The unique ability of Dr Daniel Amen to link brain images to behavioral problems is inexplicable to a large section of the medical community. Dr.Amen has done path breaking work at the cutting edge of science in SPECT neuroimaging. He has documented links between SPECT images of neural activity and emotional problems such as depression, anxiety, temper, impulsiveness and obsession. After identifying these as “observable circuit problems,” he has successfully treated thousands of patients.
Yet, in spite of his patent success, many dispute his claims. While they sneer at a “picture” of “this is what your brain looks like on drugs,” Dr. Amen clearly perceives the links. Unfortunately, neuroimaging also has radiation risks. So, Dr Amen's opponents demand that the method should not be applied until the results are fully validated. In reality, it may be difficult to widely implement the SPECT route, since it may be more an art than a science. By discounting art, science may also be closing the door to a brilliant vision.
Are Brain Regions Function Specific?
can see "hints of the soul" in brain images. Visible
activity in specific brain regions can definitely relate to specific
brain functions. Science has volumes of research to show that
specific regions of the cortex handle sensory inputs, recognition
processes and motor outputs. As an example, recognition of touch
sensory inputs are location specific. If the somesthetic association
region is damaged, a patient cannot identify a pair of scissors by
touch, even though he can feel the scissors.
One region identifies
touch and a different region identifies the touched object.
Similarly, the olfactory region identifies an odor. While such
identification and recognition regions are location specific, further
processing happens all over the system. Accurate real time detection
of event related brain activity may not always be feasible.
Does Brain Pattern Recognition Have A Path?
brain is a pattern recognition system, which receives and stores
patterns from the environment, interprets those patterns and triggers
emotions. Emotions focus
on specific survival strategies. The motor system interprets emotions
to output those strategies as behavioral responses. As such,
distinctly different regions receive data, interpret it and trigger
strategies for responses. Those emotional responses are interpreted
by the whole system to produce motor outputs. The real time process
Does The Brain Follow A Strategy?
the nervous system developed over millions of years, nature developed
many strategies for survival, guided by an intuitive
decision making system.
reptilian, mammalian and human prefrontal sub-systems. The reptilian
system generated primitive responses to hunger and thirst. The
olfactory system, added approach and avoidance behaviors, based on
odors. Anger and fear signals from the amygdala triggered appropriate
behavioral responses. The septal regions motivated the system with
rewards for specific behaviors. Higher social emotions like guilt and
love brought more choices with the mammalian brain.
What Dominates Brain Strategy?
many strategies are evaluated, the brain makes a single choice. The
cortical regions perceive and interpret, the limbic system triggers
emotions and the prefrontal regions pass unemotional judgment. From
myriad emotional options, the system selects a single family of
emotions. Using intuition,
the current emotion colors motor responses in a single hue in all
functional regions within milliseconds. Acting globally, the nervous
system responds to that group of emotions. Anger, fear, or love
dominates the system and colors it in a single hue. Dr. Amen is able
to identify abnormal variations of this hue.
Is Abnormal Brain Activity Indicative?
brain regions exhibit abnormal activity. While the dominant emotion
acts globally, there can be abnormally reduced, or increased neural
activity in a particular region. The system creates overactive “speed
dial circuits,” under stress. Supported by LTP and neural
plasticity, these regions exaggerate a single emotion through looping
circuits. Subsystems, including the cingulate system, the limbic
system, the basal ganglia, or the prefrontal regions can be affected
by the dominant emotions. Excess activity in the limbic system
entrains a single emotion, subduing all others.
Abnormal activity in
the basal ganglia authorizes the strategy of a single emotion to set
off repetitive cycles of motor responses. Weakened neural activity in
the prefrontal regions saps judgmental functions, which can prevent
the onset of irrational emotions. While images of such abnormal
activities can relate to problems created by conflicting emotions
like anger, or fear, Dr. Amen is able to link those images to
specific behavioral problems.
Are there Behavior Links to Abnormal Activity?
Dr. Amen links sadness, moodiness and poor concentration to the deep
limbic system. He links anxiety, panic and fear to the basal ganglia.
He links hyperactivity and impulse control problems to the prefrontal
regions. Actually, unruly emotions triggered by the limbic system
cause all these problems. But “speed dial circuits” can entrain
these emotions into the basal ganglia, or the cingulate system. A
weak prefrontal region can prevent the delivery of realistic
contextual emotions by the limbic system. This can cause the lack of
perseverance, attributed by Dr. Amen to poor prefrontal activity.
While several regions are involved in any decision process, entrained
emotions in any region can cause problems. Dr. Amen links reduced, or
excess activity in a specific region to a particular problem. Since
such abnormalities can also cause other problems, his critics accuse
him of “being able to read the soul in a picture of the
What Is Dr. Amen's Notable Skill?
Amen has amazing pattern recognition competence in reading the
implications of the SPECT images. Such recognition of subtle patterns
is founded on immense experience. Having viewed thousands of images
from the viewpoint of the relationship of the images to clinical
problems, Dr. Amen sees relationships in patterns, which may not be
obvious to even a highly skilled viewer. Another scientist may
protest that there is no such link.
A skilled tea taster can link a
particular tea to the sunny slopes of a particular tea plantation. A
less skilled person could argue forever that no such link exists.
But, that cannot detract from the amazing success Dr. Amen has
achieved in the use of brain imaging for clinical diagnosis or for
the treatment of psychiatric disorders in patients. At the same time,
the medical community may be right in arguing that less skilled
practitioners could misuse the process for monetary gain.
This page was last updated on 31-Dec-2013.
JUST THINK... What happens when you begin to talk? Your nervous system has picked an emotion. It has articulated an idea around it, chosen apt words from a vocabulary of thousands of words, arranged them in lexical and grammatical order and adjusted the pitch of your voice. Before you speak you've no consciousness of the words you will use. Who's actually in charge? This question leads to the question "What is consciousness itself?" Is consciousness a spirit living in a human body? Is it a mystical life form that emerges from the nervous system? This is the hard problem of consciousness.