194 posts tagged Mind
Surgeons Say This Woman Became “Hyper Empathic” After They Removed Part of Her Brain
Susan (not her real name) had suffered from epileptic seizures since the age of two. Localized to her right temporal lobe, they’d been successfully controlled with drugs until she was 17. After that, they became so severe and uncontrollable that neurosurgeons removed part of her temporal lobe. They hoped this would alleviate her seizures, and it did. But there was another unanticipated effect. Post-surgery, Susan said she developed an enhanced ability to read other people’s emotions. She also experienced heightened physical sensations, such as “spin at the heart”, when she herself was moved emotionally, or when she met friends or family, or encountered fictional characters. Now Susan is aged 37, a French team led by Aurélie Richard-Mornas has systematically tested her, and they confirm that she has “hyper empathy”. I’m skeptical about these claims, but I’ll get to that later. The researchers are careful to make some distinctions – they say there are two forms of understanding other people’s mental states (an ability known as Theory of Mind): a cognitive variety, which allows us to represent the beliefs and intentions of others; and an affective variety, which allows us to represent their feelings and emotions. They further explain that empathy is separate from Theory of Mind and is about feeling other people’s emotions. The finding from their tests is that Susan has heightened “Affective Theory of Mind” – that is, an enhanced ability to recognize the feelings and emotions of others; and heightened empathy, in the form of an intense response to other people’s emotions. (via Surgeons Say This Woman Became “Hyper Empathic” After They Removed Part of Her Brain | Science Blogs | WIRED)
Come Climb a Jungle Gym of the Mind
Your brain is always changing. That’s the message of Your Brain, a new exhibition at The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. Covering topics ranging from basic neuroscience to cognitive psychology, Your Brain creates fun, hands-on experiences to look inside your own head. In this exhibition, this approach of personal discovery serves as a gateway to core scientific concepts and emerging research. The intense personal relevance of the brain has, throughout history, placed it in the focus of both scientific research and popular culture. Today those dual lenses are stronger than ever, with major international research initiatives advancing in parallel with Hollywood blockbusters playing on the brain as a rich source of mystery and curiosity. Yet there are surprisingly few opportunities where these parallel worlds of science and culture actually intersect for the public. Your Brain aims to bridge this gap. Early in the exhibition development process, we found that interest in the brain was uniformly high among children, adults, and educators–driven both by its inherent personal relevance as well as awareness from mass media and popular culture, as expected. We also found that understanding of brain science was also consistent across all groups–but at the level of a middle school student. In retrospect, this is probably not surprising. Many major research advances have occurred since most adults finished their formal education, and hardly any topics in brain science are explicitly addressed in current K-12 science education standards. Given this combination of rapidly advancing research, high public interest, but relatively low public understanding, an exhibition about the human brain is, well, a no-brainer. Your Brain immerses you in learning about the brain, creating environments that take you from the complex web of a neural network, through the incongruities of sensory illusions, to the every day situations where you take your brain for granted. You learn how your brain is constantly signaling, changing, and carrying out every function that creates your unique world. For example, watch the following video, which illustrates the relationship between sight and sound: (via Come Climb a Jungle Gym of the Mind | MIND Guest Blog, Scientific American Blog Network)
Some people like to keep a journal. Some people think it’s a bad idea. People who keep a journal often see it as part of the process of self-understanding and personal growth. They don’t want insights and events to slip through their minds. They think with their fingers and have to write to process experiences and become aware of their feelings. People who oppose journal-keeping fear it contributes to self-absorption and narcissism. C.S. Lewis, who kept a journal at times, feared that it just aggravated sadness and reinforced neurosis. Gen. George Marshall did not keep a diary during World War II because he thought it would lead to “self-deception or hesitation in reaching decisions.” The question is: How do you succeed in being introspective without being self-absorbed? Psychologists and others have given some thought to this question. The upshot of their work is that there seems to be a paradox at the heart of introspection. The self is something that can be seen more accurately from a distance than from close up. The more you can yank yourself away from your own intimacy with yourself, the more reliable your self-awareness is likely to be.
How the Web Became Our ‘External Brain,’ and What It Means for Our Kids
Recently, my two-year-old nephew Benjamin came across a copy of Vanity Fair abandoned on the floor. His eyes scanned the glossy cover, which shone less fiercely than the iPad he is used to but had a faint luster of its own. I watched his pudgy thumb and index finger pinch together and spread apart on Bradley Cooper’s smiling mug. At last, Benjamin looked over at me, flummoxed and frustrated, as though to say, “This thing’s broken.” Search YouTube for “baby” and “iPad” and you’ll find clips featuring one-year-olds attempting to manipulate magazine pages and television screens as though they were touch-sensitive displays. These children are one step away from assuming that such technology is a natural, spontaneous part of the material world. They’ll grow up thinking about the internet with the same nonchalance that I hold toward my toaster and teakettle. I can resist all I like, but for Benjamin’s generation resistance is moot. The revolution is already complete. (via How the Web Became Our ‘External Brain,’ and What It Means for Our Kids | Opinion | WIRED)
Scientists say a part of the brain, smaller than a pea, triggers the instinctive feeling that something bad is about to happen. Writing in the journal PNAS, they suggest the habenula plays a key role in how humans predict, learn from and respond to nasty experiences. And they question whether hyperactivity in this area is responsible for the pessimism seen in depression. They are now investigating whether the structure is involved in the condition.
Money or shock
Animal studies have shown that the habenula fires up when subjects expect or experience adverse events, But in humans this tiny structure (less than 3mm in diameter) has proved difficult to see on scans.
Inventing a technique to pinpoint the area, scientists at University College London put 23 people though MRI scanners to monitor their brain activity.
Participants were shown a range of abstract pictures. A few seconds later, the images were linked to either punishment (painful electric shocks), reward (money) or neutral responses.
For some images, a punishment or reward followed each time but for others this varied - leaving people uncertain whether they were going to feel pain or not.
And when people saw pictures associated with shocks the habenula lit up.
And the more certain they were a picture was going to result in a punishment, the stronger and faster the activity in this area.
Scientists suggests the habenula is involved in helping people learn when it is best to stay away from something and may also signal just how bad a nasty event is likely to be.
Antonio Damasio, M.D., is a professor of neuroscience and the director of the Brain and Creativity Institute at the University of Southern California. He is a pioneer in the field of cognitive neuroscience and a highly cited researcher. He has received numerous awards for his contributions to the understanding of emotions, feelings and decision-making, and he has described his discoveries in several books.
Walking the halls here at the Brain and Creativity Institute, I see art works from your personal collection, and downstairs there is a theater that is also used as a recording studio. How are you furthering the understanding of the connection between the brain and the arts?
As you come through the lobby, if you turn right, you go toward a laboratory of electrophysiology and a state-of-the-art 3-D MR brain scanner. If you turn left, you go into a small, state-of-the-art auditorium. Its acoustics were designed by Yasuhisa Toyota, who is responsible for the sound of some of the greatest music halls around the world from Tokyo to Hamburg, including the Walt Disney Concert Hall here in LA, a landmark collaboration with Frank Gehry. What we wanted when we created this complex is to literally force people to say, “What an odd combination. Why?” So here is the answer. On the one hand, we have the most modern form of inquiring into the brain-making mind, and, on the other, we have the oldest. Because when people were beginning to do theater, music and recitations of poetry, say, in an arena in Greece, they were in fact inquiring about the human mind in very probing ways. Great culture — philosophy, theater, music — gave us some of the most remarkable first entries into the human mind. We wanted to have these two approaches together to force those who work here as well as visitors to see that they’re not that different — that the mission we pursue now is not that different from the mission that Sophocles or Aristotle pursued. We need to bridge the two approaches and keep respecting the achievements of the past. The idea that by just doing neuroscience or advanced cognitive science, one can understand everything about the human mind is ridiculous. We need to bring past efforts in the arts and the humanities into the mix and also use the current contributions of artists and philosophers to understand this most complicated process that is the human mind.