Showing posts with label The Brain. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Brain. Show all posts

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Rue and Racism: Intergroup dynamics and the Hunger Games

 Today we have the second installment of awesome guest blogger Maya Kuehn's posts on the psychology behind the Hunger Games. Check out the first installment here.

In the original, written version of The Hunger Games, it’s made fairly clear that both Rue and her fellow District 11 tribute, Thresh, are African American. Yet when faced with their ethnicity on the movie screen, many people have expressed great disappointment (to state it delicately) over these tragic characters not being White. But why?

Well, it turns out that empathy across group boundaries is a complicated matter. Although part of the glue holding society together is a desire to reduce the suffering of others, and though we’re quick to empathize with and help members of our own groups, this dynamic can go haywire when it must extend to members of different groups (Cikara, Bruneau, & Saxe, 2011).

Friday, October 28, 2011

Improving memory - (retrieval) practice makes perfect

Today we would like to present you with the another (terrific) guest blogger. Joseph Williams is a graduate student in the cognitive psychology program at UC-Berkeley. Enjoy!

You’re about to read a 200-word science passage on sea otters so that you can successfully answer questions about it in a week’s time. What strategies would you use to study it? Which of these options would you choose? (a) reading it four times, (b) drawing out a concept map of all the key ideas, or (c) reading it, trying to recall it, reading it one more time, and trying to recall it one more time.

If you smugly chose the alluring quadruple study option or took a gamble on the newfangled concept map, it’s likely that a week from now your memory would be letting you down. A recent paper in Science by Karpicke & Blunt at Purdue University reports an experiment along these lines. Testing oneself or engaging in retrieval practice had the greatest benefit for being able to remember facts from the passage and for drawing inferences that required putting these facts together. But it seems so counterintuitive that testing yourself on information could be better than thoroughly studying material or building elaborate diagrams. Surely students would all be on the honor roll if only they put in that much effort!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Steer clear of the sleep deprived: The effects of sleep on mood

First I asked you how well you were sleeping here, then I described what is really going on when you sleep here, and today I consider how loss of sleep affect your mood.

Up late watching tv? Watch out world!
Last night you stayed up late (studying for a big exam, preparing for a presentation, watching marathon episodes of Battlestar Galactica), and today, when you’re already running low on sleep, it seems as if the whole world is out to get you. Why is everyone so irritating? Why is the traffic so bad? Who are these awful drivers? Or wait… could it just be you? A plethora of research has shown that sleep deprivation affects your mood. A very basic equation: sleep deprivation = increases in negative mood and decreases in positive mood. But let’s break that down a bit more.

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Sleep Cycle: What's really going on while you're catching your zzz's

Today I continue on my new quest to understand sleep and its role in our lives by attempting to answer a very basic question: what happens when our heads hit the pillow at night?

The 90 minute Sleep Cycle

The sleep cycle: A sleep cycle lasts about 90 minutes and during that time we move through five stages of sleep. The first four stages make up our non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep, and the fifth stage is when rapid eye movement (REM) sleep occurs.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Plastic Brain

Today we would like to present you with the second of our series of guest bloggers. Allyson Mackey is a graduate student in the neuroscience program at UC-Berkeley. Enjoy!

I was recently challenged by a colleague to come up with an example of a neuroscience finding that changed the way I live my life. I immediately thought of the now quite vast literature on neuroplasticity: the ability of our brains to change and adapt to new experiences. In this post, I’d like to propose that what we’ve learned about neuroplasticity so far can help us lead better lives, and that neuroplasticity research in the future will be poised to influence public policy issues ranging from health to education.  

I want to start by summarizing some exciting results from research on the structure and connectivity of brain cells, called neurons. Scientists have shown that experience can drive changes in the connections between neurons in as little as thirty seconds. Substantial changes in brain inputs, like the loss of a sense like vision or touch in a limb, can lead to remarkable compensatory re-organization in cortex. However, even subtle environmental changes can change brain structure. For example, giving rats interesting toys to play with, or allowing them to run more frequently on an exercise wheel, can lead to more connections between neurons in brain regions that are critical for learning, like the hippocampus. What is even more exciting is that cognitive enrichment and exercise can lead to neurogenesis, the creation of new neurons, in the hippocampus. The formation of new neurons was long thought to be impossible since, unlike other cells in your body, most neurons can’t divide to make more neurons after birth.

Unfortunately, neuroplasticity is often called a double-edged sword. While positive environmental changes can lead to beneficial neural changes, the brain is also susceptible to negative environmental factors. One particularly relevant example is stress.  Chronic stress can prevent the birth of new neurons in the hippocampus, strengthen fear and anxiety circuits, and even effectively turn off brain regions responsible for attention and self-control. In summary, results from animal studies of neural plasticity suggest that our brains have the intrinsic ability to change in response to environmental demands both in adaptive ways, in response to cognitive stimulation and exercise, but also in maladaptive ways, in response to stress.