Christine Jasoni

Dr Christine Jasoni is the Director of the Otago Neuroscience degree programme, the president of the Otago Institute (a regional branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand), and a member of Council for the Royal Society of New Zealand. Her research group investigates how a mother’s health during pregnancy affects the long-term mental health and behaviour of her offspring, with particular focus on eating disorders and schizophrenia. In addition to research and teaching, Christine has a passion for science communication that is borne out of her passion for doing science – the joy of discovery, the elegance of the scientific process, the thrill of innovation, the delight of igniting the passion in young people, and the gratification of ultimately improving peoples’ lives and making the world a better place. @JasoniCL

Healthy pregnancy, healthy babies. - The Nervy Nomad

Jun 15, 2014

Note and Disclaimer: This blog gives a bit of background to a health issue of major concern, as it is reaching epidemic proportions, and a glimpse at what we are doing about it through one component of a recently-funded Health Research Council (HRC) programme grant. This post represents the views and research of the author. It was not commissioned by or for the HRC. It all happens before we’re even born. One of the earliest times in a person’s life when the factors around them can affect their lifetime health and disease risk is before they are even born.  This concept was first appreciated by Professor David Barker and his team, who examined the long-term health outcomes of individuals who were in the womb during the Dutch hunger winter (1944-1945). The newborns of these starving mothers were very tiny, rather to be … Read More

You are what your mother ate: A mother’s obesity during pregnancy changes the way the fetal brain forms - The Nervy Nomad

May 21, 2014

Is your mother to blame if you cannot resist chips? Or feel awkward at parties? Perhaps these questions make you imagine all the ways that you are similar to your mother, or the things that happened when you were growing up that helped shape the person that you are today. But now take one step back, to a time when you and your mother had an intimate relationship unlike any other – when you were in her womb – and ask those questions again. Now, you’re probably thinking that this is starting to sound a bit weird, after all that was an awfully long time ago. But a mother’s health during pregnancy is important to the development of the unborn child and to its life well after birth. For example, insufficient folate during pregnancy can lead to spina bifida, a … Read More

Hearing memories fade, but the visual ones linger - The Nervy Nomad

Apr 13, 2014

I don’t know how many times I need to ask my husband to get milk on the way home. And do you think he remembers? Turns out, he’s not alone. And what’s more – he’s normal. New neuroscience research [1] has revealed that we are way better at remembering things that we see or touch, than we are at things we hear. Before this research, scientists believed that all memories were entered and stored in our brains in the same way, no matter whether we remembered faces, telephone numbers, or a story. This new study suggests that this is not entirely true, and here’s how the scientists proved it. Study participants were asked to listen to short tones through headphones, look at various shades of red squares, or feel low-intensity vibrations by holding on to an aluminium bar. Participants … Read More

Dream Weaver: why can’t you get me through the night? The science behind remembering our dreams (or not). - The Nervy Nomad

Feb 26, 2014

OMG – you were in my dream last night! This may be good or bad, surprising or disturbing, but most of us have had dreams with bizarre circumstances or the appearance of unusual characters, like your boss or your mother-in-law. But for many of us there is little recollection of anything else. Sometimes we can remember a few details of our dreams when we first wake-up. This especially happens when the thing that wakes us up (like the ringing phone) is actually part of what’s going on in our dream. But even that information tends to fade as the day goes on. Recently, a friend at work was vividly recalling a dream that she’d had the night before, and I must admit that I had a hard time believing that she could actually remember so much. I investigated this a … Read More

Science communication: Where to from here? - The Nervy Nomad

Dec 01, 2013

Science communication has become amazingly popular. As 2014 approaches, so does an interesting new chapter in my otherwise strictly academic life – a small appointment in my university’s Centre for Science Communication. Jumping on this bandwagon seemed an appropriate move for me, as I am both a dyed-in-the-wool academic Neuroscientist, and an enthusiastic science communicator. In considering what I might make of this opportunity, I have been giving thought to my science communication activities to date, as well as those of others, and asked myself: What are these efforts actually achieving? And how can we improve our already rather impressive efforts? In much of the somewhat informal science communication that I undertake, and am familiar with, there appears to be a tacit assumption that our efforts are having long-lasting effects – conveying the wonder of science and what science has … Read More

Why you’re not better off in bed. - The Nervy Nomad

Nov 19, 2013

Why do we sleep? Although it seems a pretty simple question, experts who study sleep are not certain about its exact function. And there are many theories. Some believe that it is a time of cellular restoration [1]. From childhood I subscribed to this theory, complete with a creepy vision of little elves traveling all over my body fixing things, whilst my consciousness slumbered on. Yeh, I know. The downside to this theory is that when we are in the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of our sleep cycle our bodies are highly active, leaving little time for restoration. And yet paradoxically we need REM sleep to feel restored. So this idea could use some work. Others have suggested that sleep provides a time when we can save up on energy [2]. After all, as animals of the … Read More

The power of positive parenting - The Nervy Nomad

Oct 08, 2013

A few weeks ago I wrote about identical twins, and how even genetically identical individuals become different because they will always have experiences that are unique to them [1]. Indeed, the number of unique experiences that a person has is huge, and very different from those of anyone else. Thus, each of us becomes unique through our experiences. So, how do experiences shape our personalities? If you’ve had an unpleasant experience, especially when you were younger, you may now avoid things involved with the experience – certain foods, stretches of road, even people. Mostly these are isolated exposures – a one-off when you were bitten by that nasty dog next-door – but sometimes the unpleasantness may continue. Neuropsychology research has shown that when children are exposed continuously to unpleasant experiences, such as family violence, this can have a dramatic … Read More

Your lips move, but I can’t hear what you say – How the brain processes conflicting auditory and visual information - The Nervy Nomad

Sep 10, 2013

Recently we had the International Film Festival where I live. I don’t get out as much as I should, and so for my enlightenment as much as my entertainment I decided to catch a few flicks. If you’ve done similarly, even if the ‘film’ was Godzilla or a bad YouTube video, you may be aware of what happens when the voiceover doesn’t match the movements of the actors’ lips. Utter frustration. Sometimes the synchronisation is so bad that you just begin to ignore the mouth movements. But sometimes the mouth movements are almost, but not quite synchronised to the voice. When this happens the words can sound weird or blurred. This effect was first described in the 1970s by a Scottish Cognitive Psychologist called Harry McGurk, who studied what our brains do when we talk to someone else. He was … Read More

Left is right. Science is art. Right-brain/left-brain theory loses ground. - The Nervy Nomad

Aug 31, 2013

I am not an artistic person. My drawing, if you can even call it that, consists of stick figures. I cannot paint, sing, or dance. In school, I studied Science. I found it fun to think and learn about, and I was pretty good at it. My mother is a dancer, she teaches ballet, and can paint or draw anything she sees. In school, she studied the Fine Arts. This scenario is familiar to many of us, and in popular culture the terms right-brained, for the creative and thoughtful, and left-brained, for the logical and scientific, have been used to categorise these two types of people. For some reason this theory is appealing to us, maybe it satisfies some need we have to neatly categorise the world around us, but we actually know very little about what the brain does … Read More

Brain health may be a box of chocolates. - The Nervy Nomad

Aug 14, 2013

I love chocolate. I could have chocolate morning, noon, and night and never tire of it. You might not be quite as fanatical about chocolate, but even non-lovers may find it difficult to resist now and again. There’s just something about it. Indeed its forces are so powerful that ancient Maya and Aztec cultures included chocolate in religious ceremonies and medical practice [7]. Throughout history chocolate or cacao beans, which are the source of chocolate, have been used as money, religious offerings, ceremonial icons (think: chocolate rabbit), aphrodisiacs, health remedies, and treasures of all descriptions. Chocolate is also the only natural product to have such a vast array of reported beneficial health effects ranging from reducing fever to promoting strength before military and sexual conquests [1]. Even without solid scientific evidence of health benefits it is tempting to … Read More