Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Brain That Changes Itself

In chapter 9, Turning our Ghosts into Ancestors; Psychoanalysis as a Neuroplastic Therapy Norman Doidge M.D. in The Brain that Changes Itself attempts to explain why 'talking psychology' seems to work. The research he describes uses snails; yep, I must admit to having felt rather slow and spongy more times than I wish were true.

I am sufficiently impressed with Doidge's commentary to have invested in some brain games one of his researchers has devised to help my 'noun losing' brain from deteriorating at its usual rapid pace. I'll let you know if they make any difference in my ability to remember or recall.

However, the following passage also caught my attention because I think it may explain anxiety surrounding certain health related events occurring in the life of a young friend who had juvenile rheumatoid arthritis when he was five. One of the aspects of the disease that caused more agony than the disease itself was the frequent requirement to check the salicylate levels in his blood stream since the treatment for the disease was aspirin therapy.

I retype the passage here for your perusal.

"If [the researcher] repeated shocks in a short period, the snails became 'sensitized,' so that they developed 'learned fear' and a tendency to over react even to more benign stimuli, as do humans who develop anxiety disorders. When the snails developed 'learned fear', the presynaptic neurons released more of the chemical messenger into the synapse giving off a more powerful signal. Then [the researcher] showed that the snails could be taught to recognize a stimulus as harmless. When the snail's siphon was touched gently over and over and not followed with a shock, the synapses leading to the withdrawal reflex weakened, and the snail eventually ignored the touch. Finally the research was able to show that snails can also learn to associate two different events and that their nervous systems change in the process. When [the researcher] gave the snail a benign stimulus, followed immediately by a shock to the tail, the snail's sensory neuron soon responded to the benign stimulus as though it were dangerous, giving off very strong signals – even if not followed by the shock."

Could the early experience of the youngster who feared the needles have led to anxiety concerning health related issues later in life?

One wonders.