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The Rise of Machine Intelligence

* Originally published in the BNA Bulletin Autumn 2020 A Story of Mind and Machine Humans went from splitting stones to splitting uranium atoms. Our evolutionary journey is a mark of incredible intelligence that pulled us out of our caves and into the land, where we’ve built glittering empires of steel and glass. We've unfurled the limits of intelligence further than ever before. But in our journey to master Medicine, Science and the Arts, have we pushed the limits of intelligence too far beyond our reach; away from Mind and into Machine? Algorithmic Intelligence Advances in current machine intelligence come from reducing complex human behaviours into a series of steps. Algorithms connect these steps, mapping every input to an expected output. And it does so with revolutionary success. Some AI algorithms have identified new antibiotic molecules that show little resistance. Other algorithms have extended the reach of medical care that was otherwise limited by humans; powering robots in Wuhan to autonomously move around hospitals, cleaning wards and delivering food and drugs to patients. The doctor will see you now... These successes conjure imaginations of sentient robots outsmarting, outwitting and outperforming humans. However, the very term ‘artificial’ betrays that imagination. Intelligence generally seems to be a function of organic life, not of inorganic tools. It was Da Vinci’s mind, not his chisel which he skillfully employed, that was a mark of intelligence. AI, far from a future Frankenstein nightmare, is simply a tool at our disposal. Its “intelligence” stems from human interpretation of its data; making sense of the 0s and 1s and blurred pixels. A Grey Future This is not to diminish the impact of AI, which through data processing and pattern spotting, has already furthered our collective understanding. And there is little doubt machine intelligence will transform our lives in the future, accelerating our learning and understanding of the universe around us. But it will only do so on our command, written along our codes. The tighter we knit ourselves with technology, the starker the disparity between the two threads of mind and machine becomes. Future humans will not become obsolete because not all actions are reducible to black and white binary. Our highest level performance is found in the subtle grey. Ultimately, minds can be algorithmic but algorithms cannot become minds.

Dreams and cross-modal plasticity in the blind

Can plasticity of the occipital cortex explain the phenotype of dreams in the blind? What does the phenotype of dreams in the blind suggest about structural and functional changes in the occipital - “visual” - cortex of early blind (EB) individuals? In this essay I will describe some characteristics of blind people’s dreams, and then put forward cross-modal plasticity as a possible explanation for the differences between oneiric sensory elements in blind vs. sighted individuals. While sighted people experience mainly visual impressions in their dreaming life, most studies reveal that in the dreams of the EB auditory imagery is the most frequently experienced sensory modality, followed - in decreasing order - by tactile, gustatory and olfactory sensory components. Late blind (LB) individuals, instead, retain some form of visual imagery, and tend to experience more oneiric tactile impressions than sighted controls (SC), but they do not always have enhanced auditory imagery in their dreams (3-5, 9). The likely reason why LB individuals retain visual imagery is that, before they lost sight, their occipital cortex “got used” to processing visual information from the retina; later on, after blindness onset, this part of the LB brain can still produce visual impressions when stimulated, as in rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep. In the EB, instead, the occipital cortex could never specialise in visual processing, and therefore it fails to produce any kind of visual imagery (2, 5, 9). However, the occipital cortex of the EB has some extraordinary abilities that distinguish it from that of most LB and SC individuals. Only to mention auditory processing, several studies report that the occipital cortex of EB participants was activated during tasks such as sound localisation and detection of changes in auditory stimulation (6-8, 10). The unique features of the “blind visual cortex” could be underpinned by visual-auditory cross-modal plasticity. Simply put, in EB individuals the absence of visual stimuli may lead to the creation of new connections between the occipital cortex and areas of the brain involved in auditory processing, or to the unmasking of existing connections which are normally inhibited in the presence of vision (2). This cross-modal plasticity, which has been observed in blind moles (1), may also explain why auditory imagery is the most common sensory modality in EB people’s dreams. However, more research is needed to further elucidate the differences in dream phenotype between EB, LB and SC, and to understand the means by which the occipital cortex of the EB is reorganised to process non-visual sensory inputs. Bibliography: 1) Bavelier, D., & Neville, H. J. (2002). Cross-modal plasticity: where and how? Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 3(6), 443-452. doi:10.1038/nrn848 2) Burton, H. (2003). Visual Cortex Activity in Early and Late Blind People. The Journal of Neuroscience, 23(10), 4005. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.23-10-04005.2003 3) Christensen, J. A. E., Aubin, S., Nielsen, T., Ptito, M., Kupers, R., & Jennum, P. (2019). Rapid eye movements are reduced in blind individuals. Journal of sleep research, 28(6), e12866. doi:10.1111/jsr.12866 4) Kerr, N. H., Foulkes, D., & Schmidt, M. (1982). The structure of laboratory dream reports in blind and sighted subjects. J Nerv Ment Dis, 170(5), 286-294. doi:10.1097/00005053-198205000-00006 5) Kirtley, D. D., & Sabo, K. T. (1979). Symbolism in the dreams of the blind. Int J Rehabil Res, 2(2), 225-232. doi:10.1097/00004356-197905000-00005 6) Kujala, T., Huotilainen, M., Sinkkonen, J., Ahonen, A. I., Alho, K., Hämälä:inen, M. S., . . . Näätänen, R. (1995). Visual cortex activation in blind humans during sound discrimination. Neuroscience Letters, 183(1), 143-146. doi: 7) Kujala, T., Palva, M. J., Salonen, O., Alku, P., Huotilainen, M., Järvinen, A., & Näätänen, R. (2005). The role of blind humans’ visual cortex in auditory change detection. Neuroscience Letters, 379(2), 127-131. doi: 8) Liotti, M., Ryder, K., & Woldorff, M. G. (1998). Auditory attention in the congenitally blind: Where, when and what gets reorganized? Neuroreport: An International Journal for the Rapid Communication of Research in Neuroscience, 9(6), 1007-1012. doi:10.1097/00001756-199804200-00010 9) Meaidi, A., Jennum, P., Ptito, M., & Kupers, R. (2014). The sensory construction of dreams and nightmare frequency in congenitally blind and late blind individuals. Sleep Medicine, 15(5), 586-595. doi: 10) Weeks, R., Horwitz, B., Aziz-Sultan, A., Tian, B., Wessinger, C. M., Cohen, L. G., . . . Rauschecker, J. P. (2000). A positron emission tomographic study of auditory localization in the congenitally blind. J Neurosci, 20(7), 2664-2672. doi:10.1523/jneurosci.20-07-02664.2000


Hello everyone! We would just like to share an amazing webinar series called Braincast, created by Dr Sotiris Posporelis. From the neuropsychiatric complications of COVID-19 to mental health, there is a lot of exciting content on its way! Check out the link below:

What can giving MDMA to octopi teach us about human social behaviour?

Despite the human and octopus lineages being separated by 500 million years of evolution, we still share some similarities in the ancient neurotransmitter systems that form a key part of the way our brains work. In this time octopi developed several extra legs and humans went on to dominate the globe using just two, and on the way, we discovered several substances which can profoundly alter our brains’ neurochemistry. Neuroscientist, and lead investigator of the study, Dr. Gül Dölen from John Hopkins researches how neural functions can give rise to complex social behaviour. Octopi are not entirely dissimilar to teenagers in that they are generally extremely anti-social and solitary, with the sole exception of when they come together to mate. As she puts it, “During reproduction they are social for three minutes while they mate and then they go back to wanting to kill each other” (Octopi, not teenagers). Therefore, she and her team asked the interesting question of what is going on in the brain of an octopus during this switch. Despite sounding like something drunk university students might joke about at 3am, giving MDMA to octopi provided some unlikely insights into the ancient origins of social behaviour. To test the effects scientifically, the investigators took an established three-chamber paradigm used to study rats’ behaviour, and made it underwater. The octopus is given freedom to choose to spend its time in one of three spaces; an empty central room, one with an interesting object, or one with another octopus. When they put sober octopi put into this situation, they tended to spend significantly more time with the interesting object, in this case, an action figure. However, following a 10 minute bath in MDMA solution, they spent significantly more time in the chamber alongside the other octopus. However, the more interesting findings were in the qualitative differences in the way high octopi behave. The sober octopi generally avoided going near the other octopus, and when they did, contact was limited to a single-arm poke. However, when given MDMA, the octopus will engage in extensive ventral surface contact – a fancy way of saying it becomes more huggy. “They’re basically hugging the [cage] and exposing parts of their body that they don’t normally expose to another octopus,” said Dölen. They also displayed behaviours that, while not exactly the same as what you might find at a music festival, certainly reminiscent of them. As Dölen puts it, “Some were being very playful, doing water acrobatics or spent time fondling [a stream of bubbles]”. Others simply stretched out their arms and floated about. The study is severely limited by the fact that, unlike its appendageally blessed research participants, it had a single arm; there was no placebo arm within the study to compare the behaviour following administration of placebo between the two trials. However, it remains is hard to overstate how remarkable the fact that MDMA can have even vaguely comparable effects on an octopus and ourselves is. The nervous system of the octopus could hardly be more different than our own; roughly two-thirds of their neurones are located in their arms, which are thought to function semi-autonomously, rather than their central brain. MDMA acts by changing the levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin. This research therefore provides evidence for a more prominent role of basic neurochemistry in complex social behaviours, which is in contrast to the broad notion that behaviours in humans arise from nuanced circuitry at the systems level. Prof David Nutt, a world leading expert on the neuropharmacology of illicit drugs at Imperial College London, has suggested that this study may be yet another blow to anthropocentrism – the notion that humans are uniquely important within the universe – and other species could also have the capacity for complex social mechanisms such as emotion and empathy. “This just proves that this is not some peculiar human characteristic, it’s not even a mammalian characteristic, it’s a characteristic of brains,” he said. “It also shows that serotonin has a hugely important role in mediating social interactions right across species.” The scientific landscape is changing and illicit substances are offering unique and fascinating opportunities to examine questions at the forefront of scientific investigation. The fact that humans and octopi show similar responses to MDMA provides hope to future research using other animals to elucidate further neural processes as well as how these drugs might offer benefit to patients with different neurological and psychiatric disorders. What’s next? Giving weed to giraffes to study vertigo? Adderall to squirrels to study ADHD? There has never been a more exciting time to be a neuroscientist… Edsinger, E. and Dölen, G. (2018) ‘A Conserved Role for Serotonergic Neurotransmission in Mediating Social Behavior in Octopus’, Current Biology. Cell Press, 28(19), pp. 3136-3142.e4. doi: 10.1016/J.CUB.2018.07.061. Name: Tim Lawn Current occupation: Neuroimaging PhD student Email:

Year 3 Neuroscience Project Tips

My name is Kat and I have recently graduated from King's with a degree in Neuroscience. In my final year, I had to learn how to balance the responsibility of being the President of the Neuroscience Society, stay on top of my studies, and figure out how to write a dissertation for the first time. Below are some tips that have helped me to stay organised and achieve a high grade on my lab project. For a lot of students, starting research lab project is equally frightening and exciting. The dissertation you are required to write is different in content and style to anything you were asked to write in your degree. Below are some tips that I found helpful when writing my dissertation. Get in touch with your supervisor early. Once you are assigned your project, send your supervisor an email asking for a meeting before the start of the project. If they are unable to meet with you, ask for preliminary reading. Read publications related to your project (if available) before you start. Ideally, mark the parts you don’t understand and ask for clarification. There is no point in trying to appear smart/show off in front of someone who is an expert in that area. Regularly check in with your supervisor and always come prepared to the meetings. Always carry a small notebook with you, during meetings and lab work. Write down EVERYTHING. One thing that really helped me, was at the end of each day going over my notes, writing down the dates and exactly what was done for example (01.01.2021 Cut spleen samples, animal’s number X, Y and Z). Organise your study schedule around your work. If you have some space to do computer work in the lab building, work on your dissertation during the workday, in between lab work. I would advise to focus on your write up during the week, Monday-Friday and dedicate weekends to lecture revision and exam preparation. Together with your supervisor, come up with a write up plan. You only get one draft to submit. Ask your supervisor by when ideally, they would like to see your write up done. If possible, have your complete final draft done by the end of March, leaving April for exam revision (this is if your project is in Semester B, which is the case for Neuroscience students). Ask if you may practice your presentation in front of your supervisor or a colleague from the lab. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. If possible, attend lectures and conferences during your degree, bringing your scrap notebook with you to get an idea of what a project presentation looks like. Most importantly, be clear on what you are trying to achieve. Your project should tell a story. You should be able to explain what you did to a scientist in the same field, a colleague in your year and someone lacking science background. Do not worry if you don’t have the perfect results. Lab work can be tricky, and you have only three months to complete your project. Aim to carry out the lab work to the best of your abilities, but if you can’t produce results or your results don’t make sense, focus on explaining this in your discussion. The write up should show that you engage mindfully with the process, rather than simply going through the motions. Follow Kat on twitter @KasiaPlesniar

The Origin of Meditation

“There is no beautiful surface without a terrible depth. ” Perhaps one of Nietzche’s greater readings, the idea that in order to explore our own complexity, we must be willing to take a plunge into the unknown, confront the undesirable and find comfort in the unpleasant. For many, the art of meditation is a gateway to a peaceful state of mind, a vacation from the realities of life in order to uncover a higher form of realism. It is a process of training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts. However, the reasons for meditation vary just as the methods of its practise. In this series we will be exploring what meditation means, it’s origin, the scientific mechanism, and the validity of its use therapeutically to treat mental health disorders. Alan Watts describes the practise of meditation as a technique to join our minds with reality. “Most civilised people are out of touch with reality because they confuse the world as it is, with the system of symbols we have about the world we have in our mind” Constellations are patterns of stars that we grouped to help navigate through the darkness, but do they “exist” ? Are the bright wonders that light up the night sky as mythological creatures, shapes, and animals a reflection of reality? Why does 1 hour have 60 minutes, and one minute, 60 seconds? Our perception of reality is quite unique, for it is a compilation of thoughts, ideals and experiences specific to each of us. We are constantly thinking, planning, observing and learning. Even in silence, there is an internal chattering of the mind. With the development of technology, we may struggle to keep up with the now fast-paced work culture, possibly beginning to sense a lack of meaning. A lack of being fully present in the moment. Have we been fully alive, in body and mind? Is there more to uncover about ourselves? Sanjay Raturi says that, “If you want to open your eyes, close them.” Perhaps the answers we seek can only be found once we have looked inwards and grasped a true awareness of our thoughts and emotions. Many pursue this conscious effort of self-exploration through meditation. A common problem with definitions is that they automatically assign objectivity to words and concepts. It is, therefore, important to note that meditation can loosely be associated with various different techniques from breathing exercises to Tai Chi. Perhaps, it would be wiser to define it as an individual’s journey to their “source”, rather than the actions that we associate it with. Just as the word “medication” is associated with a healthy body, “meditation” may just be the process of restoring our minds to a natural state of health, i.e. the “source”. We see ideas of self-growth and awareness implemented into many historical practises of meditation. In the classical language of Buddhism, meditation is referred to as “bhavana” which means mental development or “Dhyana” which means mental calmness. In Ancient China, work produced by Laozi, a Chinese philosopher, described meditation practises as, “ Bao Pu” translating to “embracing simplicity”, and “Shou Zhong”, which roughly means “guarding the middle”. Despite the diversity in its practise, its meaning extends equally as far as the unexplored depth carried within us. It is why this age-old tradition has been passed down from one generation to the next, being embraced by almost every culture/religion in the world. In understanding its origins, we can provide purpose to meditative practises and therefore gain the true benefits from them. Pinning down the origin of meditation is tough, because there is no way to prove that these ideas had not existed long before they were written. Some even speculate that signs of the practise date back to the Neanderthals themselves. But, like all historical sources, there is only so much we can gather before we introduce bias! The earliest documented source of meditation is from the Hindu tradition of Vendatism in India, dating back to 5000BC-3500BC. These were wall paintings of individuals sitting in a meditative position with their eye’s half opened; presumably a form of meditation. According to the Vedic texts dating back to 1500BC, the true purpose of meditation is to connect to your “deep inner self”. Humans, as stated by the Vedic texts, are composed of the physical body, the inner faculty (which includes your mind, intellect and ego), and the deep inner self: a pure, unchanging source of consciousness, that holds the natural laws and knowledge that governs the world. It was believed that through meditation you slowly move from the outer realm of the body into the deep inner self. Only once you have discovered the deep inner self can you overcome inner duality and unite yourself with a transcendental reality. This was the path to a life of peace and simplicity. Strongly associated with the Vedic practise was the Hindu practise “Yogi”, which was the practise of meditating in caves. Interestingly, modern day yoga is believed to have originated from this spiritual practise of self-liberation and discipline. Therefore, we can begin to see how these ancient practises are still in many ways present in the modern day. Vedic Text The most popular association to meditation is Buddhism, despite the image of the Buddha meditating on a lotus leaf appearing years later. The Buddha took techniques from traditional Hindu practises, including meditative techniques from the Yogi’s, to form the mindfulness technique satipatthana. This can be translated to mean : “to keep attention inside”. Unlike the Hindu traditions, this practise is not emerged in transcendental beliefs or worship, but in spiritual awakening and enlightenment. There is a strong focus on transforming the mind, through developing clarity, peace, and awareness. These ideas were believed to have been developed in 6th century BC, and over the centuries they have spread and diverged into different lineages across Asia. Other worthwhile practises that emerged around the same century include Taoism, an Ancient Chinese tradition that focused on uniting the self with the “Tao”, or cosmic energy, and Confucianism, which focused more on morality and community. As well as having a deep-rooted history in various Asian practises, we can also see the practise of meditation in almost every existing religion. Christian mystics practised their own form of mediation by repeating words of prayer, while Sufis (Islamic mystics) practised contemplation and gazing in order to connect with God. It seems that the history of meditation has relations to a broad range of cultures and religion. However, it is interesting to consider how these practises have been incorporated into our modern- day culture, particularly in the West. Ideas of meditation started spreading to the West in the 1700s, when Eastern philosophical texts had been translated into European languages. However, these ideas were mainly discussed amongst philosophical scholars such as Voltaire and Schopenhauer, not yet being known for its therapeutic benefits. It was only around the 1960s that meditation started to be seriously researched, but even then, it was a topic brushed off by mainstream scientific researchers. In 1967, a Harvard Medical School professor Dr Herbet Benson found that those who meditated could lower their heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature voluntarily, something which scientists at the time believed to be impossible. He found that Swami Rama, one of the first yogis to be studied, could produce alpha, beta, and delta brain waves on demand, and could even remain conscious of his environment while in deep sleep. While meditation research was slowly growing in the scientific world, it became a very popular part of the “hippie culture”, popularised by the Beatles who used transcendental meditation to cope with fame. By the 1990s, meditation became a well-known practise, with books such as Ageless Body, Timeless Mind by Deepak Chopra, selling over 137,000 copies and the Bill Moyers TV specials Healing of the mind becoming increasingly popular. It had become a “Hollywood friendly” scientifically approved practise, preserving its popularity within our modern-day culture. While meditation has lost most of its spiritual connotations in the West, it has become of great scientific interest amongst researchers, particularly those investigating mental health. The teachings from centuries past can no longer be rendered “superstition”, which is why understanding them may benefit our personal definition of meditation, and even help us to practise it. That way, we can begin to see past the reality built within in our minds and live within the present. As Lodro Rinzler said, “It is no longer your spiritual friend saying you should try meditation… it’s your doctor.” I hope you enjoyed reading this blog post on the origin of meditation! Feel free to comment below, or email me at : In the next post, in my Meditation series, I shall be discussing the scientific research surrounding meditation, and the possible effects it has on the brain.

Balanced diet

Okay now this one can be pretty tough sometimes! We all love the occasional domino’s pizza or Nando’s! However try and not make fast food a habit. Remember healthy eating is not about cutting out food, but eating a balance. By doing this you can maintain a healthy weight and reduce health risks such as high cholesterol. It has also been shown to improve memory and alertness! Below are the benefits of a healthy diet, and tips on how to eat healthily 1. Maintaining a healthy weight ​​ An unbalanced diet can increase the incidence of obesity which is associated with chronic conditions such as cancer or heart disease A balanced diet free from processed foods contains a lot of plant-based products, usually rich in fibre. Fibre is known to help keep you fuller for longer. This is supported by a 2018 study that showed that a balanced diet containing fibre and protein leads to weight loss without using a calorie counter 2. Decreased risk of heart disease and stroke There is a long-standing association between coronary heart disease and trans fats. Trans fats is known to affect the balance between the two types of cholesterol in our bodies: ​ Low-density lipoprotein: This is often categorised as “bad”, and can built up in your artery walls High-density lipoprotein: Known as “good” fat, picks up excess cholesterol, and returns it to the liver. Fat deposits in the arteries can rupture and cause a blood clot, potentially leading to cardiac arrest. Research has shown up to 80% of premature heart disease and stroke can be prevented by increasing levels of physical activity and maintaining a healthy diet. 3. Reduced cancer risk Obesity is the cause of 13 types of cancer, so maintaining a healthy lifestyle through a balanced diet and exercise is very important. A study in 2014 found that diets rich in fruits, vegetables and fiber lowered the risk of colorectal and liver cancer. ​Phytochemicals in fruits, vegetables and nuts can act as anti-oxidants, which can protect cells from cancer-induced damage 4. Stronger bones and teeth Most of our bone growth occurs in childhood and adolescence. Therefore it is important to maintain our bone density during and minimise bone loss during adulthood. ​ A healthy diet containing the correct amounts of calcium and magnesium is important in strengthening our bones and teeth, preventing osteoporosis and osteoarthritis later on in life.


Mindfulness is the ability to be fully present in the moment; maintaining an awareness of your thoughts and surroundings. Below is a list of the benefits that come with mindfulness and how to practise it ​ 1. ​Increased awareness Mindfulness practice can help you become more aware of your thoughts. This can increase your capacity to deal with stressful situations and disempower negative feelings. Additionally, having an increased awareness of your surroundings and interactions with people can provide a greater appreciation for the present. This way you can be fully engaged in activities and conversations. 2. Reduced stress Mindfulness practice has been shown to reduce the activity of the amygdala, the primary centre for stress. This can improve emotion regulation during stressful situations allowing you to remain calm and find an effective resolution. A clinical trial by George Town University on the efficacy of a mindfulness program on patients with an anxiety disorder found a significant reduction in stress hormones and inflammatory signals when placed in stressful situations. Another study confirmed interleukin-6, a stress hormone, reduction following a mindfulness meditation program. In a review of 47 clinical trials on mindfulness meditation programs, it found “small improvements in stress/distress and the mental health component of health-related quality of life.” Overall, mindfulness practice can help you respond to stressful situations without having to initiate your stress response. 3. Better eating habits In practicing mindfulness you are more likely to make healthy food choices, because you begin appreciating the experience of food rather than restricting your diet. It also helps in recognising when you are hungry or full, which can help with maintaining healthy glucose and cholesterol levels. ​ Many studies have shown that mindfulness does not necessarily cause an automatic self-regulation in eating habits, but rather deliberative self-control in response to food stimuli A weight-loss study in the University of California studied the effects of mindfulness on weight loss in obese individuals ​ 194 adults were split into two groups, a control and a mindfulness intervention group, for 5.5 months. Both were given the same diet and exercise guidelines. It was found that after a year and a half, the mindfulness intervention group had lost 3.7 pounds more than the control. ​ Having an awareness of what you eat can, therefore, transform our relationship with food, and minimise health risks associated with unhealthy eating. How to practice mindfulness? Mindful breathing This is a form of meditation that helps you become more aware of your breathing. To do this ensure that you are in a quiet environment and sitting in a comfortable position. ​ Sitting cross-legged is the recommended position as it provides you with a stable base, but if this is not comfortable for you feel free to try something different. ​ Begin by taking a deep breath in, followed by a deep breath out, focusing your attention on sensations of the breath. It is completely natural for your mind to begin to wonder, so gently return your attention back to your breathing. ​ To make things easier you can set a timer before you begin this process. ​ The more you practice this form of meditation, the better you will become at maintaining a constant awareness of your breathe. Over time, you will also become more aware of your thoughts outside of the mindfulness practice ​ ​Mindful walks Sometimes our thoughts can be overwhelming, so taking a step outside for a quick walk can be a great way to relax our minds, especially through your local park/ woods. Really try to focus on your surroundings to develop a habit of awareness in the present. Start a journal Starting a journal can really help you find some clarity in your thoughts, giving you time to assess and evaluate certain situations and come to an effective solution. Journals are also a great tool for self-exploration, giving you an opportunity to reflect and ponder upon the layered meaning behind your thoughts. They can also be a great way of disempowering negative feelings, to help you feel refreshed and motivated. Mindfulness apps Smiling Mind Headspace Calm Stop, Breathe & Think Insight Timer


Exercise is a very good way of maintaining your physical and mental health. Below are some of the reasons why exercise can be beneficial and some tips on how to incorporate exercise into your daily routine 1. ​Improved mood ​​ Exercise has been shown to increase our brain serotonin and noradrenaline levels, resulting in an improved mood and reduced feelings of anxiety & depression. ​ Additionally, endorphins released during exercise reduce stress levels, helping to generate positive feelings. Intriguingly, there isn’t a length/intensity of exercise required to experience this: a study in 24 women who had been diagnosed with depression showed that exercise of any intensity significantly reduced feelings of depression. ​ The effects of exercise on mood change is not just short term. In a 2007 study, a series of randomized controlled trials comparing the efficacy of anti-depressants to exercise was conducted. ​ Adults with major depressive disorder were placed into 4 groups: supervised exercise, home-based exercise, antidepressant therapy or a placebo pill. After four months, patients in the exercise and antidepressant groups had reduced depressive symptoms than the patients on the placebo. 2. Improved sleep quality ​​ ​ Exercise has been shown to improve your quality and duration of sleep. ​ Exercising in the early morning /afternoon causes your body temperature rises, which can reset your wake-sleep cycle . ​ The post-exercise drop in body temperature can induce sleepiness later on during the day ​ In a 2005 study of men and women aged between 18 and 35 found that moderate- intense exercise for 150 minutes per week resulted in a 65% improvement in quality of sleep. ​ It is important to note that the increased cortisol levels, metabolism and body temperature may interfere with sleep if you exercise too close to your bed time. ​ Overall regular exercisers have an improved quality of sleep and experience less sleepiness during the day. It has also been found that regular exercise can increase your time in non-REM sleep. 3. Maintain a healthy weight Possibly the most popular benefit of exercise is of course for maintaining a healthy weight. ​ As most of us know, it is important to balance the energy we can consume with the energy utilised for metabolic processes. ​ Combining a healthy diet with exercise is a more effective way of keeping physically healthy, as exercise can increase our metabolism, and therefore how many calories you burn in a day. 4. Improved memory ​​ Studies have shown that increased exercise, specifically aerobic, can increase the hippocampual and pre-frontal cortex volume of your brain- regions associated with memory and reasoning. ​ This is because intense physical activity increases blood flow to the brain, stimulating neurone firing and cell growth. It also has an indirect impact on memory by improving our quality of sleep, and therefore memory consolidation. ​ It is important to note, however, that exercise has only been shown to benefit visuospatial and not verbal memory in young adults! Tips ​​​ Manage your expectations: Remember that you will not be at optimum fitness when you first start exercising, so do not feel discouraged if you tire out quicker than you expected! Some exercise is still better than none. Stick to a routine that works for you and slowly increase the intensity as you become fitter ​ Plan: It is easier to commit to regular exercise if you have a designated time for it. That way you can build momentum without having to juggle other commitments ​ Do an exercise you enjoy: There are plenty of exercises for you to try out, so trial a couple until you have found what works for you. For example, some people prefer running outside, whilst others prefer using the treadmill; what matters is what you feel most comfortable with doing! ​ Keep hydrated and make sure you stretch before exercising! Warm-up with dynamic stretches—active movements that warm and flex the muscles you’ll be using, such as leg kicks, walking lunges, or arm swings—and by doing a slower, easier version of the upcoming exercise. Remember to cool down too! ​


Most of us have had our fair share of all nighters, whether it be to binge watch our favourite shows, or to cram for an exam! However, continuous sleep deprivation is not compatible with the requirements of our bodies and dismissing our need to sleep can lead to a derailment from healthy functioning. Below are some of the effects of sleep deprivation and tips on how to improve your quality of sleep 1. Reduced concentration , cognition and memory · Lack of sleep has a significant effect on the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. This can lead to a reduced ability to reason and register emotions. ​ · While you are asleep, new neuronal connections are forged, which helps with memory consolidation. Lack of sleep reduces memory performance across all ages. ​ · In a study of medical interns working for over 24 hours, it was found that the number of serious medical errors made increased by 36%, when compared to interns who had slept. ​ · Sleep deprivation was a factor in some of the biggest disasters in recent history: the 1979 nuclear accident at Three Mile Island, the massive Exxon Valdez oil spill, the 1986 nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl. · ​Therefore lack of sleep can seriously impair your cognitive processes make it very difficult to learn efficiently. 2. Increased risk of heart disease and stroke · In long periods of rest, chemicals are activated to lower our heart rate and blood pressure. Lack of sleep increases sympathetic nervous system activity, which can lead to elevated blood pressure and therefore increased risks in cardiovascular diseases. ​ · In one study catecholamine levels were measured in 17 healthy males on two nights: undisturbed sleep and partial sleep deprivation. ​ · It was found that noradrenaline and adrenaline levels significantly increased upon nocturnal awakening, both of which are associated with increased heart rate and blood pressure. · ​According to Dr. Susan Redline, the Peter C. Farrell Professor of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School. "Sleep-deprived people have higher blood levels of stress hormones and substances that indicate inflammation, a key player in cardiovascular disease. Even a single night of insufficient sleep can perturb your system." While the exact mechanisms outlining the effect of sleep on the heart are not known, there is a strong relationship between sleep and a healthy heart. 3. Association with depression · There is a strong link between poor sleep quality and depression. ​ · We know that in many severe mental disorders, sleep deprivation is always a dominant symptom. In the past, when treating depression and other psychiatric conditions, insomnia was viewed as a symptom. However, recent studies have shown the relationship between sleep deprivation and depression to be more complex. ​ · It has been shown that sleep deprivation and depression feed on each other. Lack of sleep can increase the onset of depression, and depression worsens sleep deprivation. In fact, the neural networks associated with healthy sleep overlap with those associated with mental health. ​ · From multiple studies, insomnia has been seen to have the strongest relationship with depression. It has been shown that those with insomnia were five times as likely to develop depression than those without. ​ · Treating symptoms of sleep deprivation early on can help to prevent onset of mental health disorders in the future 4. Poor immune system · It has been shown that lack of sleep can reduce cytokine and antibody production, which can decrease the productivity of your immune system against infection and inflammation · Additionally, the increase in adrenaline, noradrenaline and other pro-inflammatory molecules inhibit the mechanism of integrins, a molecule which allows T-cells to kill virus infected / cancer cells. ​ · A 2 week study monitoring the effects of the common cold showed that those who slept less than 7 hours were almost 3 times more likely to develop a cold. ​ · In some cases, a lack of sleep also led to a breakdown of immune self- tolerance, triggering autoimmune diseases How to get a good nights sleep? ​ Try to have a regular sleeping pattern by getting in sync with your body's circadian rhythms. This way, you will wake up feeling more refreshed and energised. Avoid gadgets before bed: The backlit ‘blue light’ displays on TV's, phones and laptops can suppress melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone that usually helps to stimulate sleepiness, so you should try not to use these devices before you go to bed Avoid caffeine and minimise alcohol intake close to bed-time: Caffeine is a natural stimulant, which means that taking it before bed will prevent you from sleeping. Researchers have found that a moderate caffeine intake even 6 hours prior to sleep can greatly affect an individual's sleep quality. While alcohol is a depressant, it greatly reduces your quality of sleep, which is why it is not recommended to drink before bedtime. Take a hot shower/bath: Taking a shower or bath before bed will allow for a post-drop in body temperature, which can trigger sleepiness ​ ​ ​

KCL NeuroSoc Membership

Are you about to purchase your KCL Neuroscience Society membership? Well, first of all, congrats! You made the right choice KCL Neuroscience Society is a big, happy family of students of different age, background and academic interests, united by a common passion: the brain - the most complex organ in the human body! If you are wondering why we have 2 types of membership – basic and upgraded - and what are the differences between the two, please read ahead: · KCL NeuroSoc 2020/21 – Upgraded membership Cost: £3 If you are a Neuroscience student, or if you are really passionate about Neuroscience, the upgraded membership is the right one for you. This membership will give you: 1) Priority access to our events throughout the whole year; 2) Access to the mentorship scheme – a scheme designed to help undergraduate students in the often-complicated quest for research experience, Master’s and PhD positions; 3) The possibility to submit articles/essays to be published on the brand-new KCL NeuroSoc website; 4) Free access to event recordings; 5) Discounted event tickets! · KCL NeuroSoc 2020/21 – Basic membership Cost: free! If you are interested in – but not obsessed with – Neuroscience, or if you are here just to have fun and meet new (brainy) people, then you should probably go with the basic membership. This membership offers you: 1) Our monthly newsletter (delivered via email); 2) Priority access over non-members to our events; 3) Access to our social media forum; 4) Restricted access to the KCL NeuroSoc website; 5) Restricted BTS access. Hopefully this information will help you decide between the two types of membership we offer this year, but - if you still have doubts - feel free to get in touch with us on Facebook, Instagram or via email. Whichever option you pick – basic or upgraded - we are very happy to welcome you to KCL Neuroscience Society!

New Committee Positions!

We now have 3 positions available on our committee! We are looking for TWO writers/editors and a postgrad rep to join us. Email with a few hundred words on why you think you'd be best suited to the role. Applications are open now and closes on the 14th October 2020. Good luck to all!

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