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Showing entries tagged adolescence.  Show all entries

December 2, 2011

Online NRSC 2100- Is it a Good Idea?


Over the last semester we have all participated in a class with a very different learning format from that which we are used to. Whether we signed up for an online class or not, almost all of the educational content of this class has been presented online. Independent, online learning, presents a very different learning experience than the traditional university course. Rather than seeing and hearing a professor lecture and discussing our learning in a social, classroom setting we have obtained most of our information through online textbooks, tutorials and videos and have discussed it using Facebook, Hootcourse and this blog. The question is: Is this new form of education that does not revolve around the face-to-face social experience between a teacher and a classroom bring the same benefits? Is social interaction important for learning? Do the social capabilities of the internet (i.e. Facebook) sufficiently replace in-person communication?
In her article, "The Developing Social Brain: Implications for Education, (http://www.cell.com/neuron/fulltext/S0896-6273(10)00173-X )" Sarah-Jayne Blakemore explores the research that has been done on the role of social interaction in learning. Humans have a social brain; we are capable of intuitively knowing what certain facial expressions and body language mean. Babies developing language skills depend on social interaction for learning. Blakemore highlights a study (Kuhl et al., 2003 ) in which American babies are exposed to Chinese Mandarin through three different methods: 1) social interaction (reading and playing) with a native speaker, 2) videos of that same speaker or 3) audio recording of that same speaker. The only group that displayed the learned ability to distinguish between Chinese sounds was the group that experienced social interaction. The benefits of social interaction in learning are not yet understood. It could be that the infants are more motivated by social interaction or that the adult speaker is able to tailor their behavior to the child's needs in a social experience.
This doesn't necessarily point to the absolute necessity of social interaction for academic learning; language acquisition is different from the type of learning done in a university classroom and the age of the participants and their brain development is significantly different from that of the typical student enrolled in this class. Blakemore explores one of these issues by examining the difference in brain activity in adults and adolescents. The brain undergoes significant changes in Medial Prefrontal Activation during adolescence. This area is active in social cognition tasks. Research suggests that the development of social learning skills is still taking place late into adolescence and that continuing to learn and have real-life social interactions during this period is crucial for the development of the brain.
She concludes her exploration with more questions and an analysis of implications of this research for education. It is clear that some types of learning do require social interaction and that this is true even into late adolescence (and perhaps beyond?). For now, the question as to whether classes such as this one are as educationally valuable for the human brain is waiting on more research . For now, we get to be the judges of that.
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October 23, 2011

Technology: Virtue or Vice to Our Brains?


It is undeniable that our daily lives are inundated with technology. Our society and this world work hand in hand with technology on a close, almost dependent level. It is only in the last few decades that we have become so co oriented with technology, and it is becoming a more pressing issue than ever that we question the effects of this change. As humans, who we are is shaped by our experiences, and knowing and acknowledging this fact means we have to question both the pros and cons of such a new and close relationship with technology. When looking at this relationship it is not a question of whether or not humans are being affected by technology but how technology is affecting us.

Technology includes a multitude of different things and cannot be considered one single entity. Because it is so multidimensional it is not necessarily a good or a bad thing; a greater breakdown is necessary to determine potentially harmful technology from proven positive facets of technology. It is verified that technology as a whole has the ability to manipulate mood and arousal. It has also been proven that attention, and vision and motor skills can be enhanced while using technology. These improvements are highly dependent based on the type of technology being used and whether or not there is active or passive interaction.

Television has been around for more than sixty years but it's relevance to everyday lives and learning has never been so great. There are learning benefits to technology but three reoccurring traits have surfaced in accordance with being wired. Studies have shown that people are more likely to be violent, exhibit addictive behavior, and get distracted easier. Once again the context of the technology must be taken in to consideration. Influences of technology are starting at earlier and earlier ages these days. In children the television show Telletubbies, research showed a decrease in language proficiency in children who watched this show. However, there was a language proficiency increase seen in children who watched Dora the Explorer.

These numerous concerns and detrimental findings in research also have a flip side. New research shows indications that playing video games is associated with a number of improvements in attention, cognition, vision, and motor control. Playing video games heightens ability to pinpoint small details in chaotic scenes. Playing video games and improving these skills has shown to help people in careers such as pilots or surgeons.
Part of making technology more beneficial than detrimental is learning how to use it and how to allow it to challenge and improve our brains as opposed to letting it become a route to mindlessness. We are seeing that the attractive features of video games such as emotional context, arousing experiences, and richly structured scenarios are what boost our intellectual brain and educational technology tends to exploit the repetitive nature of practice makes perfect. Making moves to shift educational technology toward the more interactive nature of technology could only improve our relationship with technology. It is difficult to study the ways that technology affects the human brain but considering the growing reliability and interaction humans have with it, research in this field is both necessary and critical to society.

Full article can be found at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0896627310006781
Posted by      Bethany B. at 9:41 PM MDT
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October 22, 2011

Sleep and spines modulate your mind...and your brain?


"The mind is the brain doing its job." - Simon LeVay, 1994

We know that sleep is good for us: it's a daily, regularly- or irregularly-scheduled body and brain maintenance check. The sleep/wake cycle maintenance staff in particular is profoundly important in synaptic renormalization (homeostasis) by modulating (decreasing) synaptic size and/or strength in the adult brain. In the adult brain; surprisingly, this doesn't exactly hold for the adolescent brain, where sleep/wake cycle maintenance staff is responsible for more synaptogenesis (synaptic formation) and synaptic pruning (synaptic elimination).


A recent article published in Nature Neuroscience examined the process of cortical development (that involves synaptogenesis and pruning) in adolescent YFP-mice (through two-photon microscopy) as a function of different sleep/wake cycles: W1S2 mice (wake followed by sleep), and S1W2 mice (sleep first followed by wake). Mice were allowed to sleep or kept awake for each behavioral state (sleep/wake) for durations that mimic physiological sleep/wake cycles (6-8 h) and then imaged. Interestingly enough, they found overall decreased spine density in W1S2 mice and increased spine density in S1W2 mice; there was no variation observed in mice in early or late adolescence. Waking results in a net increase in cortical spines, and sleep is associated with net spine loss.
A third experimental group of W1SD2 mice (wake followed by sleep deprivation), to control for decreased spine density as a function of the passage of time showed a net increase in synaptic density.


In summary:
Wake followed by sleep (W1S2) = spine loss
Sleep followed by wake (S1W2) = spine gain
Wake followed by sleep deprivation (W1SD2) = spine gain

Sleep might actually be bad! (...for dendritic spines, that is)


The wake-sleep deprived group presents an interesting case. Sleep-deprivation, akin to pulling an all-nighter, shows a net increase in spine density. Therefore, sleep deprivation is one way to keep your dendritic spine density (that is, until you crash of exhaustion). Sleeping for the recommended 8 hours a night is also a default option. For those of us in adolescence, retaining spine density though sleep-deprivation is still theoretically a viable option. A different experiment conducted by the same researchers imaged the mice after 2-3 hours of sleep (short sleep) or wake (short wake). Both groups showed no net changes after short sleep or short waking. It may be theoretically possible to maintain spine density through a sleep-deprivation following wake with short sleep sleep/wake cycle (power naps anyone?).


This article concludes by suggesting that behavioral state modulates spine turnover in a manner consistent with the need for synaptic homeostasis; in the adult brain this translates into synaptic renormalization, and in the adolescent brain (regardless of exact developmental stage of adolescence) this translates into synaptogenesis and synaptic pruning. Sleep may therefore facilitate spine elimination or spine loss in certain phases of development. Sleep deprivation during adolescence may affect synaptic turnover, as it blocks sleep-related spine pruning; however, it does not result in a further increase in spine density. It is currently unclear to what extent the role of sleep in spine elimination is permissive and/or instructive.


So what does sleep and spine density have to do with anything? In the adult brain, it decreases synaptic size and/or strength; in the adolescent brain, it modulates synaptic pruning during a period of massive synaptic remodeling. Synaptic spine density is a part of how the brain does its job. Spine density therefore affects the mind (the brain doing its job that feeds to the mind). Changes in our minds are therefore a result of the brain doing its job differently, and how the brain does its job differently can involve changes in synaptic spine density. Spine density subsequently affects the different jobs of the brain; spine density affects the mind. Sleep (the sleep/wake cycle), therefore, is especially critical in cortical development during adolescence in modulating synaptic spine density (long-term potentiation anyone?)

I should probably get more sleep myself...

Source: http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nn.2934.html
Posted by      Patricia W. at 10:19 PM MDT
displaying most recent comments (1 ommitted) | Comments (4)
  Patricia Wuu  says:
This particular study focused on the adolescent brain so yes to your first question. In the adult brain the synapse strength is the only thing that changes (the paper mentions size). In terms of the sleep deprivation, what they explicitly give is 6-7 hours of sleep deprivation during the day; also included though is sleep deprivation after waking at night, where they don't specify the exact time. For the last question, though they don't address this, I think studying that in a mouse and then translating that to a human would be challenging, but maybe someday these researchers might decide to look into it!
Posted on Thu, 27 Oct 2011 7:49 PM MDT by Patricia W.
  Christina Uhlir  says:
Patricia,

Thanks for responding to my question in such depth. I, too, hope that there will be more studies that actually link our sleep needs to those of the mice as well, it would be interesting to finally learn how we can improve our sleep habits to maximize our cognitive abilities.
Posted on Thu, 27 Oct 2011 8:55 PM MDT by Christina U.
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July 31, 2011

Subjective Diagnosis


As the teacher speaks in front of the class, the majority of the students are attentive and taking notes. But there is one student in the classroom looking out the window daydreaming about being outside and able to run around, free, not trapped in his chair. He has attention deficit/hyperactive disorder (ADHD). More and more students are being diagnosed with this disorder. Why? Does it have to do with our genes, the environment? Is this just a reflection on our society always needing an answer and diagnosis for why we are different or is it the doctors wanting more money?

Currently the only way to diagnose this disorder is through a series of physiological tests and accounts from your teachers and parents. These methods are very subjective and may be leading to over diagnosis of children and overmedicating (2). These students may just need to learn discipline and learn how to motivate themselves to sit in a classroom and listen to a lecture or study for an exam. Just like many other psychological disorders the most logical answer to this is to study the differences between the brain structures of those with ADHD and those without.

In a recent study (1), the researchers were after the answer to see if there is a significant difference in the adolescent brain with ADHD with and without medication and without ADHD. The researchers wanted to determine if using an MRI of a child's brain would lead to better diagnosis of ADHD. The researchers studied the participants for ten years and took a total of four MRI's for each child. The researchers concluded that there is a significant difference in brain volume and specifically the white matter and the caudate nucleus. These two differences were seen to be developed at a young age due to genetics or environment and the growth of the brain paralleled the control participants. This means that as a child you have ADHD and do not generally develop it later in life.

According to the results even though there are differences in the anatomical brain structure, this still is not a clear answer to whether or not an MRI will be able to diagnose anyone with ADHD any time soon. The limitations to the study are the participants themselves. They are unable to keep still for the MRI and many of the images had to be thrown out because of movement. Also the lack of twin and sibling studies in the topic cause us to not be able to determine how much of the differences are die to environmental or genetic influences or if it is merely a correlation.

Similarly to other imaging discussions about the validity of the images and what they tell us we are unable to definitively say. At this point much more research needs to be done on the topic of ADHD and how brain imaging can enhance one's ability to be diagnosed with ADHD and allow the subjective tests to be replaced by a more concrete method of diagnosis.

1. http://jama.ama-assn.org/content/288/14/1740.full.pdf+html
2. http://www.hs-zigr.de/~wirsing/ASH%20Sozialmedizin09/ABPapersPDF/ADHD1%20Kopie.pdf
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July 30, 2011

Saying No to the Death Penalty: The Excuses of Adolescence


Most adolescents spend their time going to school. But some adolescents spend their time murdering people.
Most adults spend their time working. But some adults also spend their time murdering people. In many states, these adults are often executed.
So where, and more importantly, with what reasoning, do we draw the line between adolescent and adult? And, especially in cases of murder, what should that line mean?

Usually in cases such as this we want to turn to scientific evidence. But in issues of law it is never that simple.

Although the U.S. Supreme Court has made many rulings regarding the death penalty, there have been two prominent cases regarding juveniles. Thompson vs. Oklahoma (1988) outlawed the death penalty for individuals who were under sixteen when a crime was committed, and Roper vs. Simmons (2005) outlawed the death penalty for individuals who were under eighteen when a crime was committed. With Roper vs. Simmons, the courts finally had some scientific data (although still not completely conclusive) to work with. But the issue of the death penalty is far from over. That ruling was 5-4.

"Crime, Culpability, and the Adolescent Brain" is an article written for "Science" in 2004 by Mary Beckman, just before the Roper vs. Simmons decision was made. It clearly outlines the neurological data compiled to support the case of Christopher Simmons.
Although there is more data relevant to the case now, this article is particularly interesting because we can look at the 2005 ruling that followed.
His case was quite grisly, involving robbing, tying up, and throwing a woman off of a bridge.

The defense presented the argument that the death penalty was cruel and unusual because the defendant's brain was not functionally identical to that of an adult. The article states, "Structurally, the brain is still growing and maturing during adolescence, beginning its final push around 16 or 17" (Beckman, 2004). Neural connections of adulthood are shaped during the teen years, involving a decrease in gray matter and an increase in white matter. Perhaps the most significant data presented was that on frontal lobe maturation. There is an apparent, "wave of brain change moving forward into the front of the brain", seen using MRIs in an NIMH study (Beckman, 2004). This is integral to the case because the frontal lobe is linked to impulse control. Erratic behavior is also more prevalent in adolescents; "the brain switches from relying heavily on local regions in childhood to more distributive and collaborative interactions among distant regions in adulthood" (Beckman, 2004).

Arguments for and against the death penalty always seem to be a muddled combination of personal belief, religion, experience, science, and history. And to complicate the matter, we're talking about some very grisly crimes. In the 2005 opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote, "The age of 18 is the point where society draws the line for many purposes between childhood and adulthood. It is, we conclude, the age at which the line for death eligibility ought to rest" (Kennedy, 2005). There is no doubt that the scientific evidence presented had an effect on the ruling. But, unfortunately, it is not likely that such evidence will ever provide us with an infallible answer. The 2004 article ends with a quote from neuroscientist Elizabeth Sowell of UCLA, "We couldn't do a scan on a kid and decide if they should be tried as an adult" (Beckman, 2004). Six years later we have more data, but this remains true.

Beckman, Mary. "Crime, Culpability, and the Adolescent Brain." Sciencemag.org. AAAS, 30 July 2004. Web. 30 July 2011. .
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