In 1996, a group of researchers at NYU conducted an interesting experiment. First, they had NYU students work on unscrambling letters to form words. Unbeknownst to the students, they had been split up into three groups, and each group unscrambled letters that formed slightly different words. One group unscrambled words with a "rude" connotation like aggressively, bold, and interrupt. Another group unscrambled "polite" words like considerate, patiently, and respect. And the third group unscramble........ Read more »
Despite the fact that it is present in almost all vertebrate species, very little was known about the habenula until fairly recently. In the past several years, however, the habenula has received a significant amount of attention for its potential role in both cognition (e.g. reward processing) and disorders like depression. Still, the habenula remains a little-known structure whose functions are yet to be fully elucidated.Where is the habenula?The habenula is part of the diencephalon and, toget........ Read more »
Hikosaka O. (2010) The habenula: from stress evasion to value-based decision-making. Nature reviews. Neuroscience, 11(7), 503-13. PMID: 20559337
If you asked any self-respecting neuroscientist 25 years ago what causes depression, she would likely have only briefly considered the question before responding that depression is caused by a monoamine deficiency. Specifically, she might have added, in many cases it seems to be caused by low levels of serotonin in the brain. The monoamine hypothesis that she would have been referring to was first formulated in the late 1960s, and at that time was centered primarily around norepinephrine. But in........ Read more »
Miller, B., & Hen, R. (2015) The current state of the neurogenic theory of depression and anxiety. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 51-58. DOI: 10.1016/j.conb.2014.08.012
Despite the great strides that have been made toward a more egalitarian society in the United States over the past 50 years, events like what occurred in Ferguson last month are a bleak reminder of the racial tensions that still exist here. Of course, the United States is not alone in this respect; throughout the world we can see abundant examples of strain between different races, as well as between any groups with dissimilar characteristics. In fact, it seems that the quickness with which we f........ Read more »
In the 1960s, a psychologist at Stanford named Walter Mischel began a series of experiments exploring the dynamics of self-control in children. In one such experiment, Mischel gave preschoolers the choice between two outcomes, one of which was clearly preferable. For example, they were able to choose between 2 marshmallows and 1 marshmallow (the experiments became known as the Stanford marshmallow experiments for this reason).But there was a catch. The experimenter would tell the children that h........ Read more »
Inzlicht, M., Legault, L., & Teper, R. (2014) Exploring the Mechanisms of Self-Control Improvement. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23(4), 302-307. DOI: 10.1177/0963721414534256
Some psychological conditions receive a disproportionate amount of attention in popular media relative to how frequently they actually occur in the population. One of those is psychopathy, a personality disorder that is characterized by antisocial behavior, impulsivity, and a lack of empathy. Psychopaths may be charming on the surface but tend towards pathological deception and indifferent manipulation of other people. And they are more likely to have behavioral problems or be involved in crimin........ Read more »
Polaschek, D. (2014) Adult Criminals With Psychopathy: Common Beliefs About Treatability and Change Have Little Empirical Support. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23(4), 296-301. DOI: 10.1177/0963721414535211
Corpus callosum (in red).CC image courtesy of Life Science Databases(LSDB).
Where is it?The corpus callosum is a large, C-shaped nerve fiber bundle found beneath the cerebral cortex. It stretches across the midline of the brain, connecting the left and right cerebral hemispheres. It makes up the largest collection of white matter tissue found in the brain.What is it and what does it do?To understand the role of the corpus callosum, it is first importan........ Read more »
Gazzaniga MS. (2005) Forty-five years of split-brain research and still going strong. Nature reviews. Neuroscience, 6(8), 653-9. PMID: 16062172
Where are they?
Close-up view of the meninges surrounding the brain.
The term meninges comes from the Greek for "membrane" and refers to the three membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. The membrane layers (discussed in detail below) from the outside in are the: dura mater, arachnoid mater, and pia mater. Their positioning around the brain can be seen in the image to the right.What are they and what do they do?The brain is s........ Read more »
Where is it?
Thalamus (in red).
The thalamus is a large, symmetrical (meaning there is one in each hemisphere) structure that makes up most of the mass of the diencephalon. A large number of pathways travel through the thalamus, including all of the sensory pathways other than those devoted to olfaction (smell).What is it and what does it do?The thalamus is often described as a relay station. This is because almost all sensory informati........ Read more »
Sherman, S., & Guillery, R. (2002) The role of the thalamus in the flow of information to the cortex. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 357(1428), 1695-1708. DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2002.1161
Hodgkin and Huxley used the large axons of the giant squid to measure voltage changes during an action potential.
By the late 1930s, researchers had come to understand several important things about the conduction of signals within neurons. For example, they knew that signaling within neurons is electrical in nature (as opposed to signaling between neurons, which is usually chemical), and that it occurs in bursts of activity called action potentials. And th........ Read more »
Schwiening, C. (2012) A brief historical perspective: Hodgkin and Huxley. The Journal of Physiology, 590(11), 2571-2575. DOI: 10.1113/jphysiol.2012.230458
Today, the knowledge that neurons communicate with one another using chemicals known as neurotransmitters is a foundational part of our understanding of brain function. We use our awareness of neurochemical transmission to design drugs, investigate the causes of disease, and improve our comprehension of behavior (e.g. through experimental methods like microdialysis). In the first half of the twentieth century, however, the means by which neurons........ Read more »
In those who are addicted to drugs (or any other substance or behavior), the desire to re-experience the intoxicating effects they initially felt when they used the drug can be overwhelming. It can lead to compulsive drug-seeking, obsessive thinking, and irrational behavior. In addition to these new thought patterns and behaviors, however, addiction is also is associated with a diminished ability to experience pleasure from non-drug rewards. This reduced pleasure is termed........ Read more »
Wilson, S., Delgado, M., McKee, S., Grigson, P., MacLean, R., Nichols, T., & Henry, S. (2014) Weak ventral striatal responses to monetary outcomes predict an unwillingness to resist cigarette smoking. Cognitive, Affective, . DOI: 10.3758/s13415-014-0285-8
Where is it?
Nucleus accumbens represented by a red dot.
The nucleus accumbens is found in an area of the brain called the basal forebrain. There is a nucleus accumbens in each hemisphere; it is situated between the caudate and putamen. The nucleus accumbens is considered part of the basal ganglia and also is the main component of the ventral striatum. The nucleus accumbens itself is separated into two anatomical components: the shell a........ Read more »
Volman, S., Lammel, S., Margolis, E., Kim, Y., Richard, J., Roitman, M., & Lobo, M. (2013) New Insights into the Specificity and Plasticity of Reward and Aversion Encoding in the Mesolimbic System. Journal of Neuroscience, 33(45), 17569-17576. DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3250-13.2013
Pierre Paul Broca
In April of 1861, a 51-year old man was transferred to Paul Broca's surgical ward in a hospital in France. The man, whose name was Leborgne, had epilepsy but was near death due to an uncontrolled infection and the resultant gangrene. There was something curious about Leborgne, however: he had extreme difficulty speaking voluntarily. In fact, one of the only sounds he was able to make--unless antagonized, which could prompt him to curse--wa........ Read more »
A few years ago (2010), the journal Nature Methods chose optogenetics as its "method of the year." The fact that optogenetics, in 2010, was already considered a viable approach to studying the brain is impressive in and of itself, considering that all of the seminal work with optogenetics has been done since the year 2000. Because the method is still a relatively recent development, however, it is probably true that the most intriguing work with optogenetics has yet to be........ Read more »
Where is it?
HPA axis activation, proceeding from the hypothalamus to the pituitary gland to the adrenal glands.
The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, or HPA axis as it is commonly called, describes the interaction between the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, and adrenal glands. The hypothalamus and pituitary gland are located just above the brainstem, while the adrenal glands are found on top of the kidneys.What is it and what does it........ Read more »
Cajal's depiction of neurons in the cerebellum.
Although many consider him now to be the "father of modern neuroscience," when Santiago Ramon y Cajal (1852-1934) was a boy he dreamed of one day being an artist. His father, who was otherwise very nurturing to Cajal's intellectual development, discouraged the expression of Cajal's artistic aspirations. He saw art as a fruitless endeavor, and he was nothing if not a pragmatist. Nevertheless, Cajal found ways t........ Read more »
López-Muñoz, F., Boya, J., & Alamo, C. (2006) Neuron theory, the cornerstone of neuroscience, on the centenary of the Nobel Prize award to Santiago Ramón y Cajal. Brain Research Bulletin, 70(4-6), 391-405. DOI: 10.1016/j.brainresbull.2006.07.010
Although many within the scientific community believe that pedophilia has its origins in the brain, the neurobiological underpinnings of the disorder are still very unclear. It is hoped, however, that technologies that allow for the observation of brain activity in real-time, like positron-emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), will provide us with more information about potential abnormalities in the brains of pedophiles (for more abou........ Read more »
Ponseti, J., Granert, O., van Eimeren, T., Jansen, O., Wolff, S., Beier, K., Deuschl, G., Bosinski, H., & Siebner, H. (2014) Human face processing is tuned to sexual age preferences. Biology Letters, 10(5), 20140200-20140200. DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2014.0200
Although the drug methylenedioxymethamphetamine, better known as MDMA or ecstasy, is often lumped into the category of hallucinogens, it has a unique set of effects that make it very distinct from other drugs in this class. Specifically, along with creating a positive mood state and reducing anxiety, MDMA is known for fostering strong feelings of empathy and compassion.In some ways, MDMA appears to act on the brain in a manner similar to other amphetamines. Specifically, i........ Read more »
Kirkpatrick, M., Lee, R., Wardle, M., Jacob, S., & de Wit, H. (2014) Effects of MDMA and Intranasal Oxytocin on Social and Emotional Processing. Neuropsychopharmacology, 39(7), 1654-1663. DOI: 10.1038/npp.2014.12
The motor cortex (in red)
Neuroscience now views the cerebral cortex as a region of the brain that is essential for sensation, movement, and the heightened level of cognition we associate with humans as compared other animals. In the 1700s, however, many scientists considered the cortex to be a functionally insignificant outer shell of the brain. This corresponds to its original meaning when translated from Latin, which is "bark" (as in tree bark).By the 18........ Read more »
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