Learning and Memory: The Brain in Action

By Marilee Sprenger | Go to book overview

1
Losing Your Mind:
The Function of Brain Cells

It is bridge night, and some friends and I are talking about a mutual
friend’s new baby. As we reminisce, the births of my own children
come to mind. I remember the middle-of-the-night dash to the hospi-
tal, the pain, the excitement, and the exhaustion. There are some
things you just never forget.

One of my bridge friends interrupts my thoughts and asks, “How
much did your babies weigh?”

I reach back into my memory of Josh’s birth and that exciting day. I
open my mouth to speak and say, “Josh weighed 7 pounds… umm, 7
pounds…” My brain just isn’t functioning correctly. I know the answer
to this like I know my own name. I own this information. A mother
should never forget this stuff. What did he weigh? The embarrassment
is overwhelming, so I quickly say, “Oh, yes, Josh weighed 7 lbs. 5 oz.”
It is a lie. What in the world is wrong with me?

What’s happening to my brain when I can’t recall an important fact?

On the way home I remembered Josh’s birth weight. I was so relieved. I thought I was really losing my mind. Was I losing it? No, not in the sense that I would no longer be able to function. Why couldn’t I remember Josh’s birth weight? That question has many different answers. Let’s examine the brain to find out how it works. Then answering questions about our memories will be easier.

At birth the brain weighs about one pound. By age 18 to 20, it weighs about three pounds.


Brain Cells

The brain is a fascinating organ. Like the rest of the body, it is composed of cells; but brain cells are different from other cells. Our discussion focuses on two types of brain cells: neurons and glial cells. Although the brain has many other types of cells, these are the ones most involved in learning.

-1-

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