236 posts tagged Brain
Do Cats Control My Mind?
New neuroscience research says that Toxo—the cysts in our brains from cats—can improve our self-control. For the 30 percent of people who have this infection, it’s about more than promiscuity, schizophrenia, and car crashes.
“It is definitely not smart to intentionally infect yourself. I’ve already had people ask.” A third of the world has been infected, though. Tiny cysts nested in one’s brain and muscles attest. The parasite Toxoplasmosis gondii comes into us by undercooked meat, well-intentioned placentas, gardening soil, or, most infamously, cats. It is the reason that pregnant women are not supposed to empty litter boxes. “If you’re young and healthy and have it already, it might provide some benefit, as we saw in our research,” Ann-Kathrin Stock, a cognitive neurophysiology researcher at the University of Dresden in Germany, told me. “But the adverse effects are potentially huge. If you ever really get sick it might be what kills you.” Many people have what feels like a cold after they get infected with Toxo. The symptoms pass, and the person feels fine. But the Toxo lives on inside them, hidden dormant in little cysts, kept in check by constant pressure from the person’s immune system. If our immune systems become weak, because of a serious illness later in life, though, the Toxo can break out and attack organs like the brain or retina. “You might lose your ability to see, or lose your cognitive faculties,” Stock said. Neuroscientist Joraslov Flegr, an eminent voice in Toxo research, told The Atlantic last year that, “Toxoplasma might even kill as many people as malaria, or at least a million people a year.” What does it mean to learn that it can also have beneficial effects? (via Do Cats Control My Mind? - James Hamblin - The Atlantic)
Did you make it to work on time this morning? Go ahead and thank the traffic gods, but also take a moment to thank your brain. The brain’s impressively accurate internal clock allows us to detect the passage of time, a skill essential for many critical daily functions. Without the ability to track elapsed time, our morning shower could continue indefinitely. Without that nagging feeling to remind us we’ve been driving too long, we might easily miss our exit. But how does the brain generate this finely tuned mental clock? Neuroscientists believe that we have distinct neural systems for processing different types of time, for example, to maintain a circadian rhythm, to control the timing of fine body movem nts, and for conscious awareness of time passage. Until recently, most neuroscientists believed that this latter type of temporal processing – the kind that alerts you when you’ve lingered over breakfast for too long – is supported by a single brain system. However, emerging research indicates that the model of a single neural clock might be too simplistic. A new study, recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience by neuroscientists at the University of California, Irvine, reveals that the brain may in fact have a second method for sensing elapsed time. What’s more, the authors propose that this second internal clock not only works in parallel with our primary neural clock, but may even compete with it.
…the human brain is wired to connect with others so strongly that it experiences what they experience as if it’s happening to us.
This would seem the neural basis for empathy—the ability to feel what others feel—but it goes even deeper than that. Results from the latest study suggest that our…
To flexibly deal with our ever-changing world, we need to learn from both the negative and positive consequences of our behaviour. In other words, from punishment and reward. Hanneke den Ouden from the Donders Institute in Nijmegen demonstrated that serotonin and dopamine related genes influence how we base our choices on past punishments or rewards. This influence depends on which gene variant you inherited from your parents. These results were published in Neuron on November 20. The brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin partly determine our sensitivity to reward and punishment. At least, this was a common assumption . Hanneke den Ouden and Roshan Cools investigated this assumption together with colleagues from the Donders Institute and New York University. Den Ouden explains: “We used a simple computer game to test the genetic influence of the genes DAT1 and SERT, as these genes influence dopamine and serotonin. We discovered that the dopamine gene affects how we learn from the long-term consequences of our choices, while the serotonin gene affects our choices in the short term.”
Researchers have shed light on the chemistry that bonds one person to another by taking brain scans of men being stroked while in their underpants. The Finnish study found that gentle stroking – which was not in sexually arousing areas – changed levels of opioid brain chemicals which work behind the scenes to form lasting bonds in animals. The findings suggest that opioids might be the critical chemicals that enables human brains to distinguish between strangers and people who are closer to us, such as friends, families and lovers. “We know this is hugely important for humans because we have these strong, lasting bondings with friends and relatives and so on. But what kind of system maintains these bonds, and makes them last?” said Lauri Nummenmaa who studies the neural circuitry of emotions at Aalto University in Finland. Studies in animals have shown that opioids can play a crucial role in pairing up. Prairie voles are monogamous in the wild, but when given a drug that blocks opioid in their brains, they seek out other partners. If opioids are blocked in monkeys, they groom others less and neglect their babies. To see whether opioids were important in human bonding, the researchers invited nine couples into the lab. The men stripped off to their underpants and lay under a blanket in a PET scanner. The first scan was taken while the men were alone. For the second, their partners touched them gently all over, but avoided anywhere likely to arouse them sexually. “I’m really proud of the Finnish general public,” said Nummenmaa. “We had no problem whatsoever in recruiting people for the experiment.” When the researchers compared the men’s scans, they noticed that gentle stroking caused a drop in natural opioids in brain areas called the ventral striatum and the anterior cingulate cortex, which are mainstays of the brain’s reward circuitry. This was counter to expectations: they had expected levels to rise. Nummenmaa said that opioid might work in a similar way to a painkiller, with the body needing less the more comfortable it was. “The opioid system is typically engaged during pain, so you get a boost in painful situations. The social touching might be doing exactly the opposite. You can think of it as pain alleviation. That might be the underlying mechanism for why hooking up with others makes us feel so good in the first place,” said Nummenmaa. Details of the study were given at the Society for Neuroscience meeting in San Diego.
Sanguinetti showed study participants images of what appeared to be an abstract black object. Sometimes, however, there were real-world objects hidden at the borders of the black silhouette. In this image, the outlines of two seahorses can be seen in the white spaces surrounding the black object. Credit: Jay Sanguinetti (via Study: Your brain sees things you don’t)
Can you look inside the living brain and tell what someone is feeling? For the first time in history we have fMRI – a technology that promises to show the neurochemical traces of joy, rage, love and hate, as they cascade through the brain. Filmmaker Brent Hoff enlisted the Stanford Center for Cognitive Neurobiological Imaging to hold the world’s first ever ‘love competition’. Seven contestants had five minutes in an fMRI machine to love someone ‘as hard as they can’. The idea that love can be measured may seem deeply unromantic: the results were anything but.
It won’t be long before wearing a device on your wrist is considered passé. A San Jose-based company called NeuroSky is building sensors to detect your brain activity, so you can control things with your thoughts. The applications for this kind of technology are endless — and are best known in the gaming community – but the company raised an undisclosed sum today to push into the health and fitness market. The funding comes from Softbank, a Japanese corporation, in a round that chief executive Stanley Yang describes as “strategic.” Neurosky has raised about $40 million since its inception in 2006. The company builds the chips and software and strikes partnerships with device manufacturers. It has developed a complex set of algorithms that can track analog electrical brainwaves and turn them into digital measurements. This kind of technology is still nascent, but is referred to by futurists as “thought controlled computing.” The flagship product, MindWave, is a headset that can log into your computer using just your thoughts. Researchers recently used the EEG headset to develop a toy car that can be driven forward with thought. (via Next step for wearables? NeuroSky brings its smart sensors to health & fitness | VentureBeat)
Most of what I know isn’t in my head. It’s out there in my books. I know how to do a lot of integrals in calculus, for example. But, really, what I mean by that is that I know where my book of integrals is, and I know where in the book any particular method is. I know all that stuff in all those books in my house because I can find my way there. Books in a bookshelf possess lots of visual cues, so I can quickly find my way to the right book — “Oh, it’s on the bottom left of the shelf by the window in the living room, just below that big blue art book.” And once I find the book, when I open it up I can use visual cues within it to find my way to the right page. After all, it’s not as if I remember the page number. No, I remember roughly where it is in the book, roughly what the page looks like, and roughly what the surrounding pages might look like. Pages in a book might not initially seem to have a look, but they very often do. There are often figures, or tables, or unique and recognizable features to the way the paragraphs are aligned. These visuo-spatial cues guide me further and further along to the goal, the piece of my knowledge out there in my library. Mess with my library and books, and you mess with my brain. (via Do I Want My Brain in Physical Books, or e-Books? - The Crux | DiscoverMagazine.com)