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Brain Anatomy and the Ancient Olympics

news editor4 July 2012

Annette Mitchell,  PhD student (UCL Greek & Latin)

Linking neuroscience and the ancient Olympics appears curious at first sight, but after hearing Professor Semir Zeki (UCL Neuroesthetics) express how neuroscience can illuminate ideological elements of the ancient Olympics these differing subjects proved to be a stimulating pairing.

The setting was a discussion on 28 June between Professor Zeki and Professor Chris Carey (UCL Greek and Latin) entitled The pursuit of Olympic ideals – physical, neural and aesthetic. Professor Zeki asked Professor Carey about aspects related to the ancient Olympics and concluded by providing neuro-anatomical explanations for them.

The Original Olympics
Professor Carey began by introducing the ancient Olympics, which is commonly believed to have first occurred in 776 BC. The Games were likely instituted so that the various ancient Greek city-states, which were often at war, could peacefully compete. The Olympic Games were, essentially, sublimated aggressive impulses.

Olympic competitors were, indeed, ruthless. In the pancrateon – a wrestling competition – any move, however harmful, was tolerated, provided it did not kill an opponent, which was “frowned upon”.

Athletics undergirded by aggression became part of the fabric of Greek culture. Indeed, everywhere the Greeks subsequently founded cites there were always wrestling arenas and gymnasiums (sporting grounds).

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The Depressed Brain

Marion E Brooks-Bartlett16 June 2012

Depressed Brain

'The Depressed Brain' - Talking Point

Have you ever wondered what the more intricate reason is for why you get depressed? Why, when you take a walk in the park and step on some dog excrement, you feel like it would have to be you out of the many people walking in the park for this unfortunate thing to happen to and then suddenly the world is against you?

It is to do with the part of your brain called the amygdala, which is triggered when you’re depressed. Apparently, it is shown to be overactive during negative times in your life, so you overreact to negative situations.

Antidepressant tablets try to slow down this activity and try to help stimulate neurogenesis (production of new neurons) via increasing serotonin levels in your brain.

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Things seem brighter than they are

Matteo Farinella13 June 2012

I think my life is going to be better than yours. I will have more money, more success and live longer. This apparently doesn’t make me particularly arrogant, because when asked to rate themselves and their expectations, the majority of people place themselves in the top 25% of the population. Clearly some of us must be wrong, yet Tali Sharot argues that being wrong is not necessarily bad.


Optimism is defined as the tendency to overestimate positive outcomes and underestimate negative ones. As such, optimism is merely an illusion (just like the optical illusion above, where the balloon on the black background appears slightly brighter than the one on the white background, even if they are actually the same shade of grey). Then why do both human and non-human brains seem to be hard-wired for optimism? This is the question Dr Sharot tried to address in her talk, The optimism bias.
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Queen Square Symposium

news editor27 March 2012

Ana Carolina Saraiva (ACS), a first year PhD student at the Sobell Department of Motor Neuroscience and Movement Disorders, and Xun Yu Choong (XYC), a first year student on the four-year PhD programme in Clinical Neuroscience, report on the 13th Queen Square Symposium, held on 16 March.

What began as a small event over a decade ago has developed to become the primary student-led conference in Queen Square (QS).

The QS Symposium is organised by students for students, bringing them together across departments, and aims to provide a platform to showcase the diversity of scientific research carried out in the UCL Institute of Neurology. The format for this was presenting posters about research projects.

This year showcased a variety of high-quality research, ranging from cognitive to clinical studies of neuroscience and neurology. How does the menstrual cycle affect perception of emotional faces? Are enlarged perivascular spaces on MRI a new imaging window for cerebral small vessel diseases?

This was an opportunity for the bright minds of the future to show us what they’ve got!

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