Glossary 2

a-to-z-directory-icon-blue-175x175Continuing the glossary …



metabolic rate

A measure of the amount of energy expended in a given time. While exercising, your metabolic rate increases as your pulse and breathing speed up. Exercising vigorously has the added advantage of speeding up your resting metabolic rate, at least for a while. So when you’ve finished exercising, your body is still ‘idling faster’, so to speak, and burning up more fuel than usual even though you’re resting.


A mnemonic is any memory device, though it’s often taken to mean the little rhymes or jingles that people come up with to help remember specific things, such as the days in the month.


Magnetic resonance imaging. A type of scanning device that uses magnetism to produce the image. Since x-rays are not used, the scans are harmless.

multiple sclerosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition of the central nervous system. In MS, the myelin around nerve fibres is damaged, causing a range of symptoms. Myelin is a coating round nerve fibres, protecting and insulating the nerve in much the same way the plastic coating round a cable insulates the cable.

In MS, the immune system, which normally helps to fight infections, mistakes myelin for a foreign body and attacks it. The cause of MS remaines unknown despite much research, and there is no known cure.

nominal aphasia

Nominal aphasia (or anomic aphasia, or anomia), is a particular memory problem with regard to the names of things. A person with anomia can know perfectly well that a particular tool is a hammer, for example, and he can describe what it’s used for, but still have trouble finding the name for it. A particular type of anomia can cause the subject to have a great deal of trouble remembering the names of people, even family and friends.

Jack Jacker


Neurogenesis is the process by which neurons (brain cells) are generated from stem cells and progenitor cells. This is most active during the development of the foetus, when the entire brain is still growing. Only quite recently was it shown to occur in certain parts of the brain throughout adult life (notably the hippocampus and the subventricular zone). Neurogenesis, it has been shown, can be influenced by certain hormones.


A very accurate neuroscience technique that uses a combination of techniques from optics and genetics to manipulate or control individual neurons in living tissue (even within living, moving animals) and to measure the effects in real-time. Individual neurons can be observed over a timeframe of milliseconds.


See post-traumatic stress disorder (below)

panic attack

A panic attack can be caused by a major life change, such as a marriage break up or a death, or as a result of a phobia, but can also occur for no apparent reason. In a panic attack, the fight-or-flight response causes uncomfortable bodily reactions and can even leave a person feeling that they are going to die.

As distressing as a panic attack can be, it will cause no real harm. If you learn more about the causes, you will be better placed to deal with the situation.

peripheral nervous system

The peripheral nervous system (PNS) is the nervous system outside of the brain and spinal cord.

The main function of the PNS is to connect the central nervous system (CNS) to the limbs and organs.


The individual sounds that make up a word. For example, antelope is made up of three phonemes, ‘an’, ‘tel’, and ‘lope’.

phonological processing

Deciphering the phonemesin a word so that you not only understand the word but also recognise the constituent parts of it. Having poor phonological processing skills is widely thought to be a cause of dyslexia. Since a dyslexic person cannot easily distinguish the discrete phonemes, spelling the word becomes very difficult.

post-traumatic stress disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder (commonly referred to as PTSD) is an anxiety disorder caused by events perceived as very stressful, frightening or distressing.

Someone with PTSD may often relive the traumatic event through nightmares and flashbacks, and may experience feelings of terror, isolation, irritability and guilt.

Other symptoms associated with PTSD can include insomnia, and difficulty concentrating.
These symptoms are often severe and persistent, and can significantly and negatively impact the person’s day-to-day life.

prefrontal cortex

prefrontal cortexThe prefrontal cortex is the anterior (frontmost) part of the frontal lobes of the brain. This region of the brain seems to be concerned with complex thought processes, planning and goal achievement. It also seems to be concened with ideas of ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, social ‘control’ (the repression of urges), and concepts such as responsibility and conscience.

The PFC also appears to have a role in working memory. The brain needs to keep certain thoughts and facts immediately ‘to hand’ to function correctly, and the PFC seems to be implicated in this role. The PFC also seems to be the region of the brain responsible for multi-tasking, regulating thought and speech, and engaging in abstract thought and reasoning.


Prosopagnosia is the inability to recognise faces (perhaps even your own). Also known as face blindness.


Proteins are essential nutrients for the human body. They are among the building blocks for body tissue, but can also serve as a fuel source, if necessary. They are broken down in the stomach by enzymes during the natural processes of digestion.

Some of the main sources of protein are eggs, meat and fish (complete proteins, i.e. they contain all the essential amino acids), although many other foods contain protein to a greater or lesser degree, such as milk, nuts, beans, fruit, various vegetables, grains and rice.

One of the benefits of a healthy diet is variation, since different foods which contain only some of the essential amino acids can combine successfully with others which contain different amino acids.


Psychosis is a generic psychiatric term for a mental state often described as involving a “loss of contact with reality”. If a person is suffering from psychosis, he/she is said to be ‘psychotic’.


Rapid eye movement. When this happens during sleep it usually indicates that the subject is dreaming.

self image

A person’s self image is his mental ‘model’ of himself. In other words, he sees himself acting in a certain way, looking a certain way, having certain attributes, habits, mannerisms and so on, and he takes that all-round ‘image’ of himself to be the truth. The subconscious mind defers to this if it is ever unsure how the person should act in a certain situation. For example, if the person’s self-image is of a timid, hesitant person, then he must act within those parameters in a given situation. He cannot really be expected to act any other way.

The good thing about the self image is that, although it develops naturally over a long period of time, it can be changed. If you decide to be more forceful, for example, or more decisive, then you can assume those traits by the simple expedient of mental rehearsal. See yourself acting decisively, boldly, assertively, or whatever it is you would like to have as your new attributes. If you do this regularly, over a period of time, you will change your self image. Then, in situations where you need to be more assertive, you will find that you naturally tend to have that attribute.

semantic memory

Semantic memory is the faculty of memory that is concerned with concepts, facts, rules, the meanings of words, etc. It has no sensory value. It is the kind of memory with which you store your knowledge of the world. It comprises a kind of encyclopedia of knowldege that is persistent, in that it is rarely affected by amnesia. Even when a person cannot recall his or her own name, they still know the name of the capital of the country they live in.

signs and symptoms

It’s as well to be aware of the difference in these terms, although they’re often used interchangeably, or to mean the same thing. In fact, there is a difference, although it may be of interest mainly to medical professionals.

Both are linked to a condition, and indicate something out of the ordinary. A sign is something a doctor is likely to notice in an examination, and it may well have gone unnoticed by the patient. An example of a sign could be raised blood pressure, a tic (or some other sign of anxiety), pasty complexion, a discolouration of the whites of the eyes, or even a slight limp.

A symptom, on the other hand, is something the patient himself is aware of, such as the inability to get a decent night’s sleep, lack of appetite, pain, and so on.

In the past, signs and symptoms were much more likely to be observable by both the physician and the patient. With today’s technology, signs are often determined by some technical device, to which the patient has no access.

sleep spindle

Sleep spindles are bursts of high activity in the brain during which information is processed and integrated with previously acquired knowledge.


Stress is a natural part of life. It helps to toughen us up. If you start digging the garden for the first time in months, you’ll pretty soon get blisters on your hands if you don’t wear gloves. The skin is soft and unused to the stresses of the continual hard action of digging. If you persist (after treating the blisters, of course!), then your hands will get calloused after a short while, with the skin hardening at the points of contact. That’s the body’s reaction to the stress imposed on your hands.

Similarly, if you work out with weights you’re quite likely to see some muscular development taking place. You’re putting stress on your body and its response is to make the muscles and connective tissues stronger (and possibly bigger) to cope with the new levels of stress.

It can be as well to remember this when things seem to be causing us mental stress. Given a bit of time and patience, we can often mentally adjust to the new situation, just as we do physically in certain situations.

Stress in itself isn’t a bad thing. It’s just our perception of a different level of activity!


A stroke is a disruption in the blood supply to the brain. An ischaemic stroke is caused by a blockage in the blood vessel (usually a clot). If the stroke is caused by a bleed, it’s known as a haemorrhagic stroke.

transient ischaemic attack

Also known as a TIA or a mini-stroke. Sometimes the effects of a TIA will be quite short lived. However, they should always be taken seriously, as they may indicate that you’re more likely to suffer a full blown stroke.


Visualisation refers to the process of ‘seeing’ something mentally. This seems to be essential for forming memories, and happens naturally. You don’t have to worry about ‘how’ to visualise – you’re doing it all the time. With practice, however, you can make it more effective.

You don’t even need to form images – the process still takes place if other senses are favoured over sight. For example, a specific smell can bring back very detailed memories of a specific place and time, all in a flash. Sometimes, e.g., in a traumatic situation, the smells or the sensation of a particular texture can be so strongly impressed on your memory that they are more or less permanently linked to the trauma.

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