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We Are Our Brains

Notes taken while reading the excellent We are our brains by Dick Shwaab.


  • Oxytocin - comfort , bonding
  • Prolactin - in expectant fathers. Nesting behaviour in moms.
  • Vasopressin - marital difficulties and aggression in men, but trust of strangers in women. Hormone created and released by the brain. Also inhibits excretion of water.
  • Both vasopressin and oxytocin levels are unbalanced in autists


  • Anencephaly linked to pesticide use
  • Thalidomide taken during pregnancy led to birth defects (missing limbs)

Pain in a fetus

  • Pain sensors on skin - 7th week onwards
  • BUT wiring to cerebral cortex - 26 weeks onwards
  • So the fetus can react locally after 7 weeks but it is doubtful that pain is actually transmitted until about 25-29 weeks
  • Finally it must be perceived by the brain. Only at 35-37 weeks is there slight difference in reaction to a touch vs a pin prick


  • Young people have a poor PFC i.e. pre frontal cortex , which limits their planning and organisational skills
  • Puberty kicks in annoying behaviour within the family to limit incest, at the same time increasing risk taking and exploration.
  • The kiss1 gene starts the whole process. Fat reserves are ensured by monitoring leptin. Melatonin inhibits puberty.


  • Narcolepsy - sleep disorder. Tiredness in day, uneasy sleep at night.
  • Cataplexy - too much emotion leads to patient seemingly becoming unconscious. They lose muscle tension and collapse but are fully aware otherwise.
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