The deciding brain and the effects of stress

meadow-680607_1920We make decisions every day. Decision-making is a way by which we exert control over our behavior, mood and even the course of our lives. One key element in decision-making is self-control. This is often seen when we have to make that extremely difficult decision between another double cheeseburger and a healthier salad. While that may seem difficult enough on its own, many decisions, such as having to choose which graduate program to join or which answer to circle on an exam, come with substantial amounts of stress. This stress can guide or compromise the decisions we make. So, how do stress and self-control come together during decision-making? What is the neurobiological basis underlying this convergence?

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A Primer on Sleep

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 12.40.11 PMIf you aren’t asleep when the clock strikes three in the early morning, your eyelids get heavy and your brain feels like mush. You still have that paper to finish writing and you want to stay awake but staying awake is a struggle, a fight against our own brain. We have all been there (especially during finals week). With today’s post, lets look at how our brain regulates sleep and why we spend our days alternating between sleep and wakefulness?

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[Throwback Thursday] Redefining Privileges: The brain and the immune system

For this week’s throwback, lets take a look at a paper1 by Corriveau et al. that redefined the popular view that the central nervous system (CNS) is “immune-privileged”.

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[Throwback Thursday] Getting Habituated with Investigating Learning and Memory

How do we learn and remember? How does our nervous system change to allow learning and memory? These are questions that neuroscientists are still tackling to this very day. Today we will go back to 1973 and look at one of the first papers by Thomas Carew and Eric Kandel addressing these questions.

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Getting a Sense of the Sixth Sense

“This “proprioception” is like the eyes of the body, the way the body sees itself.”

– Oliver Sacks in The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat

Think about baseball. Right before the pitcher throws the ball, the ball and his hand are behind him, out of his sight. Yet, he knows where his hand and the ball are and how both are moving. How is this possible? The pitcher can tell where the ball is using his sixth sense. No, this is not the same sixth sense that the character played by Haley Joel Osment has in the movie The Sixth Sense. This sixth sense is known as proprioception (pronunciation: PRO-pree-o-SEP-shən). Proprioception is the sense that allows us to determine the relative position and movement of our body parts in space. So what do we know about proprioception? How does it work?

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Nature, nurture and some randomness

Since Sir Francis Galton famously framed the “nature vs. nurture” debate in 1869, most scientists have thought that it is a combination of genetics (nature) and sensory experience (nurture) that guides how the brain wires to result in different behavioral outputs. The notion that nature and nurture might work together comes from studies done on monozygotic twins (almost identical genetic material) who were brought up separately often display more similar behavioral traits than dizygotic twins or siblings. The higher behavioral similarity would suggest that nature plays a role. However, the fact that there still are some behavioral differences remains at present the best evidence that nurture is important as well. Interestingly, a recent meta-analysis study published in Nature Genetics that looks at all twin studies performed in the past 50 years argues that the contributions of nature and nurture on behavior are pretty much 50-50 (Polderman et al. 2015). (more…)