AP Biology class blog for discussing current research in Biology

Tag: Brain Volume

Fluent in another language? Studies show your brain will likely be stronger than average when you’re old!

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A recent study released by the University of Kentucky in Lexington aimed to better understand why “being fluent in more than one language protects against age-related cognitive diseases.”

Researchers used fMRI’s to compare the brains of monolinguals to life-long bilinguals, “LLBL”, (people fluent in two languages since the age of at least 10)  during various activities. Of the 110 participants, they found that mostly all monolinguals and LLBL preformed the same on tests that required simple memory, however on tests which required them to switch between activities, the older LLBL were much faster and quicker to respond than the older monolinguals.

The researchers explained that the results they saw from the older generation of monolinguals and LLBL during the two main testing categories (simple memory and switching tasks), were about the same to the results of the younger generation that they tested in a different study. They concluded that the older LLBL’s experienced less activation in several frontal brain regions linked with effortful processing, meaning that the “older bilinguals used their brain more efficiently than the older monolinguals“.

The scientists also explained that they are not sure if learning a language later in life will give a person the same cognitive benefits when they are older compared to a person who is a LLBL. They are also unsure if it’s the “knowledge of two languages that leads to benefits in aging or if there is some underlying characteristics that bilinguals have” which allows them to be more neurally efficient.

Although researchers still have a lot to learn about the increased neural efficiency found in bilinguals, this study made a vast contribution to the understanding of “the cognitive advantage of bilinguals at an old age.”


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Oh, hey there Stress -.- Here to cause some more damage?

Taken on Yasmin Kibria's laptop

It’s everywhere. Whether it be school related, family or friends related–it’s always present. It’s an integral part of our lives. We’ve always known that stress has negative effects on our lives, but according to an article written by Alice Park, who has done a fellowship at Harvard University, stress shrinks the brain and lowers our ability to cope with adversity. Yay, even more negative effects of stress!

Researchers have found that even everyday stress can be leading to changes in the brain that make us more susceptible to social and psychological disorders such as depression and addiction.

Professor Rajita Sinha of Yale University School of Medicine and director of the Yale Stress Center has found that stress can cause shrinkage in parts of the brain responsible for emotions and metabolism, even in healthy individuals. Her research has found that it it’s not indiviual traumatic events that have the most impact, but the cumulative effect of a lifetime’s worth of stress that might cause the most dramatic changes in brain volume.

After imaging the brains of one hundred healthy participants who have had stressful events in their lives showed smaller grey matter in the prefrontal cortex.  This region is responsible for self-control, emotions and physiological functions.

The prefrontal cortex is known as the “CEO of the brain.” This region is responsible for cognitive analysis and abstract though, and the moderation of acceptable behavior in social interactions.Injury to this region can affect the ability to process information and solve problems, the abilities to concentrate, remember and learn.  Damage can also lead to personality changes that lead to impulsive and socially inappropriate behavior, depression and violence.

By further analyzation, Sinha was able to distinguish how different types of stress, such as divorce, death of a loved one, or loss of a job, affect different regions of the brain.  Recent events, such as finding out of a medical diagnosis, affect emotional awareness.  When this part shrinks, we strat to lose connection with our emotions, and as a result, act inappropriately in interactions with other people.

More serious events, like life traumas, such as living with cancer, affects our mood centers which skews our ability to regulate pleasure and reward.  A shrinkage in this area is also linked to depression and other mood disorders.

Lastly, chronic stress, stress we deal with every day doesn’t affect brain volume on its own.  This type of stress erodes parts of the brain slowly and gradually.

It’s important to keep in mind that stress can build up and lead to negative results and effects on the brain.

How can we alleviate stress? There are hundreds of things you can do: yoga, exercise, making lists, etc.  It’s also important to maintain strong social and emotional relationships because others can help as well.


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