The Science of Mental Illness
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National Institute of Mental Health

The Science of Mental Illness

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Teacher's Guide

Lesson 1—Engage

The Brain: Control Central I (Page 2 of 2)

Procedure

assessment icon
Assessment:
Research about learning shows that learners need to assess their prior knowledge so that they can have a framework for the new knowledge they are adding.

Activity 2: What Do I Know about Mental Illness?

  1. Give each student one copy of Master 1.2, What Do You Think? Ask each student to write their answers to each question.

Tell students that their responses to these questions will not be graded and that the questions do not have a single correct answer. These open-ended questions provide an opportunity for students to express what they already know about mental illness before experiencing the materials in this curriculum supplement. Many students, as well as many adults, carry misconceptions about mental illness, and this exercise will draw their previous conceptions to the surface. At the end of Lesson 6, students will respond to these questions again and then compare their answers to what they wrote at the beginning of the module.

Note to teachers: If students have trouble with Question 3 on Master 1.2, What Do You Think?, you might want to remind them what adjectives are and have the class list some on the board. Make sure the list includes adjectives with positive and negative connotations (although it is not necessary to identify the connotations for students). Students can select from a variety of words that most closely align with their ideas.

  1. Instruct students to fold their completed copies of Master 1.2, What Do You Think?, in half. Have them write their names on the outside and staple the papers closed.

At this time, do not provide answers to questions or make judgments about students’ responses.

  1. Collect the students’ papers and save them until needed for Lesson 6.

Students will respond to these questions again at the end of Lesson 6. At that time, they will compare their responses from the beginning of the module with those at the end to see how their understanding has changed. Inform them that no one will look at their answers until they do so at the end of the module.

Activity 3: What Happens in the Brain?

This activity reinforces the idea that a mental illness, which is a health condition that changes the way a person thinks, feels, or behaves, is tied to changes in the way the brain works. This should be a fairly fast-paced discussion. Students do not need to know specific changes in specific regions of the brain.

Web activity icon

For classes using the Web-based version of this activity:

  1. Prompt students to recall that the changes they experienced from the surprise were short-term ones involving the brain.

Students should recall that their responses generally lasted only a few seconds.

  1. Encourage students to think carefully about how they responded at the exact instant of the surprise. Ask, “What would it be like if you were thinking, feeling, or acting like you did during the surprise event for weeks, months, or years instead of just a few seconds or minutes? Would you be able to live your life as you normally do?”

The key for answering this question is for students to remember the instant of the surprise—not the seconds before or after. Students’ responses should reveal that they would not like to experience the changes in their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors all the time. They could not function normally if they were constantly feeling anxious, apprehensive, nervous, worried, or jumpy.

Recognizing that a person’s life would be negatively affected by constantly (or regularly) experiencing these changes in behaviors, emotions, and thoughts will be an important transition for students. The surprise that they experienced earlier gives them a way to think about how the brain regulates our responses to events in the environment in the short term. These questions now begin to help students relate to changes that are both more negative and longer term.

  1. Remind students that mental illness could be one type of long-term change in the functioning of the brain. Provide them with the definition for mental illness as follows:

A mental illness is a health condition that changes a person’s thinking, feelings, or behavior (or all three) and that causes the person distress and difficulty in functioning.

This definition does not explicitly indicate that mental illnesses are long-term conditions. However, a short-term, instantaneous event that changes a person’s thinking, feelings, and behaviors (such as the surprise experienced earlier) probably doesn’t cause distress that would cause a problem for an individual in living his or her life.

  1. Ask students to think about ways that scientists might investigate changes in the brain that happen when a person has a mental illness.

Students might mention a variety of things, including the use of electrodes to measure electrical activity in the brain or the use of imaging techniques such as MRI or CT scans. These techniques can be used on living individuals, whereas techniques such as operating to look at the brain’s structure would only be used on dead bodies. If students mention surgery, you might want to make this distinction clear.

This step asks students to consider how scientists might investigate changes in the brain that occur with mental illness. That is different than the way a physician diagnoses a person with a mental illness. Lesson 2 focuses primarily on the role of the physician. For now, ask students to restrict their ideas to what scientists might do when they research what happens in the brain of someone with a mental illness.

National Science Education Standards icon
Content Standard A:
Technology used to gather data enhances accuracy and allows scientists to analyze and quantify results of investigations.
  1. Introduce students to the idea that scientists can use specialized imaging techniques to learn some things about how the brain works. One technique is called positron emission tomography, or PET. Inform students that they will be looking at PET images to learn about the brain.

For this module, students do not need to know the science that underlies PET imaging. It is more important that they understand what a PET image can tell a scientist about brain activity.

Note to teachers: Although students don’t need to learn this now, be aware that physicians do not use PET or other imaging techniques to diagnose mental illness and that research scientists generally do not use these techniques with children.

  1. Go to the Web site’s student activities page, http://science.education.nih.gov/supplements/mental/student. Click on “Lesson 1—The Brain: Control Central,” then click on “What Happens in the Brain?” Students will first view a short animation to see how PET images are taken.

The animation should help students understand that each PET image is an “optical slice” through the brain and should give them an understanding of how the images correlate to the human body. Through this animation, students should be able to visualize that each image is a picture of a single level of the brain. The person’s face would be at the top of the picture, and the back of the head would be at the bottom. It can be difficult to understand how these images relate to a person’s anatomy. You may need to emphasize that the image is only a virtual “slice” in the computer’s memory; there is no actual, physical cutting of brain tissue.

For this activity, the prompts for moving through the activity are provided onscreen. Steps 7–10 that follow also go through each phase of the activity to provide the teacher with additional information.

  1. After watching the animation, click on “Continue” to view a PET image. Ask students to list a few observations of the PET image.

Students will notice that different parts of the brain have different levels of activity. Some areas of the brain have higher levels of activity than other areas.

Be aware that students may conclude incorrectly that the different parts of their brains actually change colors based on activity. If students have this misconception, explain that the color is added to the images when the computer enhances the image. The color isn’t real, it just makes the images easier for scientists to interpret. In this respect, PET images are somewhat analogous to weather-radar images seen on the evening news. The weather-radar images use computer enhancement to depict rain or snow showers in different colors.

tip iconTip from the field test: A common misconception about PET images is that an area that is black (very dark purple) represents no brain activity. In fact, there is brain activity, but it is at a low level.

Another misconception noted among students in the field test was that the PET images showed changes that happened in the brain over a period of time. Inform students that the images show only what is happening in the brain at a particular instant. In other words, they are more like a photograph than a video.

  1. By clicking “Continue” again, students see a screen with a question about how a PET image of someone’s brain might look if it were taken during the surprise they experienced earlier.

Students likely will propose correctly that the activity levels in the brain of a person experiencing a short-term, anxiety-inducing event would be different from those of a person who is simply resting. Although students likely will suggest that the activity in the brain increases, ask them to think about whether activity could decrease in some parts of the brain. The important part is not whether the activity in the brain increases or decreases, but rather that it changes.

  1. Click on the “Continue” button again. Students will now see two images: Image 1 and Image 2. Ask students to identify differences between the two PET images.

Students should notice that Images 1 and 2 differ in color distribution and pattern. Compared with Image 1, some areas of the brain in Image 2 increase in activity and other areas decrease in activity.

Students will notice that the changes occur in specific parts of the brain and not the brain as a whole. For this curriculum supplement, it is not important for students to know the names of the specific parts of the brain that change in activity level (many parts of the brain change).

  1. After students have made their observations about the differences between Image 1 and Image 2, click “Continue.” This will reveal that Image 1 shows a healthy brain at rest and that the brain in Image 2 is of a different brain. At this point, students do not know what specifically is different about the brain in Image 2. Ask students if they can determine what is happening in Image 2 simply by looking at the PET image. Can they tell whether the person is experiencing a short-term or long-term change in brain function?

Students should respond that they could not determine whether a short-term or long-term change is occurring simply by viewing a PET image.

  1. By clicking “Continue” again, students will learn that Image 2 is a PET image of the brain of someone who has schizophrenia, a mental illness. That individual, like the individual in Image 1, was resting when the PET image was taken. Given this new information, ask students what they can conclude about the brain and mental illness.

The primary conclusion that students should reach is that mental illness actually changes something about how the brain works. PET images of a person who has a mental illness show that the activity in the brain is different from that of a person who does not have a mental illness. The level of activity in some parts of the brain of a person who has a mental illness may be lower than in a person who does not have a mental illness. In other areas, the level of brain activity may be higher in the person who has a mental illness.

The examination of PET images in this lesson reinforces the idea that changes in a person’s thoughts, feelings, or behaviors correlate with changes that happen in the brain. These images also serve as a brief introduction to one way scientists investigate what happens in the brain when someone has a mental illness.

The PET images in this activity (and others in this module) are from adults who volunteered to be part of a research study.

print activity iconFor classes using the print-based version of this activity:

  1. Prompt students to recall that the changes they experienced from the surprise were short-term ones involving the brain.

Students should recall that their responses generally lasted only a few seconds.

  1. Encourage students to think carefully about how they responded at the exact instant of the surprise. Ask, “What would it be like if you were thinking, feeling, or acting like you did during the surprise event for weeks, months, or years instead of just a few seconds? Would you be able to live your life as you normally do?”

The key for answering this question is for students to remember the instant of the surprise (the scream or balloon pop)—not the seconds before or after. Students’ responses will reveal that they would not like to experience the changes in their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors all the time. They could not function normally if they were constantly feeling anxious, apprehensive, nervous, worried, or jumpy.

Recognizing that a person’s life would be negatively affected by constantly (or regularly) experiencing these changes in behaviors, emotions, and thoughts will be an important transition for students. The surprise that they experienced earlier gives them a way to think about how the brain regulates our responses to events in the environment in the short term. These questions now begin to help students relate to changes that are both more negative and longer term.

  1. Remind students that mental illness could be one type of long-term change in the functioning of the brain. Provide them with the definition for mental illness as follows:

A mental illness is a health condition that changes a person’s thinking, feelings, or behavior (or all three) and that causes the person distress and difficulty in functioning.

This definition does not explicitly indicate that mental illnesses are long-term conditions. However, a short-term, instantaneous event that changes a person’s thinking, feelings, and behaviors (such as the surprise event experienced earlier) probably doesn’t cause distress that would cause a problem for an individual in living his or her life.

  1. Ask students to think about ways that scientists might investigate changes in the brain that happen when a person has a mental illness.

Students might mention a variety of things, including the use of electrodes to measure electrical activity in the brain or the use of imaging techniques such as MRI or CT scans. These techniques can be used on living individuals, whereas techniques such as operating to look at the brain’s structure would only be used on dead bodies. If students mention surgery, you might want to make this distinction clear.

This step asks students to consider how scientists might investigate changes in the brain that occur with mental illness. That is different from the way a physician diagnoses a person with a mental illness. Lesson 2 focuses primarily on the role of the physician. For now, ask students to restrict their ideas to what scientists might do when they research what happens in the brain of someone with a mental illness.

National Science Education Standards icon
Content Standard A:
Technology used to gather data enhances accuracy and allows scientists to analyze and quantify results of investigations.
  1. Introduce students to the idea that scientists can use specialized imaging techniques to learn about how the brain works. One technique is called positron emission tomography, or PET. PET allows scientists to find out what parts of the brain are most active. Computers add color to the images to make the areas that the scientists are interested in stand out. Inform students that they will be looking at PET images to learn about changes that occur in the brain.

For this module, students do not need to know the science that underlies PET imaging. It is more important that they understand what a PET image can tell a scientist about brain activity.

Note to teachers: Although students don’t need to learn this now, be aware that physicians do not use PET or other imaging techniques to diagnose mental illness and that research scientists do not use these techniques with children.

  1. Display a transparency of Master 1.3, What’s Happening in the Brain? Reveal only Image 1 and the scale bar at this time. Point out to students that in these images, the brain areas that are most active appear in red, and the parts of the brain that are least active appear in dark blue or purple.

Help students understand that each PET image is an “optical slice” through the brain. In other words, the image is a picture of a single level of the brain. The person’s face would be at the top of the picture, and the back of the head would be at the bottom. It can be difficult to understand how these images relate to a person’s anatomy. You may need to emphasize that the image is only a “slice” in the computer’s memory; there is no actual, physical cutting of brain tissue.

If students need additional help visualizing how the PET image correlates to an individual’s anatomy, you can use the example of putting a rubber band around the head—the rubber band would be on the forehead and the back of the head. The PET image would correspond to the “slice” of the brain within the rubber band.

  1. Ask students to list a few observations about the PET image.

Students will notice that different parts of the brain have different levels of activity. Some areas of the brain have higher levels of activity than other areas.

Be aware that students may conclude incorrectly that the different parts of their brains actually change colors based on activity. If students have this misconception, explain that the color is added to the images when the computer enhances the image. The color isn’t real, it just makes the images easier for scientists to interpret. In this respect, PET images are somewhat analogous to weather-radar images seen on the evening news. The weather-radar images use computer enhancement to depict rain or snow showers in different colors.

tip iconTip from the field test: A common misconception about PET images is that an area that is black (very dark purple) represents no brain activity. In fact, there is brain activity, but it is at a low level.

  1. Ask students to propose how a PET image of someone’s brain would look different if it were taken during the surprise they experienced earlier.

Students likely will propose correctly that the activity levels in the brain of a person experiencing a short-term, anxiety-inducing event would be different from those of a person who is simply resting. Although students likely will suggest that the activity in the brain increases, ask them to think about whether activity could decrease in some parts of the brain. The important part is not whether the activity in the brain increases or decreases, but rather that it changes.

Another misconception noted among students in the field test was that the PET images showed changes that happened in the brain over a period of time. Inform students that the images show only what is happening in the brain at a particular instant. In other words, they are more like a photograph than a video.

  1. Now reveal Image 2. Ask students to identify differences between the two PET images.

Students should notice that Images 1 and 2 differ somewhat in color distribution and pattern. Compared with Image 1, some areas of the brain in Image 2 increase in activity and other areas decrease in activity.

Students will notice that the changes occur in specific parts of the brain and not the brain as a whole. For this curriculum supplement, it is not important for students to know the names of the specific parts of the brain that change in activity level (many parts of the brain change).

  1. Reveal to students that Image 1 shows a healthy brain at rest and that Image 2 is of a different brain. At this point, students do not know what specifically is different about the brain in Image 2. Ask students whether they can determine what is happening in Image 2 simply by looking at the PET image. Can they tell whether the person is experiencing a short-term or long-term change in brain function?

Students should respond that they could not determine whether a short-term or long-term change is occurring simply by viewing a PET image.

  1. Reveal to students that Image 2 is a PET image of the brain of someone who has schizophrenia, a mental illness. That individual, like the individual in Image 1, was resting when the PET image was taken. Given this new information, ask students what they can conclude about the brain and mental illness.

The primary conclusion that students should reach is that mental illness actually changes something about how the brain works. PET images of a person who has a mental illness show that the activity in the brain is different from that of a person who does not have a mental illness. The level of activity in some parts of the brain of a person who has a mental illness may be lower than in a person who does not have a mental illness. In other areas, the level of brain activity may be higher in the person who has a mental illness.

The examination of PET images in this lesson reinforces the idea that changes in a person’s thoughts, feelings, or behaviors correlate with changes that happen in the brain. These images also serve as a brief introduction to one way scientists investigate what happens in the brain when someone has a mental illness.

The PET images in this activity (and others in this module) are from adults who volunteered to be part of a research study.

Lesson Wrap-Up

assessment icon
Assessment:
Asking students to record what they believe are the “big ideas” for each lesson can help them realize what they have learned and reinforce the concepts in their minds.

Ask students to write a few sentences to summarize what they believe are the major ideas conveyed in the activities in this lesson. If students regularly use a science journal, they can record their summaries there, or they can simply record their summaries on notebook paper. For this first lesson, you might find it useful to facilitate this beginning with a class discussion followed by time for students to write. For later lessons, students can complete this wrap-up independently. The summaries that students write at the conclusion of each lesson will help them when they do the Evaluate lesson (Lesson 6) at the end of the module.

Web activity icon Lesson 1 Organizer: Web Version
Activity 1: Inducing a Response
What the Teacher Does Procedure Reference

Log onto the Web site and access Lesson 1—The Brain: Control Central. Select “The E-mail.” Read the e-mail message with students and click on indicated link to show the video.

Web activity iconSteps 1–3

List students’ responses on the board. Sort responses into categories: behaviors, feelings, thoughts.

Steps 4–5

Prompt students to reach the conclusion that the brain regulates a person’s behaviors, feelings, and thoughts.

Step 6

Ask students to think about their feelings now as compared with the instant of the surprise.

Step 7

Ask students to consider and distinguish between short-term and long-term events. Ask students to suggest things (including mental illness) that could result from long-term changes in the brain.

Step 8

Challenge students to keep the surprise secret from other students.

Step 9
Activity 2: What Do I Know about Mental Illness?
What the Teacher Does Procedure Reference

Give each student 1 copy of Master 1.2, What Do You Think? Ask students to write responses to each of the questions.

master iconStep 1

Ask students to fold their papers in half, staple them closed, and write their names on the outside.

Step 2

Collect the papers and save them until needed in Lesson 6.

Step 3
Activity 3: What Happens in the Brain?
What the Teacher Does Procedure Reference

Prompt students to remember their short-term responses at the instant of the surprise in Activity 1. Ask students to consider whether they could live their lives normally if they were experiencing these responses all the time.

Steps 1–2

Remind students that mental illness is one thing that results from a long-term change in how the brain works. Provide the definition for mental illness as follows:

A mental illness is a health condition that changes a person’s thinking, feelings, or behavior (or all three) and that causes the person distress and difficulty in functioning.

Step 3

Ask students to think about ways that scientists might investigate changes in the brain that happen when a person has a mental illness.

Step 4

Introduce the idea that PET imaging is one way that scientists can learn about how the brain works. Inform students that they will be examining PET images.

Step 5

Open the Web site for Lesson 1. Click on “What Happens in the Brain?“ Show the short animation that provides a background on PET imaging.

Web activity iconStep 6

Show Image 1. Ask students to make observations.

Step 7

Ask students to consider what a PET image might look like if it was taken at the instant of the surprise in Activity 1.

Step 8

Click “Continue” to view both Image 1 (a healthy brain) and Image 2 (a different brain). Can students tell whether a person is experiencing a short-term or a long-term event simply by looking at the image?

Steps 9–10

By clicking “Continue” again, students learn that Image 2 is the brain of an individual who has schizophrenia. Ask students what they can conclude about the brain and mental illness.

Step 11
Lesson Wrap-Up
What the Teacher Does Procedure Reference

Ask students to summarize the main ideas of this lesson by writing a few sentences in their journal.

Wrap-Up
Web activity icon= Involves using the Internet.
master icon= Involves copying a master.

print activity iconLesson 1 Organizer: Print Version
Activity 1: Inducing a Response
What the Teacher Does Procedure Reference

Distribute 1 copy of Master 1.1, Find the Mistakes, to each student. Instruct students to identify all the mistakes being made in the laboratory. While students are concentrating on their task, pop a balloon that you have hidden in the classroom.

master iconSteps 1–2

List students’ responses to the balloon pop on the board. Sort responses into categories: behaviors, feelings, thoughts.

Steps 3–4

Prompt students to reach the conclusion that the brain regulates a person’s behaviors, feelings, and thoughts.

Step 5

Ask students to think about their feeling now as compared with the instant of the surprise.

Step 6

Ask students to consider and distinguish between short-term and long-term events. Ask students to suggest things (including mental illness) that could result from long-term changes in the brain.

Step 7

Challenge students to keep the surprise secret from other students.

Step 8
Activity 2: What Do I Know about Mental Illness?
What the Teacher Does Procedure Reference

Give each student 1 copy of Master 1.2, What Do You Think? Ask students to write responses to each of the questions.

master iconStep 1

Ask students to fold their papers in half, staple them closed, and write their names on the outside.

Step 2

Collect the papers and save them until needed in Lesson 6.

Step 3
Activity 3: What Happens in the Brain?
What the Teacher Does Procedure Reference

Prompt students to remember their short-term responses at the instant of the surprise in Activity 1. Ask students to consider whether they could live their lives normally if they were experiencing these responses all the time.

Steps 1–2

Remind students that mental illness is one thing that results from a long-term change in how the brain works. Provide the definition for mental illness as follows:

A mental illness is a health condition that changes a person’s thinking, feelings, or behavior (or all three) and that causes the person distress and difficulty in functioning.

Step 3

Ask students to think about ways that scientists might investigate changes in the brain that happen when a person has a mental illness.

Step 4

Introduce the idea that PET imaging is one way that scientists can learn about how the brain works. Inform students that they will be examining PET images.

Step 5

Display a transparency of Master 1.3, What’s Happening in the Brain? Reveal only Image 1 and the scale bar. Point out that different colors represent different levels of brain activity.

transparency iconStep 6

Ask students to make observations about Image 1.

Step 7

Ask students to propose how a PET image might look if it was taken at the instant of the surprise they experienced earlier.

Step 8

Reveal Image 2. Ask students to identify differences between Image 1 and Image 2.

Step 9

Inform students that Image 1 is of a healthy brain at rest and that Image 2 is of a different brain. Ask students if they can tell if the person is experiencing a short-term or long-term change in how the brain functions.

Step 10

Inform students that Image 2 is the brain of an individual who has schizophrenia. Ask students what they can conclude about the brain and mental illness.

Step 11
Lesson Wrap-Up
What the Teacher Does Procedure Reference

Ask students to summarize the main ideas of this lesson by writing a few sentences in their journal.

Wrap-Up
master icon= Involves copying a master.
transparency icon= Involves making a transparency.

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