Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Brain Pet Peeve

Next week is Brain Awareness Week, and I've volunteered to help out this year.

I'm going to give a presentation to a class of high school kids to talk to them about brain related and neurological issues. Thankfully I didn't have to make the presentation, it was all done for us.

The talk is going to be about how certain drugs of addiction affect the central nervous system, which is something I already find interesting - and is important for high school kids to know. We're encouraged not to be judgmental, but just to explain to them the neurological consequences of drug abuse. Plus, we have a cow brain to show them that they'll be allowed to touch - even though we were carefully instructed that "the children may not hold the brain, grasp the brain, or throw the brain. They are allowed to pet the brain".

What should be even more fun is taking the metro with a tupperware container with a brain floating around in it.

This whole thing has brought up the "we only use 10% of our brains" bullcrap. That myth is one of my biggest pet peeves, I get really annoyed when people spout it with utter confidence.

There is absolutely NO scientific evidence that even remotely supports the 'theory'. We always use 100% of our brain. Evidence for this is seen in functional magnetic resonance imagine (fMRI) - all of the brain is active at all times. Loss of even a tiny area of the brain from a stroke or another neurological injury/disease can result in really devastating consequences, like the inability to speak, understand language, remember, move, see, or even think/reason properly.

Where the confusion might arise is that we often are using certain areas of our brains more than others, depending on what we're doing. If we're trying to remember what we studied during a test, the memory areas of the brain like the hippocampus and the cortex are probably being used more than other areas devoted to motor movements, for example. But those motor areas are still being used, even if to just move our eyes or tap our pencil on the desk.

fMRI images can look like this:

This is a subtraction, meaning the baseline activity of when that person was not engaging in any particular activity (just laying in the scanner) was subtracted from a scan of when the person was doing some specific task. The areas that are not lit up are still being used, they're just subtracted out so the researchers can look at the activation patterns for specific tasks/behaviours.

Cool, eh?


At 1:09 AM , Anonymous Mike said...

that's schweit jo...who'se brain be that, anyhoo? Ho-Bo or starving undergrad?

At 3:59 PM , Blogger John said...

It would be great to travel on the Metro with a cow brain in a tupperware container - you could come out with lines such as "It's my ex-boyfriend" or "Two brains are better than one". Ah that's terrible!

Also - pet the brain! Did someone feed the cow a whole load of drugs then remove its brain? Poor cow...

As for the whole 10% brain usage, I don't think I've heard that one, but good to know that I'll never believe it if someone says it.

I do still stand by the "alcohol makes your brain more efficient" school of thinking though. Alcohol kills the slower brain cells first - thus making your brain more efficient!

You're probably going to give me 101 reasons why what I've said is totally wrong now... heehee

At 4:02 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

thanks for visiting and I must say I agree with you on this subject.

People are gullible. They believe whatever they've been told.

At 4:02 PM , Blogger Joanna said...

Mike: haha, I don't actually know who it was - but odds are you're right about the poor undergrad student. There's a joke in psych that says we really don't know anything about people in general, but we know shitloads about undergraduate university students.

I actually think this scan was done to look at the actication patterns during loving behaviours or something like that.

John: you are totally wrong, heh, but all I'm going to say is that alcohol doesn't kill neurons unless you're drinking 50 L per day. Then you're just dumb and don't deserve your special fancy schmancy nerve cells ;)

At 4:04 PM , Blogger Joanna said...

whhoooaa, Kunstemaecker and I posted at the exact same time.... creepy!

Thanks for stopping by, you crazy stalker!

At 7:09 AM , Blogger John said...

hehe Cheers. 50 L a day - there's something to aim for!!

Shame you've dispelled another popular myth, and my justification for drinking...

At 7:51 AM , Blogger Ian Edwards said...

Nice one for Volunteering! No way could I do a presentation in front of high school kids - I struggle enough talking to myself in the mirror.

50 Litres? Hmm. I think most of us are safe enough then.


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