Susan Greenfield on the Human Brain

This resource is great for:
Gaining a greater understanding of the human brain and how it works.

Listen to clips from scientist Susan Greenfield’s event at the 2013 Edinburgh International Book Festival and then use the discussion points to further your understanding of the human brain, plus explore themes of sexism and women in science.

Baroness Susan Greenfield CBE is a British scientist, writer, broadcaster and member of the House of Lords.

Specialising in the physiology of the brain, Susan researches the impact of technology on the mind and novel approaches to conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

She has written a range of non-specialist books on issues relating to the mind and brain for the general reader.

In 2013, she delivered the Frederick Hood Memorial Lecture at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Listen to extracts from her discussion with broadcaster Kirsty Wark and then discuss the themes she explores.

 Activity – Discussion Points

Listen to the following extract in which Susan Greenfield recalls workplace bullying and sexism and stresses the importance of friendships and personal growth weighed against career success.

  • What are your opinions on how Susan was treated by her male colleague?
  • Was she right to conceal from him and others how upset she was, and why do you think she did that?
  • Do you think this could happen in today’s workplace and, if so, how should bullying be tackled? Think about how any bullying you have witnessed or experienced in school could influence your answer.
  •  Do you agree with Susan’s comments that satisfaction and contentment are derived from relationships and overcoming personal challenges, rather than from awards and promotions?

In the following extract, Susan talks about her fascination with the complexities of the human brain and how she came to work on research into degenerative brain conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

Find out more about Alzheimer’s here

Find out more about Parkinson’s here

  • Why do you think Susan was so intrigued by the human brain?
  • Discuss some of the remarkable capabilities of our brains that you know about.
  •  Susan talks about our brains and our minds. Discuss the differences between the two and how they develop.
  • Do you know people who have conditions such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia ? What impact do the conditions have on them and others around them?

In the following section, Susan talks about the controversial subject of the impact of computer games and social media on people, and whether there may a link between their regular use and conditions such as autistic spectrum disorder.

Learn more about this subject on Susan Greenfield’s website

Read more about autism here

  • What do you think about Susan’s view that playing video games or spending a lot of time on social media could affect people and the way they think?
  • Considering your experience and that of your friends, do you agree that spending a lot of time in front of a screen playing games can affect how well people communicate with each other in real life and how much empathy they have with others?
  • Do you think that some people much prefer the virtual reality of video games to real life? Is this a problem for them or others?
  • Have a group discussion with your classmates about your use of social media and video games and the importance and impact of both in a teenager’s life.

In the following extract, Susan talks about the lack of women in science

  • What do you think about Susan’s view of the issue and the subject in general? Is science an attractive option for girls at school?
  • Was Susan’s suggested way of tackling the problem a good one? Could you think of alternatives?
  • Do you agree women can be penalised in their careers because they take a break to have children?

 Thinking about all the extracts you have heard:

  • What are the moral arguments around finding genes that could identify people who are likely to develop brain conditions or other health problems? Would you want to know or be left in the dark?
  • The topic of the Frederick Hood Lecture is inspiration. In what ways do you find Susan Greenfield inspirational?

Further information:

The extracts above were taken from The Frederick Hood Memorial Lecture which Susan Greenfield delivered at the Book Festival in 2013.

More information about the Frederick Hood Memorial Lecture:

In 2008 Frederick Hood died tragically in an avalanche at the age of 28. Fred revelled in academia, studying in the UK, US and Italy. He was also active in the arts, debating and drama as well as in business and finance. 

The Frederick Hood event was established by Fred’s former colleagues at Walter Scott to celebrate his life and his talents. The idea of an annual lecture under the auspices of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, with whom Walter Scott shares a Charlotte Square address, seemed an apt way to embrace the subjects, the city and the festival of which he was so passionate.

Inspiration comes in many forms and the ambition of the annual Frederick Hood Memorial Lecture is to highlight, honour and promote an inspirational individual or event. The pre-requisite is simply a story of inspiration, the source of which is limitless.

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Supported by Walter Scott & Partners Limited