A brief note about a timely article

October 10, 2009 at 11:35 PM

A brief note about a timely article

by Jim Stellar

I just had to break the co-author format and write this note calling your attention to the 10/4/09 New York Times Sunday Magazine article about the anxious mind that largely features the work of Professor Jerry Kagan from Harvard.  Here is the link. I urge you to read it as a parallel to what we discuss in this blog.

The article focuses on a longitudinal study of temperament in infants to young adults. At the end, they discuss fMRI (brain activity) and MRI (brain anatomy) studies of the young adults that they followed from infancy.  The Amygdala is suggested to be over active in the anxious young adults, but modulated by the medial prefrontal cortex, better in some than in others.  Also, the history and psychology of the subjects are seen to play a large role in the expression of anxiety – a nicely subtle point on brain-behavior relationships. Someday, I see an article like this one but on brain-behavior relationships in college-level learning from experiences and from the classroom?   Do you?  What would it mean?

I also have to mention that I was an Assistant Professor at Harvard, starting in the late 1970s.  It was my first job. I was a neuroscientist in a psychology department.  I remember being honored and excited to have conversations with the great Jerry Kagan as he was starting to think about his early findings on what endured over years in temperament and the implications for autonomic function, hypothalamus, child rearing, etc. 

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3 Comments

3 Responses to “A brief note about a timely article”

  1. Jim says:

    How dare I comment on my own post? Well I just wanted to give another NYT article on Tuesday on the effect of Nonsense on sharpening the mind. Note that it mentions the anterior cingulate cortex, another limbic judgement area related to neuroeconomics, drug addiction, etc. (also maybe learning from experience?).
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/06/health/06mind.html?_r=1&ref=todayspaper

  2. Mercedes Carota says:

    Hi Jim,
    I think this is a very interesting article. The study they did fascinates me, but I can almost comprehend the phenomena they are describing. I love problem solving because it requires me to dissect the problem and challenge what I think is useful to solving it. On the other hand, I am not very competent at activities like a formalized version of “reading comprehension” (GREs or SATs). This is because I do not “actively” read. I do not have to “dissect” a reading comprehension paragraph, so I do not. But, I have to dissect and prob and problem solving questions because I would be clueless otherwise. It is interesting to think about that article this way. I wonder if we could trick ourselves into thinking everything was nonsense or absurd in order to sharpen our minds? To simply not assume anything is a given…

  3. Jim says:

    Mercedes,
    You raise (for me) a very interesting point about how the anterior cingulate cortex activity, which is mentioned in this article about ambiguity, would be manifest differently in people with different cognitive styles or in different tasks. I am not a cognitive neruopsychologist, but it is clear people have different learning styles. Does anyone have information on this topic?
    I like the presence of a brain area in our conversation as it somehow grounds the conversation. I would be interested to hear from our readers if they find it helpful or distracting to think this way if the goal is to understand something about higher education.
    -Jim

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