Over the past 11 weeks, we have learned about the physiological components that effect human behavior. In week two we discussed the smallest level of human physiology; cells, specifically neurons, neurotransmitters, and receptors. We learned that the main ions involved in the electrical properties of a neuron are “Na+, K+, and Cl-” (Pinel, 2016, p. 49) and that an action potential is comprised of six: resting potential, rising phase, overshoot phase, falling phase, undershoot phase, and recovery phase (Sinauer Associates, 2010b). the action potential travels to the axon terminal which then becomes depolarized and triggers the release of neurotransmitters into the synaptic gap (Sinauer Associates, 2010c). It is this process that is the starting point for human behavior. For this reason, this was one of the most important topics covered in this course as it laid the foundation for the later chapters. We then went on to discuss how drugs and alcohol can essentially hijack the chemistry of an individual’s brain to elicit pleasurable sensations leading to addiction. For example, cocaine works by inhibiting the monoamine transporters resulting an increased concentration of dopamine which attach to receptors resulting in long lasting effects (Koob & Volkow, 2010).
Sensory processing was the next major topic that we covered. It is our ability to utilize our sensory organs that makes us so successful as a species. Our eyes and ears are two examples of specialised sensory receptors that are specifically designed to process specific stimuli such as light and sound (Breedlove & Watson, 2018). Attention occurs when a stimulus comes into our awareness (Breedlove & Watson, 2018). This ensures that we are able to react when a potentially dangerous stimuli approach (such as a car or animal). Furthermore, sensory input is encoded and memorized. Memory is a key aspect of learning and is defined by Breedlove and Watson (2018) as the ability to process information, store it, and retrieve it through cognitive processes. Declarative and non-declarative memories are utilized in our everyday lives when we drive to work or recall information.
Another ‘milestone’ of this course was the concept of homeostatic balance within the body. That is a balance amongst critical variables such as oxygen, water, temperature, and food (Breedlove & Watson, 2018; Sinauer Associates, 2010). Negative feedback loops utilize an optimal ‘set point’ if the energy supply is too low the negative feedback loop will initiate signals to consume food until the set point is reached at which point the behaviors will cease (Breedlove & Watson, 2018). It is the interaction and coordination of feedback loops that allow our bodies to maintain a state of balance. In addition to the feedback loops utilized for homeostatic balance, biological rhythms also influence our behavior and physiology. For example, circadian rhythm lasts about 24 hours and are responsible for sleeping patterns (Breedlove & Watson, 2018; Sinauer Associates, Inc, 2010). Working against biological rhythms such as sleep, and an inability to find a state of balance can result in stress. Breedlove and Watson (2018) note that stress is a physiological reaction to stimuli that alter or disrupt our bodies homeostasis. As a result of stress, the body goes into a state of panic where it prepares for fight or flight through the use of epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine, and corticoid steroids. These hormones increase heart and breathing rate as blood is pumped from the core to extremities and suppress ‘unnecessary’ processes such as digestion, reproduction, and inflammatory responses. We learned that stress can take a toll on the human body. Chronic stress can cause degradation in areas of the brain such as the hippocampus and the prefrontal cortex, as well as muscle break down (Breedlove & Watson, 2018; Sinauer Associates, 2010). An individual may also experience lethargy and symptoms of depression (Sapolsky,1998; Sinauer Associates, 2010).
After writing a research paper on the reward system of the body, I have gained an insight into how behaviors are encouraged or discouraged by the body.The chain reaction that is the reward system, begins in the mesencephalon (midbrain) (Breedlove & Watson, 2018) and moves through the substania nigra (Leknes & Tracey, 2008), to the ventral tegmental area (VTA) (Blum et al. 2012), and finally to the nucleus accumbens which generates the pleasurable sensation as a reward for the given behavior (Michel-Chavez et al. 2015). The knowledge I gained regarding this system allowed me to gain a better understanding as to how addictive behaviors such as eating, smoking, and engaging in drug use, begin and persist. While this information shines an insight on to negative behaviors, I would like to further explore how positive behaviors can be utilized as a means of generating pleasurable effects as a means of coping and stopping negative behaviors. For example, the use of animals in therapy has been found to promote the release of dopamine thus resulting in pleasurable sensations. Furthermore, I found the chapter on stress insightful and interesting. Especially, when we identified the negative impact of chronic stress on the body. For this reason, I would like to further explore how resilience can be taught and utilized as a means of helping individuals coping with day to day stress as oppose to turning to negative behaviors such as drug and alcohol use.
In conclusion, I would like to thank Dr. Agnew and everyone in the class for a great quarter, and I hope you all enjoy the rest of the summer!
Blum, K., Chen, A. L. C., Giordano, J., Borsten, J., Chen, T., Hauser, M., Simpatico, T., Femino, J., Braverman, Eirc, R., Barh, D., (2012). The addictive brain: all roads lead to dopamine. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 44(2), 134-143. Doi: 10.1080/02791072.2012.685407
Breedlove, S. M., & Watson, N. V. (2018). Behavioral neuroscience (8th ed.) New York, NY:
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Koob, G. F., & Volkow, N. D. (2010). Neurocircuitry of addiction. Neuropsychopharmacology,
35(1), 217–238. Retrieved from the Walden Library databases.
Leknes, S., Tracey, Irene., (2008). A common neurobiology for pain and pleasure. Science & Society, 9, 314-320. Doi: Retrieved from Walden University Library.
Michel-Vhavez, A., Estanol-Vidal, B., Senties-Madrid, H., Chiquete, E., Delgado, G, R., Castillo-Mayo, G., (2015). Reward and aversion systems of the brain as a functional unit. Basicmechanisms and functions. Salud Mental, 38(4), 299-305. Doi: 10.17711/sm.0185-3325.2015.041.
Pinel, J. P. J. (2016). PY 2750: Brain and Behavior. Pearson Custom Library. Boston, MA: Pearson
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