Topic: Neurobiology and Behavior

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Name: Paul Grobstein
Subject: Missing you ...
Date: Fri Apr 30 10:48:56 EDT 1999
If you're still thinking about brain and behavior, I'm happy. And if you go on thinking about it, and keep me posted on your thoughts, I'm happier still. Write, as always, about whatever intrigues you, but try, for this last essay, to think broadly over what we have done this semester? Looking back over your thoughts at the beginning of the semester might help. And if you need a topic to get you started, here's one:

If brain=behavior, then learning something about the brain (nervous system) ought to produce changes in how you think about behavior (your own, that of other humans, that of animals). In what ways has your understanding of behavior changed over the semester? What new questions have arisen in your mind?

Thanks again for joining me in our explorations this year.

Name: Paul Grobstein
Subject: and on ...
Date: Tue May 18 10:31:31 EDT 1999
Final web reports have been posted. And I've moved forum comments received to date on the last topic to their own file. So, that's it? Well, no, not necessarily. I certainly will go on thinking about things we talked about this semester, and new issues that came out of that. And if you've got either some final thoughts about the semester, or some new thoughts as you collect new experiences, I'd like to hear them. So I'll leave this forum area open for a while. Feel welcome to check back and leave your thoughts, and see what other people are thinking. My thanks again for an enjoyable and productive semester.
Name: Caroline Choe
Subject: brain = behavior?
Date: Wed May 19 22:20:37 EDT 1999
In the beginning of class, I was uncomfortable with the idea that brain = behavior. Maybe it's because I couldn't see or understand how things like personality, environmental influences, experience, etc. could all be explained by the brain alone. But through various class discussions, I came to rethink some general brain and behavior issues, and I started to see more of the significant role that the brain played in how we behave and respond to this world that we live in.

One of the topics we discussed in class, the "I" function, was probably the main reason as to why I wasn't totally convinced in this brain = behavior idea. I kept on trying to place most aspects of behavior (that I couldn't associate with the brain) into the "I" function. I wanted to find out more on how one person could differ from another. But I guess that the "I" function cannot explain all the non-voluntary actions that one person may have due to the concept of intrinsic variability. And I'm also realizing that the "I" function plays a smaller role in our behaviors than what I had originally thought.

I'm glad that I was able to open my mind to new ideas from this class, but at the same time, I find that the more that I learn, the more confusing things can get. I started off wanting to find answers, but I realize that there are no real answers but only various possibilities to answers. That's frustrating for me, especially when I'm always thinking in terms of right vs. wrong. But I've come to see that science is all about seeing an issue from various perspectives. I found it interesting, towards the end of the semester, to look at the picture of a skeleton's head and/or two ladies dining at a table. And it was also interesting to look at the diagram of arrows where the black arrows were pointing to one direction or seeing the white arrows pointing in the other direction. What I've come to conclude from all this is that there is no set answer to what the correct picture should be, but rather, a collection of ideas to help understand the notion of what reality is.

Name: Debbie Plotnick
Subject: At the risk of sounding preachy...
Date: Fri May 21 12:51:06 EDT 1999
I know that I have been saying that I can’t fully accept the concept that brain = behavior.  We saw example after example in class and throughout the web papers of clear and concrete ways in which that is a true statement. And I believe it is. But I am a believer in soul. Maybe that’s what we called in class “I” function. For surely, as I have proven to myself, we are more than just our environment and our genes. Still with my naivete I have mostly focused on positive influences overcoming negative genetic influences and had chosen to ignore other possibilities.

For many years I studied about brain growth and development acted as though brain = behavior with regard to children in an attempt to be a conscientious parent trying to raise healthy, happy and intelligent children in a world sometimes seeming to be devoid of positive role models. I took the “Better Baby” course at the Institute for the Achievement of Human Potential, read widely about attachment parenting, and introduced music as language following the teachings of the Suzuki method of music education for young children and practically lived at the art museum.

In some respects those theories and my expectations were in concert. My oldest son (now 19) was in college full time by the time he was twelve, and my youngest is an amazingly accomplished violinist by age 12, having been playing for ten years now, and my daughter is a talented artist.  I write these things not to brag, but to make the point about how we can intentionally and more importantly unintentionally influence the ways in which brains work.  But no matter how many inputs, positive or negative, intended or not, from the outside genetics still make kids be bratty when they go through adolescence and cannot stop the course of a genetic mental illness like manic depression. The story is a lot further from being one sided than I had imagined.

Now I know how naive I was to believe that if I did everything “right” I could almost insure happy, successful, productive people who would make positive contributions to the world.  As my kid’s mother I, of course, still believe, and more than that hope, that they will to a great extent to do so. But now I know that what I did or did not do is but a small piece of the puzzle regarding brain and behavior. And conversely and complimentarily I know that the genes I beat myself up for having passed on are too only a part of what makes my kids who they are.

In this morning’s (May 21, 1999) Philadelphia Inquire is an article “Witnessing violence can alter the way the brain develops.” Dr. Bruce Perry, a neurobiologist and psychiatrist, is quoted as saying, “Experience becomes biology.” This statement is of course the place from which my actions and behaviors for many years have originated. But Dr. Perry’s contention is from the viewpoint that it is exposure to violence and trauma that can permanently change a person’s physiology and brain function. Dr. Perry is also, according to the article, a pioneer in the field of post tramatic stress syndrome. He says that exposure to violence alters permanently the way in which neurotransmitters are processed in the brain. The article explains that psychological fear/stress responses can be triggered repeatedly by sensory stimuli such as smell, sound or vision of something reminiscent of a tramatic event or events.

During my years of attending lectures, workshops and reading about raising kids I saw only polar opposites. I recognized the dark side that results from the total absence of parenting can create sociopaths. I used to believe that the greatest danger to kids came from those who had never made permanent loving connections. But as we have recently seen those are not the perpetrators of violence in schools. It has not been kids raised in institutions or bounced between foster homes that have committed violence. Nor is there evidence that these kids have genetic abnormalities that predispose them towards violence. There has been much speculation that repeated exposure to violence (games, movies and the news?) and living under stress and in fear (as Dr. Perry postulates) may be the prime motivating and physiologic factors towards violence for these kids. How will the perpetration of that violence cycle for those who are the survivors of such and all the rest of the kids, parents and teachers who live in fear of that more violence will occur. Like everyone else, I wish I knew a way to stop it.

None the less, I am more convinced than ever that it is more imperative than ever to stack the deck in as positive a direction as possible in any and all ways that we can. I still believe that it is essential for parents, teachers and everyone who contacts kids to provide nurturing, teaching and encouragement for the growth of heathly “I” function. And at the risk of still sounding naïve or even stupid, what I think is most important is love. I think love is as influential as any genetic material or behavior. And I look forward to the day when I’ll read in my morning paper about researchers being motivated to explore the neurological effects of repeated exposure to acts of kindness and love on the brain and nervous system of children and adults. Maybe we can act to facilitate my wished for headline by engaging our individual and collective “I” functions (souls) and choosing to acknowledge kindness over aggression and providing lots of loving acts for everyone to witness.

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