Stephen Bavolek, Ph.D. Birth and Beyond Program Sacramento, California February, 2012 Brain is made up of five major parts: Brainstem: Fully developed at Birth. Brainstem is responsible for functions such as blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature. The brainstem must be fully functional at birth for the baby to survive. Controls a person’s automatic movements and balance: dancing, kicking a football and bringing a cup to your lips to drink are all coordinated by the cerebellum If the cerebellum is damaged, the brain cannot coordinate movement. Controls sleep, arousal responses, appetite and motor movements such as running and skipping. The midbrain is very important for moving. Controls emotions and long term memories. Can override rational thoughts and parts of the brain controlled by the brain stem. Part of the limbic system is involved in attaching emotions to memory. Executive branch of the brain. Regulates decision making and makes judgments about incoming information. Different region of the cortex are responsible for processing our vision, touch, hearing, speech, language development and problem solving. Allows us to plan for the future. Nature: Physical traits and genetic predispositions received upon conception. Nature also contains the elements that make us human beings. Nurture: the positive or negative influences the environment has on our genetic predispositions. Nurture can be positive or negative. Neurotransmitters: chemicals that regulate the electrical signals between nerve cells and the brain. Humans are born with 27 billion brain cells. Brain cells connect to form neurological networks which influence many aspects of the cortex. Hormones: released by the endocrine system of glands each of which secretes a type of hormone directly into the blood stream to regulate the body. Hormones regulate various human functions including metabolism, growth and development, tissue function and mood. Oxytocin crucial for maternal behavior; bonds lover to each other; strengthens attachments between parents and their children; is the anti-stress by reducing anxiety and allowing for relaxation, growth and healing. is necessary for empathy Cortisol Hormone released by adrenal glands in response to stress; Can weaken the activity of the immune system; Increases blood pressure; shuts down the reproductive system. Testosterone: sex hormone that fuels sexual desire in men and women; hormone of reproduction; stimulates aggression Estrogen: sex hormone; increases bonding effects of oxytocin in women; hormone of reproduction Melatonin: controls sleep and wake cycles Serotonin: feel good chemical produced by midbrain and brainstem; natural antidepressant will rise and fall. Brain acts in harmony with two nervous systems: Sympathetic Parasympathetic Body’s accelerator; body’s warrior Develops before parasympathetic system which acts as the body’s brakes Commands our survival system Mobilizes our body to flee or fight Uses cortisol, adrenaline and vasopressin to deliver its message Acts as the body’s “brakes;” peacemaker Dominant chemical is oxytocin The anti-stress system Is dominant in positive nurturing Involved in self regulation Right brain and left brain are connected by the corpus callosum Each side of the brain performs specific and common functions. The amount of blood flow to both sides of the brain regulates the cortical activity. Males have more blood flow to the left side of the body hence the designation “male brain.” Females have more blood flow to the right side of the brain increasing cortical activity hence the term “female brain.” “Bridge brains”: males and females who have increased blood flow to opposite cortical areas. Left side of the brain processes information in a linear manner; processes from part to whole. Takes pieces lines them up and presents them in logical order. The Right brain processes from whole to parts. Right brain sees the whole picture first not the details. Dominant Left Brain people process in sequence; are list makers; complete tasks in order and checks them off; are good spellers; good at following directions; good at linear sequencing of math problems. Dominant Right Brain people are random; flit from one task to another; lose track of time being involved in another task; are late turning in projects and need to make lists to keep life in order. Dominant Left brain people easily process symbols; enjoy mathematical and linguistic endeavors; memorize formulas and words. Dominant Right brain people want things to be concrete; want to feel and see the real object; may have trouble learning to read using phonics and prefer to see words in context and how a formula works. Dominant Left brain people process in a logical, sequential and linear fashion; use information piece by piece to solve problems; make logical conclusions. Dominant Right brain people use intuition; may solve a math problem but can’t explain how; have “gut” feeling regarding the right answer. Dominant Left brain people have little trouble expressing themself in words; are precise in giving directions using distance: “go two miles, turn left on pine street, then in a half mile………” Dominant Right brain people may know what they mean but have difficulty finding the right words; are much less precise in giving directions; use buildings and landmarks rather than distance: “keep going straight until you reach this outdoor restaurant, then turn by the gas station, then…” Dominant Left brain people deal with the way things are in reality; adjust to changes in their environment; want to know the rules and follow them; will make up rules to follow if there aren’t any in place; know the consequences of their actions. Dominant Right brain people deal with the way things could be; try to change the environment rather than adapt; generally “bend” the rules; are not aware that there is something wrong; are often creative. Researchers have long believed male and female brains are different. Sex hormones begin to exert their influence 26 weeks after conception. Corpus callosum, the bridge of nerve tissues that connects the left and right brain, is thicker in girls than boys allowing for more multitasking in females. Females have language functioning in both sides of the brain. Males have a smaller corpus callosum resulting in more blood flow to the left side of the brain. As a whole, girls out perform boys in language skills and fine motor skills until puberty. More boys identified with learning disabilities. More boys diagnosed with dyslexia than girls More boys diagnosed ADHD than girls (lower levels of oxytocin). Girls with ADHD show difficulty with inattention---boys with impulse control. Boys better in math and geometry (left side). These areas of the brain mature about four years earlier in boys then girls. Language and fine motor skills mature six years earlier in girls then in boys. Men tend to have fight or flight response to stress; estrogen in females tends to enhance oxytocin (anti stress) in women which facilitates problem solving and compromise skills. Women have a large thick Limbic system which allows them to be more in touch with their emotions and better able to express them with their increased use of words. Men have smaller tear ducts then women and cry less. Women express their pain more often and are more likely to seek medical care. Men feel pain the right side of the amygdala which controls external functions; women feel pain on the left side of their amygdala which controls internal functions. Because of the way men and women use the two hemispheres of the brain differently, there are some disorders that men and women are susceptible to in different ways. Men are more apt to have dyslexia or other language problems. If women have dyslexia, they are more likely to compensate for it. Women, on the other hand, are more susceptible to mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. While handedness is not a disorder, these brain tendencies also explain why more men are lefthanded than are women. Men are also more likely to be diagnosed with autism, ADHD, and Tourette’s Syndrome. Males have an action oriented empathy; females have a feelings oriented empathy. Dominance in left and right brain functioning has created stereo-types which can breed discrimination. Most people are “bridge brains” who function equally well using both sides of the brain. Nurture, the type of environment children grow up in, plays a crucial in reinforcing right and left brain dominance.