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|By Corinne Iozzio Albert “Skip” Rizzo of the University of Southern California began studying virtual reality (VR) as psychological treatment in 1993. Since then, dozens of studies, his included, have shown the immersion technique to be effective for everything from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety to phobias and addiction. But a lack of practical hardware has kept VR out of reach for clinicians. The requirements for a VR headset seem simple—a high-resolution, fast-reacting screen, a field of vision that is wide enough to convince patients they are in another world and a reasonable price tag— yet such a product has proved elusive. Says Rizzo, “It’s been 20 frustrating years.” In 2013 VR stepped into the consumer spotlight in the form of a prototype head- mounted display called the Oculus Rift. Inventor Palmer Luckey’s goal was to create a platform for immersive video games, but developers from many fields—medicine, aviation, tourism—are running wild with possibilities. The Rift’s reach is so broad that Oculus, now owned by Facebook, hosted a conference for developers in September. The Rift, slated for public release in 2015, is built largely from off- the-shelf parts, such as the screens used in smartphones. A multi- axis motion sensor lets the headset refresh imagery in real time as the wearer’s head moves. The kicker is the price: $350. (Laboratory systems start at $20,000.) Rizzo has been among the first in line. His work focuses on combat PTSD. In a 2010 study, he placed patients into controlled traumatic scenarios, including a simulated battlefield, so they could confront and process emotions triggered in those situations. © 2014 Scientific American

Keyword: Stress; Aggression
Link ID: 20106 - Posted: 09.23.2014

Jia You In the future, a nurse could determine whether a baby is likely to develop a reading disorder simply by attaching a few electrodes to its scalp and watching its brain waves respond to human speech. Such is the scenario suggested by a new study, which finds a potential biological indicator of how well preschool children perceive rhythm, an ability linked to language development. “It’s really impressive to work with children this young, who are not often looked at,” says Aniruddh Patel, a cognitive neuroscientist at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, who was not involved with the research. Spoken language consists of sound waves occurring over multiple timescales. A syllable, for example, takes place over a quarter of a second, while a sentence unfolds over a few seconds. To make sense of this complex auditory information, humans use rhythmic cues such as stress and pause to discern words and syllables. Adults and school-aged children with reading disorders, however, struggle to pick up on these rhythmic patterns. Scientists estimate that dyslexia and other reading disabilities plague about 5% to 10% of the population. Detecting such impairments early could lead to more effective intervention, but observing telltale signs in younger children who have not learned to read has proven a challenge. So biologist Nina Kraus of Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and her colleagues looked for automatic brain responses that can track language development in preschoolers, who have not learned to read. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Dyslexia; Aggression
Link ID: 20105 - Posted: 09.23.2014

|By Melinda Wenner Moyer Autism is primarily a disorder of the brain, but research suggests that as many as nine out of 10 individuals with the condition also suffer from gastrointestinal problems such as inflammatory bowel disease and “leaky gut.” The latter condition occurs when the intestines become excessively permeable and leak their contents into the bloodstream. Scientists have long wondered whether the composition of bacteria in the intestines, known as the gut microbiome, might be abnormal in people with autism and drive some of these symptoms. Now a spate of new studies supports this notion and suggests that restoring proper microbial balance could alleviate some of the disorder's behavioral symptoms. At the annual meeting of the American Society for Microbiology held in May in Boston, researchers at Arizona State University reported the results of an experiment in which they measured the levels of various microbial by-products in the feces of children with autism and compared them with those found in healthy children. The levels of 50 of these substances, they found, significantly differed between the two groups. And in a 2013 study published in PLOS ONE, Italian researchers reported that, compared with healthy kids, those with autism had altered levels of several intestinal bacterial species, including fewer Bifidobacterium, a group known to promote good intestinal health. One open question is whether these microbial differences drive the development of the condition or are instead a consequence of it. A study published in December 2013 in Cell supports the former idea. When researchers at the California Institute of Technology incited autismlike symptoms in mice using an established paradigm that involved infecting their mothers with a viruslike molecule during pregnancy, they found that after birth, the mice had altered gut bacteria compared with healthy mice. © 2014 Scientific American,

Keyword: Autism
Link ID: 20104 - Posted: 09.23.2014

By Nicholas Bakalar Average waist circumference — but not body mass index— increased significantly in the United States between 1999 and 2012, a new study reports. Abdominal obesity — a “beer belly” or “beer gut” — is caused by fat around the internal organs. It is one of the indicators of metabolic syndrome, a group of five conditions that raises the risk for heart disease and diabetes. After adjusting for age, the overall mean waist circumference increased to 38.7 inches in 2012 from 37.5 in 1999. The increases were significant for men, women, non-Hispanic whites, non-Hispanic blacks and Mexican-Americans. They were greatest among non-Hispanic whites in their 40s, and non-Hispanic black men in their 30s. “I would encourage people to keep track of their waists,” said the lead author of the study, Dr. Earl S. Ford, a medical officer with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Standing on the scale every day is all good and well, but you can have a steady weight and still have an expanding waist. And that should be a signal for people to start looking at their diet and physical activity.” In 2012, 54.2 percent of Americans had abdominal obesity (defined as an age-adjusted waist circumference of more than 40 inches for men and more than 34.6 for women) compared with 46.4 percent in 1999. The study was published in JAMA. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Obesity
Link ID: 20103 - Posted: 09.23.2014

2014 by Dan Jones The vast majority of people think we have free will and are the authors of our own life stories. But if neuroscientists were one day able to predict our every action based on brain scans, would people abandon this belief in droves? A new study concludes that such knowledge would not by itself be enough to shake our confidence in our own volition. Many neuroscientists, such as the late Francis Crick, have argued that our sense of free will is no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells. This is tied to the idea of determinism, which has it that every effect is preceded by a cause, with cause and effect connected by physical laws. This is why the behaviour of physical systems can be predicted – even the brain, in principle. As author Sam Harris puts it: "If determinism is true, the future is set – and this includes all our future states of mind and our subsequent behaviour." If people lost their belief in their own free will, that would have important consequences for how we think about moral responsibility, and even how we behave. For example, numerous studies have shown that when people are led to reject free will they are more likely to cheat, and are also less bothered about punishing other wrongdoers. For those who argue that what we know about neuroscience is incompatible with free will, predicting what our brain is about to do should reveal the illusory nature of free will, and lead people to reject it. Experimental philosopher Eddy Nahmias at Georgia State University in Atlanta dubs this view "willusionism". He recently set out to test it. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 20102 - Posted: 09.22.2014

|By Victoria Stern Many studies show that teens who use marijuana face a greater risk of later developing schizophrenia or symptoms of it, especially if they have a genetic predisposition. For instance, one 15-year study followed more than 45,000 Swedes who initially had no psychotic symptoms. The researchers determined that subjects who smoked marijuana by age 18 were 2.4 times more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia than their nonsmoking peers, and this risk increased with the frequency of cannabis use. The connection still held when researchers accounted for participants' use of other drugs. Yet despite these results and an uptick in marijuana use in the 1970s and 1980s, other researchers have not uncovered an increase in the incidence of schizophrenia in the general Swedish population—suggesting that perhaps people who were going to develop schizophrenia anyway were more likely to use marijuana. Another study, conducted in Australia over a 30-year period, also found no increase in schizophrenia diagnoses among the general population, despite rising rates of teen marijuana use. These authors concluded that although cannabis most likely does not cause schizophrenia, its use might trigger psychosis in vulnerable people or exacerbate an existing condition. © 2014 Scientific American

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Aggression
Link ID: 20101 - Posted: 09.22.2014

By Melissa Dahl Recently, I was visiting my family in Seattle, and we were doing that thing families do: retelling old stories. As we talked, a common theme emerged. My brother hardly remembered anything from our childhood, even the stories in which he was the star player. (That time he fell down the basement steps and needed stitches in the ER? Nope. That panicky afternoon when we all thought he’d disappeared, only to discover he’d been hiding in his room, and then fell asleep? Nothing.) “Boys never remember anything,” my mom huffed. She’s right. Researchers are finding some preliminary evidence that women are indeed better at recalling memories, especially autobiographical ones. Girls and women tend to recall these memories faster and with more specific details, and some studies have demonstrated that these memories tend to be more accurate, too, when compared to those of boys and men. And there’s an explanation for this: It could come down to the way parents talk to their daughters, as compared to their sons, when the children are developing memory skills. To understand this apparent gender divide in recalling memories, it helps to start with early childhood—specifically, ages 2 to 6. Whether you knew it or not, during these years, you learned how to form memories, and researchers believe this happens mostly through conversations with others, primarily our parents. These conversations teach us how to tell our own stories, essentially; when a mother asks her child for more details about something that happened that day in school, for example, she is implicitly communicating that these extra details are essential parts to the story. © 2014 The Slate Group LLC

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Aggression
Link ID: 20100 - Posted: 09.22.2014

2014 by Helen Thomson Shall I compare thee to... well, no one actually. A 76-year-old woman has developed an incredibly rare disorder – she has the compulsive urge to write poetry. Her brain is now being studied by scientists who want to understand more about the neurological basis for creativity. In 2013, the woman arrived at a UK hospital complaining of memory problems and a tendency to lose her way in familiar locations. For the previous two years, she had experienced occasional seizures. She was diagnosed with temporal lobe epilepsy and treated with the drug lamotrigine, which stopped her seizures. However, as they receded, a strange behaviour took hold. She began to compulsively write poetry – something she hadn't shown any interest in previously. Suddenly, the woman was writing 10 to 15 poems a day, becoming annoyed if she was disrupted. Her work rhymed but the content was banal if a touch wistful – a style her husband described as doggerel (see "Unstoppable creativity"). About six months after her seizures stopped, the desire to write became less strong, although it still persists to some extent. Doctors call the intense desire to write hypergraphia. It typically occurs alongside schizophrenia and an individual's output is usually rambling and disorganised. "It was highly unusual to see such highly structured and creative hypergraphia without any of the other behavioural disturbances," says the woman's neurologist, Jason Warren at University College London. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd

Keyword: Epilepsy; Aggression
Link ID: 20099 - Posted: 09.22.2014

By CLYDE HABERMAN When it came to pharmacological solutions to life’s despairs, Aldous Huxley was ahead of the curve. In Huxley’s 1932 novel about a dystopian future, the Alphas, Betas and others populating his “Brave New World” have at their disposal a drug called soma. A little bit of it chases the blues away: “A gramme” — Huxley was English, remember, spelling included — “is better than a damn.” With a swallow, negative feelings are dispelled. Prozac, the subject of this week’s video documentary from Retro Report, is hardly soma. But its guiding spirit is not dissimilar: A few milligrams of this drug are preferable to the many damns that lie at the core of some people’s lives. Looking back at Prozac’s introduction by Eli Lilly and Company in 1988, and hopscotching to today, the documentary explores the enormous influence, both chemical and cultural, that Prozac and its brethren have had in treating depression, a concern that gained new resonance with the recent suicide of the comedian Robin Williams. In the late 1980s and the 90s, Prozac was widely viewed as a miracle pill, a life preserver thrown to those who felt themselves drowning in the high waters of mental anguish. It was the star in a class of new pharmaceuticals known as S.S.R.I.s — selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Underlying their use is a belief that depression is caused by a shortage of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Pump up the levels of this brain chemical and, voilà, the mood lifts. Indeed, millions have embraced Prozac, and swear by it. Depression left them emotionally paralyzed, they say. Now, for the first time in years, they think clearly and can embrace life. Pharmacological merits aside, the green-and-cream pill was also a marvel of commercial branding, down to its market-tested name. Its chemical name is fluoxetine hydrochloride, not the most felicitous of terms. A company called Interbrand went to work for Eli Lilly and came up with Prozac. “Pro” sounds positive. Professional, too. “Ac”? That could signify action. As for the Z, it suggests a certain strength, perhaps with a faint high-techy quality. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Depression
Link ID: 20098 - Posted: 09.22.2014

By Maria Konnikova At the turn of the twentieth century, Ivan Pavlov conducted the experiments that turned his last name into an adjective. By playing a sound just before he presented dogs with a snack, he taught them to salivate upon hearing the tone alone, even when no food was offered. That type of learning is now called classical—or Pavlovian—conditioning. Less well known is an experiment that Pavlov was conducting at around the same time: when some unfortunate canines heard the same sound, they were given acid. Just as their luckier counterparts had learned to salivate at the noise, these animals would respond by doing everything in their power to get the imagined acid out of their mouths, each “shaking its head violently, opening its mouth and making movements with its tongue.” For many years, Pavlov’s classical conditioning findings overshadowed the darker version of the same discovery, but, in the nineteen-eighties, the New York University neuroscientist Joseph LeDoux revived the technique to study the fear reflex in rats. LeDoux first taught the rats to associate a certain tone with an electric shock so that they froze upon hearing the tone alone. In essence, the rat had formed a new memory—that the tone signifies pain. He then blunted that memory by playing the tone repeatedly without following it with a shock. After multiple shock-less tones, the animals ceased to be afraid. Now a new generation of researchers is trying to figure out the next logical step: re-creating the same effects within the brain, without deploying a single tone or shock. Is memory formation now understood well enough that memories can be implanted and then removed absent the environmental stimulus?

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Aggression
Link ID: 20097 - Posted: 09.19.2014

By Jocelyn Kaiser A virus that shuttles a therapeutic gene into cells has strengthened the muscles, improved the motor skills, and lengthened the lifespan of mice afflicted with two neuromuscular diseases. The approach could one day help people with a range of similar disorders, from muscular dystrophy to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. Many of these diseases involve defective neuromuscular junctions—the interface between neurons and muscle cells where brain signals tell muscles to contract. In one such disease, a form of familial limb-girdle myasthenia, people carry two defective copies of the gene called DOK7, which codes for a protein that’s needed to form such junctions. Their hip and shoulder muscles atrophy over many years, and some eventually have trouble breathing or end up in a wheelchair. Mice similarly missing a properly working Dok7 gene are severely underweight and die within a few weeks. In the new study, researchers led by molecular biologist Yuji Yamanashi of the University of Tokyo first injected young mice engineered to have defective Dok7 with a harmless virus carrying a good copy of the Dok7 gene, which is expressed only in muscle. Within about 7 weeks, the rodents recovered. Their muscle cells cranked out the DOK7 protein, and under a microscope their muscles had larger neuromuscular junctions than those of untreated mice with defective Dok7. What’s more, the mice grew to a healthy body weight and had essentially normal scores on tests of motor skills and muscle strength. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Movement Disorders; Aggression
Link ID: 20096 - Posted: 09.19.2014

by Bob Holmes THERE'S something primal in a mother's response to a crying infant. So primal, in fact, that mother deer will rush protectively to the distress calls of other infant mammals, such as fur seals, marmots and even humans. This suggests such calls might share common elements – and perhaps that these animals experience similar emotions. Researchers – and, indeed, all pet owners – know that humans respond emotionally to the distress cries of their domestic animals, and there is some evidence that dogs also respond to human cries. However, most people have assumed this is a by-product of domestication. However, Susan Lingle, a biologist at the University of Winnipeg, Canada, noticed that the infants of many mammal species have similar distress calls: simple sounds with few changes in pitch. She decided to test whether cross-species responses occur more widely across the evolutionary tree. So, Lingle and her colleague Tobias Riede, now at Midwestern University in Glendale, Arizona, recorded the calls made by infants from a variety of mammal species when separated from their mother or otherwise threatened. They then played the recordings through hidden speakers to wild mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) out on the Canadian prairies. They found that deer mothers quickly moved towards the recordings of infant deer, but also towards those of infant fur seals, dogs, cats and humans, all of which call at roughly the same pitch. Even the ultrasonic calls of infant bats attracted the deer mothers if Lingle used software to lower their pitch to match that of deer calls. In contrast, they found the deer did not respond to non-infant calls such as birdsong or the bark of a coyote (American Naturalist, DOI: 10.1086/677677). © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Emotions; Aggression
Link ID: 20095 - Posted: 09.19.2014

By JAMES GORMAN Are chimpanzees naturally violent to one another, or has the intrusion of humans into their environment made them aggressive? A study published Wednesday in Nature is setting off a new round of debate on the issue. The study’s authors argue that a review of all known cases of when chimpanzees or bonobos in Africa killed members of their own species shows that violence is a natural part of chimpanzee behavior and not a result of actions by humans that push chimpanzee aggression to lethal attacks. The researchers say their analysis supports the idea that warlike violence in chimpanzees is a natural behavior that evolved because it could provide more resources or territory to the killers, at little risk. But critics say the data shows no such thing, largely because the measures of human impact on chimpanzees are inadequate. While the study is about chimpanzees, it is also the latest salvo in a long argument about the nature of violence in people. In studying chimpanzee violence, “we’re trying to make inferences about human evolution,” said Michael L. Wilson, an anthropologist at the University of Minnesota and a study organizer. There is no disagreement about whether chimpanzees kill one another, or about some of the claims that Dr. Wilson and his 29 co-authors make. The argument is about why chimpanzees kill. Dr. Wilson and the other authors, who contributed data on killings from groups at their study sites, say the evidence shows no connection between human impact on the chimpanzee sites and the number of killings. He said the Ngogo group of chimpanzees in Uganda “turned out to be the most violent group of chimpanzees there is,” even though the site was little disturbed by humans. They have a pristine habitat, he said, and “they go around and kill their neighbors.” © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Aggression; Aggression
Link ID: 20094 - Posted: 09.19.2014

by Rachel Ehrenberg Eating artificial sweeteners may spur the very health problems that dieters try to avoid. A new multipronged study of mice and a small number of people finds that saccharin meddles with the gut’s microbial community, setting in motion metabolic changes that are associated with obesity and diabetes. Other zero-calorie sweeteners may cause the same problems, researchers say September 17 in Nature. Though the finding is preliminary, four of seven human volunteers eating a diet high in saccharin developed impaired glucose metabolism, a warning sign for type 2 diabetes. “This is very interesting and scary if it really does hold for humans,” says Robert Margolskee of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, who was not involved with the work. “There could be unintended consequences of these artificial sweeteners.” Until recently, most sugar substitutes were thought to pass through the gut undigested, exerting little to no effect on intestinal cells. As ingredients in diet soda, sugar-free desserts and a panoply of other foods, the sweeteners are touted as a way for people with diabetes and weight problems to enjoy a varied diet. But the new study, led by computational biologist Eran Segal and immunologist Eran Elinav of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, suggests that rather than helping people, the sweeteners may promote problems. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2014.

Keyword: Obesity; Aggression
Link ID: 20093 - Posted: 09.18.2014

By John Horgan On this blog, in my book The End of War and elsewhere (see Further Reading and Viewing), I have knocked the deep roots theory of war, which holds that war stems from an instinct deeply embedded in the genes of our male ancestors. Inter-community killings are rare among chimpanzees and non-existent among bonobos, according to a new report in Nature, undercutting the theory that the roots of war extend back to the common ancestor of humans and chimps. Proponents of this theory—notably primatologist Richard Wrangham—claim it is supported by observations of inter-community killings by chimpanzees, Pan troglodytes, our closest genetic relatives. Skeptics, including anthropologists Robert Sussman and Brian Ferguson, have pointed out that chimpanzee violence might be not an adaptation but a response to environmental circumstances, such as human encroachment. This “human impacts” hypothesis is rejected in a new report in Nature by a coalition of 30 primatologists, including Wrangham and lead author Michael Wilson. In “Lethal aggression in Pan is better explained by adaptive strategies than human impacts,” Wilson et al. analyze 152 killings in 18 chimpanzee communities and find “little correlation with human impacts.” Given that the primary interest in chimp violence is its alleged support of the deep-roots theory, it might seem odd, at first, that Wilson et al. do not mention human warfare. Actually, this omission is wise, because the Nature report undermines the deep-roots theory of war, and establishes that the “human impact” issue is a red herring. © 2014 Scientific American,

Keyword: Aggression; Aggression
Link ID: 20092 - Posted: 09.18.2014

I’m an epileptic. It’s not how I define myself, but I am writing about epilepsy, so I think pointing out the fact that I am speaking from experience is acceptable. I may not define myself by my epilepsy but it’s a big part of my life. It affects my life on a daily basis. Because of the epilepsy I can’t drive, can’t pull all-nighters or get up really early just in case I have a seizure. It’s frustrating at times, though I will gladly milk the not getting up early thing when I can, eg bin day. But whereas I’ve grown up with it, having been diagnosed when I was 17, most people I’ve met don’t understand it. You mention the fact that you’re epileptic to some people and they look at you like they’re a robot you’ve just asked to explain the concept of love; they adopt a sort of “DOES NOT COMPUTE!” expression. They often don’t know what to say, or do, or even what epilepsy is and often spend the rest of the conversation searching their data banks for information on what to do if I have a seizure, like “Do I … put a spoon in his mouth?” For the record: no, you don’t. If putting a spoon in an epileptics mouth helped, then we would be prescribed a constant supply of Fruit Corners. So let me put you at ease. No one expects you to know that much about epilepsy (unless you’re responsible for treating it). There are many different types, with many different causes. Not everyone has seizures and often those who do, when given the correct meds, can live pretty much fit-free lives. © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Epilepsy
Link ID: 20091 - Posted: 09.18.2014

By Filipa Ioannou Per the Associated Press, the Food and Drug Administration is considering a ban on electric-shock devices that are used to punish unwanted behavior by patients with autism and other developmental disabilities. If it comes as a surprise to you that any involuntary electric shocks are administered to autism patients in the United States, that's because the devices are only used at one facility in the country—the Judge Rotenberg Educational Center in Canton, Mass. The school has been a target of media attention in the past; in 2012, video leaked of 18-year-old patient Andre McCollins being restrained face-down and shocked 31 times. McCollins’ mother sued the center, and the lawsuit was settled outside of court. Rotenberg must get a court’s approval to begin administering skin shocks to a student. The center uses a graduated electronic decelerator, or GED, that is attached to the arms or legs. If the student acts aggressively – head-banging, throwing furniture, attacking someone – then a center worker can press a button to activate the electrode, delivering a two-second shock to the skin. The amount of pain generated by the device is a contentious subject. The Rotenberg Center's Glenda Crookes compared the sensation to “a bee sting” in comments to CBS News, and some Rotenberg parents are strong proponents of the device. But a U.N. official in 2010 said the shocks constituted “torture." An FDA report also addresses the widely held belief that autistic individuals have a high pain threshold, pointing out the possibility that “not all children with ASD express their pain in the same way as a ‘neurotypical child’ would (e.g., cry, moan, seek comfort, etc.), which may lead to misinterpretation by caregivers and medical professionals that patients are insensitive or to an incorrect belief that the child is not in pain.” © 2014 The Slate Group LLC.

Keyword: Autism; Aggression
Link ID: 20090 - Posted: 09.18.2014

Elie Dolgin When Carol Steinberg was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1995, there was only one drug approved by the US Food and Drug Administration to treat the disease. Now there are eleven. Yet none of these agents can help Steinberg. She suffers from progressive MS, a form of the disease that is characterized by steadily worsening neurological function. All eleven approved drugs combat the unpredictable symptom outbreaks that are associated with the relapsing–remitting form of MS. Around 85% of newly diagnosed patients have the relapsing–remitting form; after 10 to 20 years, most of them develop the progressive type. The lack of good treatment options for progressive MS weighs heavily on Steinberg. She uses a wheelchair, but continues to work as a trial lawyer in Newton, Massachusetts. “I’m constantly afraid of my disease getting worse,” she says. A global initiative called the Progressive MS Alliance now hopes to kick-start the development of therapies specifically for Steinberg and the million or so people worldwide living with progressive MS. On 11 September, at a joint meeting of the European and Americas Committees for Treatment and Research in Multiple Sclerosis, the alliance announced an inaugural round of research awards — part of a six-year, €22-million (US$28.5-million) programme that is the first concerted effort to tackle the disease’s less-common form. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group

Keyword: Epilepsy; Aggression
Link ID: 20089 - Posted: 09.18.2014

By Katy Waldman In the opening chapter of Book 1 of My Struggle, by Karl Ove Knausgaard, the 8-year-old narrator sees a ghost in the waves. He is watching a televised report of a rescue effort at sea—“the sky is overcast, the gray-green swell heavy but calm”—when suddenly, on the surface of the water, “the outline of a face emerges.” We might guess from this anecdote that Karl, our protagonist, is both creative and troubled. His limber mind discerns patterns in chaos, but the patterns are illusions. “The lunatic, the lover, and the poet,” Shakespeare wrote, “have such seething brains, such shaping fantasies.” Their imaginations give “to airy nothing a local habitation and a name.” A seething brain can be a great asset for an artist, but, like Knausgaard’s churning, gray-green swell, it can be dangerous too. Inspired metaphors, paranormal beliefs, conspiracy theories, and delusional episodes may all exist on a single spectrum, recent research suggests. The name for the concept that links them is apophenia. A German scientist named Klaus Conrad coined apophanie (from the Greek apo, away, and phaenein, to show) in 1958. He was describing the acute stage of schizophrenia, during which unrelated details seem saturated in connections and meaning. Unlike an epiphany—a true intuition of the world’s interconnectedness—an apophany is a false realization. Swiss psychologist Peter Brugger introduced the term into English when he penned a chapter in a 2001 book on hauntings and poltergeists. Apophenia, he said, was a weakness of human cognition: the “pervasive tendency … to see order in random configurations,” an “unmotivated seeing of connections,” the experience of “delusion as revelation.” On the phone he unveiled his favorite formulation yet: “the tendency to be overwhelmed by meaningful coincidences.” © 2014 The Slate Group LLC.

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 20088 - Posted: 09.18.2014

By Virginia Morell Living in a complex social world—one with shifting alliances and competitors—is often cited as the key reason humans, dolphins, and spotted hyenas evolved large brains. Now, researchers say that social complexity also underlies the braininess of parrots, which have big brains relative to their body size. To understand the social lives of these birds, the scientists observed wild populations of monk parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus), a small parrot, in Argentina and captive ones in Florida. They recorded how often the birds (pictured) were seen with other individuals and how they interacted—and then analyzed the parakeets’ social networks. The birds, the researchers report online today in The Auk: Ornithological Advances, prefer to spend time with one specific individual, usually their mate. In the captive populations, the birds also had strong associations with one or two other individuals, numerous more moderate relationships, and only a few that were weak. The scientists also recorded aggressive interactions among the captive birds, revealing that monk parakeets have a dominance hierarchy based on which birds won or lost confrontations. Thus, the parakeets’ society has layers of relationships, similar to those documented in other big-brained animals. Living in such a society requires that the birds recognize and remember others, and whether they are friend or foe—mental tasks that are thought to be linked to the evolution of significant cognitive skills. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Evolution
Link ID: 20087 - Posted: 09.18.2014