leadingbrains Knowledge

The brain is fascinating but unfortunately public knoweldge of the brain is massively lacking and often badly simplified. Here we give you an overview of the brain and how this knowledge can be applied to different aspects of business and life.

The biology of the brain

The brain and behaviour

Brain health

Leadership and the brain

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The Science of the Brain to Inform Individuals, Leaders & HR

We believe passionately about using the most recent advances in neuroscience to guide our decisions, leadership training, and all things behaviour. Obviously there is also a rich body of work in other behavioural sciences which we are passionate about consolidating. Neuroscience, however, brings a certain clarity and increases the value of behavioural information, gives fascinating, insights, and sometimes counter-intuitive facts.

brain

We understand the science of the brain. Read on…

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We understand the behavioural sciences. Also read on…

ORGANISATIONs

We understand organisational science. Please also read on…

This knowledge base is designed to give a simple overview of the brain – we believe there is little consolidated information out there that gives enough information in simple forms but does justice to the complexity of the human brain. 

The following page is structured in sections and each section has simple descriptions on the left with some glimpses into the complexity on the right.

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Brain Knowledge Coming Up!

 

BIOLOGY OF THE BRAIN

The building blocks of your brain

How is your brain built, how does it operate, what makes it do what it can do.

Brain Cells (Neurons)

What you need to know

The more complex stuff

The building blocks of your brain

Neurons are quite simply considered the building blocks of your brain. They are certainly where the electrical transmissions happen.

You have about 85 billions of these spread over your brain, organised into different layers and columns.

Communication between neurons happens through chemicals, called neurotransmitters, these pass from one neuron to another and stimulate an electrical wave that passes down the neuron. If strong enough this releases further chemicals.

There's neurons and there's neurons

Neurons actually come in many shapes or forms and can be categorised in different ways: 

1. By their shape – there are big ones (e.g. pyramidal) and small ones (e.g. spindle) – there are ones that connect one-way, or two-way. Some have hundreds of connections some have thousands. Some connect to their next door neighbours only, others connect across the whole brain. 

2. By the chemicals they process – not all chemicals in the brain activate all neurons – some are part of distinctive chemical pathways and are named after these (e.g. dopaminergic neurons that respond to and release dopamine). 

Connections

The connections

Your brain cells connect to each other through so-called synapses. These do not touch but communicate to each other through release of chemical transmitters. 

These bridge the small gap and dock into the next synapse to potentially trigger another response. 

These connections can grow stronger with time, or weaken with time. This is a main basis of what is called neuroplasticity. The ability of the brain to adapt to new situations, to learn, and to “grow”. 

The classic quote in neuroscience is “what fires together wires together”. 

When you learn something you have basically built new connections in your brain – the reason learning is slow at times is your brain needs to build the connections.

 

There's connections and connections

For a transmitter to trigger a reaction there must be receptors for the transmitter to dock into. These are mostly driven by genetics. No receptors, no response.  

Additionally, your synapses reabsorb the transmitters to reuse them. Some drugs block this process so that the transmitters hang around between the synapses longer (Ritalin, for example, is a dopamine reuptake inhibitor). 

The connections you build can also deactivate through lack of usage – they may however, still be present and be able to reactivate again at a later date – I hope this is what has happens with my French!

There are multiples different types of synapses and dozens of receptor types – through the main ones account for the majority of transmission in the brain.

Networks

Your brain is white - Networks

We often talk about white matter and grey matter – grey matters is actually pink but becomes grey in preserved brains as the blood cells lose their colour. But what is the difference?

Pink matter as can be seen above is the thin outer layer, and some internal regions, where the neurons themselves sit. The white matter are the axons (the arms) of neurons connecting to other regions (but mostly to internal regions. it is white because it is covered in a fatty membrane known as a myelin sheath. This insulates the electrical impulses and speeds up transmission.

The whole lot of white matter is a whole lot of connections. The brain works as a unit of connections not just simple neurons. 

You are your connections - kind of

Computer animations show sexy pictures of neurosncs connecting. In real life it is a complex mush of a myriad of connections. Like highly compressed miniature spaghetti strands.  

Many critical networks have been identified and they have specific names. Recent large scale scientific work has and is attempting to identify all these networks.

The connectome is a project to map all connections in a mouse brain with over 100’00 volunteers working on this.

One way to think of it is “you are your connectome” – the connections reflect your natural pathways and all the learnt impulses you have been exposed to in life. This is a gigantically, humungously, complex thing to decipher.

Brain Regions

The brain can be divided and described in many different ways. We will show you the most common:

The Hemispheres

If there is an area of neuroscience that has entered the popular realm and been completely misunderstood, oversimplified, and dangerously portrayed, it is this area. Please also see our blog for a bit more understanding.

Your two brains

One thing that is obvious when we look at the brain is that it is clearly split into two with minimal overlap between the two hemispheres. Obviously nature built it this way for a reason.

The two hemispheres are connected by a bundle of nerves called the corpus callosum. In the 1970s surgical procedures cut through this bundle to reduce severe epilepsy and this lead to research into these so called split-brain patients – famously by Sperry. The results were intriguing, fascinating, and mind-boggling at times and then led to a whole bunch of theories around left-brained or-right brained personalities.

Most of this, we now know is, to be frank,  junk.

No nature isn’t playing jokes on us – there are two hemispheres for a reason and the truth is just as fascinating as the simplified versions, but in a different way (read our blog for more and see column to the right here).

So why two brains?

As we said, it is obvious we have two brains. One obvious function is to manage separate parts of our body. Why this is crossed over is anyone’s guess i.e. the left part of the brain controls the right part of the body and vice versa.

McGilchrist has written the best-formed interpretation and analysis of the hemispheres and you can watch a fun and interesting short animated video here.

Simply, we need two forms of attention that can operate together and in parallel. A more vague, holistic version, think of scanning the horizon. And a focused part, think of concentrating on a deer. The focused part needs to be able to focus, and the scanning part needs to stay active to be able to scan for other stimuli, for example, a bigger deeer, or a tiger coming to attack us.

So our two brains have different functions which are only vaguely correlated to the clichéd left vs. right brain.

The right is general and holistic, and the left is focused and specific. And, yes, there are some functions that sit specfically in the left or right hemisphere, though most complex functions such as language, mathematics, and creativity use both hemispheres.

The Cortices

The brain is often split into large regions called cortices. These regions are “responsible” for large groups of functions.

Your Cortices

 The so-called localisation theory lies at the roots of neuroscience early researchers in the 1800’s noticed that patients with certain damage to the brain (revealed after autopsy) exhibited certain disorders e.g. lack of speech or movement. These are known as:

Occipital Lobe: at the back of the brain and primary visual processing centre

Temporal Lobes: at the sides of the brain and involved in memory, emotion, hearing, and language.

Parietal Lobes: over the top of the brain and house the main somatosensory cortex which processes touch and bodily movement.

Frontal Lobes: are considered, amongst others, our “executive” centre and are involved in decision-making, problem-solving, and planning.

More "cortices" and functions

This description to the left is a simplified version and the terms are used by neuroscientists when speaking of broad locations. They are also missing some other obvious regions:

The cerebellum the bulge sticking out of the bottom of the brain mainly held accountable for coordination and fine motor control (and holds the most neurons in the brain!).

The brain stem which is considerd key for many simple survival functions.

The primary motor cortex a band over the top of the brain is often cosnidered a separate area.

The insula cortex – which looks like a small brain engulfed within the brain and responsible for receiving bodily feelings.

Still building…

Check back next week

We’re rebuilding this bit by bit. Last updated 11th June 2020. 

Check back on 16th June for more. You can also subscribe to our newsletter for more information or trot along to our blog for more reading.

 

BRAIN & BEHAVIOUR

You brain and what you do and why

Check back next week

We’re rebuilding this bit by bit. Last updated 11th June 2020. 

Check back on 16th June for more. You can also subscribe to our newsletter for more information or trot along to our blog for more reading.

BRAIN HEALTH

How to keep your brain healthy

Check back next week

We’re rebuilding this bit by bit. Last updated 11th June 2020. 

Check back on 16th June for more. You can also subscribe to our newsletter for more information or trot along to our blog for more reading.

NEUROLEADERSHIP

Behavioural science and HR expertise

Check back next week

We’re rebuilding this bit by bit. Last updated 11th June 2020. 

Check back on 16th June for more. You can also subscribe to our newsletter for more information or trot along to our blog for more reading.

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