Too much stress can cause a brain freeze

the inverted u of learningThis week’s Neurotechnology Tip squirrels a little advice from mother nature on surviving the stresses of academia.

Baby squirrels need to learn quickly

Baby squirrels need to develop street smarts real quick, if they want to grow up to be big squirrels so for them learning is not an optional extra but a necessity.

The learning curve kicks in around week 4. By this time, mom’s kitchen has officially been closed and lying in a warm cozy burrow all day will mean STARVATION.

The trouble is, emerging into the big bad world is REAL dangerous, everything is out to eat you.

Odds of surviving quite low

Fortunately, squirrels are gregarious creatures, so the adventures above ground are pretty communial.

200+ pups, pop out to find their first meal around the same time. Of course, 200 pups are a potential meal for quite a lot of predators, so not everyone makes it back.

30 % of baby squirrels end up being someone else’s dinner.

So who survives ?

Researchers from the University of Chigago manipulated the cortisol levels in baby squirrels and discovered, learning depended on having just the right amount of the hormone produced in response to stress.

Those with too little and those with too much struggled to make it through a maze to locate hidden munchies.

Cortisol levels did not only affect the navigating abilities of baby squirrels, it also impacted on how quickly they responded to danger. When the researchers simulated a bird flying over the maze those with too little cortisol, failed to take the threat seriously and hung around for longer. Those with too much just stood transfixed to the spot – waiting to be gripped between the talons of the monstrous bird.

Squirrel learning an inverted U

What is good for squirrels is probably good for humans as well. You need to get your stress levels just right.

Too low and you’re not taking your studies seriously which could bite you in the backside.

Too high and you’re a freaked up bag of nerves so you cannot think straight.

Manage your stress

The too little problem is more likely to happen earlier in the academic year, when you view school as a social event but for those of you in the Southern hemisphere, it is highly unlikely this is the problem now.

Right now you’re more likely to have flipped to the other side of the U. The cortisol levels are sky high. The result is nothing sticks, because the ability to acquire and retain memories is now somewhere close to zero.

Take a little Me time, NOW !

So this weeks tip, although somewhat counter intuitive, is take a little ME time, NOW ! Try to drop the cortisol levels a little so that you can get back in the zone where the brain is at its best.

Just want to point out I did say a little – you can’t now go and watch TV, chat on the phone or facebook until 10 o’clock tonight and then return to the books. This will be a recipe for disaster and is NOT what the doctor ordered. Set the alarm on the cell phone for 30 minutes of rest & relaxation and when it rings, pull yourself together and return to the books.

Cortisol’s role in ground squirrel survival skills provides clues to human learning.  University of Chicago Chronicle (2008) 27(12).  William Harms.
 

To wire up your brain a little each week ………………..

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Did you learn something new or do you have a different perspective ? I’d love to hear from you so post me a comment below…..

 
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  1. By » Blog Archive » Round up 26 Sept – 30 Sept on October 5, 2011 at 11:54 am

    [...] Too much stress can cause a brain freeze [...]

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