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The Brain, Our Memory & The Impact of Different Drugs
Level 1-3
Cognitive Learning Theory
The cognitive learning
theory1 explains how
internal factors
influence the learning
process of an
individual. It can be
explained with a loop2,
which consists out of
three steps;
memory and
application. The
cognitive learning
theory has been
created for people to
be able to understand
how different thought
processes either enhance or hamper the learning process. This information can be used to
guide the learner into a way of thinking that benefits them most in learning and can help
them gain better results in the learning process.
The cognitive learning theory was invented in the beginning of 1960s, when a Swiss teacher
and a researcher Jean Piaget3 started to focus on cognitive factors (internal), rather than
external factors. The theory highly suggests that learning is processing information, which
has then later helped to understand the different ways people can process information 4. In
a way, cognitive learning theory enhances the “thinking of thinking”. The one learning
bases the new information to information and knowledge they had before, so they make it
part of their collection of information.
Behaviorism Learning Theory
The behaviorism learning
theory5 suggests that the
behaviors are learned
through interaction with
the environment, so they
are not inherited from
the parents. This means
that the learner is
affected by the
environment he or she is
studying in. For example,
if the student gets reward
from good results, he or she is more likely to put in effort, but if they never get reward, they
are more likely to give up and start neglecting the responsibilities. There is a stimulus from
the environment that results in some type of action, in this case, either learning or
neglecting the learning process.
The behaviorism learning theory was developed by J. B. Watson and B. F. Skinner, but it was
first denied by other psychologists, since it was widely believed that the learning process
wasn’t dependent on the environment. Their theory on behaviorism was used as the base of
the experiment by Pavlov. The experiment was called Pavlov’s Dogs, in which the sound of
a bell was used to tell the dogs they were getting food. This proved the theory of a certain
environmental stimulus affecting one’s experience and therefore learning.
Constructivism Learning Theory
The constructivism learning
theory6 states that a learner
constructs knowledge rather than
takes in tons of information. The
learner builds their own
understanding of the world7 based
on his/her personal experience and
previous knowledge. The processes
of assimilation and
accommodation are the bases of
Assimilation means that the learner recognizes a similarity between new information and
something they already know, referred to as schema. Accommodation on the other hand
means evolving/ reconstructing the already existing schema8 with the new information. For
example, one sees a shape of an apple and recognizes it as one not taking into account the
color (assimilation). Then one realizes they have only seen red apples before, but the apple
on the table is green. One is sure that the object is an apple, but differing from their
previous perception of an apple, so they arrive at a conclusion of apples being both red and
green (accommodation).
The constructivism learning theory was developed by Jean Piaget9, but there are two other
main psychologists too. Those two are called Lev Vygotsky and John Dewey. Even though all
three researched and focused on slightly different things, they all shared a belief of the
previous learning theories (cognitivism and behaviorism) not completely explaining the
process of learning.
Humanism Learning Theory
The humanism learning
theory10 focuses on the
individual and their
acknowledgement of
their abilities. These
abilities/ capabilities
can include creativity,
personal choice and
growth11. People are
left with a lot of
choices, which is
believed to lead into
better and more
efficient learning.
Partially, the freedom of choice related to humanism learning theory comes from the
general Humanist view of people being good and aiming to make the right decisions. This is
also what the most famous Humanist, Abraham Maslow, thought. He stated that people
have certain needs (needs can be seen in the triangle above), and as those needs are
fulfilled, one can reach self-actualization.
In learning this all means that a student should be able to make their own choices of where,
when and how they want to study. They should set their own goals and evaluate how well
they’ve achieved those goals. This is also related to a positive atmosphere around learning,
and good interaction amongst students.
Connectivism Learning Theory
suggests that
through the
combining of
These can
knowledge, thoughts, theories and general information. It is one of the newest learning
theories, which is why it also takes into account the digitalization that plays a huge role in
the accessibility of knowledge.
The connectivism learning theory was developed in 2005 by two psychologists called George
Siemens and Stephen Downes. Even though they both talk about the significance of
technology in learning, they focus on completely different things. Siemens focuses on the
social side, and Downes is more focused on the mechanical learning. However, it is
commonly agreed that amongst the connectivists, that learning is much more than an
internal process. That’s why the theory also introduces a term Nodes and Links, which
refers to the multiple connections made from one place.
In practice, this means that the learner has multiple choices in how to develop their
learning. Learning itself is more important the knowing, which is just a result of good,
successful learning. Learning as a process is just combining different concepts. With this
process of combining, technology is seen as a huge aid, since it enables one to access
information at a fast speed.
Level 4-5
Atkinson-Shiffirin, Multi-store Memory Model
According to the
Model of
proposed by
Atkinson and
Richard Shiffirin
in 1968, there
are three stages
in the memory,
but the main
ones are the
short-term memory and the long-term memory. They are able to process information for a
different duration (how long information can be stored before it’s lost) and with a different
capacity (how much information can be stored at once). There are also different ways
information can be encoded to the specific memory slot. It is also important to mention,
that the multi-store model relies on a linear transformation of information.
Short-term memory is a memory slot with limited duration. Without rehearsal the
information can last in it up to 30 seconds, but it is most likely lost before that within 20
seconds of time. It also has a limited capacity to store things. A believed maximum is seven
(relies on Miller’s theory of Magic number 7). In order to keep information in the short-term
memory, some type of rehearsal is to be done. Depending on the objective, there are two
types of rehearsal; maintenance rehearsal and continual rehearsal. Maintenance rehearsal
has the aim of one remembering a certain thing for a short amount of time, when continual
rehearsal aims for the information to be transferred into the long-term memory.
The long-term memory is capable of storing any amount of information for as long as
needed. From the long-term memory, information is actively placed back into the shortterm memory, as that is what one uses making decisions and living life. The long-term
memory just provides one with the necessary information.
Miller 1956, Magic Number 7
According to Miller’s
theory of the Magic
Number 72, there are a
certain number of slots
in the short-term
memory of an individual.
Due to these slots, a
grown adult could only
store seven (+/-2) pieces
of information in their
short-term memory. The
problem with this theory
is that Miller didn’t specify how much information each slot could store. Though as his
theory was published in 1956, it has been supported by many other psychologists. It has
been found that an average adult truly can store 5-9 pieces of information at once in their
short-term memory. Miller’s study didn’t include statements on the long-term memory, as it
was already commonly believed at the time that the long-term memory has an unlimited
storage capacity for information, for unlimited time.
Tulving, 1972- Episodic, Semantic &Procedural
Tulving, in 1972,
introduced a
theory of the
function of longterm memory.
He suggested
that it consists
out of three
parts: episodic,
semantic and
procedural3. The
memory is
knowing how to
do things. It is
not related with
thought or large acknowledgement. An example could be knowing how to do a cartwheel or
how to ride a bike. All the memories in that category are related to motor skills.
The semantic memory is responsible for storing information of the surroundings and the
world itself. It also includes the meaning of words, so it has a huge impact on the social
interaction of one. Using the semantic memory involves conscious thought and is
declarative. As an example, remembering what 2+2 is and what is the capital of India.
Lastly, the episodic memory, stores memories of events (according to the name, episodes).
It involves conscious thought and it is declarative. Together they form a full long-term
memory, that is able to process all different aspects of life. As an example, what happened
during your 10th birthday and how you played videogames with your brother4.
Baddeley & Hitch, 1974
In 1974, Baddeley & Hitch
suggested that the multi-story
model of Atkinson and Shiffrin had
a way too narrow view on the
short-term memory of an
individual. Their theory is known as
the working memory model5. They
suggested that the information
doesn’t go into one place, rather it
goes to a location dependent on
the information type. For different
types of information, there are
different locations that are: central
executive, visuospatial sketchpad,
episodic buffer and phonological
The central executive is the leader of the entire short-term memory. It takes in all the
information, and then forwards it to the subunits of short-term memory. It also deals with
cognitive tasks. An example is problem-solving.
Visuospatial sketchpad processes information of visual and spatial forms. It is able to both
store and process information, whereas the central executive part only processes. It is
located in the inner eye and is used for navigation. It is also connected to the long-term
The episodic buffer mainly stores information from the other components. It is also
responsible for the sense of time6. Without the episodic buffer, the information wouldn’t be
in chronological order and one wouldn’t have a complete understanding of when each
event occurred.
The phonological loop deals with spoken and written information, hence why it is usually
divided into two further subcategories: phonological store and articulatory control process.
Mainly both of them process information, but they can also store it. The phonological store
takes in heard information and it is believed to be located in the inner ear. It is the key part
in understanding what one has been told. Th articulator control process instead, takes place
in the as called inner voice. It is responsible for one’s own speech, but also the
understanding of the speech of other through the phonological store.
Level 6
For the following task, a website, VeryWellMind has listed 11 factors that can enhance one’s
memory. Some of these 11 strategies will be looked into the table below and explained
what affect they have on the brain.
Name of the
Enhancing Method
Focusing Attention
What Is to Be Done? Effect on Brain
Information should
be rehearsed
without outer
distraction in order
to move it from the
short-term memory
to the long-term
one. Possible
distractions are
music, television,
any noise and
anything rapidly
Focusing on one
thing at the time is
more energy
efficient for the
brain. Using brain
for anything
requires energy,
ATP, and if that
energy isn’t used
efficiently, a lot
more of it is
Avoiding Cramming
Studying in multiple
shorter sessions,
rather than one long
session in order to
catch up.
The brain is a
functional unit that
also needs rest, like
muscles, for
example. Cramming
exhausts the brain
and pushes it over
its usual limits. This
causes the brain to
release sensations
of anxiety,
sleepiness, fatigue
Personal Experience
(not in all)
I tested how long it
took me to do my
math exercises if I
was doing it in the
living room with my
family in there, or in
my room alone
without any
distraction. While I
was distracted by
my family, it took
me around an hour
longer than without
distraction to
complete my
homework. On top
of that, I forgot most
of the thing I read.
Visualizing concepts
Reading Out Loud
etc. With shorter
periods of study,
this can be avoided.
The knowledge can
also be processed
faster, as the
processes in brain
do not get blocked
by the brain when it
is trying to enter
rest mode3.
Paying attention to
The process of
the visuals on the
material that is to be strengthens the
studied, or creating brain. The cognitive
own graphical
areas of the brain
representations of
are affected, so
the material.
functions as motor
control, attention,
perception, planning
and memory.
Visualization also
prepares the brain
for action, since
visual concepts are
the closest to the
actual process,
without actually
going through that
Reading the material Reading out loud
to be studied out
creates a dual
action. As the
information is both
produced vocally
and heard, it enters
the brain from
multiple stimuli. This
means that it is also
stored in the
memory in multiple
locations, so one is
less likely to forget
the information,
since it exists in
multiple forms5.
I used this particular
method to study for
my biology test. In
the exam, I
remembered what I
had read for myself,
so I would say this
method does work. I
focused on
repeating the hard
vocabulary out loud,
which helped me to
remember them in
the exam.
Varying Study
Using different
methods of studying
or using the ones
you use in different
Getting Sleep
Sleeping sufficiently
during the night,
and taking naps if
Using different
study methods
causes the same as
reading out loud.
The information
enters the brain
from multiple
places, meaning that
the learner is less
likely to forget the
because it exists as
multiple different
memory traces6.
Sleep affect memory
and learning in two
ways through the
brain. Firstly,
sleeping increases
focus, which then
results in more
optimal learning.
Sleep also pays a
huge role in the
consolidation of
memory, which is
required in learning
new information. It
is the process
through which
information is
transferred to the
long-term memory7.
I made a comparison
between the things I
remembered from
my Spanish
vocabulary after
sleeping seven
hours and after
sleeping nine hours.
After sleeping nine
hours, I was able to
complete all of the
vocabulary. After
seven hours of
sleep, I was only
able to complete the
vocabulary that I
had known for a
long time.
Level 7
Psychoactive drugs are chemical compounds (either natural or synthetic) that have an effect
on the central nervous system1. The drugs alter the normal function of the CNS, which
depending on the type of psychoactive drug, results in distinct sensations. There are a few
ways psychoactive drugs can be cathegorized2: the way the drugs affect the body
(depressants, e.g., alcohol, hallucinogens, e.g., cannabis and stimulants, e.g., cocaine) or
how or where they’re commonly used (analgesics, e.g., aspirin, inhalants, e.g., glues,
opioids, e.g., heroin, party drugs, e.g., MDMA, performance and image enhancing drugs,
e.g., anabolic steroids and perception drugs). In relation to them, certain terms are used,
which also indicate their function:
Agonists: Agonists are drugs that increase the activity of some neurotransmitter.
They can either speed up the synthetization process of neurotransmitters or mimic
the action of the neurotransmitter by binding to the receptors on the synapse and
causing the same function. Heroin is an example of a full agonist 4.
Antagonists: Antagonists are drugs that decrease the activity of a particular
neurotransmitter. They can either slow down the synthetization process of the
neurotransmitter or block the receptors, so the neurotransmitter isn’t able to
function3. Methadone is an example of an antagonist.
Inhibitors: Inhibitors are drugs that block the usage of some enzyme or other
substances that inhibit the substances that could destroy the dangerous substances
in the nervous system. Inhibition can be of different types dependent on how long it
lasts and where the inhibition takes place on the enzyme molecule. An inhibitor can
also reduce the activity of any other substance5.
Releasor: Releasors are drugs that enhance the release of another substance, usually
a neurotransmitter or an enzyme6.
Level 8-9
Drug Laws and Drug Abuse in Malaysia and Uruguay
When it comes to drug laws, Malaysia1 and Uruguay2 are polar opposites. Malaysia has one
of the strictest drug policies in the entire world, where facing life in prison or the death
penalty are common for the substance abuse3. Uruguay on the other hand, is one of the
countries, where drugs have never been criminalized, though this only applies to drugs that
are for personal use4. This still doesn’t mean misconduct of drugs didn’t occur in Uruguay.
Drug abuse on the other hand is more common in Uruguay, and the country struggles with a
huge number of addicts, when in Malaysia, the number is a lot smaller due the fear of
strong punishments.
Both Malaysia and Uruguay are located in areas, where certain plants, with intoxicating
effects, grow naturally. A good example of a plant like this is an opium poppy, that is used to
produce opium and from that heroin. Another example, even more abundant than the
opium poppy, is a coca plant, that is used to make cocaine. This increases drug usage in both
of the countries, though in a much larger scale in Uruguay, where such actions aren’t
criminalized. In Malaysia, even the possession of a criminalized substance (starting from 15g
of substance) can lead to prison time. Anything above 200g of drug in possession in
Malaysia is considered drug trafficking, which most of the time leads to a death penalty 5.
The distinguishment between drug trafficking and possession of drugs for personal usage is
what Uruguay is struggling with. As personal usage isn’t criminalized, the trafficking of small
amounts is easy. That’s one of the reasons why Uruguay is one of the leading sources of
drugs in other countries6. In recent years, Uruguay has started to put more emphasis on the
trafficking of intoxicating substances, as it was relatively uncontrolled similarly to personal
usage of substances. Penalties for drug trafficking are now higher than ever, and one is likely
to face prison time for drug trafficking.
However, this brings up another problem. The ones arrested for drug trafficking in Uruguay
(or in Malaysia) aren’t the heads of the drug trafficking organizations. They are poor people,
who do anything to make a living (both Uruguay and Malaysia have a huge gap between
higher and lower classes, and many people live in extreme poverty). These carriers pay no
significant role to the whole business of drug trafficking, since they’ve never been in contact
with anyone who could give in the drug lord. So, drug laws in both countries mainly punish
people that are actually not in control of any type of drug trafficking. These people are
mainly men of various ages, but they also include some women, though in much smaller
numbers. Due to the social status of those people, it is to be noted that this particular way
of drug trafficking also places the poor into a worse situation. They are forced to choose
between the illegal money and in some cases death of their loved ones or themselves (yet,
in Malaysia, a drug trafficker will face the death penalty, so risks are high there either way).
The accessibility of drugs can be related to the number of drug abusers in each country. In
Malaysia, the numbers are relatively small. Around 20 000 for a total of 30 million people
living in Malaysia. It is worth a mention, that these people are the ones that have been
caught for possession of drugs and been then declared as addicts. It is likely that more
addicts exist, but they can’t be put into statistics, since they are criminals in the eyes of law.
But the ones mentioned in the statistics are mainly men3. In Uruguay, usage of drugs is
generally more common, and a majority of the population has tried at least some drugs, the
most common one being cocaine. 4% (total population is 3.5million) of Uruguay’s entire
population is constantly using the drug, meaning that they can be considered addicts. The
number of cocaine seizures is at an all-time high, meaning that there is a negative side to
the consumption of the particular drug.
As Malaysia has a much lower reported number of drug abusers than Uruguay, it can be
stated that there is a correlation between the drug laws and the number of drug abusers.
Both of the countries are of similar climates in the sense of growth of intoxicating plants,
meaning that the accessibility of drugs is similar in the natural sense. But as the laws of
Malaysia prohibit one of any possession or usage, the number of users is significantly lower
compared to Uruguay, where one is allowed the personal usage of any drug. No law is able
to completely abolish the target completely, but as seen in the case of Malaysia and
Uruguay, it can significantly lower the rate of it. The lower rate of drug abuse in Malaysia
has also saved lives of people, since for example, seizures in relation to drugs are less
Level 10
Fentanyl, Its Effect on the Human Body and Addiction
Fentanyl is a
strong opioid,
related to
morphine. It is
used to treat
severe pain (i.e.,
chronic pain, or
after surgery),
but it is also
used illegally by
many. Fentanyl
can be
consumed in many forms, also depending whether it is legally obtained or not. The illegal
fentanyl comes in a variety of different forms and can even be mixed into other drugs like
heroin1. The effects of fentanyl are extreme happiness, drowsiness, nausea, confusion,
constipation, sedation, breathing problems and unconsciousness. Fentanyl overdose is
extremely dangerous and can lead into loss of life.
Effect on The Brain
The brain has different
opioid centers, which
are responsible for the
production of
dopamine. As fentanyl
(or any other opioid)
binds to them, they
increase dopamine
production2. This tricks
the central nervous
system, and gives the
user the feeling of wellbeing and happiness3.
This is the result of
fentanyl activating the
mu and kappa opioid
receptors, that are responsible for a variety of positive feelings. Fentanyl also blocks the
delta opioid receptors, that are responsible for the emission of feelings such as pain and
The effect is comparable to the effect of the hormone endorphin, that is naturally produced
in the body and is commonly referred to as the natural opioid 4. The opioid centers are also
located in the pleasure center of the brain, meaning that fentanyl also gives the user a
feeling of pleasure. The feelings caused by this strong drug are significantly larger than the
ones produced naturally. In the long run this can lead to depression, as the brain can access
a sufficient amount of dopamine for it to feel happy.
These different effects on the brain can cause multiple different unwanted conditions. The
brains own dopamine response isn’t enough to give the feeling of happiness, if the user is
used to the higher dopamine dose produced by fentanyl. The pain tolerance of the brain can
decrease, if the sensation of pain has been blocked off by fentanyl. There are also cases,
where strong opioids like fentanyl have damaged the frontal lobe of the brain. The method
through which this happens isn’t fully understood. Certain problems have been noticed in
long term users of fentanyl in the areas of function controlled by the frontal lobe. These
problems include memory loss, loss of movement, concentration problems, poor
judgement, speech and language problems and poor problem-solving and planning skills.
The use of fentanyl can also affect the user’s personality the way that they become more
negative and aggressive, due to the constant requirement for fentanyl for the brain to
function properly. Deficiencies in the functions of the other lobes have also been stated, but
are less common.
Effect on the Rest of The Body
As fentanyl causes the feeling of relaxation, it can cause the body to over relax itself through
the autonomic nervous system. This means that the heart rate can slow down and breathing
can become less frequent5. This is extremely dangerous during sleep, when the body
automatically further relaxes itself. All the other normal processes of the body also
slowdown, which can result in constipation, loss of appetite, immune system suppression
and hormonal and reproductive issues. Under constant use of fentanyl, the body becomes
less able of triggering the healing process itself, which then can cause further problems, that
are even more dangerous to health.
Fentanyl Addiction
Fentanyl messes with the equilibrium inside the body. It is a highly addictive substance due
to its effects and strength. One of the strongest addictive substances are the ones related to
feeling happiness, and fentanyl is one of them. A person is addicted to fentanyl when they
feel the need for fentanyl in order to reach happiness. The brain disease model of addiction
suggests a three-step way to addiction, which is described in the flowchart below6. These
three steps described below relate to three different regions of the brain: basal ganglia
(binge, intoxication), extended amygdala (withdrawal) and prefrontal cortex (anticipation).
These different regions are responsible for certain types of requirements or sensations,
causing them to force one into addiction.
Fentanyl addiction is one of the hardest ones to get rid of, since fentanyl widely controls
requirements for happy everyday life. Usually, addicts cannot break out of the addiction
themselves and require treatment with withdrawal medicine. Some are able to fix the
addiction with routines.
Elmi Ahonen, S6
Level 1-3:
Level 4-5
Level 6
Level 7
Level 8-9
Level 10