From the Archives: Encouraging Brain Literacy

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Image courtesy of the University of California, Davis, Center for Neuroscience

In 2010, we invited Michaela Labriole, then a science instructor at the New York Hall of Science, to share ways to promote brain-science literacy in schools. Firstly, she writes in her essay for Cerebrum, why limit learning about the brain to science classes?

Teachers can utilize the strong connection between neuroscience and other subject areas to boost scientific literacy. Some students find certain topics in neuroscience, such as neurotransmitters, very abstract. By tying in other subject areas, especially through hands-on techniques, educators can improve student understanding. They can easily turn neurons into an art project by using pipe cleaners and other materials to model different structures, or into an exercise in physical education by asking students to use their arms as axons and dendrites to pass a ball that serves as a neurotransmitter…

Students routinely learn that they must wear bicycle helmets, stay away from drugs, and eat properly, but they are not always taught how helmets, drugs, and nutrition can affect brain function. By making clearer connections to material already being taught, educators can increase students’ understanding of the brain. For older students, presenting brain scans from people who have used drugs or suffered brain trauma make the brain-health connection more evident. For younger students, creating brain hats can help illustrate both the importance of protecting the brain and fundamental ideas such as cortical localization of function. This basic concept states that while some structures may have roles that overlap, and some structures may do multiple jobs, in general there is a division of labor in the brain. Understanding this basic idea primes students for deeper exploration of neuroanatomy. There are many brain-hat templates available on the Internet; educators can create paper hats that students label with the various parts or functions of the brain. For young learners, one could simply put a picture of an eye in the back of the brain hat rather than use words like occipital lobe or visual-processing center. By having students label the hats this way and then wear them, an educator can ask students to consider what would happen if they fell off their bikes and hit their heads in different areas.

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From the Archives: Treating Opioid Addiction

It is estimated that between 26.4 million and 36 million people abuse opioids worldwide; the US government estimates that 2.1 million people in the United States have substance use disorders related to prescription opioid pain relievers in 2012 and another 467,000 are addicted to heroin. Consequences include a spike in the number of unintentional overdose deaths from prescription pain relievers (including the recent death of the musician Prince), and growing evidence to suggest a relationship between increased non-medical use of opioid analgesics and heroin abuse in the US.

OBrien_Charles_featWhat can we do to help? This spring, Charles O’Brien and colleagues reported results of the latest in a series of studies testing the drug naltrexone as a preventive against opioid relapse in people greatly at risk for relapse: formerly addicted convicts. “This U.S. multisite, open-label, randomized effectiveness trial showed that among adult offenders who had a history of opioid dependence, the rate of relapse was lower among participants assigned to extended-release naltrexone than among those assigned to usual treatment,” they write.

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From the Archives: US Army’s Suicide Risk and Resilience Project

In 2011, we reported on a longitudinal study starting up that aimed to find reliable biomarkers for compromised mental health among army personnel, as the Framingham Heart Study did for heart health. The US Army and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), teamed up to pursue the Army Study To Assess Risk and Resilience in Service members (STARRS).

Historically, the suicide rate among Army personnel has been lower than that of the general population, but starting in 2004, the suicide rate among soldiers began rising, reaching their highest yearly number in 2012.

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Credit: Shutterstock

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From the Archives: What “Neuroeducation” Needs

We have long been interested in education and the arts, and a decade ago we funded a series of pilot studies to look for ways to measure whether training in the arts changed the brain in ways that would transfer to other cognitive abilities. In 2009, we published the results of our Arts and Cognition Consortium—nine investigators at seven major universities, who found tentative signs of benefits, including transfer, that they continue to pursue.

In May 2009, we helped support The Johns Hopkins University School of Education’s hosting of the inaugural Learning, Arts, and the Brain Summit, “to explore the intersection of cognitive neuroscience, the arts, and learning.” Some of our consortium scientists presented their research, and more than 300 educators, scientists, school administrators, and policy makers shared their perspectives on how to get a handle on this rather new amalgam, “neuro-education.”

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From the Archives: Valentine Reading List

Since talk of love is all the rage this week, let’s look back at a few of our past articles on love and attachment. First up is a Cerebrum essay by Rutgers anthropologist Helen Fisher that — after 15 years — is still on our Top 10 list of most-popular pages on dana.org.

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Image: Beatriz Gascon J/Shutterstock

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