Summary & Study Guide - We are Our Brains - Lee Tang - ebook

A Definitive Book on How the Brain Evolves Through Every Stage of LifeThe must-read summary of “We Are Our Brains: A Neurobiography of the Brain from the Womb to Alzheimer’s,” by D. F. Swaab.In We Are Our Brains, the renowned neuroscientist D.F. Swaab takes us on a guided tour of the intricate inner workings of our brain, with each chapter serves as a window on a different stage of brain development. He shows how gender identity anAd moral behavior develop, what goes on in the adolescent mind, and how we age. He looks at common brain diseases like addiction, autism, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia; and explores the relationship between the brain and religion, the soul, the mind, and free will. This book demystifies the chemical and genetic workings of our most mysterious organ and helps us see who we are through new lenses.This guide includes: Book Summary—The summary helps you understand the key ideas and recommendations. Online Videos—On-demand replay of public lectures, and seminars on the topics covered in the chapter.Value-added of this guide: Save time Understand key concepts Expand your knowledgeRead this summary and find out how our brains predetermine everything about us long before we are born, from our moral character to our religious leanings, and sexual orientation.

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Summary &Study Guide

We are Our Brains

A Neurobiography of the Brain from the Womb to Alzheimer's

Lee Tang

Title: Summary & Study Guide - We are Our Brains

Subtitle: A Neurobiography of the Brain from the Womb to Alzheimer's

Author: Lee Tang

Publisher: LMT Press (


Copyright © 2018 by Lee Tang

All rights reserved. Aside from brief quotations for media coverage and reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced or distributed in any form without the author’s permission. Thank you for supporting authors and a diverse, creative culture by purchasing this book and complying with copyright laws.

First Edition: February 2018

Issued in print and electronic formats.

ISBN 9781988970059 (ebook)

ISBN-13: 9781985343832 (paperback)

ISBN-10: 1985343835 (paperback)

Limit of Liability/Disclaimer of Warranty: The publisher and author make no representations or warranties regarding the accuracy or completeness of these contents and disclaim all warranties such as warranties of fitness for a particular purpose. The website addresses in the book were correct at the time going to print. However, the publisher and author are not responsible for the content of third-party websites, which are subject to change.

To my wife, Lillian, who is the source of energy and love for everything I do, and to Andrew and Amanda: watching you grow up has been a privilege.


For a complete list of books by Lee Tang and information about the author, visit


Title Page



Books by Lee Tang



1 | Developments, Birth, and Parental Care

2 | Threats to the Fetal Brain

3 | Sexual Differentiation of the Brain in the Womb

4 | Puberty, Love, and Sexual Behavior

5 | Hypothalamus

6 | Addictive Substances

7 | The Brain and Consciousness

8 | Aggression

9 | Autism

10 | Schizophrenia and Other Reasons for Hallucinations

11 | Repair and Electric Stimulation

12 | The Brain and Sports

13 | Moral Behavior

14 | Memory

15 | Neurotheology: The Brain and Religion

16 | There Isn't More Between Heaven and Earth

17 | Free Will, a Pleasant Illusion

18 | Alzheimer's Disease

19 | Death

20 | Evolution


About the Author

Plea from the Author


“We Are Our Brains: A Neurobiography of the Brain from the Womb to Alzheimer’s,” by D. F. Swaab.

Book Abstract

The book is a biography of the human brain, from fetus to birth to adulthood to old age. Each chapter serves as a window on a different stage of brain development. It shows how gender identity and moral behavior developed, what goes on in the adolescent mind, and how we age. It looks at common brain diseases like addiction, autism, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and dementia, and the latest medical advances for recovery. Finally, it looks at the relationship between the brain and religion, the soul, the mind, and free will.


D. F. Swaab is a neuroscientist and a professor of neurobiology at the University of Amsterdam. He leads the Neuropsychiatric Disorders research team at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience and is the founder of the Netherlands Brain Bank, which supplies the international research community with clinical and neuropathological brain tissue. In 2008, Professor Swaab received the Medal of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences for his role in national and international neuroscience.

Important Note About This Study Guide

This guide is a summary, not a critique/review of the book. The summary may not be organized chapter-wise but summarizes the main ideas, viewpoints, and arguments. It is a supplement to, not a replacement for the book.


The brain comprises gray and white matters. The gray matter houses the principal brain cells, called neurons. These are the cells responsible for thought, perception, motion, and control of bodily functions. Neurons connect with other neurons through the white matter which comprises axons. It is white because it’s covered with a fatty substance called myelin—a great electrical insulation. When you perform an activity, the neurons in specific areas of the brain become activated and light up in brain scans. That’s how we know which parts we use to read, think, or listen to music.


There are two sides to the brain, each called a hemisphere. The right side of our brain controls the left side of our body. The brain sits on the brainstem which controls many of our most critical biological functions, like breathing, heart rate, blood pressure, and bladder and bowel movements. The brainstem and spinal cord are connected to the brain through the thalamus. Information from all the senses flows through the thalamus to the cerebral cortex. The cortex which comprises four lobes:

Frontal (top front)—houses the primary motor cortex and provides executive functions, judgment, insight, and impulse control.

Parietal (top back)—houses the primary sensory cortex and integrates sensory information (sight, touch, navigation, perception).

Temporal (sides)—houses the auditory cortex. Its main functions include hearing, memory, emotion, sexuality, and language.

Occipital (back)—houses the visual cortex.

The Cerebral Cortex

Close to the cortex is the limbic system which gets involved in memories and emotions. The hippocampus is a small seahorse-shaped structure under the temporal lobe. Its main function is to encode and retrieve memories. Next to the hippocampus is the amygdala which gets involved in sexual emotional behavior. Below the cortex are the basal ganglia which play a big role in making coordinated and patterned movements.

The Limbic System


Human Brain: Major Structures and their Functions

Cerebral Cortex



A smooth birth requires good interaction between the brains of mother and child. Labor starts when the child’s blood sugar level drops—a sign that the mother can no longer provide sufficient nourishment. The child’s hypothalamus responds by releasing oxytocin, a hormone that makes the uterus contract. The contractions make the baby’s head press against the cervix. This triggers a reflex, via the mother’s spinal cord, causing the mother to release more oxytocin, which stimulates more contractions. This chain reaction continues until the baby is born.


Many patients with psychiatric disorders experienced problems at birth. In the past, people thought difficult births caused brain damage that led to the disorders. We now know the child’s brain plays an active role in labor:

It has to register that the maternal food supply is becoming inadequate

It secretes oxytocin to make the uterus contract

It secretes a hormone, vasopressin, to ensure blood flows to the organs crucial to survival during birth, like the heart, the adrenal gland, the pituitary gland, and the brain.

So a difficult labor can be the consequence of a problem in fetal brain development. The problem can be caused by genetic factors, oxygen shortage in the womb, infections, or exposure to medication or addictive substances by the mother.


During pregnancy, a woman’s pituitary gland secretes prolactin, a hormone that prompts nesting behavior. At the end of pregnancy, both the mother and the child produce the hormone oxytocin. Besides helping to speed up labor and secrete enough milk for the baby, oxytocin creates a bond between mother and child. The mother also produces the hormone vasopressin, an important regulator of maternal behavior prompted by threats to offspring.


Before the child is born, the father’s pituitary gland secretes prolactin, a hormone that stimulates caring behavior. He also decreases his testosterone level, reducing aggression toward the child. Oxytocin also plays a role in paternal behavior by bonding father and child.


Children neglected during their early development have smaller brains. They are impulsive and hyperactive with impaired intelligence, linguistic, and motor control. Studies have shown orphans adopted before the age of two can attain normal IQ while children adopted between the ages of two and six attain average IQ of 80.

Linguistic and cultural environments during the first few years after birth determine how the brain process language, interpret facial expressions and how we scan images and surroundings. These systems become fixed after a critical period.

A stimulating environment promotes recovery after a developmental disorder. Children with Down syndrome respond well to intense stimulation in their environment. Studies show children with developmental disorders caused by malnourishment or emotional neglect can improve if placed in a more stimulating environment. So we should not put children with learning disorders in institutions where they receive little stimulation. They need more stimulus.


The brain circuitry necessary for memory matures only in the first year of life. Conscious memories start from the age of 2. Babies can remember sounds, vibration, taste, and smell from the womb. But these memories are not detailed and disappear within a few weeks, instead of lasting a lifetime.


Infant Brain Development - The Critical Intervention Point

Early Learning Brain Development and Lifelong Outcomes

The Science of Brain Development in Early Childhood

A Primer of Brain Development





A study of children born in the Netherlands during the Hunger Winter of 1944-45 showed the lack of nourishment can cause serious and lasting damage to the fetal brain. Malnutrition in the womb can be caused by a placenta malfunction, or the pregnant woman eating too little.

Iodine Deficiency

Iodine deficiency affects the child’s thyroid hormones, impairing brain and inner ear developments.

Environmental Chemicals