Chapter 17. Learning and Memory

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By MAX BEARAK MUMBAI, India — The young man sat cross-legged atop a cushioned divan on an ornately decorated stage, surrounded by other Jain monks draped in white cloth. His lip occasionally twitched, his hands lay limp in his lap, and for the most part his eyes were closed. An announcer repeatedly chastised the crowd for making even the slightest noise. From daybreak until midafternoon, members of the audience approached the stage, one at a time, to show the young monk a random object, pose a math problem, or speak a word or phrase in one of at least six different languages. He absorbed the miscellany silently, letting it slide into his mind, as onlookers in their seats jotted everything down on paper. After six hours, the 500th and last item was uttered — it was the number 100,008. An anxious hush descended over the crowd. And the monk opened his eyes and calmly recalled all 500 items, in order, detouring only once to fill in a blank he had momentarily set aside. When he was done, and the note-keepers in the audience had confirmed his achievement, the tense atmosphere dissolved and the announcer led the crowd in a series of triumphant chants. The opportunity to witness the feat of memory drew a capacity crowd of 6,000 to the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel stadium in Mumbai on Sunday. The exhibition was part of a campaign to encourage schoolchildren to use meditation to build brainpower, as Jain monks have done for centuries in India, a country drawn both toward ancient religious practices and more recent ambitions. But even by Jain standards, the young monk — Munishri Ajitchandrasagarji, 24 — is something special. His guru, P. P. Acharya Nayachandrasagarji, said no other monk in many years had come close to his ability. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Aggression
Link ID: 20334 - Posted: 11.20.2014

By Gretchen Reynolds Exercise seems to be good for the human brain, with many recent studies suggesting that regular exercise improves memory and thinking skills. But an interesting new study asks whether the apparent cognitive benefits from exercise are real or just a placebo effect — that is, if we think we will be “smarter” after exercise, do our brains respond accordingly? The answer has significant implications for any of us hoping to use exercise to keep our minds sharp throughout our lives. In experimental science, the best, most reliable studies randomly divide participants into two groups, one of which receives the drug or other treatment being studied and the other of which is given a placebo, similar in appearance to the drug, but not containing the active ingredient. Placebos are important, because they help scientists to control for people’s expectations. If people believe that a drug, for example, will lead to certain outcomes, their bodies may produce those results, even if the volunteers are taking a look-alike dummy pill. That’s the placebo effect, and its occurrence suggests that the drug or procedure under consideration isn’t as effective as it might seem to be; some of the work is being done by people’s expectations, not by the medicine. Recently, some scientists have begun to question whether the apparently beneficial effects of exercise on thinking might be a placebo effect. While many studies suggest that exercise may have cognitive benefits, those experiments all have had a notable scientific limitation: They have not used placebos. This issue is not some abstruse scientific debate. If the cognitive benefits from exercise are a result of a placebo effect rather than of actual changes in the brain because of the exercise, then those benefits could be ephemeral and unable in the long term to help us remember how to spell ephemeral. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 20329 - Posted: 11.20.2014

By NICK BILTON Ebola sounds like the stuff of nightmares. Bird flu and SARS also send shivers down my spine. But I’ll tell you what scares me most: artificial intelligence. The first three, with enough resources, humans can stop. The last, which humans are creating, could soon become unstoppable. Before we get into what could possibly go wrong, let me first explain what artificial intelligence is. Actually, skip that. I’ll let someone else explain it: Grab an iPhone and ask Siri about the weather or stocks. Or tell her “I’m drunk.” Her answers are artificially intelligent. Right now these artificially intelligent machines are pretty cute and innocent, but as they are given more power in society, these machines may not take long to spiral out of control. In the beginning, the glitches will be small but eventful. Maybe a rogue computer momentarily derails the stock market, causing billions in damage. Or a driverless car freezes on the highway because a software update goes awry. But the upheavals can escalate quickly and become scarier and even cataclysmic. Imagine how a medical robot, originally programmed to rid cancer, could conclude that the best way to obliterate cancer is to exterminate humans who are genetically prone to the disease. Nick Bostrom, author of the book “Superintelligence,” lays out a number of petrifying doomsday settings. One envisions self-replicating nanobots, which are microscopic robots designed to make copies of themselves. In a positive situation, these bots could fight diseases in the human body or eat radioactive material on the planet. But, Mr. Bostrom says, a “person of malicious intent in possession of this technology might cause the extinction of intelligent life on Earth.” © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Robotics; Aggression
Link ID: 20283 - Posted: 11.06.2014

By James Gallagher Health editor, BBC News website Working antisocial hours can prematurely age the brain and dull intellectual ability, scientists warn. Their study, in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine, suggested a decade of shifts aged the brain by more than six years. There was some recovery after people stopped working antisocial shifts, but it took five years to return to normal. Experts say the findings could be important in dementia, as many patients have disrupted sleep. The body's internal clock is designed for us to be active in the day and asleep at night. The damaging effects on the body of working against the body clock, from breast cancer to obesity, are well known. Now a team at the University of Swansea and the University of Toulouse has shown an impact on the mind as well. Three thousand people in France performed tests of memory, speed of thought and wider cognitive ability. The brain naturally declines as we age, but the researchers said working antisocial shifts accelerated the process. Those with more than 10 years of shift work under their belts had the same results as someone six and a half years older. The good news is that when people in the study quit shift work, their brains did recover. Even if it took five years. Dr Philip Tucker, part of the research team in Swansea, told the BBC: "It was quite a substantial decline in brain function, it is likely that when people trying to undertake complex cognitive tasks then they might make more mistakes and slip-ups, maybe one in 100 makes a mistake with a very large consequence, but it's hard to say how big a difference it would make in day-to-day life." BBC © 2014

Keyword: Biological Rhythms; Aggression
Link ID: 20281 - Posted: 11.05.2014

By RICHARD A. FRIEDMAN ATTENTION deficit hyperactivity disorder is now the most prevalent psychiatric illness of young people in America, affecting 11 percent of them at some point between the ages of 4 and 17. The rates of both diagnosis and treatment have increased so much in the past decade that you may wonder whether something that affects so many people can really be a disease. And for a good reason. Recent neuroscience research shows that people with A.D.H.D. are actually hard-wired for novelty-seeking — a trait that had, until relatively recently, a distinct evolutionary advantage. Compared with the rest of us, they have sluggish and underfed brain reward circuits, so much of everyday life feels routine and understimulating. To compensate, they are drawn to new and exciting experiences and get famously impatient and restless with the regimented structure that characterizes our modern world. In short, people with A.D.H.D. may not have a disease, so much as a set of behavioral traits that don’t match the expectations of our contemporary culture. From the standpoint of teachers, parents and the world at large, the problem with people with A.D.H.D. looks like a lack of focus and attention and impulsive behavior. But if you have the “illness,” the real problem is that, to your brain, the world that you live in essentially feels not very interesting. One of my patients, a young woman in her early 20s, is prototypical. “I’ve been on Adderall for years to help me focus,” she told me at our first meeting. Before taking Adderall, she found sitting in lectures unendurable and would lose her concentration within minutes. Like many people with A.D.H.D., she hankered for exciting and varied experiences and also resorted to alcohol to relieve boredom. But when something was new and stimulating, she had laserlike focus. I knew that she loved painting and asked her how long she could maintain her interest in her art. “No problem. I can paint for hours at a stretch.” Rewards like sex, money, drugs and novel situations all cause the release of dopamine in the reward circuit of the brain, a region buried deep beneath the cortex. Aside from generating a sense of pleasure, this dopamine signal tells your brain something like, “Pay attention, this is an important experience that is worth remembering.” © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: ADHD; Aggression
Link ID: 20272 - Posted: 11.03.2014

Maanvi Singh How does a sunset work? We love to look at one, but Jolanda Blackwell wanted her eighth-graders to really think about it, to wonder and question. So Blackwell, who teaches science at Oliver Wendell Holmes Junior High in Davis, Calif., had her students watch a video of a sunset on YouTube as part of a physics lesson on motion. "I asked them: 'So what's moving? And why?' " Blackwell says. The students had a lot of ideas. Some thought the sun was moving; others, of course, knew that a sunset is the result of the Earth spinning around on its axis. Once she got the discussion going, the questions came rapid-fire. "My biggest challenge usually is trying to keep them patient," she says. "They just have so many burning questions." Students asking questions and then exploring the answers. That's something any good teacher lives for. And at the heart of it all is curiosity. Blackwell, like many others teachers, understands that when kids are curious, they're much more likely to stay engaged. But why? What, exactly, is curiosity and how does it work? A study published in the October issue of the journal Neuron suggests that the brain's chemistry changes when we become curious, helping us better learn and retain information. © 2014 NPR

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Aggression
Link ID: 20271 - Posted: 11.03.2014

By Eric Niiler Has our reliance on iPhones and other instant-info devices harmed our memories? Michael Kahana, a University of Pennsylvania psychology professor who studies memory, says maybe: “We don’t know what the long-lasting impact of this technology will be on our brains and our ability to recall.” Kahana, 45, who has spent the past 20 years looking at how the brain creates memories, is leading an ambitious four-year Pentagon project to build a prosthetic memory device that can be implanted into human brains to help veterans with traumatic brain injuries. He spoke by telephone with The Post about what we can do to preserve or improve memory. Practicing the use of your memory is helpful. The other thing which I find helpful is sleep, which I don’t get enough of. As a general principle, skills that one continues to practice are skills that one will maintain in the face of age-related changes in cognition. [As for all those brain games available], I am not aware of any convincing data that mental exercises have a more general effect other than maintaining the skills for those exercises. I think the jury is out on that. If you practice doing crossword puzzles, you will preserve your ability to do crossword puzzles. If you practice any other cognitive skill, you will get better at that as well. Michael Kahana once could name every student in a class of 100. Now, says the University of Pennsylvania psychology professor who studies memory, “I find it too difficult even with a class of 20.” (From Michael Kahana)

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 20249 - Posted: 10.28.2014

By PAM BELLUCK Science edged closer on Sunday to showing that an antioxidant in chocolate appears to improve some memory skills that people lose with age. In a small study in the journal Nature Neuroscience, healthy people, ages 50 to 69, who drank a mixture high in antioxidants called cocoa flavanols for three months performed better on a memory test than people who drank a low-flavanol mixture. On average, the improvement of high-flavanol drinkers meant they performed like people two to three decades younger on the study’s memory task, said Dr. Scott A. Small, a neurologist at Columbia University Medical Center and the study’s senior author. They performed about 25 percent better than the low-flavanol group. “An exciting result,” said Craig Stark, a neurobiologist at the University of California, Irvine, who was not involved in the research. “It’s an initial study, and I sort of view this as the opening salvo.” He added, “And look, it’s chocolate. Who’s going to complain about chocolate?” The findings support recent research linking flavanols, especially epicatechin, to improved blood circulation, heart health and memory in mice, snails and humans. But experts said the new study, although involving only 37 participants and partly funded by Mars Inc., the chocolate company, goes further and was a well-controlled, randomized trial led by experienced researchers. Besides improvements on the memory test — a pattern recognition test involving the kind of skill used in remembering where you parked the car or recalling the face of someone you just met — researchers found increased function in an area of the brain’s hippocampus called the dentate gyrus, which has been linked to this type of memory. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 20246 - Posted: 10.27.2014

By Gary Stix Scott Small, a professor of neurology at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, researches Alzheimer’s, but he also studies the memory loss that occurs during the normal aging process. Research on the commonplace “senior moments” focuses on the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved with formation of new memories. In particular, one area of the hippocampus, the dentate gyrus, which helps distinguish one object from another, has lured researchers on age-related memory problems. In a study by Small and colleagues published Oct. 26 in Nature Neuroscience, naturally occurring chemicals in cocoa increased dentate gyrus blood flow. Psychological testing showed that the pattern recognition abilities of a typical 60-year-old on a high dose of the cocoa phytochemicals in the 37-person study matched those of a 30-or 40-year old after three months. The study received support from the food company Mars, but Small cautions against going out to gorge on Snickers Bars, as most of the beneficial chemicals, or flavanols, are removed when processing cocoa. An edited transcript of an interview with Small follows: Can you explain what you found in your study? The main motive of the study was to causally establish an anatomical source of age-related memory loss. A number of labs have shown in the last 10 years that there’s one area of the brain called the dentate gyrus that is linked to the aging process. But no one has tested that concept. Until now the observations have been correlational. There is decreased function in that region and, to prove causation, we were trying to see if we could reverse that. © 2014 Scientific American

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 20245 - Posted: 10.27.2014

by Neurobonkers A paper published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience last week addressed the prevalence of neuromyths among educators. The paper has been widely reported, but the lion's share of the coverage glossed over the impact that neuromyths have had in the real world. Your first thought after reading the neuromyths in the table below — which were widely believed by teachers — may well be, "so what?" It is true that some of the false beliefs are relatively harmless. For example, encouraging children to drink a little more water might perhaps result in the consumption of less sugary drinks. This may do little if anything to reduce hyperactivity but could encourage a more nutritious diet which might have impacts on problems such as Type II diabetes. So, what's the harm? The paper addressed a number of areas where neuromyths have had real world impacts on educators and policymakers, which may have resulted negatively on the provision of education. The graph above, reprinted in the Nature Reviews Neuroscience, paper has been included as empirical data in educational policy documents to provide evidence for an "allegedly scientific argument for withdrawing public funding of university education." The problem? The data is made up. The graph is in fact a model that is based on the false assumption that investment before the age of three will have many times the benefit of investment made in education later in life. The myth of three — the belief that there is a critical window to educate children before the age of three, after which point the trajectory is fixed — is one of the most persistent neuromyths. Viewed on another level, while some might say investment in early education can never be a bad thing, how about the implication that the potential of a child is fixed at such an early point in their life, when in reality their journey has just begun. © Copyright 2014, The Big Think, Inc

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Aggression
Link ID: 20239 - Posted: 10.25.2014

By CLIVE THOMPSON “You just crashed a little bit,” Adam Gazzaley said. It was true: I’d slammed my rocket-powered surfboard into an icy riverbank. This was at Gazzaley’s San Francisco lab, in a nook cluttered with multicolored skullcaps and wires that hooked up to an E.E.G. machine. The video game I was playing wasn’t the sort typically pitched at kids or even middle-aged, Gen X gamers. Indeed, its intended users include people over 60 — because the game might just help fend off the mental decline that accompanies aging. It was awfully hard to play, even for my Call of Duty-toughened brain. Project: Evo, as the game is called, was designed to tax several mental abilities at once. As I maneuvered the surfboard down winding river pathways, I was supposed to avoid hitting the sides, which required what Gazzaley said was “visual-motor tracking.” But I also had to watch out for targets: I was tasked with tapping the screen whenever a red fish jumped out of the water. The game increased in difficulty as I improved, making the river twistier and obliging me to remember turns I’d taken. (These were “working-memory challenges.”) Soon the targets became more confusing — I was trying to tap blue birds and green fish, but the game faked me out by mixing in green birds and blue fish. This was testing my “selective attention,” or how quickly I could assess a situation and react to it. The company behind Project: Evo is now seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration for the game. If it gets that government stamp, it might become a sort of cognitive Lipitor or Viagra, a game that your doctor can prescribe for your aging mind. After only two minutes of play, I was making all manner of mistakes, stabbing frantically at the wrong fish as the game sped up. “It’s hard,” Gazzaley said, smiling broadly as he took back the iPad I was playing on. “It’s meant to really push it.” “Brain training” games like Project: Evo have become big business, with Americans spending an estimated $1.3 billion a year on them. They are also a source of controversy. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Alzheimers; Aggression
Link ID: 20238 - Posted: 10.23.2014

By Emily Underwood Aging baby boomers and seniors would be better off going for a hike than sitting down in front of one of the many video games designed to aid the brain, a group of nearly 70 researchers asserted this week in a critique of some of the claims made by the brain-training industry. With yearly subscriptions running as much as $120, an expanding panoply of commercial brain games promises to improve memory, processing speed, and problem-solving, and even, in some cases, to stave off Alzheimer’s disease. Many companies, such as Lumosity and Cogmed, describe their games as backed by solid scientific evidence and prominently note that neuroscientists at top universities and research centers helped design the programs. But the cited research is often “only tangentially related to the scientific claims of the company, and to the games they sell,” according to the statement released Monday by the Stanford Center on Longevity in Palo Alto, California, and the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin. Although the letter, whose signatories include many researchers outside those two organizations, doesn’t point to specific bad actors, it concludes that there is “little evidence that playing brain games improves underlying broad cognitive abilities, or that it enables one to better navigate a complex realm of everyday life.” A similar statement of concern was published in 2008 with a smaller number of signatories, says Ulman Lindenberger of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, who helped organize both letters. Although Lindenberger says there was no particular trigger for the current statement, he calls it the “expression of a growing collective concern among a large number of cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists who study human cognitive aging.” © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Alzheimers; Aggression
Link ID: 20237 - Posted: 10.23.2014

By PAUL VITELLO Most adults do not remember anything before the age of 3 or 4, a gap that researchers had chalked up to the vagaries of the still-developing infant brain. By some accounts, the infant brain was just not equipped to remember much. Textbooks referred to the deficiency as infant amnesia. Carolyn Rovee-Collier, a developmental psychologist at Rutgers University who died on Oct. 2 at 72, challenged the theory, showing in a series of papers in the early 1980s that babies remember plenty. A 3-month-old can recall what he or she learned yesterday, she found, and a 9-month-old can remember a game for as long as a month and a half. She cited experiments suggesting that memory processes in adults and infants are virtually the same, and argued that infant memories were never lost. They just become increasingly harder to retrieve as the child grows, learns language and loses touch with the visual triggers that had kept those memories sharp — a view from between the bars of a crib, say, or the view of the floor as a crawler, not a toddler, sees it. Not all of Dr. Rovee-Collier’s theories won over the psychology establishment, which still uses the infant amnesia concept to explain why people do not remember life as a baby. But her insights about an infant’s short-term memory and ability to learn have been widely accepted, and have helped recast scientific thinking about the infant mind over the past 30 years. Since the first of her 200 papers was published, infant cognitive studies has undergone a boom in university programs around the country. It was a field that had been largely unexplored in any systematic way by the giants of psychological theory. Freud and Jean Piaget never directly addressed the subject of infant memory. William James, considered the father of American psychology, once hazarded a guess that the human baby’s mind was a place of “blooming, buzzing confusion.” © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Aggression
Link ID: 20233 - Posted: 10.23.2014

By Benedict Carey Sleep. Parents crave it, but children and especially teenagers, need it. When educators and policymakers debate the relationship between sleep schedules and school performance and — given the constraints of buses, sports and everything else that seem so much more important — what they should do about it, they miss an intimate biological fact: Sleep is learning, of a very specific kind. Scientists now argue that a primary purpose of sleep is learning consolidation, separating the signal from the noise and flagging what is most valuable. School schedules change slowly, if at all, and the burden of helping teenagers get the sleep they need is squarely on parents. Can we help our children learn to exploit sleep as a learning tool (while getting enough of it)? Absolutely. There is research suggesting that different kinds of sleep can aid different kinds of learning, and by teaching “sleep study skills,” we can let our teenagers enjoy the sense that they’re gaming the system. Start with the basics. Sleep isn’t merely rest or downtime; the brain comes out to play when head meets pillow. A full night’s sleep includes a large dose of several distinct brain states, including REM sleep – when the brain flares with activity and dreams – and the netherworld of deep sleep, when it whispers to itself in a language that is barely audible. Each of these states developed to handle one kind of job, so getting sleep isn’t just something you “should do” or need. It’s far more: It’s your best friend when you want to get really good at something you’ve been working on. So you want to remember your Spanish vocabulary (or “How I Met Your Mother” trivia or Red Sox batting averages)? © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sleep; Aggression
Link ID: 20216 - Posted: 10.18.2014

By Josie Gurney-Read, Online Education Editor Myths about the brain and how it functions are being used to justify and promote teaching methods that are essentially “ineffective”, according to new research. The study, published today in Nature Reviews Neuroscience, began by presenting teachers in the UK, Turkey, Greece, China and the Netherlands, with seven myths about the brain and asked them whether they believed the myths to be true. According to the figures, over half of teachers in the UK, the Netherlands and China believe that children are less attentive after sugary drinks and snacks and over a quarter of teachers in the UK and Turkey believe that a pupil’s brain will shrink if they drink fewer than six to eight glasses of water a day. Furthermore, over 90 per cent of teachers in all countries believe that a student will learn better if they receive information in their preferred learning style – auditory, visual, kinaesthetic. This is despite the fact that there is "no convincing evidence to support this theory". Dr Paul Howard-Jones, author of the article from Bristol University’s Graduate School of Education, said that many teaching practices are “sold to teachers as based on neuroscience”. However, he added that, in many cases, these ideas have “no educational value and are often associated with poor practice in the classroom.” The prevalence of many of these “neuromyths” in different countries, could reflect the absence of any teacher training in neuroscience, the research concludes. Dr Howard-Jones warned that this could mean that many teachers are “ill-prepared to be critical of ideas and educational programmes that claim a neuroscientific basis.” © Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2014

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 20207 - Posted: 10.16.2014

Ann Robinson Neuroscience research got a huge boost last week with news of Professor John O’Keefe’s Nobel prize for work on the “brain’s internal GPS system”. It is an exciting new part of the giant jigsaw puzzle of our brain and how it functions. But how does cutting-edge neuroscience research translate into practical advice about how to pass exams, remember names, tot up household bills and find where the hell you left the car in a crowded car park? O’Keefe’s prize was awarded jointly with Swedish husband and wife team Edvard and May-Britt Moser for their discovery of “place and grid cells” that allow rats to chart where they are. When rats run through a new environment, these cells show increased activity. The same activity happens much faster while the rats are asleep, as they replay the new route. We already knew that the part of the brain known as the hippocampus was involved in spatial awareness in birds and mammals, and this latest work on place cells sheds more light on how we know where we are and where we’re going. In 2000, researchers at University College London led by Dr Eleanor Maguire showed that London taxi drivers develop a pumped-up hippocampus after years of doing the knowledge and navigating the backstreets of the city. MRI scans showed that cabbies start off with bigger hippocampuses than average, and that the area gets bigger the longer they do the job. As driver David Cohen said at the time to BBC News: “I never noticed part of my brain growing – it makes you wonder what happened to the rest of it!” © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Aggression
Link ID: 20199 - Posted: 10.13.2014

by Laura Starecheski From the self-affirmations of Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live to countless videos on YouTube, saying nice things to your reflection in the mirror is a self-help trope that's been around for decades, and seems most often aimed at women. The practice, we're told, can help us like ourselves and our bodies more, and even make us more successful — allow us to chase our dreams! Impressed, but skeptical, I took this self-talk idea to one of the country's leading researchers on body image to see if it's actually part of clinical practice. David Sarwer is a psychologist and clinical director at the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders at the University of Pennsylvania. He says that, in fact, a mirror is one of the first tools he uses with some new patients. He stands them in front of a mirror and coaches them to use gentler, more neutral language as they evaluate their bodies. "Instead of saying, 'My abdomen is disgusting and grotesque,' " Sarwer explains, he'll prompt a patient to say, " 'My abdomen is round, my abdomen is big; it's bigger than I'd like it to be.' " The goal, he says, is to remove "negative and pejorative terms" from the patient's self-talk. The underlying notion is that it's not enough for a patient to lose physical weight — or gain it, as some women need to — if she doesn't also change the way her body looks in her mind's eye. This may sound weird. You're either a size 4 or a size 8, right? Not mentally, apparently. In a 2013 study from the Netherlands, scientists watched women with anorexia walk through doorways in a lab. The women, they noticed, turned their shoulders and squeezed sideways, even when they had plenty of room. © 2014 NPR

Keyword: Attention; Aggression
Link ID: 20178 - Posted: 10.08.2014

|By Tori Rodriguez Imagining your tennis serve or mentally running through an upcoming speech might help you perform better, studies have shown, but the reasons why have been unclear. A common theory is that mental imagery activates some of the same neural pathways involved in the actual experience, and a recent study in Psychological Science lends support to that idea. Scientists at the University of Oslo conducted five experiments investigating whether eye pupils adjust to imagined light as they do to real light, in an attempt to see whether mental imagery can trigger automatic neural processes such as pupil dilation. Using infrared eye-tracking technology, they measured the diameter of participants' pupils as they viewed shapes of varying brightness and as they imagined the shapes they viewed or visualized a sunny sky or a dark room. In response to imagined light, pupils constricted 87 percent as much as they did during actual viewing, on average; in response to imagined darkness, pupils dilated to 56 percent of their size during real perception. Two other experiments ruled out the possibility that participants were able to adjust their pupil size at will or that pupils were changing in response to mental effort, which can cause dilation. The finding helps to explain why imagined rehearsals can improve your game. The mental picture activates and strengthens the very neural circuits—even subconscious ones that control automated processes like pupil dilation—that you will need to recruit when it is time to perform. © 2014 Scientific American

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 20176 - Posted: 10.08.2014

By LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN A British-American scientist and a pair of Norwegian researchers were awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine on Monday for discovering “an inner GPS in the brain” that enables virtually all creatures to navigate their surroundings. John O’Keefe, 75, a British-American scientist, will share the prize of $1.1 million with May-Britt Moser, 51, and Edvard I. Moser, 52, only the second married couple to win a Nobel in medicine, who will receive the other half. The three scientists’ discoveries “have solved a problem that has occupied philosophers and scientists for centuries — how does the brain create a map of the space surrounding us and how can we navigate our way through a complex environment?” said the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, which chooses the laureates. The positioning system they discovered helps us know where we are, find our way from place to place and store the information for the next time, said Goran K. Hansson, secretary of the Karolinska’s Nobel Committee. The researchers documented that certain cells are responsible for the higher cognitive function that steers the navigational system. Dr. O’Keefe began using neurophysiological methods in the late 1960s to study how the brain controls behavior and sense of direction. In 1971, he discovered the first component of the inner navigational system in rats. He identified nerve cells in the hippocampus region of the brain that were always activated when a rat was at a certain location. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 20169 - Posted: 10.07.2014

By Gretchen Vogel Research on how the brain knows where it is has bagged the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, the Nobel Committee has announced from Stockholm. One half of the prize goes to John O'Keefe, director of the Sainsbury Wellcome Centre in Neural Circuits and Behaviour at University College London. The other is for a husband-wife couple: May-Britt Moser, who is director of the Centre for Neural Computation in Trondheim, and Edvard Moser, director of the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience in Trondheim. "In 1971, John O´Keefe discovered the first component of this positioning system," the Nobel Committee says in a statement that was just released. "He found that a type of nerve cell in an area of the brain called the hippocampus that was always activated when a rat was at a certain place in a room. Other nerve cells were activated when the rat was at other places. O´Keefe concluded that these “place cells” formed a map of the room." "More than three decades later, in 2005, May‐Britt and Edvard Moser discovered another key component of the brain’s positioning system," the statement goes on to explain. "They identified another type of nerve cell, which they called “grid cells”, that generate a coordinate system and allow for precise positioning and pathfinding. Their subsequent research showed how place and grid cells make it possible to determine position and to navigate." © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 20163 - Posted: 10.06.2014