This is Your Brain on Podcasts.

In biopsych we learn that speech production and speech recognition are highly localised. Neuropsychologist Jack Gallant has peered into the brains of volunteers while they listen to podcasts, and finds that speech comprehension is actually much more interesting than the textbook would lead you to believe.

when you’re listening to someone tell an interesting story, an enormous swath of your brain is being activated.”

This is Your Brain on Podcasts.

Pregnancy resculpts women’s brains for at least 2 years, by Meredith Wadman.

pregnant

Pregnancy causes loss of grey matter in specific regions of the brain, including the hippocampus. This is probably due to synaptic pruning. If you show new mothers pictures of their babies, the modified areas of the brain become highly active.

This pioneering work by Elseline Hoekzema, a neuroscientist at Leiden University the Netherlands who is also the pregnant mother of a 2-year-old, is the first to demonstrate widespread anatomical changes in the pregnant human brain.

It also shows that the changes last for at least 2 years. “It opens the door to the possibility that it might cause changes in parenting that might have implications in decision-making and behaviour later in life,” says Mel Rutherford, an evolutionary psychologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada.

Pregnancy resculpts women’s brains for at least 2 years.

See also:

Pregnancy Causes Lasting Changes in a Woman’s Brain.

Making Things Up, by Helen Thomson.

“Our reality is merely a controlled hallucination reined in by our senses.”

If this is so, what happens if we loosen the reins?

You may have seen the basketball/gorilla video which shows us that we can only concentrate on a small portion of our visual field at once, and that our brains fill in the gaps. This article explains that in fact, most of our perception consists of our brains filling in the gaps.

The article proposes that most of our perception is in fact a form of externally guided hallucination. It also contains instructions for how to experience hallucinations at home – safely and legally!

“Far from being flights of fancy, hallucinations reveal the true nature of our reality.”

New Scientist no.3098, 5th November 2016, p.28-32.

Worry… Worry… Worry… Worry… , by Linda Geddes.

One in six of us will suffer from an anxiety disorder at some time of our lives. Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental health problem in the Western World. It is worse for young people, and the focus of our anxieties tends to change over the course of a lifetime.

This article asks if it is getting worse, what are the causes of anxiety, whether there is such a thing as an anxious personality, and what are the best strategies to combat anxiety (physical exercise is quite a good one).

“The amygdala is linked to parts of the prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortex that process social information and help us make decisions. During bouts of everyday anxiety, this brain circuit switches off then on again – but Oliver Robinson at University College London and his colleagues have shown that in people with anxiety disorders it seems to get stuck in the on position.”

New Scientist No. 3094, 8th October 2016, p.32-35.

Brain training exercises just make you better at brain training exercises, by Christian Jarrett.

Buy into a brain training exercise programme, and you will be given time-consuming and difficult exercises to do. The harder you work, the more you will progress. You might even bring down your “brain age.” But you won’t actually be making yourself any cleverer. All you will be doing is wasting time, and making the authors of the brain training exercise programme richer.

You’d be much better off learning a new language, doing some physical exercise, or just sleeping for longer.

Brain training exercises just make you better at brain training exercises.

“A person who spends many hours on brain training games but never engages in any real-world challenges is like the karate pupil who has only ever performed solo exercises in the dojo. Woe betide they ever find themselves in a fight.”

N.B. The BPS research digest is brilliant, and just at the right level for A level students. Read it.

Connectome, by Sebastian Seung.

Read. This. Book.connectomecover
This one is in my top three psychology books for A level students to read this year. It is exciting because it sketches out some future directions that cognitive neuroscience is going to take in the coming years and decades.
When Galileo pointed his telescope at the night sky, he saw for the first time the machinery of planetary motion. This laid the foundations for our modern understanding of astronomy. The same is happening today in brain science. The ongoing improvement in brain scanning is driving new understanding of how the brain actually works. This book is a guide to the road ahead.
Not only that, but the first few chapters are a brilliant primer on the basics of neuroscience and biopsychology, and will be great revision for this part of the exam.
A really interesting read, and very accessible.
“A connectome is the totality of connections between the neurons in a nervous system.”
“In the nineteenth century, the American psychologist William James wrote eloquently of the stream of consciousness, the continuous flow of thoughts through the mind. But James failed to note that every stream has a bed. Without this groove in the earth, the water would not know in which direction to flow. Since the connectome defines the pathways along which neural activity can flow, we might regard it as the streambed of consciousness.
The metaphor is a powerful one. Over a long period of time, in the same way that the water of the stream slowly shapes the bed, neural activity changes the connectome. The two notions of the self – as both the fast-moving, ever-changing stream and the more stable but slowly transforming streambed –  are thus inextricably linked. This book is about the self as the streambed, the self in the connectome – the self that has been neglected for too long.”

The Aftermath, by Jessica Hamzelou

Why are women more than twice as vulnerable to PTSD than men? New evidence suggests that oestrogen may play a role in the disorder. Vasiliki Michopulos at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, is researching genetic and biochemical factors which influence anxiety.

“The horrible event may be over, but you’re held hostage by what happened to you.”

“As we discover how PTSD differs between people, we realise treatments should differ too.”

New Scientist No. 3091, 17th September 2016, p.38-41.