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What does the brain actually do?

In the videos and papers this week, we explore the role of biological factors in the development of mental health problems.
So this week, we’re going to focus particularly on biological and neurological accounts of mental health and human behaviour. Because every thought we ever have, every action, every emotion we ever feel involves activity in the brain, it’s very tempting to look to the brain to explain human behaviour. And in particular, it has proved very attractive to people to look to neurological accounts of social problems, of mental health problems, and other difficulties, such as anti-social behaviour. Our work within the larger longitudinal study is to determine if early life stresses can interact with our genome to bring about different levels of neurotransmitter usage that effects the neurochemistry or biochemistry in our brain. Life events definitely impart upon how we develop.
And there’s a large literature, in both psychology and psychiatry, documenting those events. Maybe for the last 10, 15 years, we’ve
been trying to understand how those life events, by a chemical level, can effect brain structure and brain function. And I suppose that comes down to how those life events change neurotransmitter regulation in the brain. So the question would be how does the neurotransmitter variability effect the biochemistry, a structure of connections in the brain, that lead a person to have negative thoughts about themselves. So from a chemical point of view, that seems fairly straightforward, I think. This is important material.
If the people who are responsible for commissioning and delivering mental health services, for instance, believe that mental health problems can be explained in terms of problems with the brain, then it is likely to be the case that they’ll suggest or commission or provide services or interventions or treatments that target the brain. So people with mental health problems are therefore likely to receive medication or even treatments like electroconvulsive therapy. If the brain is seen as the origin for the mental health problems, it’s likely to be the case that people will try to treat problems that lie within the brain.
If some of this material is quite new to you, there’s an excellent website hosted by the New Scientist magazine that goes into some of the psychology, neuropsychology, and neuroscience of the way that the brain functions. And you can find a link to that website just below this video on the FutureLearn platform.

In this week’s videos and papers we discuss the role of biological factors – nature – in the development of mental health problems. We hear again from Professor John Quinn, who outlines some ways in which neurotransmitter activity affects our moods, and is itself affected by events.

To understand at least a little of how biological factors influence our mental health and well-being, you’ll need to read the papers and scientific journal articles (unless you’re already an expert).

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Psychology and Mental Health: Beyond Nature and Nurture

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