Did you know that dolphins sleep on one side of the brain at a time, and that the two hemispheres take turns sleeping while the other is awake to control swimming and breathing? Or that cells in biology labs where the lights are on all the time can get jet-lagged? (“I’m so tired… It’s been day for 3 months!”) Or that there’s a fairly strong relationship between happy mood and increased activity in the left prefrontal cortex? I was having an amazing day a couple days ago, and I thought to myself that my left prefrontal cortex must really be tickled with all that happiness.
When people ask how classes are going at UC Berkeley, I frequently find myself talking about psychology. Psychology is incredibly fascinating, and it’s fun talking about the brain, emotions, or social interactions. As psychology covers a wide breadth of processes, from memory and learning to emotional regulation to developmental psychopathology to cognitive disorders, I appreciate that UC Berkeley offers classes across a variety of domains.
The content of some of my psychology classes have made for vibrant dinner conversations. For example, in biological psychology this semester, we learned about the “Jennifer Aniston” neuron in the inferior temporal cortex that only fires in response to pictures of Jennifer Aniston. In neuropsychology, we learned about neglect, an intriguing phenomenon where patients with lesions in the right temporal parietal junction lose awareness of the left side of their world, and subsequently only pay attention to visual, auditory, and somatosensory information presented on their right side. They only draw on the right half of the page and some of them only eat food on the right side of the plate or shave the right half of their face. In a human emotion class I took last year, we learned that people who engaged in social sharing and wrote about emotionally significant issues showed improvements in immune function and were significantly happier than control participants three months later. We also learned that positive moods enable us to think in more flexible, creative ways that enhance our perspectives, novel ideas, and learning.
Psychology events at UC Berkeley have proved equally interesting and rewarding. A couple weeks ago in November, the Department of Psychology organized a series of talks for “The Man and the Maze,” an event in honor of Edward Tolman, for whom the campus’s Psychology and Education building is named. Many notable psychologists spoke about their research and innovations in the field. I attended the featured talk by Edvard Moser, a 2014 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, and listened to him share about his groundbreaking research on hippocampal and entorhinal representations of place and time. We’d discussed the Morris Water Maze task in my neuropsychology class a couple weeks earlier, and it was exciting then hearing Dr. Moser share about his most recent work on grid cells and speed cells.
I have really enjoyed how many of the concepts I learn in class are applicable to current research and everyday phenomena. They have enriched my understanding of how I relate to other people and interpret some situations. I am looking forward to even more psychology classes next semester—Psychology of Human Happiness and Psychology of Language Acquisition!