Writing in the Disciplines

Month: October 2016 (Page 1 of 2)

A Note on Health: Improving the Sanitation of Musical Instruments

A Note on Health: Improving the Sanitation of Musical Instruments

As a musician myself, playing both the clarinet and the piano, it was interesting for me to read case studies of deadly diseases that were contracted by musicians who did not clean their instruments.  In all honesty, I hardly ever clean my clarinet even though I play it fairly regularly.  There has been a small amount of cases where musicians who play their instruments regularly have fallen ill from Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis, a respiratory disease which has led to lung problems and even death.  This does not occur very often, perhaps because most professional or regular musicians keep a schedule of cleaning their instruments.  I think that this topic is important and also not well known, particularly among younger musicians in middle and high school bands.  It is particularly important to raise awareness of the dangers of not cleaning musical instruments because it could help prevent future cases of Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis.

How are instruments susceptible to mold growth?

Reed instruments, unlike brass instruments, require pieces of thin wood to be placed on the mouthpiece in order for the instrument to make any sound.  The sound is made by wetting the reed and then blowing through the mouthpiece, making the sounds somewhat more “wooden” than the sounds of brass instruments and flutes.  Reed instruments include clarinets, saxophones, and the bagpipes.  Seeing as reeds are kept moist for playing, they are going to remain moist after playing and must be placed in a case separate of the instrument.  Reeds are susceptible to growths of mold and fungi, especially if they are kept on the instrument.  Inside the instrument, the environment is wet, dark, and warm; perfect conditions for the growth of molds and fungi.  When musicians breathe in the molds growing inside of their instruments, it leads to them contracting illnesses like Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis and even more serious lung problems.  There have not been many recorded cases of diseases such as these, but they can be fatal.

What are the effects of Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis?

Although cases of Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis are not common, the cases on record have ended satisfactorily for some patients but not for others.  Some cases have ended where the patient ultimately recovered, but one case ended where the patient died of prolonged exposure.  The patient that died was an elderly bagpipes player who had been inhaling the molds and fungi growing inside of his bagpipes for years (Chaudhuri, Nazia; Jayne Holme, et al. 2016).  This case was the first recorded case of the disease and the only case recorded where the patient died.  In other cases, the patient was given medications along with the complete disinfection of his/her instrument and the Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis symptoms went away within a couple of weeks.

The symptoms of Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis have also been called saxophone lung.  This was true of two cases involving saxophone players.  In one of the cases, the saxophone player was middle-aged and had been plagued with respiratory problems for five months (Dalphin, Jean-Charles, Paul De Vuyst, et al. 2010).  The investigation into his health commenced like that of the bagpipes player; doctors could not find anything wrong until they examined his saxophone.  After disinfecting the saxophone and placing the man on medication, his health improved (Dalphin, Jean-Charles, Paul De Vuyst, et al. 2010).  The second case involving a saxophone player occurred in the same way, though the patient was closer to the age of the bagpipes player.  Molds were found in his saxophone.  After it was disinfected and the man was placed on medications, his health improved (Lodha, Suresh and Om P. Sharma, 1988).  All of these cases represent the same disease occurring in different patients because of their instruments.  The fact that this has happened more than once shows that the disease can be a problem.

Why we need to raise awareness

Although these cases do not occur often, they are concerning because, as with the case of the elderly bagpipes player, they can be life-threatening.  Another concern is that when cases like these do occur, they are not publicized.  Regular or professional musicians could spend their whole lives unknowingly putting themselves at risk and never hearing about the potential dangers that could be caused.  Scientists suggest that new causes of Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis could actually arise in the coming years, making it all the more necessary why musicians must clean their instruments regularly (Cormier, Yvon, 2010).  Personally, I spent seven years in middle and high school playing the clarinet almost daily and never knew of the potential for disease.  None of the cases on record have involved a child who played the instrument, but that does not mean that it is not possible.  Middle and high school instrument players could, in a way, be at even more of a risk because their environment is much more unclean than that of regular or professional musicians.  Raising awareness now could help much more in the long term.  Future cases could be prevented and the overall possibility of disease could be drastically lowered.





Works Cited:


Cormier, Yvon. 2010. “Wind Instruments Lung: A Foul Note.” Chest Journal. 138(3): 467-468 2010. Available from: http://www.journal.publications.chestnet.org/article.aspx?articleid=1045040&issueno=3&rss=1

Dalphin, Jean-Charles; Paul De Vuyst; Amaryllis Haccuria; Flora Metzger; Nicole Nolard; Gabriel Reboux. 2010. “Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis Due to Molds in a Saxophone Player.” Chest Journal. 138(3): 724-726 (2010). Available from: http://www.journal.publications.chestnet.org/article.aspx?articleid=1044955&issueno=3&rss=1

Lodha, Suresh and Om P. Sharma. “Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis in a Saxophone Player.” 1988. Chest Journal. Available from: http://www.journal.publications.chestnet.org/data/Journals/CHEST/21578/1322.pdf

What is Caffeine Really Doing to Our Brains?

New research showing caffeine products, especially coffee, provide serious long-term consequences on our brains.

It is seen all the time: college students grabbing a coffee or Coke or Red Bull before class because they were up until four a.m. the night before cramming for a test and got no sleep. As students, we depend on caffeine like it is our lifeline- the source of our energy that we need when we have none. However, what if what we all saw as our savior on those mornings after no sleep actually was our secret enemy?

What is caffeine really doing to our brains and should you stop consuming it? The answer might be worth reading.


A study conducted by Bertil Fredholm, Karl Bättig, Janet Hólmen, Astrid Nehlind and Edwin Zvartau was published in Pharmacological Reviews in 1999. The study found that at high levels of caffeine in the body, the primary systems affected are the adenosine receptors.¹  Based on this finding, they looked in depth at what this meant for our brains and how, if at all, this affects our every day lives. There is a common misconception that we consume caffeine because it blocks typical chemical signals that function at these receptors. This is only true at high concentrations, where adenosine attaches at the receptors like a parking spot (Fredholm, 1999). However, with caffeine, chemicals in the drink instead attach at the receptors which make it harder for the adenosine to “park” in the spots. When adenosine does park at a receptor it makes you feel sleepy, so with less adenosine parked at receptors, the more awake you feel.

Coffman, Drew. Coffee. 2014. Web. 1 Oct. 2016.

Coffman, Drew. Coffee. 2014. Web. 1 Oct. 2016.


While from a surface level this sounds amazing because now you feel more awake to conquer the day, in reality much more is happening. With blocking these parking spots with chemicals, you are also blocking the normal passage of neurotransmitters. One such transmitter is dopamine. Dopamine has many functions affecting memory, behavior, cognition and a number of other things. During the Fredholm study in 1999, they found an increase in dopamine release leading to higher levels of dopamine than normal (Fredholm, 1999). These abnormal levels showed effects on brain function and behavior. One of the effects was an increase of dopamine in the striatum, a section of the brain that controls cognition, including decision-making and planning (Fredholm, 1999). Obviously, these are two extremely important skills that are needed throughout school. How can you expect to do well on a test, even if caffeine is keeping you awake, if you can’t decide or plan on how to take the test itself?


Another study focused on the psychological aspects of the abnormal levels during sub-maximal exercise in endurance-trained men. Their study found that consumption of caffeine before working out increased the men’s perceived exertion during the workout, decreased their heart rate and resulted in a significant decrease in blood lactate concentration (BLa)(Glaister, 2016). A decrease in BLa means that excess oxygen was created by the body than needed. Overall this means that your body is working harder than it actually needs to because it sees the task in front of you as more strenuous than it is in reality. So, why are we working our bodies harder than they really need to work? Just because of caffeine.

Whitfield, Jordan. Coke. 2016. Web. 1 Oct 2016.

Whitfield, Jordan. Coca-Cola. 2016. Web. 1 Oct 2016.


Not only do we turn to coffee as a pick-me-up, but also as a way to stay awake to pull all-nighters, which drastically affects our sleep pattern. In a research study conducted by Mary A Carkadon and Leila Tarokh that was published in Nutrition Reviews, it was found that there is a developmental decline in sleep EEG amplitude by 40-50% that occurs in adolescents. EEG amplitude are brain waves that are taken during one’s sleep, and the decline in amplitude from the average shows that adolescents have a large-scale change in brain structure. This change can largely be connected to consumption of caffeine. This is because, as students, our circadian timing system or sleep cycle, starts at a later time frame. Adolescents are known to go to bed much later than kids, however, they wake up at the same time. This lack of sleep is diluted with the consumption of caffeine (Carskadon, 2014). This shows that while that nice cup of coffee may help you study for your test until late at night or help you stay awake throughout the day, in reality that cup in changing the way your brain functions and perceives your surroundings sip by sip.


It is nice always having a warm cup of coffee to help you work hard, but, as these researchers all showed, coffee is drastically changing our brains for the worst. Just think about it, because all those cups add up.

If you drink a cup of coffee every day, like most college students, by then end of four years you have drunk 1000 cups of coffee.

Now factor in those all nighters, the days where one cup just wasn’t enough (even though for many this is every day), and the drinks that include caffeine but aren’t coffee. It’s probably a safe assumption to say that most of us students drink caffeine almost equivalent to the amount of water we drink. Coffee may have its short-lived benefits, which clearly make it worth it sometimes, but, as shown, it also has its fair share of long term consequences. I have to leave it up to you— but next time you start reaching for a cup of caffeine, maybe think twice because every cup adds up.

¹receptors in the brain control blood flow throughout the body and help control release of neurotransmitters

Works Cited:


Carskadon Mary, Tarokh Leila. Developmental Changes in Sleep Biology and Potential Effects on Adolescent Behavior and Caffeine Use. Nutrition Reviews. 2014;72(1):60-64.

Fredholm Bertil, Bättig Karl, Holmén Janet, Nehlig Astrid, Zvartau Edwin. Actions of Caffeine in the Brain with Special Reference to Factors That Contribute to Its Widespread Use. Pharmacological Reviews. 1999;51(1):83-133.

Glaister Mark, Williams Benjamin Henley, Muniz-Pumares Daniel, Balsalobre-Fernández Carlos, Foley Paul. Psychological Responses to Submaximal Exercise in Endurance Trained Men. PLOS One. 2016; 11(8):1-15.

How does Fluoride Affect us?

How does fluoride affect us?

Everyone drinks water, most of us without even thinking about it. We don’t worry about what chemicals are added to it and how those may affect us. You might not know that fluoride is added to our drinking water! Most of us don’t worry about its presence or whether or not it has any effect on us. While optimal levels of fluoride (.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water) are effectively used to prevent tooth decay and cavities, research has shown that when levels are left unchecked, this is something that should worry us. (ADA, 2016)


Should everyone be concerned?

Fluoride has not shown to be harmful when taken in low dosages. While many people believe that any amount of fluoride may be bad for your health, research has shown that it is not bad in moderation. Most industrialized places regulate the fluoride level in drinking water, usually only containing 1 mg/L, which is just about the optimum amount of fluoride in water to prevent tooth decay. This may offer some relief to us, considering that fluoride levels in our drinking water are in fact regulated; however, it does raise some concern for underdeveloped countries where the fluoride levels are not. Most studies were done in China, for this very reason. Since fluoride levels are not regulated there, they have different ranges of levels throughout the whole country, making it easy to test and compare people that come from different areas and have varying levels of fluoride in their drinking water. The high levels of fluoride in their groundwater comes from contamination by the burning of coal, and this can affect everyone there.


Can it affect pregnancies?

Research suggests that fluoride can affect pregnancies (Jing Li, 2004). It shows that there is some correlation between fluoride intake levels of soon-to-be mothers and the neurodevelopment of their unborn babies. (Jing Li, 2004).

Studies on this were (again) done in China, because of the highly irregular levels of fluoride that are found throughout the country. In Effects of High Fluoride Level on Neonatal Neurobehavioral Development researchers took 91 newborn babies that were delivered in different hospitals throughout the country. They were then divided into two different groups; the high-fluoride and the control group, which was based on the fluoride level in the drinking water of the mothers. The ones in the high fluoride group were less developed than those in the control group. They lagged from the control group in various capabilities such as visual and auditory reactions. This study concluded that there was a high risk in taking excessive amounts of fluoride while pregnant. (Jing Li, 2004). Also, since children are in a critical stage of development they are particularly vulnerable to the effects of this chemical as well.


How does it affect children?

Fluoride has been shown to cause deficiencies in the neurodevelopment of children. (Anna L. Choi, 2012). Researchers have tried to determine whether or not this is true for a long time. They have conducted many studies and still, continue to research this topic today.

In Developmental fluoride neurotoxicity: a systematic review and meta-analysis researchers performed a literature review (a study of studies) of 26 studies on this topic, and analyzed the results (Anna L. Choi, 2012). The studies were performed by taking children that lived in different parts of China; both in villages with drinking water that had high-fluoride content, and villages with normal fluoride content in their water. They measured the children’s IQ’s and analyzed the differences. Researchers found that there did, in fact, seem to be a correlation between fluoride intake levels and IQ’s in developing children. The children that lived in the high fluoride areas had a significantly lower IQ than those who lived in the lower fluoride areas. The average difference in IQ’s between these two groups was approximately -0.45% using a random effects model, which compares all the results and measures the average of them together. Although this estimated decrease in IQ may seem small, research on other neurotoxins has shown a shift in IQ distributions in a population can have great impacts. (Anna L. Choi, 2012)

The Effect of Fluoride in Drinking Water on Children’s Intelligence is one of the specific studies that were used in the literature review presented above (Xiang, 2003). In this study, researchers measured the IQ of 512 children between the ages of 8 and 13, in two different villages in China. One of the villages’ water had high–fluoride content and the other had low fluoride in their drinking water. In the high-fluoride village, researchers found the IQ’s of children to be significantly lower than the children who lived in the low-fluoride one. They found that higher fluoride drinking levels were significantly linked with mental retardation. (Xiang, 2003)


Why should we care?

While this may seem to us like a non-pressing issue, we need to think about how this is affecting people in underdeveloped countries. If there seems to be so many negative effects present with development and fluoride, should we be taking in any of this chemical at all? Fluoride is known for preventing tooth decay and cavities, but is only safe when taken in safe regulated doses (ADA, 2016). What can we do to help undeveloped countries have cleaner, more regulated drinking water? Taking large amounts of this chemical have shown to be detrimental, especially when it comes to the development of children.

Fluoride can have very negative effects on neurodevelopment in growing children, lowering their IQ’s and causing, on some rate, mental retardation. This chemical can also affect fetus’s development in the womb. While this is not a topic that everyone is aware of, it is very prevalent and important for us to understand how exactly fluoride affects our bodies. Regulating fluoride, particularly in underdeveloped countries, is an extremely pressing issue.




Works Cited:

Anna L. Choi, Guifan Sun, Ying Zhand, and Philippe Grandjean (2012). Developmental Fluoride Neurotoxicity: A systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Retrieved from: http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/ehp.1104912.pdf

Jing Li, Li Yao, Qing-Liang Shao, Chun-Yan Wu, Daqing, China. 2004. Effects of High Fluoride Level on Neonatal Neurobehavioral Development. Retrieved from: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download;jsessionid=5A0CABB60E833962551B0A3E51902F05?doi=

Xiang, Q., Liang, Y., Chen, L., Wang, C., Chen, B., Chen, X., … & Shanghai, P. R. 2003. Effect of fluoride in drinking water on children’s intelligence. Fluoride, 36(2), 84-94. Retrieved from: http://www.fluorideresearch.org/362/files/FJ2003_v36_n2_p84-94.pdf

American Dental Association. 2016. Fluoride in Water is Safe and it Works. Retrieved from: http://www.ada.org/en/public-programs/advocating-for-the-public/fluoride-and-fluoridation

Under Pressure: Stress and How It Effects Students

College can be a tough transition for anyone, no matter who you are. Stress induced anxiety is all too real for most college students, including myself. This overwhelming anxiety is typically brought on by stress in classes, poor time management, and excessive leisure activities. Pro-longed and chronic stress can also lead to serious health issues like heart disease, memory loss and depression. The neuroscience behind this can be hard to comprehend. However, understanding how stress can cause degeneration, plays a huge role in alleviating said stress, and reducing anxiety.

Research has been conducted to investigate the factors of stress and how the presence of this burden can hinder academic performance. Some studies have also found that stress in other aspects of student’s lives, can be linked to their stress in academics. While there are many negatives presented in current research about academic stress, the psychology department at the University of Chicago, conducted studies to support the idea that it can actually help students succeed in college, and boost performance. So, let’s find out a little bit more about this mental phenomenon.


What causes stress and induces anxiety?

Stress is essentially tension in a mental or emotional state. Anxiety caused by stress, is a feeling of unease or worry about events with uncertain outcomes. In the everyday person, stressors are often related to work, family, health, and financial issues Their anxiety is often linked to these same stressors. In college students, there are a lot of factors that play into stress and anxiety, both academically and socially. It can range from worrying about studying for midterms, worrying about the grade of the midterm, and worrying about how mom is going to react to “that” grade. All of this is happening while you want to go to football games, have fun with new friends, and fall into new relationships.

Dr. Ranjita Misra of West Virginia University conducted a study in 2000, to investigate the relationship between academic stress, time management and leisure in undergrads. Dr. Misra found that poor time management was a significant factor in pro-longed stress of students. While this doesn’t seem like a new concept, spending too much time going out really does contribute to the mental tension and anxiety college students develop. While the causes of stress can seem standard, the effects of it are more surprising.


What are the effects?

Some students will take a failing grade over studying for a big test. Other students might feel that if they don’t stress out over their academics, they won’t perform at their best. College students feel that stress is part of the experience and they don’t often change their ways. This can be extremely detrimental to their long-term health. Dr. Linda Mah is the Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Toronto. Her research has found an increase of stress-induced dementia and cognitive impairment in the elderly, and has identified the link between stress and neurosypathic damages and diseases. Stress induced anxiety causes degeneration in the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus of the human brain due to an overactive amygdala. This can lead to major mental and cognitive problems. Imagine you’re running and your legs are starting to hurt, but you feel like you can’t stop. Now because you didn’t stop, you pulled your ham string, you have excruciating shin splints, and your Doctor tells you you’ll have trouble walking when you get older. That’s your brain with pro-longed stress.


So why do we continue to stress ourselves out?

If the effects of stress are so degenerative, why aren’t students getting rid of stress altogether? Well, because some stress can help people thrive. Sian L. Beilock, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, wrote his paper “Choke or Thrive” about this very discovery. He found a connection between memory, test anxiety and cortisol (the stress hormone). His findings support the relationship between cortisol and stress and how the power of stress can sometimes enable performance. While the study focused mainly on the anxiety associated with math tests, it emphasizes the fact that stress can have a large impact on working memory. In some cases, this impact can help students achieve higher academic performance, because they’re pushing themselves mentally. You’re probably wondering if stress can be a good thing? The answer: yes, and no. This particular part of the research is a “grey area”.

While stress can push some students to perform better, it’s presence is still causing brain damage. When stress leads to anxiety, those effected begin to have negative emotional responses, cognitive impairments, heart diseases and depressive disorders. In Beilock’s research with adolescent math anxiety, low math-anxious students performed better with the presence of cortisol. This is conducive to the ongoing discussion about how stress can be motivational. Unfortunately, this is only effective by looking at cases one by one. Certain amounts of stress can push you to do your best, but too much stress can cause you to shut down. In the grand scheme of things, managing stress is all about balance.


So how can I manage it?

In some cases, anxiety is unavoidable. In the case of academic induced anxiety, the short-term “cure” isn’t as far-fetched as you would think. The overwhelming consensus of the research suggests that time management has proven to be the best way to alleviate stress and avoid academic anxiety. So my advice to the average college student, whether you be male, female, a freshman or a senior:

  • Buy a planner
  • Make manageable to-do lists
  • Don’t avoid studying and,
  • Schedule (appropriate) leisure time

To avoid the possibility of neurosypathic illness or risk of Alzheimer’s in the future, effective time management can also be paired with meditation and deep breathing techniques. Stress is something that everyone deals with differently and to avoid anxiety, you might have to get creative. But remember, you’re in college. Yes, you need to maintain your GPA and pass your classes. Yes, you need to make sure you don’t ruin your chances of landing the perfect job. But, you’re in college. Times will be a little stressful, and you can get through it. Stay up late and talk with your friends every once in a while. Work hard and play hard. When you’re old and grey, whether you have Alzheimer’s or not, looking back on your amazing college memories will remind you why it was all worth it. Just remember to go to the library every once in a while.




Misra, R., & McKean, M. (2000). College students’ academic stress and its relation to their anxiety, time management, and leisure satisfaction. American Journal of Health Studies, 16(1), 41-51. Retrieved from http://www.biomedsearch.com/article/College-students-academic-stress-its/65640245.html


Mah, L., Szabuniewicz, C., & Fiocco, A. J. (2016). Can anxiety damage the brain? Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 29(1), 56-63. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26651008


University of Chicago. (2011, August 26). Succeeding in school: Stress boosts performance for confident students, but holds back those with more anxiety. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from September 3, 2016 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110809092045.htm


Valiente, C., Swanson, J., & Eisenberg, N. (2012). Linking Students’ Emotions and Academic Achievement: When and Why Emotions Matter. Child Development Perspectives, 6(2), 129–135. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3482624/

















Is Obesity a Leading Cause of Alzheimer’s Disease?

America is often stereotyped as a country defined by overindulgence and slothfulness. We eat copious amounts of food that are full of cholesterol, high in saturated fat content, and loaded with sugars, yet often treat exercise as an unnecessary chore. Obviously, this unhealthy combination leads to many issues like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, but does this lifestyle compromise the wellbeing of the mind too?


What’s the issue?

When the health of the mind decreases, the resulting issue can be defined as dementia. Dementia is a broad term used to classify symptoms of various diseases and conditions that are a result of decreased brain function that develops due to genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is the most common form of severe dementia that impairs cognitive ability including memory and thinking and decreases one’s ability to complete typical daily tasks unaided.

As the 6th leading cause of death in the US, AD is so prevalent that it affects 1 in 9 people aged 65 and older (Alzassociation 2016). This disease is extremely debilitating, so scientists have been actively researching to determine if any other factors besides one’s genetic predisposition increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.


Does what you eat affect your risk?

One study conducted by Leah C. Graham explored the relationship between the chronic consumption of a “western diet” and developing AD in a mouse model. This western diet (WD) mimicked the diet of the majority of people in the western world by including “high levels of animal fat and protein, lower levels of essential nutrients, and higher levels of simple carbohydrates including high fructose corn syrup” (Graham et.al. 2016).

Experimenters separated mice that were genetically modified to be predisposed to developing late-onset AD into two groups and provided them with identical living conditions excluding their diets. After the eight-month study, the brains of the mice that were fed the WD were compared to the brains of the mice that were fed the control diet. It was found that the consumption of a western diet leads to the damage of neurons, the cells of the brain, and increases the risk of developing AD.

Another study researched the effects of various diets on dementia such as diets high in saturated fatty acids, dairy products, alcohol, and the Mediterranean-type diet in humans. It was found that diets with elevated levels of saturated fatty acids and lower levels of dairy products have negative effects on age-related cognitive decline and cognitive function. Increased consumption of fish and other unsaturated fatty acids and light to moderate consumption of alcohol have been associated with a decreased risk of developing AD. The Mediterranean diet combines multiple micro- and macro- nutrients that, individually, serve as potential protective factors against dementia and pre-dementia syndromes (Solfrizzi et.al. 2011).

So, we now know that certain diets affect the way that the brain develops and maintains its function, increasing or decreasing one’s risk for developing AD or other forms of dementia. Are there any other factors?


Does an active lifestyle affect your risk?

            A study conducted by Rina Patel utilized an observational, non-experimental design to determine if an active lifestyle decreases the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease. In this study, families of participants with and without AD were asked to complete a questionnaire regarding the subjects’ level of physical activity during middle adulthood. Through various statistical tests, it was found that the non-Alzheimer’s participants were more active in their middle adulthood than the Alzheimer’s participants. Although the final sample size of this study (determined by the number of returned surveys) was too small to generate any conclusive generalizations for a much larger population, these results support Patel’s hypothesis that an active lifestyle in middle adulthood decreases one’s risk for developing AD in late adulthood (Patel 2002)

Now we know that leading an active or lethargic lifestyle also affects one’s risk of developing AD. Do diet and lifestyle affect one’s risk separately or is it a combination of the two that determine the likelihood of developing dementia?


Is obesity directly correlated to developing dementia?

            Obesity is a health condition characterized by extremely high levels of body fat. Obesity often develops from the combination of overeating unhealthy foods and not leading an active lifestyle. Can obesity itself lead to dementia?

In one study, the relationship between “midlife body mass index (BMI) and clustering of vascular risk factors and subsequent dementia and AD” (Kivipelto et. al. 2005) was investigated. Vascular risk factors are things that influence the wellbeing of the heart and often lead to obesity such as high blood pressure, cholesterol, and tobacco use. The study’s participants’ vascular risk factors and BMI were measured twice, once when they were considered middle aged (mean age of 50.6) and then again (on average) 21 years later. During the follow-up appointments, diagnosis of dementia was also measured. It was concluded that obesity in middle adulthood is associated with an increased risk of dementia and AD later in life (Kiyipelto et. al. 2005).

So it seems that obesity, not diet or exercise alone, may be the culprit of the rise in AD and dementia cases in America.


So What?

Although studies show that there is a causal relationship between obesity and dementia, some may argue that obesity decreases one’s risk for developing dementia. They claim that overeating provides your body with additional nutrients that protect the brain from deteriorating, however, there have been no studies that can definitively conclude this (Ossola 2015).

So should we all lose weight? Not necessarily. To maintain the body’s homeostasis, one should never lean to extremes, whether it be obesity or emaciation, as both with can lead to serious health concerns. The risk of dementia is lowered when one combines healthy food choices with healthy lifestyle choices.

Maybe we should try to break the American stereotypes and choose a salad and a jog over a Big Mac and a video game. Not only will our bodies be healthier, our minds will be healthier.



Works Cited

Alzassociation. Latest Alzheimer’s Facts and Figures. Latest Facts & Figures Report. 2016 [accessed 2016 Sep 29]. http://alz.org/facts/

Graham LC. 2016. Chronic consumption of a western diet induces robust glial activation in aging mice and in a mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. Scientific Reports [accessed 2016 Sep 11]; 6. http://www.nature.com/articles/srep21568

Kivipelto M. 2005. Obesity and Vascular Risk Factors at Midlife and the Risk of Dementia and Alzheimer Disease.JAMA Neurology [accessed 2016 Sep 29]; Vol. 62, No. 10.

Ossola A. 2015 Apr. People Who Are Obese Are Much Less Likely to Get Dementia with Age. Popular Science (April).

Patel R. 2002. The Effect of Active Lifestyle in Middle Adulthood Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention: A Non-Experimental Design. [accessed 2016 Sep 4];

Solfrizzi V. 2011. Diet and Alzheimer’s Disease Risk Factors Or Prevention: The Current Evidence.Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics  [accessed 2016 Sep 4]; 11.5:677–708.

Genetic Testing: Now or Never?

Genetic Testing: Now or Never?

Have you ever wondered if you will develop cancer, diabetes, or Alzheimer’s when you are older? Luckily for you, there are new genetic tests that allow people to know the probability of acquiring certain diseases that run in their families. While these new tests are immensely helpful to many, they put people at risk for genetic discrimination.


What is genetic testing and how can you be genetically discriminated?

Genetic testing is when scientist search for abnormalities in a person’s DNA. Geneticists have discovered several genomic markers that determine whether or not a person will develop breast cancer, Li-Fraumeni Syndrome, turcot syndrome, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s (Ang, 2001). Just because an individual has the gene, does not ensure they will get the disease. The purpose of genetic testing is to inform people of future health issues, and the likelihood of them receiving it.  However, many people fear the idea of being tested, because they do not want their chances of obtaining employment opportunities or health insurance to diminish. Genetic discrimination occurs when a person uses someone else’s genetic history against them. Health insurance companies and employers ask to see an individual’s genetic history in order to determine how big of a risk someone they might become.


Why should we care?

We have nothing to lose from genetic testing, if the proper laws are passed. Why wouldn’t someone want to be prepared for future medical issues?  It is understandable that some people would rather wait to find out for themselves, but there are many added risks that come with not knowing earlier. If you are well-informed about what the future holds, you can plan accordingly. You can change your diet, exercise routine, alcohol intake, smoking habits, and other life styles to prevent a certain illness. Knowing that you can possibly become sick, can also force you to finically prepare for the future. These are just some of the many benefits that are provided after getting tested. As a society, we should be enraged by genetic discrimination, because it is an issue of the right to privacy. Data shows that 3% of people are denied insurance, while 5% see price differences (Reilly 2010). Many employers and insurance companies view the action as “justified discrimination” (Otlowski, 2012). It is ethically and morally wrong for someone to be charged more, or denied even health insurance because of an illness they could possibly obtain in the nearby future (Anderlik and Rothstein, 2001).


In what ways can the issue be fixed?

The U.S. is certainly leading the world in the fight against genetic discrimination. In 2008, the U.S. government passed a law known as The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) that prohibits insurance and employment agencies to genetically discriminate. Even though this law has been in effect for eight years now, there are many exceptions that apply to it. For instance, if a person requests for a specific treatment to be covered by their health insurance company, the company has the right to ask for a genetic test to be done. This will determine whether or not they will pay for the treatment. This act does not apply to military members or federal employees. The law also fails to implement its policies for life insurance companies, long term care, and disability insurance. Another law that was passed is The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which specifically prohibits doctors and health insurance companies from sharing a patience’s medical information (Reilly, 2010). Other countries, such as Australia, are slowly starting to follow in Americas footsteps, but not fast enough. This issue has to be address globally because it affects the entire population. As humans, we have the right to privacy, and this form of discrimination infringes upon it. Have you ever wanted to live overseas? If you have, your possibilities of seeking employment, insurance, or a mortgage in a foreign country can be hindered based on your genetic data. This is due to the fact that while America has laws to prevent this from happening to you, other countries do not (Otlowski, 2012). Once genetic data is made public there is no way to make it private again, so once you move to a new country they have access to your records.




The Role of Genetics in Stress Response – Would You Want to Know Your Workforce’s Genetic Strengths?


We live in a world revolving around money. People take calculated risks in order to prevent monetary loss. The reason companies value people’s genetic information is because they want to be well-educated on a potential risk. Companies want to ensure sure that they will not have to invest too much money into you. This issue is slowly resolving in America, but it is still a pressing matter in other countries. The more awareness that is brought to the issue, the faster change can happen. It important to remember that this is not just a medical issue, but an ethical issue as well. While this issue may seem minuscule, it has a significant meaning to how ethics and science go hand and hand. We must be willing to speak up for what is right and wrong, in a world were science is growing faster than ever.


The Dangers of Concussions for NFL Players. Gabe Keaveney

The Dangers of Concussions for NFL Players

Some people are unaware of many head injuries that can occur during a professional football game. Many people choose to disregard the head injuries that have been proven to occur. These people are usually people who are fond of the game of football and do not want to see changes in the way the game is played, even if these changes make a safer environment for the players. They believe that the entertainment that the sport provides is more important than the lives of the players that participate, and the families of the players who have to watch these traumatic injuries happen to their loved ones. I am writing to assert that we as sports fans and a society need to protect these players, because concussions and other head injuries that these players receive have a major impact on the rest of their lives.

The common sports fan thinks of football related head injuries occurring mainly in the NFL. However, the most common occurrence of traumatic head injuries is found in youth football leagues. There are many reasons for the heightened rate of injuries in youth football players. First, the child’s head is bigger than the adult’s when compared to their respective neck sizes[1]. Therefore their head is more likely to whip around and cause dangerous collisions. Another reason major head injuries are often found in youth football leagues is the repetitiveness of the injury[1]. Youth football leagues usually do not have the funding for proper medical staff on the sidelines of football games. Therefore many of these injuries often go unnoticed. Then once the concussions start to pile on top of each other, the long term effects become more significant. Until there is more funding towards proper medical staff, there will continue to be a very large rate of injuries happening in youth football players.

Obviously, concussions and head injuries occur in more than just youth football. They are very prominent in all levels of football, including the NFL. The NFL has collected data samples on the amount of concussions in several different time periods. From 1996-2001 eight hundred and eighty seven concussions were recorded, and from 2002-2007 eight hundred and fifty four concussions were found[2]. There is a slight difference in the amount of concussions reported between these two time periods, however the separation is insignificant. This suggests that the NFL is working to find solutions to the high occurrence rate of concussions, but it is not happening very quickly. Part of the issue is that once a player receives one concussion, they become 2-5.8 percent more likely to have another one[2]. Therefore the NFL has to work even harder to find a method that protects players from receiving the injury once, because after one incident the player is much more likely to see repetition of the injury. The most alarming statistic for the players and the NFL is that 50% of concussions that occur, go unreported[2]. This means that the players will not receive the proper treatment and rest time, and they will also become more susceptible to a second concussion. This lack of awareness for the injury that occurred is due to both players wanting to stay in the game, and the medical staff missing the incident and therefore not looking for any possible symptoms. Also coaches may be reluctant to remove their best players from the game if they think that they can tough out the symptoms. This is a vicious cycle because the player does not undergo the concussion treatment that is needed for a full recovery, and they are then more likely to receive another concussion. Both sides of the spectrum must become more responsible and accountable in order to see a decrease in the concussion rate.

Later in football player’s lives, symptoms have been recorded that show a connection to their concussions that occurred during their playing years. One of the most common effects of concussions in former football players is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE. CTE attacks the attention span, memory, judgement, and general functions of the brain[3]. Studies have shown that the more times the subject received a concussion, the worse their symptoms are.CTE is hard to diagnose, but its effects can very dangerous and in rare cases, fatal. Studies have revealed that former football players have died from the effects of CTE[3]. The disease affects the judgements of humans enough that the people who have it become a danger to themselves and the people around them. This information provides the scary reality that these football players face with their involvement in the sport.

Football is America’s most popular sport, but is certainly one of its most dangerous too. The normal football fan would probably not want to see changes to the game that we watch on fall Sundays. However it is time that strong safety measures be taken in order to protect the players. These players are humans just like you and I, and it is horrifying to see the effects these head injuries are having on them. Football leagues have made efforts to protect their players, but not significant enough to see real changes. It is time for us as football fans to see past these players on the field talents, and protect their well-being for them and their loved ones.



  1. Gilbert, Frederic, and Syd M. Johnson. “AJOB Neuroscience.” The Impact of American Tackle Football Related Concussion in Youth Athletes: : Vol 2, No 4. N.p., 18 Oct. 2011. Web. 04 Sept. 2016.
  2. Wu, Benjamin G. “Concussions and Football By The Numbers.” Clinical Correlations. N.p., 06 Dec. 2013. Web. 04 Sept. 2016.
  3. McKee, Ann C., Robert C. Cantu, Christopher J. Nowinski, E. Tessa Hedley Whyte, Brandon E. Gavett, Andrew E. Budson, Veronica E. Santini, Hyo­Soon Lee, Caroline A. Kubilus, and Robert A. Stern. “Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in Athletes: Progressive Tauopathy following Repetitive Head Injury.” Journal of Neuropathology and Experimental Neurology. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2009. Web. 04 Sept. 2016.

Anxiety and Exercise: Running For Instead of From Your Problems

Anxiety and Exercise: Running For Instead of From Your Problems


In the age of Romantic poetry, that wonderful time with no workplace safety standards and toilets that were just pots you threw into the street every morning, society, or artists at the very least, viewed emotion in a different way. Whereas now people see the goal of life to be the pursuit of happiness, Romantic Poets sought out new and better ways to be sad. This might explain why today many view artists as melancholy recluses that shutter away the sun and couldn’t finish the mile run in middle school. Shockingly (or not, depending on your middle school experience), recent research into exercise and its relationship with anxiety and depression shows that there might be some truth to this stereotype.

Exercise is typically associated with just physical fitness; you work out so you can take your shirt off in a pool without being called a whale. While this reduction of fat is certainly the most visible effect of exercise, there are other less tangible benefits. Recent studies have shown that the changes in body chemistry that exercise causes also play an important role in helping you shed emotional blubber, especially in the case of anxiety and depressive disorders.

Understanding The Issue

With approximately 25% of the American population citing having an anxiety or depressive disorder at some point in their lives, it’s hard to imagine a person that hasn’t at one point watched a loved one struggle with a crippling and overwhelming dread of everyday tasks. For the lucky few of you that haven’t had the experience, allow me to elaborate. A high trait anxiety indicates that an individual is more likely to perceive situations as stressful and react with a state of anxiety. A state of anxiety is when the person feels tense, nervous, and worried, leading to an activation of the autonomic nervous system (the fight or flight reflex). Similarly, a high trait depression leads a person into depressive states more easily, where they experience helplessness, chronic sadness, and loss of interest. Disorders occur when an individual has an unusually high trait, and are usually treated using medication or various forms of therapy. Depending on the severity of the disorder and the methods used to treat it, patients can expect varying levels of success and side effects.

The Problem With Antidepressants

People have started paying a great deal of attention to antidepressants in recent years, and with good reason. Many antidepressant medications come equipped with a long, daunting list of side effects, some almost comically scary. The next time one of their commercials comes on, see if you can read that tiny chunk of text they flash across the bottom the screen. If you can manage it without a microscope, it’ll tell you that antidepressants can cause tics, muscle spasms, parkinsonism, akathisia, dyskinesia, insomnia, skin rashes, headaches, joint and muscle pain, loss of libido, upset stomach, nausea, diarrhea, increased chance of stomach and uterine bleeding, and an increase of suicidal thoughts. As if this wasn’t enough, combining these with other medications can result in the effects of one or both drugs being either nullified or augmented, meaning that even taking just an Aspirin for a headache can almost double your chances of stomach bleeding.

You may be wondering why people don’t simply stop taking antidepressant medication when they start to notice these symptoms, and the answer is that some actually do. Unfortunately, quitting any drug cold turkey comes with its own list of nasty side effects, and anxiety and depression medication is no exception. For common anti-depressants, this list includes dizziness, loss of coordination, fatigue, tingling, burning, blurred vision, insomnia, vivid dreams, nausea or diarrhea, flu-like symptoms, irritability, anxiety, and crying spells. By taking any antidepressant or anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) medicine over an extended period of time, you expose yourself to the risk of withdrawals if and when you no longer need it.

What Can Exercise Do?

While some may argue that antidepressant drugs have more immediate effects on depression than exercise does, recent studies have shown that this disparity diminishes over a period of weeks until it becomes negligible. It is theorized that perhaps exercise is an effective treatment because the chemicals released during exercise lead to adaptations in the hypopituitary adrenal axis (HPA), the part of the brain that have to deal with stress and emotion. Essentially, the body is conditioned for anxiety and depression inducing situations. Another theory proposes that, rather than being attributable to pseudo-stressful situations, exercise’s mental benefits are due to the related distraction, social interaction, and self efficacy. Loosely translated this means that the culture rather than the science of running is what helps cure anxiety and depression.

Regardless of the why, studies and experiments have shown that exercise does indeed work to reduce anxiety and depression. Exercise has already been proven to be more effective than other non-medicinal treatments, such as group treatment, music therapy, and meditation, and just as effective as medicinal treatments in cases of mild to moderate disorders. Within a period of 16 weeks, any disparities between exercise and medications effectiveness disappear. Unlike medication though, with its intimidating fallout and withdrawal, the side effects of exercise are increased overall wellness, a reduced risk of chronic diseases, and whole host of other benefits.

Works Consulted:


  • Wegner M, Helmich I, Machado S, Nardi AE, Arias-Carrion O, and Budde H. (2014). Effects of Exercise on Anxiety and Depression Disorders: Review of Meta-Analyses and Neurobiological Mechanisms. CNS & Neurological Disorders Drug Targets. Volume 13(6), pages 1002-1014.




Octopuses, Do We Really Know Much About Them?

(Pearl (Finding Nemo), 2016)

“Aw guys, you made me ink,” exclaimed Pearl as she blushed from embarrassment. In Finding Nemo, Pearl is a young octopus and classmate of Nemo. She is vibrantly pink and has eight tentacles, but one is just a tad bit shorter than the rest of them according to her expertise. She flails her tentacles in every which direction so elegantly. Our hearts fill with joy, as we see her stiff body and bulging eyes sway in the ocean. This is the octopus we know and love.

But PSYCH!!!! This is not the octopus that reality knows.

Pearl is cute and pretty, but real octopuses have a certain beauty about them that isn’t expressed through their exterior. Octopuses’ beauty lies in their ability to change colors, textures, shapes, and location. Octopuses have nervous system unique to their species. More than just their bodily abilities makes them so fascinating; their extreme intelligence also has the scientific community astonished. Intelligence, flexibility, adaptation, genetic variations, and influence are just some of the many characteristics and traits that an octopus has. The octopus is so much more than a cute character on a TV show; the octopus is the future of our technology. Scientists Caroline Albertin, Oleg Simakov, and Cecilia Laschi all have realized this and done extensive research on these animals revealing so much more about their usefulness then we ever knew.

How smart is the octopus?

With a nervous system that outshines all other invertebrates (regarding size at least), there is no doubt that this species holds more secrets beneath its façade (Albertin et al, 2015). While investigating this cephalopod’s brain and body, Scientists Albertin and Simakov uncovered some astonishing information by sequencing its genome and multiple trancriptomes of the octopus biomaculoides (220, 2015).  By doing so, they discovered that octopuses had a much larger pool of genomes to pick from within the protocadherins (regulator of neuronal development) (Albertin et al, 2015).  This extra boost in variability of genomes gives octopuses their edge in neural communication and development. Protocadherins are one of the more important aspects of the octopus. Their expression allows the nervous system to stay organized. In addition, protocadherins allow the octopus to control its quick short-range neural interactions that are essential to creating the vast network of pathways that make up their nervous system (Albertin et al, 2015).  According to another devoted octopus researcher scientist Laschi, the octopus is the “embodiment of intelligence”(709, 2012). When they sense a predator they will hide in spaces as small as their brain (Laschi et al, 2012). As a last resort, if they do not have enough time to get away, they will release a bloom of ink into the oceans waters eluding the predator and giving the octopus enough time to escape. Out of most of the life in the ocean, the octopus ranks high among the competitors for the smartest creature. Their flexibility and unique exterior is one-of-a-kind though.

What is so special about the octopus’ exterior?

With varieties within the DNA structure, the skin and tentacle’s jobs are given a superior range. By combing through the genome sequence and multiple trancriptomes of the octopus, Albertin and Simakov were able to identify the genomes that make the octopus so unique. The short-range nervous system that the octopus has paired with its extra genes permits it to not only change its skin color, but modify the texture and shape of its body. The octopus can camouflage from its predators and make it as realistic as the object they are mimicking.

Are octopuses ALIENS???????

Because they possess all these unique qualities, many scientists have questioned whether or not octopuses are even Earthly. Some have gone as far as to say that the octopus is an alien. The more likely story, though, is that they are one of the oldest creatures that roam the oceans (Albertin et al, 2012). They show signs of long-time evolution and have traits that are solely unique to them. Although there is a possibility that the octopus did not originate on Earth, so far there is no scientific evidence to back up those claims (Albertin et al, 2012).

Why do we care about the Octopus?

The octopus has become the center for the inspiration of new soft arm robotics. Due to its unique genetic make-up, people can learn a lot from octopuses and explore their many facets. This exploration often leads to progress in many Laschi has been doing extensive research on the tentacles of the octopus. The fact that they have no rigid structures within them and that they have the ability to contract, elongate, turn left and right, and work as the navigation system is a phenomenon. Through this Laschi has built a robotic model of the muscular hydrostat of the octopus tentacle  that maneuvers elegantly in the water (210, 2012). It has also been key in the development of hyper-redundant robotic manipulators (Laschi et al, 2012). Laschi is trying to pave a new path for the future of technology and how far they can go in replicating the body make-up of the octopus and other animals that possess traits that are exceptional to their species. In the future, this technology could be saving lives. The usefulness of the octopus has only been touched on the surface level; it has the possibilities to aid in the making of so much more.

Works Cited


Albertin, C. B., Simakov, O., Mitros, T., Wang, Z. Y., Pungor, J. R., Edsinger-Gonzales, E., & … Rokhsar, D. S. (2015). The octopus genome and the evolution of cephalopod neural and morphological novelties. Nature, 524(7564), 220-224. doi:10.1038/nature14668


Laschi, C., Cianchetti, M., Mazzolai, B., Margheri, L., Follador, M., & Dario, P. (2012). Soft Robot Arm Inspired by the Octopus. Advanced Robotics, 26(7), 709-727. doi:10.1163/156855312X626343


Panepinto, W. (n.d.). Octopus [Digital image]. Retrieved October 2, 2016, from http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/invertebrates/giant-pacific-octopus/


Pearl (Finding Nemo) [Digital image]. (n.d.). Retrieved October 2, 2016, from http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Pearl_(Finding_Nemo)


  1. (2013). Where’s The Octopus? Retrieved October 02, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aoCzZHcwKxI


Understanding Your Brain In Order to Make Better Decisions.

Understanding Your Brain In Order to Make Better Decisions.

As you begin to read this article, your brain is making an instantaneous decision: should you continue to read? Your brain’s ability to analyze a situation and draw conclusions about what is best would not be possible without one region of the brain in particular.

The amygdala, a part of the brain located alongside the frontal cortex, evaluates the benefits and risks of a decision in fractions of a second, communicating with the rest of the brain to avoid potential threats. When your brain encounters new stimuli, such as this article, the amygdala is the first to respond, generating what feels like a gut reaction to a scenario.

There is an internal library of fears, finely tuned to avoid situations that result in loss, located within your amygdala. When you see snakes, spiders, and sharks a sense of fear surges through your body, manifesting itself as changes in body temperature, heart rate, and muscle tension. Being aware of when and how the amygdala influences your decision-making might be the difference between life and death.

Fear Perception

That moment of panic, when you feel frozen in terror, is a result of the amygdala’s evolutionary survival kit. Arne Ohman, a professor at the Karolinska Institutet Emotion Lab, produced a 2001 study first delving into the impact of instinctual emotions on speed of thought.

A Matrix

When faced with a matrix of nine images, similar to the one above, subjects were asked to locate the picture that did not belong. Ohman discovered that when one spider or snake was located in an array of flowers or mushrooms, the reaction time needed to locate the different image was significantly less than when faced with 8 spiders or snakes. The results of the study indicated that humans have predisposed fears that influence the way we react to dangerous stimuli. There were improvements in reaction time when faced with a single danger but slower reactions when faced with multiple threats (Ohman, 2001).

Snakebites are one example of a threat addressed in Ohman’s research, but the statistics behind snakebites don’t quite add up. Many people fear snakes, but only approximately 1 in 40,000 people are bitten by snakes in the United States, indicating the risk of a snake bite is actually quite small. So the next time you see a snake, make a conscious effort to recognize the effects of the amygdala on your reactions to fear-inducing stimuli and then the snake seems less frightening.

What might be even more frightening is losing money.

Loss Perception

If someone asked you to bet on the flip of a fair coin, gaining $25 if it’s heads but losing $20 if it’s tails, would you take the bet? For many, the thought of losing $20 is not worth the risk; however, if this bet was repeated again and again (assuming its Friday and you just got paid) after a while you would make a profit. As you might have gathered, the amygdala not only affects risk perception, but also the ways we as humans perceive loss, making us react irrationally when faced with loss.


There is a way to quantify the effects of the amygdala on loss perception utilizing the Iowa Gambling Test (IGT). One study done at the University of Iowa questions a person’s willingness to bet when given varying monetary incentives, disincentives, and odds via the IGT(Gupta et al., 2011). The test was given to one group of subjects who all possessed a fully functional amygdala and ventromedial prefrontal cortex (VMPC), which is a region of the brain closely associated with the activity in the amygdala. In order to compare the amygdala’s effects on the result, the other group of subjects had either a damaged VMPC or a damaged amygdala. Healthy participants were able to better judge when to bet and when to be risk-averse, but tended to reject situations when the odds were in their favor.

The triggering of emotions when making decisions combined with the repetition of the same event leads to a similar reaction as the people learn what works best. Additionally, by also including subjects with injured VMPCs, the experiment presented new information about the connections between the memory of previous gambles and the VMPC. However, the memory of previous results encourages loss-averse tendencies that may not be entirely rational.

An Aside- Other Parts of the Brain Involved in Emotional Decision Making

It rare to see a single piece of the human body working in a vacuum, and this is also true when it comes to making decisions. There are instantaneous communications between the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), a part of the brain responsible for helping to process new stimuli, and the amygdala that further influence our subconscious thoughts about a decision.


The issue with a lot of the research done in the field of behavioral neuroscience is that many researchers focus exclusively on one part of the brain and it’s role in decision-making. Some scientists like Rick Jenison, a psychologist at the University of Madison, are trying to change this. Jenison performed a study specially designed to look at whether the amygdala communicates with the OFC directly as well as looking for communication in the opposite direction. Initially, the OFC sends signals to the amygdala about the stimuli, which then replies with a significantly greater number of signals back to the OFC. The amygdala may play a huge role in processing information, but requires help to do its job. Understanding the connections between the different parts of our brain can help us make more calculated decisions.

Using The Information

As the decisions results accumulate within the brain, habits develop as a result of the outcomes of the choices you make. Emotions are felt as a result of your amygdala’s reaction to a situation. Ben Seymour, a Principal Investigator at Cambridge University, described this process as a Pavlovian learning system, a reference to the famous physiologist who first formulated theories about classical conditioning using dogs and a bell.

Pavlov's Experiment

Seymour hypothesized that the emotions generated by your amygdala when faced with a difficult decision actually improve human decision making capabilities. The ability to instantly recall the emotions felt after previous similar decisions gives humans a huge advantage in maximizing personal benefits. (Seymour, 2008).

Human emotion often serves as a message to the brain about what the body wants or needs; the ability to recall these feelings and react based on them serves as another way the amygdala influences behavior and encourages “safe” behavior.

Your brain is constantly reacting to new information in fractions of a second, in many cases helping you to protect yourself and follow your initial instincts. However, it is important to recognize these reactionary mechanisms as exactly that, and always think through the response to any situation, whether it be to fold after a poor flop, or to turn and run when faced with a snake ready to spring toward you.


Gupta, R., Koscik, T., Bechara, A., Tranel, D. (2011) The Amygdala and Decision-making. Neuropsychologia. 49 (4), 760-766

Jenison, R. (2014) Directional Influence between the Human Amygdala and Orbitofrontal Cortex at the Time of Decision-Making. PLOS One. 9 (10), e109689

Ohman, A., Flykt, A., Esteves, F. (2001) Emotion Drives Attention: Detecting the Snake in the Grass. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 130 (3) 466-478

Seymour, B., Dolan, R. (2008) Emotion, Decision Making, and the Amygdala. Neuron, 58 (5), 662-671. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0896627308004558


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