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Bio 202, Getting Started

Paul Grobstein's picture
Welcome to the on-line forum associated with the Biology 202 at Bryn Mawr College. Its a way to keep conversations going between course meetings, and to do so in a way that makes our conversations available to other who may in turn have interesting thoughts to contribute to them. To get started, how about a few words about who you are, what you bring to the conversation that may be different from others, and what questions about brain and behavior you'd like to explore this semester? A little about me is here.
Paul Grobstein's picture

Variations in brains

I haven't looked at it but Principles of Brain Evolution by George Striedter, Sinauer, 2005, might be a a good resource for thinking about "homologous brain regions" and their variations. Have a look too at Comparative MammalianBrain Collections.
eambash's picture

Here, here

Hi there! My name is Emily Ambash and I am a Bryn Mawr senior majoring in theater and English. I am taking this course primarily because I'm a curious, skeptical person and can't help questioning, probing, and analyzing everything I experience and observe. Moreover, since I always enjoy participating in ongoing conversations, the forum aspect of the course really appeals to me.

The course topic (or arena) intrigues me because of the blurry, confused dichotomy it sets up between the brain and behavior. Both as a student and as a person, I'm drawn to lines and distinctions and to the idea of expanding or collapsing them. How much about our lives is relative, individual, cultural? How much is preprogrammed, environmental, moldable, still growing? These questions constantly affect me -- as a poet, as an actor, as a friend, as a sister, as a young adult. In every field and forest, from philosophy to New Hampshire, I can't help wondering how to balance or combine, wanting to study the area between categories and catastrophes, between experiences and our explications of them.

I don't find this area of inquiry exciting only intellectually; it also affects me personally. The shaky line between biology and behavior has always affected me. I have an older sister who is profoundly disabled, neurologically and physically, and a family that is, as a consequence, more skeptical of pat answers and easy systems. I'm extremely sensitive to terms like "retarded" and constantly seek to educate myself and others, to connect ideas to other ideas, to try to take interpersonal experiences and find in them bigger questions or problems. In many ways, I think my attitude as a learner is one of defiance and determination: I won't settle for superficial observations and I think I need the process of searching, finding, explaining, and complicating. As a person, similarly, I never let things be and always look way too deeply at both details and big ideas. I need to be trying to fit puzzle pieces together, but I never expect to accept that they really do.

I've encountered many of the ideas in this course, in some cases skirting them and in others delving deeply into them, but I haven't necessarily looked at this whole shebang self-consciously, interactively, or simultaneously. Some of the subjects have already been crucial to my personal and intellectual life (mental illness, insomnia, learning theory, autism, stem cell research, genes, pharmacology, stress and stressors, caffeine, relativism, little and bigger worlds, Venn diagrams, decision-making, depression, behavior and its obstacles); other topics I haven't yet thought about but am eager to consider. I think this course coincides well with my academic interests and, well, behaviors. I tend to ask too many questions, to ramble on, to attach myself intensely to ideas. I love when intellectual and personal exploration and discovery become interactive activities -- in fact, I think that interaction is essential! As much as experiences and explanations add to our lives individually, what I find most satisfying about research and discovery is the way that each of us adds layers to a larger spring or springboard that we share.
Paul Grobstein's picture

shaky line between biology and behavior

Maybe The Novelist and the Neurobiologist would give you some starting points? And perhaps one or another book by Temple Grandin?
Jennifer Benson's picture

about me etc.

Hi everyone,
My name is Jen Benson; I'm a senior Psych major and Music minor at Haverford. I have very little background in Neurobiology and could add to the conversation my interests in personality psychology, cross-cultural psychology, and music.
I would be interested to learn how individual differences (such as in extraversion, neuroticism, etc.) in personality are manifest at the neurobiological level. For example, I know that introverted people have a lower threshold for responding physiologically to social situations and even lower volumes of music, in terms of heart rate and other measures. How might their brain behaviors be expected to influence these different reactions to the same environmental conditions?
Research in the cross-cultural sect of psychology has explored ways that culture influences cognition and emotion (Markus and Kitayama, year?). For example, some tribes of Eskimos are said to not experience anger; and their definition of anger only describes some level of immaturity and loss of self-control. Do these people respond at the neurological and physiological level differently to a frustrating situation or do they merely express their thoughts and feelings differently in order to align themselves with cultural norms? Are there any documented neurobiological differences between cultures, for example between individualist and collectivist cultures?
As a musician I would also be interested to learn what happens in the brain when people hear, process, and respond to music. I have read that musical ability may be understood as its own kind of intelligence, separate from interpersonal, verbal, spatial, and other kinds of intelligence. Which brain functions, processes, or parts contribute to musical talent?
I hope these questions don't seem silly to those who know more about neurobiology. See you all in class,
-Jen Benson

Paul Grobstein's picture

brain, music, culture

I've yet to read it myself but Oliver Sacks' new book, Musicophilia, would probably interest you. And I'd certainly be interested in you looking into the question of "neurobiological differences between cultures". There was a panel discussion on the "Intersection of Culture and Neuroscience" at a meeting this fall ( Maybe do some web surfing starting with the names of the meeting participants?