Seung’s discussion of brain size as a predictor of autism, schizophrenia, and other various mental disorders has me thinking about ways we can screen out neuropathology and if it is even ethical to do so. Brain imaging can identify the functional and structural differences in people with various neurological deficits (e.g. MRI has shown that schizophrenics have larger than normal lateral ventricles, reduced hippocampus size, etc) and genetic counseling is used screen for certain illnesses like Huntington’s Disease. How far should we take the advances in technology – would you want to know if you were going to have a neurological or mental disorder? Should these services be used in preventative care – for instance, should insurance companies make it compulsory for people to get screened for brain abnormalities in order to avoid complications related to their disorder? Should we write this into policy? Also, a link for your perusal: http://investing.businessweek.com/research/stocks/private/snapshot.asp?privcapId=31370
I have also been feeling a little sluggish lately and desperately wishing for a means of acquiring a “mental tune-up.” Our discussion in class concerning “smart drugs” made me wonder about the implications of intellectual doping, so to speak. I have mostly ignored the flashy lines of “smart drugs” at the health food market store and taken to ingesting more choline (whoo hoo! Glenn Lab, aren’t you proud? Eggs, milk, and sausages for breakfast every morning!) First of all, how would these drugs even work? Increased brain metabolism, depression inhibitors, increased blood circulation? Second, what if we did find a means of increasing the intelligence of our population as a whole? Is this necessarily a bad thing? New cures for diseases would allow us to save a fortune in healthcare costs. Third, what are some kinks that we might run into as we are testing this? How do we tweak apart increased cognitive capacity from increased motivation, especially in the rat model? (Glenn Lab techies, feel free to chime in right now!) For instance – what if a cognitive enhancer also affected satiety and appetite…wouldn’t hungry rats run mazes faster than sated rats? Also, what does increased intelligence mean in terms of personality change and self-identity? Other than amping up our swagger, could that have other consequences on our work ethic, ability and patience to empathize with the limitations of others, our cautiousness and efforts to approach things in a calm, measured way?
Just some questions to chew over, like the choline-infused meat I am currently eating for breakfast!
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To respond to your question on how to tease apart cognitive ability vs. hunger-fueled motivation in the rat model — there are cognitive tests that don’t utilize food rewards (object recognition!), but that’s not to say all rats are equally motivated to complete those tasks, either. Especially after a few rounds of the same test, it seems that some rats just get bored!