Sunday, June 28, 2009

My Brain, Your Brain...

We're all wired differently. Who knew? No, this isn't a gender difference, this is an individual person to person difference. Yes, men are wired differently than women. While each person's brain has specific sections that perform different functions, within each section the neurons that control those functions in say the Occipital lobe will be in different places. Neurosurgens have to map each person's brain before performing surgery. You never know where something will be. Kind of like Forest Gumps' box of chocolates.

The brain is a fascinating thing...there will always be something new to learn or discover about this organ. Based on the diagram above, there are four primary lobes.
  1. Frontal - concious thought, reasoning
  2. Parietal - integrates sensory information
  3. Occipital - sense of sight
  4. Temporal - senses of smell and sound, as well as processing of complex stimuli like faces and scenes
In addition to this, you have the cerebellum that sits below all of this (the ugly pink thing in the diagram) that controls sensory input with motion.

The brain is also divided into hemispheres (left and right) that also have a variety of functions under their control. You've probably heard people described as being either left brained or right brained. Often referring to whether or not a person is abstract and artistic versus analytical and scientific; logic if you will.

Within all of these lobes you have chemicals firing between nerves. Neuroscience studies these neurochemicals to find out what on earth they do. Often, brain chemistry is associated with depression; two transmitters implicated in depression are serotonin and norepinephrine. Scientists think a deficiency in serotonin may cause the sleep problems, irritability, and anxiety associated with depression. Likewise, a decreased amount of norepinephrine, which regulates alertness and arousal, may contribute to the fatigue and depressed mood of the illness.

The ones I remember learning about in Psychology were:

  1. Serotonin - has a number of important functions that are difficult to describe in a unified way, including regulation of mood, sleep/wake cycles, and body temperature. It is released during sunny weather, and also when eating chocolate or taking Ecstasy (MDMA).
  2. Norepinephrine - As a stress hormone, norepinephrine affects parts of the brain where attention and responding actions are controlled, such as the Fight or Flight response.
  3. Dopamine - has a number of important functions in the brain. It plays a critical role in the reward system, but dysfunction of the dopamine system is also implicated in Parkinson's Disease and schizophrenia
Abusal of drugs, such as cocaine, and other illigal substances has a huge impact on these poor little neurotransmitters. Nonetheless, it's fascinating to see how these all function together to make our bodies work.

How is it that something so small (approximately 3 lbs, the surface area of your skin is 3 times that!) in weight can have so much control? This thing controls hormones, your ability to reason and think, the ability to recognize faces, brush your teeth, walk, memorize quotes, talk to your friends, appreciate beauty, love and hate and so much more.

Even when this tiny thing is damaged, the brain can compensate. It rewires itself. Right now it's probably rewiring itself because each time you learn something new it makes a new connection. Cool, huh?!? There are people who can survive with just one half of their brain. Granted it takes time for the brain to relearn these functions, but it does.

Did you know that when a child is born the number of connections is the same as an adult brain? By the time the child is 3 that number has doubled or tripled! However, by the time the child is 8 the brain has pruned its connections and their brain is back to "normal." The process is repeated again at puberty till we're well into our adult years.

How complex and amazing is this 3lb organ! I could study it all day and night....learn about psychology and take anatomy classes and never understand the full potential of this magnificent creation.


Lee Ryan said...

Humm..interesting comment about how the number of connections changes as we age. I've always known that the average 3-year old is much smarter than me. :-)

kiki5253 said...

So the TV show that Jeff Foxworthy hosts should be "Are you Smarter than a Three Year-Old"

I'd probably lose too...In fact the 5th grader would probably beat me too.