Tag Archives: Brain

Left Brain / Right Brain

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For my January blog post, I took to Twitter to see what the “Twitterverse” had to say about Cognitive Psychology. From there I found an article called “Left Brain vs. Right Brain: The Surprising Truth” (http://psychology.about.com/od/cognitivepsychology/a/left-brain-right-brain.htm). I picked this article because I remember being in high school psychology and taking little tests and questionnaires to see if I was either Left Brained or Right Brained. Later on in college psychology classes Left Brain/Right Brain was mentioned again. Not until this semester in Dr. Rettinger’s Cognitive Psychology class, I was told the whole theory of Left Brain/Right Brain was completely inaccurate.

From the article I found, it states that the Right Brain-Left Brain theory is only just a myth. It is now believed that brain function is not just in one hemisphere or the other, it is the whole brain functioning and working together. Prior theory of Left Brain or Right Brain dominance said, if you were Left Brained you were more logical, analytical and objective or if you were Right Brained were more intuitive, thoughtful, and subjective. It is true that certain areas of the brain control certain functions for example language occurs on the left, and attention on the right side. There doesn’t seem to be any evidence that people have a stronger left-side or right-side brain network.

During my research, I googled left brain/right brain tests and it directed me to this website, http://testyourself.psychtests.com/bin/transfer. After taking the test I received got a score of 50. According to the website “Both your right and left hemisphere seem to have reached a level of perfect harmony – rather than trying to dominant each other, they work together to create a unique and well-balanced “you”. I had the previous theory in my mind of receiving a Left or Right brain result but in reality my results were correct in that the whole brain works and functions together.

Study of Retirees Links Youth Football to Brain Problems

Article Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/29/sports/football/study-points-to-cognitive-dangers-of-tackle-football-before-age-12.html?_r=0

With the Super Bowl coming up this weekend, I thought that this would be an interesting topic that integrates both football and cognitive psychology.  This article discusses research findings on the link between NFL retirees participation in youth football and cognitive problems.  Researchers found that NFL retirees who played football before the age of 12 years old had significantly worse test results than those NFL retirees who started playing football after 12 years old.  These test results of retirees who played before 12 were able to recall less words that they learned 15 minutes prior to the test and had lower mental flexibility in comparison to those who played youth football after 12 years of age. 

Researchers linked these lower test scores as a result of playing football before the age of 12.  The article discussed how 12 years old is an important time for brain development and head injuries during this time results in cognitive difficulties in the future.  Because this age is an important time for brain development, we need to recognize its importance and do our best to avoid injuries that will lead to future cognitive difficulties.  The brain is one of the most important organs we have that determines how we live therefore we must do our best to protect this organ.

This leads to the controversy and question discussed in the article of whether it is safe for children to play football before the age of 12 years old.  Some parents today still allow their children to play tackle football before they are 12 but researchers suggest that parents shouldn’t allow their children to play tackle football at such a young age.  This article discusses how tackle football leads to higher risks of head injuries that interrupts brain development which results in future cognitive difficulties.  Dr. Robert Stern said, “Being hit in the head repeatedly through tackle football during a critical time in brain development may be associated with later-life cognitive difficulties,” as discussed in the article.  With this research done, parents should be aware that signing up their children to play tackle football before the age of 12 years old leads to higher risks of cognitive difficulties in the future. 

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I think that this article is a very interesting article because it integrates two important things for parents when it comes to their children—playing sports and development—cognitive development especially.   The article had great research and findings about cognitive development and how it is affected by playing tackle football before the age of 12 years old.  With these findings, we must be aware about whether we should allow children to participate in such a dangerous at such a young age.  If we choose to let children participate in tackle football at such a young age, we must know what risks we are taking and make sure we do our best to take the right precautions to make sure our child develops normally and that we are not disrupting development of children. 

With research such as the one discussed in the article, we can take the right precautions and steps if we do allow children to participate in tackle football before the age of 12 years old.  Findings in the link between youth football and cognitive development allows us to gain more knowledge about cognitive development in children and how it could effect them in the future when playing rough sports such as football.  This article helped me gain insight on cognitive development in children, how their cognitive development is affected by participation in tackle football, and what precautions we can do to prevent delay or interruption in cognitive development.  I enjoyed reading this article and learning about the research and findings they did and found because it integrates football and cognitive development.  I also enjoyed it because it discussed the controversy of whether allowing children under the age of 12 to play tackle football and what it can do to their cognitive development, both in the present, and in the future. 

Marijuana Use Hastens Onset of Schizophrenia

Marijuana use

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LScZZOkeIs[/youtube]

Schizophrenia is one of the most well-known and perhaps the most misunderstood mental disease to the layperson. However, with the new knowledge stated in the above article and the new laws legalizing the use of Marijuana, we must understand what we may be getting ourselves into.

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I am in favor of the legalization of Marijuana so long as there are other arguably worse drugs that are legal…and no, I do not partake and I’ve never had a desire to; which means I do not have a vested interest in the ultimate outcome of this policy.

When I mention Schizophrenia, most individuals I talk to bring up the movie A Beautiful Mind and bring up hallucinations. They also typically throw in the “Crazy” word at some point with the occasional “really” in front of it. While this can be true for some individuals, what is talked about less is the cognitive aspect of it all. After all, for these people THIS is their reality; it’s not just “something in the heads” to them, these things really do exist. Working in a mental health facility, I’ve witnessed what these individuals have to go through weekly.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aS_d0Ayjw4o[/youtube]

Schizophrenia affects both males and females equally. Though it is found in all socioeconomic groups, it shows up more within the lower levels. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they start off poor, but for reasons we will discuss later, they may just end up in a worse position. Additionally, those of African descent are more likely to receive the diagnosis. The typical onset is in the early 20’s for males and later 20’s for females, though the range is between the ages of 18 and 30.

The effect on a person’s life could be dramatic based upon when they have their first episode. If a person is 17, they’re typically still in high school whereas a 30 year old is probably already done with college (unless you’re me). Those suffering from this disease find it hard to concentrate for obvious reasons and often get distracted from whatever they are doing. Their cognitive functioning is harmed because of this. An article done by Ronan O’Carroll suggested that verbal memory showed the greatest sign of impairment with these patients. Since most of education is verbal (lectures), one can only imagine how difficult it would be to get through school!

So, let’s get back to the original article which tells us that those individuals who use marijuana are likely to have their first episode about 2 years earlier than those who do not. If this is true, then the age range could potentially be 16 – 30 as typically marijuana users start in their mid to late teens. They also suggest that its use may trigger schizophrenia in those individuals that wouldn’t develop it otherwise.

As adolescence is a critical time for development within the brain. Potentially, the author suggests, the use of the drug could have an effect on the maturation of certain functions within the brain. Some may argue that 2 years is not a whole lot of time, however, 2 years of extra development could mean a lot. Two years could mean that the person has a diploma and is that much more employable and it could even mean finishing college completely!

One of the biggest complaints about the article is that the individuals who did the study did not just look at Marijuana use; in fact, the words that were used were “Alcohol” and “Other illegal drugs. They stated in the title that it was just about Marijuana. The article goes on to state that substance abusers in general were more likely to have their first symptoms 2 years earlier. This leaves a huge question within my mind about the validity to the claim that it’s Marijuana because it could potentially be any other illegal drug.

Ultimately, if these results are true for Marijuana use, the potential consequences could be devastating on an individual level. It is clear that this research needs to be refined to distinguish between the different types of drugs there are. If this holds true for Marijuana, then we must prepare for the potential consequences. For example, funding mental health hospitals to better deal with these issues, though we should be funding mental health more to begin with as it is sorely lacking and often overlooked. We must educate the populace of the potential harmful effects that this could have on younger individuals. This will not guarantee anything, of course, but it will allow individuals to make a more educated decision.

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bipolar

According to a recent article by Nathan Collins at Pacific Standard, new studies are suggesting that significant structural differences exist between the brains of not only bipolar and “normal” brains, but between Type II and Type II bipolar brains.

Around 2.5% of the United States population are bipolar disorder sufferers, which is equal to about 6 million Americans. A person with the Type I disorder is defined as an individual who has had at least one manic episode, which is a period of abnormally elevated mood, energy, as well as abnormal behavior, at least one time in their life. Some individuals experience this disorder on a more consistent rate: they experience cycles (much more often than one time in their life) between depression and mania; also known as a cycle between great sadness and great happiness and/or irritability. There are many symptoms of Bipolar 1 Disorder during the period of mania, some of which include switching quickly from one topic to another; rapid, loud speech; increased energy and a decreased need for sleep; increased self-image; excessive spending; hyper-sexuality; and substance abuse. Symptoms of depressive episodes include a depressed mood; loss of pleasure, energy, and activity; and feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and even suicide.

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Type II Bipolar disorder is very similar to Type I in that the individual’s mood cycles between mania and depression. However, in these Type II individuals, the “manic” episodes never meet full blown mania. What these individuals experience is a term known as “hypomanic episodes”. Like Type I, an individual who is diagnosed with Type II has experiences at least one hypomanic episode in his or her life. However, also like Type I, some individuals may experience these episodes up to 4-5 times a year. The symptoms of Bipolar II include switching quickly from one topic to another; rapid, loud speech; and increased energy, with decreased need for sleep. Unlike Bipolar I, individuals with Bipolar II may even be pleasant to be around. In many cases, these individuals have been reported as happy, optimistic, caring, and “the life of the party”. The symptoms of depression for Bipolar I are very similar to Bipolar 2.

For a long time, researchers have been at a dead end when trying to analyze the causes of Bipolar disorder. However, with new and more developed technology, researchers have been able to study differences between Type I and II bipolar brains; a theory they have believed to be behind the cause of Bipolar disorder for a long time.  Dr. Jerome Maller and his team at Monash University in Australia decided to take a deeper look into the matter. Using standard MRI scans and a new technique called diffusion tensor imaging (which measures the amount of the brain’s white matter), they developed an experiment which included 16 Type II patients, 15 Type II patients, and 31 healthy control subjects. Their main focus was determining whether or not there were structural differences in gray matter, white matter, and cerebrospinal fluid.

The researchers found that there was not only small structural differences, but less TOTAL BRAIN VOLUME in patients with bipolar disorder. There was less gray and white matter and more cerebrospinal fluid volume in bipolar patients compared to healthy subjects. However, after controlling for total brain volume, the researchers found that Type II brains had practically the same sized brains as the controls’ brains. The DTI studies found that patients with Type I and Type II had reduced white matter relative to healthy brains. Even more interesting; those with Type II had even less white matter, particularly in the frontal and prefrontal cortex, than those with Type I; possibly eluding to the theory that Type II bipolar disorder is a “cognitive dysfunction”.

Researchers are no where near finished with studying these brain and bipolar disorder, but what they have done so far is a great start, thanks to new technology. Future improvements in their studies will include access to data on how long these patients have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder; how long they have actually had the disease; larger sample sizes, and additional information on factors such as medication, family history, and genetics.

On a side note from the article:

This author commonly referred to Bipolar patients as having a disorder. Dr. Rettinger often talks about how we immediately label those that seem different; such as individuals with Autism, ADHD, or Down Syndrome; as having a disorder and/or a disease. How can we call ourselves normal when there is no definition of what a normal human being really is? As the image states above, individuals that are considered bipolar often have symptoms of high levels of creativity and energy; and it is found in most geniuses. Now, I do not know how true that really is, but it really made me think and relate back to what Dr. Rettinger often says in class.