On the third day of the Germany conference, we attended the speech of Professor Manfred Spitzer, who studied medicine, philosophy, and psychology at the University of Freiburg in Southern Germany. In Harvard university, he accomplished three research fellowships in Neurobiology, Psychology, and Psychiatry. He is a regarded speaker in both German and English, as well as being vastly published for his works in psychiatry, learning, and neuroscience.
He began his speech by showing us an image, representing the same neuron of a dog over a period of time, in three pictures. He asked us what we saw. I was not sure what he meant, because I had perhaps seen this once or twice in my life, however he then added red and blue arrows to the image, showing changes in the neuron. He explained to us that the red arrows represented the synapses that were gone, while the blue ones pointed the new ones, also referred to as connections. In consequence, he said that if the existing connections were not used, and trained, they would disappear. From what I understood, an example which would fit this case, is the learning of a new language, because as you learn, new connections form in the neurons.
“You don’t have a brain, you are your brain,” is what Professor Spitzer explained when speaking about it. He further explained himself, by saying that you can get transplant of a heart, kidney, or even a liver, and it won’t change you. You will have another person’s organ functioning in your body, however your self will not be changed. However, the brain is everything that makes you, and so that it why he considers it as a person being its own brain. He explained that the way the brain learns the most, is by itself, for instance when a baby learns to walk, or speak. The major things you know have been self-taught. In addition, he added that the brain learns best at an early age, due to the fact that it is extremely fast at the youngest ages. He explained that the brain was so efficient at the early age, that it could rewire itself to adapt. He talked about the case study of a young girl, who had half of her brain removed. Her brain rewired itself, and adapted to the case, and she did not even see the difference. Although her language sensor was gone, she could speak two languages fluently. The speaker said that the myth of having a brain without space for more storage anymore was nonsense. When speaking of the brain adapting, he said that if a young child were to have eye sight problems, the parents should patch his weak eye an hour a day until age five, to ensure that the brain uses the eye, and does not ignore it. He accentuated the fact that the more you learn, the more you will be able to learn. However, he did say that if you do not learn much by the age of 25, such as a second language, you are more likely to fall in dementia.
He spoke a lot about stress and the causes of it. He defined stress as being a subjective feeling which you cannot do anything about, because of total lack of control. Not knowing what stresses you, is the very source of that stress. When “multitasking,” which is actually impossible, you become less effective and so your stress level rises. True multitasking would be the action of “following two strings of information” at once. For instance, listening to two people speaking, reading two books, or watching two films. The speaker said that “company buffers stress,” and so being with family, friends or other people can reduce it. Stress can be accentuated with loneliness. In fact, the greatest killer, is loneliness.
He explained that as humans, we were meant to live together, in company, which explains why being alone is a cause of stress. There are colors associated with stress, and also with creativity. Red is associated with anxiousness, and blue or green is associated with creativity. When anxious, you are more attentive to small details, you pay more attention. Which makes sense because stress is like a button, as explained by the professor, which maxes out energy, cardio, and brain. While it decreases digestion, growth, immune defense, and reproduction. In fact, he said that every time he takes the plan, he wishes the pilot is in depression and has anxiety, as he will be more likely to be careful with small details. On the other hand, a study was made which was meant to see the effect of nature on creativity. The outcome of it, was that people who had been walking in nature, were much more creative than those who had walked indoors. In fact, nature decreases stress levels.
The doctor spoke of the effect of technology on the learning outcome for students. The more sophisticated a textbook is, the less likely the student is to remember the content. He explained that the use of technology in class considerably decreased the effectiveness and success of students. In addition, he mentioned that typing your notes, was not as well remembered by the brain as hand writing it. Making the physical effort to write, helps the brain learn better.
In summary, the speech was about the learning process of the brain, the outcomes of stress with the way to reduce it, and the effect of technology on learning. When talking with many people during the conference, they said they had not enjoyed it much, however, I thought it was such an amazing talk, which taught me so much in such little amount of time. It truly made me think about it, and I now feel more aware and keen about psychology.
Raphael A, IB1