Viewpoint: Neuroscience plays bigger role in our lives than you think

By Linda Nguyen

What is real may not be real, so how do we know what’s real?

Some people think of neuroscientists as scientists who sit in a laboratory and just poke and prod brains all the time, but I feel like sometimes people forget the more humanities driven aspect of the major.

Baylor’s neuroscience program is part of the neuroscience and psychology department. The classes we take as neuroscience majors are cross-listed as psychology classes and psychology majors are required to take at least one of those classes as part of their major.

This is very different from other schools that offer neuroscience as part of their biology program and focus primarily on the neurobiological aspects of neuroscience.

My point being, neuroscience is as much a study of humanities as science. Actually, it’s a really amazing marriage of humanities and science.

Studying for my Sensation and Perception test, I can’t help but be amazed at how much of what we see is an illusion of the mind. But there is as much behavioral evidence as there is physiological evidence of many perceptual processes.

I think the thing about neuroscience that’s really cool is that your mind plays tricks on you. Actually your mind doesn’t try to play a trick on you, but the way your mind works involves processes that aren’t completely fool-proof.

For example, there’s a fairly well-known optical illusion that involves an American flag that, instead of being red, white and blue is green, black and yellow. The way the illusion works is that you stare at the strangely colored flag for about 30 seconds and then look at a white sheet of paper. What you should see for a few seconds is a red, white and blue American flag. We learned in class that this is the result of the opponent-processing theory of color vision. The opponent-processing theory of color vision states that our color vision is generated by opposing color responses by blue and yellow, red and green and black and white.

Another really cool thing about neuroscience is that you can actually see it working in your daily life.

Quick neuroscience lesson. In learning and behavior, we learn about reinforcement. In reinforcement, a consequence that occurs after the behavior that’s being reinforced is called a reinforcer. In order for reinforcement to occur, the consequence has to cause the behavior to increase.

In that way, you can essentially influence and even shape a person’s behavior using reinforcement.

We actually do that in our learning and behavior lab with rats but I digress.

Knowing that a person can reinforce my behavior and knowing about reinforcement doesn’t make me immune to reinforcement. But it’s really interesting whenever I’m going about my day and observe reinforcement taking place within my own life.

For example, whenever I get my stories in early to my editor, everything goes smoother and I get to leave on time.

As a result, I try to get all my stories in as early as possible.

My editor may not realize it, but she just reinforced my behavior to get my stories in early. I know she’s doing it, but that still doesn’t change the fact that I want to get off work on time.

At the risk of sounding like a total neuroscience nerd, I really can’t help but smile whenever I can catch myself being influenced by neuroscientific techniques like reinforcement.

Linda Nguyen is a sophomore neuroscience major from Missouri City. She is a staff writer for the Baylor Lariat.