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Split Brain Research

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Updated on Jan 13, 2014

Grade Level: 8th; Type: Neuroscience/Biology

Objective:

To use a variety of sources to conduct research on the phenomenon of split brain surgery and the impact it had on current advances in the neurosciences.

Research Questions:

  • How are the two hemispheres of the brain differentiated from each other?
  • What is meant by the term contralateral? Which side of the brain controls which side of the body?
  • What is a split brain?
  • What is the function of the corpus callosum and where is it found?
  • What is a corpus callosotomy?
  • What causes intractable epilepsy?
  • What are the classic symptoms of epilepsy?
  • What did the famous studies conducted in the 1960s by Dr. Roger Sperry tell us about the functions of the hemispheres?
  • Of what practical value are the results of Split Brain Research?

On the information level, you will be introduced to the anatomy of the brain and the functions of the left and right hemispheres and their connecting structure, the corpus callosum. The corpus callosum serves as a channel of communication between the two hemispheres so that they complement each other. It is the corpus callosum that tells each hemisphere what the other is doing. No, Virginia, we do not have two brains. You will become acquainted with the specific functions of the two hemispheres which resulted from the major work of Dr. Roger Sperry in the area of split brain surgery. This procedure, known as corpus callosotomy, the severing or partial cutting of the corpus callosum has been employed to counter act the spread of epilepsy, a severe electrical disturbance to one the side of the body. In order to prevent that electrical disturbance from attacking the other side of the body, the corpus callosum was severed. In the process, very significant findings were discovered as to the specific functions of the right and left hemispheres as well as their complementary, cooperative actions. What was surprising was that initially, these patients, called split brain patients appeared to be normal in all aspects of their lives. However, as you will discover, this was not the case.

In the process of reading the studies and the accounts based on these studies, you will become junior researchers learning about the key processes involved in conducting research yielding significant, valid, reliable findings. In reviewing the research of others you will learn to become better researchers and better judges of the research findings and outcomes. You will be able to recognize bogus claims as opposed to real research by authentic researchers. Four out of five dentists recommend X toothpaste will no longer convince you of this “fact”!

Materials:

texts and research studies directly related to split brain research and the function of the corpus callosum,

the use of the internet including movies of actual split brain patients and possible interviews with doctors and individuals and health organizations supporting and dealing with the investigation and study of epilepsy.

Experimental Procedure

  1. This project will take you on a mission. You have now been given the role of a newspaper reporter. You have entered the Time Machine and have been transported back into the year 1960. You have just learned about the work of Dr Roger Sperry and DR. Michael Gazzaniga at Caltech. Your newspaper has assigned you to cover the story of Split Brain Surgery. Your task, should you decide to accept it is to research this new surgery and write an article informing the public of what was done, why it was done, what actually happened, what was really unexpected, how did they discover the unexpected and did all of this have any real, practical implications for our health and well being?
  2. To prepare for your assignment, review the bibliography provided on the following page. The Brain by Dr. Richard Restak is a great beginning. The Mind by Anthony Smith is a good follow up. In addition to these readings, use the Internet and watch the movies made of split brain patients. Keep in mind as you watch that the hemispheres of the brain in their cases are cut and cannot communicate so that what they see and what they say does not match although they try very hard to cover it up! Take notes as you watch the movies so that you can describe the fascinating parts to your reading audience.
  3. They tell us that a picture is worth a thousand words so you may wish to copy photos or illustrations of a split brain and how it does and doesn`t work as well as split brain tests. Your editor has agreed to insert them if you do.
  4. Having visited the 1960s, you will now return in the Time Machine to 2010-2011 and catch up with the current research. What have we learned since the 1960`s about the brain and how have we improved our tre aments in epilepsy and where are our neuroscientists headed now. Any new instrumentation?
  5. At this point, you may wish to investigate the organizations involved in combating epilepsy and study their brochures as to the assistance the public can render for this cause. In addition, you may wish to interview families who were confronted with the disease and insert pieces of their stories.
  6. It is time to write your newspaper piece. Write it as if you were speaking to a group of people who were interested in this unique phenomenon. At the close make certain to mention the foundations and agencies that need volunteers or contributions.
  7. Proof read and spell check your article. You may wish to test it by reading it to a few friends for their reactions. Make certain to include your references and use your quotation marks when using other people`s comments and phrases. Beware of plagiarism.
  8. Now, back to your project. Include all that you have done on your display board. Make certain to have your bibliography available as well as any materials you acquired at the foundations and agencies. Congratulations! Your mission has been accomplished!

Terms/Concepts: Brain; Cerebrum; Left hemisphere; Right hemisphere; Corpus callosum; Epilepsy; Stroke; Split brain patients; Callosotomy

References:

Dr. Muriel Gerhard (Ed.D.) is a retired educator with fifty seven years of experience in all aspects of public education. She has been a teacher, principal, administrator, college professor, researcher, grants writer, change agent and science editor. She is the author of several books on education used as college texts. These include the best selling Effective Teaching Strategies with the Behavioral Outcomes Approach and The Behavioral Outcomes Handbook for Teachers and Administrators. Presently she is a consultant in science education and curriculum development, a marriage and family therapist, a newspaper columnist and an author. Her latest book, recently published, is a memoir of sixty vignettes entitled "Now That I`m Dead, I Decided to Write this Book".

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