Psychology and Neuroscience Personal Statement
Submitted by Caroline
Purpose for learning is a key difference between animal and human brains; whereas evidence suggests that animal brains have evolved to learn what is useful for their immediate needs, humans have a greater capacity to learn and store information even if it has no obvious us, which allows us to advance as a species. This distinction was my first encounter with Psychology and Neuroscience in an essay competition about animal and human thought. I concluded that the study of Psychology is both paramount to giving us an insight into the human mind and, unquestionably, the subject I wish to study at university.
I enjoyed ‘Incognito’, by Eagleman, addressing free will through the lens of Neuroscience; it supported a conclusion that I had arrived at via other reading, that if who we are is so dictated by our brain chemistry that a minute alteration in neurotransmitters can produce alarming changes to our behaviour, it is questionable whether we are truly free. Having previously only considered this question from a broader, philosophical standpoint, I was excited by the insights that scientific research can bring to issues; I feel that Psychology bridges Science and Philosophy perfectly.
It is fascinating how simple impulses and synapses can cause the complex mental life we experience. I read ‘The Brain’, by Wenk, which interested me as it allowed me to more fully understand the links between underlying neural mechanisms and behaviour. For example, Wenk addresses the neurological causes of psychological conditions, such as the link between serotonin and depression. The promise that psychological and neuroscientific research can bring us excites me both for intellectual curiosity but also from a compassionate point of view; it is my dearest ambition to contribute to such research in the future. To this end, I completed a research Gold CREST project in Chemistry that I extremely enjoyed; this also advanced my abilities in scientific method and experiment-design. Chemistry is especially interesting to me from a psychological angle, as the mind and consciousness are essentially simple molecular interactions.
Intrigued by consciousness I attended a panel debate at LSE, about what it is and if it is present in animals. I was curious as to where we could draw the line between conscious and unconscious beings. Although I think it simplistic to suggest that neural activity and consciousness are separate entities, it remains indisputable that some actions require more conscious thought than others. Thus Eagleman’s observation that the level of consciousness an animal has is ‘paralleled to their intellectual flexibility’ is a convincing one, and I am inclined to agree there is a spectrum of different degrees of consciousness. Enthused by what I learnt, I gave a presentation at my school about animal consciousness, language and morality; I was delighted with how many of my peers and teachers engaged with this and the ensuing discussion challenged some of my perspectives and allowed stimulating intellectual debate.
I am also interested in memory, both neurologically looking at dendritic spines, but also from a broader perspective with respect to the malleability of memory and the judicial implications of this. Interested by what I had learned, I gave an interactive talk on memory to children. This was also interesting from a psychological angle as the children reacted differently to the same stimuli and it is fascinating to be able to partly understand why that is the case; studying Psychology gives me a new understanding of the world. This was further demonstrated to me when I was volunteering in a primary school, as well as in my roles as Prefect and Head Chorister. I also enjoy leadership and responsibility as Head of Fair Trade and Head Editor of the history magazine. Furthermore I am doing Gold DofE.
To understand the mind is to understand our world and I am excited by the prospects of studying the mind to undergraduate level and beyond.