Alicia Walf, Lecturer, Cognitive Science

Alicia Walf, Lecturer, Cognitive Science

This talk will focus on the mechanisms of hormones in the brain for their role as integrators of the internal and external environment.  Three contexts will be examined:  cell, cognition, and conference room.

 First, the cellular actions of hormones relevant for cognition will be discussed.  A well-known action of hormones is regulation of growth, a process that occurs throughout the lifespan and is critical for many basic developmental processes.  Beyond these growth effects in the body, hormones mediate cognitive processes (e.g. emotion, memory) and brain plasticity.  Findings will be discussed about whether the mechanisms of hormones in the brain for cognition are dissociable from their mechanisms in the body.  For example, mechanisms of estradiol in the hippocampus for emotional and memory processing through a novel cellular target—estrogen receptor beta—are separate from well-known growth effects of estradiol in the body to increase risk for reproductive cancers.  

 Second, how hormones alter cognition within a context, such as a conference room, will be discussed.  An example of hormonal integration of the mind and body/brain within these contexts is the stress response.  The stress response has physiological, endocrine, and behavioral/cognitive components.  The stress response occurs with the brain's perception of a challenge (real or imagined) that initiates a cascade of hormones released from the brain and glands in the body. These hormones then have actions on major organ systems to alter physiology and feedback to the brain, integrating the individual's response to these internal and external signals.  This acute stress response is usually considered adaptive, but may consolidate individuals’ experience to negatively alter cognitive and affective responses in the long-term.  Current research addresses how to reduce potential maladaptive effects of stress with mindful/contemplative practices (e.g. Deep Listening) and/or optimization of the conference room-scale environment (e.g. with lighting, temperature, air quality).

Understanding the novel actions of hormones for altering plasticity of brain and behavior, and the contextual variables important for these effects, is relevant for neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders. 


Download the paper here.