Testing Teenagers and Examining Stress

Headshot-BlakemoreExams can be nerve-wracking to even the most prepared. In England, a roller coaster of emotions has been on display as the nation’s series of grueling public exams, the General Certificate for Secondary Education (GCSE), were proctored earlier this summer. The highly anticipated test grades were finally made public last week, and while the unveiling of the results may have brought about much-needed relief for some, the pressure and preparation needed to do well for others branded the two-year journey with a relentless villain—stress.

The anxiety-inducing exam was the focus of a thought-provoking article in The Guardian that featured Dana Alliance member Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University College London and author of Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain. The self-described champion of teenagers touches on the rash timing and the dread of the exams endured by the 15- and 16-year-olds during a period that she says is critical in a developing brain. From the interview:

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Mindfulness for the Developing Brain

meriah dejosephOn Thursday, March 15th, Know Science, an organization that advocates the knowledge of new science and scientific research to the public, hosted the talk “Regulating the Brain: The Science of Mindfulness” at the Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute in New York City. This was an event presented as part of Brain Awareness Week.

Meriah DeJoseph, the presenter for the evening, is a lab manager for the Neuroscience and Education Lab at New York University (NYU). She will be starting a PhD program in developmental psychology this fall to further investigate self-regulation and how mindfulness can affect the developing brain. Prior to NYU, she worked on a project at Teachers College, Columbia University studying brain activity of children from Girls Prep Bronx Elementary, who have a mindfulness class integrated in their curriculum.

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Brainwave’s “Mindfulness in the Workplace”

Do you have trouble concentrating on the task at hand? Be honest, how many new tabs have you opened between clicking on this blog and actually reading it. Personally, I opened two new tabs on my browser and started an e-mail just between writing the first and second sentence of this blog! With the constant buzzing of our smartphones and infinite distractions of the Internet, who can focus on just one thing? Well, by practicing mindfulness and meditation, neuroscientists are finding we may be able to do just that.

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Stress and the Brain

Didn’t sleep well last night? Your immune system may be in overdrive today, starting or continuing a cascade of stressors that could spell ill for your body and brain.

kiecolt-glaser-OSU

Janice Kiecolt-Glaser

“If you didn’t sleep, if you had a tired night, your IL-6 levels are higher today,” said Janice Kiecolt-Glaser of Ohio State University. IL-6 (Interleukin 6) triggers inflammatory and auto-immune processes that protect the body, but too much response has been linked to such diseases as diabetes, atherosclerosis, lupus, arthritis, and anxiety and depression.

Kiecolt-Glaser stepped through several studies and reviews of research on immune reactions to stress during the forum “Stressing About Stress–What Our Minds and Bodies are Going Through and Ways to Cope” at the American Association for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) in Washington, DC, on Thursday.

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Links Between Poverty and Brain Development Raise Key Policy Issues

On June 26, more than 100 people–congressional staff, federal scientists, and journalists–gathered on Capitol Hill to listen to neuroscience experts talk about the links between poverty and brain development. The 90-minute briefing was part of a series organized by AAAS and supported by the Dana Foundation, designed to educate members of Congress and their staffs about topical issues in neuroscience.

The experts, including Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives members Martha Farah, Ph.D., and Alan Leshner, Ph.D., were on hand to explain brain development and the negative effects of stress on children, and to raise important questions about education, health, social welfare, and juvenile justice.

“The science is fascinating,” said Farah, “I think it can engage people with the awesomeness of brain development…and how it emerges from the interplay of genes and environment. It can renew people’s interest in finding solutions.”

AAAS recently published a detailed article about the event, which includes links to some of the slideshows presented.

–Ann L. Whitman

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