Sunday, January 18, 2009

Ed Links Brain Stuff Edition (II)

Brain Mechanisms Of Social Conformity

New research reveals the brain activity that underlies our tendency to "follow the crowd." The study provides intriguing insight into how human behavior can be guided by the perceived behavior of other individuals.

Evolution Of New Brain Area Enables Complex Movements

A new area of the cerebral cortex has evolved to enable man and higher primates to pick up small objects and deftly use tools. The brain's primary motor cortex turns out to have neighboring "old" and "new" parts. In most animals, including cats, rats and some monkeys, the old primary motor cortex controls movement indirectly through the circuitry of the spinal cord.

Spotless Mind? Unwanted Memories Might Be Erasable Without Harming Other Brain Functions

A molecule known to preserve memories -- PKMzeta -- specifically stores complex, high-quality memories that provide detailed information about an animal's location, fears and actions, but does not control the ability to process or express this information. This finding suggests that PKMzeta erasure that is designed to target specific debilitating memories could be effective against the offending memory while sparing the computational function of brain.

How Mirror Neurons Allow Us To Learn And Socialize By Going Through The Motions In The Head

The old adage that we can only learn how to do something by trying it ourselves may have to be revised in the light of recent discoveries in neuroscience. It turns out that humans, primates, some birds, and possibly other higher animals have mirror neurons that fire in the same pattern whether performing or just observing a task. These mirror neurons clearly play an important role in learning motor tasks involving hand eye coordination, and possibly also acquisition of language skills, as well as being required for social skills, but the exact processes involved are only just being discovered.

How The Brain Thinks About Crime And Punishment

A new study reveals that humans use different neural mechanisms for determining criminal responsibility and assigning an appropriate punishment. The research, published in the journal Neuron, provides fascinating insight into brain systems that may explain how thousands of years of reliance on human sanctions to enforce social norms gave rise to our current criminal justice system.

Unlocking The Mysteries Of Memory

Stop and think for a moment. What do you remember about your breakfast this morning? One part of your brain will recall the smell of coffee brewing, while another will remember your partner's smile while walking out the door. How does the brain weave together these fragments, and how does it bring them back to conscious life?

Poor Children's Brain Activity Resembles That Of Stroke Victims, EEG Shows

Prefrontal cortex activity in children from low socioeconomic levels is lower than in similar children from well-off families. The brain differences, documented through EEGs, are dramatic: the prefrontal cortexes of poor kids 9 and 10 years of age react to novel stimuli in the same way as the brain of a stroke victim. The researchers believe this is fixable, however.

Poor Children's Brain Activity Resembles That Of Stroke Victims, EEG Shows

Prefrontal cortex activity in children from low socioeconomic levels is lower than in similar children from well-off families. The brain differences, documented through EEGs, are dramatic: the prefrontal cortexes of poor kids 9 and 10 years of age react to novel stimuli in the same way as the brain of a stroke victim. The researchers believe this is fixable, however.

'Wiring' In The Brain Influences Personality

Some people are constantly seeking a new kick; some prefer to stick to tried and tested things. Which group you belong to seems to be connected, inter alia, with the 'wiring' of specific centers of the brain. This was discovered by scientists at the University of Bonn using a new method. Even how much acceptance people seek is apparently also determined by nerve fibers in the brain.

Evolution Of The Visual System Is Key To Abstract Art

Famous works of abstract art achieve popularity by using shapes that resonate with the neural mechanisms in the brain linked to visual information, a psychologist has discovered.

Forgotten But Not Gone: How The Brain Re-learns

Thanks to our ability to learn and to remember, we can perform tasks that other living things can not even dream of. However, we are only just beginning to get the gist of what really goes on in the brain when it learns or forgets something. What we do know is that changes in the contacts between nerve cells play an important role. But can these structural changes account for that well-known phenomenon that it is much easier to re-learn something that was forgotten than to learn something completely new?

Seeing A Brain As It Learns To See

A brain isn't born fully organized. It builds its abilities through experience, making physical connections between neurons and organizing circuits to store and retrieve information in milliseconds for years afterwards. Now that process has been caught in the act for the first time by a research team that watched a naïve brain organize itself to interpret images of motion.

Been There, Done That: Brain Mechanism Predicts Ability To Generalize

A new study reveals how the brain can connect discrete but overlapping experiences to provide a rich integrated history that extends far beyond individually experienced events and may help to direct future choices.

Blindsight: How Brain Sees What You Do Not See

Blindsight is a phenomenon in which patients with damage in the primary visual cortex of the brain can tell where an object is although they claim they cannot see it. Scientists now provide compelling evidence that blindsight occurs because visual information is conveyed bypassing the primary visual cortex.

How Memories Are Made, And Recalled

What makes a memory? Single cells in the brain, for one thing. For the first time, scientists have recorded individual brain cells in the act of calling up a memory, thus revealing where in the brain a specific memory is stored and how the brain is able to recreate it.

Scientists Watch As Listener's Brain Predicts Speaker's Words

Scientists have shown for the first time that our brains automatically consider many possible words and their meanings before we've even heard the final sound of the word.

Ed Links Brain Stuff Edition I

Subliminal Learning Demonstrated In Human Brain

Although the idea that instrumental learning can occur subconsciously has been around for nearly a century, it had not been unequivocally demonstrated. Now, new research uses sophisticated perceptual masking, computational modeling, and neuroimaging to show that instrumental learning can occur in the human brain without conscious processing of contextual cues.

How The Brain Compensates For Vision Loss Shows Much More Versatility Than Previously Recognized

New insights into how the brain compensates for loss of sight suggests the brain is more adaptable than previously recognized.

Learning Suffers If Brain Transcript Isn't Transported Far Out To End Of Neurons

Neuroscientists have solved a mystery that lies at the heart of human learning, and they say the solution may help explain some forms of mental retardation as well as provide clues to overall brain functioning.

The Brain Hides Information From Us To Prevent Mistakes

When we notice a mosquito alight on our forearm, we direct our gaze in order to find its exact position and quickly try to swat it or brush it away to prevent it bite us. This apparently simple, instantaneous reaction is the result of a mental process that is much more complex than it may seem.

Brain Noise Is Good: New Study Overturns Notion That Brain Noise Quiets Down With Maturity

Canadian scientists have shown that a noisy brain is a healthy brain. "Brain noise" is a term that has been used by neuroscientists to describe random brain activity that is not important to mental function. Intuitive notions of brain-behavior relationships would suggest that this brain noise quiets down as children mature into adults and become more efficient and consistent in their cognitive processing. But new research overturns this notion.

How Does Language Exist In The Brain?

Despite much research on acquisition of languages amongst monolingual persons, scientists still have to ask themselves basic questions about bilingual acquisition: How do babies realize that they are in a bilingual environment? What are the clues for them in discovering this? How is discrimination between languages produced in infants? The aim of new research is to find out how the brain acquires and manages languages and to discover in what way languages being similar or different is influential in this process.

Transfer Of Learning Traced To Areas Of The Brain

Practice makes perfect, but a question that still remains a mystery is why it is so difficult to transfer learning from a trained to an untrained task? Why are we no better at remembering faces when we have been training our memory for words? Scientists now show in the journal Science that the answer lies in the brain areas activated by each task.

Plastic Brain Outsmarts Experts: Training Can Increase Fluid Intelligence, Once Thought To Be Fixed At Birth

Can human beings rev up their intelligence quotients, or are they stuck with IQs set by their genes at birth? Until recently, nature seemed to be the clear winner over nurture. But new research suggests that at least one aspect of a person's IQ can be improved by training a certain type of memory.

Computer Model Reveals How Brain Represents Meaning

Scientists have taken an important step toward understanding how the human brain codes the meanings of words by creating the first computational model that can predict the unique brain activation patterns associated with names for things that you can see, hear, feel, taste or smell. The model predicts brain activation patterns for thousands of concrete nouns.

How Fairness Is Wired In The Brain

In the biblical story in which two women bring a baby to King Solomon, both claiming to be the mother, he suggests dividing the child so that each woman can have half. Solomon's proposed solution, meant to reveal the real mother, also illustrates an issue central to economics and moral philosophy: how to distribute goods fairly. Researchers have now discovered that the quality of reason struggles with emotion to find equitable solutions, and have pinpointed the region of the brain where this takes place. The concept of fairness, they found, is processed in the insular cortex, or insula, which is also the seat of emotional reactions.

Brain's 'Trust Machinery' Identified

The brain centers triggered by a betrayal of trust have been identified by researchers, who found they could suppress such triggering and maintain trust by administering the brain chemical oxytocin. The researchers said their findings not only offer basic insights into the neural machinery underlying trust; the results may also help in understanding the neural basis of social disorders such as phobias and autism.

Crystal (Eye) Ball: Visual System Equipped With 'Future Seeing Powers'

Catching a football. Maneuvering through a room full of people. Jumping out of the way when a golfer yells "fore." Most would agree these seemingly simple actions require us to perceive and quickly respond to a situation. An assistant professor of cognitive science argues they require something more -- our ability to foresee the future.

Justice In The Brain: Equity And Efficiency Are Encoded Differently

Which is better, giving more food to a few hungry people or letting some food go to waste so that everyone gets a share? A new study finds that most people choose the latter, and that the brain responds in unique ways to inefficiency and inequity.

Depression Diversity: Brain Studies Reveal Big Differences Among Individuals

Depressed people may have far fewer of the receptors for some of the brain's "feel good" stress-response chemicals than non-depressed people, new research shows. And even among depressed people, the numbers of these receptors can vary greatly -- and may be linked with the severity of their symptoms and response to treatment.

Does The Brain Control Muscles Or Movements?

One of the major scientific questions about the brain is how it can translate the simple intent to perform an action -- say, reach for a glass -- into the dynamic, coordinated symphony of muscle movements required for that action.

Psychologists Demonstrate Simplicity Of Working Memory

A mind is a terrible thing to waste, but humans may have even less to work with than previously thought. Researchers found that the average person can keep just three or four things in their "working memory" or conscious mind at one time. This finding may lead to better ways to assess and help people with attention-deficit and focus difficulties, improve classroom performance and enhance test scores.

Human Brain Appears 'Hard-wired' For Hierarchy

Human imaging studies have for the first time identified brain circuitry associated with social status. Researchers found that different brain areas are activated when a person moves up or down in a pecking order -- or simply views perceived social superiors or inferiors. Circuitry activated by important events responded to a potential change in hierarchical status as much as it did to winning money, reflecting its influential role in human motivation and health.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Is Consciousness a Result of Quantum Mechanics?

Stuart Hameroff, an anesthesiologist and director of the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona, argues that the highest function of life—consciousness—is likely a quantum phenomenon too. This is illustrated, he says, through anesthetics. The brain of a patient under anesthesia continues to operate actively, but without a conscious mind at work. What enables anesthetics such as xenon or isoflurane gas to switch off the conscious mind?

Hameroff speculates that anesthetics “interrupt a delicate quantum process” within the neurons of the brain. Each neuron contains hundreds of long, cylindrical protein structures, called microtubules, that serve as scaffolding. Anesthetics, Hameroff says, dissolve inside tiny oily regions of the microtubules, affecting how some electrons inside these regions behave.

He speculates that the action unfolds like this: When certain key electrons are in one “place,” call it to the “left,” part of the microtubule is squashed; when the electrons fall to the “right,” the section is elongated. But the laws of quantum mechanics allow for electrons to be both “left” and “right” at the same time, and thus for the micro­tubules to be both elongated and squashed at once. Each section of the constantly shifting system has an impact on other sections, potentially via quantum entanglement, leading to a dynamic quantum-mechanical dance.

It is in this faster-than-light subatomic communication, Hameroff says, that consciousness is born. Anesthetics get in the way of the dancing electrons and stop the gyration at its quantum-mechanical core; that is how they are able to switch consciousness off.

It is still a long way from Hameroff’s hypo­thetical (and experimentally unproven) quantum neurons to a sentient, conscious human brain. But many human experiences, Hameroff says, from dreams to subconscious emotions to fuzzy memory, seem closer to the Alice in Wonderland rules governing the quantum world than to the cut-and-dried reality that classical physics suggests. Discovering a quantum portal within every neuron in your head might be the ultimate trip through the looking glass.

For a key paper, go here.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

I've Been Lazy Ed Links Edition

I have many saved up and just have been too lazy to do the work to transfer them over.

Effect Of Parental Education On Heritability Of Children's Reading Disability

There is a significant interaction between parents' years of education and the heritability of reading disability. Researchers concluded that on average, poor instruction or lack of reading practice may often be the main influence on reading disabilities in families with low socioeconomic status, while genes may be the main influence on reading disability among children in families with high socioeconomic status and educational support.

Eliminating Soda From School Diets Does Not Affect Overall Consumption

With childhood obesity increasing, school administrators and public health officials are reducing availability of sugar-sweetened beverages in schools. In a new study in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, researchers found that reduction or elimination of sugar-sweetened beverages from school menus has little effect on total consumption by adolescents.

Computer Model Can Predict Human Behavior And Learning

A new computer model can predict how people will complete a controlled task and how the knowledge needed to complete that task develops over time.

Narcissistic People Most Likely To Emerge As Leaders

When a group is without a leader, you can often count on a narcissist to take charge, a new study suggests. Researchers found that people who score high in narcissism tend to take control of leaderless groups. Narcissism is a trait in which people are self-centered, exaggerate their talents and abilities and lack empathy for others.

American Culture Derails Girl Math Whizzes, Study Finds

A culture of neglect and, at some age levels, outright social ostracism, is derailing a generation of students, especially girls, deemed the very best in mathematics, according to a new study.

Overbearing Parents Foster Obsessive Children, New Study Finds

Parents watch your nagging. A new study from the Université de Montréal in Quebec, Canada, has found that parental control directly influences whether a child will develop a harmonious or obsessive passion for their favorite hobby.

Young Children's 'Theory Of Mind' Linked To Subsequent Metacognitive Development In Adolescence

A new study detects a systematic link between children's "theory of mind" as assessed in kindergarten and their metacognitive knowledge in elementary school.

I Can, Automatically, Become Just Like You

No one likes to be excluded from a group: exclusion can decrease mood, reduce self-esteem and feelings of belonging, and even ultimately lead to negative behavior (e.g., the shootings at Virginia Tech). As a result, we often try to fit in with others in both conscious and automatic ways. Psychologists studied people's tendency to copy automatically the behaviors of others in order to find out how this mimicry can be used as an affiliation strategy.

"Parents, leave those kids alone": Freedom’s Just Another Word For Less Sexually Active Teens Rigid parenting appears to be linked to increased sexual activity in older teens. More than two of every three American teens has sexual intercourse before age 19. Although it is difficult to confirm that controlling mothers and fathers cause kids to have more sex, the findings suggest it is wise to give children freedom.

'Feeling Fat' Is Worse Than Being It, German Study Finds

The quality of life of adolescents who think they are too fat is worse than for adolescents who really are obese. This was a result of the all Germany Health Interview and Examination Survey for Children and Adolescents (KiGGS) of the Robert Koch Institute, as presented by Bärbel-Maria Kurth and Ute Ellert in the current edition of Deutsches Ärzteblatt International.

Humor Shown To Be Fundamental To Our Success As A Species
Experts explain how and why we find things funny and identify the reason humor is common to all human societies, its fundamental role in the evolution of homo sapiens and its continuing importance in the cognitive development of infants.

And [only referring to myself] "IT'S NOT MY FAULT! I JUST THINK TOO MUCH":

Thinking People Eat Too Much: Intellectual Work Found To Induce Excessive Calorie Intake

Scientists have demonstrated that intellectual work induces a substantial increase in calorie intake. The details of this discovery could go some way to explaining the current obesity epidemic.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Bill Ayers speaks out, on Arne Duncan and democratic education

Check this out, over at Huffington Post:

"...Much of what we call schooling forecloses or shuts down or walls off meaningful choice-making. Much of it is based on obedience and conformity, the hallmarks of every authoritarian regime. Much of it banishes the unpopular, squirms in the presence of the unorthodox, hides the unpleasant. There's no space for skepticism, irreverence, or even doubt. While many of us long for teaching as something transcendent and powerful, we find ourselves too-often locked in situations that reduce teaching to a kind of glorified clerking, passing along a curriculum of received wisdom and predigested and often false bits of information. This is a recipe for disaster in the long run...."

Read more!