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By: Maisha Iqbal and Deborah Tang

DISCUSS TWO EFFECTS OF THE ENVIRONMENT ON PHYSIOLOGICAL PROCESSES

INTRODUCTION
SAQ first sentence:Two effects of the environment on physiology are neuroplasticity and hormone secretion.

Key Terminology:
Environment - Surroundings and conditions pertinent to an individual
 Ex: Company of others, light exposure, experience/learning
Physiological processes - Physical and chemical functions in the body
 Ex: Structural development of the brain, distribution of grey matter in brain structures, hormonal levels
Neuroplasticity - The brain’s ability to rearrange neural connections as an adaptation to environmental challenges such as
learning or experience, resulting in structural changes
 Ex: Cortical thickness and volume of the brain increase in effect of education
Seasonal Affective Disorder(SAD) –A subcategory of depression apparent in autumn and winter months, characterized
by sleepiness, lethargy, and cravings for carbohydrates; correlated to increased levels of the biological hormone,
melatonin (Rosenthal 1987)

LAQ thesis: This paper will discuss neuroplasticity and hormone secretion as two physiological processes affected by the
environment, with reference to studies conducted by Avery et al (2001), Maguire et al (2000), and Rosenzweig, Bennett and
Diamond (1972).

STUDIES
Avery et al (2001)
 Aim: To investigate dawn simulation and bright light therapy as treatments for SAD patients, in relation to the
hormone melatonin
 Procedure: laboratory experiment
o Sample: 95 SAD patients
o Patients were assigned to three groups: 33 in dawn simulation (4:30 AM to 6:00 AM), 31 in traditional bright-
light therapy (6:00 AM to 6:30 AM), 31 in placebo dim red light at dawn (4:30 AM to 6:00 AM)
o Underwent treatment for 6 weeks
o Structured interview that results in a depression-rating specific to SAD
 Findings:
o Traditional bright-light therapy and placebo groups showed less improvement and more side effects than the
dawn simulation group
o Placebo group complained of insomnia significantly more than the other groups after 4 weeks of the study
o Bright-light therapy and dawn simulation groups both able to realign sleep patterns by inhibiting melatonin
secretion
o Dawn simulation more likely to have positive therapeutic benefits and less likely to have the side-effects of
nausea and headache than bright-light therapy
 Conclusions:Dawn simulation had response rates compared to the placebo and compared to bright light therapy. The
hours of sunshine during the week before each assessment were associated with a positive clinical response.
 Applications: Clinical applications (SAD treatment)
Strengths: Limitations:

 cause-effect relationship  ignores cognitive and sociocultural factors


 structured interview provides rich data  reductionist findings
 offers insight of the interaction between environment  lacks cross cultural validity
(light) on physiological processes (melatonin  interview method does not provide biological data
production) concerning melatonin levels
 replicable to confirm findings
 applications to SAD treatment
 large sample size
Maguire et al (2000)
 Aim: To investigate whether there are structural differences in hippocampi between taxi drivers and control subjects
 Procedure: correlational study with technology (MRI)
o Sample: 16 right-handed fully licensed male London taxi drivers (mean age 44 years; range 32–62 years)
participated with average of 2 years of job experience and 50 male non taxi drivers (control sample)
o MRI scans investigated volumes of hippocampus structure in brain andits distribution of grey matter
 Findings:
o Left and right hippocampi in taxi drivers’ brains were higher in volume than for the controls’, but some parts
were lower in volume
o Hippocampus structure concerned with memory formation and spatial navigation
o Increased and redistributed grey matter volume in the brains of taxi drivers compared with those of controls in
only the right and the left hippocampi
o Positive correlation between volume of hippocampi and years of experience (not attributed to age)
o Differences attributed to strengthened neural connections as a result of intense development and use of spatial
memory skills (drivers underwent 2 year training learning roads and routes without maps)
 Conclusions:Navigational experience and learning routes exercise hippocampus structure, influencing volumetric
measurements of hippocampal region of brain, and distribution of grey matter (neuroplasticity)
 Applications:Insight on neuroplasticity; localization of memory; improving cognitive abilities through experience
Strengths: Limitations:

 well-controlled sample  low generalizability among females and left-handed


 offers insight on how experience shapes neurological people; lacks cross cultural validity
structures (neuroplasticity)  did not establish cause-and-effect relationship
 satisfies ethical guidelines (non-invasive)  difficult to reproduce (expensive, time-consuming)
 insight on localization of hippocampus function in  reductionist findings
navigational and spatial memory  results dependent on researchers’ prognosis

Rosenzweig, Bennet and Diamond (1972)


Aim: To investigate whether environmental factors such as a rich or impoverished environment affect structural development
in the cerebral cortex
 Procedure: laboratory experiment
o Sample: 3 male rats randomly selected form a litter
o Researchers placed rats into one of two environments:
 Enrichment condition (EC): 10-12 rats in large cage filled with interesting toys
 Impoverished condition (IC): rat in individual small cage with no toys (isolation and no stimulation)
 Standard condition (control condition): rat with company and adequate food and water
o Rats spent 30 or 60 days in their assigned condition and then were sacrificed
o Brains of rats were examined through post-mortem autopsy by double-blind method
 Findings:
o Stimulating environment had greater thickness in cortex
o Heavier frontal lobe in EC rats – involved in planning, thinking, decision making
o Rats with company increased grey matter in cerebral cortex and cortical thickness
o EC rats developed more acetylcholine receptors in the cerebral cortex for learning and memory
 Conclusions: Environmental and social deprivation of rats had a negative influence on cortical and frontal lobe
development, and grey matter production in cerebral cortex
 Applications:insight to neuroplasticity, role of education, parenting
Strengths: Limitations:

 cause-effect relationship established  difficult to generalize among humans because of


 replicable (replicated 16 times in 10 years) animal sample
 animal sample satisfies ethical concerns of human  assumes that rats and humans have same plastic
research changes in brain
 challenged belief that brain weight cannot change;  low ecological validity
important finding  reductionist findings
 insight on how the environment affects physiological  ethical controversy in using animals for such
process (structural neurological development) research
 considers biological and sociocultural factors  ignores cognitive factors