Assignment: Studying the Brain

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Assignment: Studying the Brain

Assignment: Studying the Brain

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Assignment: Studying the Brain

Tyrone was riding in the front passenger seat of his roommate’s car when the driver lost control of the car on an icy road. The car slid off the shoulder of the road and collided with a guardrail. Because he was not wearing a seat belt, Tyrone was thrown forward in the impact, and his head struck the dashboard with intense force. For several minutes, Tyrone was unconscious, although he was able to respond to rescue workers when they arrived to transport him to the hospital. He was released from the hospital in seemingly good health, but he began to develop some troubling symptoms within a couple of days. For example, he began to accuse his roommate of stealing his clothes and money. Then he became convinced that his girlfriend was cheating on him. When he attacked a stranger at a local shopping center because the stranger nodded and smiled at Tyrone’s girlfriend, Tyrone was placed in the care of a neurologist (a physician who specializes in the treatment of brain disorders).

The neurologist ordered scans of Tyrone’s brain, which indicated an accumulation of fluid within his brain, a condition known as hydrocephalus. In rare cases like Tyrone’s, hydrocephalus can produce paranoia, delusions, and violent behavior (Bloom & Kraft, 1998). He was referred to a neurosurgeon, who inserted a very thin tube into Tyrone’s brain to allow the excess fluid to drain out of the brain. The reduction in fluid within his brain eliminated Tyrone’s symptoms, and he was able to go back to a normal life.

An accidental bump to his head caused fluid to build up within Tyrone’s brain, changing his behav- ior in a disturbing manner. Modern brain imaging and surgical techniques helped restore Tyrone to health. An impressive body of research involving the brain and behavior has enabled scientists and practitioners to develop techniques that permit diagnosis and treatment of a wide variety of disorders that affect the brain. However, since the dawn of humankind, people have sustained head injuries or developed brain diseases, and there is amazing evidence that the earliest humans tried to treat those unfortunate victims of accident and disease.

Take a close look at Photo 1.1 below. This is a skull of one of the native people from South America, estimated to be thousands of years old. You will notice a large hole where the skull has been punc- tured by sharpened stones in a procedure called a craniotomy. What’s more, there is evidence that many of the “patients” who received this crude, prehistoric sur- gery lived weeks, months, or even years following the craniotomy, or skull incision.

It is not known why craniotomies were performed, since these crude surgeries were conducted before the advent of written history, so the story behind them has disappeared. Anthropologists have speculated that craniotomies were performed to permit the escape of evil spirits. Perhaps the person was depressed, psychotic, or physically ill, and the local medical practitioner performed the craniotomy in a ritual meant to draw out the evil spirit that was causing the distress (Stewart, 1958).

Kjell B. Sandved/Science Source

Photo 1.1 Although it is clear that craniotomies were the first form of brain surgery, we are unsure exactly why they were performed. What do you speculate the ancient peoples were trying to do?

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