The Other Side of Dr. Xeno's Brain

It's me, Dr. Xeno. Here are lecture notes and ideas for my work teaching physical and cognitive development across the lifespan (HDEV 3101) at the Department of Human Development at CSU, East Bay. This content is often referred to as mind-brain, mind body connection, brain and behavior; but it is really about the knowledge derived from the related fields of neurology, neuropsychology, neuroscience and cognitive science. Sometimes I just write about my kids or bike racing. Feel free to comment!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Emotional Processing

How Ya Feelin'?! (HDEV 3101 Week 4, 2011)

The above are the SIX classic and universal expressions associated with the basic, or primary, human emotions. Many thanks for Paul Ekman and his socio-emotional-behavioral research team. Assuming you are human and have vision, you should recognize each of these "affects", or expressions of emotions - and you should also be able to name them. Depending on your culture, language or experience, you may used different words to label them, or may express them under different conditions, but they are indeed expressed and perceived consistently across cultures.

Wikipedia says, "Paul Ekman is a Psychologist who has been the pioneer in the study of emotions and their relation to facial expressions. He is considered one of the 100 most eminent psychologists of the twentieth century. Ekman takes an evolutionary perspective, in that the development of human traits and states over time is the background to his research." Ekman found that facial expressions of emotion are not culturally determined but are universal to all human cultures and suggesting they are biological in origin (innate?). Ekman also discovered microexpressions which are a brief facial expression that last less than a quarter of a second. In his research called the Diogenes Project, Paul Ekman found that these tiny movements often can expose lying (seen "Lie To ME" on TV?). Paul Ekman is also the founder of The Facial Action Coding System (FACS) which details the exact muscular-physical expressions of emotions which is useful to psychologists and animators.
So, how ya feelin'?
Much of emotion is communicated non-verbally - both it's expression and perception. Expressed emotion is 'affect', while experiencing emotion internally is 'mood'. Different mood states involve different patterns of activation in both physical and cognitive domains. "Flat affect" indicates a lack of emotional expression. Maybe on purpose (like a poker face) or reflect low energy (fatigue) or low mood (like in major depressive episodes). Adding emotion (or meaning) to our spoken language with varying inflection is known as "prosody." This aspect of language, and emotional processing in general seems to be one of the strengths of the right hemisphere. However, there are known bilateral structures and pathways specializing in emotion and I will name only the amygdala; a limbic structure, sub-cortical (diencephalon) with some tight connections with memory structures such as the hippocampus.

"Feeling" or "feelings" is another problematic term for me - it is probably more accurate to use sensation(s), perception(s), or emotion(s). "Feeling" is usually assumed to mean emotional state - "how or what are you feeling?" is an attempt to tap into someones emotional condition, not their sensory-perceptual experience. My point is picky I suppose, but just clarify what exactly it is that you are "feeling" - it's a verb - so, "I am feeling angry" suits me fine; so does, "I am feeling something poke me". Emotional processing is just another example of information processing; on the other hand, some have argued that ALL information processing IS emotional. Or put another way, you are always feeling SOME emotion, and that pattern of activation flavors your cognitive processing. Perceptions, memories, decision making are ALL effected by emotion (and vice versa), so the two are nearly impossible to separate.

Kenneth Dodge suggests that, "emotion is the energy that drives, organizes, amplifies and attenuates cognitive activity." "Feelings" would be a noun - a thing - the things that people "feel". So again, please notice how general & vague that would be. Much like we use "see" for think, we use "feel" for emotion.

Most theories of emotion include some common themes: emotion involves complex layers of processes that are in constant interaction with the environment. Emotional processing involves BOTH cognitive AND physical process.

Basic Phases/Timing of Emotion/Emotional Processing
Initial Orientation/Awareness - we orient toward a stimulus, early activation, focusing of attention, first 100 ms.

Appraisal - what did that stimulus mean? Additional perceptual info on the stimulus tells us more. 100-300 ms.

Arousal, mental and physical (coupled with cognitive appraisal, this gives us experienced emotion, or "feeling"). This represents our full awareness of both the perceptual process and emotional process, now packaged into what we might refer to as a "feeling", or better yet, an "emotion". 350+ ms.

Organizing Emotions
Differential and Categorical - most simple category is the emotional valence. (positive vs. negative emotions).
Positive emotions are not "good", they are inherently rewarding, we'd like to feel more of them.
Negative emotions are not "bad", are not rewarding, we'd like to feel less of them, or feel them less intensely.

Primary Emotions - more highly categorized, and yet, basic emotions such as: sadness, fear, joy, anger, disgust or surprise.
Some emotions are differentiated by their complexity, we often experience a blend of two or more basic emotions. (Such as the term "emotional complex")

Development of emotional maturity is largely about regulating emotional responsiveness. But also may involve more full awareness and acceptance of more complicated emotions as well as recognizing and respecting the emotional states of others. (Recall the types of "change".)

Mood states?
The Profile of Mood States
Mood disorders?
These are actual diagnoses, not just "feelings".

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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Movement & Control

The brain must not only deal with the mental side of life, but with maintaining life itself through regulation. The brain has automated regulatory control over it's own activation/alertness as well as specific bodily functions such as heart rate, breathing and temperature. Eating, drinking, sleeping and reproduction require some voluntary behavior on our part, but are largely influenced or at least maintained by non-conscious regulatory control. Much of this regulatory control is exerted through the neuroendocrine system utilizing various feedback mechanisms (see Carter, pp. 112-113).

Motor control
The other main category of control the brain attends to is voluntary movement. Movement of the body can be organized a number of way and one way to distinguish between those that are "controlled", under conscious control, versus those that are "automated" which are no longer under conscious control. They no longer demand very much attention or processing resources and may operate without our awareness (example of driving). However, these are not really "automatic" or "UNconcious" as Carter writes (p. 114), I think those terms should be reserved for truly REFLEXIVE behavior that will take place even IF unconscious.

Reflex Action:  Strictly speaking, we mean "spinal reflex", can you think of any more complex behavior that you do "reflexively"? (Motor memory? Muscle memory. Implicit memory/learning system foreshadowing Learning & Memory Unit). Motor control involves some feedback from the body and environment, so motor control work in conjunction with sensation and perception.

Planning and Executing Movement (Carter, pp. 114-1119)
Meet the frontal lobes. Pre-motor cortex for planning. Lateral coticospinal tract begins at the primary motor cortex carrying direct voluntary control of specific muscles. Then tract slides through the thalamus to integrate with sensory world, then go deeper and meet the sub-cortical nuclei of the basal ganglia to amplify or suppress unwanted movement. Finally, make it neat: the cerebellum infuses a sense of timing and coordination into your ongoing movements. Final output is down though the spinal cord tracking region wise to the correct motor spinal root where it exits onto it's nerve in the PNS.

Other simpler motor-oriented pathways too, largley UNconcious... example vestibulospinal tract (Wikipedia entry).


Sensation & Perception

Do you see what I mean?

"Vision", or seeing, involves more than just gathering images with the eye. Sensation is the process of bringing information into the brain for evaluation while PERCEPTION is that process of making sense, or meaning out of the raw sensory data. Sensory organs and their first synapses are akin to the hardware of a computer, while more elaborate perceptual processing could be seen as software that gets programmed and customized over time.

Effective perceptional processing reveals the capacity of the nervous to learn - and perception is a learned process, which is to say our "percepts" are based on past experience. Some may refer to these as "schema" which resemble our tendency to organize incoming raw sensory info into meaning units. The units can be simple, nearly sub-conscious (e.g., movement, color) relating to one perceptual field. But schema may be complex subjective concepts (e.g., beauty, slavery) that are interpretations of simpler perceptual input. "Schemata" may refer to the overall inventory of schema you have and sometimes schemata includes the process whereby we create, store and retrieve and perceive them. But if we don't develop the schema for something, we can't really "see" it - it escapes our perception. Story of villagers asked to describe a scene in a movie. Eskimos and all those words for snow.

Both sensation and perception rely on (or reveal?) the plasticity of the nervous system, but also rely on the integrity of their respective pathways to ensure. A simple act of recognition requires matching a percept in the present with one stored in the past.

Perceptual Differences
Our perceptions are effected by SO many factors such as early environment, culture, health, etc.

Attention, or our ability to concentrate mental energies on specific cognitive operations such as perception, is critical. Something so simple as counting a moving object involves so many mental process and region of the nervous system:

You will often see exactly what you are looking for. Or you see "see" what you "set". In Simons and Chambris' (1998) laboratory study of the invisible gorilla video, nearly half the participants who correctly counted the number of passes missed the gorilla.

These tools for perception that are essential for making any kind of meaning out of world are also limiting what we can "see". So, please be aware that your perceptions are YOUR reality, but not THE reality.


Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Week 2: Structure of the Nervous System

[photo of Logan, credit]

Week 2: Structure of the Nervous System, relates to pp. 36-73 in The Human Brain Book. I think the best 2 pages on overall structure are pp. 40-41, and the best neuron pictures and info are pp. 68-73.

The nervous system in all animals essentially serve the same basic functions - body control and registration of sensory input from the outside world. Yes, some body control is in response to input and some input leads to complex subjective experience so this is no simple task! But let's leave the "thinking" the brain associated with for later. How does the brain do this? The specialized function of neurons allows them to transmit signals between each other - the signals are chemicals called neurotranmitters, but the overall process is "electrochemical".

The hot-linked text below will take you to the relevant section of the GetBodySmart tutorial. These are optional, but I will use some for visual support and additional explanation.

The nervous system is made of literally TRILLIONS of TWO types of cells:
neurons - actively communicate by synaptic connections (electro-chemical process)
glial cells - support cells, protect and increase speed of communication (myelin sheath)110,000,000,000 neurons and about 50x that number of neuroglia. Also tend to be larger than neurons.
(50x110,000,000,000) + 110,000,000,000 = total cells in the NS.
5,610,000,000,000 or 5.6 trillion cells

Organ system hierarchy:
Example of the nervous system:
NS/brain, spinal cord?/nuclei (gray matter) and pathways (white matter) make up networks/neurons and glia/cytoplasmic parts and products of neurons, most unique and important: neurotransmitters...

[Cardiovascular/heart, vasculature? and blood?/smooth muscle and blood/muscle fibers and blood cells (white, red)]

Traditional 3 parts/DIVISONS of the Nervous System:

CNS = central nervous system (intensely protected by bone, spinal fluid, glia)
brain - the central processing unit
spinal cord - pathways going up and down, as well as reflexes ('u-turns', 2 neuron reflex)

PNS = peripheral n.s.; mostly enters or exits holes in the spinal cord or vertebrae
carries information from receptors in the body to the spinal and then UP to braincarries information coming DOWN spinal cord to effectors in the body (muscles, glands)specialized cranial nerves (12 total) enter or exit holes in the cranium, not the spinal cord

ANS = autonomic n.s.; functional system made up portions of both CNS & PNS, 'automated' (non-conscious) control of body:
Sympathetic branch: activation/arousal, flight or flight response, emotion
Parasympathetic branch: recuperation, relaxation, rejuvination

4th? "Somatic nervous system" - carries voluntary/conscious control and sensory information we perceive

Divisions of the Brain
No one system for this.... I enjoy the theoretical and integrative framework of the "triune brain" hypothesis by Paul MacLean. His "3 brains in 1", represents the three major evolutionary steps leading to the modern human brain structure and function; reptile brain, mammal brain, primate brain. JUST a model for understanding, not "real".
and the Human Brain Book (Carter) shuffles around.
Each division is made up of a number of specific neuroanatomical structures with specific functions.

Often, brain divisions are presented from the bottom-up... "lower" functions and structures first. Like triune brain. Good if you can learn to see from both perspectives as the NS provides both upward and downward messages. Any complex human behavior will involve sensory signals that go "up" and control signals that go "down".

brainstem - basic body functions (medulla oblonglata, pons, midbrain) - directly above spinal cord
cerebellum - motor coordination & motor learning, posture, means "little brain".
diencephalon - subcortical forebrain - emotion, motivation, awareness ("Limbic System" of thalamus, etc.)
telencephalon - 'forebrain' - cerebrum - cerebral cortex - outer layer, newest, conscious thought (cognition)

THE CORTEX will be described in greater detail as we address the functions of the four lobes in the coming weeks

Organizational Features of the Cerebrum (many will re-appear this quarter):
Right and left hemispheres of the cerebrum/telencephalon
Both symmetrical AND asymmetrical
Four lobes and their boundaries
White matter and gray matter
Primary or secondary cortex
Sensory mapping for senses, body mapping ("homunculus") for motor control
"Decussation", contra-lateral representation, or crossing-over of pathways from one side to the other

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