College Welcomes Nathan Wallis, Neuroscience Presenter

August 01, 2014 at 12:56 PM

Early this week, the second Parent Evening for 2014 was well supported at the College when we hosted Nathan Wallis, one of the country’s leading communicators concerning neuroscience and particularly as it relates to young people. What follows are some of his key points from the evening.

Simplistically, our brains are built from the bottom up and culminate in the presence of four brains, each serving a different purpose.

Brain number one, the brain stem or the amygdala, is the survival brain which maintains essential body function. The movement brain is brain number two and, together with brain number one, combines to form the brains of reptiles - which explains why your pet lizard is never excited to see you when you get home from work! The lizard lacks brain number three - the limbic brain that allows for the expression of emotion which, together with the first two brains, explains why your dog does get excited to see you arrive home at the end of the day!

Brain four is the cortex or the thinking and learning brain and is what sets us as humans apart from all other living creatures. So, no matter how good a school may be, your dog will never get a National Qualification as it simply hasn’t got the brain for the job!

Generally speaking, our brain comes into full maturity between the age of 22 and 32, sooner if we are of the fairer sex. The adolescent brain goes through a phase which can be broadly described as being closed for renovations. Specifically, we are talking about one part of the brain and, frustratingly, it’s brain number four! According to Nathan, our adolescent children are operating from their limbic brain 90% of the time and the other 10 % is the part we wish they’d operate from more. For us as parents though, this does explain a lot.

Daily life witnesses a reciprocal relationship between the brain stem and the cortex. The process of finding the keys in the morning can see the brain move from a relatively calm state when approaching the place we supposedly left the keys the night before.

If they are not there, the brainstem increasingly comes online as the clock ticks onward and we realise we could be late for ‘that’ meeting. Our challenge to pause and take a deep breath is for good reason as it allows the cortex a chance to come back into play and enable us to consider where the keys are without kicking the cat in the process.

Recent research has revealed the cortex has a number of executive functions. These neural pathways in the cortex are, in Nathan’s words, the home of higher intelligence and are more important than IQ , how much money we earn or what our educational background may be.

Self-regulation, in his opinion, was by far the most important of all and describes our capacity in the ability to control behavior, cognition and emotions. The evening was a fantastic exchange of ideas. The following morning, Nathan returned to speak with our Middle School students which was an eye-opener for them! We thank Nathan for sharing his time and expertise with us.

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