. Non-declarative memory would remain intact and uninjured. For example, a person with a hippocampal injury may learn to ride a bicycle after the injury, but he would not remember ever seeing a bicycle. That is, a person with the damaged hippocampus can continue to learn skills but not remember the process.

Anterograde amnesia is memory loss that affects events occurring after the injury. Retrograde amnesia, on the other hand, affects the forgetfulness generated before the injury.

At this point, you will wonder why the hippocampus is damaged when there are cases of amnesia. It is simple, this part of the brain acts as a gateway to brain patterns that sporadically retain events until they pass to the frontal lobe. One could say that the hippocampus is key to memory consolidation, transforming short-term memory into long-term memory. If this access door is damaged and you can’t save the information, it won’t be possible to produce longer-term memories. In addition to losing the ability to remember, when injuries or damage to the hippocampus occurs, you may lose the ability to feel the emotions associated with such memories, since you would not be able to relate the memories to the emotions that evoke it.

Why can the Hippocampus be damaged?

Most of the alterations that may occur in the hippocampus are produced as a result of aging and neurodegenerative diseases, stress, stroke, epilepsy, aneurysms, encephalitis, schizophrenia.

Aging and dementias

In aging in general and dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease in particular, the hippocampus is one of the areas that has previously been damaged, impairing the ability to form new memories or the ability to recall more or less recent autobiographical information. Memory problems, in this case, are associated with the death of hippocampal neurons.

Most of us know of someone who has suffered or suffers from some kind of dementia and has experienced memory loss. It is curious how the memories that remain are childhood memories or the oldest memories. You may wonder why this happens if the hippocampus is supposed to be damaged.

Well, although it is severely damaged (whether by dementia or any other type of illness), the most common memories are the oldest and they are also the most relevant to the life of the person. This is because over time these memories have been “becoming independent” of the hippocampus to be part of other structures related to long-term memory.

Hippocampus and stress

This region of the brain is very vulnerable to periods of stress because it inhibits and atrophies the neurons of this structure.

Have you noticed that when we are very stressed and we have a billion things to do sometimes we feel forgetful?

Stress and specifically cortisol (a type of hormone that is released in response to stressful moments) damage our brain structures sometimes causing neuronal death. That is why it is fundamental that we learn to remain calm and manage our emotions to get our hippocampus to remain strong and continue to exercise their functions optimally.

To know more watch the following video.

If you like this super interesting subject about memory, I recommend you watch the movie “Memento”. I’ll leave the trailer here so you can see what it’s about.

If you liked this post, leave your comment below. I will be happy to read it and answer your questions :).

This article is originally in Spanish written by Mairena Vázquez, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

What is MSG: Everything you need to know about this flavor enhancer

What is MSG and what is it used for? What is the relationship between MSG and the fifth flavor or umami? Should we avoid this flavor enhancer? In this article we explain everything about monosodium glutamate: With what other names this food additive is known, what foods contain it, its relationship with obesity, the Chinese restaurant syndrome, and we give you some advice.

What is MSG

You may have heard the word glutamate somewhere, but do not know very well what it is, or what it means. Sometimes we even get information of how bad it is but have no idea why. For example, we hear about the effects of foods with glutamate in our body. In this article, we will develop what you need to know about this amino acid.

What is MSG or monosodium glutamate? This substance, also known as MSG or sodium glutamate, is the sodium salt of glutamic acid (one of the most abundant essential amino acids in nature). MSG is a food additive, which provides the same “umami” flavor that we can find naturally in some foods. Chemically, they are the same. The food industry uses and commercializes monosodium glutamate as a food additive or “seasoning” to enhance the flavor of some foods.

MSG, by itself, does not have a pleasant taste. It is necessary to complement this substance with other foods so that it can enhance, harmonize, and balance the flavor of certain dishes, making them more appetizing.

What is MSG in foods? Monosodium glutamate combines very well with different foods: Meats, fish, vegetables, soups, sauces and contributes for these to have a more pleasant taste.

This additive has been considered non-toxic and safe if consumed in normal quantities. However, there seems to be a group of people who manifest symptoms, such as vomiting, nausea or diarrhea, when they consume foods prepared with MSG.

What is MSG and its relationship with “umami” or fifth flavor?

We all know the basic flavors of taste (sweet, bitter, salty and acidic). Well, in addition to these, we have to include the umami, the taste of monosodium glutamate. For many it may sound like something new or strange, however, it was identified as a flavor by Kikunae Ikeda in 1908.

This scientist investigated algae rich in umami and managed to isolate one of the components of these algae, MSG or Monosodium Glutamate.

“Umami” in Japanese, means “delicious” or “deep flavor” because, after eating it, the flavor remains in your mouth. In fact, it has such a pleasant taste that it encourages to continue eating more of that product.

  • We can learn to identify MSG taste by concentrating on the center of our tongue. The biologist Charles Zuker, determined in 2001 that the largest number of taste receptors specific for this taste are there, in the center of the tongue.

Surely, you have eaten foods that had this characteristic flavor, but since we do not have this word in our vocabulary, we simply describe it with either a “mmmm” or  “wow this is so tasty!” You may even have tried some pre-cooked food or bag snacks and commented, “I don’t know why but I can not stop eating it!”.

Even if you stop to think about it, there are various commercials, which indirectly allude to the properties of Monosodium Glutamate (MSG). They bet that “you won’t resist just eating one” or they warn you, suggestively, that “once you pop open the bag, you won’t be able to stop”.

What is MSG and what other names does it have?

Monosodium Glutamate is a flavor enhancer that appears on food labels in different ways. This amino acid receives different names, such as:

  • E-621
  • Hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • Self-leavening yeast
  • Hydrolyzed casein
  • Hydrolyzed corn
  • Hydrolyzed Wheat Gluten
  • Proteins
  • Whey protein concentrate
  • Citric acid
  • Partially hydrolyzed whey
  • Hydrolyzed milk protein

What is MSG and what food contains it?

There are many other foods that contain monosodium glutamate added to generate this flavor and increase its consumption. We could consider it a sort of “trick” of the food industry to raise its income, increasing the demand for these “succulent snacks”:

  • Appetizers, fried foods, snacks
  • Cold meats and sausages
  • Pâtes
  • Olives, pickles, pickles …
  • Pre-cooked food
  • Instant soup
  • Frozen food
  • Prepared sauces and soy sauce
  • Junk Food (frozen pizzas, kebabs, hamburgers …)

What is MSG ?- MSG effects?  Relationship between MSG and obesity

Should you avoid MSG? After reading this article, the next time you go to the supermarket you will start reading the labels and you will find that MSG is everywhere in its E621 form.

Glutamate can affect us negatively when we exceed a certain intake. However, this is like with everything. If you exceed in eating fruit it can be negative for your health as well. Nothing is good in excess, therefore it is advisable to limit consumption.

Try not to get too caught up on this. It’s true that there is a relationship between MSG and overweight, but it doesn’t mean that monosodium glutamate is directly fattening. MSG’s relationship with obesity is as follows:

Consume high processed foods like snacks, junk food, pre-cooked food, etc:

  • One of the main characteristics of this type of food is that it is loaded with sugars and trans fats, which in turn make us feel not satisfied nor full. Apart from these additions, we might guess that MSG is also added to the mix, to make it more flavorful and increase our intake of the product. Thus, Monosodium Glutamate contributes indirectly to weight gain, but it isn’t alone. What really fattens us is the consumption of hypercaloric foods, especially if it is part of our regular diet.
  • Lack of self-control: There are people who are more controlled at mealtimes than others. As much as a food carries MSG and your brain asks you for more, we are owners of our actions. Therefore, it is up to us, and only us, to decide to eat only a portion or less. This is highly related to impulsive behaviors and the immediate gratification of a desire or need.

What is MSG and its relationship with Chinese food?- Chinese Restaurant Syndrome

What is MSG- Chinese Restaurant Syndrome

You may have heard about how Chinese food or products used can be detrimental to your health. Some things you have heard will be rumors or speculations. However, there is something that is real.

These restaurants have become common to produce certain symptoms that have been labeled part of the “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”.

Something I want to clarify before is that these symptoms are a consequence of free-form amino acids.

  • Origin: It was first described by Dr. Kwok
  • Beginning: Appearance around 15-20 minutes of starting a meal prepared with MSG.
  • Duration: 2 hours
  • Symptoms:
    • Cervical hardening with pain radiating to both arms and back.
    • General weakness
    • Palpitations
    • Headache
    • Sickness

Dr. Taliaferro undertook an analysis of the situation in the Journal of Environmental Health, stating: “All competent international agencies agree that the normal and controlled use of Monosodium Glutamate does not pose a health hazard”.

The Committee of Experts on Food Additives of the World Health Organization,  Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), the Scientific Committee for Food of the European Community, and the American Medical Association have expressed this on different occasions. Even the demanding US FDA has classified Glutamate as generally recognized as safe or GRAS substance in the same group as salt, pepper or sugar.

“There is no scientific evidence establishing that glutamate causes, in particular, severe adverse reactions or that  reactions from low concentrations pose a threat “- US FDA

What does this all say? There are people who are more vulnerable or sensitive to MSG. The best thing is to do is to control consumption and not eat large quantities of food containing this product.

What is MSG-Recommendations

Health seems to be the key to the survival human beings. We aim for stability, good habits, superb cognitive skills, physical and brain training routines and a balanced diet. With MSG it’s the same, to be healthy just try to consume it with moderation and always within a balanced diet.
On the other hand, knowledge is power and, with food, it is very important to know what you are eating. We have already seen what other names MSG has on labels, therefore, it is your decision if you want to ingest it or not.

Anyway, these are our conclusions. You can contribute more information if you like. What do you think? Have you suffered any of the Chinese restaurant syndrome symptoms? Have you ever heard of Monosodium Glutamate? Do you know any myths or truths about this amino acid? Just remember are what we eat.

As always, I invite you to comment below!

This article is originally in Spanish written by Patricia Sanchez Seisdedos, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

What Is Brain Freeze: Why we get it and ways to avoid it

Summer is finally here. It’s time for ice-cream! YAYYYY!!!! Woops I got carried away and ate mine too quickly. Now I have a brain freeze! Hold on, why is my brain suddenly in pain if there are no pain receptors in the brain itself? Keep reading to find out what is brain freeze, why does it happen and how can we avoid it?

Brain Freeze

What is Brain Freeze?

Brain freeze, also commonly known as ice cream headache, is commonly experienced during the summer. However, it doesn’t have to be. A brain freeze, in simple terms, is a sudden onset of an extremely intense headache that also ends very quickly. Brain freezes are often associated with the consumption of cold foods and drinks, such as ice cream, iced coffee, and so much more. There are plenty of reasons why people get brain freeze, but there are also plenty of ways to stop it once it’s happening as well as strategies to avoid it for the future!

What Causes Brain Freeze?

Ice-cream headaches are caused by cold material moving across the warm upper palate (roof of the mouth) and the back of your throat, such as when you eat a popsicle quickly or gulp your milkshake. It normally happens when the weather is very hot, and the individual consumers something too fast.

Scientists are still unsure about the exact mechanism that causes this pain. Research conducted by Dr. Jorge Serrador, at Harvard Medical School, explained that until now, scientists have not been able to fully understand what causes brain freeze.

“The brain is one of the relatively important organs in the body, and it needs to be working all the time. It’s fairly sensitive to temperature, so [expanding arteries] might be moving warm blood inside tissue to make sure the brain stays warm” -Jorge Serrador

The team of researchers recruited 13 healthy adult volunteers. They were asked to sip ice-cold water through a straw so that the liquid would hit their upper palate. Blood flow in their brain was monitored using a Transcranial Doppler test. They found that that the pain associated with ice-cream headaches were brought on by a rapid increase in blood flow through a major blood vessel into the brain – the anterior cerebral artery. As soon as the artery constricted, the brain-freeze pain sensation wore off.

The brain itself does not feel pain because there are no pain receptors located in the brain tissue itself. This is why neurosurgeons can operate on brain tissue without causing a patient discomfort, and, in some cases can even perform surgery while the patient is awake. The pain associated with brain freeze is sensed by receptors in the outer covering of the brain called the meninges, where the two arteries meet.

Brain freeze can affect anyone. But previous studies revealed that you may be more susceptible to ice-cream headaches or have more-severe ice-cream headaches if you’re prone to migraines. Because of this, neuroscientists think the migraines and ice-cream headaches might share some kind of common mechanism or cause, so they decided to use brain freeze to study migraines.

Headaches like migraines are difficult to study because they are unpredictable. Researchers are not able to monitor a whole one from start to finish in the lab. They can give drugs to induce migraines, but those can also have side effects that interfere with the results. Brain freeze can quickly and easily be used to start a headache in the lab, and it also ends
quickly, which makes monitoring the entire event easy.

Analyzing brain freeze may seem like silly science to some, but it’s actually very helpful in understanding other types of headaches. Here is a video summary on what causes brain freeze.

How do we get brain freeze?

1.Consuming something cold in a warm climate.

Our bodies go through homeostasis, the mechanism to return a body back to its comfortable condition, often. Brain freeze is another form of homeostasis. Our bodies don’t like an extreme change in temperature, ever. In addition to being in a warm environment, our bodies internal homeostatic temperature rests around 98.6. Meaning, you can experience brain freeze in both warm and cool climates. So, when we eat something very cold, our brains and our bodies go into a form of shock, and brain freeze is the immediate response that happens as a means to tell you to stop eating whatever you’re eating.

2.Having something cold touch the top of your palate.

As explained before, our brains can’t actually feel pain. What can feel pain, however, are our cranial nerves or nerves in general. It is believed that there are nerves connected to the roofs of our mouths that when cold touches them, the natural nerve response is the swelling and shrinking of blood vessels. As you could imagine, when something swells and shrinks this can cause a form of pain that mimics the pain that people feel when they have a throbbing headache.

3.Genetics

You may be reading this article and thinking, “I’ve never experienced brain freeze even though I’ve done these things”. As it turns out, that is actually normal! There seems to be a huge genetic predisposition for people to get brain freezes if they are predisposed to getting migraines as well. If you get brain freezes and ask your parents if they do as well, it is very likely that both of your parents will tell you that they experience brain freezes as well. Unfortunately, there is no way to help with this factor, but there are ways to stop your brain freezes when they do occur!

How do you to stop a brain freeze once it has commenced?

1.Raise your tongue to the top of your mouth.

Unsurprisingly, since a brain freeze often occurs because your palate is too cold, pressing your tongue to the top of your mouth will heat it up, alleviating brain freeze faster than if you did nothing.

2.Put your thumb on the top of your mouth.

Shocking! This is the exact same reason that one would suggest for you to put your tongue on the top of your mouth. However, sometimes you’re when eating something cold your tongue can also get cold, thus making it harder to warm the top of your mouth. Your finger is most likely warmer than the inside of your mouth and will help instantaneously!

3.Tilt your head back for at least 10 seconds.

This trick does not consistently work for everyone, but for some people, it’s a great strategy! A change in your blood flow around your brain area can often help with the fast alleviation of discomfort. This strategy is less embarrassing to do in public so you may want to see if this is a good strategy for you!

4.Cover your mouth and nose with your hands and breathe quickly.

This will create a somewhat instantaneous warm environment for you to breathe into and it will warm the top of your mouth extremely fast. Sort of like when you’re in snow and your natural reaction is to cover your mouth with your hands. This trick will work for a brain freeze as well!

5.Spit out whatever you’re eating or drinking.

This one definitely doesn’t need an explanation, but getting rid of the problem will, obviously, get rid of the problem!

6.Take a short walk.

If you take a short walk (or a long walk, if you’re in for it!) you will catalyze blood flow all around your body. This will additionally send some added blood flow to your brain, which will alleviate the discomfort that you are feeling as a result of brain freeze. Don’t stay seated, perhaps do some jumping jacks! Any form of movement will actually help and speed up the recovery time.

7.Drink a drink that’s warmer than your cold food or drink.

Just like your brain didn’t appreciate you quickly changing your temperature by eating or drinking an extremely cold food or drink, it won’t love it if you drink a piping hot drink either. So, drink a room temperature drink to will help warm up the top of your palate but not make your body go into shock.

8.Give yourself a massage in the area that hurts.

Not everyone experiences brain freeze in the exact same areas. So, depending on where you’re feeling pain, if you rub or put pressure on that area, it will actually release some of the tension in that area. It’s sort of like when you rub a sore muscle. This in fact also works for headaches!

9.Waiting.

Okay, this may not be the most helpful tip. However, just as a brain freeze is a sudden onset of the discomfort you experience, it also goes away relatively quickly. So, if you just suck it up for a little bit, it will go away before you know it. Maybe distract yourself in the meantime so you’re not completely focusing on it. Other than that, do the other suggestions mentioned above!

Brain Freeze

How to prevent a brain freeze in the future?

1.Eat/drink slower!

It is often the speed in which you are drinking or eating that causes your brain freeze, not only the temperature of what you’re drinking. The slower you drink, the less shock you’re giving to your palate and the more likely that you can just experience the typical experience of consuming something cold.

2.Don’t drink cold drinks through a straw.

Straws make people drink must faster than if they’re drinking from a cup. So, for the same reason that you’re supposed to drink slower, try to not use a straw to help yourself slow down in the consumption of your drink.

3.But if you are going to drink through a straw, aim the straw to the side of your mouth.

This is another strategy for you to miss your palate when you’re eating. Anything that you can do to consume something without touching your palate is going to make it that much more likely that you won’t experience brain freeze.

4.Eat cold items without touching the food to your palate.

This is extremely logical as the cause of brain freeze is from the cold touching your palate. So, if you can figure out a strategy to eat or drink and miss your palate, you’re going to be good to go! Enjoy your meal without worrying about the uncomfortable effects of brain freeze.

5.Take smaller sips or bites.

If you haven’t realized by now, the common theme here is eating or drinking your cold item less quickly. So, by taking smaller sips or bites, you will make it more likely that you won’t eat or drink as quickly as you would’ve otherwise.

6.Stand by a refrigerator or something else that’s cold before eating or drinking.

As it was mentioned earlier, people are more likely to experience a brain freeze when they are in a warm climate. So, if your body is as cold as the drink you’re drinking, you’re a little less likely to get the brain freeze that you would on a beach. Although this is not always the most practical solution, it is another one!

7.Keep your drink in the front of your mouth for a while before you swallow.

As weird as this sounds, this will actually warm up your drink and not hit your palate when it’s at its coldest temperature. If you really want to enjoy the flavor of your cold drink but can’t endure the pain you get from brain freeze, this is a perfect preventative measure for you!

All in all, the biggest takeaway is that brain freeze is an extremely unpleasant and painful sensation for those of us who experience it. Luckily, even without these strategies, brain freeze doesn’t often last more than a minute. But, using a different plan of action to avoid brain freeze will help extremely. Especially since those of us that experience brain freeze, myself included, also experience migraines. Although migraines are much worse and there’s medication to help with that issue, there is no reason for anyone to experience brain freeze! Our bodies are extremely smart and evolutionarily adaptive for having brain freeze, but every logical person knows they shouldn’t be drinking something that is really cold too fast. Check out more things that can be migraine triggers.

So, just think about the pain you will inevitably experience when drinking a cold drink and use these tactics to make your life less difficult! Now that you’ve got the best tips, you’re ready for the summer. Enjoy! Feel free to leave a comment below.

References

Blatt MM, Falvo M, Jasien J, et al. Cerebral vascular blood flow changes duringbrain freeze‘ FASEB Journal. 2012;26:685.4