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What Causes Midbrain Activation?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 03 November 2016
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The midbrain, also known as the mesencephalon, activates in response to specific stimuli. It responds both to signals from within the body and to external events. Research on midbrain activation looks at which areas of the brain respond to given stimuli and how these play a role in learning and other activities that require more complex brain activity. People with a particular interest in this subject can apply to participate in brain studies, where researchers scan the brains of their subjects while they are exposed to various stimuli.

This section of the brain is part of the brainstem, located between this structure and the higher level cortexes responsible for critical thinking, language, and other complex activities. Signals from the higher and lower brain pass through the midbrain, activating it as they move through so the neurons can determine where to route the information. Midbrain activation can also directly control some processes, like eye movements and the physiological processes involved in arousal.

When stimuli occur inside the body, a cascade of neurotransmitters sends the signal through the brainstem to the midbrain, where it decides what to do with the information. It can pass it on to another area of the brain or take action to directly regulate a process like internal temperature control. The midbrain also activates in response to external stimuli like sights and sounds, processing the information and bundling it to an appropriate location elsewhere in the brain.

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This structure plays a role in associative learning, and research suggests that subjects respond more strongly to certain kinds of stimuli than to others, exhibiting selective midbrain activation. This may reflect the history of the human race, which would have needed to be especially attuned to stimuli that might be dangerous. The ability to process and respond quickly to information like an approaching predator would have allowed early humans to survive, passing on their genes to the next generation.

Some mental illnesses, particularly schizophrenia, appear to interfere with midbrain activation. This can play a role in the development of hallucinations, delusions, and other phenomena experienced by people with mental illness. The provision of medications to such patients can help normalize their neurotransmitters to suppress such experiences by controlling the pathways involved in midbrain activation and other neurological processes. Variable success on medications among psychiatric patients occurs because each brain is slightly different, and the medications may affect patients in different ways as a result.

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anon983422
Post 4

I have been doing mid brain activation for the past ten years and there is no record of hallucinations among the participants. None of the students suffer from schizophrenia.

snickerish
Post 2

@geekish - I have read that there are some other methods but the one I remember that you can quote me on, is that they have done some work with having patients with schizophrenia listen to music at certain times to see if that would help with the patient's auditory hallucinations.

The results of one particular study did show a decrease in the negative symptoms associated with the auditory hallucinations!

I even think the idea for the music might have come from the way that listening to music affects your midbrain but don't quote me on that!

geekish
Post 1

I have learned a little bit about schizophrenia since a close relative of mine found out that he had schizophrenia; but I did not know that the interference with mid brain activation was correlated with schizophrenia!

My family member when his medications need to be tweaked, which occurs from time to time, begins to hear voices. But his voices unlike the movies are not the type of voices like in the movies, rather his voices are actually critical of himself.

To me, what made those voices different than everyone's little inner critic that crops up from time to time; was that these voices were particularly loud and so uncontrollable that they were particularly harmful to him.

Luckily though, with the medications he has he rarely hears those voices and is able to live on his own!

Are there any other methods to help with the hallucinations caused by these midbrain activation irregularities?

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