Tag Archives: brain

Who’s this stranger starring at me?

Can you imagine if one normal day, as you are getting ready to leave the house, you take a glance at yourself in the mirror and see a complete stranger? That person looks just likes you, speaks the same way you do and has done the same activities in life as you have. The only problem is, you do not realize the fact that you are looking at your own mirror image because the person you see is an unknown intruder.

By State Library of New South Wales collection [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons

A similar situation happened to an elderly man in France who could not recognize himself in the mirror and started conversing with the stranger he saw replacing his reflection. After his daughter took him to the hospital, doctors diagnosed this man with a rare condition called Atypical Capgras syndrome. While in the typical case of this syndrome, patients think that a family member or a friend has been replaced with an identical impostor, in the atypical case the patients’ delusions concern his own self.

By Andraž Blaznik (email) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

According to neurologists and psychiatrists, people who have this disease have impairments in two separate brain pathways. The overt pathway or direct pathway is impaired, prohibiting the patient from recognizing faces but allowing them to show emotion towards a particular face, and the covert pathway is impaired, where even though patients can identify a familiar face, they show no signs of familiarity related to that face. The Atypical Capgras syndrome causes patients to recognize themselves as strangers. The Youtube video below shows an actual case of the typical Capgras disease.

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By Canale di Cogmonaut

People who suffer from this disease can be helped by certain anti-psychotic medications. Due to the rareness of this disease further investigations on methods and drugs that can cure it are currently taking place.

All in all, apart from our brain being a miraculous organ capable of receiving, organizing and distributing information to make our bodies function properly, it can also work in reverse, preventing us from recognizing our own mirror reflections. So next time you look at yourself in the mirror, be grateful that you recognize that awesome person standing right in front of you because some have to face a scary reality where they start to question their own identity.

By Doris Stratoberdha.


Meditation, is it a waste of time?

For thousands of years’ people have practiced meditation for spiritual, emotional and physical well being, yet without much evidence of its effects. It is known that meditation can relieve stress, lower blood pressure and lift someone’s mood. But it is only in the last 15 years have neuroscientists taken a serious look at the changes in brain structure underlying some of meditations benefits.


Image from: bulletproofexec.com

Like during everything we do, meditation rewires our neural circuits, pruning away the least used connections and strengthening the ones we exercise the most. Studies looking for signs of these changes focus on ‘mindfulness meditation’, which challenges people to keep their attentions fixed on their thoughts and sensations in the present moment. Earlier on, scientists acknowledge that many of these studies are small and not ideally designed. But now, researches have gathered enough evidence to be confident that their findings are not just a fluke. Experiments suggest that Buddhist monks have more robust connection between scattered regions of their brains, which allows for more synchronized communication. Expert meditators also seem to develop an especially wrinkly cortex (the brains outer layer), which we depend on for abstract thought and introspection. Several studies have confirmed that meditation can increase the volume and density of the hippocampus, which is crucial for memory.

Studies show that 10-20 minutes of meditation a day sharpens the mind. When scientists compared the brains of the monks to those of new meditators, they found the region of the brain associated with empathy to be much more pronounced in the monks. These studies also show that prolonged meditation can alter your brainwave frequencies, exhibiting higher levels of Alpha waves that help reduce feelings of negative mood, tension and sadness.

In an 8-week study meditators showed increase in the density of grey matter in brain regions involved in learning, memory processing and emotion regulation. While in the amygdala, which deals with stress blood pressure and fear, grey matter decreased. In these studies, meditators scored higher on tests of attention and working memory, which is the ability to store and manipulate information in one’s mind. Although areas of the brain involved in sustaining attention deteriorate as we age, meditation counteracts this decay.

Meditation not only affects the mind but the body as a whole. In a study where both meditators and non-meditators were given the flu virus, meditators had produced a greater number of anti-bodies and had increased immune function. Meditation also showed advantages on the cellular level where lower levels of stress increased the function of the enzyme telomerase that counteract the shortening of DNA telomeres, which are linked to cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, cancer and aging.

Of course meditation is not a substitute for other medical advice or a healthy life style, but much like hitting the gym can grow your muscles and increase your overall health, it seems like meditation is a way to workout your brain with extra health benefits.

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It’s All in Your Head-Men and Women Wired Differently for Emotions

Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, Disgust- these five characters from Inside Out are emotions that we know all too well. Sometimes, we experience them more often than we would like to. However, have you noticed how emotions affect each person differently, especially between men and women? I came across this question while I watched this video, which is part of a project called “The And”. A couple sat down for the first time in two years after their break up and asked each other a series of intimate and emotional questions.

As my friend and I watched this couple revisit their past relationship I experienced a roller coaster of emotions. I found myself fluctuating from being on the brink of tears to hysterical laughter. As for my friend, he seemed amused yet unaffected by the emotions. In fact, he was very concerned that the girl had not moved on since the break up. Seeing this difference made me think: is it possible that men and women simply process emotions differently?


Credit: http://www.mybraintest.org/

We already know that the human brain consists of a left and right hemisphere. The left hemisphere is considered the logical side, whereas the right hemisphere is the creative side. We also have parts of the brain that help respond externally, and others that respond internally. So how might this affect the processing of emotions between men and women?


Picture of the brain. Credit: The Thinking Business

In Robin Lloyd’s article, he states that scientists have found evidence that men and women were wired differently for emotions. Studies have found that when overwhelmed by fear, men tend to respond physically while women respond more emotionally. This difference is the effect of the communication between different regions of the brain and the cluster of neurons, which are found in both men and women.


Picture of a network of neutrons. Credit: http://wespeakscience.com/scientist-transform-blood-cells-into-neurons/

If that’s not interesting enough, Larry Cahill and his team from University of California Irvine did a study on a particular group of neurons, called amygdala.This team of researches found that while the more energetic group of amygdala neurons in men are located in the right hemisphere, the more active group of amygdala neurons for women are located in their left hemisphere.

So females aren’t just more emotional, they are also wired differently from men to begin with. It’s fascinating how the same group of neurons in human beings can affect them in completely different ways, making each of them a unique individual. Inside Out illustrates this interesting scientific theory in an unique standpoint, making it easier to visualize and understand. The short trailer from Inside Out gives a quick glance into the differences between the emotional wiring of men and women. If you haven’t watched it, I strongly recommend that you do:

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-Stephanie Lam