178 posts tagged Brain
Scientists unravel the mysteries of the teenage brain
Teenage mood swings were immortalised in Harry Enfield’s comedy character Kevin, but now scientists are researching exactly why he and his real-life peers feel everything is “so unfair.”
Psychiatrists at Cambridge University have begun a £5m study of the adolescent brain in which they aim to pinpoint changes in the way it is wired that are responsible for the impulsive and emotional behaviour so familiar to parents of teens.
The project will involve scanning the brains of 300 people aged between 14 and 24 to investigate the way they change as the person matures and whether these changes are what cause teenagers to gradually shed their sometimes antisocial behavioural patterns.
The researchers also hope to learn more about how mental disorders develop in young adults in the process.
Professor Ed Bullmore, one of the psychiatrists involved in the study, told BBC News: “MRI scans will give us very good pictures of how the anatomy of the brain changes over the course of development.
“We are particularly interested in how the tissue at the centre of the brain, known as white matter, might change over the course of development.” (via Scientists unravel the mysteries of the teenage brain - Telegraph)
Foc.us headset claims to shock the brain for better gaming, we go forehead-on
We’ve seen a number of headsets tap into the mind, to geotag your mood, grant you remote control over gadgets or simply let you wiggle a pair of cat ears. None of those are quite like the foc.us, however, which serves up transcranial direct-current simulation (tDCS) — a controversial form of neurosimulation that transmits current to a particular area of the brain. Originally used to help patients with brain injuries, tDCS has supposedly been found to increase cognitive performance in healthy adults. These claims haven’t been proven yet though, and shocking your own cranium isn’t exactly FDA approved.
Still, the foc.us is one of a few tDCS headsets designed for the consumer market and can, the inventor Michael Oxley claims, improve your working or short-term memory when the electrodes are placed on your prefrontal cortex. A low-intensity current is passed through the different nodes, exciting that part of the brain. Interestingly, Oxley is positioning it as a way to boost your video gaming prowess for the “ultimate gaming experience,” a concept we found a little odd. That said, you don’t actually have to wear the headset while shooting up bad guys or other brain-draining tasks. The idea behind the foc.us headset is to put it on your noggin, fire it up, and wait for around five to ten minutes, then take it off and go about your day. We did just that and all the gory details are after the break. (via Foc.us headset claims to shock the brain for better gaming, we go forehead-on)
University of California, Berkeley researchers have developed a device that uses wireless signals to provide real-time, non-invasive diagnoses of brain swelling or bleeding.
The device analyzes data from low energy, electromagnetic waves, similar to the kind used to transmit radio and mobile signals. It could potentially become a cost-effective tool for medical diagnostics and to triage injuries in areas where access to medical care, especially medical imaging, is limited.
The researchers tested a prototype in a small-scale pilot study of healthy adults and brain trauma patients admitted to a military hospital for the Mexican Army. The results from the healthy patients were clearly distinguishable from those with brain damage, and data for bleeding was distinct from those for swelling.
“There are large populations in Mexico and the world that do not have adequate access to advanced medical imaging, either because it is too costly or the facilities are far away,” said César A. González, a professor at the Instituto Politécnico Nacional, Escuela Superior de Medicina (National Polytechnic Institute’s Superior School of Medicine) in Mexico.
“This technology is inexpensive, it can be used in economically disadvantaged parts of the world and in rural areas that lack industrial infrastructure, and it may substantially reduce the cost and change the paradigm of medical diagnostics. We have also shown that the technology could be combined with cell phones for remote diagnostics.”
Boris Rubinsky, Professor of the Graduate School at UC Berkeley’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, who led the research team, noted that symptoms of serious head injuries and brain damage are not always immediately obvious, and for treatment, time is of the essence. For example, the administration of clot-busting medication for certain types of strokes must be given within three hours of the onset of symptoms.
Adventures in Neurohumanities
At Stanford University in 2012, a young literature scholar named Natalie Phillips oversaw a big project: a new way of studying the nineteenth-century novelist Jane Austen. No surprise there—Austen, a superstar of English literature and the inspiration for an endless array of Hollywood and BBC productions based on her work, has been the subject of thousands of scholarly papers.
But the Stanford study was different. Phillips used a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine to track the blood flow of readers’ brains when they read Mansfield Park. The subjects—mostly graduate students—were asked to skim an excerpt and then read it closely. The results were part of a study on reading and distraction.
The “neuro novel” story was quickly picked up by the mainstream media, from NPR to The New York Times. But the Austen project wasn’t merely a clever one-off—the brainchild, so to speak, of one imaginatively interdisciplinary scholar. And it wasn’t just the result of ambitious academics crossing brain science with “the marriage plot” in unholy matrimony simply to grab headlines. The Stanford study reflects a real trend in the humanities. At Yale University, Lisa Zunshine, now a literature scholar at the University of Kentucky, was part of a research team that studied modernist authors using fMRI, also in order to better understand reading. Rather than a cramped office or library carrel, the researchers got to use the Haskins Laboratory in New Haven, with funding by the Teagle Foundation, to carry out their project, in which twelve participants were given texts with higher and lower levels of complexity and had their brains monitored. (via Adventures in Neurohumanities | The Nation)
Neuroscience: Idle minds
Neuroscientists are trying to work out why the brain does so much when it seems to be doing nothing at all.
For volunteers, a brain-scanning experiment can be pretty demanding. Researchers generally ask participants to do something — solve mathematics problems, search a scene for faces or think about their favoured political leaders — while their brains are being imaged.
But over the past few years, some researchers have been adding a bit of down time to their study protocols. While subjects are still lying in the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanners, the researchers ask them to try to empty their minds. The aim is to find out what happens when the brain simply idles. And the answer is: quite a lot.
Some circuits must remain active; they control automatic functions such as breathing and heart rate. But much of the rest of the brain continues to chug away as the mind naturally wanders through grocery lists, rehashes conversations and just generally daydreams. This activity has been dubbed the resting state. And neuroscientists have seen evidence that the networks it engages look a lot like those that are active during tasks.
Resting-state activity is important, if the amount of energy devoted to it is any indication. Blood flow to the brain during rest is typically just 5–10% lower than during task-based experiments1. And studying the brain at rest should help to show how the active brain works. Research on resting-state networks is helping to map the brain’s intrinsic connections by showing, for example, which areas of the brain prefer to talk to which other areas, and how those patterns might differ in disease. (via Neuroscience: Idle minds : Nature News & Comment)
Babies’ brains emit electrical bursts that signal a budding awareness of the visual world by the time they are 5 months old, a new study concludes. But some researchers are skeptical that these neural surges correspond to conscious experience.
From age 5 months to 15 months, the brain begins to develop the ability to register and remember sights, according to the research by cognitive neuroscientist Sid Kouider of École Normale Supérieure in Paris and his colleagues. The researchers showed babies images that included faces flashed increasingly slowly on a screen. They started at a speed so fast that even adults wouldn’t consciously notice the images, and then the researchers increased the amount of time each image appeared. Infants displayed a sequence of rapid brain responses that first signaled unconscious and then conscious perception of faces, Kouider’s team reports April 18 in Science.
“We weren’t expecting to see any evidence of a neural marker for consciousness in 5-month-olds,” Kouider says. Babies at that age exhibited a weak, delayed version of a brain response that occurs when adults report seeing a face flashed just long enough to be consciously perceived, Kouider asserts.
Stronger and faster brain responses corresponding to visual awareness emerged in 12- and 15-month-olds, Kouider found, although older infants still fell well short of the adult pattern.
If further research confirms the existence of a neural marker of consciousness in babies, scientists could adapt their visual task to evaluate whether infants show brain indications of feeling pain during medical procedures or after receiving numbing drugs, he suggests.
Talk of a neuro-revolution in self understanding is mostly overblown hype.
There’s no denying neuroscience has a higher profile than ever before. Huge new investments in brain science have just been announced on both sides of the Atlantic, and a British media survey published last year documented a dramatic rise over the last decade in the number of newspaper articles mentioning the brain.
Some commentators believe all this is having a radical effect on how we see ourselves. In his 2009 book The Neuro Revolution: How Brain Science is Changing Our World, Zach Lynch says neuroscience findings are: “propelling humanity toward a radical reshaping of our lives, families, societies, cultures, governments, economies, art, leisure, religion – absolutely everything that’s pivotal to humankind’s existence.”
Wow, that’s quite a claim, but is it true? A new review paper published by Cliodhna O’Connor and Helene Joffe at UCL suggests that Lynch and those of his persuasion are getting seriously carried away. There is in fact very little research into the way neuroscience findings are affecting the way we talk and think about ourselves. So really Lynch’s claims are just a prediction. And a bold one at that. What evidence there is paints a far more nuanced picture.
For example, there’s data suggesting the impact of neuroscience on the public consciousness is rather modest. A survey of the British public published in 2011 found that 64% reported having little or no awareness of the way brain scanning is used (only 10% said they were “very aware”).
Men find it hard to read female emotions, say scientists
Scientists have now found proof for something many women have been claiming for years – men find it difficult to read female emotions.
Men found it twice as hard to guess a woman’s mood than a man’s after being shown pictures of people’s eyes and estimating how they were feeling, researchers found. However, the study showed that it is not because of men’s lack of trying - the male volunteers were given brain scans while they looked at the pictures, and the data suggested an unusual reason for the difficulty in reading women’s feelings. When looking at male eyes, men related what they saw to themselves, with the parts of their brains linked to past thoughts and feelings lighting up, the Daily Mail reported. The study suggested that they understood what other men felt by remembering similar moments in their own lives, and then used them to evaluate the image, the researchers said. But when they looked at female eyes, the men were baffled, as their brains searched for memories of when they had seen another woman who looked similar to the image, and meant men found it harder to empathise with women’s feelings. (via Men find it hard to read female emotions, say scientists - Telegraph)
I remember quite vividly the first time I tried beer — I almost spit it out. Bitter, bubbly and generally bad, I didn’t get why everyone seemed to be so enamored with it. Yet I, like so many people in the world, continued to drink it. Have you ever wondered why we, as a species, consume alcoholic beverages even though they taste terrible at first?
A new study suggests that despite the bitter taste, the chemicals in beer trigger the brain’s reward system. This pleasurable effect might just explain why we’re so willing to keep drinking past the first sip — until intoxication takes over, and we’ll drink just about anything. But more importantly, this new research, published today in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, may explain why some people can drink casually while others slip into alcoholism.
Addictions occur when the brain betrays the body, causing feelings of pleasure from activities that are unhealthy. Scientists have long known that the release of dopamine, the neurotransmitter that stimulates the brain’s reward system, is strongly associated with addictive behaviors. The pleasure kick stimulated by alcohol, drugs or risky behaviors tells our bodies to repeat the behavior, starting a dangerous cycle that can be tough to break. Understanding exactly what triggers the release of dopamine in the brain is key to understanding and preventing addictions and relapses.
What the Brain Can Tell Us About Art
THIS month, President Obama unveiled a breathtakingly ambitious initiative to map the human brain, the ultimate goal of which is to understand the workings of the human mind in biological terms.
Many of the insights that have brought us to this point arose from the merger over the past 50 years of cognitive psychology, the science of mind, and neuroscience, the science of the brain.
The discipline that has emerged now seeks to understand the human mind as a set of functions carried out by the brain.
This new approach to the science of mind not only promises to offer a deeper understanding of what makes us who we are, but also opens dialogues with other areas of study — conversations that may help make science part of our common cultural experience.
Consider what we can learn about the mind by examining how we view figurative art. In a recently published book, I tried to explore this question by focusing on portraiture, because we are now beginning to understand how our brains respond to the facial expressions and bodily postures of others.
The portraiture that flourished in Vienna at the turn of the 20th century is a good place to start. Not only does this modernist school hold a prominent place in the history of art, it consists of just three major artists — Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka and Egon Schiele — which makes it easier to study in depth.
As a group, these artists sought to depict the unconscious, instinctual strivings of the people in their portraits, but each painter developed a distinctive way of using facial expressions and hand and body gestures to communicate those mental processes. (via What the Brain Can Tell Us About Art - NYTimes.com)