SMASHED ON SCIENCE
The debut of the ‘Pint of Science‘ festival recently took over Exeter pubs, and Exeposé Science and Tech are here to give you the best bits, and fill you in on what you may have missed.
Pavel Kondov provides a short snippet from the presentation “Politics, scent, depression and how our brains cope” hosted by Dr. Darren Schreiber, Dr. Sharon Savage and Lorna Cook at the Oddfellows.
I enter the criminally small space on the second floor of Oddfellows, relieved to find one of the last free seats (This turned to be a mistake – bar stools are not made for enlightened scientific discussion). With all visitors promptly stocked up on pints, we are ready for the science.
The first speaker of the night is Dr Darren Schreiber from the Politics
Department, whose work is in the field of neuropolitics. Dr Schreiber
presented the argument of his upcoming book ‘Your Brain is Built for Politics’. He argues that the human brain evolved so that it can deal with our
increasingly complex social relations. Using brain imaging, he has established that we can predict a person’s political inclination with over 80% accuracy just by watching which parts of the brain are most active when they are gambling.
Even for those uninterested in parties and governments, the brain is engaged in figuring out relations that can be just as complex – not just the politics of
nations, but the politics of our families, workplaces, churches, friendship
circles. The central political question our brain deals with is that of coalition building, or as Dr Schreiber put it, ‘Let’s all be together!’ and ‘Oh, but I’m not so sure about them’. Still, his research gives cause for optimism as it shows that our brains are able to transcend stereotypes and look beyond our initial instincts when encountering other people.
After a short break for restocking on pints, Dr Sharon Savage from the Medical School
presented her research on the link between the sense of smell and our brains. Earlier research suggests a positive correlation between sense of smell and intelligence, but equally the sense of smell may be the key to detecting diseases that cause brain function to decay. Different forms of dementia are thought to impact people’s ability to detect smells and may function as an early warning mechanism. Now you may think that studying smell naturally
prevents scientists from doing cool demonstrations that get us excited like fifth-graders, but you will be wrong. Dr Savage has brought along a batch of smell-testing booklets that release a scent when scratched – anything from mint and cherry to fish and rubber – which she is using to test the sense of smell of patients with a rare form of dementia called Transient Epileptic Amnesia.
Finally, Lorna Cook from the Mood Disorders Centre took to the stage to talk about the RESPOND project – Reducing Stress and Preventing
Depression. Prefaced with an informative discussion of how debilitating mental health problems can be for the individual and society as a whole, Ms Cook’s research focuses on one particular risk factor that can cause to depression and how we can address it.Rumination is the act of
excessively pondering over the negative aspects of one’s life, such as
replaying a bad situation over and over in your head, thinking of oneself as a failure and similar pessimistic
People who are prone to that are at a very high risk of developing depression, and a form of CBT is looking very promising in preventing that. Ms Cook is currently testing whether offering this type of treatment as an Internet course can have the same effects, which could have great implications about the cost, accessibility and stigma around getting help for mental health issues.