We know from Loftus that it is possible to insert memories into people’s minds. But is it possible to erase memories, or to remove traumatic associations from memories of adverse experiences?
Neuroscientists are investigating a process called “reconsolidation.” It seems that every time a memory is recalled, it is just as if a new memory is being laid down. This process can be manipulated with drugs, ECT, or even by playing Tetris during reconsolidation.
“We can reverse-engineer the brain’s time machine, hijack it or jump-start it.”
New Scientist No. 3111, 4th February 2017, p.36-39.
Rachel Yehuda noticed that people with post traumatic stress disorder have lower levels of cortisol. Which is contrary to what you would expect, given that cortisol is “the stress hormone”.
To work out why, she has to convince a community of Holocaust survivors to subject themselves to scientific study.
Cause and Effect.
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 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.
Pregnancy Causes Lasting Changes in a Woman’s Brain.
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.
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.
The “Silent Land” in question is the brain. Paul Broks is a neuropsychologist, who spends his days talking to and helping people with brains damaged by stroke, injury, or other trauma. They are altered – the same person, but permanently changed. Broks helps these people and their families come to terms with the injuries, and at the same time speculates on how the Silent Land can give rise to our humanity.
The book is a series of case studies: frank and humane discussions with brain damaged people, very readable, and not at all technical. By looking at how focussed damage to particular brain areas gives rise to specific cognitive deficits, Broks addresses the questions of localisation of function in the brain, and asks the larger question: how does this dark and tangled web of synapses and neurons in our skull conjure up a person?