I recently attended a lecture by Dr. David F. Tolin, a highly-respected expert on hoarding disorder, in which he explained the salience network and its relevance to hoarding tendencies. In layman’s terms, and I’m probably bungling this completely, the salience network helps people decide what is important, especially in their environment, and how to react to important things. Its functionality has social, physical, mental and (other) emotional consequences. Humans have one, and so do bonobos, gorillas, chimpanzees, elephants, at least some kinds of dolphins and whales and possibly raccoons, pygmy hippos, and macaque monkeys. Maybe other animals as well, but I don’t understand the science well enough to be sure of what I’m reading. Increasingly, a dysfunctional salience network is believed to contribute to multiple mental illnesses and/or neurodiversity behaviors, including hoarding behaviors.
So me, data geek that I am, I found a tiny 2017 (36 page!) publication Salience Network of the Human Brain by Dr. Lucina Q. Uddin to learn more. I am NOT going to review this one. Nope, uh un, nope. I read the whole thing. And had to look up every other word. Several times. With illustrations, and looking up words in the explanations I looked up.
I’m a NYC kid. My parents started me on flight as a culture vulture when I was little, including Broadway. Guys and Dolls the movie is one of my favorites – Guys and Dolls is set in NYC, so of course – and has many of my favorite songs ever, including “Adelaide’s Lament“, with its VERY unPC theme “A person can develop a cold” because her boyfriend hasn’t proposed marriage. That lyric runs through my head whenever I get a stress-related cold: keeping a sense of humor helps. And one of the few concepts I know I understood from Uddin’s book – a person can develop a gut ache from salience network activity. We are whole beings: understanding all of our body’s signals gives us tremendous power to affect our behavior. Another concept I’m sure I absorbed: as dedicated neuroscientists study our brains, they will discover more, and more successful, ways to treat illnesses from dementia to Parkinson’s disease. That is inspiring.
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