In my passion for Neuroscience and Psychobiology, I’ve missed out a key part of the introductions at this blog.
So, without further adieu, may I please present, Neuroscience.
I forgot to talk about what neuroscience actually IS. *faceplam*
And I only realised it this weekend, after telling friends what I’m studying, and getting the response “that’s brain surgery, right?” from more then 5 people. *headdesk*
Neuroscience is a massive topic; and much like Psychology, it seems people focus on one small aspect of it.
Psychology – Being a psychologist means I can collect and analyze data and use a person’s behaviour and biological setup to make predictions about how they think, behave and experience life. Since most people work in patterns (I always get the milk out while waiting for the kettle to boil), this means you can sometimes predict that if a person acts one way in one situation, they may do so in similar future situations.
- I cannot read your mind, see your brain without a brain-scanner or see your future; nor can I detect psychopaths just by looking at them.
What Neuroscience Is
Neuroscience works similarly. We can look at your brain activity while you behave in certain ways. This allows us to see which brain areas connect to each other, are used or cause certain behaviours.
There is then the aspect of mimicking those conditions to make people act in some way.
e.g. If we know Serotonin in the Frontal Cortex causes X behaviour, we can give the person a drug which increases Serotonin in that area and cause that behaviour.
Lobes – Within “looking at the brain during certain activities” there are many system levels which I’ll explain in later posts. Essentially we can split the brain into five parts – the four lobes and mid-hindbrain areas. Each area is associated with certain behavioural aspects.
Lobe Sections – However, within each lobe there are certain strips or areas which specialise. So within the visual lobe there are V1 – V5 sections which focus on different aspects of spatial navigation, colour and orientation.
Neuronal – Then we have the communication wires, called Neurons which connect the sections and pass on the stimulation from one wire to another.
Synaptic/Chemical – Then the wires have little bridges between them called Synapses, which when stimulated via electrical impulse; release chemicals called Neutrotransmitters.
Cellular Conductance – And that’s not it – each electrical impulse is controlled by a movement of positive and negative chemical ions in and out of a cell. The mix of positive and negative ions causes a rise in and spark the impulse. This process is known as Action Potential.
Genetic – Aside from that we can also study the genetics which alter the chemistry, cortex formation, and function within the brain. A missing or added gene can alter if a lobe develops correctly or the right chemicals travel to the right parts of the brain.
Behavioural – And of course, behaviour is a key element of plasticity; the ability to change neuronal function and formation.
Methods of Study
Most information comes from those who have unusual brain or behavioural aspects. Those with mental illnesses, learning difficulties, brain damage or the criminally insane give us the most influential information as they can be compared with those with normal brain and behavioural functions.
The most famous of these cases was that of Phineas Gage, who ended up with a rod going through his chin and up out the top of his frontal lobe. He survived and was able to do everything normally; except judge socially acceptable behaviour. This told neuroscientists that the behaviour must be linked to the brain area or a chemical produced there.
In healthy participants we can cause temporary damage (cease a sections function briefly) or stimulate the area electromagnetically. We can measure behavioural or biological change after both these; or just measure brain chemical or electrical levels during either their normal resting state or while they do specific activities. Similarly, there are In Vitro methods such as taking samples and then doing tests without the patient being there.
My Neuroscience Journey
My specific interest is at the Electro-Chemical level of the synapse and neurons during learning. As a beginner myself; I’ve yet to work out what form of research methods I’ll be using. However, I’ll be getting a taste of each level and methodology throughout this year, and intend to share those experiences here.
If you have questions, please do ask! There’s bound to be someone else who is wondering the same thing and I want to be as clear as I can.