Toward a New Understanding of Mental Health

I have always been very interested in mental illnesses and the cause of them. Given that mental illness is starting to be a more popular topic of discussion, I thought it would be a good idea to learn more about it. The Ted Talk that I chose to watch discussed the knowledge we have about different diseases is the reason why fewer and fewer people are dying from the diseases. For instance, from the research and studies done on heart attacks fewer people are dying from them. The speaker from this Ted Talk is saying if we can have as much knowledge about mental illness as we do with other diseases, we can save more lives. Ninety percent of suicides are due to a form of mental illness. One in five people suffer from a mental disorder. The brains of people that suffer from mental illnesses differ from people who do not have a mental illness. The behavior of someone with mental illness is the last thing to change. The speaker was talking about early detection of the mental illness to prevent the behavior or self-harm that may be a result from the illness, such as suicide. If one waits until the person with a mental illness starts to show behavior of that mental illness it might be too late.

The thing that I found most interesting is that the brain is so complex. He says it is the most complex organ in our body. Humans are so intelligent because of our complex brains, but are we intelligent enough to fully understand the complexity of our brain? That question is literally mind boggling to me. I found the presenter trustworthy, he didn’t really have any new findings. It was more of a public service announcement about mental illnesses and scientist will have more information about it in the near future. People’s lack of knowledge of the brain causes difficulty to detect a mental illness prior to someone showing behavior of that mental illness. At this point, we can’t detect mental illness without someone having the behavioral signs of mental illness. If I were to do research on mental illness, I would have to know where mental illnesses come from. The reason why there isn’t a lot of information on mental illnesses and the cause of it is because it’s a hard topic to study. I would get people who suffer from mental illness and ask them different questions that would stimulate different parts of the brain. I would compare their MRI scans to MRI scans of a group without mental illness to see what the causation of the mental illness is. How does the brain with mental illness differ from the brain that doesn’t have mental illness?Having more knowledge about the brain and mental illness can help us detect if someone has mental illness before they start showing behavioral signs. If we can detect the problem sooner, we could save more lives from suicide.

Ted Talk: How We Read Each Other’s Minds

Rebecca Saxe begins this “Ted Talk” with examples of how children, five and three, would react to a plastic figurine in a skit of how they might react leaving a sandwich on the ground. Both children saw that the pirate did not want to eat a dirty sandwich, but the five year old blamed it on the second pirate moving the food, while the three year old blamed it on a more natural cause such as the wind in this example. This proved that a part of the brain, the RTPJ effects how a human thinks of other’s behaviors. It’s not truly mind reading like the title might imply, but it is in fact a pretty good guess of how one might react. The situation was given similarly to an adult population and increased the risk factors. This situation included putting poison in a friend’s coffee, and how someone might be lead to believe it is the person making the coffee choosing to do this, unless it is stated that the friend didn’t know that the sugar was disguised as poison; then her actions were excusable. Saxe then briefly describes how scientists have the technology to magnetically shock the part of the brain controlling these thoughts into thinking differently on who their is to blame in this situation. Some people who thought it was the friend’s fault changed their initial answer after getting the magnetic shock to their brains. This was so interesting to see because this is based in someone’s morals, and the development of these ideas from a three year old all the way up to an adult changes drastically; but can also be manipulated in a way that one might blame things differently altogether.

Impression post week 4

The video that I chose to watch for this impression post was how we read each others minds by Rebecca Saxe. The reason why I chose to watch this video over the others is because I’m always curious what other people are thinking about me, or if they can read my mind. Also I find this topic very interesting because I try to read other peoples minds as well. When I’m in public I look around and observe people and their facial expressions. If they have a smile on their face I assume that they are happy or just received good news. Or if I look at someone with an angry face or a frown I assume that they just bad news or failed a test or something. But is that what they’re really thinking ? This talk basically was about regions of the brain and why people think about thoughts and when they develop these skills in their lifetime. In addition this video talked about regions of the brain that allow us as people to read some ones mind or at least try too. The part that I found most interesting about this talk was that there’s actually a small part in your brain that allows people to read someone’s mind called the RTPJ. This region is located above and behind your right year inside your brain. Children begin to develop this region from ages 5 to 3 and start too realize that other people have false beliefs and don’t think the same way that they think. Overall I thought the speaker that I watched was very trust worthy because of one main reason. She showed an example of a kid and it made a lot of sense and was actually very interesting the way that children think. It shows that both the cognitive system, the mind, and the brain itself is slowly getting smarter as the child gets older. If I were to conduct my own experiment, I would get a group of children about 10 kids that are all age 5. I would get them all in the same room and show them a video that is very simple and easy to understand but in the video it would show a cartoon about 5 minutes long and the cartoon would be about a kid riding a bike and he fell off and got injured. I would then stop the video and ask the children what they would do if they saw this in real life. This would give me a good understanding of how kids feel and how much sympathy they feel for the person that got injured.

Can the Damaged Brain Repair Itself?

I chose to watch the TED talk about the brain’s ability to repair itself. The speaker was Siddharthan Chandran, a neurologist. I was drawn to watch this speech because of the reputation brain damage has. It seems like a diagnosis of a disease like Alzheimer’s is basically a sentence to a slow, painful death with no way of curing it. The title of the talk seemed to suggest that there could be a cure so I wanted to watch it and see what the speaker had to say.

Dr. Chandran started off by briefly describing how brain cells work and what can happen if they are damaged. He then showed them examples of damage through brain scans and and interview with a man named John who had Motor Neuron Disease. After apologizing for the doom and gloom he got to the hopeful part of his speech. Dr. Chandran told the audience, “The brain is able to repair itself, it just doesn’t do it well enough”. He showed the audience a brain scan that exemplified what he was talking about and then explained how the brain could be provoked to repair faster with the use of stem cells. That claim was backed up with by a study Dr. Chandran did along with a few other neurologists where stem cells were taken from bone marrow of Multiple Sclerosis patients, grown and place back in the vein. They then measured the optic nerve and saw that the stem cells were protecting the nerve. He finished off with another interview with John.

I found the clinical trial Dr. Chandran did with his colleagues to be the most interesting part of the talk. Even though it was on a small scale, it was good to see that what he was claiming was actually possible. Obviously there is still a long way to go but that is definitely a good place to start.

Dr. Chandran is a trustworthy source. He’s a neurologist so he has been through medical school and studies the brain for a living. Clearly that gives him the background to make the claims he is making. On top of having the right background, he even has a study to back it up. He didn’t just come with some theory that has yet to be tested; there is hard evidence that this could work. Because of that, I don’t have any doubt in Dr. Chandran.

The talk inspired a research idea of my own. It would most likely have to take place further down the road, once more studies are done on the ability of stem cells to repair brain damage. Once neurologists are at a point where they believe they could safely and effectively use stem cells to repair brain damage, they could give patients the option of receiving experimental treatment to cure brain diseases like multiple sclerosis. They could track the damage to a patient’s brain over a certain period of time, say a year, give them the “cure” and track what it does. This can be done by brain scans just like the ones Dr. Chandran used. If the damage is being repaired, then the cure is working. There isn’t much bias in this experiment. I would believe that most brains would react the same way to the stem cells being introduced. On top of that, the experiment is ethical. You can give the patient the option to try the treatment or not.

Neuroscience: Exploring the Mind of a Killer

I have recently been binge watching the Netflix television show, “How to Get Away with Murder,” and a lot of cases on the show deal with killers.  So, when this option presented itself as a choice for one of the TED talks, I was immediately drawn too it.  It interests me to get into the mind of a killer and to see what causes them to take certain actions.

The talk dove in with Jim Fallon discussing that recently he had been asked to analyze the brains of psychopathic killers.  It had been a blind experiment, meaning he did not  know exactly whos brains he was going into or examining.  He discovered multiple factors led to what made up a killer’s brain: the individuals genes, biological-epigenetic brain damage, and the environment.  The timing these three things came together was very critical. Each brain examined had multiple damage but one thing common in all was orbital cortex and frontal lobe damage.  A specific gene referred to as MAOA was also present in the brains of killers but is also existent in the brains of us who aren’t killers.  However, it only becomes triggered or activated if one is involved in or sees  violence before puberty.  The gene is sex-linked which may help further explain why more men are killers because you can only get it from your mother.  The gene produces too much serotonin which, because babies become used to it at birth, enables the chemical nerve cell to calm a person or regulate anxiety.

Although I have always know that every killer had some kind brain or mental process problem, I did not know exactly what connected one to another.  The most interesting thing I discovered from this talk was that all killers had a consistent same orbital cortex damage and all contained the same triggered MAOA gene.

Jim Fallon established himself well in the beginning of the talk.  Providing the audience with the information of where he taught, the University of California, which I think many consider a very respected institute.  He is a neuroscientist professor there who expressed his past research in the opening of his talk as well.  For most of his life he had been studying genes and neurotransmitters which he also stated at the start of his speech.  I think this was smart of him to establish his authority and why he should be considered by those listening as a reliable source.  He provided pictures and detailed descriptions of the research he had done as well.  I think someone who has been researching and creating known and validated discoveries in a particular topic over a period of time we can consider an expert.

I would want to discover if there is a way to deactivate the MAOA gene in a killer.  Maybe there is another gene that can manipulate or mask the expression/ function of the gene so it can’t be triggered.  Inserting this gene and recoding and analyzing data. Also, to examine brains of those with the MAOA gene and of those without it who have had a traumatic experience in childhood could be interesting.  This could be a longitudinal research to view brain development and damage of the individuals over multiple time points.


Minds of Killers

I watched the Ted Talk “Exploring the Mind of a Killer” because it seemed intresting. Jim Fallon, the speaker first gets the brains of these killers and examines them. Jim realizes that all the murderers  have something in common. The killers have damage on the orbital vortex, which is above the eye sockets and had damage to the Anterior Temporal cortex. A X chromosome also contributes to why they are murderers. The mother can carry a gene called MAOA. This explains why males are more likely to be murders, because males are XY and get one X from their mothers who carry it and not one X from dad and one from mother to balance MAOA gene out. Experiencing that gene and violence going up will contribute to being a killer/murderer. If I was conducting a research study I would observe abused kids and keep track of them and get scans of their brains every year and see the end result. Yes, this will take many years, but I feel it will have a nice end result. Overall, Jim Fallon’s discovering’s seem to connect and think there should be more research conducted.

First Impression Post-Week​ 4

Lynsey Wissler

TED Talk- Exploring the Mind of a Killer

  • What drew you to choose the talk you did?
    • I personally chose this talk because I find the whole concept of how someone could kill another person unbelievable. I think it is interesting and wanted to see how the mind of a killer works to make that “okay” for them to kill someone. I also am interested in how the idea to kill someone comes about because people are not born killers.
  • Briefly, summarize the talk.
    • The talk begins with describing how a normal brain is structured and how a killers brain is structured. It then goes on to explain how a killer brain is damaged and how the timing of the damage can affect the killer. However, every killer, despite their age had damage to their orbital cortex.  The talk also describes that killer have a high-risk gene. The gene is also a common gene found on the x chromosome of normal people as well, resulting from too much serotonin. However, In order to express the gene in your personality, you have to be involved in a traumatic event.  The presenter then goes on to say that serial killers are his ancestors and he makes a joke about how you never know who a killer will be.
  • What did you find most interesting about the talk?
    • I found most interesting how severe violence is what triggers the killing in the murderers. I personally never really thought about the “why would they chose this life” which this video made me do. This video also opened my perspective of the fact that it also might not always be a choice, genetics or situational experiences may have caused their brain to react.
  • How trustworthy did you find the presenter and the information she or he presented? Explain why. (Note: you must go beyond talking about the reputation of TED talks in general)
    • I personally think that this presenter was trustworthy. He stated that he studies neuroscience and professor at the University of California. However, I did feel as though he only presented a little bit of information on a very broad topic.
  • Come up with a research idea of your own based on the information presented in the talk and briefly outline how you would conduct it.
    • My research idea would be, is there a way to predict when people will be killers, based on family history and traumatic experiences. I would conduct this study by looking at killers families and studying their experiences and how they compare with the killers. I would also measure the serotonin levels in their brain along with the orbital cortex to see if they are similar to that of their killer ancestors.

First Impression Post 2

For this post I decided to watch the TED talk labeled, How We Read Each Other’s Minds. It was given by Rebecca Saxe, a cognitive neuroscientist. What drew me to this TED Talk was the name of it. When my best friend and I hang out, it’s very common for me to make a statement or suggest something, and she’ll exclaim, “I just thought that!” It happens more than sometimes we think it should and over really random things too. We try to find a reason for us both thinking that, but sometimes, it’s just really freaky. I relate to empaths a lot, so sometimes it is like I can read a mind, and that’s what I thought this might be about, but alas, it was not.

This TED Talk was about how humans can perceive and think about other’s thoughts and feelings and how we can potentially change them with magnetic impulses . The presenter showed data which proves as we age, our brains further development in a special region called, the Right Temporo-Parietal Junction. As a child, one cannot think accurately or rationally about other’s thoughts, as this region isn’t done developing until the early teens. The RTPJ’s specialized job is to perceive other’s thoughts, emotions, and feelings. Rebecca Saxe, the presenter, was a very reliable source of information, she showed vidoes of her studies and experiments in action along with the data she collected. Day to day, Rebecca Saxe studies how we think about other people’s thoughts. At the Saxelab at MIT, she uses fMRI to identify what happens in our brains when we consider the motives, passions, and beliefs of others.

I found the data Mrs. Saxe collected about before and after the magnetic stimulations fascinating. She explained a made-up scenario in which one person asked another to put sugar in her coffee for her. In scenario one, the sugar is labeled poison but is really sugar and she willingly puts it in the coffee, no one dies. Scenario two is where the sugar says sugar and is sugar and she’s fine. The third scenario is when the sugar is labeled sugar but is really poison, and she dies. Then people were asked to gauge how morally permissible the act is and how much the woman who put the ‘sugar’ in the coffee should be blamed. When asked without the magnetic stimulation, most people said it was not morally permissible in the first scenario and deserves more blame. The second scenario is morally permissible and deserves no blame. In the third scenario, they think it was morally permissible but she deserves some blame. However, when the magnetic wave was applied, it is reversed. She deserves more blame when she didn’t know it was poison but gave it anyways and less blame when she knew it was poison. This shows that when the RTPJ is not completely formed or functioning, it can cloud our thoughts on other’s thoughts and feelings.

I would want to know how this portion of the brain might deteriorate over time and if that might lend a hand to older generations not being able to perceive younger generations as well and potentially lead to intolerance or misunderstandings. I would just include older people in the study and make it a longitudinal study, so I could go back to the same people over-time and see how it changes. I would also ask them questions with varying difficulty.

Week 4 First Impression Prompts – Neuroscience

Hand writing on a notebook

Regardless of which prompt you choose, please use the Tag “Neuroscience” on your post.

For your blog prompt this week, you are to choose one of the following TED talks:

Each talk focuses on a different aspect of the brain. In your response, address the following issues:

  • What drew you to choose the talk you did?
  • Briefly summarize the talk.
  • What did you find most interesting about the talk?
  • How trustworthy did you find the presenter and the information she or he presented? Explain why. (Note: you must go beyond talking about the reputation of TED talks in general)
  • Come up with a research idea of your own based on the information presented in the talk and briefly outline how you would conduct it.

Because of the exam this week, the first impression post will be due by the beginning of class on Friday, 9/22. The refinement posts for this topic will be due at noon on Tuesday, 9/26. For refinement posts, I want you to focus on critiquing the assessment of why the presenter was or was not trustworthy and the research design for the proposed study your classmate creates.

I look forward to seeing what you write!

Header image: CC by Flickr user Caitlinator