Sunday, February 21, 2010

Snow Coming and Brain Structure

We've got more snow coming starting tonight into tomorrow. This time it's the wet, heavy type, that's hard to move and which packs down into ice. At least it's almost March, so it won't be around that long. They've reduced the forecast to 6-8 inches from 9-13, so that's progress! The horses and I should be able to manage tromping through the snow tomorrow morning, and the biggest challenge will be getting the gates open. I expect that, once I'm done with chores, I'll enjoy watching the snow fall.

* * * * * *

I've been trying to remember what I learned a long time ago about brain structure and behavior, and looking into the types of things that could be causing Miranda's odd behavior. As I understand it, and please correct me if you know about these things, some of the basic emotions, like rage, are often the result of brain activity in central, very old, brain structures. A primary brain structure involved in rage is the amygdala, which is buried at the very center of the brain and is part of the primitive limbic system. In horses, and humans, the behavior that is expressed when the amygdala is usually activated is moderated/overseen/controlled by the prefrontal cortex - which is well-developed in both horses and humans. There is some evidence that horses, and humans, can experience "amygdala storms", where the neurons in that area fire explosively, resulting in rage behavior that may not be modulated by the prefrontal cortex, perhaps due to structural defects in the brain. This is almost like a seizure, but it does not result in unconsciousness or uncontrolled movement, but rather in expressed rage. Occasionally, tumors in the area of the amygdala can cause unpredictable and uncontrollable rage behaviors.

As you can see, I'm still thinking (too much) about all of this. My daughter will be home next weekend from Florida, and will be facing some hard decisions about what to do with Miranda. In her case, the situation is complicated by her imprinting - she has no fear of people and in fact is attracted to people, which makes her issues even harder to deal with. I'm trying to get prepared for my daughter's return so that I can support her to the extent I can. I very much appreciate all of your thoughts and kind thoughts - thank you again.


  1. You only do what you can. Best wishes and support from afar for whatever decision you and your daughter are faced with.

  2. I have to feel sorry for Miranda, assuming the imprinting actually makes her want human contact. But then it becomes something she cannot handle. Must be a hard conflict to deal with, making her even more unhappy.

    Support here also for your daughter whatever she decides to do.

  3. Sure will be interesting to see how she reacts to your daughter's return.

  4. Oddly enough, I just happen to be a neurobiologist and I did my thesis work on aggression. Your hypothesis is very, very interesting!

    The amygdala is primarily involved with fear conditioning and memory formation. Damage to the amygdala is associated with a loss of fear and an inability to react to social cues appropriately. Individuals with a loss of amygdala function can show increased aggression, but it is because they have lost fear of the social consequences of aggression or because they could not accurately gauge the intent of the other individual (they think the other individual is acting aggressively towards them or otherwise threatening them). These individuals find it difficult to recognize the social intent of others, they cannot tell if another individual is mad, happy or sad. Over-activation of the amygdala results in anxiety disorders and paranoia, which can also lead to aggressive behavior.

    I won't take up any more room on your blog with my ramblings, but feel free to email me if you'd like more info. I have a few articles on the subject I could send you.

  5. Whatever decision she reaches, it will be clear that you've both given this horse the best possible chance.

  6. Interesting post with an even more interesting comment from Shannon.

    It is hard not to let a situation like this consume your thoughts, I know this is hard for all involved.

  7. It's very hard not to think too much about something like this. I really hope you can get to the bottom of it and find a solution.

  8. "At least it's almost March, and it won't be around that long."

    I wish I could have this wish. I'm almost to the point where I don't believe Spring could actually ever come.

    We got so much snow this weekend, I couldn't believe there could be that much more "up there."

    You understand.


  9. Your snow this year is like ours last year, just keeps coming and coming!

    I appreciate all of your thinking about Miranda--I really believe observation by the owner over a period of time is the best way to know. Often professionals miss things because they don't have the time to observe that we do. I've had to experience some misdiagnoses because I doubted myself and what I saw with my own eyes. It takes being honest with ourselves about what we see, too--which can be hard when there are deep emotions involved.

    Good luck to you and your daughter as you try to come up with the answers you need. Sounds like Shannon may be a wonderful resource.

  10. I was going to affirm your brain hypothesis, but Shannon beat me to it and did a much better job. I hope things work out well for Miranda.

  11. The amygdala is totally fascinating. In people, sometimes it gets really overactive and makes us think situations are dangerous when in fact they aren't at all. The same must happen in animals too. My heart breaks so bad for Miranda.
    I'll keep reading for her updates.


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