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This paper illustrates how the mind-body connection affects learning process by exploring how different biological and chemical factors in the brain affect our thoughts, behaviors and learning processes. Mind-body connection refers to how our bodies respond to activities of the mind.
Basic Biological and Chemical Makeup of the Brain and Brain Chemistry
The brain is a complex mass of grey and white organic matter that carries out electro-chemical reactions. It is composed of water, inorganic salts, organic substances, proteins, fatty acids and cholesterol (Scanduri, 1982). Various chemical reactions usually occur in the brain through a process called brain chemistry or neurochemistry. Neurochemistry involves sending and receiving of information by neurons and nerve cells in the brain. Neurochemistry facilitates communication between the brain and other parts of the body. According to Glusker (1971) and Powledge (2009), brain chemistry allows the body to accomplish its functions effectively, for example, by initiating body movements, speech, listening and thinking. Neurochemistry also regulates the functionality of other body systems such as the digestive and respiratory systems (Petkov, Belcheva & Petkov, 2003). Chemical transmitters referred to as neurotransmitters carry out chemical communication within the brain. Neurotransmitters are neurons that contain chemical receptors. The mind contains billions of chemical receptors.
Millions of neurons communicate with each other via tiny spaces in the mind called synapses. A charged neuron releases a neurotransmitter that moves across the synapse to the next neuron. The neurotransmitter is received by the neuron using a receptor. Receptors are found on the surfaces of neurons. If the receptor fails to recognize the neurotransmitter, it would be rejected, and the communication fails. Recognized neurotransmitters are accepted in a “lock and key” system (Petkov, Belcheva & Petkov, 2003). Accepted neurotransmitters are then transmitted to neighboring neurons and the communication process continues. After receiving the neurotransmitter, a neuron reactivates itself very quickly and waits for new neurotransmitters. Different neurotransmitters received are then used to produce specific effects in the brain that leads to body functions.
Hormones in the Brain and their Effects
The brain contains a variety of hormones. Hormones are chemical substances produced by endocrine glands into the bloodstream. Some of the most common hormones in the brain include norepinephrine, noradrenalin, dopamine, phenethylamine and serotonin (Kruger, 1996).
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Norepinephrine is a hormone-cum-neurotransmitter responsible for arousal of body systems. In the brain, norepinephrine causes attentiveness and concentration. High levels of norepinephrine in the mind usually lead to increased thinking, alertness and creativeness. Noradrenalin is a hormone responsible for strengthening the immune system of the body by increasing the rate of heart beat. Increased heart beat often results into increased metabolism and supply of oxygen and antigens. Dopamine is a hormone responsible for creative thinking and generation of new ideas. Phenethylamine hormone helps in coordination of activities during brain chemistry. Phenethylamine hormone also affects emotions and state of the mind. By creating a positive state of the mind, phenethylamine hormone facilitates creativity and mental stability. Serotonin hormones control moods and feelings, which directly affect thinking. Low levels of serotonin in the brain reduce the release of phenethylamine, hence low levels of creativity and mental stability.
How Brain Chemistry and Hormones can be Manipulated to Improve Mental Performance
It is generally accepted that brain chemistry and hormones are essential stimulators of creativity and thinking. Thus, any activity or substance that affects neurochemistry and brain hormones would also affect mental performance. Various ways can be used to improve mental performance. For example, use of drugs like antidepressants to increase the quantity of serotonin and neurotransmitters in the brain leads to improved brain performance. This has been proved by use of antidepressants to treat stress-related illnesses. Similarly, drugs that reduce imbalance of neurotransmitters are also used to improve brain performance, hence facilitating learning processes. Reduced use of hard drugs like nicotine and heroin can also improve brain performance. This is because hard drugs often create imbalance of neurotransmitters, hence affecting their functionality.
Reducing stress levels and increasing involvement in physical exercise increases brain chemistry, and consequently leads to improved brain performance. Similarly, good and healthy lifestyles often increase the amount of dopamine hormones in the brain. This results into increased creativity and brain performance. According to Scanduri (1982), regular physical exercises also increase the levels of dopamine hormone because it is stored in the tense muscles of the body. Release of dopamine in the brain is also increased when an individual receives a reward or becomes pleased. Thus, rewards can also be used to improve brain performance and stimulate learning.
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Medical researches have shown that mind-body connection affects our learning processes. This is due to chemical reactions and hormones in the brain (Kruger, 1996). Additionally, medications and exercises have also been cited as ways of improving mental performance, hence increased creativity and learning. For example, treatment of attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD) amongst children often results into increased attentiveness, focus and learning. Similarly, effective treatment of schizophrenia usually leads to increased thinking and activity amongst patients. Thus, I would assert that mind-body connection is a major influencer of the learning process. Anything that affects brain chemistry also affects body functionality, and consequently influences learning processes.
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