203 posts tagged Neuroscience
Bjorklund and Kipp (1996) provide an evolutionary framework predicting that there is a female advantage in inhibition and self-regulation due to differing selection pressures placed on males and females. The majority of the present review will summarize sex differences in self-regulation at the behavioral level. The neural and hormonal underpinnings of this potential sexual dimorphism will also be investigated and the results of the experiments summarized will be related to the hypothesis advanced by Bjorklund and Kipp (1996). Paradoxically, sex differences in self-regulation are more consistently reported in children prior to the onset of puberty. In adult cohorts, the results of studies examining sex differences in self-regulation are mixed. A few recent experiments suggesting that females are less impulsive than males only during fertile stages of the menstrual cycle will be reviewed. A brief discussion of an evolutionary framework proposing that it is adaptive for females to employ a self-regulatory behavioral strategy when fertile will follow.
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)
read of the day: Smart and smarter drugs
Are we asking the right questions about smart drugs? Marek Kohn looks at what they can do for us – and what they can’t.
“You know how they say that we can only access 20 per cent of our brain?” says the man who offers stressed-out, blank-screened ‘writer’ Eddie Morra a fateful pill in the 2011 film Limitless. “Well, what this does, it lets you access all of it.” Morra, played by Bradley Cooper, is instantly transformed into a superhuman by the fictitious drug NZT-48. Granted access to all cognitive areas, he learns to play the piano in three days, finishes writing his book in four, and swiftly makes himself a millionaire. Limitless is what you get when you flatter yourself that your head houses the most complex known object in the universe, and run away with the notion that it must have powers to match. More down to earth is the idea that we always have untapped cognitive potential, but that life gets between us and the best we could possibly manage. Most people’s best days still leave them wondering what might have been. Life is interference, acute and chronic: the broken night’s sleep, the replayed arguments with our nearest and dearest, the suspected slight from a colleague, the mortgage, middle age, the buzzing fly. This is what preoccupation means. Noise, alarms and gnawing unease all occupy the cortex and commandeer its resources, leaving the brain short of space for other demands. Even small differences in cognitive performance can make a world of difference – between a good CV and an outstanding one, between a second-class degree and a first, and between a winner and an also-ran. According to widespread reports, some students recognise this by using drugs to enhance their performance, particularly ahead of exams or coursework deadlines. How many of them are doing so is unknown: it may be fewer than you would think from reading both mainstream media coverage and scientific journals, but it’s undoubtedly going on.
IN the early 19th century, a French neurophysiologist named Pierre Flourens conducted a series of innovative experiments. He successively removed larger and larger portions of brain tissue from a range of animals, including pigeons, chickens and frogs, and observed how their behavior was affected. His findings were clear and reasonably consistent. “One can remove,” he wrote in 1824, “from the front, or the back, or the top or the side, a certain portion of the cerebral lobes, without destroying their function.” For mental faculties to work properly, it seemed, just a “small part of the lobe” sufficed. Thus the foundation was laid for a popular myth: that we use only a small portion — 10 percent is the figure most often cited — of our brain. An early incarnation of the idea can be found in the work of another 19th-century scientist, Charles-Édouard Brown-Séquard, who in 1876 wrote of the powers of the human brain that “very few people develop very much, and perhaps nobody quite fully.” But Flourens was wrong, in part because his methods for assessing mental capacity were crude and his animal subjects were poor models for human brain function. Today the neuroscience community uniformly rejects the notion, as it has for decades, that our brain’s potential is largely untapped.
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.