What Is Neuroscience - And Why Should We Care?

Our intern Sasha Dworkin is currently adding efficiency to our operations. She also has a degree in Neuroscience from King’s College London, so we thought we’d put her studies to good use. Sasha recently answered the team’s questions at Upstart Towers. In the first of three posts, Sasha cuts through the noise and hype and explains what you need to know about this important discipline.

 

First, What is Neuroscience?

Neuroscience can be defined as “any or all of the sciences which deal with the structure or function of the nervous system and brain”.

This includes a vast number of disciplines from neuropharmacology - how drugs interact with the nervous system and brain - to neuroendocrinology - how hormones and glands interact with the nervous system and brain.

Brain diagram

And What is Neuroscience NOT?

Neuroscience has been applied to commercial areas outside of the realms of academic science, for example to marketing and consumer research. There is nothing wrong with this providing it really is neuroscience and the work

(a) relates to the structure and function of the brain (neuro) and

(b) is based on robust scientific findings and uses strict and reliable methodology (science)

Be a Sceptic

As we are becoming more and more curious as to how we and our brains work, funnily enough there seems to be a more than exponential increase in the number of neuroscientists and articles written about the subject.  To ensure you sort the PhDs, MScs and BScs from the BS-ers, engage your frontal lobe and exercise your critical thinking: don’t be fooled by the use of neuroscience as a buzzword every time it is used!

An example of the distinction comes in psychology:

  1. Behavioural psychology - the study of observable and quantifiable aspects of behaviour.

  2. Neuropsychology - the study of how the structure and function of the brain relate to behaviour, emotion and cognition e.g. how brain lesions affect speech

 Sasha explains the consensus on the main functions of sleep to the Upstart team. More on this next week.

Sasha explains the consensus on the main functions of sleep to the Upstart team. More on this next week.

Strategy for Scepticism: How can you avoid being tricked?

Check for Substance. First of all, don’t accept unsubstantiated claims e.g. “WE ONLY USE 10% OF OUR BRAIN”. If the author has put in enough time to research or experiment on the brain/nervous system, chances are he/she will talk about the methodology of his/her hard work at least a little.

Definitive statements are unlikely to be true most of the time - owing to the complexity of our brain and nervous system, we can never be too hesitant to call A the definite cause of B.

Check for published scientific articles:  If you read something that interests you enough, and inspires you to discuss it with someone, it shouldn’t be too much of an effort to read the abstract of a research paper and check it comes from a reliable source. An established journal is your best bet for reliable neuroscience - think Nature, Science, Cell and the likes.

Remember This

Remember, authors who claim their findings to be neuroscientific could be lying (intentionally or not) about either just the ‘neuro’ part or both the ‘neuro’ and ‘science’ parts. Check the facts and be shrewd about what you read - in this time of fake news, don’t be the one to fall into the trap and spread spurious science!