The Neurological Origins of Individuality

Well this time I decided to do more psychology/biological lecture reviews. I only gone and happen to choose one of the harder courses though, I am not even sure why I ve decided to do this, however its worth a try. This course is from “The Teaching Company”. It is called “Biology and Human Behavior : The Neurological Origins of Individuality” and it is taught by Dr Robert Sapolsky.

Robert Sapolsky

Dr Robert Maurice Sapolsky

Dr Robert Maurice Sapolsky is an American neuroendocrinologist, professor of biology, neuroscience, and neurosurgery at Stanford University.

Dr Robert Sapolsky begins talking about what makes our heart beat faster, what is stimulating us? It seems that the power of thinking a thought is amazing and that effects how our body begins to change and react, but How?

Dr Robert describes in this lecture that most of the time it is neurons, which we cannot easily control. Robert raises the question on what causes these to be uncontrollable at times? The answer tends to be different human emotions, like blushing, fear perhaps even lust.

Unfortunately if you get hold of the audio version of this course, certain descriptions are shown in video, so can be difficult to understand when Robert is describing a diagram.


The main theme in this lecture he talks about The autonomic nervous system. How can this be regulated and what causes this.
The keyword is regulation, it is so important the regulation of the nervous system is kept running otherwise diseases will occur.
The Autonomic Nervous System effects every part of our body. It sends projections to our body depending on our emotions.

Dr Robert looks into What happens when The Autonomic Nervous System goes wrong. Robert also explains a bit about The sympathic nervous system. How the sympathic nervous system releases adrenaline, which he talks about a bit more. The sympathic nervous system is for emergency and arousal, it is stated for the four F’s Fear, flight, fright and erm….sex. Its sort of a joke, but at least he gets you remembering about it.

The parasympathetic nervous system, is the opposite. When you eat too much, its more calming, or more distressing for calming you down. Even used for sleeping

Dr Robert spends quite a bit of time talking about these two different nervous system. Sympathic for emergency, arousal, parasympathetic nervous system for calm and non arousal. When one nervous system is on, it cancels out the other. They should not both be working with each at the same time. Remember, the keyword is REGULATION.

Dr Robert asks What regulates these systems? well its your heart, but he does mention the brain functions later on in this lecture.

Dr Robert also talks about how the heart works, and he reminds us how the sympathic speeds up the heart and parasympathetic lessens your heart beat, although the brain tends to tell your heart how fast to beat.When we want to slow down, taking a deep breath is down to parasympathetic. Robert gives in great detail of this lecture about how parasympathetic nervous system helps when for example you are running for your life from something, He describes how your gut shuts down, how your fat cells, your liver. The gut takes a lot of energy to run, but when in fear the gut shuts down.

Why does your mouth dry? because your gut shuts down, sympathic nervous system, one system speeds up organs, but shuts down organs that are expensive to run. Stomach blood flow is stopped, and the blood flows to the thighs, because we need the increase in power and energy to escape if we are in fear and running for our lives.

The problem is how does constant stress effect us? It is stated in this lecture that ulcers in your stomach, ulcers begin to form in your stomach if blood flow does not go there often, due to stress. So if stressed too often, you start getting stomach ulcers

What about arousal?

The autonomic nervous system can cause arousal by turning on the parasympathetic nervous system, e.g. how long one can be aroused. You ve got to be calm in order to get some aroused so the parasympathetic nervous system is used. Eventually when more aroused the sympathetic nervous system is turned on and parasympathetic nervous system is turned off.

What happens if under stress? You cannot become aroused, you accelerate the change from parasympathetic nervous system to sympathetic nervous system, this can cause arousal problems if this happens too much. I must admit it is interesting to see how much stress can cause havoc with your body.

Dr Robert then discusses how REM sleep male can sometimes get aroused, why?

Then he explains how parasympathetic nervous system decreases the effect of an organ. As it acts as an Inibitor.

How do you regulate the system?
how do you regulater the automonic function?

I also liked how Robert talks about how parts of the body play their role when we are injured and loosing a lot of blood.
He looks into how to compensate for blood loss and explains the role of the southern most portions of your brain and how your spinal cord can affect the nervous system.

The hypothalamus is mentioned quite a lot in this course and it is a key part of the description of both nervous system.

This lecture goes on for 44 minutes, which is just a bit longer than your usual lectures from “The Teaching company”. What makes this lecture slightly harder is the content and the speed which Robert Sapolsky speaks, but hey thats ok. If you have missed something, just play it again. Still, let it be known, the course is a little technical, but its worth learning about the body and our behaviour relating to how much the two are intertwined.