Why We Do What We Do
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Why We Do What We Do

Understanding Our Brain to Get the Best Out of Ourselves and Others

Helena Boschi

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eBook - ePub

Why We Do What We Do

Understanding Our Brain to Get the Best Out of Ourselves and Others

Helena Boschi

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About This Book

Practical tools and tips to lead a healthy and productive life

The brain is the basis of everything we do: how we behave, communicate, feel, remember, pay attention, create, influence and decide.

Why We Do What We Do combines scientific research with concrete examples and illustrative stories to clarify the complex mechanisms of the human brain. It offers valuable insights into how our brain works every day, at home and at work, and provides practical ideas and tips to help us lead happy, healthy and productive lives.

• Learn about how your brain functions

• Find out how emotions can be overcome or last a lifetime

• Access your brain's natural ability to focus and concentrate

• Think creatively

The thoughts you have and the words that you speak all have an effect on your neural architecture —and this book explains what that means in a way you can understand.

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chapter one
Our Brain

‘Sitting on our shoulders is the most complicated object in the known universe.’
Theoretical physicist and futurist (1947–)


The brain is the basis of everything we do: how we behave, feel, remember, pay attention, create, change, influence and ultimately live. Learning about how our brain functions is an important starting point to understanding why we do what we do.
Even though it only weighs around one and a half kilograms, our brain is complicated. With the advent of neuroimaging techniques we are now able to see inside the brain and explore its function and structure in greater depth. But despite new advances in neuroscience, neurobiology and neuropsychology, the brain remains the most mysterious, complex and relatively unknown organ in the human body.
This chapter provides an introductory overview of the main structures and functions of the human brain. It explains how our brain helps us respond to the world around us and keeps our system in balance. Some insights are offered into male/female brain differences, whilst also acknowledging the influences of our environment and upbringing.
As we begin to understand more about how our brain works, we become more aware of our own thoughts, responses, behaviours and emotions. We also become better equipped to get the best out of our brainpower in the future.

Part 1: The science explained

The key function of our brain is to keep us alive. This means that our brain needs to be able to anticipate what is safe or harmful in our environment.
In other words, our brain is our personal prediction machine. It is constantly scanning and processing the world around us to help us respond appropriately.

Why we need to keep it all in balance

The brain maintains a finely tuned internal balance in order to regulate our heartbeat, breathing, temperature, water, hormonal release and sugar levels. This internal balance is known as homeostasis, meaning ‘same state’.
Our internal body environment is kept steady and stable despite changes in our external surroundings. This balancing act works on what is called a negative feedback loop (see Figure 1.1): when the level of something rises, our brain's control systems reduce that level, and when the level of something falls, our brain's control systems raise that level.
For example, if we are cold, we shiver in order to generate heat, and if we become too hot, we sweat in order to cool down.
Our brain works hard to maintain this balance and to keep our system functioning effectively.
Illustration od the negative-feedback loop; when the level of something rises, our brain’s control systems reduce that level, and when the level of something falls, our brain’s control systems raise that level.
FIGURE 1.1: The negative feedback loop

Our brain, neurons and synapses

Our brain represents just two percent of our total body weight and is made up of approximately 100 billion nerve cells, which are known as neurons.
Each neuron can make between 1,000 and 10,000 connections, or synapses, with other neurons. Our brain's ability to form new connections, constantly reorganising itself and changing its pattern and shape, is known as neuroplasticity. We have two different types of neurons – sensory and motor:
  • Sensory neurons carry information from our sensory organs – eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin – to the brain.
  • Motor neurons carry messages away from the brain and spinal cord to our muscles.
Our brain has three main parts: forebrain, midbrain and hindbrain. The midbrain and hindbrain make up the brain stem and connect the forebrain to the spinal cord. The forebrain contains the cerebrum, the largest part of the brain, which plays a critical role in processing information.

Our four lobes …

The cerebrum is divided into four lobes (see Figures 1.2 and 1.3). Although these are all interconnected, each lobe is associated with different functions.
Image depicting the four lobes of the human brain that are interconnected: Frontal lobe, parietal lobe, temporal lobe, and occipital lobe.
FIGURE 1.2: The lobes of the brain
Frontal lobe Processes higher cognitive functions and decision-making. This is the centre of our brain's executive functioning and manages complex mental and behavioural responses to the environment.
Temporal lobe Controls our hearing and processes memories, integrates them with our senses and emotions and regulates our endocrine system, which release...

Table of contents