Chapter 19. Language and Hemispheric Asymmetry
Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or subscribe to our mailing list, to receive news updates. Learn more.
Injuries to the head can leave victims susceptible to early death even years later through impaired judgement, a major analysis of survivors shows. Those with a history of psychiatric disorders before the injury are most at risk of dying prematurely. The study, in JAMA Psychiatry, of 40 years of data on more than two million people, showed that overall a brain injury trebled the risk. Suicide and fatal injuries were among the commonest causes of early death. More than one million people in Europe are taken to hospital with a traumatic brain injury each year. The study, by researchers at the University of Oxford and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, looked at Swedish medical records between 1969 and 2009. They followed patients who survived the initial six-month danger period after injury. The data showed that without injury 0.2% of people were dying prematurely - before the age of 56. However, the premature-death rate was three-fold higher in patients who had previously suffered traumatic brain injury. In those who also had a psychiatric disorder the rate soared to 4%. Dr Seena Fazel, one of the researchers in Oxford, said: "There are these subgroups with really high rates, and these are potentially treatable illnesses, so this is something we can do something about." BBC © 2014
By Sam Kean In 1559, the two surgeons Ambroise Paré and Andreas Vesalius discussed trepanning the skull of King Henri II of France to remove any excess fluids and “corrupted” blood inside, but the risks outweighed the benefits and they gave the idea up. In the meantime, they examined the heads of the decapitated criminals. History doesn’t record the exact methodology here—whether someone fixed each head inside a vice to provide a stable target, or perhaps strung the noggins up like piñatas to swing at—but the Count de Montgomery’s stump got quite a workout battering their mugs. It was a macabre mix of medieval brutality and modern experimental savvy, and Paré and Vesalius eagerly examined them for clues. Alas, they offered little inspiration for treatment. Instead, the two men could have learned a lot more by simply observing the king, whose suffering foreshadowed many great discoveries over the next four centuries of neuroscience. Henri continued to drift in and out of coherence, limning the borders of the unconscious. He suffered from seizures and temporary paralysis, two then-mysterious afflictions. Strangely, the paralysis or seizures would derange only half of his body at any one time, a clear hint (in retrospect) that the brain controls the body’s halves independently. Henri’s vision also went in and out, a clue that the back of the brain (where Paré expected to find the contrecoup damage) controls our sense of sight. Worst of all, Henri’s headache kept widening, which told Paré that his brain was swelling and that blood vessels had ruptured inside the skull. As we know today, inflammation and fluid pressure can crush brain cells, destroying the switches and circuits that run the body and mind. This explains why brain injuries can be lethal even if the skull suffers no fracture. Skull fractures can in fact save people’s lives, by giving the swollen brain or pools of blood room to expand into. The history of neuroscience has proved the brain amazingly resilient, but one thing it cannot stand is pressure, and the secondary effects of trauma, like swelling, often prove more deadly than the initial blow. © 2014 Time Inc.
Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 19132 - Posted: 01.15.2014
by Laura Sanders Baby V sailed through her first Christmas with the heart of a little explorer. She travelled to frigid upstate New York where she mashed snow in her cold little hands, tasted her great grandma’s twice baked potato and was licked clean by at least four dogs. And she opened lots of presents. It’s totally true what people say about little kids and gifts: The wrapping paper proved to be the biggest hit. But in the Christmas aftermath, one of Baby V’s new toys really caught her attention. She cannot resist her singing, talking book. The book has only three pages, but Baby V is smitten. Any time the book pipes up, which it seems to do randomly, she snaps to attention, staring at it, grabbing it and trying to figure it out. With a cutesy high-pitched voice, the book tells Baby V to “Turn the pa-AYE-ge!” and “This is fun!” Sometimes, the book bursts into little songs, all the while maintaining the cheeriest, squeakiest, sugarplum-drenched tone, even when it’s saying something kind of sad: “Three little kittens have lost their mittens and they began to cry!” The book maker (uh, author?) clearly knows how to tap into infants’ deep love for happy, squeaky noises, as does the creator of Elmo. Scientists are also noticing this trend, and are starting to figure out exactly why these sounds are so alluring to little ones. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2014.
By Susan Berger, The chiropractor had just worked on Lynne Beliveau’s neck when she became dizzy, unable to see or move. Rushed to the hospital, Beliveau had a shunt inserted to relieve pressure caused by swelling in her brain. The Ashburn woman suffered a series of strokes and today, eight years later, the 41-year-old mother of three suffers from constant vertigo. Elizabeth Haran Caplan knew she was in trouble seconds after a chiropractor in Oklahoma City manipulated her neck. The room got dark and she felt dizzy. Because of her years of service as a combat medic in Kosovo and Somalia, she knew what was happening and yelled, “Stop. I’m having a stroke.” More than a decade later, she is blind in her left eye and has problems swallowing without choking due to paralysis of one side of her throat. Approximately 20 million Americans visit chiropractors each year, according to the American Chiropractic Association, seeking relief from back pain, neck pain, headaches, sinus problems, ringing in the ears and more. For many, the manipulations provide relief. But one of the techniques chiropractors use, called cervical neck manipulation or “cracking the neck,” has raised concerns that it can cause serious harm. “I have jumped out of airplanes, escaped bullets in Somalia,” said Haran Caplan, 47, who retired from the Army nine years ago as a lieutenant colonel. “Who knew the most dangerous place I would put myself would be on a chiropractor’s table?” © 1996-2014 The Washington Post
Link ID: 19109 - Posted: 01.08.2014
After a concussion, adolescents with the highest level of mental activities — such as reading, doing homework and playing video games — take the longest to recover, a new study suggests. Adolescents engaged in the highest level of mental activities take about 100 days on average to recover from symptoms of concussion, compared to about 20 to 50 days for those with lower mental activities, according to researchers from Children’s Hospital Boston. A concussion is an injury to the brain resulting from a blow to the head. Classic symptoms of concussion are confusion and amnesia. Others include headache, dizziness, nausea or vomiting, and fatigue. The study was published on Monday in Pediatrics, a peer-reviewed, scientific journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. One of the authors is a co-developer of the post-concussion assessment software used in the study and is a co-owner of the company that distributes the software. Researchers tracked 335 people aged eight to 23 who visited a sports concussion clinic in Boston over 21 months. The results support the benefits of mental rest to recover from a concussion, researchers say. The researchers also back up academic accommodation for student athletes recovering from sports-related concussions, which allows them relative mental rest during the school year. © CBC 2014
Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 19101 - Posted: 01.06.2014
Brittany Fallon In today’s focal party, the main characters are Nambi, the Alpha female who engages in regular sexual relations with young males; Nick, the former Alpha male, replaced by Nambi’s son Musa; and Zefa, Nick’s former Beta male, who is forming new alliances to overthrow Musa. It’s hard not to pretend I’m witnessing the real world version of Game of Thrones – except it’s not humans I’m observing, but chimpanzees. There’s no Iron Throne involved in this power struggle – just the race for reproductive success. Dominant individuals enjoy a number of benefits that improve their chance of passing on genes, including richer access to sexual partners. But how does this influence their tactics for attracting mates? Perhaps no effort is needed, the chimpanzee equivalent to the philandering Robert, with potential sex partners who line up in hopes of birthing the next possible heir. Or is it that, like promiscuous Cersei, they’ve learned a number of coy and successful pick up lines (“Tears aren’t a woman’s only weapon.”)? Elaborate metaphors aside, this is exactly the sort of question that I attempt to answer for my PhD on sexual displays in the Sonso chimpanzee community of the Budongo Forest Reserve in Uganda. Chimpanzees, like a variety of animals, produce ‘courtship displays’ to attract mates. Displays are largely comprised of gestures, which can be broadly defined as distinct bodily movements that do not physically manipulate the receiver toward the goal of the signaller. Both males and females, ranging in age from 2 to 52 years old in my community, can produce these solicitations. Displays can be elaborate, many signals strung together, or they can be simple, a single shaking of a branch followed immediately by copulation. What’s particularly amazing about chimpanzee solicitations is that they seem to be intentionally communicative: following a display, signallers will visibly wait for a response from their target by gaze-checking, and, if met with failure, will persist in gesturing. © 2014 Scientific American
By KELLEY McMILLAN BEAVER CREEK, Colo. — The fact that Michael Schumacher was wearing a helmet when he sustained a life-threatening head injury while skiing in France on Sunday probably did not come as a surprise to experts who have charted the increasing presence of helmets on slopes and halfpipes in recent years. The fact that the helmet did not prevent Schumacher’s injury probably did not surprise them, either. Schumacher, the most successful Formula One driver in history, sustained a traumatic brain injury when he fell and hit his head on a rock while navigating an off-piste, or ungroomed, area at a resort in Méribel, France. Although he was wearing a helmet, he sustained injuries that have left him fighting for his life in a hospital in Grenoble, France. Schumacher’s injury also focused attention on an unsettling trend. Although skiers and snowboarders in the United States are wearing helmets more than ever — 70 percent of all participants, nearly triple the number from 2003 — there has been no reduction in the number of snow-sports-related fatalities or brain injuries in the country, according to the National Ski Areas Association. Experts ascribe that seemingly implausible correlation to the inability of helmets to prevent serious head injuries like Schumacher’s and to the fact that more skiers and snowboarders are engaging in risky behaviors: skiing faster, jumping higher and going out of bounds. © 2013 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 19084 - Posted: 01.02.2014
By KEN BELSON Revelations in recent years that thousands of former football players might have severe brain trauma from injuries sustained on the field have set off a rush in the medical community to seize the potentially lucrative market for assessing brain damage. But experts say claims regarding the validity of these assessments are premature and perhaps unfounded. Most researchers believe that C.T.E., or chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the degenerative brain disease found in dozens of former N.F.L. players, can be diagnosed only posthumously by analyzing brain tissue. Researchers at U.C.L.A. have developed a test they assert might identify the condition in a living person by injecting a compound that clings to proteins in the brain and later appears in a PET scan. But some are skeptical. “There has really been so much hype surrounding C.T.E., so there is a real need for making sure the public knows that this type of science moves slowly and must move very carefully,” said Robert Stern, a professor of neurology and neurosurgery at Boston University School of Medicine and a founder of the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. He is part of a group that is developing a different biomarker to identify tau, the protein that is a hallmark of C.T.E. “My fear is the people out there who are so much in need, scared for their lives and desperate for information, it might give them false hope,” he said. The debate over the scientific validity of such brain exams was highlighted recently when Tony Dorsett, a Hall of Fame running back for the Dallas Cowboys, and several other prominent former players said they were found to have C.T.E. after taking the experimental test developed by U.C.L.A. Dorsett, 59, told CNN that “they came to find out I have C.T.E.” and that his memory lapses, short temper and moodiness were “all because of C.T.E.” Despite what was widely reported as a diagnosis, the experimental test is perhaps years from gaining federal approval. An antidote is even more remote because C.T.E. is a degenerative condition with no known cure. That is why neurologists, researchers and bioethicists question whether the doctors at U.C.L.A. and at TauMark, the company with the exclusive license to commercialize the test, may leave some former players and their families with false hopes or undue worry. © 2013 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 19070 - Posted: 12.27.2013
By Sandra G. Boodman, Bebe Bahnsen remembers the night, alone in her small cottage on the Alabama coast, that she felt a strong urge to drink a can of drain cleaner. For years, antidepressants combined with talk therapy had enabled Bahnsen, whose first name is Beatrice, to function well, establishing a thriving public relations business in Washington followed by a career as a newspaper reporter. But those days had been supplanted by a prolonged suicidal depression that had proved impervious to electroshock treatments, periodic hospitalizations and a raft of psychiatric drugs. The phone call in which Bahnsen confided her desire to drink poison seemed to confirm the worst fears of one of her closest friends. “I figured, well, she was one of those people who just was not ever going to get better,” said Paddy Bowman, a folklore specialist who lives in Alexandria. Bahnsen, now 73, traces the beginning of her psychological slide to the mid-1990s, when she decided that, after two decades, she’d had enough of Washington. She moved back to her home state of Georgia and her life slowly began to unravel. She felt estranged from her large and devoted circle of friends, began having problems at work, and grew restless and increasingly depressed. “I felt as though I was on a large island and everyone was slowly moving away and I was there by myself,” Bahnsen recalled. For the first time in her life, she said, she was intermittently psychotic. Periodic suicide attempts, some involving overdoses of prescribed sleeping pills, landed her in a series of mental hospitals. In November 2006 she was hospitalized in Las Vegas, where she was then living with one of her sons. Doctors, baffled by her longstanding failure to improve, decided to take a closer look at her case. What they found resulted in an entirely different treatment, one that had a rapid and dramatic effect on her mental state. © 1996-2013 The Washington Post
By Melissa Hogenboom Science reporter, BBC News An analysis of a Neanderthal's fossilised hyoid bone - a horseshoe-shaped structure in the neck - suggests the species had the ability to speak. This has been suspected since the 1989 discovery of a Neanderthal hyoid that looks just like a modern human's. But now computer modelling of how it works has shown this bone was also used in a very similar way. Writing in journal Plos One, scientists say its study is "highly suggestive" of complex speech in Neanderthals. The hyoid bone is crucial for speaking as it supports the root of the tongue. In non-human primates, it is not placed in the right position to vocalise like humans. An international team of researchers analysed a fossil Neanderthal throat bone using 3D x-ray imaging and mechanical modelling. This model allowed the group to see how the hyoid behaved in relation to the other surrounding bones. Stephen Wroe, from the University of New England, Armidale, NSW, Australia, said: "We would argue that this is a very significant step forward. It shows that the Kebara 2 hyoid doesn't just look like those of modern humans - it was used in a very similar way." He told BBC News that it not only changed our understanding of Neanderthals, but also of ourselves. "Many would argue that our capacity for speech and language is among the most fundamental of characteristics that make us human. If Neanderthals also had language then they were truly human, too." BBC © 2013
By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS A remarkable recent experiment allowed scientists to see inside the skull and brain of animals that had just experienced a concussion, providing sobering new evidence of how damaging even minor brain impacts can be. While the results, which were published in Nature, are worrisome, they also hint at the possibility of treating concussions and lessening their harm. Concussions occur when the brain bounces against the skull after someone’s head is bumped or jolted. Such injuries are fairly common in contact sports, like football and hockey, and there is growing concern that repeated concussions might contribute to lingering problems with thinking or memory. This concern was heightened this week by reports that the brain of the late major league baseball player Ryan Freel showed symptoms of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative condition. He reportedly had been hit in the head multiple times during his career. But scientists did not know exactly what happens at a molecular level inside the brain during and after a concussion. The living brain is notoriously difficult to study, since it shelters behind the thick, bony skull and other protective barriers. In some earlier studies, scientists had removed portions of lab animals’ skulls to view what happened to their brains during subsequent impacts. But removing part of the skull causes its own tissue damage and physiological response, muddying any findings about how the brain is affected by concussions. So scientists at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a division of the National Institutes of Health, decided to develop a less destructive means of seeing inside skulls and came up with the deceptively simple method of shaving away microscopic layers of a lab mouse’s skull, thinning it to the point that powerful microscopic lenses could see through it, even as the skull remained essentially intact. Copyright 2013 The New York Times Company
Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 19052 - Posted: 12.18.2013
The National Institutes of Health has selected eight projects to receive support to answer some of the most fundamental problems on traumatic brain injury, including understanding long-term effects of repeated head injuries and improving diagnosis of concussions. Funding is provided by the Sports and Health Research Program, a partnership among the NIH, the National Football League, and the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health (FNIH). In 2012, the NFL donated $30 million to FNIH for research studies on injuries affecting athletes, with brain trauma being the primary area of focus. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a major public health problem that affects all age groups and is the leading cause of death in young adults. Recently, concern has been raised about the potential long-term effects of repeated concussion, particularly in those most at risk: young athletes and those engaged in professions associated with frequent head injury, including men and women in the military. Current tests cannot reliably identify concussions, and there is no way to predict who will recover quickly, who will suffer long-term symptoms, and which few individuals will develop progressive brain degeneration, called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). “We need to be able to predict which patterns of injury are rapidly reversible and which are not. This program will help researchers get closer to answering some of the important questions about concussion for our youth who play sports and their parents,” said Story Landis, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of NIH.
Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 19043 - Posted: 12.17.2013
By Janelle Weaver Children with a large vocabulary experience more success at school and in the workplace. How much parents talk to their children plays a major role, but new research shows that it is not just the quantity but also the quality of parental input that matters. Helpful gestures and meaningful glances may allow kids to grasp concepts more easily than they otherwise would. In a study published in June in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, Erica Cartmill of the University of Chicago and her collaborators videotaped parents in their homes as they read books and played games with their 14- or 18-month-old children. The researchers created hundreds of 40-second muted video clips of these interactions. Another set of study participants watched the videos and used clues from the scenes to guess which nouns the parents were saying at various points in the sequences. The researchers used the accuracy of these guesses to rate how well a parent used nonverbal cues, such as gesturing toward and looking at objects, to clarify a word's meaning. Cartmill and her team found that the quality of parents' nonverbal signaling predicted the size of their children's vocabulary three years later. Surprisingly, socioeconomic status did not play a role in the quality of the parents' nonverbal signaling. This result suggests that the well-known differences in children's vocabulary size across income levels are likely the result of how much parents talk to their children, which is known to differ by income, rather than how much nonverbal help they offer during those interactions. © 2013 Scientific American
There is more than meets the eye following even a mild traumatic brain injury. While the brain may appear to be intact, new findings reported in Nature suggest that the brain’s protective coverings may feel the brunt of the impact. Using a newly developed mouse trauma model, senior author Dorian McGavern, Ph.D., scientist at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), part of the National Institutes of Health, watched specific cells mount an immune response to the injury and try to prevent more widespread damage. Notably, additional findings suggest a similar immune response may occur in patients with mild head injury. In this study, researchers also discovered that certain molecules, when applied directly to the mouse skull, can bypass the brain’s protective barriers and enter the brain. The findings suggested that, in the mouse trauma model, one of those molecules may reduce effects of brain injury. Although concussions are common, not much is known about the effects of this type of damage. As part of this study, Lawrence Latour, Ph.D., a scientist from NINDS and the Center for Neuroscience and Regenerative Medicine, examined individuals who had recently suffered a concussion but whose initial scans did not reveal any physical damage to brain tissue. After administering a commonly used dye during MRI scans, Latour and his colleagues saw it leaking into the meninges, the outer covers of the brain, in 49 percent of 142 patients with concussion. To determine what happens following this mild type of injury, researchers in Dr. McGavern’s lab developed a new model of brain trauma in mice.
Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 19010 - Posted: 12.10.2013
Helen Shen Dyslexia may be caused by impaired connections between auditory and speech centres of the brain, according to a study published today in Science1. The research could help to resolve conflicting theories about the root causes of the disorder, and lead to targeted interventions. When people learn to read, their brains make connections between written symbols and components of spoken words. But people with dyslexia seem to have difficulty identifying and manipulating the speech sounds to be linked to written symbols. Researchers have long debated whether the underlying representations of these sounds are disrupted in the dyslexic brain, or whether they are intact but language-processing centres are simply unable to access them properly. A team led by Bart Boets, a clinical psychologist at the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, analysed brain scans and found that phonetic representations of language remain intact in adults with dyslexia, but may be less accessible than in controls because of deficits in brain connectivity. "The authors took a really inventive and thoughtful approach," says John Gabrieli, a neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. "They got a pretty clear answer." Communication channels Boets and his team used a technique called multivoxel pattern analysis to study fine-scale brain signals as people listened to a battery of linguistic fragments such as 'ba' and 'da'. To the researchers' surprise, neural activity in the primary and secondary auditory cortices of participants with dyslexia showed consistently distinct signals for different sounds. © 2013 Nature Publishing Group
Barn owl nestlings recognise their siblings' calls, according to researchers. Instead of competing aggressively for food, young barn owls are known to negotiate by calling out. A team of scientists in Switzerland discovered that the owlets have remarkably individual calls. They suggest this is to communicate each birds' needs and identity in the nest. The findings were announced in the Journal of Evolutionary Biology by Dr Amelie Dreiss and colleagues at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland. Barn owls (Tyto alba) are considered one of the most widespread species of bird and are found on every continent except Antarctica. An average clutch size ranges between four and six eggs but some have been known to contain up to 12. Previous studies have highlighted how barn owl nestlings, known as owlets, negotiate with their siblings for food instead of fighting. While their parents search for food the owlets advertise their hunger to their brothers and sisters by calling out. "These vocal signals deter siblings from vocalizing and from competing for the prey at parental return," explained Dr Dreiss. "If there is a disagreement, they can escalate signal intensity little by little, always without physical aggression, until less hungry siblings finally withdraw from the contest." BBC © 2013
By Victoria Gill Science reporter, BBC News Great tits use different alarm calls for different predators, according to a scientist in Japan. The researcher analysed the birds' calls and found they made "jar" sounds for snakes and "chicka" sounds for crows and martens. This, he says, is the first demonstration birds can communicate vocally about the type of predator threatening them. The findings are published in the journal Animal Behaviour. From his previous observations, the researcher, Dr Toshitaka Suzuki, from the Graduate University for Advanced Studies in Kanagawa, found great tits appeared to be able to discriminate between different predators. To test whether they could also communicate this information, he placed models of three different animals that prey on nestlings - snakes, crows and martens - close to the birds' nest boxes. He then recorded and analysed the birds' responses. "Parents usually make alarm calls when they approach and mob the nest predators," said Dr Suzuki. "They produced specific 'jar' alarm calls for the snakes and the same 'chicka' alarm call in response to both the crows and martens," he said. But a closers analysis of the sounds showed the birds had used different "note combinations" in their crow alarm calls from those they had used for the martens. Dr Suzuki thinks the birds might have evolved what he called a "combinatorial communication system" - combining different notes to produce calls with different meanings. Since snakes are able to slither into nest boxes, they pose a much greater threat to great tit nestlings than other birds or mammals, so Dr Suzuki says it makes sense that the birds would have a specific snake alarm call. BBC © 2013
By James Gallagher Health and science reporter, BBC News The damage caused by concussion can be detected months after the injury and long after patients feel like they have recovered, brain scans show. Concussion has become highly controversial in sport, with concerns raised that players are putting their brain at risk. Researchers at the University of New Mexico said athletes may be being returned to action too quickly. While UK doctors said the attitude to head injury was "too relaxed" in sport. Debate over concussion and head injury has lead to resignations over new rules in rugby, controversy in football after a player was kept on the field after being knocked out, and has been a long-standing issue in American football. Concussion is an abnormal brain function that results from an external blast, jolt or impact to the head. Even if the knock does not result in a skull fracture, the brain can still experience a violent rattling that leads to injury. Because the brain is a soft gelatinous material surrounded by a rigid bony skull, such traumatic injuries can cause changes in brain function, such as bleeding, neuron damage and swelling. Research shows that repetitive concussions increase the risk of sustained memory loss, worsened concentration or prolonged headaches. Long-term The US study, published in the journal Neurology, compared the brains of 50 people who had mild concussion with 50 healthy people. BBC © 2013
Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 18951 - Posted: 11.21.2013
By Tanya Lewis and LiveScience SAN DIEGO — Being a social butterfly just might change your brain: In people with a large network of friends and excellent social skills, certain brain regions are bigger and better connected than in people with fewer friends, a new study finds. The research, presented here Tuesday (Nov. 12) at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, suggests a connection between social interactions and brain structure. "We're interested in how your brain is able to allow you to navigate in complex social environments," study researcher MaryAnn Noonan, a neuroscientist at Oxford University, in England, said at a news conference. Basically, "how many friends can your brain handle?" Noonan said. Scientists still don't understand how the brain manages human behavior in increasingly complex social situations, or what parts of the brain are linked to deviant social behavior associated with conditions like autism and schizophrenia. Studies in macaque monkeys have shown that brain areas involved in face processing and in predicting the intentions of others are larger in animals living in large social groups than in ones living in smaller groups. To investigate these brain differences in humans, Noonan and her colleagues at McGill University, in Canada, recruited 18 participants for a structural brain-imaging study. They asked people how many social interactions they had experienced in the past month, in order to determine the size of their social networks. As was the case in monkeys, some brain areas were enlarged and better connected in people with larger social networks. In humans, these areas were the temporal parietal junction, the anterior cingulate cortex and the rostral prefrontal cortex, which are part of a network involved in "mentalization" — the ability to attribute mental states, thoughts and beliefs to another. © 2013 Scientific American
by Jessica Griggs, San Diego No practice required. Wouldn't it be great if you could get better at playing sport or hone your piano skills simply by thinking about it? A small pilot study suggests that it might be possible. In the last few years, brain training using computer games that provide neurofeedback – a real-time representation of your brain activity – has become a popular, if controversial, method of enhancing cognitive abilities such as spatial memory, planning and multitasking. It has even been used to help actors get into character. Most of the games aim to enhance activation in a single part of the brain. But motor skills are known to involve two main areas – the premotor cortex and the supplementary motor cortex. Both are involved when people make movements or imagine moving. Brain activity between these regions is known to be less synchronised in people who are poor at motor tasks than in those who excel at them. So to see if brain training could target both areas and improve motor performance, Sook-Lei Liew and her colleagues from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland, recruited eight young adults. The researchers and asked the participants to watch a white circle on a screen while an fMRI machine scanned their brain. When the circle turned into a red triangle, the volunteers were told to move their fingers. This movement caused activation in their premotor cortex and supplementary motor cortex, which in turn moved a bar on the screen. The higher the synchronisation of activity between the two brain areas, the higher the bar went. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Link ID: 18928 - Posted: 11.14.2013