Susan Greenfield Research

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About Susan's Work 




RESEARCH ACTIVITIES THE BRAIN IN DEVELOPMENT, MATURITY, AND DEGENERATION 


An enduring theme of research in the Greenfield Lab is on novel, previously unexplained or unexplored neuronal mechanisms in the brain. To this end, there are three main areas of focus: The Brain in Development: We are living in a world where it is not unusual for children to retreat into their room on returning from school, to spend hours transfixed in front of a computer. It’s a world where it is utterly unremarkable to observe people talking and texting into mobiles as they walk along the street or eat in restaurants. We live in a world of concern for a global social networking profile, a world of instant views and thoughts read out in a virtual stream of consciousness. It’s a two-dimensional world of only sight and sound yet offering instant information, connected identity, diminished privacy and here-and-now experiences so vivid they out-compete the real world of three dimensions and five senses. 

This new culture and way of life is unprecedented and as such, is inevitably having an unprecedented affect on each individual human brain: ‘Mind Change’. The wonderful thing about being born a human being is that although we are born with pretty much all the neurons we will ever have, it is the growth and connections between the brain cells that accounts for the growth of the brain after birth. We human beings don’t run particular fast, nor see particularly well, and we not particularly strong compared to others in the animal kingdom: but we have the superlative talent to adapt to whatever environment in which we are placed. Hence we occupy more ecological niches than any other species on the planet. This ability to personalise the brain according to environment and experience is known as ‘plasticity’: as we make our individual, unique way through life, so we develop our own particular perspective due to these personalised connections between our brain cells where we associate people, actions and objects in certain ordered episodes that shape our own special configurations that thereby amount to a ‘mind’, - the very configurations that are dismantled in Alzheimer’s disease. 


The rationale of Mind Change therefore runs as follows: the human brain will adapt to whatever environment in which it is placed; the cyber world of the 21st Century is offering a new type of environment; the brain could therefore be changing in parallel, in correspondingly new ways. So we need to try and foresee what these changes, be they positive or negative, may be: only then can we minimise the threats and harness the opportunities. The Brain in Maturity: An exploration of the hardest question of all, i.e. how the brain generates consciousness, and how that consciousness is modified or even abolished by psychoactive drugs, including analgesics and anaesthetics respectively. We explore a new approach to the well-established ‘Hard Problem’ of how the brain generates an inner first-hand, subjective experience. Almost all other scientific strategies focus on the ‘easier’ issue of distinguishing the content of subjective states (attention, blindsight, meta-representation, facial recognition) where the subject is already conscious: however, we attempt to identify the neuronal mechanisms that make the all-important difference between unconsciousness, and consciousness. One of the stumbling blocks to date has been that neuroscience arguably has lacked a cohesive framework for linking micro and macro events in the brain. However, the concept of ‘neuronal assemblies’ is gradually gaining recognition: large scale (tens of millions) neuronal coalitions that are highly transient (sub-second) and which thereby could provide the essential missing link between molecular/cellular neurobiology and the cognitive neuroscience of non-invasive imaging of active brain regions. Voltage-sensitive dye imaging enables us for the first time, to characterise this as yet poorly understood but fundamental brain mechanism. Find out more about A Day in the life of the Brain and order your copy here 


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