Body Representation in Infants’ Brains

--Original published at Kealey's PSY105 Blog

Summary

After spending months in the safe and stoic environment of a mother’s womb, how does a baby begin to distinguish an understanding of the world around them? With no previous experience to the greater outside world and everything in it, a baby’s brain rapidly develops within its first few months of life. Aside from new surroundings, a baby also discovers itself. It is a little person with arms, legs, a mouth. Just a touch can open up a whole new world of sensation and possibilities to a baby. A study by Dr. Meltzoff at the University of Washington tracked babies’ brain activity to map the early body representation in different parts of the brain. This study has given us a better understanding of how babies learn to recognize themselves and how they begin to understand the existence of others.

Dr. Meltzoff is a developmental psychologist who has been exploring the brain structure and behavior of early life for years. In EEG scans of adults in similar studies, results have been consistent that stimulation to a body part would cause an increase in activity to a specific region on the contralateral side of the brain, and stimulation near the center of the body would show bilateral activity in both hemispheres of the brain. Studies that test for body representation through brain activity in certain parts of the brain have allowed researchers to map neural networks and design a human homunculus. These visual representations help us better understand the amount of brain tissue dedicated to each body part in our brains. In an adult homunculus, the center part of the body is small compared to the hands, mouth, and feet. Dr. Meltzoff’s goal was to test babies in the same way to reveal if their neural networks had any differences in their early developmental stage.

The researchers invited new parents to bring their babies to the study. The requirements were that the babies had to be of the desired age of about 8 weeks old, of normal birth, and born without any medical or developmental problems. 25 infants were used in the study. A stretch EEG cap with electrode sensors were placed on the baby’s head while a trained researcher would gently tap different body parts numerous times in a randomized order. The left foot and left hand were chosen to be stimulated in this experiment because these babies were in beginning the stage of grabbing and kicking. The middle of the upper lip was also tested because the mouth is essential in a newborn’s life for sucking, eating, and displaying emotional expression. The EEG captured brain activity while each part was tapped. The researchers then analyzed the trends in brain activity relating to specific parts of the brain to make conclusions about how infants’ brains represent different body parts.

What the researchers found was that when the left foot or hand was tapped, a spike in activity on the right side of the brain become apparent. When the lip was touched, bilateral activity was shown across the center of the brain. These results are fairly consistent with studies of adult brains. However, activity displayed while touching the lip was noticeably stronger. The obvious cortical magnification of the lip in babies’ brains can be explained by the importance of the mouth during infancy and babies’ limited range of motion in other regions. These results show that even in early development, the brain responds to touch the same way across the lifespan with subtle differences in strength.

Dr. Meltzoff’s article in the Journal of Developmental Science also mentions a previous study he conducted on how babies respond to watching others have different parts of their bodies touched. Learning how infants develop a social understanding of others is difficult to track, and not much research has been done on this topic in the past. What the researchers found was that the visual cortex and sensorimotor cortex was activated upon watching others’ hands, feet, and lips being tapped. The same regions in the brain that would have been activated if the infants experienced the touch themselves corresponded with watching the same body part being touched on someone else. These results indicate that infants are able to relate to others at a very early age. Understanding how others’ bodies react to touch create the connection to infants that “They are just like me.”

Though there is still more to be learned about early development of body representation in our brains, Dr. Meltzoff’s research of infants help us better understand how newborns develop a sense of bodily self and make connection to others through their shared experience of touch.

 Original New York Times Article

Scholarly Journal Article

 Take Away

              The process of summarizing the scholarly article seemed easy to me at first. After all, Perri Klass seemed to effortlessly pull out the most important aspects of the article in plain English so that any typical reader of the New York Times could understand it. While completing this series of essays, my respect for scientific journalists has changed. I appreciate the careful word choice and organizational writing skills it takes to write a summary of scientific findings in a way that is interesting and easy to understand. I found that relaying the information in the scholarly article written by Dr. Meltzoff was not as simple as I originally thought it would be. His article is written in many scientific terms, some of which I didn’t even understand. I think the most difficult part of summarizing his article was trying to rewrite his findings for a totally different audience. His article was written for other specialists in the scientific community, but I was trying to write it in a simpler way that everyone reading could understand, even if they had no experience with developmental psychology or neurology.

              Klass’s article seemed more intriguing to me than how my own summary turned out. I think this is because her article also included commentary from the researchers, which added a new level of perspective to the piece. The study did not necessarily implicate exciting new findings, but asserted predictions based on previous research. It was hard to try to write the results of the study so that they would be interesting to the average reader, so I tried to capitalize on the further implications of the study, which included how babies perceive themselves and others. I wish I could have added more information about how the trials were conducted and the limitations and future suggestions that were mentioned in the scholarly article, but I felt the information would convolute the summary. With more practice such as this, I think I could improve my summarizing skills. This activity helped me realize what I could improve on in future writing.

Chap. 14 – Impression

--Original published at Kealey's PSY105 Blog

 For this post, I watched Elyn Saks’s TED Talk on her experience with her sever mental illness. In her lecture, she shared quotes from her early personal recounts describing her struggle with schizophrenia. Her stories of delusions and hallucinations of demons and paranoia are unsettling. She recreates the way she would speak when she had an episode. Dark, ominous messages about death and torture escaped her mouth in incoherent and disturbing short phrases. She recalls wanting to leave the Yale library to go to the roof because she believes it is the only place she feels safe. Saks then describes the torment of being restrained against her will at the hospital. The way the doctors treated her seem inhumane, what we would consider malpractice today. It is heartbreaking to hear her describe her quest to wean herself off her medication. She wanted to prove that there wasn’t anything wrong with her, she didn’t believe in her illness. To her disappointment, the psychotic episodes and imaginary demons returned with vengeance and she was faced with the fact that she needed to accept her schizophrenia.

I cannot imagine what it is like to be someone who struggles with an illness like this. Being in a nightmare with demons and murderers out to get you is scary enough, but I imagine being schizophrenic is very similar, only you are not able to wake up. People with schizophrenia must feel trapped, not just mentally but physically too. Saks’s message is inspiring because she did not fall into a life controlled by her mental illness, she overcame it. She attributes her success to her treatment and support network. Unfortunately, stories like hers is unattainable compared to the thousands of convicts and homeless people that are mentally ill. Much of the homeless has a mental illness and they are still marginalized, avoided, and ignored. Maybe if these people had access to the resources that Elyn did, they wouldn’t be in the position they are in now, and their demons wouldn’t drive them to do things like committing crimes. Society as a whole would benefit to continue taking strides towards understanding and accepting mental illness and working together to give access to treatment and medication to all who need it, no matter their social status.

Chap. 12 – Impression

--Original published at Kealey's PSY105 Blog

I found the experience of taking the Implicit Association Test (IAT) interesting to say the least. I took two tests. The first test I took was the Eating IAT. This test  of asked a few demographic questions, history of mental health, opinion of foods, and finally a sorting element. The sorting element consisted of classifying words into one of two categories as fast as possible, making few mistakes as possible. For example, the word would be something like “pizza” and you would have to distinguish if it should go in the “low-fat” or “high-fat” category. I had a lot of mistakes when trying to sort these words. Going into this test, I thought that I would have a shameful association with high-fat foods. This is because I will often indulge in unhealthy foods, but I almost always feel guilty for eating high-fat foods. My results aligned with my prediction. The IAT revealed that I had a moderately associate “acceptable” more with low-fat foods than high-fat foods.

The second IAT I took related to gender and careers and family. My personal beliefs are that there should not be a preference between career achievement and caretaking depending on gender. The test’s results showed that I had a moderate implicit bias of associating men with careers and women with the family. I can understand why the results came back this way, but I do not think that these results indicate my values accurately. Historically, in our society women have been unable to leave the home because they had to take care of the family while the man worked. This kind of social structure was put in place because of hundreds of years of stereotyping and a lack of opportunities afforded to women. We have made huge bounds in dispelling this idea, but it is not dead yet. My grandparents’ generation lived this way as the norm. Personally, I see a brighter future even closer to gender equality between ideals of family and career, though I still see the subtle realities of gender roles in our society today.

Spotlight 2

--Original published at Kealey's PSY105 Blog

Many websites claim that they have the best study tips. Ranging from middle school to grad school, students are always looking for helpful information to assist them in performing better on their next test. A lot of study tips may be common knowledge, but there are many myths about studying that students believe to work. Distinguishing between effective study habits and superstitions are essential to a student looking for help.

1.       Secondary Schooling – Campus Explorer

This site highlights its top 10 study habits for high school students. Number 1 is all about managing time. It is true that managing your time is important, and the most important aspect to this is working in short amounts of time frequently into your routine rather than cramming the night before a test. The website then suggests organizing. Every student is different, and the appearance of your binder isn’t something to worry about, but the way in which you write your notes is. Rewriting notes and drawing concept maps can prove especially helpful. The one tip I disagree with is studying outside. While I do not think this is necessarily detrimental, the website claims it will help you do better on tests, which just isn’t true. Creating an environment more like the one that the test will be administered in is the most beneficial space to study in because it improves retrieval in working memory.

2.       Parents – Child Development Institute

The tips for kids and teenagers aimed at parents on the Child Development Institute’s website has useful information backed by research. The tips are mainly about creating at atmosphere free of distractions with areas and times specifically designated to studying. Maintaining an environment like this is best when it comes to taking the actual test because the mind is used to retrieving the information needed in a setting like this. The website also encourages parents to teach their children to think past what is asked for them on homework assignments. This is about the idea of elaboration. The further a student thinks about the material and makes meaningful connections, the easier it will be for them use this information on tests. My only problem with this website is that I think it asks the parents to be too involved. While this may be appropriate for little kids, high schoolers should most definitely learn to study independently. After all, when it comes time to take an exam or go college, their parents cannot be there with them.

3.       College – AcademicTips.org

This site gives many helpful tips to new college students navigating the trials of an immense load of coursework. To me, the most useful study skill is distributed practice. Interweaving material, changing the order every day, and always making time to study is the best way to prepare for exams. These methods improve memory and are a beneficial routine to adjust to. Distributed practice of studying for shorter periods a day rather than spending an all-nighter preparing for an exam is much more effective. One of the top tips on this website is to form study groups. Study groups have to potential to be beneficial, but only if everyone is on the same page and prepares individually as well. Otherwise, they can be a distraction and waste of time.

Chap. 13 – Impression

--Original published at Kealey's PSY105 Blog

My results from the personality tests were generally accurate. The Myers-Briggs test and Type Theory test both revealed that I am an ENTJ personality type. This means I am extroverted, intuitive, a thinker, and a judger. In the past when I have taken tests like these, I have been shown similar results. I believe the reliability of these tests because they have been consistent over time, and I can closely identify with the traits that the personality tests describe. For the Big 5 Personality test I scored highest in the intellect/imagination category. This makes sense because I tend to analyze things critically and abstractly to formulate a well-rounded picture of the situation. I can solve problems by coming up with creative solutions after a lot of consideration. My results of the Big 5 Personality test align with my other two tests, especially in the aspect of deep thinking.

The one test that perplexed me was the Color Quiz. My results were fairly accurate, but vague. I believe this feedback can be applied to many people, making me question its validity and reliability. It is astounding that just by picking a few colors in a certain order, the computer was able to make reasonable conclusions about my current situation. While the other tests focused on analyzing personality, the Color Quiz focused more on situational feelings and stressors. By taking personality quizzes like these, I can assert some aspects of my personality that I am already aware of, as well as discover new things that will help me understand my way of thinking and behavior in the future.

Chap. 9 – Impression

--Original published at Kealey's PSY105 Blog

 

I think the idea that listening to classical music as a child will increase intelligence is largely a myth. While Mozart’s and Bach’s music may be soothing and easy to listen to, there is not substantial enough research to support that classical music is guaranteed to strengthen brain development. Listening to music as a baby definitely isn’t detrimental, but as the professor mentions in the article, for it to be thought of as an intellectual building block would be an illusion. I think people commonly associate classical music with prestige and intellectual maturity, which is why many think that making babies listen to it will lead them to reaching their own elevated rank in society one day. The environment that parents raise their children in is what really stimulates learning. If parents choose to play classical music while encouraging their kids to learn and be successful in school, they have established a intellectually nurturing environment for their children to develop in.

Chap. 11 – Impression

--Original published at Kealey's PSY105 Blog

 

I found Kelly McGonigal’s talk “Making Stress Your Friend” surprising and inspiring. Kelly McGonigal explains that she has been a psychologist, helping clients be healthier and happier, her whole career. This makes her a fairly credible source in my opinion, though I would have found her even more credible if the research she was using to make her point was her own study. In her talk, she reveals the results of a research study that changed her mind about stress.

Stress is commonly thought to be unhealthy. It can increase risk of stress-related diseases like cardiovascular disease. In this study, many people who categorized themselves as experiencing high amounts of stress in the last year were the most likely to die of stress-related causes. There is a shocking catch though. Of this group, they asked the participants if they viewed stress as healthy or unhealthy. The group that viewed stress as unhappy had the most increased risk of death. The group that viewed stress as healthy had the lowest risk of death. This reveals that it may not be the amount of stress, but rather your perception of stress that puts you at risk for stress-related death. Further research supports this. People who think of stress as healthy have different physiological reactions to stress that strengthens their heart and their minds because of their way of thinking.

McGonigal argues that this could be the answer to avoiding the unhealthy affects of stress. If we train our brains to welcome stress instead of fear it, our bodies will adapt to give us strength and resiliency to handle tough situations. In a way, I can relate to this kind of thinking. I avoid stress, but when I do have to face it I use it as motivation to handle the situation. However, I notice that stress does cause me unpleasant physical effects that I’d rather not have to experience. I could implement McGonigal’s advice the next time I handle stress to see if my body feels better from it. McGonigal also mentions the hormone oxytocin, aka the “cuddle” hormone, in her lecture. She says that this hormone releases from the brain when you make meaningful social interactions with people. It makes you feel safer and think more clearly. Typically, I don’t tell other people about how I’m feeling or what I’m going through. This sometimes leads to a breaking point where all my emotions and stress burst out. If I take McGonigal’s advice and talk to someone about what I am going through, I could feel much more in control of my stress.

Chap. 10 – Impression

--Original published at Kealey's PSY105 Blog

In the 1970s, Rupert Holmes wrote a song that instantly became extremely popular. The chorus mentions pina coladas, making love on the cape, and mysterious romance between strangers. Because of these words and its easy roll-with-it rhythm and beachy tune, it became a song to play at beach parties and in the car during a date. It is often thought to be a “feel good” song. Currently, it’s a nostalgic tune. Everyone knows the chorus, but not everyone thinks about the words of the verse, which give the true meaning of the song away. “Escape” (aka “If You Like Pina Coladas”) is actually about a man who is bored in his marriage and puts a personal ad out to find another woman to cheat on his wife with. A song that people usually associate with delicious tropical drinks and sex on the beach is actually about infidelity and betrayal. Ironically, the man’s wife answers the ad because she too is looking for romance outside of her marriage. The two laughed about it, and the story is over. Personally, I don’t think my reaction would be to laugh if I was either of them. If both of them were seeking to cheat, they obviously have some major relationship problems to figure out. I used to just jive with this song like everyone else. But now, it kind of creeps me out to hear such a happy mood in a song about a double cheating scandal.

Spotlight Post – 1

--Original published at Kealey's PSY105 Blog

Divorce in America has been increasing over the past decades. About 50% of children will experience 18th birthday, and almost half will witness subsequent divorces in the future (Parker). Research on the effects of divorce on children was popularized in the 1980s and 1990s. The conclusions were mainly one-sided arguments that children of divorce experience more short-term and long-term negative effects than children whose parents remained married. Emotionally, physically, and psychologically divorce was found to have consequences on children, supporting the argument that what’s “best for the kids” is for parents to stay married, even if that means battling with an estranged relationship.

In many religions, divorce is looked down on and a thought of as a disappointment to God. Many religious publications use research done by sociologists such as Paul Amato to support their claims, citing that “divorce leads to ‘disruptions in the parent-child relationship, continuing discord between former spouses, loss of emotional support, economic hardship, and an increase in the number of negative life events,’”. This idea of weakened relationships between parent and child includes instability and a lack of trust. In the long-term, daughters of divorce are thought to become needy and insecure in future relationships while sons of divorce turn out to be overly dominant and less intimate. Further, these children are predicted to be more sexually promiscuous and less successful in romance than children whose parents remained married. It is believed that children of divorce are more likely to experience divorce with their own partners later in life and afflict their children with the negative effects of divorce as well (Fagan and Churchill).

In addition to weakened personal relationships, children of divorce have shown patterns in academic and behavioral conflicts early on. Studies have found that children of divorce skip class more often than children with intact families. Divorce has psychosocial consequences that make children more likely to become antisocial, misbehave, use drugs, and participate in criminal activity as adults (Fagan and Churchill). Children of divorced parents are twice as likely to drop out of high school (Parker). Consequently, they are also less likely to enroll in college than children with married parents (Fagan and Churchill).

Much of the research from 1980s and 1990s arguing against divorce is clearly overexaggerated. This motivated other psychologists and sociologists to present new evidence showing divorce does not have as great an effect on children than previously thought. What they found was that conflict, not the event of divorce, is what has the greatest effect on children. Therefore, if divorce ends or lessens the amount of conflict between parents it is within the best interest of the children to separate. Research shows that children of divorce with depression and other disorders showed symptoms predivorce. While children of divorce are often thought to have more trouble in future relationships, this is not true. It is accurate to say that children’s future relationships are affected by their relationships with their parents and it is possible for children to have secure and happy relationships with them, even if the parents are divorced (O’Connell Corcoran).

A longitudinal study done at Montclair State University supported this claim that conflict creates strife in children’s lives, not divorce. Children who grew up in high conflict families saw fewer negative effects if their parents got a divorce. The study also found a pattern of a short-term crisis period during the adjustment. This supports the idea that children do experience negative consequences during a divorce. However, the one to two year crisis period showed less long-term negative effects than children with parents remaining in high conflict marriages for years. In addition to these findings, the study showed that parents’ happiness did not affect the happiness of the children’s adult relationships. Just because children’s parents were happily married did not necessarily mean the children grew up to have happy partnerships themselves and vice versa (Rettner).

I support the opinion that it is conflict between parents, not divorce, that affects children negatively. Divorce, of course, is a product of unhappiness within a marriage and indicates that conflict has been present between the two partners. However, it is much more beneficial for the child if the parents separate than stay together in a hostile relationship. Children of divorce are likely to experience hardship, especially during the adjustment period of divorce, because the stability that they had known within their home changes. However, children become resilient, and if they still have the support and security that they experienced with their parents predivorce, they should not be negatively afflicted in the long run. Divorce is so prevalent, it is almost impossible not to have relatives or close friends who have been children of divorce themselves. My experience with people that have divorced parents shows no difference in their growth and relationships than people with married parents. The out of date belief that it is better to stick together even though parents are in an unhealthy relationship is simply not true. This idea was based on generations of ideals of what the perfect family should b, according to religious customs and societal pressures. Today, the focus should be on what is best for everyone, because everybody deserves a chance to create happy, healthy relationships.

 

Fagan, Patrick F., and Aaron Churchill. The Effects of Divorce on Children. Marriage & Religion

Institute, 11 Jan. 2012, http://www.frc.org/EF/EF12A22.pdf.

 

O’Connell Corcoran, Kathleen. “Psychological and Emotional Aspects of Divorce.”

Mediate.com, June 1997, http://www.mediate.com/articles/psych.cfm.

 

Parker, Wayne. “Statistics About Divorce and the Impact It Can Have on Children.” Verywell

Family, Verywellfamily, 5 Apr. 2018, www.verywellfamily.com/children-of-divorce-in-

america-statistics-1270390.

 

Rettner, Rachael. “Divorce Not Always Bad for Kids.” LiveScience, Purch, 30 June 2010,

http://www.livescience.com/6648-divorce-bad-kids.html.

 

Chap. 8 – Impression

--Original published at Kealey's PSY105 Blog

I must admit; my study habits could use some improvement. I have a very poor memory, so memorizing terms, dates, and people for tests has always been difficult for me. I often try to get the information to “sink in” by handwriting notes multiple times. First, I take detailed notes from lectures or book reading and closer to the test I’ll rewrite the most important information, organizing them from very general to more specific. Sometimes I include drawings and diagrams in my notes because I find using visuals helps me to remember information. I also use flashcards. I prefer to use quizlet.com over handwritten flashcards because I can practice anywhere on my phone in a variety of ways. However, it seems no matter how hard I study or how well I do on the test, my capacity for remembering information is almost strictly short-term, so studying for exams is almost like relearning everything I had up to that point.

For the last exam, I took extensive notes on the book and lectures and underlined important terms and psychologists. I reread the notes to prefer for the test, but I found I should have done more. The last few chapters I have been color coding information with highlighters and reviewing more extensively before quizzes. I also pay more attention to phrases like “This would be a good exam question.” Making these points in my notes more pronounced will help me prepare for the next exam as I review the most important information. I would like to learn more study techniques that would enhance my memory and help me retain information longer.