Disrupting the Baseline

Molly Fitzgibbon

Upon entering high school and signing up for a fall sport it was a requirement for all athletes to take the ImPACT test. It seemed very unimportant to me at the time and something I just wanted to complete so I could get out there on the field. Little did I know in a short few months this test would be a necessary and helpful tool in getting diagnosed with a concussion. One crisp fall day of my freshmen year, I was out practicing on the field with my teammates. A simple drill was being executed, but when running full speed with my head down I collided heads with one of my teammates and immediately fell to the ground. When trying to stand I felt nauseous, disoriented and my head was in much pain. After going in to see the trainer, I went to the South Shore Hospital and a CT scan was done. Everything looked normal on the CT scan but I was diagnosed with a concussion and told I could not finish out the season. After hearing this I was directed back to school to take the ImPACT test again, it was amazing how much the results differed from my baseline results in the late summer. The ImPACT test shows multiple aspects of neurocognitive function, including memory, attention, brain processing speed, reaction time, and post-concussion symptoms. Personally, it took me months to recover from the concussion, I struggled with headaches for quite some time. As I was recovering from the concussion, I took the ImPACT test multiple times to see if my score was returning back to the baseline, and sure enough as time passed it was evident that my brain began to heal and my scores inched closer and closer each time to back the level where it would normally function at. Throughout the rest of the season it was evidently noticeable that people treated my concussion very differently than if I had a sprained ankle. There was such a push to get back out there on the field when if I wasn’t ready I could have done more harm to my brain. Throughout my high school career, I watched people get multiple concussions and return back even when they had not been fully healed. Overall, by doing that these people seemed to struggle more with chronic headaches and long term effects of their repeated concussions. I am very thankful that my concussion was on the less severe end and I waited until my test results again matched those of the baseline so my brain was able to heal properly. References: http://www.nebsportsconcussion.org/impact/sports-related-concussion-testing-and-impact-testing-program.html

Are you seeing what I’m seeing?

Emma England

One of the biggest questions in neuroscience stems from the question: what is perception? How do we know what we are seeing in the world is the same as what someone else is seeing? For example, the red we all have learned to describe, could it be maroon to someone else but they just learned to associate the maroon color with the word red? This is a million-dollar question that no one has answered, despite the technology we have. In the article “How Machine Learning is Helping us to Understand the Brain” by Daniel Bear, they bring up an interesting point about the metaphors we use to describe and understand the human brain. The author explains that many times, scientists study the bigger picture of the brain by using a “the systems approach”. For example, they study how large groups of communicating neurons lead to our perception of the world. Technology is expanding to the point that is not what is restricting us from understanding the brain. Alternately, he thinks that we should be taking an approach to the brain like an evolutionary biologist would and study the brain based on how it does something. Conversely, he states that we have been studying the brain as if we are seeking explanations for each aspect of what the brain does.  In my opinion, one of the biggest obstacles that we have yet to figure out is the line between sensing something and perceiving it. For example, in the visual system we know that the light source acts as the stimulus and this stimulus hits the back of the retina which then changes various cells turning this physical stimulus (the light wave) into a neural signal that the brain can then understand. The message will then be sent from the retina to the primary visual cortex via the optic nerve. The brain will then interpret this light and develop a figure based on many of the aspects of the stimulus. This is how we are perceiving the world. However, there is still a lot we do not know. We know the stimulus (the light), the pathway the light follows to transduce the stimulus into a neural signal (the cells in the retina), how the neural signal travels through the brain (the optic nerve), and then which areas of the brain the signal synapses in to increase the neural firing rate (the activity) in that area of the brain (V1; or the primary visual cortex). But we don’t really have any idea HOW these increased firing rates of neurons in a specialized portion of the brain allow us to perceive the world we just know that’s what it DOES. Essentially, this connects to the mind-body problem as well as the bind problem. The mind-body problem is the issue of how physical processes such as nerve impulses and sodium and potassium molecules flowing across membranes (the body part of the problem) become transformed into the richness of perceptual experience (the mind part of the problem)? Additionally, the binding problem focuses on how the different aspects of the world come together to lead to our sensation. I learned about these two different issues in sensations versus perception in the Perception class taught by Professor Grubb at Trinity. All in all, the article states that we need to start looking at how the functions and allows us to carry out every day activities and experience the world through a variety of senses. It is not saying that we need to disregard our previous techniques by identifying what each area does, but that in order to get a greater understanding of the brain as a whole we need to focus on the HOW question. Studying the brain using this approach will hopefully help us understand the brain more completely and allow u to answer the question of whether what we are seeing is the same as how other people see the world. Bear, Daniel. “How Machine Learning Is Helping Us to Understand the Brain.” Salon, Massive, 25 Nov. 2017, www.salon.com/2017/11/25/how-machine-learning-is-helping-us-to-understand-the-brain_partner/.

Advertisements: For You or Your Dopamine?

Anna Hackett

We all know the feeling, absolutely craving that gooey chocolate cake, that cheesy pizza, or that crisp salad even. You also probably know the feeling of seeing an advertisement for a restaurant with sizzling steak, steaming fries, and creamy ice cream. It turns out, marketing agents have a better idea as to what they’re doing than we may assume. You may already be somewhat familiar with the process of rewards and punishments in the brain. A pathway known as the mesolimbic dopamine pathway is the principle area of the brain associated with this phenomenon. Our brains are trained to learn what stimuli in the environment or actions we do lead to rewards, or good feelings. Food is no exception to this mechanism and we can thank dopamine for how we feel. We know that eating brings us happiness; we as well as our brains consider it a reward when we eat, thus dopamine is released. So, seeing food advertisements where the food is displayed as if it were right in front of you causes our brains to signal to us that we want what we are seeing and we want to complete this new goal to release dopamine. We associate seeing the food with eating and thus being happy. Advertising agencies are no fool to this process and thus know, the more they show you and the more frequently you’re exposed to their commercials, the more you’ll want their food. This same spark of craving can come from scrolling through social media. So many people, if you’re like me, follow food Instagram accounts or blogs that are dedicated to showing the delicious, mouth watering, food finds the poster has managed to get their hands on somewhere in the world. It may seem harmless scrolling though these accounts, but you’re actually causing your body to get feelings of hunger without realizing it. You may have noticed that after a few scrolls through one of these pages you start feeling like you’re ready for a snack. Whether or not you indulge in these feelings is an entirely other thing, but only those with willpowers stronger than mine will be able to resist these new cravings. So, next time you’re scrolling though one of these accounts, because realistically this post won’t make you stop, nor should it, try and see if you’re starting to get those munchies feelings you brain is trying to induce. References: Dooley, Roger. “Food Ads: How Brains Respond.” Neuromarketing, 29 Sept. 2014, www.neurosciencemarketing.com/blog/articles/food-craving.htm#. Banks, Amy. “The Dopamine Reward System: Friend or Foe?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 12 July 2015, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-love/201507/the-dopamine-reward-system-friend-or-foe. Bergland, Christopher. “The Neurochemicals of Happiness.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 29 Nov. 2012, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201211/the-neurochemicals-happiness. Romm, Cari. “What ‘Food Porn’ Does to the Brain.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 20 Apr. 2015, www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/04/what-food-porn-does-to-the-brain/390849/.