Through their lens: stem cells, schizophrenia, and conversation

This summer we’re sponsoring high school interns in stem cell labs throughout California. We asked those students to contribute to our Instagram photos and YouTube videos about life in the lab, and write about their experiences.

In addition to carrying out a stem cell research project, the students were expected to carry out a secondary project relating their work to other areas of study.

Christina Tebbe using a microtome to cut extremely thin slices of brain tissue.
She submitted this photo to our #CIRMStemCellLab Instagram feed

For my second project, I have chosen to relate my knowledge of stem cells towards the topic of effective and ineffective communication between romantic partners under stressful circumstances.

The overall aspect of this project was to observe the verbal and nonverbal mimicry that two partners may appear to be doing, and the reasons towards why these mimicries may happen. There are two key types of mimicry that this study analyzed which included; behavioral mimicry, examples of this include touching or movement, and verbal mimicry, examples for this include speech or writing patterns. Previous research has indicated how mimicry comes about more often when one is engaging with someone that they know well or have had some sort of close-knit relationship with.

We may have this preconceived notion of how people who have a more close relationship with one another will be the ones who unconsciously mimic each other in every aspect due to their knowledge of how the other one acts. To us, this may seem like the logical reasoning, but this study’s results indicated how subjects who in fact reported more closeness to their partners showed lower instances of mimicry overall, especially under stressful circumstances. From this outcome, which is opposite to what one may have previously thought, a certain question gets brought up and that is of the role of mimicry in stressful conversations.

In terms of stem cells, my primary project dealt with the effects of ablating neural stem cells and restraint stress on behaviors relevant to animal models neuropsychiatric diseases, in specific, schizophrenia. My first thoughts in relating stem cells to this second project has to do with a person’s behavior and how it would possibly be altered if we were to ablate their neural stem cells, and how this would effect them mimicking their partner. While it has been indicated on animals how ablating the neural stem cell system alone has been shown no to effect behavior, we then add a stress component to that, and see if this produces any alterations. In terms of mimicry we see how when a person is exhibiting a great amount of stress the perceiver may unconsciously lower their amount of mimicry due to the fact that if they were to mimic the person it may negatively influence the conversation and create an awkward tension throughout the rest of the conversation. Having a person subjected to stress in general can cause their neural stem cell count to become ablated, thus altering how they may behave. I imagine that if we were to ablate person’s stem cells that if they were in a social situation and assuming that they are the perceiver, they would have zero to no mimicry with the other partner.

Christina Tebbe

Christina submitted these videos about her experience:

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