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Depression’s defining symptom is anhedonia, the inability to feel, anticipate, or pursue pleasure. Chronic stress depletes the mesolimbic system of dopamine, generating anhedonia. The link between childhood adversity and adult depression involves both organizational effects on the developing mesolimbic system and elevated adult glucocorticoid levels, which can deplete dopamine.
Chapter 3 discusses some unsettling research—stick your average person in a brain scanner, and show him a picture of someone of another race for only a tenth of a second. This is too fast for him to be aware of what he saw. But thanks to that anatomical shortcut, the amygdala knows . . . and activates. In contrast, show the picture for a longer time. Again the amygdala activates, but then the cognitive dlPFC does as well, inhibiting the amygdala—the effort to control what is for most people an unpalatable initial response.
As for testosterone, it's gotten a bum rap. Yes, it has tons to do with aggression but it doesn't cause aggression as much as sensitizes you to the environmental triggers of aggression.
Because it is the last to mature, by definition the frontal cortex is the brain region least constrained by genes and most sculpted by experience. This must be so, to be the supremely complex social species that we are. Ironically, it seems that the genetic program of human brain development has evolved to, as much as possible, free the frontal cortex from genes.
Lots of work has examined the genes involved, most broadly showing that variants that produce lowered dopamine signaling (less dopamine in the synapse, fewer dopamine receptors, or lower responsiveness of these receptors) are associated with sensation seeking, risk taking, attentional problems, and extroversion. Such individuals have to seek experiences of greater intensity to compensate for the blunted dopamine signaling.
My lab looks at the ability of stress hormones to kill brain cells, and basically we are trying to understand on a molecular level how a neuron dies after a stroke, a seizure, Alzheimer's, brain aging, and what these stress hormones do to make it worse.
The frontal cortex makes you do the harder thing when it’s the right thing to do.
Oxytocin, the luv hormone, makes us more prosocial to Us and worse to everyone else. That’s not generic prosociality. That’s ethnocentrism and xenophobia.
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