Author Archives: Samantha Worman

Returning to an Unchanged Place Reveals How You Have Changed

Nelson Mandela once said-“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to see the ways that you yourself have changed.”

I wanted to write my last blog post about remembrance and change. The returning to a place that we have once been to realize the changes and experiences we’ve gone through since we left. I write this for the graduating seniors as well as everyone else on our campus who has experienced an incredibly difficult semester.

There are things about returning to a familiar place that trigger memories within us. I know for me personally there is a perfume that is cucumber and melon that I wore one summer while on a trip to an Indian reservation in Montana. I still have the same bottle and when I wear it occasionally I remember vividly the experiences I had there of walking through yellow stone park or climbing up the side of a mountain to a secret site where people would meditate and fast for days at a time. These types of things are called Engrams. We experience them then as external stimuli allows for memories that are stored as “biophysical or biochemical changes in the brain” respond to things such as sight, smell etc…

In the article that I read about returning to unchanged places I thought of how many of us will be leaving Mary Washington very soon, within two weeks as we graduate on Ball Circle. I wonder how we will feel about this place five, ten or twenty years from now. Much of it I hope will remain the same like it has with the original parts of campus but I’m sure a lot will be different as we expand. That is the part I look forward to with engrams; the flashbacks to old memories when we come back one day and allowing the old memories and new memories combine and modify our neural networks that allow us to remain connected to the past.

The article also discussed Olfaction which it labels as out oldest primal sense. This is where the power of smell can be used to bring back powerful memories, some of which can be brought up in PTSD.  Although  there can be a negative memory associated with is “that remains unchanged and has deeply rooted negative associations—that it creates a window of opportunity to weave in positive associations and dilute the traumatic associations held in the engram.”

It is my hope that many of us have learned in this class how memory works, how our attention is processed and how our thoughts are formed. I hope that we can come back to Mary Washington and remember everything good about this place. May it be the smell of freshly cut grass even though the mowers were annoying at 6am, or the sodexo burgers being grilled out on Ball in the Fall and Spring. We can come back and help create out engrams with the new memories that we make from reminiscing on the old.





Does trusting your instincts make sense?


As we grow up we develop instincts. These are mental habits that we posses which help us to make everyday choices. These are the kinds of choices that don’t involved much thought at all, they are almost automatic. These quick habits that are “deep-wired and govern our decisions” are heuristics. We’ve been talking about them recently in class and I wanted to find out a little more with what they mean exactly.

Author, Wray Herbert  just-published On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind’s Hard-Wired Habits. 

Herbert does in depth on how heuristics can help or hurt us with our everyday decisions. Many of us are coming to the end of our college careers and at this moment our everyday decisions have a big impact on what happens to us in the next 4 weeks.  Heuristics are helpful for survival, Herbert refers to them as “having deep ancient evolutionary origins.”  He then defines a few that can really mess us up if we aren’t careful.  When applying these to our lives right now there is the “familiarity heuristic” which is being extremely familiar with something that it seems a safe way to go or do. This heuristic leads us o sick with what we have already done and not switching it up. At this point I feel like a lot of us who have been in college for four years now are comfortable with where we are the the habits we have developed. But there is a turning point now where we can’t skip a class here and there just because we have before. We can’t not turn in something or risk doing poorly in a class because there is still another semester or year to make it up. We have to alter our choices to ensure our “survival” of college which ultimately leads to graduation.

Another heuristic is the “scarcity heuristic” which in Hebert’s words means, if something is rare, it’s perceived as more valuable.  This can be good in helping us make choices that we wouldn’t usually make like getting up to go to the gym because you know for the rest of the day you will be sitting down and not moving so the gym is “rare” occasion.

There are many on each side of the good and bad of heuristics. I believe that you should trust your instincts but also we self-aware of the environment or situation that you are in. There is a reason we have our “gut” instinct but we should also be able to stop sometimes and recognize when we need to slow down and not make impulsive decisions.


Chronic stress and memory loss

When it comes to memory loss we often think of diseases like Alzheimer’s or traumatic brain injuries. As college students, we don’t think of the reasons as to why we forget our books in our cars or why that assignment slipped out minds. We simply put it to being absent minded or the fact that we have other things going on that distract us.  Stress isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when as a reason we forget things. However a recent study done in 2010 suggests that it may be the cause.

The study, A critical review of chronic stress effects on spatial learning and memory by Cheryl Conrad suggests that chronic stress vs. acute or high-levels of stress actually reduce spatial memory.  We have been learning recently about spatial memory, which is in charge of being familiar with our environment. We need our spatial memory to find our way around campus, We also need it for our spatial working memory to temporarily keep information while we take a test or work on an assignment. These qualities are extremely important in the daily lives of college students.

Researchers at the University of Iowa found the connection between the hormone found in stress-cortisol and short-term memory with rats. The amount of cortisol reduced the number of synaptic connections made in the pre-frontal cortex reducing the success of short-term memory.

There is a difference between long-term memory and stress. If the stress is acute or high such as experiencing an earthquake or getting into a car accident, your memory is actually improved and the ability to recall these events are easier because they are stored in the area responsible for survival. Low levels of chronic stress or anxiety can alter the brain and cause damage to memory. White matter in the brain is increases with stress, this is good for sending signals such as messages across the brain but reduces neurons that are in charge of information processing. This is shown in research on PTSD patients with increased white matter and long-term stress.

Researchers at Berkley suggest that the effects of long-term stress and anxiety in the younger generation may be the cause for mood disorders, learning disabilities and anxiety. From this I think we can all take the suggestions to reduce stress in our lives and manage a healthy balance. Anything from saying no to an extra meeting here and there or going for a walk on a nice day to get out of the office. We all need to practice self-care so we can take care of our memories in the long run.


Do people only use 10% of their brains

Many of us have seen the movie Lucy, and many of us have written on it. Who can blame us? It is a fascinating topic of the true capacity that we hold within is. Instead of writing on the movie I am sharing this article with you on the question of do people only use 10 % of their brains.

Based on the article by Boyd, it seems to be nearly impossible for us as humans to only have the ability to use 10% of our brains. Right now as I’m writing these words I’m using more than one small area. I may not know which parts exactly yet that I’m using, but the ability to multitask supports this argument. Our bodies are multitasking every second, even in sleep. The brain stem as Boyd pointed out is controlling all of the involuntary movements in the body such as breathing. My cerebrum and cerebellum are controlling the thought processes going into this assignment and the movement that my hands require to type or write. All of this is happening at the same time; clearly more than just 10% of my brain is active in this particular moment. Linked to the cerebellum are two other structures (pons and the medulla oblongata) that are connections and controls.

The sensory functions of the Thalamus- our eye sight, hearing etc… is processed here. Linked with that is the hypothalamus which regulated out internal systems. There are many different and interconnected parts of the brain that regulate throughout the whole body and being. Our personalities, body temperature and higher cognitive thinking as well as many other functions and processing comes from the brain. I agree with Gordon when quoted in Boyd’s article that it is silly to think that we only possess a small capability. I can go on a run for example and coordinate my body to stay on the path, maintain my breathing and while I’m taking in my surroundings visually there are infinite possibilities for what I could be thinking about. The 10% neuron cells to the 90% glia cells may offer a reason why some believe the myth of only being able to access 10% of our brain, Boyd brings up a valid point that we may just only understand 10% but we use much more if not all.

This is connected to concepts in Cognitive because we are learning about the mind; the literal connections that our brain is making to produce who we are as people. I would like to bring up serial and parallel processing here. Our brains are in a state of parallel processing, meaning that we are carrying out several operations at the same time yet our minds are serial (sometimes) in that we purposely focus on one thing at a time. It’s an interesting thing to think of, our consciousness. In the article they talked about how there isn’t one specific area that controls consciousness, that it is a “collaborative neural effort.”  Some thought on this, I think that TMS studies are interesting in figuring out which parts of the brain are activated for specific tasks, creating non-harmful lesions for testing. I would be interested in seeing further research into what makes up who we are. Current research that is involved is Sebastian Seung’s “Connectome.”


Since we know that we only really understand 10% instead of only using 10%, I will be interested to see what comes in the future for figuring out how we are who we are.