Tag Archives: ubc Brain Development and Learning

Sue Carter talked about Oxytocin, a neuropeptide hormone best known for its role in birth and breastfeeding. Oxytocin is a brain tool for building trust and social bonds, such as between parents and infants. Perhaps a million years ago our ancestors learned how to use this mammalian mechanism to promote social bonding beyond sexual union, in order to form groups and tribes. Oxytocin, and the related hormone, vasopressin, regulate social monogamy, including pair bonding and parental care, central to experiences of “love”.

Studies of the neurobiology of love have provided a deeper understanding of both mental health and mental illness. Infants suffering from childhood neglect suffer from reduced oxytocin and vasopressin levels into adulthood. There, the absence of love leaves a biological scar, which is then passed down inter-generationally.

Learning Objectives:

(a) This presentation will define concepts such as “social monogamy” and “love” from a scientific perspective.
(b) The endocrine causes and consequences of social bonds and related social behaviors will be examined using evidence from humans and other monogamous mammals.
(c) The mental health implications of sexually-dimorphic hormones such as oxytocin and vasopressin will be discussed, using autism as an example.

This talk was given at the conference “Brain Development and Learning 2010 Meeting” in Vancouver. It was an interdisciplinary conference devoted to improving children’s lives by making cutting-edge research in neuroscience, child psychology, & medicine. Further information available on http://www.interprofessional.ubc.ca/bdl.html

Ara Norenzayan discussed how people in different cultures can believe and value different things. Do they perceive, categorize, and reason differently because of different cultural experiences? Until recently, little was known about this question since most research on human thinking was done in N. American and Europe. In recent years, cross-cultural researchers have begun to examine thinking in diverse cultural groups in Asia and the Middle East. People exposed to different cultures often rely on different strategies to solve the same problems. People in western, educated, industrialized, rich, and developed societies (WEIRDs) are cognitive outliers whose psychological profile is unrepresentative of the rest of humanity. Possible social, historical, and ecological explanations for cultural differences in thinking will be examined. Some implications and dilemmas these findings raise for culturally diverse civil societies such as Canada and the US will be explored.

Learning Objectives:

(a) Describe experimental work that shows that people from East Asian cultures tend to perceive, categorize, and reason about the world using holistic strategies, whereas people from Western cultures tend to rely on analytic cognitive strategies. Critically evaluate the proximal and distal explanations for these cultural differences in thinking.
(b) Explain in what ways western, educated, industrialized, rich, and developed societies (WEIRDs) have a psychological profile that is argued to be unrepresentative of humanity.
(c) Think about how these cognitive differences may contribute to cross-cultural misunderstandings, and what can be done to address them.

Mahzarin Banaji discussed how can scientists study bias, thoughts, or feelings of which people are unaware? How do such biases shape behavior? What are the social consequences of unconscious thoughts and feelings, such as the stereotype that women are terrible at math or poor people are lazy, that you are not aware you hold and which may be counter to what you think your beliefs are? Our work shows that such implicit biases are pervasive, predict behavior, and are held even by well-meaning people (including the speaker herself!). Demonstrations and hands-on exercises will illustrate unconscious stereotyping, its prevalence, but also its malleability. Implicit biases are learned and therefore can be unlearned. We know they can be modified through new experiences, and this knowledge can allow communities, governments, and organizations to develop strategies for change. Implicit biases have the paradoxical property that they are not amenable to change from simply willing them away and yet are quite malleable in the face of appropriate interventions.

Learning Objectives:
(a) Implicit biases are pervasive; most Americans and most people all over the world show them.
(b) People differ in levels of implicit bias; at least three factors that produce this variation. First, we favor our own. Second, those who come from less-advantaged groups do not show the same level of ingroup bias. Finally, the degree to which our immediate environment allows or disavows bias also influences behavior without our being aware of that influence.
(c) Implicit biases predict behavior. From simple acts of friendliness and inclusion to more consequential acts such as the evaluation of work quality and deservingness, those who show higher implicit biases have been shown to display greater discrimination. One of our own studies showed that doctors who harbor more implicit bias against African Americans (as a group) are also less likely to offer African American patients a cardiac procedure called thrombolysis.
(d) Implicit biases can be changed. Implicit biases are learned and therefore can be unlearned. This knowledge allows organizations to develop strategies for change. Implicit biases have the paradoxical property that they are not amenable to change from simply willing them away and yet they are quite malleable in the face of appropriate interventions.

This talk “The Human Mind and the Social World: Implicit Biases are Learned and can be Unlearned” was given at the conference “Brain Development and Learning 2010 Meeting” in Vancouver. It was an interdisciplinary conference devoted to improving children’s lives by making cutting-edge research in neuroscience, child psychology, & medicine. Further information available on http://www.interprofessional.ubc.ca/bdl.html

Jon Kabat-Zinn founded and for many years directed the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society and the renowned Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Clinic at UMMS. He received his Ph.D. in molecular biology from MIT in the lab of Nobel Laureate, Salvador Luria. He is often asked to speak and is the author of several best-selling books, including Full Catastrophe Living;Wherever You Go, There You Are;The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting (co-authored by Myla Kabat-Zinn); & The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness (co-authored with Williams, Teasdale, an Segal). His books have been published in over 30 languages.

Dr. Kabat-Zinn will review the work on bringing mindfulness meditation practices into the mainstream of medicine and mental health through mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). He will describe specific clinical applications and outcomes across several medical and psychological conditions. He will also describe mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT), its use in relapse prevention for depression, and the similarities and differences between MBSR and MBCT. His talk will address optimizing the therapeutic relationship, and the cultivation of greater self-awareness, self-compassion, and emotional balance.

In “Mindfulness-based Stress and Pain Reduction (MBSR)”, Dr. Kabat-Zinn will review the work of him and colleagues on bringing mindfulness meditation practices into the mainstream of medicine and mental health through mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR). He will describe the intervention, specific clinical applications and outcomes across several medical and psychological conditions. Jon Kabat – Zinn is a much sought after speaker and the author of several best-selling books, including Full Catastrophe; Wherever You Go, There You Are; Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting (co-authored by Myla Kabat-Zinn); & The Mindful Way Through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness (co-authored with Williams, Teasdale, an Segal). His books have been published in over 30 languages.

Jon Kabat-Zinn received his Ph.D. in molecular biology from MIT in the lab of Nobel Laureate, Salvador Luria. He has received numerous awards, including Founding Fellow of the Fetzer Institute; a Fellow of the Society of Behavioral Medicine; the Art, Science, & Soul of Healing Award; the Trailblazer Award for “pioneering work in the field of integrative medicine” from Scripps, an Award from the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, and the Pioneer in Integrative Medicine Award.

This talk “Mindfulness-based Stress and Pain Reduction (MBSR)” was given at the conference “Brain Development and Learning 2010 Meeting” in Vancouver. It was an interdisciplinary conference devoted to improving children’s lives by making cutting-edge research in neuroscience, child psychology, & medicine. Further information available on http://www.interprofessional.ubc.ca/bdl.html

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a much sought-after speaker and the author of 19 books (many of them best sellers), including Beyond Boredom and Anxiety (still in print after 5 editions), Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (selected by 4 book clubs & translated into 23 languages), Creativity (selected by 4 book clubs & translated into 5 languages), and Good Business (translated into 9 languages).

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi was born in Italy where his father was serving as a consul for the Hungarian government. During WWII as a pre-teen child, he witnessed the crash of European society and wondered why grown-ups had not found a better way to live. The quest to understand how to improve life led him through religion, philosophy, literature and art, before coming to rest on psychology.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi came to the US in 1956 with $1.25 to his name and almost no English. For his ESL class he wrote the first of two autobiographical short stories that were published in the New Yorker. He taught at the University of Chicago for 30 years, eventually becoming Chairman of its Psychology Department.

With his talk ““Creativity and Flow: Making Life and Learning more Enjoyable”, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says that children are born with an enormous desire to learn. Unfortunately, formal schooling has never been successful in leveraging this desire. Research on the flow experience has begun to offer ideas for how to make learning more enjoyable.

Children are born with an enormous desire to learn. Unfortunately, formal schooling has never been successful in leveraging this desire for the purposes of education. In the past few decades, research on the flow experience has begun to offer ideas for how to make learning more enjoyable. Prof. Csikszentmihalyi will describe the components of flow and its implications to education

Learning Objectives: Develop an understanding of the flow experience, how it can help learning, and how it relates to existing pedagogies (e.g. Montessori education).

This talk was given at the conference “Brain Development and Learning 2010 Meeting” in Vancouver. It was an interdisciplinary conference devoted to improving children’s lives by making cutting-edge research in neuroscience, child psychology, & medicine. Further information available on http://www.interprofessional.ubc.ca/bdl.html

Nils Bergman discussed how modern newborn care has become highly technological, and is essentially based on the incubator. Yet, there is no evidence on the incubator’s safety. An alternative was first described in Columbia, and later formalized by WHO as Kangaroo Mother Care.

After birth, the most important decision a newborn must make is whether his or her world is safe or unsafe. If “safe,” a calm developmental state is expressed; if “unsafe,” a stress state focused on survival follows. A caregiver’s presence (or absence) & particularly skin contact (or its absence) are the primary and possibly sole determinants for an infant deciding he or she is safe or not. Autonomic nervous system activities dynamically chart this when infants are separated or in skin-to-skin contact. Separation produces an initial state of vigilance (that looks like sleep but is not), followed by freezing and dissociation. Skin-to-skin contact results in calm and regulated autonomic activity with sleep cycling, feeding preparedness and approach-oriented frontal lobe activity. It used to be thought that KMC was only appropriate for stable infants. However, a Randomized Controlled Trial, comparing low birth weight babies stabilized in incubators versus those without incubators in “skin-to-skin contact from birth,” provides clear evidence that skin-to-skin contact produces results far superior to those without incubators, and smaller babies actually become more unstable in incubators.

Learning Objectives:
(a) Provide the scientific evidence base for or against the use of incubators.
(b) Explain the effects of maternal-infant separation on brain infrastructure and development of maternal-infant physical togetherness.
(c) Describe the essential functions of the newborn autonomic nervous system.

This talk was given at the conference “Brain Development and Learning 2010 Meeting” in Vancouver. It was an interdisciplinary conference devoted to improving children’s lives by making cutting-edge research in neuroscience, child psychology, & medicine. Further information available on http://www.interprofessional.ubc.ca/bdl.html

Lifelong Effects of Good Parenting: How Experience affects Gene Expression” by Michael Meaney

“Good” rat moms (those who more frequently lick and groom their pups) produce offspring who, throughout their lives, explore more, are less fearful & less reactive to stress, perform better cognitively, and preserve their cognitive skills better into old age. It is the mother’s behavior that produces these effects rather than genes: Pups of ‘good’ moms raised by low-licking-and-grooming moms do not show these characteristics, and pups of low-touch moms raised by high-touch moms do show this constellation. Here’s an example of early experience (nurturing touch, or its absence) producing enduring, life-long effects.

Rats tend to raise their offspring the way they were raised, so these effects are transmitted intergenerationally, not through the genes but through behavior: The biological offspring of low-touch moms, cross-fostered to high-touch moms, lick and groom their offspring a lot, and thus the diminished stress reactivity and cognitive enhancement is passed down through the generations.

Maternal behavior produces these behavioral consequences through altering gene expression. Not all genes in an individual are expressed. Many are never expressed. Experience affects which genes are turned on and off, in which cells, and when. For example, lots of touch by rat moms turns on (for life) the glucocorticoid receptor gene in offspring, hence lower circulating glucocorticoid levels, so they feel less stressed.

Learning Objectives:
(a) To understand how experience can affect gene expression (epigenesis).
(b) To understand the profound effect parenting can have on cognitive and emotional functioning throughout life and through succeeding generations.
(c) To understand that most of our genes are not expressed and to understand something about the mechanisms that turn genes off and on.

This talk was given at the conference “Brain Development and Learning 2010 Meeting” in Vancouver. It was an interdisciplinary conference devoted to improving children’s lives by making cutting-edge research in neuroscience, child psychology, & medicine. Further information available on http://www.interprofessional.ubc.ca/bdl.html