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Effective Communication Skills: 10+ tips for speaking up at work, school, or wherever.

Have you ever wanted to communicate better? Do you feel insecure when speaking in public? Is it hard for you to write? Do you not know what to say sometimes? In this article, we will tell you what are effective communication skills, what types there are and where can you apply them. Furthermore, we will give you tips on how to improve them.

Effective communication skills

Effective communication skills: Definition and purpose

Communication skills can be defined as a set of skills that enable a person to communicate properly. According to Hymes, the creator of this concept, effective communication skills consist of knowing “when to speak, when not, and what to talk about, with whom, when, where, in what form“.

We interact constantly with other people and we can’t stop expressing ourselves. Therefore, mastering these skills is fundamental to our personal and social development. We use them when speaking, listening, reading and writing.

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Nowadays it’s hard to get away from our computer screens and mobile phones. Communication is constantly changing and we have to quickly adapt to it. Even so, no matter with what you communicate, you need to use effective communication skills.

We all know how upsetting misunderstandings are. We also know or can imagine the uncomfortable feeling when someone doesn’t pay attention to us when we speak. Sometimes, it’s inevitable that what we say is not interesting or that there are errors in the communicative process. However, here we will give you some guidelines to encounter those situations as little as possible. Discover how to improve your communication skills.

Effective communication skills: Applications

We can’t stop communicating, even if we try. A single gesture betrays us. In fact, even when we are alone we talk to ourselves. Finding the right words and thoughts comes in handy in all aspects of life. We will mention three main ones.

1. Effective communication skills at work

People who work harder or better don’t always receive all the attention. Sometimes the main thing is how ideas are sold to the boss and the power of persuasion. Effective communication skills allow us to develop influential techniques and reach a greater audience.

At the professional level, it is essential to know how to deal adequately with peers, make good decisions even in stressful situations or under job stress. This is one of the reasons why effective communication skills are increasingly valued.

They are almost as important as mastering other languages or handling various computer programs. A person with good communicative skills stands out above the others in several areas and is the most prominent candidate in job interviews.

Specifically at work, effective communication skills are highly valued as well as assertiveness. Communicating what you need in a polite and respected way is very important in corporation settings.

2. Effective communication skills in education

We can train these skills from childhood, the best and most appropriate way to develop these skills is in our natural environment. Communicating well improves our personal relationships and our well-being. It makes us feel competent.

It is essential to include these skills while teaching. If we make sure that our children are capable of effectively communicating then we will make sure they become resolute and satisfied adults.  Likewise, we will be able to improve our communication with children. In order to educate in communication, we also have to be good communicators. It is impossible to convey this knowledge well if we are not good role models to imitate.

3. Effective communication skills in everyday life

We need these skills to communicate constantly. For example, to tell our roommate to wash the dishes, give bad news to a friend or send a postcard to our relatives. From the smallest to the most complicated interaction, we are in constant demand to effectively communicate ourselves. Communicating well saves time, effort and makes life more enjoyable.

Everyday effective communication skills what us come complex settings. It’s like a trial run for complicated situations for us to see our mistakes and work through so we can communicate effectively in other areas of our daily life.In

4. Effective communication skills in a difficult conversation

We all have conversations that we feel are difficult to tackle, here are some things to keep in mind when dealing with this issue. Miscommunication is very common because even though we might be in a conversation speaking the same language, our interactions are more complex than you could imagine. The next video explains how miscommunication is very easy and how to avoid it.

a) Deliver more positive than negative feedback

Postive statements are those that come across as supportive, appreciative, encouraging, meanwhile negative ones are those that are critical, disapproving and contradictory. Our brain tends to focus on the negative aspects more than the positive, therefore, it’s important to deliver around five to six times as many positive statements to every negative statement. This comes in handy not only for work settings but personal relationships as well.

b) Facial expression

Remember that emotional intelligence is all about reading another person’s emotion and empathizing. For effective communication skills, it’s important to focus on their facial expression. Smiling is important for social interactions when delivering feedback try to keep your facial expression as positive as possible and always looking for cues of how the other person might take it.

c) Stress the importance of working together to solve difficulties

When speaking about a problem always try to describe the situation without any evaluation, identify your feelings regarding the situation (don’t place blame) and suggest solutions that can make it better (avoid arguing about who is right or wrong).

d) Eye contact

Psychologists describe resonance as a person’s ability to read someone else’s emotions. This is mainly done through eye contact, it allows for people to create a connection and helps with feedback.

e) Be authentic 

Even though there are many tips on how to effectively communicate in complicated situations the critical aspect of all is that you should always remain authentic. If you come out as someone other than yourself your efforts will backfire.

f) Be Compassionate

Treat every conversation, regardless of context, as an opportunity to connect with another person who has their own needs and pain. Everyone, at some point, goes through tough times, sad times, etc. By remembering the human experiences we all share, you will find that you are able to bring kindness and compassion into the conversation.

Effective communication skills in everyday life

10 Characteristics of a person with effective communication skills

1. They are observers

In a way empathy allows us to infer the mental states of others. Good communicators know how to anticipate the reactions of others, recognize them, and modify their speech accordingly.

2. Can understand the context

People with effective communication skills are characterized by being curious about the world and adapting to the individual, social and cultural differences. Imagine that you are traveling to an Asian country and you notice that its inhabitants feel uncomfortable talking to you. It is probably because they consider disrespectful to stare into their eyes.

We do not have to go that far to assess the situation. It is important to always take into account your surroundings when assessing the best way to communicate.

3. Have high self-efficacy

They see obstacles as challenges. Believing in our possibilities makes it easier for us to focus on what we have to say without being distracted by our insecurities. It is normal to have certain doubts (and convenient when learning to improve ourselves), but there are appropriate ways to value more the perception that we have about our abilities.

4. They are respectful

A person with effective communication skills is able to talk to people with whom he disagrees and not lose their temper or patience. This is complicated if we argue about politics, religion or football. How many times have we seen people lose their tempers over nonsense? Good communicators accept the other person’s point of view and give their arguments kindly.

5. They are emotionally intelligent

They worry about what their interlocutor feels. They are assertive and empathetic. They know what questions they have to ask, how to address them, and when it is best to keep quiet.

6. They are organized

They order their thoughts before explaining them. They think before they speak and are not afraid to admit that they don’t know something. Both speaking and writing require that we order our ideas consistently. This way we will make it easier for our interlocutor to follow our argument and find our words more attractive.

7. They are creative

They tend to tell stories to generate emotional bonds with their listener, create the right metaphors, look for witty and memorable examples, etc. They are flexible and know what is best for each occasion.

8. Have good references

They examine other’s communication skills and take the best out of each encounter. They learn fast and perfect their techniques. If this is not something you tend to do, put it into practice as an exercise to achieve effective communication skills.  

9. They are not afraid to be wrong

We can’t have everything under control, no matter how effective our communicative skills. Excellent communicators are not great for their perfection. They are great because they learn from their mistakes, they don’t give up and take their mistakes with humor. Failures are inherent in the communicative process.

10. Practice, practice, and practice

It is true that there are people who seem to have a supernatural ability to communicate. However, this potential is wasted if our communicative skills are not exercised. A little rehearsal never hurts. Practice enough to make sure your communicative skills are effective. 

Types of effective communication skills

1. Grammatical or linguistic skills for effective communication

Language knowledge is important for this skill. This consists of integrating every aspect of the language, form, and meaning, maintaining a bidirectional relationship.  It includes the phonetic level (intonation, rhythm, etc.), lexical-semantic (vocabulary) and grammatical (structure of words, how they combine, etc.). It is the basis of communication, without it, we could not even understand ourselves.

2. Sociolinguistic ability 

To use this ability correctly we must be able to understand different expressions depending on the situation. Language is time-based, therefore it’s important to always have context. We can tell the difference between listening to a couple say “silly” affectionately and hear the same term when two people criticize another. Learn more about how we listen.

3. Fluency skill for effective communication

It includes different skills, from interpreting messages and transmitting various types of speeches in different circumstances. The content of the speech must be coherent and cohesive. We put it into practice when we tell (orally or written) a group of friends about our weekend through an orderly and logical structure.

4. Strategic skill for effective communication

It allows communication to be effective and enables mistakes to be repaired without breaking the course of the conversation. It involves a great deal of tactics to fill long silences or correct misinterpretations. It also includes non-verbal language. For example, it consists of redirecting the conversation what the argument gets heated without being too abrupt.

10 Tips for effective communication skills

1. Analyze yourself

Look for people in your environment who broadly convey what you want to say and examine their style. You will be more aware of what you do well and how you can progress. Soon you will carry out this process automatically. Try to not be too severe on your self-evaluation or self-appraisal, because it will only make you more nervous.

2. Be simple

Many times “less is more”. This is no exception. Do not waste time with huge expressions or bombastic terms. They will stifle the communicative process and do not always look good. This does not mean that we have to stop expanding our vocabulary. We simply have to know when to use the exact word and do it naturally.

3. Be natural

Have you ever thought that a person is not being themselves while talking to you? Sometimes we try to look and express ourselves like other people. This does not mean that we are lying but rather adapting. Imagine a person on a first date. You may be unsure and seek acceptance from your companion above all else. You may try to show that you have knowledge or characteristics that please your potential partner. Although we have the best intention in the world, this is forced and unconvincing. It is essential that you trust yourself and feel comfortable communicating well.

4. Be nice

It may seem obvious. However, sometimes with the rush, stress or bad mood, we forget to smile. It is hard for us to speak by transmitting positivity rather than by frowning. Not all circumstances require us to maintain cheerful behavior, but we can try to be as empathetic as possible. Develop your social skills. You will notice the benefits of being kind in both how others relate to you.

5. Adapt to your listening partner

Each person has their own reality. We differ in our sociocultural level, contemplate different points of view or have a different mental representation for the same word. This can lead to misunderstandings.

These mistakes can be avoided if we observe the listeners reactions and act accordingly. If you see that they are not understanding, look for explanatory examples. On the other hand, don’t let anything left unsaid if in doubt ask if your communication is effective. 

6. Try Relaxation Techniques

An important exam, presentation or a person who makes us nervous can dimish our communicative skills. It is normal that we find ourselves restless in these circumstances. Still, there are ways to stay calm in stressful situations. For example, you can count until you feel better. It may seem silly to you, but it serves to focus on something else and get some distance from the problem.

7. Look for inspiration

Search and read more about effective communication skills. You can research topics such as body language, storytelling or neurolinguistic programming (NLP). Search the Internet for experts in your field and see how they communicate. On the other hand, literature can be another source of inspiration, in addition to producing great satisfaction.

8. Remember the power of images 

If you have to make a presentation rely on visual resources. Use photos, illustrations or graphs to boost your ideas. You can rely on color psychology to create a more emotional bond with your audience. You will reinforce your words and the audience will remember them better. Just remember that the power will always rely on words.

9. Enjoy communicating

Communication is not just a medium, it can also be enjoyed.  Not everyone loves to write stories or expose a delicate subject to hundreds of people. However, our communicative skills can also be comforting as telling a joke or giving a hug. Improving them will make these experiences even more satisfying.

By the way, this process will be more gratifying if we are not doing more things at the same time. This can not only be irritating to the other person. It will also diminish our attention and will not let us appreciate the conversation to the fullest.

10. Listen

Practice active listening, be empathic and try to get your interlocutor to feel understood. Knowing how to listen is as important as being grammatically flawless or having a broad vocabulary. That way you will not stop learning and you will enrich your interpersonal relationships.

11. Ask for feedback

Receiving honest feedback from peers, family members and even bosses will help you become an effective communicator and improve your skills. It is the perfect way to discover areas of improvement that might be overlooked.

12. Engage the audience (if its a group setting)

Every person has a different attention span, imagine all of those attentions spans combined. Keep this in mind when applying effective communication skills in group settings. Be sure to make your speech interactive by asking questions, allowing others to speak, etc.

13. Manage you time

Remember you are not giving out a monologue. Effective communication skills are all about time management and giving others the opportunity to speak as well. If you are giving a presentation and need to restrict information into a time frame, remember to always keep in mind your key points in order to communicate them effectively.

14. Be concise

Remember to always be direct, simple and to the point when trying to apply effective communication skills. Focus always on getting your point across keeping in mind all the other variables mentioned.

15. Be curious

Ignite your curiosity! Keep up to date with the news, your interests, etc. This will help you engage people and your effective communication skills will be great!

Watch to see more tips for effective communication skills by Celeste Headlee.

Thank you very much for reading this article. Will you exercise your communicative skills? I invite you to practice and comment if you liked the article or want to know more.

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

Human Pheromones: Our Customized Perfume

Human Pheromones have been a long-debated topic in science. New perfumes come out every year claiming to have human pheromones that will make you more attractive to the opposite sex. The research doesn’t yet know if we can really sniff out human pheromones or if it’s just a smelly coincidence. Studies suggest that there are ways we make inferences on pheromone related smells, though and maybe someday it can become a form communication. To learn more, read ahead to learn more about human pheromones, our evolutionary perfume!

Human Pheromones: Our Customized Perfume

Animal vs. Human Pheromones

Our knowledge of human pheromones is based on evidence of pheromones in animals. Years of research has shown that there is an evolutionary purpose for pheromones’ existence. The pheromones that exist in animals help to chemically communicate, rely and detect the health status or fertility of other animals of the same species. These tiny sets of compounds transmit information as either “signalers”, that tell of a social status or health, or they have an instant behavioral response. Experiments with mice, dogs, and monkeys illustrate pheromones that exist within proteins and those molecules that elicit a response, making it easier for research to be done. A sense of smell, the olfactory system, in pheromones acts as the sensory system responsible for detecting changes in the environment and if compatibility remains in the other being.

When it comes to human pheromones, the research is divided. Studies have observed that ovulation in women and oil or sweat excretions may influence testosterone levels in men. Though, there is currently no sound evidence yet that an observable and behavioral based response is produced and cue by human pheromones. This being said, a working theory currently supports the idea that certain human pheromones can be sensed at birth and regress as newborns develop. Newborn babies have been shown to differentiate among matters like their mother’s smell and the milk of their mother that contains pheromone like substances from secretions of the areola gland.

Science suggests that humans may not contain the high olfactory senses that animals like moths or spiders have, or if we do they are regressed in infancy. Instead, the smells and senses we infer work as scent recognition and detection. Humans use scent recognition as a mechanism of interpreting others’ imprints of behaviors, hygiene, food intake, environment, and even sexual compatibility that may influence socio-sexual contexts, but may not be pheromone based.

Animal vs. Human Pheromones

Seduction and Pheromone Perfume

 Human pheromones related to seduction and sexuality is still an area of little research. One study found that ovulating women may increase testosterone levels in men and another study pointed to oil and sweat secretion that could be responsible for inferences peoples’ attractiveness in the opposite sex. Human pheromones working as a “perfume” for seduction might give insight to certain chemical compounds, or smells, we sense that elicit responses in us.

The luxurious perfumes that do claim to have pheromones that make you sexier and more attractive to the opposite sex more than likely contain pig pheromones that do not have nearly any influence on humans’ anatomical structure or olfactory senses. Recently, studies and research are investigating three classes of putative human pheromones of male and female pheromones: axillary steroids, vaginal aliphatic acids, and Vomeronasal organ stimulators. These three classes of human pheromone classes could provide data to suggest they could be smelly enough for the nose to pick up.

Pheromones in Men

Axillary Steroids exist in both men and women. Axillary steroids as pheromones in men are secreted by the adrenal glands, apocrine glands, and testes and are not usually observed until biological puberty occurs.

  • Androstenone is held as an attractant and positive mood effector and pheromone for women. Ovulating women seem to be the targeted population in regards to androstenone, as studies have shown that exposure of androstenone induces a skin conductance mechanism and mood enhancement to women during ovulation.
  • Androstadienone is the other prominent male pheromone found in male semen and sweat and has effects on the limbic system and mood improvement for women. Researchers have found that exposure to androstadienone in women resulted in higher attentiveness to emotional words and facial expressions. These findings attribute that emotional arousal modulates how women process information that can potentially enhance focus.

Pheromones in Women

Axillary Steroids in women as pheromones are secreted by the ovaries, the adrenal glands, and apocrine glands and are like men are not observable until biological puberty occurs.

  • Androstenol is the infamous female pheromone that put “menstrual syncing” into popular culture. Androstenol was used in a study that predicted unconscious odor cues by menstruating women could influence the menstrual cycles of other women. This has been debunked by recent studies that show there is too little evidence for the claim to be reliable. Now, this pheromone is regarded as a mood enhancer when study results show that women exposed to androstenol when asked to rate the attractiveness of objects and people stated the objects as “friendlier” and enhanced their behavioral and social responses.
  • Estratetraenol is another highly regarded pheromone that is found in the urine of pregnant women. This pheromone is an endogenous steroid that is synthesized in the ovaries by aromatase found in androstadienone. This pheromone is related to estrogen sex hormones but has yet to show effects of estrogen. Estratetraenol pheromones exist on the market for women as attractant perfumes, yet consensus remains that it works as a human seduction pheromone.

Vaginal aliphatic acids are the other group of pheromones in women to differentiate from as they are different from the group of axillary steroids and are present in women’s vaginal fluids. Aliphatic acids are a kind of fatty acid that produces copulins and may attribute to human pheromone communication.

  • Copulins are a class of aliphatic acids that secrete six different types of vaginal fluids. Copulins in pheromones are produced before ovulation to signal the ovulation process. Sexual communication is suggested as one of the evolutionary mechanisms of Copulins, though the research still varies if copulins are responsible or a different vaginal fluid can illicit human pheromone communication.

Vomeronasal Organ

Potential human pheromone action in the vomeronasal organ is theorized to be conducted by the stimulators within it. The olfactory sensory structure lies in the nasal bones and are found in multiple animals. In humans, the vomeronasal organ contains a potential chemical sensory organ called epithelial, though the sensory neurons in the structure are present in the fetus but regress and disappear with age. Pheromone receptor genes found here show a response in “sex-specific manners”. No studies have been done to know if human pheromone communication exists in these receptors. Receptor sub-classes in the olfactory epithelium of mice have pheromone responses that scientists suggest could be a key mechanism in human pheromone research. The orthologous receptors that exist in human pheromone communication illustrate that research of trace proteins in mice pheromones could provide evidence to support human pheromone communication.

A Smelly Debate

Human pheromone in research explains a multitude of aspects we didn’t know before. For example, though we are not as equipped as animals in sniffing out compatible partners, it does tell us that human evolution has come this far that we use our smell recognition as a higher social mechanism. Seduction and human pheromones as a perfume of our biological data is still a wide concept that tells us little. The question remains if our human pheromones can give us animal instincts, but for now, we’ll let the scientists do the sniffing.

Watch a video of Tristram Wyatt, zoologist, explaining the fundamental flaws in current pheromone research and how for him there is no conclusive research regarding this matter.

How We Listen: Is It Just The Ears That Play A Role?

We listen with our hands, not only our ears. Some researchers even suspect we may listen with our hands and other body parts too.

We listen

Ever been in a car and a good song pops on the radio and before you know it your fingers are tapping to the rhythm of the music without you even noticing? Ever felt compelled to clap at a certain part of a song because it follows the beat?  We could say that we listen with our hands. Listening happens thanks to our auditory perception that allows for sounds to be processed by our ears.

Julian Treasure made a short Ted talk explaining how we listen and what can we do to listen better.

However, it is possible that we listen with other body parts.

We listen with our hands

Cognitive research and scientists managed to get solid evidence that the sensorimotor systems are involved in language processing. This suggests that comprehending verbal descriptions of actions rely on an internal simulation of the described action.

Several scientists decided to see if this was true. They got a group of people, ages ranging from 18-34-year-olds, to participate in a study. The scientists prepared thirty-five action words into affirmative and negative context sentences.

The participants listened to the spoken sentences, each in the third person and present tense, such as “John walks to work.” to measure their motor grip as they listened and pinched a grip-force sensor.

The researchers found that subjects increased their grip when listening to action words that involved hands or arms. Some of the verbs hand or arm related were: scratch, grate, throw, etc. But this response depended on context, meaning the grip force was unchanged when the action was negative, as in “Laura did not lift her luggage.”

This suggests that when the person hears the sentences of hand verbs happening at the exact moment the brain sends impulses to the motor neurons and the grip becomes tighter. If the action is not happening the grip does not tighten therefore it understands that it’s not happening. We could say that we listen with our hands because it’s our hands that respond to the words being spoken.

We listen with our hands

We listen with oher parts of the body, too

We listen not only with our hands but we can listen with our whole body. The human brain has the capacity to amaze us each time with what it can accomplish and with all the body parts involved for cognitive abilities to develop.

Susanne Poulette came up with a concept called whole body listening. It consists of breaking the abstract concept of listening by explaining how each body part other than the ears is involved. She explains that the parts involved go as follows; the brain thinking about what is being said; the eyes looking at or toward the speaker; the mouth closed and quiet; the body facing toward the speaker; and the hands and feet quiet and kept to oneself.

Truesdale, later stressed that the most critical part of whole body listening takes place in the brain but we couldn’t forget about the heart which is a way of caring and feeling empathy with those we listen to.

“When we are asking someone to think about what we are saying, we are, in essence, asking for the listener’s brain to be connected and tuned-in.”

Truesdale establishes that whole body listening is a tool, meaning that adults need to think flexibly about how best to use it and there is no one way to teach it.  Gradually, other professionals have come to terms that we listen with our whole body and this helps listening become a less abstract concept and more a concrete concept, easier to understand, teach and practice.

Teaching children

We listen with our whole body, however, teaching children to understand this concept might be abstract. Many parents, teachers, and other professionals have used tips from these professionals to break down the abstract concept of listening into more manageable, concrete actions.

Parents and teachers tend to claim that children have a hard time listening to instructions, stories, etc. When explained into more depth how we listen with our body and what is expected of each body part. Many children claimed that they found listening much easier. Step by step brain training and body training to listen intently and retain the information.

Parts of the body we listen with:

  •        eyes to look at the person talking
  •        ears to hear what is being said
  •        mouth by remaining quiet
  •        hands by keeping them by their side or in lap
  •        feet by placing them on the floor and keeping them still
  •        body by facing the speaker or sitting in chair
  •        brain to think about what the speaker is saying
  •        heart to care about what the speaker talks about

To listen we need to…

Ears: Limit auditory distractions.

Eyes: Look toward the speaker, maybe not directly but checking in for facial expressions to “read” emotions and others’ intentions. Limit distractions and visual clutter. People can hear what is being said even if they are not looking directly at the speaker. Therefore, try to modulate direct eye-contact.

Mouth: Try not to interrupt. Chewing gum can help regulate impulse control.

Hands:  Use a fidget or doodle. Squeeze hands together. Sit on hands or put them in pockets. This helps to concentrate on what the other person is saying.

Feet: Cross or sit on feet to help keep them still. Some people need to move their body to stay regulated, enhance attention, and feel comfortable.

Heart: It’s important to understand why we listen to others. We listen to create rapport, share and experience, and always consider the other person’s feelings.

Brain: We should know how the brain works and how our cognitive abilities and cognitive skills help us to listen with our whole body. Mindfulness can a good asset in being aware of the present moment. This can help to know when to pause and reflect before acting, and knowing how and when to listen with our whole body.

 

Synapses: How Your Brain Communicates

A synapse is the space between two neurons which allows for neural communication, or synaptic transmission. Synapses are found throughout the body, not just located in the brain. They project onto muscles to allow muscle contraction, as well as enable a multitude of other functions that the nervous system covers.

It might be helpful to familiarize yourself with neuron cell body and structure and function when understanding the synapse!

Synapses

Parts of a Synapse

As a synapse is the gap in between two neurons, we need to establish which neuron sends out the signals and which neuron receives those signals.

Parts of a Synapse: The Role of the Presynaptic Neuron

The presynaptic neuron is the neuron that initiates the signal. At many synapses in the body, presynaptic neurons are vesicles filled with neurotransmitters. When the presynaptic neuron is excited by an action potential, the electrical signal propagates along its axon towards the axon terminal. This excitation signals the vesicles in the presynaptic neuron, filled with neurotransmitters, to fuse with the membrane of the axon terminal. This fusion allows for the neurotransmitters to be dumped into the synaptic cleft.

Once the neurotransmitters are released, they can act on receptors on the postsynaptic neuron.

Types of neurotransmitters

Parts of a Synapse: The Role of the Postsynaptic Neuron

The postsynaptic neuron is the neuron that receives the signal. These signals are received by the neuron’s dendrites. When there are neurotransmitters present in the synapse, they travel across the gap in order to bind to receptors on the postsynaptic neuron. When a neurotransmitter binds to a receptor on the postsynaptic neuron’s dendrite, it can trigger an action potential. That action potential can then be propagated and influence further communication.

Where Are Synapses Located in the Brain?

Synapses are found throughout the nervous system. They allow for complex thought, coordinated movement, and most of our basic functions. Synapses are located in the brain and spinal cord, which make up the central nervous system, and the peripheral nervous system, which includes neural projections onto muscle cells.

The Neuromuscular Junction

A good example of the location of synapses in the body is the neuromuscular junction. A neuromuscular junction is made up of a motor neuron and a muscle fiber, which is part of the peripheral nervous system. In this case, there is no postsynaptic neuron, but the muscle fiber has a specialized area that acts synonymously to how a postsynaptic neuron would respond. This area is called the motor end plate and has receptors that bind with the neurotransmitters released into the synapse.

In a neuromuscular junction, presynaptic neurons release acetylcholine as the neurotransmitter. At the neuromuscular junction, acetylcholine excites the muscle fiber and causes muscle contraction.

The presynaptic neuron in the neuromuscular junction needed to be told to release acetylcholine into the synapse. This doesn’t occur through the neuron’s own volition, but rather through a series of other neurons communicating with each other through synapses.

What do Synapses do?

It has been established that synapses are important in neural communication, but what do synapses actually do? How do they really allow for neural communication, and who starts the conversation?

When introducing the role of the presynaptic neuron above, the excitative qualities of an action potential were mentioned. Action potentials are the way that neurons can send information they receive down their axons and, hopefully, initiate the continuation of the signal to another neuron. These action potentials are created by a depolarizing current.

Action potentials allow for electrical signals to be sent down a neuron’s axon, and then the signal can be transmitted to the other neurons by a synapse. As stated before by introducing the role of the presynaptic neuron, neurotransmitters are released into the synapse in order for the signal to be transmitted to the next neuron. The chemical release is then received by the postsynaptic neuron and then converted back into an electrical signal in order to reach other neurons.

Although, not all synapses function on chemical or neurotransmitter release. Many synapses in the brain are purely electrical.

Types of Synapses

In the nervous system there are two main types of synapses: chemical synapses and electrical synapses. Thus far, for simplicity and understanding the basics of how a synapse functions only chemical synapses have been discussed. This poses the question: why does the nervous system need two types of synapses?

Types of Synapses: Chemical Synapses

Chemical synapses are any type of synapse that uses neurotransmitters in order to conduct an impulse over the small gap in between the presynaptic and postsynaptic neurons. These types of synapses are not in physical contact with each other. Since the transmission of a signal depends on the release of chemicals, a signal can only flow in one direction. This direction is downward from presynaptic to the postsynaptic neuron. As previously stated, these types of neurons are widely spread throughout the body.

The chemicals released in these types of synapses ways excite the following neuron. The neurotransmitters can bind to the receptors on the postsynaptic neuron and have an inhibitory effect as well. When inhibition occurs, signal propagation is prevented from traveling to other neurons.

Chemical synapses are the most abundant type of synapse in the body. This is because various neurotransmitters and receptors are able to interpret signals in a large combination. For instance, a neurotransmitter and receptor combination may inhibit a signal on one postsynaptic neuron, but excite a large amount of other postsynaptic neurons. Chemical synapses allow for flexibility of signaling that makes it possible for humans to engage in high-level tasks. However, this flexibility comes at a cost. Chemical synapses have a delay due to the need for the neurotransmitter to diffuse across the synapse and bind to the postsynaptic neuron. This delay is very small but still is an important point when comparing the two types of synapses.

Types of Synapses: Electrical Synapses

Synapses

Electrical synapses are types of synapses that use electricity to conduct impulses from one neuron to the other. These synapses are in direct contact with each other through gap junctions. Gap junctions are low resistance bridges that make it possible for the continuation of an action potential to travel from a presynaptic neuron to a postsynaptic neuron.

Due to their physical contact, electrical synapses are able to send signals in both directions, unlike chemical synapses. Their physical contact and the use of sole electricity make it possible for electrical synapses to work extremely fast. Transmission is also simple and efficient at electrical synapses because the signal does not need to be converted.

Another key difference between chemical and electrical synapses is that electrical synapses can only be excitatory. Being excitatory means that an electrical synapse can only increase a neuron’s probability of firing an action potential. As opposed to being inhibitory, which means that it decreases a neuron’s probability of firing an action potential. This can only be done by neurotransmitters.

Despite being extremely fast, these types of excitatory signals can not be carried over great lengths. Electrical synapses are mainly concentrated in specialized brain areas where there is a need for very fast action.

The best example of this is the large amount of electrical synapses in the retina, the part of the eye that receives light. Vision and visual perception are our dominant senses, and our eyes are constantly receiving visual sensory information. This information also runs on a feedback loop when we interact with our environment, which means that we receive information from our surroundings and immediately create an appropriate response to it. This is why it makes sense that electrical synapses are seen in a large concentration here. The fast action, multiple directions, and efficiently all allow for prime functionality.

Synapses in Neuroscience

Understanding synapses allow neuroscientists to further understand how communication within the brain works. This is extremely important when trying to decipher causes, and eventually, develop treatments for neurological diseases and disorders.

Knowing about synapse function is not just beneficial to neuroscientists, it is beneficial for anyone with a brain! Increased synaptic density can improve the quality of life for anyone, it is essentially a tactic for making your brain work smarter.

Natural Ways to Improve Your Synapses

1. Reduce Stress

Too much stress, as well as long periods of stress, can have harmful impacts on the body, especially the brain and nervous system. By reducing stress, you are reducing the amount of cortisol that is circulating throughout your body. Cortisol is important if you need to outrun a bear, but elevated levels in your daily life can damage chemical synapses all over the body. Stress and aging are also closely related, so controlling your stress levels may help you prevent early aging.

Chemical synapses are susceptible to desensitization, which will occur is abnormally high concentrations of a neural transmitter are fighting to stimulate a neuron.

2. Stimulate Your Brain With CogniFit Brain Games and Cognitive Assessments

It is important, at any stage in life, to keep your brain stimulated. Our synapses play an important role in keeping our brains healthy and helping them improve over time, rather than fall victim to the natural cognitive decline that occurs as we age. With the consistent training and challenging of the brain, the synapses work to perform better and more efficiently, ultimately making it possible to improve the cognitive function that may have seemed lost. This is the idea behind brain or neuroplasticity and is the basis of CogniFit’s program.

CogniFit’s  brain training system works by adapting the games and tasks to each user’s cognitive level, ensuring that the brain, its neurons, and all of the synapses involved are being trained and challenged as efficiently as possible.

3. Exercise

Exercise is very important in keeping the brain healthy. People often get frustrated within the first few weeks of a new workout regime when physical changes are not yet visible. It turns out that the first changes of regular exercise are actually neurological, starting in the brain. Exercising promotes brain growth by increasing oxygen levels in the brain. Brain growth first starts at the synaptic level. Read more about the benefits of exercise on the brain!

Your Synapses

Hopefully, now that you’re familiar with the basic structure, ins and outs, functions, and types of synapses in the brain you can think about what is happening on a microscopic level to ensure your body is functioning at top notch. Small improvements on the synapse level can have a large effect on your overall health.

Test Yourself!

1. What is a presynaptic neuron?
2. What is a postsynaptic neuron?
3. What is one difference between an electrical and chemical synapse