Stressed neurons are clumpsy dropping the memories you need

cortisol shooting down neurons carryig memoriesWhen you’re studying for that test or exam, the objective is to get the little neurons in your pre-frontal cortex, to remember all those pesky “facts”.

The more these guys can hold it together, the better you tend to do in an exam setting. The trouble is, there are only so many of these little guys and they are really sensitive.

This week’s Neurotechnology Tip, reminds you why you need silence, both physical and emotional, to perform at your best.

Loading up your working memory

Exam success is about having access to all those important bits of information, in the moment.

So in the moment, you need to be able to delve into the deep recesses of your brain and pull out the relevant bits, so they are sitting in the area of your brain known as working memory. Once in the working memory, you can actually use them.

NOTE : You are going to have lots of trouble if the bits have not actually been moved into long term memory, in the first place. This is why, you absolutely need to get some sleep the night before you write an exam ! And the major benefit of not leaving all your studying to the last minute.

Holding patterns

Unfortunately working memory is a finite space. Some people are blessed with more capacity than others, but it can’t hold EVERYTHING.

The way that it works, each neuron can hold something. But it can only hold one thing at any given time.

So, when all the neurons are busy (which doesn’t take too long) – the only way a new thing, can be made available in the working memory, is to drop something else.

Accidental dropping is the problem

For the most part, the neurons manage to hold onto the information they have been assigned. They do this by continuously firing and re-firing, at very short intervals.

Well, as long as the environment is relatively peaceful.

But when you are stressed, all hell tends to break loose in the prefrontal cortex, because cortisol, a really disruptive force, arrives on the scene.

Cortisol fires off bullets, as the neurons run for cover, it is hard to keep holding onto a memory when you’re dodging for cover.

And in a flash – the vital piece of information is gone, as it slips out of the reach of the freaked out neuron. Sometimes this is a good thing, because you end up forgetting the bad stuff, but in a learning context, it is bad to forget stuff.

Jumpy neurons are all fingers and thumbs

Psychologists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have been able to eaves drop on the process, by watching individual neurons in the prefrontal cortex of rats, running a maze.

When things are peaceful – the neurons are pretty efficient as holding the maze map, 90 % of the animals managed to get to the other side and retrieve the “prize”, a chocolate chip.

But when the researchers apply loud noises.

The neurons start jumping, frenetically firing off, as new stimuli bombard them. The end results – the rats lose their way, only 65 % of the rats make it out, EVENTUALLY.

Noise freaks out human neurons

Ssssssssssssssssssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh !

Your working memory needs QUIET to hold all that info.

NB. Quiet is not just the absence of physical noise, it encompasses the lack of psychological noise, as well.

Stress-Induced Impairment of a Working Memory Task: Role of Spiking Rate and Spiking History Predicted Discharge. PLoS Computational Biology (2012) 8 (9): e1002681 Devilbiss DM, Jenison RL, Berridge CW.

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

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Further reading

the benefit of having a water bottle during an exam wakeful resting brain learning under stress

If you’re about to sit an exam, have a water bottle on stand-by

Navel gazing – a no work strategy to help you remember more Why does nothing stick when you’re stressed out

The 7 Big Spoons™…. are master switches that turn health on.

balance eicosanoids rein in insulin dial down stress sleep vitamin D microflora think
Balance Eicosanoids Rein in insulin Dial down stress Sleep ! Increase Vit D Culivate microflora Think champion

Hire Dr Sandy from a Spoonful of Science to be the keynote speaker at your next event.

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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  2. By » Blog Archive » Round up 19 Nov – 23 Nov on November 23, 2012 at 10:55 am

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