Writing 1: October 2011 Archives

The amygdala, an almond shaped group of nuclei in the brain, is famous for its emotional capacities, and the memory of such capacities. Most common traits are that of fight or flight, fear, stimuli and the memory of those stimuli. But another aspect of the amgydala, that is not so commonly known or discussed, is it's effects on the actions of young adults or adolescents. Let me explain...

All young adults or teens under-go a neural process called synaptic pruning, or maturation of complex neural structures. Before this happens, young adults have lesser capacities of planning and judgement and are more likely to act in fits of impulse or riskiness. The amygdala, associated with emotion and the prefrontal cortex associated with judgement play key roles in this process because of their influences on behavior.

What interests me, is the concept of binge drinking and the emotional value it is given with the amygdala. It is averaged that 2 out of 5 college students, or 40% involve themselves in binge drinking as a social activity. That's quite a lot of alcohol if you really think about it. Because young adults are more likely to involve themselves in risky behavior because it is seen as socially acceptable, and because the amygdala is in charge of emotions, wouldn't it make sense if binge drinking was attributed to the amygdala?

Well, an experiment was conducted by researchers from Maryland and Vienna, Austria testing the genes and traits in the amygdala and the causation of acts of repeated binge drinking. The results were as follows: don't blame it on the alcohol Jamie, Blame it on the A-a-a-a-a-Amygdala.

http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2011/02/23/1019020108.full.pdf+html
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Nature versus nurture is a topic that is up for much controversy. However there is evidence to prove that nurture has an influenced upon some of America's most well known criminals. For example, Frank Lucas also knows as the "American Gangster" was born in La Grange, North Caroline. He moved to New York where he was known as Bumpy Johnsons right-hand man. Bumpy Johnson was known as a thug who committed many crimes. After his Johnsons passing, Lucas took over the business and followed in Johnsons footsteps.

Bumpyandfrank

Bumpy Johnson and Frank Lucas


Once Lucas took over, he brought his family up from North Carolina to live a better life-style. Franks brothers followed him as they all looked up to him and looked at him as a strong influence in their lives. All of Franks brothers became criminals due to how Frank ran his drug operations. This is a prime example of nature vs. nurture. Due to Bumpy Johnson behavior that influenced Frank Lucas, Franks family ended up following in those footsteps. Now ask yourself this question, how many of your actions were done because someone you looked up to also did it those same actions, whether you knew they were right or wrong? Even look at your academic career; Was it because someone influenced you to be a well-rounded student or were you naturally born smart and it is in your genes?

This is a repost of my response to leex5619 blog post "Nature vs. Nurture" in writing 1 that was lost in webspace (thanks Eva for finding it!):


I was also drawn to the 'nature vs. nurture' issue in this class and your questions made me think about how I've had similar questions in life about identity and personality. I was raised in an adoptive family, always knowing that I was adopted but never knowing any information about my birth parents. Your post is interesting to me because your questions are similar to ones I've had in my own life but coming from a perspective of a broader change in environment due to relocation in cultures, whereas mine is from the perspective of relocation of families within the same (presumed) culture, though this relocation is not in my conscious memory. But in each case, enough time has passed in life that one can look back and ask the questions you're asking, which I've also had and probably always will to some degree. Would my personality have been drastically different had I been raised by my birth parents? And do I find my sense of identity within myself and the family I was placed in, or do I view myself as an 'outsider' of sorts with a conscious knowledge that the environment I was raised in apart from my biological roots completely shaped (or reshaped) who I am? My searching the web for articles related to this actually led me back to the U of M, to the Minnesota/Texas Adoption Research Project.

The study started in the mid-80s and followed 190 adoptive families to the present, looking at numerous aspects such as relationships surrounding these families and at the adoptees themselves in relation to their development and sense of identity. An interesting part of this to me is how the researchers studied the "narrative" that adopted children create in their development to help form their identity. The study's website states,

"Adopted youth are confronted with the challenge of making meaning of their beginnings, which may be unknown, unclear, or otherwise ambiguous. Meaning-making (e.g., Kegan, 1982; Klinger, 1998) involves constructing a story about oneself that attempts to answer many questions: Where did I come from? Who were my parents? Why was I placed for adoption? Do my birthparents think about me now? Do I have siblings? What does adoption mean in my life? This story, or narrative, helps adolescents make sense of the past, understand the self in the present, and project themselves into the future (Grotevant, 1993)".

I also had all these questions and subsequent constructions in my mind growing up, but never thought of them as a "narrative" that I created to help form my sense of identity until now. I remember creating grandiose and (too) self-important histories for myself...I was the son of some refugee from a far-off land and my mother was forced to placed me up for adoption so I could have citizenship... Or she was actually very wealthy and I was the product of some elite scandal, giving me up for adoption only to someday come back and reveal that I was some heir to richness (yeah, that didn't happen). The site goes on to say,

"The narrative approach to identity highlights the integration and coherence of the self through the evaluation of the structure, content, and function of the narrative (e.g., McAdams, 1987, 1993, 2001; Mishler, 1999). From this perspective, the adolescent is viewed as creating and recreating a life story that makes meaning of and gives purpose to his or her experience of adoption".

The two constructions I pointed out about myself (of which there were many more) help me understand in this context how I did deal with being in an adoptive family. My parents' relatives, backgrounds, ancestries, etc. weren't my own, so my "story" as it were always started with my immediate surroundings, and I had to create everything beyond that. Not only was the environment I was raised in shaping who I was, but the knowledge of being adopted also helped shaped that by my trying to fill the void of what was unknown. Questions about one's identity, potentialities, character traits and such inevitably come up and change through life and through different periods of feeling fulfilled or having doubts and regrets. Everybody has these. But being adopted as I was, or moving across the world to a completely different culture in your youth - as you were - merely opens up a few more avenues for questioning who we are and where we fit into this world. I've never pursued finding my biological family beyond requesting for my original birth certificate once the record was opened, but the nature vs. nurture issue is still one that I think about often looking back at my life so far.

MN/TX Adoption Research Project http://www.cehd.umn.edu/fsos/Centers/mtarp/keyfindings/keyFindOutChild.asp#detai ls

What if our brain was one big mush with no specific functions in specialized areas? Chapter 3 would certainly be easier. However, there could be negative reprecussions as well. Damage to the brain would have a variety of negative effects as opposed to more limited effects in certain areas.

My blog today is about Aphasia- a loss or reduction of language following brain damage typically a result of a stroke. In Chapter 3, Lilienfeld discusses the different areas of the brain associated with language. To my surprise, there was more than one area affiliated with language in the brain. For example, the Broca's area is located in the frontal lobe and is responsible for speech production. In the neighboring temporal lobe, the Wernicke's area is responsible for understanding speech. I was intrigued that language functioned in two separate lobes. It would seem sufficient that one function would be located in one specific part of the brain. Imagine if the Psychology department had classrooms located on the east bank, west bank, and St. Paul campuses. It would be inconvenient. However, the brain seems to function quite effectively with its diversified areas of function. Perhaps there is a deeper reason for the brain set up.

Two years ago, a Hebrew elementary teacher I knew, suffered a stroke. Fortunately, the man survived, however he began experiencing symptoms of Aphasia and was unable to communicate coherently in English. However to much surprise, this former Hebrew elementary teacher was able to speak and understand Hebrew. Perhaps, primary language is developed in one part of the brain while secondary language is developed in a different part. The implications of such studies could potentially have huge effects. Over one million people in the U.S. suffer from Aphasia today and learning a secondary language might be the best solution. However with all considerations, one still must still remember that this is just a case study and there are many other victims who were not as fortunate. Furthermore, there could be other plausible reasons for this phenomena. If we could some how replicate this transaction and record similar results, this hypothesis would be much stronger. Overall, there is much to learn in this topic and this case study should be further investigated. ?מה אתם חושבים (What do you think?)

A couple weeks ago when we were talking about Nature Vs. Nurture it got me thinking... about Twins studies which, are studies that compare fraternal and identical twins and their similarities or differences between the two. We learned in class about the Bogle family who all for the most part turned out to be criminals or partake in criminal behavior. So i was thinking the explanation which is unknown for this subject could be the same unknown in why twins who are separated at birth are so much a like even after growing up in very different families.

This got my thinking because i am an identical twin. For several years now we have participated in the twins study her at the university of Minnesota. Last time we did the study was after we turned 16 years old. We went through a series of tests including, genetic and blood testing and they came up that we were 99% alike in all aspects of our life. Some of which they tested us on was emotion, friends, likes, dislikes, body image, thoughts, brain activity, and blood.

So this got me to thinking is it different for just normal brothers and sisters when they are split up at birth .. so what is the difference in genetics? and if that is what is really making the difference?

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The ethics of testing on animals is a serious point that was mentioned in one of our lectures, but glossed over and never discussed in depth. Even so, when our speaker brought up the topic of testing on cats, I became very emotional. This topic is especially potent to me, as I have lived my whole life with animals, and am a vegetarian of 10 years. However, I still understand the importance of animal testing to the medical community, and to those people who reap its life-saving benefits. Because of this, I often find myself emotionally torn regarding testing on animals.
There are those who will claim that people who use animals as test subjects are doing it for pleasure, or for insignificant reasons. For example, PETA's outlook on animal experimentation is rather skewed:

http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-experimentation/default.aspx

This article makes the extraordinary claim that there are equally effective ways of testing products that do not involve testing on animals; however, it provides very little insight as to what these alternatives are, and how/why they work. This was frustrating to me, because I truly wanted to believe that there would be such an easy solution, and that animal testing could be done away with without much more than a few rallies and posters. But extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and no such thing was offered by PETA's article.
One technique this article does use is a lot of pathos: detailed descriptions of helpless and tortured animals locked in cages, angry words against "sick, perverted" scientists who "vivisect animals for the sheer pleasure of it", and gruesome images of the procedures carried out on the animals are very emotionally effective. But the article relies heavily on the pathological aspect of animal testing, and very little evidence in support of PETA's argument is provided. This makes the article biased and unreliable. For trustworthy information on any topic, it is best to select a source that is not emotionally or personally involved in that topic.
So I am still undecided when it comes to my stance on animal testing - I only hope that those who experiment on animals do so in the most humane way possible.
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Over the past 50 years scientific experiments have gone through a drastic change in ethical procedures. It wasn't too long ago when the U.S. government was conducting secret tests on more than 400 hundred unaware African-American men. This study was responsible for hundreds of necessary deaths and infections of many more.
I asked my friends if they have heard about the Tuskegee experiments, and surprisingly most of them answered saying they never heard of it. I find it interesting that this huge government mishap is not more widely known. This led me to investigate further into other unethical cases.
I ran into an interesting case that was a psychology experiment that Stanley Milgram put together. He tested what extremes individuals would go to when under pressure by a higher authority. Check out this video of the controversial experiment that was replicated in 2009.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcvSNg0HZwk&feature=player_embedded&noredirect=1

I believe ethical issues in research involve each and every one of us in some way or another, and we all need to be informed in past experiences in this subject so we can make the right choices in the future. One question i have is, would more people have known about the Tuskegee experiments if they would have been white men instead of poor African-American?

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The effects of brain damage due to trauma and disease can be devastating for those who suffer its consequences. People afflicted with brain damage can have a wide range of symptoms from minor memory or motor issues all the way to the loss of major brain function leading to a vegetative state or death. However, exciting developments in medical research relating to stem cells have offered promising possibilities for treating brain damage by regenerating injured neural structures.

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Brain Damage from Alzheimer's

One of the concepts we have studied in chapter three, is the idea of neural plasticity following brain injury and degeneration and how scientists have attempted to develop methods of repairing damaged brain and spinal cord axons. An area that has seen rapid advances in potential treatments is one called stem cell therapy. Our textbook describes stem cells as cells that have "the potential to become a wide variety of specialized cells" (p.92) and the implications of stem cell malleability can be seen in stem cell therapy which "introduces new cells into damaged tissue in order to treat disease or injury" (Wikipedia).

While the concept of stem cell therapy has been around for many years, the field has begun to apply therapeutic techniques in human patients to treat various diseases and injuries. Even NFL players have sought stem cell treatment such as Payton Manning who recently received stem cell therapy in Europe (LA Times). While most stem cell therapy treatments for brain damage are still in very developmental stages many scientists in the field see promising potential in the not-so-distant future. A news article in The Independent discusses researchers in England studying the potential for stem cell therapy to repair brain damage and the hope that possible treatments may be on the foreseeable horizon. It is an exciting and possibly revolutionary field that one day may change the prognosis for people suffering from what was often thought of in the past as an irreversible condition.

Reading the textbook a couple of weeks ago, I was quite surprised to come across a blurb commenting on the concept that people are either left-brained or right-brained. Basically, the theory claims that left-brained people are logical and do well in math and science, whereas right-brained people are more likely to be artistic dreamers and wander off on tangents. Supposedly, the dominant side or a person's brain affects the way in which they live and learn to a large degree and can affect their academic abilities.

As the book points out, however, there is very little solid evidence to support this theory. Both hemispheres of the brain are in fact in constant communication via the corpus callosum and other interconnections. While the theory may have worked well to explain personality differences back in the 1800's when it took root, we now have the ability to perform brain scans and other tests which prove that activities once thought to be strictly "left" or "right" brained such as spacial reasoning or language processing do, in fact, utilize both hemispheres.

I'll leave you with a few quick questions:

Why do you think that people were so quick to embrace the concept of "left-brained" versus "right-brained" differences and identify themselves as one of the other? Why are online quizzes which supposedly assess your personality and/or beliefs so wildly popular, and in what ways might this be beneficial or damaging to takers?

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To define something as ambiguous as fear, it has taken scientists many years of research. While there seems to be an understanding of the physiological effects of fear, it is the neural paths and connections that seem to produce indefinable effects. But, by taking a different view of fear, we can gain an overall understanding. From the evolutionary standpoint, it's theorized that fear is a response designed to keep an organism alive in less than savory situations. But, how does that work? It is by learning and responding to stimuli that warn us of the dangers we encounter via neural pathways to our amygdala, which interprets the input and decides how significant the stimulus is and to trigger an emotional response. However, fear goes beyond even feelings and emotions in a moment, it is also the specific memory of the emotion from similar events. After a shocking experience, most people remember the logical reasons for the experience, like the time and place, but will also relive the memory, and their body will react as such.
I know this is something I've experienced myself. So, one time my family and I went on vacation in Thailand during the Monsoon season. We decided to go out one day on a little pleasure cruise in the Gulf of Thailand. It was an idyllic day with perfect weather and smooth waters, and we were having a great day. We got out quite a ways from shore and we saw that the sky was changing from the placid state it was, to a tempestuous gray. The water started to get pretty choppy, and we were having a relatively difficult time getting back to shore. Then all of a sudden a wave hit the boat and I fell out. I remember it so vividly, falling out, and crashing below the surface of the water. My heart raced, pulse quickened, and I fought for breath as I sank lower and lower. It felt like an eternity in the water, but I finally resurfaced, having been genuinely fearful for my life. Just remembering this whole ordeal and writing about it causes this physiological response, like I'm reliving the whole ordeal over again. And that's sort of what the amygdala does, the almond shaped structure stores feelings of memory. It is through the amygdala that we access these split second decisions based on the experiences we've had. It is thanks to the amygdala that I harbor some fear of going out on open water. And I'm sure it explains a lot of people's fears. Anyone have a story similar to mine, where you can relive it mentally and physically? Or have something else to say?

Embarrassed and Trustworthy?

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I always find it very interesting to see how people try to protect themselves from being placed in a potentially embarrassing situation. I am by no means saying that I do not do the same the thing, I do. After reading a study published by a student at the University of California, Berkley, I found it interesting, but at the same time making sense, that people who are easily embarrassed have been shown to be more generous and trustworthy than their counterparts. This seems like something that would not be brought up, but now that a study has been conducted it brings a lot of pieces together. Thinking about a person who is embarrassed easily, they would most likely not want to upset someone by being untrustworthy or undesirable. In turn, that could put them in a situation that could be embarrassing or awkward for them.

When placed around your peers, everyone acts different in some way. As we walk around campus and go out to social events around campus, the majority of the people that you see are more timid than what they would be if they were around friends. A great example of this is the first day of class, especially a smaller class that is discussion based. Everyone will sit quietly and when the professor asks a question very few people will answer. As the semester goes along and people feel more comfortable, more and more people will open up and participate. I find it very interesting how different social situations can bring out different personalities in people. This study made me think about how the ever looming presence of being embarrassed in front of our peers can alter the way that we compose ourselves. It is one thing that I will never understand, but it will never cease to exist.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/29/embarrass-trustworthy_n_987381.html

strength of oxytocin

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When reading chapter 3 from the text book I was really interested in the hormone oxytocin. This hormone is responsible for emotional bonds and creates trust between people. It also plays a role in maternal and romantic love. That got me thinking about the amount of killings (suicides) that are between dating couples. I watch this show called snapped where women go crazy over the men they are dating. One women in fact killed her own mother in order to live happily ever after with her boyfriend. In addition to the show my fathers bestfriend attempted to kill his girlfriend because she no longer wanted to be with him. He shot her in the head and then shot himself killing himself but his girlfriend lived. I started to wonder what s the correlation between the amount oxytocin realsed women and the crazy choices women make on the show.
So i begin to search for some sort of evidence that proves the amount of oxytocin released can be vital to such killings. I did not fnd anything that said boldly there is a connection but i did read this article that suggest to me it can be some correlation. The article mentions that In people, plasma concentrations of oxytocin have been reported to be higher amongst people who claim to be falling in love. The article noting the more oxytocin contributes to people being in love to me has a lot to do with why they would feel the need to do crazy things in order to be with that person.
http://psychcentral.com/lib/2008/about-oxytocin/all/1/

Color Bilind test

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I am a color blind person, usually I cannot distinguish the color of red and green, so every time there is a color blind test, it will be a hard time for me.

Every time during the color blind test, when everyone is doing a easy job, just read the number in front of them at loud, I was always stare at these strange picture and can't find anything on them. Only people who have these kind of experience knowing how embarrassing is that.

But one time, I found a very interesting thing, because the test room for color blind allow two people step in at the same time and using the same test picture, so I have the chance hearing what the person beside me said and just repeat that number to the nurse, and what is more interesting is that, after I knowing what is the number on the picture (I heard for that guy beside me), I actually can "see" that number in that colorful picture, and it's very clear. I think it may because after my brain receives the message from listening, it can affect the result which is send by my eyes.

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After reading the nurture vs. nature section of the book, I couldn't help but think if homosexuality could be related to either one. I personally feel that homosexuality is not inherited through genes but this article has got me thinking a little. http://www.physorg.com/news84720662.html The article alluded to fruit fly gene alterations that eventually led to homosexuality. I looked up this study and found a good article here  http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/science/article3025835.ece about how scientists have found a mutation gene known as "gender-blind" or GB. This mutation, which they've found a way of turning on and off, can make flies bisexual! This came as a surprise to me because I have never thought that your genes could play a role in your sexual orientation. Though the implications cannot be directly inferred to humans, it is interesting enough to see that gene mutations in fruit flies can give such information.

I also read an article http://news.softpedia.com/news/Homosexual-by-Birth-41918.shtml which was a bit clearer on the different genes and variables/trends that have been associated with homosexuality. They gave an example of how homosexuality in men increases with the "number of biological older brothers he has, even when he does not grow up with his older male siblings." I found this extremely interesting and it sort of ties into the nature part of homosexuality.The overall message that I got from all three of the articles was that though there are common factors in genes and homosexuality, the larger part of it was up to how the individual grew up, nurture. I also agree with the last article that "it is too early to decide which of our models is most feasible." So what are your opinions about homosexuality and its relations with nature vs. nurture?

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When I first heard about the amygdala, all that could come to mind was the honey badger. In case you have no idea what I am talking about, please watch this short (and hilarious) clip so that you can understand why on earth I am talking about some small furry mammal:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4r7wHMg5Yjg

Ok, so now that we are all on the same page, I can properly begin to blog my thoughts. So obviously, after seeing how fearless the honey badger is, I began to wonder if there was anything peculiar about their amygdala's... Like is it a smaller size? Do they even have one? What on earth do they use it for?

To my surprise, I couldn't really find any articles with any research based on honey badger amygdalas (but if anyone else could, it would be a GREAT way to comment this blog **hint**hint**). So I then began to wonder, would humans benefit if they were more fearless like the honey badger?

One has to admit, when it comes to disorders like OCD and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, the amygdala can be quite a burden. But still, would we gain any profit if we were able to reduce its affects? Would we strive more as a species if we took more risks and with less hesitations?

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In the end, I decided no.
Let's think about it; humans are weak in all physical senses of the word. We have no claws, no super speed, no poison, no protective shells or tough skin, heck we don't even have camouflage. We are basically soft squishy bags of free meat, and the only reason we are still alive is because of our brains. Yes, we are the most dominant species on this planet, not because of our strength, but because of our ability to analyze situations and learn from our mistakes.

So overall, if we had any harm to our precious amygdala's, it would only end badly for the homo-sapiens.

But hey, thats just my one opinion, so feel free to let me know if you disagree or have anything to add (also another GREAT way to comment **HINT**HINT).

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p.s. that's still pretty sick

Are they really based on true stories?
We see movies such as Paranormal Activities in our everyday lives, where ESP related phenomena occur. We see these books and movies about ESP, demons, and ghosts terrorizing, haunting, and possessing people, and how they claim that these experiences are based on true stories and true experiences; but are they really true? Have they or could they be tested? In some cases we often see that these are paid actors, special effects, and a work of fiction at play. Yet as obvious as this is, we still believe that this may be true and take it as it is given to us. This is a great example of a metaphysical claim that cannot be proven or disproved. They make claims about the world that we cannot test. One would also expect with such extraordinary experiences you would find the evidence to be just as extraordinary, however we are given mediocre explanations that cannot be proven, or disproved. This is out of the bounds of what science deals with. Science deals with claims that we can put to the test, and claims based on the natural world that can be answered with data. So why is it that even though we know these claims aren't backed up by much evidence, there are a vast majority of people who still believe in them? Not to say that these things do not occur, or cannot, but can they be tested in ways that isn't recognized in the book?
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A recent article written by Rebecca Webber examines the root cause of siblings who are very successful in the same field. Her experiment was conducted by interviewing four groups of siblings. Through her research and observations she came up with a theory that would explain why siblings become experts in the same field. First, she stated that the older sibling usually gets into a field first and the younger sibling usually follows when he/she sees the older sibling being successful. It is more likely for the younger sibling to be successful in the field as well due to them sharing the same genes. The siblings share the same genes so they would posses a lot of the same skills, personality, intelligence and or looks.
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Reading this article reminded me a lot of the nature vs. nurture debate as well as the family studies research. This article clearly points to the nature side of things, stating that genes have a lot to do with the way people turn out to be. It also points to the family research studies because they are children that grow up in the same household that turn out to be very similar and have similar skills and interests. Although theses are some very strong claims, I personally believe that children are highly effected by how they are raised my they're parents and their surroundings. I truly believe that nurture plays a tremendous part in our lives.

Got Milk?

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 After learning of the many ways in which an experimental design can deliver inaccurate results, I have become skeptical of many scientific claims. Some of the errors in scientific studies include participants not being selected randomly, biases of the researcher and not ruling out rival hypothesis. Causation vs. correlation, random selection and pseudoscience all cross my mind when hearing results of a correlation or experimental design. I am now skeptical of one very popular and strongly believed in theory: Milk builds stronger bones.


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Many new studies bear results that contradict the common belief that milk makes your bones stronger. Some studies show milk drinkers to have stronger bones than non-milk drinkers, some studies yield the opposite, while some studies show no relation between milk and bone strength. How can there be so many different, contradicting results?
I believe many of these studies aren't selecting their subjects randomly. If you compare children that eat well, live a healthy life style and drink milk to children that lack milk in their diet and live an unhealthy lifestyle, the milk drinkers may have stronger bones and it won't necessarily be due to the fact that they have more milk in their diet. Another flaw in studies on the effects of milk may simply be a matter of correlation versus causation. There are researchers that claim drinking milk causes osteoporosis. "Evidence" of this claim is that the United States, with the highest consumption of dairy, has the highest rates of osteoporosis. This relationship may be due to one or more other variables such as: diet, exercise, and BMI (body mass index). The claim that milk builds stronger bones needs to be further researched and scientifically tested before I depend on milk as my source of calcium.

Links to studies on milk's effects: http://www.livestrong.com/article/315144-does-milk-build-strong-bones/ http://www.whymilk.com/strong_bones.php http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/calcium-and-milk/
After seeing all of the research that suggests such a popular theory as this may be somewhat, if not completely, incorrect, I am forced to wonder: what other mainstream theories that I believe be true could actually be false?

Remember the Amygdala

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Many of my memories that I seem to remember the most detail about have something to do with my getting into some sort of trouble. The details all seem so vivid to me, even years later, and that all has to do with a little almond shaped area in the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is located in the medial temporal lobes of the brain and has been shown to perform a primary role in the processing and memory of emotional reactions.

Generally, it seems to be our fearful memories that we remember the most. The heart starts beating, little beads of sweat start to form on the forehead, prickly hairs my stand up on the back of one's neck. One of my most remembered memories is one from high school. I was at a party and had been, ahem, under age drinking. (Let me just state that I am now legal drinking age!) Everything seemed to be going smoothly until there was a very loud knock on the door and someone yelled "COPS!". So, out the back door I went. It was raining and I was running. Fence? No problem, I jumped it. I did, however, slip in the grass and lay motionless for about three seconds. Then I was back up and ready to run again.

After what seemed like forever, I finally made it back home. I crawled through my bedroom window(remember, I was 16 and not supposed to be out at a party) heart still beating wildly. I peered up the stairs, no lights on. Good sign, that means mom is still asleep. I threw my wet clothes into the hamper and went to bed. Phew. I had escaped the cops...and mom.

That memory will always stick in my mind, even several years later, much thanks to the amygdala! Without it, we wouldn't be able to share these memories and laugh about them years down the road.

Smell and Schizophrenia?

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The limbic system is the emotional center of the brain and also is tied to smell, motivation and memory. This system was evolved from a primitive system dedicated to smell that was linked to survival behaviors in early mammals. How interesting that the part of our brains that is responsible for our feelings was first the spot dedicated to smell. It makes sense that smell is tied to memory, we've all had times when we've caught a wiff of a particular scent and had a strong memory pulled into focus but I had no idea how emotional the power of smell could be.
A associate psychiatry professor at the University of Pennsylvania conducted a study where he compared the size of olfactory bulbs in people with and without schizophrenia.
"On average, the bulb sizes of schizophrenic subjects were 23 percent smaller than those of subjects in a control group. These findings not only concentrate on an area of the brain previously ignored in schizophrenia studies, but, according to Turetsky, they also offer a biological basis to his earlier findings that people suffering from the disease were abnormal in their ability to smell." - http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200009/the-emotional-power-smell
If they were able to replicate these findings and find causation (not JUST correlation) that could be a huge breakthrough in the treatment for schizophrenia.

Here is a (simple) picture of the olfactory bulbs and limbic system!
http://wikis.lib.ncsu.edu/index.php/Olfactory_bulbs

Before we start talking about the amazing functions of amygdala, I would first ask you to write down how many close friends you have and what their faces look like. If you are like me, who is not an expert at remembering and recognizing people's faces, then you are basically telling me that your amygdala is not so big.

Recent researches have shown that amygdala volume correlates with the complexity and the size of a person's social networks. In another word, large amygdala equals more friends and larger social circles. Do you think your amygdala is what made you social outcast? Do you believe social disorders are caused by genetic reasons, such as the size of your amygdala, rather than environmental factors?

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In addition, according to D Bzdok and his colleagues, larger amygdala makes you good at face recognition. It's also a major factor that helps you make more accurate judgement about people's faces. If you think you are good at remembering people's faces but don't have a large or complex social network, then try this Face Memory Test . If you did not get a great score on this test, then you know your amygdala is what's affecting your social behaviors.

The amygdala is composed of tiny nuclei, yet it's functions are very important to people today. It can affect people's emotions, memories, social behaviors and physical behaviors. Next time when people ask you questions such as "why do you like dogs" or "why do you have so many friends?", give them a simple answer - "my amygdala decided for me".

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http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v14/n2/full/nn.2724.html
http://www.mendeley.com/research/ale-metaanalysis-facial-judgments-trustworthiness-attractiveness/

Despite what was said in "The Waterboy," anger and aggression is not controlled by the medulla oblongata . This is the job of the amygdala.

In the brain, as soon as an aggression starts, our alarm system, the amygdala, is activated and this triggers a cascade of reactions to prepare our flight. It causes, among other things, stress hormones. The result: while the body is under tension, blow flow, heart rate, and breathing speed up, muscles are contracted, and ready to begin flight.

In one recent case, after a near drowning incident, I could not only vividly remember each detail, but while doing this, my body reacted as though I was reliving the experience. Because I was immobilized and unable to escape fast enough, the amygdala panics, and is flooded by alert signals. The amygdala "overheats," and suddenly I was unable to defend myself. I was paralyzed and felt like I was going to die.

It is the dissociation that enabled me to stay alive, but, paradoxically, it caused the feeling of fear. The time of the drowning is trapped as such in the amygdala. Maybe this is why I no longer swim alone?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UfC4u5GCy3I

Located in the Limbic System, the Amygdala, by definition "plays a key role in fear, excitement, and arousal." Under this description, it is the Amygdala that is activated in fight or flight situations as well as any other emotionally arousing experience. With this being said, one topic that has come to my interest several times, is the relationship between memories and events under amygdala activation.

As one student posted about an experience involving fight or flight at a roller rink, he believed the situation was remembered in great detail due to the high intensity of emotions. Being that this situation involved a fight or flight decision, it is apparent that the amygdala was activated. The question that I have is, "Is there a direct relationship between the amygdala and long term memory storage?"

After doing simple research, I found a study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences in Irvine, CA, in which researches set out to find an answer to this exact question. (Link on bottom of post.) In this study, the results were positive in that there is a direct relationship between amygdala activation and Long Term Memory storage.

"The findings of our studies using human subjects are consistent with those of our other studies using animal subjects in indicating that memory storage is influenced by activation of B-adrenergic systems and the amygdala. Considered together, these findings provide strong evidence supporting the hypothesis that the amygdala, especially the baso-lateral nucleus, plays a central role in modulating the consolidation of long-term memory of emotionally arousing experiences," (McGaugh, Cahill, Roozendaal 6).

This is easy to relate to our personal lives, as it is not difficult to recall an experience of heightened fear from our childhood. To now understand that these vivid images and memories were aided by my emotions and ultimately the amygdala, is intriguing. Overall, i find it extremely interesting to think that simple emotions that activate our amygdala, can be directly related to a more efficient storage of memories in the long term.

Original Article:
http://www.pnas.org/content/93/24/13508.full.pdf

Nurture VS. Nature

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My sister and I are two years apart, but we are like twins. Ever since we were young, we were best friends and stayed together for 18 years until she left to college. Even though we didn't look very similar, we had same personalities. We both were introvert and shy when we met new people.

After my sister and me both moved to America, our personalities started to change. We both did not notice how much we became more outgoing until we visited Korea two years ago. My relatives and friends were surprised when they saw us because we were so different. When we were young, we had a family party during Christmas. When all of my relatives gathered together, my sister and I were timid to talk to people and shuttered the answers when someone asked questions. We stuck together whole day and followed my parents around. This shows how much we were not socially engaged.
However, now we both have a lot of friends and we talk to people easily even at the first time. We don't get timid by crowd or people anymore. As I compare myself from the past and now, I think the environment changed our personalities. When we lived in Korea, I grew up under my typical Asian grandparents. They were very conservative and valued Korean traditions. They did not allow us to hang out with friends outside. We always had to study, and wear neat clothes that do not show our bodies a lot. However, when I started to live apart from them after we moved to America, my sister and I started to change. We followed more American culture and made different types of friends. They were more outgoing and talkative than my friends from Korea.

When I was reading the text book about nature and nurture, this came to my mind. Why did my sister and my personality change so suddenly? Did environment affect our personality? Or were we born with our extroversion? Which more affects people's personalities?

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In a 1945 publication of the Albuquerque Journal, a journalist reported that Georgia Green, a blind 18-year old girl, was traveling 50 miles north of Trinity Site (where the first atomic bomb was tested) when the atomic bomb was detonated. According to their records, she "saw" the flash of light from the detonation, and said to her brother who was driving the car, "what's that?"

Before the article and news of the detonation were released, the public did not yet know of the bomb's existence; they believed it was an accidental explosion at a munitions dump.

This urban legend is poorly and mysteriously supported and was even tweaked in other publications shortly following the release of the original article. We can use a few of the principles of scientific thinking to evaluate the validity of this urban legend.

First, there is an issue of correlation versus causation; we do not know for sure that the reason Georgia Green said "what's that" had anything to do with the bomb's detonation. A spider could have crawled up her arm, the seat belt could have pinched her finger, a gust of wind could have blown in her face, etc. It could have been a complete coincidence that something else happened at the same time the bomb went off. Which leads us to the next principle: replicability. If she would have been placed in the same situation but at a different time, would the same thing happen? Would she be able to "see" the flash of the bomb again? Lastly, we can evaluate the urban legend using the principle that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If it so happens that Georgia Green actually saw the flash of the detonation, what is the explanation for such a phenomenon? There would have to be extraordinary evidence to support the argument that blind people acquire or experience some kind of reaction to the radiation produced by the atomic bomb, for example.

http://www.snopes.com/science/atombomb.asp

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Memory.

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Memory is something that has always amazed and fascinated me. The idea that we are able to retain and remember events that have happened through the years is crazy. My grandmother, who had dementia, first began losing her memory in 2009. When we would visit, we would have the same conversations over and over. For us, time moved on- but for her, she kept re-living the year 2009.

Although her short term memory was gone, her long term memory was still intact. She could tell us what soap opera episode she was watching when Kennedy was assassinated or what outfit she wore to various family events, but she had no recollection of what she had done 20 minutes ago. As sad is this was to see and experience, it was also kind of incredible.

I found the part about taxi drivers' brains to be really interesting. The idea that their brains could actually differ from ours was really cool. When you think about it, it makes sense, but it isn't something I would have thought about on my own.This article on it is pretty interesting: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/677048.stm

Echolocation

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Echolocation is a technique used in animals like bats, whales and dolphins. These animals make sounds and listen to echos bounce off surrounding objects to navigate. When I was snorkeling in Hawaii, I was able to hear whales in the distance which was incredible. We also went whale watching and I was able to witness echolocation first hand. However, none of this was quite as amazing as the story of Ben Underwood, a blind 16 year old boy who is the first human capable of harnessing echolocation.

At age two, Ben's mother noticed a strange light in his pupil that turned white in 3 days. Retinoblastoma, a form of eye cancer had developed in his eyes. His infant cancer was very rare, and affects only 6 out of every million children. This cancer grows rapidly so doctors began chemo and radiation treatment; if the cancer reached his optic nerve he would die. After ten months, the cancer was still present. His mother had to make a choice, and his eyes were removed.

A year after the surgery, Ben and his mother were driving with the windows down when he said, "Mom, do you see that building?". We see objects because light reflects off of them. Ben sees them because sound reflects, and in this case because the noises the car made were reflected. After this experience, Ben was able to repeat this process of Echolocation by making clicking noises with his tongue. Growing up, he learned to play video games, rollerblade and ride his bike. In some situations, Ben was even more aware of his surroundings than his friends. Playing in the streets, he could hear cars from blocks away while other children noticed them only after they turned into the block.

The human ear is an amazing tool. The outer ear funnels sounds into the eardrum, then into the ossicles containing the smallest bones in the body, the hammer, stirrup and anvil. The cochlea is filled with fluid and converts sounds into neutral activity. The hair cells contain cilia and go into the cochlea. The auditory nerve picks up the sounds of the excited hair cells, travels through the thalamus and then the brain interprets sound. It is incredible that the 3 smallest bones in our body are part of such an intricate process, and through this process Ben was able to see again. Ben Underwood died due to complications with his cancer on January 19th, 2009. He was the only human capable of echolocation at the time, but he has influenced many others. Daniel Kish, another blind man, has learned to see with his ears too. He is now teaching other visually impaired children.

Video:

Neural Plasticity

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We use the brain every day. If there was no activity in a person's brain, then he is considered dead. The brain activity allows us to do everything in our lives. But how can we store new information all the time? By neural plasticity, the brain can adapt or reorganize the new information received by our senses by redrawing neural pathways.

Neural plasticity is when the nervous system in the brain changes

This adaptation or change is very beneficial for us because this change allows us to store new information. When we sit in class and learn, plasticity occurs in our brains so that the learned material can be stored in our brains. The environment plays a key factor in influencing plasticity. Therefore, if we use this fact, it can help us to use effectively more parts of the brain. This is done because of the change in the internal structures of the neurons, and because there is an increase of the amount of synapse between neurons.
Medically, plasticity is a precious gift because if a person loses a part of its brain, then plasticity of his brain can allow the person to live normally. For the brain changed its way of sending nerves around the body and allowing the person to function before the brain removal.

The youtube video is about a girl, who had her right hemisphere removed and is living a normal life.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TSu9HGnlMV0

The brain can adapt as much as it can, but until what extent can it do so?

After indulging in the articles and other peers responses, I have made the conclusion that fear is driven by the amygdala, a grouping of nuclei found in the medial temporal lobe. The amygdala is attached to the hippocampus, the area where memories are developed and stored. Therefore, the amygdala's main functions are memory and emotional feelings. Fear would fall into the category of both memory and feelings.
After hearing the professor and another peer tell stories of being frightened by a dog either attacking them or abruptly running up to them in a scary manner, I had a similar experience myself. I personally was not affected, but a young neighboring girl was. I have a small, very friendly dog that enjoys any humans company. One afternoon, my roommate went out to his car, but unknowingly left the back door open and my dog ran out following him. Upon leaving the house, he noticed a father and daughter outside, so being a friendly dog he started to quickly walk over to the neighbors. However, the young daughter did not notice my dog approaching her, and when he was only a few feet away she saw him and started screaming. My roommate heard the cries and ran over and grabbed my dog, but the fear had already taken over the young girl.
The young girls amygdala sensed fear and she reacted by screaming and crying. Even though my dog never got close to touching her, just the fact that something unknowingly approached her triggered her amygdala to sense fear. I hope this memory does not haunt her through her life, but since memory is a key component to the amygdala, who knows how traumatic this experience could be. Some people will often criticize people for being scared, but would it be better to be scared, or fearless? photo.jpg

Playing with the Amygdala

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cod3.jpgIt's pretty clear that video games provoke emotional responses. Just join any online first-person shooter game and you can listen to players yell, swear, and even threaten one another, but why do players become so emotional when playing certain games? Researchers from the Indiana University School of Medicine showed that playing violent video games has a direct effect on the amygdala. The study is summed up in this article: . The research team split up a group of 44 adolescents and randomly assigned them to one of two groups. The first group played a non-violent racing game called "Need for Speed: Underground" and the second group played "Medal of Honor: Frontline," a violent first-person shooter. After 30 minutes of playing their respective games, the teens had their brains scanned.
brainscan.jpg The results showed teens that played the violent video game showed increased activity in the amygdala with a decrease of activity in parts of the brain involved in self-control, inhibition and attention. This effect was not present in the participants that played the non-violent game. This experiment has proven to be replicable. John P. Murray, a psychology professor at Kansas State University, conducted a similar experiment. This time though, instead of video games, Murray had the participants view short clips from the boxing movie "Rocky IV." Using the same process as the Indiana University researchers, these children also showed increased activity in the amygdala. The effect of violent video games on the amygdala has been present in my own life as well. On any given day, my roommates and I can be heard yelling and shouting obscenities at the TV. We may play the video games, but through the amygdala the video game plays back on our emotions.

After reading some of the articles that were posted and learning that since the amygdala controls many emotional responses, what would happen if there was some sort of damage to it?
The first thing that came to mind was psychopathy, which is a mental disorder is which the person has a lack of empathy and remorse, and more generally a lack of emotional depth. So, I decided to do some research and found some interesting articles on the topics and came across this one:

The article confirmed my belief that the amygdala is the reason behind the emotional disabilities found in psychopathic patients. However the reason why this dysfunction in the amygdala occurs is still unknown. I also learned that psychopaths were found to have an amygdala that was smaller in volume compared to others, which would make sense.

So my next question is how have people been utilizing this knowledge? I would think that this information would be very useful in things like murder cases. If someone was convicted of a murder and showed almost no remorse for their actions, does that make them a psychopath?

For example, the infamous case of Casey Anthony, a Florida mother who was accused of murdering her 3-year-old daughter and was on trial this past summer. I followed the case for a good deal of the summer and for most of the trial she seemed unaffected. She was seen out partying and having a good time with her friends multiple times. How could a mother be on trial for the murder of her child and not be a compete mess every single day? Many different news reporters who were following the case suggested that maybe she was a psychopath and that seemed to be a sensible explanation. If so, did Casey Anthony ever undergo tests to see if she was psychopathic? Would this have affected the outcome of the trial in which she was found to be innocent? Could this have affected other similar trials in the past?

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Amygdala: Friend or Foe?

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I have often wondered about the fight or flight instinct within all human species. It seems that for many people the choice is consistent no matter what the situation. My entry today will be based of experience in my life.

During a recent weekend I was caught up in a mess of horrible situations. I was hanging out with a small group of friends, when two of my buddies started to rough house. Things quickly got out of hand when I noticed one of my friends trying to continue "fake fighting" after the other was attempting to end it. I immediately thought of the amygdala and how it is a key factor in making split moment decisions when scared or provoked. I attempted to end the situation peacefully only to get sucker punched in the face by the person. Immediately my amygdala kicked into gear and it turned into a serious fight. Without going into too much detail it ended with what I thought was a good friend pinned to the ground with a bloody mouth, by my other friends. Thankfully me and the guy talked it out later and are now closer friends than we were before hand.

After the situation I kept thinking about the readings I had read regarding the amygdala. Me and this person are very similar people and it proposes the question of whether or not we have similar brain structure. Neither of us would back down and both of us immediately regretted it ever happening and apologized to each other sincerely. During the encounter I noticed my friend who was originally frightened by the guy change his attitude completely and jump on him and pin him down. It's amazing how quickly decisions can change and fear can be swapped out for confidence in a split second. I do not believe that any of the events that had taken place that night would have been possible without the help of the amygdala.

Psychology has, over the past few years, become a topic of much interest to me. Not in the sense that I'm willing to switch my major to psychology, but more so that I'm fascinated by the study of human behavior and all the strange quirks that psychologists have discovered about it.

I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with my parents, and not coincidentally much of the time I was also reading my textbook. I found many of the examples provided in the textbook to be interesting, and though I believed them, I wanted to see how they would hold up while conducting my own experiment (in this case my parents were the subjects).

My first question, posed individually to both my mom and my dad, was straight out of the text book; which compass direction would you travel to get from Reno, Nevada, to San Diego, California? Much as the textbook had indicated, they were both quick to respond "Southwest, of course." I then explained to them the concept of heuristics, and why they were both so quick to say a completely false direction.

After a few more questions of this nature, my dad (ever the thinking type) realized what I was doing. When I finally came around to quizzing him on "Popular Psychology Knowledge," he answered True to only two of the questions (for those of you who don't know, all 10 questions are False, though they all seem True). I knew what my dad was doing -- using the counter-intuitive answer in hopes that he could in some way appear more intelligent than the average human. Upon further reading, I realized exactly what he was doing. Instead of being "more clever," he was actually reacting to demand characteristics, meaning he was altering his experimental behavior based on what he thought the experimenter (me) wanted to hear, or more precisely what he thought others wouldn't say.

This principle sparked my interested, and I researched a little more into it. I found this article /a> detailing the phenomenon. Martin Theodore Orne, pioneer of demand characteristics research This source of bias is an obvious way that researchers can be forced into incorrect conclusions, and thus is noteworthy as a pitfall for experimental design. Can any of you think of a way to completely eliminate the effect of demand characteristics? So far I've only come up with Naturalistic Observation...

As I read through the textbook, I found myself drawn to the research surrounding the 10% myth. It is one of the most widely known psychology rumors started by William James, the founder of functionalism. He stated that we don't use all of our "intellectual potential", a thought that was greatly misconstrued to mean that we only use 10% of our brains.

However, Karl Lashley's findings are what intrigue me the most. He disproved this rumor by having mice figure out mazes with cuts to different parts of their brains. This was to see if there was a specific area that worked better than others when mice navigated the maze. In fact, his findings showed that no area of the brain was more significant to their navigation.

This finding finally debunks the myth that has contributed to the self-help industry with books that claim to "harness" the other 90% of your brain, therefore helping people stay away from the trap of pseudoscience. Also, it shows doctors and medical professionals that all of the brain is important to the functioning of a person so it is extremely dangerous to cut out even the smallest area. Lashley's finding can help save patients' lives and their ability to function in the world.

Of course, I believed this myth for quite awhile, almost leading me to fall into the basket of unsupported claims that is pseudoscience. I would stop in the self-help section of Barnes & Noble, contemplating how much reading an 120 page guide to using all of your own brain would help me. Luckily, the fiction section was more appealing.

Yet I still wonder how the 10% myth affected the procedures of early surgeries and what it would look like if a person did use only 10% of their brain. These are scary thoughts, but thoughts that are key to understanding the significance of Karl Lashley's findings.

BUCK FEVERRRR

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Now why would buck fevers have anything to do with the amygdala?

Well, after reading these articles, I learned that not only does the amygdala have connections with emotions; it also has strong connections with animals because studies shown that our brain focuses more on animals rather than things. The amygdalae are almond liked-shapes that make us conscious of our emotions towards animals and people. Meaning, the amygdala may be the cause of beginner hunters getting buck fever when seeing a game in the distances.

From the readings, I found it interesting that if you had your amygdala removed, you may become fearless and or have no emotional feelings towards animal or people. Thus, in this case, you would not experience buck fevers as well.

Some may like the feeling of buck fevers and some may not. I don't know why people dislike the feeling of buck fevers. The only reason I could think of are because they get too nervous or overly excited and then it causes them to miss their shot.

I love the thrill of buck fevers because I get nervous excitement feelings when I spot a game. Buck fevers usually only happens to people who are beginner hunters, but for me, I seem to get buck fevers every year that I go hunting. The symptoms that I experience during a buck fever are; my breathing pattern changes, my heart pounds rapidly, and my stomach starts having butterflies. In addition, with the sight of a game, our amygdala alerts us of the game's presence, thus creating emotional connections like fear or excitement between our brain and the animal. In conclusion, I think buck fevers may have just been our amygdala doing his job.

Now why would one want to remove the excitement feelings that our brains have to offer?

I wouldn't want to get rid of my amygdala, would you?

Chemical Senses and Memory

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Smell and taste is one of the most interesting topics of sensation and perception. These senses are stimulated chemically. In other words, for example when chemicals stimulate the receptors inside of the taste buds in mouth, we start to feel the sense of taste. These buds are in papillae. We are able to taste from our tongue, throat and inside part of the cheeks. However, the most sensitive part is our tong. The front edge of the tong is very sensitive for sweet tastes and the upper sides of the front tong tastes salty very well. Also, tong's middle sides are sensitive for sour tastes mostly where the spicy tastes are sensed mostly at the back of the tong. However, it is an unavoidable fact that the entire tong itself is able to sense and detect every kind of tastes at any parts because receptors and taste buds are everywhere on the tong. For example, one can easily taste a very spicy pepper from his/her front edge of the tong. The thing is, different types of tastes have different and specific spots on the tong.

Another chemical sense it the smell. While we breathe, we also inhale some chemicals that are in the air and some of them stimulate the receptors which are located in the nasal passage. After these receptors are notified by these chemicals, the message is ready to be sent to the brain. These chemicals could be from flowers, food, perfume or even a person's own smell.

These senses are not only for us to detect things but also remind us how we felt during the times that we have interacted with specific tastes or smells. As the interview which is recorded in video with Dr. Stuart Firestein, from Columbia University, says that the connection between taste and smell, and memory is still unexplainable. There are theories that could bring an explanation to this issue and one of them says that they are processing in intimate locations of the brain; hence, they might be affecting each other. They both connect to memory but the strongest sense that triggers memory is the smell.

In my opinion, it is very interesting to remember exact emotion when I smell something even though that memory belongs to many years ago. For example, couple weeks ago I smelled someone's perfume and it reminded me my childhood because my mother used to use the same perfume.

All in all, it is obvious that smell and taste are very important chemical senses for us and have really strong connection to memory, especially the smell, even though scientists have not figured out why.

For the interview and video: http://bigthink.com/ideas/25252

I have heard and often times said "I was just so focused on this... I missed that..." This deals with a concept that we have been discussing in class ;illusions, and the fact that our brain will overlook and perceive certain images in a different manner than they actually are. When we are focusing and putting all of our attention on certain information, we will often times ignore or leave out the other information and what else is going on around what we were focusing on. For example the Cocktail Party Effect which I found to be very interesting and surprisingly true. That in a noisy group of people even when we are not listening to what other people are saying we will often times pick out that our name was said. This happens because of selective attention, we select a channel and turn down the other channels; the part of the brain that allows us to do this is are the reticular activating system (RAS) and forebrain. The book states that these areas activate the regions of the cerebral cortex, such as the frontal cortex, during selective attention. Is this a valid excuse for missing a piece of information or should be still have just been paying attention to it in the first place?

The Depths of Memory

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Memory has always amazed me. It is incredible how memories are stored and saved over time. Whenever I start to ponder this phenomenon, how memories are stored, I can't help but get the image of Dumbledore's pensieve from the Harry Potter series. When I read about the hippocampus in the third chapter, I was instantly drawn in.

I always thought that taxi drivers just studied maps all the time...It hadn't occurred to me that their brains could actually be proportioned differently. However, it is still inconclusive as to if their time and experience driving causes the enlarged hippocampi or if those with larger hippocampi naturally fall to the taxi driving profession because it is a natural "talent."

Another aspect of memory that has always intrigued me is short term memory loss. When I was reading about the hippocampus, I was under the impression that it was only in charge of one's spatial memory, or remembering where things are around them in their environment. However, damage to the hippocampus can result in inabilities to form new memories. I first became interested in this concept when I saw the movie, "50 First Dates," where there is a woman who suffered an accident and from then on could not form new memories: she relived the same date for the rest of her life. In this movie, there is a man named Tom who has a short term memory of 10 seconds. Here is a link to a short clip showing his condition: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jk7WuvNKe_g

However, the text doesn't explicitly say that this is the cause of short term memory. One hypothesis stated that the hippocampus stores memories briefly before they are transferred to the cortex to be stored permanently. In this case, it could be the cause to short term memory loss. However, another hypothesis says that memories are directly stored in the cortex and merely strengthen over time. This hypothesis does not suggest that damage to the hippocampus results in short term memory loss. Therefore, I do not yet have a clear answer to my ever-growing interest in memory, and short term memory loss, but I am excited to learn further and hopefully get my questions answered.

naturevsnurture2.gif In Chapter 3, I found myself very much drawn to the section concerning behavioral genetics; this idea that how human beings act, behave may be due to what our parents gave us for genes. On the other hand though, I would argue that a lot of how we respond to certain situations (behave) is due to the environment in which we were raised --nature vs nurture at its finest. I find this idea to be interesting because a lot of times nowadays, criminals who are being tried for a crime may be let off because they were predisposed to being an alcoholic because their mother was. I don't necessarily buy that. I would agree that if they were raised in an environment where drinking was promoted or seen on a regular basis, they may be more prone to drink themselves. However, genetics do not excuse how some people act. All in all, I believe that overall the environment a person was raised is the most crucial element to criminal behavior.

In this article I've linked, this researcher has found evidence in other studies that has come to show that, usually, genetic factors don't play a key role in criminal behavior. There is a sentence in the article that reads, "[t]hey concluded therefore that in respect to common crime, hereditary factors are of little significance." However, it should be noted that reading a little farther into the researcher's paper, she concludes that although genetic factors may not play a major role in criminal behavior, those factors are more likely to influence property offenses.

So for myself, I find this debate quite interesting. One experiment that this paper I linked never covered and I'm sure this has been done before, but what would happen if researchers observed and measured the criminal behaviors of identical twins that were raised in different homes--say they were adopted by two different families? Maybe one of the adoptive families has a more "criminal-inclined" environment, where the other family has hardly any criminal history or "criminally-inclined" environment. This would give researchers any even more solid way of deciphering the nature/nurture effect because these adopted children have the same genotype, but different environments.

I continually find myself wondering how else we can tweak our research experiments to better understand this interesting idea. I find nature vs nurture a very fascinating topic!

But is this true? Are humans born with an inherent disposition of being evil? Or is it because of society that humans fall prey to temptation?

This makes me think of William Golding's novel, Lord of the Flies. A group of British boys get stranded on an island and within a few days they become savages. In my English class, we discussed whether or not this is because of some sort of inherent evilness within all humans or was it because these boys had to do what they had to do in order to survive, even if it meant killing each other. This begs the question, was it nature or was it nurture?

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During my senior year of high school, I watched a family friend's baby grow from a baby into a toddler. As a baby, when she didn't receive what she wanted she would cry and pout. But as a little toddler, when I took away something that she wanted she would hit me. This made me wonder how did a little toddler barely 2 and a half years old knew to hit me when I didn't give her what she wanted. Did she learn that? Turns out she had learned it from her older sister. But then where did her sister learn it? Certainly her parents wouldn't have taught her to hit others. Does this mean that no matter how good or innocent a person is deep down there is a beast within all of us just waiting to emerge?

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This page is an archive of entries in the Writing 1 category from October 2011.

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