Bodies: the Exhibition Blog

When Anxiety Hinders Performance

Math problems are enough to sweat about for teachers and students, but new research has shown that early anxiety is often times associated with math. To be clear, math anxiety is more than just disliking math; someone with math anxiety feels negatively when engaging in activities involving numbers or math skills.

In a recent study, college students were asked to take a math test, and in some individuals, a high-stress response in the hypothalamus was triggered. Anxiety can literally shut off the working memory needed to learn and to solve problems, according to Judy Willis, author of Learning to Love Math.

When first presented with a math problem, a student processes the information through the amygdala, the brain’s emotional center, which then categorizes information going to the part of the brain for working memory and critical thinking. When stressed, there is more activity in the emotional portion than there is in the critical thinking portion of the brain. In non-stressful environments, students with more opportunities to learn within the math program had the highest performance, but in stressful situations, the same otherwise promising students performed poorly.

 Additionally, children are skillful at identifying what number in a series is bigger for example, but those with high math anxiety are slower and less accurate. Brain scans show that activity is different for children with low math stress doing the same tasks. Eugene A. Geist, author of Children are Born Mathematicians, works with math teachers to create classrooms free of stress. He advises teachers to teach their students to focus on learning math processes and less on relying on the correct answers to boost their confidence when faced with problems. [1]


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Do Teens have the Brain Power to Predict Success?

Gregory Berns and Sara Moore from the Center for Neuropolicy at Emory University have made a breakthrough in a phenomenon that has had us all scratching our heads: Why do certain songs get stuck in our heads?  They have concluded that the strength of brain activity in teens could predict which songs would sell over 20,000 copies and which songs would not as calculated by Nielsen Standards. Labs show that 90% of the songs that received a weak neural response sold fewer than 20,000 copies. [1]

Berns and Moore created a focus group of 27 12-17 year olds, an age bracket that makes up 20% of music consumers. The group listened to 120 songs from unsigned artists while a MRI was tracking their neural responses. The listeners rated the songs on a scale of 1-5 and at times, popular opinion did not match the positive neural activity. However, the brain activity showed that some songs were more rewarding to hear and these songs correlated with higher sales numbers.

The original intent of this study was to determine how peer pressure influences teen choices and opinions but happened to be a catalyst for a growing field of research. According to the Wall Street Journal, psychologists and economists are now using MRI scans to determine the automatic judgments people make, below the surface of awareness, that help shape decisions, including purchasing and political choices. [2]




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Life with a Visual Impairment

Many people can close their eyes and imagine what life would be like if they were unable to see, but actually having a visual impairment is not that simple. Those with a visual impairment usually have some kind of residual visual, even if it is not very useful. Perceptions of light, peripheral vision, or blurry vision are just a few things that may be different for a person with a visual impairment. Only one out of ten people with a visual impairment use Braille, while others use large font.

For a person with a visual impairment, mobility training begins as early as possible. At preschool age a child learns how to travel around their surroundings. As a child becomes older, they learn textures and positions, such as in front of or behind. From there, they learn to cross streets at busy intersections, ride buses, use compass directions, plan a route of travel, and shop or travel independently with the support of a guide, a cane, or an electronic machine.

Dialog in the Dark is an exhibition for people to experience life with a visual impairment. This hour-long experience involves visually impaired guides that lead visitors through daily environments in complete darkness. Textures, sounds, and scents become alive and are experienced in an entirely new way. Sense in the City was created to show New York City, the place of Dialog in the Dark’s newest exhibition, through the eyes of someone visually impaired. Take the test and see if you can see New York in a whole new way.




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Headaches: From Harmless to Severe

Headaches are extremely common and have been experienced by most people at one time or another. The majority of headaches are tension headaches, which are irritating, but harmless. It is rare that people experience headaches that can be associated with severe, potentially life-threatening, neurological diseases such as meningitis, aneurysms and brain tumors.

Symptoms are what set apart each type of headache, varying from harmless to extreme. Tension headaches are the most common because they are caused by stress and are not due to any type of nervous system disease. Migraine headaches are also common, but are unique in pain. This type of headache usually occurs on the side of the head and comes on as intense, throbbing pain in the temple, forehead, eye, or back of the head. Other symptoms of migraines include nausea and sensitivity to light and sound. Cluster headaches are very rare, but incredibly painful and oftentimes debilitating. They tend to occur in a cyclical pattern with periods of persistent attacks that can last for weeks or months. These periods are usually followed by a remission period, without attacks, that can last months or years.

The more severe headaches include meningitis headaches, which are caused by an infection in the space around the brain and spinal cord. In addition, cerebral aneurysms and subarachnoid hemorrhages are also potentially life-threatening headaches and are due to bleeding around the brain caused by a cerebral hemorrhage. Brain tumor headaches are incredibly rare, but are caused by a tumor that would form due to irritation of the membranes surrounding the brain.



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Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a chronic, inflammatory disease that attacks the central nervous system. The fatty myelin sheaths around the axons of the brain and spinal cord are damaged, leading to scarring. The beginning of the disease usually occurs in young adults, most commonly in women. In the United States today, there are 400,000 cases of MS, with 200 additional people diagnosed each week.

The ability for the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord to communicate is affected by MS. Nerve cells are able to communicate by sending electrical signals down axon fibers, which are insulated by myelin. With Multiple Sclerosis, the immune system attacks the myelin, leading to the axon’s inability to conduct effective signals.

MS takes on two variations of symptoms, which begin as neurological and progress to physical and cognitive disability. New symptoms can occur in discrete, relapsing attacks or slowly accumulating over time. They may be mild, such as numbness in the limbs, or severe, such as paralysis or loss of vision. Symptoms may disappear completely in between attacks, but the neurological problems will remain, especially as the disease progresses.

Currently, there is no known cause or cure to Multiple Sclerosis. Understanding what causes MS will be an important step toward finding more effective ways to treat it, cure it, or even prevent it from occurring in the first place. Treatment is available for three reasons: to return function after an attack, prevent new attacks, and prevent disability.




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Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal cord injuries are caused by a number of traumas to the spine. Anything from a car accident, fall, sporting injury, or assault can cause this type of injury. Minor trauma can also cause an injury to the spinal cord if the spine is already weakened. Direct injury can occur to the spinal cord, especially if the bones or the disks surrounding the cord have been damaged. Additionally, if the spine is broken, bone fragments can damage the spinal cord or if a person was in a car accident, metal fragments can cut the spinal cord.

Most spinal cord injuries occur in young, healthy individuals. Men ranging from 15-35 are the most affected, but the death rate is typically higher in younger children. Older people with Osteoporosis, especially those who are prone to falling or clumsiness, may be more susceptible to injuries to the spinal cord.

Paralysis or loss of sensation is a common side effect to an injury of this magnitude. The level of injury depends on the likelihood of a serious side effect, such as death if the breathing muscles become paralyzed or permanent paralysis. Injuries closer to the top of the spine are more likely to cause more serious side effects than those that are lower in the spine.

Recovery of some movement within one week of the injury is a good sign of recovering some or all functions, but it is possible that this could take up to six months. Losses that remain after six months are more likely to remain permanent.




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A Paralyzed Man Stands

Rob Summers, a 25-year-old man, has been paralyzed for the past several years. After being hit by a car, he lost all motor control in his legs but was able to use his hands and arms. Rob, an athlete, was determined to walk again and play baseball.

In December 2009, Rob underwent a surgery where electrodes were implanted in the lower part of his back to stimulate his spinal cord. Similar to a pace maker, the electrodes are attached to a pulse generator which was attached to a remote control outside of the body. The device was turned on for a few hours a day during therapy. After the third day of therapy, Rob was able to stand on his own, managing to support his own weight once the harness that was holding him was released.

According to the New York Times, this device is still in the experimental stage and has not been made available to more than a few patients. Researchers say, however, that this work is an important advance in technology because it shows that a small amount of electrical stimulation can unlock the spinal cord’s ability to control movement even if the signals from the brain have been corrupted.



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BODIES...The Exhibition, Offering a New Look at Our Human Body

A First-Hand Experience from our Guest Blogger Robbie


The human body is one of the most fascinating machines in the world. Despite the fact that it contains no metal or mechanical parts, the intricate systems that interact within the human body to allow us to walk, talk, and think make it perhaps the most amazing machine in the world.

Every individual that takes science courses in middle school and high school inevitably gets a basic introduction to the complex system that is the human body, but books can only show us so much. In 2005 Premier Exhibitions Inc. changed the way average people got to learn about the human body when they introduced BODIES...The Exhibition in Tampa, Florida.

The exhibit displays actual human bodies that have been preserved and dissected to show visitors all of the systems within the human body. It offers average people the chance to see how the intricate network of systems that keep their body running interacts with one another and how they are set up. Viewers are invited to take an inside look at the various systems of their body ranging from the skeletal and nervous system, to the circulatory and respiratory. There is even a portion of the exhibit that displays lungs damaged by years of smoking. The whole exhibit is enough to make anyone consider their own immortality and maybe even rethink their short term medical insurance!

BODIES...The Exhibition presents itself to viewers in several stages, with each room of the exhibit increasing the amount of the human system available for viewing. Viewers begin with a peak at the relatively simple human skeletal system. As they move from room to room, viewers will see more systems added into the displays including the muscular, nervous, circulatory, digestive, respiratory, urinary, and reproductive systems.

The exhibition doesn't stop at just simple science however, offering viewers a chance to see unusual sights that few have ever had the opportunity to view. As mentioned, there is a room in the exhibit where the damaged lungs of smokers are on display. On the way out of this exhibit there is a clear bin where smokers who have just viewed the exhibit are encouraged to abandon their tobacco products.

Perhaps the most controversial and intriguing portion of the exhibit is the room in which fetuses in several stages of development are located. Few people outside of doctors, even parents, understand the stages a fetus goes through during development and what it looks like during this process. No textbook could ever offer individuals the same insight into the development of a human being as this portion of the exhibit.

Despite the controversy that has surrounded BODIES...The Exhibition over the years, it is a unique opportunity to peek inside the human body to see firsthand how our bodily systems interact with one another to keep us moving and breathing.




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War Medics Through History

It used to be that if a soldier was wounded, he laid in the field where he had fallen without hope of being rescued. In 1862, Dr. Jonathan Letterman changed this by revamping the Army Medical Corps. He staffed and trained men to operate horse and wagon teams to pick up wounded soldiers and bring them back to field dressing stations for treatment. Considered the father of Modern Battlefield Medicine, Dr. Letterman created a 3-tiered evacuation system, which is still used today. The initial step is the Field Dressing Station, located next to the battlefield. Following this is the Field Hospital, otherwise known as MASH units, and finally the Large Hospital, for patients requiring prolonged treatment.

During World War I, millions of casualties had to be tended to, but the war could not stop to treat the wounded. The medics had to rush with the troops to find the wounded, stop their bleeding, and bring the soldiers to an aid station. Medics, at this time, were no longer expendable and were incredibly well trained. Training had become a priority medical care and medics. They had to learn how to be protected in the battlefield for themselves and their patients.

World War II had an 85% survival rate for a wounded soldier if they were treated within the first hour, which was three times higher than in World War I. Unfortunately, the medic’s red cross on their helmet became a direct target for snipers during WWII and the Korean War. The Korean War introduced helicopters, used for medics to bring soldiers from the front lines to the aid stations.

During Vietnam, the medic’s primary responsibility was to evacuate the wounded for treatment. Medics would continue to treat onboard helicopters while in route to the Large Hospitals. There was a 98% survival rate for soldiers who were evacuated within the first hour. The red cross was no longer worn as an emblem on the Medic’s helmets and they were now able to carry grenades and weaponry into the battlefield.

Today, there are several techniques for treating wounded soldiers in the battlefield. Doctors in the Air Force are now treating severely wounded soldiers with acupuncture, which is unconventional but cost effective. This is occurring en route from the battlefield for soldiers with brain injuries, severed limbs, burns and penetrating wounds. This method was invented in 2001 and now hundreds of military doctors are utilizing battlefield acupuncture.



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The Importance of Vitamin D

Rickets are defined as the softening of bones in children, due to the deficiency or impaired metabolism of Vitamin D, phosphorus, or calcium. Rickets can lead to fractures or deformity and is the most frequent type of childhood disease in many 3rd world countries. The lack of calcium in a child’s diet may lead to Rickets, which can be cause by severe diarrhea, vomiting, or severe malnutrition. While this can occur in adults, famine or starvation can lead to this during the early years of development. The adult version of this condition, Osteomalacia, is typically caused by the lack of Vitamin D in one’s diet.

Symptoms for Rickets include bone pain, dental issues, muscle weakness, susceptibility to fractures, and skeletal deformity. The primary cause of Rickets is the lack of Vitamin D, which is required for calcium to be absorbed by the gut. Sunlight and other UV light lets human skin cells convert Vitamin D to an active state, but in the absence of Vitamin D, dietary calcium is not properly absorbed. The result of this is Hypoalcaemia, leading to skeletal and dental deformities.

Treatment of Rickets includes increasing dietary intake of calcium, Vitamin D and phosphates. Other treatments include cod liver oil and halibut-liver oil, which are excellent sources of Vitamin D. Also, spending time in the sun each day and receiving ultraviolet B light can help in Rickets prevention. For those that do not have access to sunlight, a Vitamin D supplement can also be beneficial for Rickets prevention.



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