Chapter 18. Attention and Higher Cognition
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Alva Noë Sometimes the mind wanders. Thoughts pop into consciousness. Ideas or images are present when just a moment before they were not. Scientists recently have been turning their attention to making sense of this. One natural picture of the phenomenon goes something like this. Typically, our thoughts and feelings are shaped by what we are doing, by what there is around us. The world captures our attention and compels our minds this way or that. What explains the fact that you think of a red car when there is a red car in front of you is, well, the red car. And similarly, it is that loud noise that causes you to orient yourself to the commotion that is producing it. In such cases, we might say, the mind is coupled to the world around it and the world, in a way, plays us the way a person might play a piano. But sometimes, even without going to sleep, we turn away from the world. We turn inward. We are contemplative or detached. We decouple ourselves from the environment and we are set free, as it were, to let our minds play themselves. This natural picture has gained some support from the discovery of the so-called Default Mode Network. The DMN is a network of neural systems whose activation seems to be suppressed by active engagement with the world around us; DMN, in contrast, is activated (or rather, it tends to return to baseline levels of activity) precisely when we detach ourselves from what's going on around us. The DMN is the brain running in neutral. One of the leading hypotheses to explain mind-wandering and the emergence of spontaneous thoughts is that this is the result of the operation of the brain's Default Mode Network. (See this for a review of this literature.) © 2016 npr
Link ID: 22331 - Posted: 06.18.2016
By Devi Shastri Calling someone a “bird brain” might not be the zinger of an insult you thought it was: A new study shows that—by the total number of forebrain neurons—some birds are much brainier than we thought. The study, published online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that 28 bird species have more neurons in their pallial telencephalons, the brain region responsible for higher level learning, than mammals with similar-sized brains. Parrots and songbirds in particular packed in the neurons, with parrots (like the gray parrot, above) ranging from 227 million to 3.14 billion, and songbirds—including the notoriously intelligent crow—from 136 million to 2.17 billion. That’s about twice as many neurons as primates with brains of the same mass and four times as many as rodent brains of the same mass. To come up with their count, the researchers dissected the bird brains and then dissolved them in a detergent solution, ensuring that the cells were suspended in what neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel of Vanderbilt University in Nashville calls “brain soup.” This allowed them to label, count, and estimate how many neurons were in a particular brain region. The region that they focused on allows some birds to hone skills like tool use, planning for the future, learning birdsong, and mimicking human speech. One surprising finding was that the neurons were much smaller than expected, with shorter and more compact connections between cells. The team’s next step is to examine whether these neurons started out small or instead shrank in order to keep the birds light enough for flights. One thing, at least, is clear: It’s time to find a new insult for your less brainy friends. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science
Michael Graziano Ever since Charles Darwin published On the Origin of Species in 1859, evolution has been the grand unifying theory of biology. Yet one of our most important biological traits, consciousness, is rarely studied in the context of evolution. Theories of consciousness come from religion, from philosophy, from cognitive science, but not so much from evolutionary biology. Maybe that’s why so few theories have been able to tackle basic questions such as: What is the adaptive value of consciousness? When did it evolve and what animals have it? The Attention Schema Theory (AST), developed over the past five years, may be able to answer those questions. The theory suggests that consciousness arises as a solution to one of the most fundamental problems facing any nervous system: Too much information constantly flows in to be fully processed. The brain evolved increasingly sophisticated mechanisms for deeply processing a few select signals at the expense of others, and in the AST, consciousness is the ultimate result of that evolutionary sequence. If the theory is right—and that has yet to be determined—then consciousness evolved gradually over the past half billion years and is present in a range of vertebrate species. Even before the evolution of a central brain, nervous systems took advantage of a simple computing trick: competition. Neurons act like candidates in an election, each one shouting and trying to suppress its fellows. At any moment only a few neurons win that intense competition, their signals rising up above the noise and impacting the animal’s behavior. This process is called selective signal enhancement, and without it, a nervous system can do almost nothing. © 2016 by The Atlantic Monthly Group
By Rachel Feltman Archerfish are already stars of the animal kingdom for their stunning spit-takes. They shoot high-powered water jets from their mouths to stun prey, making them one of just a few fish species known to use tools. But by training Toxotes chatareus to direct those jets of spit at certain individuals, scientists have shown that the little guys have another impressive skill: They seem to be able to distinguish one human face from another, something never before witnessed in fish and spotted just a few times in non-human animals. The results, published Tuesday in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, could help us understand how humans got so good at telling each other apart. Or how most people got to be good at that, anyway. I'm terrible at it. It's generally accepted that the fusiform gyrus, a brain structure located in the neocortex, allows humans to tell one another apart with a speed and accuracy that other species can't manage. But there's some debate over whether human faces are so innately complex — and that distinguishing them is more difficult than other tricks of memory or pattern recognition — that this region of the brain is a necessary facilitator of the skill that evolved especially for it. Birds, which have been shown to distinguish humans from one another, have the same structure. But some researchers still think that facial recognition might be something that humans learn — it's not an innate skill — and that the fusiform gyrus is just the spot where we happen to process all the necessary information.
By Clare Wilson We’ve all been there: after a tough mental slog your brain feels as knackered as your body does after a hard workout. Now we may have pinpointed one of the brain regions worn out by a mentally taxing day – and it seems to also affect our willpower, so perhaps we should avoid making important decisions when mentally fatigued. Several previous studies have suggested that our willpower is a finite resource, and if it gets depleted in one way – like finishing a difficult task – we find it harder to make other good choices, like resisting a slice of cake. In a small trial, Bastien Blain at INSERM in Paris and his colleagues asked volunteers to spend six hours doing tricky memory tasks, while periodically choosing either a small sum of cash now, or a larger amount after a delay. .. As the day progressed, people became more likely to act on impulse and to pick an immediate reward. This didn’t happen in the groups that spent time doing easier memory tasks, reading or gaming. For those engaged in difficult work, fMRI brain scans showed a decrease in activity in the middle frontal gyrus, a brain area involved in decision-making. “That suggests this region is becoming less excitable, which could be impairing people’s ability to resist temptation,” says Blain. It’s involved in decisions like ‘Shall I have a beer with my friends tonight, or shall I save money to buy a bike next month,’ he says. Previous research has shown that children with more willpower in a similar type of choice test involving marshmallows end up as more successful adults, by some measures. “Better impulse control predicts your eventual wealth and health,” says Blain. The idea that willpower can be depleted is contentious as some researchers have failed to replicate others’ findings. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
By Hanoch Ben-Yami Adam Bear opens his article, What Neuroscience Says about Free Will by mentioning a few cases such as pressing snooze on the alarm clock or picking a shirt out of the closet. He continues with an assertion about these cases, and with a question: In each case, we conceive of ourselves as free agents, consciously guiding our bodies in purposeful ways. But what does science have to say about the true source of this experience? This is a bad start. To be aware of ourselves as free agents is not to have an experience. There’s no special tickle which tells you you’re free, no "freedom itch." Rather, to be aware of the fact that you acted freely is, among other things, to know that had you preferred to do something else in those circumstances, you would have done it. And in many circumstances we clearly know that this is the case, so in many circumstances we are aware that we act freely. No experience is involved, and so far there’s no question in Bear’s article for science to answer. Continuing with his alleged experience, Bear writes: …the psychologists Dan Wegner and Thalia Wheatley made a revolutionary proposal: The experience of intentionally willing an action, they suggested, is often nothing more than a post hoc causal inference that our thoughts caused some behavior. More than a revolutionary proposal, this is an additional confusion. What might "intentionally willing an action" mean? Is it to be contrasted with non-intentionally willing an action? But what could this stand for? © 2016 Scientific American
Link ID: 22282 - Posted: 06.04.2016
By David Shultz We still may not know what causes consciousness in humans, but scientists are at least learning how to detect its presence. A new application of a common clinical test, the positron emission tomography (PET) scan, seems to be able to differentiate between minimally conscious brains and those in a vegetative state. The work could help doctors figure out which brain trauma patients are the most likely to recover—and even shed light on the nature of consciousness. “This is really cool what these guys did here,” says neuroscientist Nicholas Schiff at Cornell University, who was not involved in the study. “We’re going to make great use of it.” PET scans work by introducing a small amount of radionuclides into the body. These radioactive compounds act as a tracer and naturally emit subatomic particles called positrons over time, and the gamma rays indirectly produced by this process can be detected by imaging equipment. The most common PET scan uses fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) as the tracer in order to show how glucose concentrations change in tissue over time—a proxy for metabolic activity. Compared with other imaging techniques, PET scans are relatively cheap and easy to perform, and are routinely used to survey for cancer, heart problems, and other diseases. In the new study, researchers used FDG-PET scans to analyze the resting cerebral metabolic rate—the amount of energy being used by the tissue—of 131 patients with a so-called disorder of consciousness and 28 healthy controls. Disorders of consciousness can refer to a wide range of problems, ranging from a full-blown coma to a minimally conscious state in which patients may experience brief periods where they can communicate and follow instructions. Between these two extremes, patients may be said to be in a vegetative state or exhibit unresponsive wakefulness, characterized by open eyes and basic reflexes, but no signs of awareness. Most disorders of consciousness result from head trauma, and where someone falls on the consciousness continuum is typically determined by the severity of the injury. © 2016 American Association for the Advancement of Science
By Amina Zafar, Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie's resilience and openness about his terminal glioblastoma and his plans to tour could help to reduce stigma and improve awareness, some cancer experts say. Tuesday's news revealed that the singer has an aggressive form of cancer that originated in his brain. An MRI scan last week showed the tumour has responded well to surgery, radiation and chemotherapy, doctors said. "I was quickly impressed by Gord's resilience and courage," Downie's neuro-oncologist, Dr. James Perry of Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, told a news conference. Perry said it's daunting for many of his patients to reveal the diagnosis to their family, children and co-workers. "The news today, while sad, also creates for us in brain tumour research an unprecedented opportunity to create awareness and to create an opportunity for fundraising for research that's desperately needed to improve the odds for all people with this disease," Perry said. Dr. James Perry, head of neurology at Toronto's Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, calls Gord Downie's sad news an unprecedented opportunity to fundraise for brain tumour research. (Aaron Vincent Elkaim/Canadian Press) "Gord's courage in coming forward with his diagnosis will be a beacon for all patients with glioblastoma in Canada. They will see a survivor continuing with his craft despite its many challenges." ©2016 CBC/Radio-Canada.
Link ID: 22251 - Posted: 05.26.2016
Dean Burnett A recent report by the National Obesity Forum stated that official advice about low-fat diets is wrong. As ever, there’s now heated debate over how valid/accurate this claim is. But let’s step back a moment and ask a revealing question: why do official government dietary guidelines even exist? Why are they necessary? From an entirely logical position, eating food fulfils several requirements. It provides the energy to do things, helps us build up stores of energy for when needed, and provides the materials required to build and maintain our bodies. Therefore, the human body requires a regular intake of nutrients, vitamins and calories to maintain day-to-day functioning. As a result, the human body has developed an intricate digestive system to monitor and regulate our food intake. The digestive system is quite cool. It has a sophisticated nervous system that can operate pretty much independently, so is often regarded as separate from the main one, leading some to describe it as a “second brain”, there to encourage, monitor and process the consumption and digestion of food. It also utilises hormones, namely leptin and ghrelin, which decrease and increase appetite respectively depending on how much food the body has/needs. It’s a painstakingly complex and precise system that’s evolved over aeons to make sure we eat what and when we need to, and get the most out of our food. However, at some point the human brain got involved, then everything went to hell. This is why we can now be presented with foodstuffs we’re repeatedly told are unhealthy, even dangerous, and say “Thanks. Extra chilli sauce on mine, please”.
By Lisa Rapaport (Reuters Health) - Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), usually diagnosed in children, may show up for the first time in adulthood, two recent studies suggest. And not only can ADHD appear for the first time after childhood, but the symptoms for adult-onset ADHD may be different from symptoms experienced by kids, the researchers found. “Although the nature of symptoms differs somewhat between children and adults, all age groups show impairments in multiple domains – school, family and friendships for kids and school, occupation, marriage and driving for adults,” said Stephen Faraone, a psychiatry researcher at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York and author of an editorial accompanying the two studies in JAMA Psychiatry. Faraone cautions, however, that some newly diagnosed adults might have had undetected ADHD as children. Support from parents and teachers or high intelligence, for example, might prevent ADHD symptoms from emerging earlier in life. It’s not clear whether study participants “were completely free of psychopathology prior to adulthood,” Faraone said in an email. One of the studies, from Brazil, tracked more than 5,200 people born in 1993 until they were 18 or 19 years old. © 2016 Scientific American
Stephen Cave For centuries, philosophers and theologians have almost unanimously held that civilization as we know it depends on a widespread belief in free will—and that losing this belief could be calamitous. Our codes of ethics, for example, assume that we can freely choose between right and wrong. In the Christian tradition, this is known as “moral liberty”—the capacity to discern and pursue the good, instead of merely being compelled by appetites and desires. The great Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant reaffirmed this link between freedom and goodness. If we are not free to choose, he argued, then it would make no sense to say we ought to choose the path of righteousness. Today, the assumption of free will runs through every aspect of American politics, from welfare provision to criminal law. It permeates the popular culture and underpins the American dream—the belief that anyone can make something of themselves no matter what their start in life. As Barack Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope, American “values are rooted in a basic optimism about life and a faith in free will.” So what happens if this faith erodes? The sciences have grown steadily bolder in their claim that all human behavior can be explained through the clockwork laws of cause and effect. This shift in perception is the continuation of an intellectual revolution that began about 150 years ago, when Charles Darwin first published On the Origin of Species. Shortly after Darwin put forth his theory of evolution, his cousin Sir Francis Galton began to draw out the implications: If we have evolved, then mental faculties like intelligence must be hereditary. But we use those faculties—which some people have to a greater degree than others—to make decisions. So our ability to choose our fate is not free, but depends on our biological inheritance. © 2016 by The Atlantic Monthly Group.
Link ID: 22228 - Posted: 05.18.2016
George Johnson At the Science of Consciousness conference last month in Tucson, I was faced with a quandary: Which of eight simultaneous sessions should I attend? In one room, scientists and philosophers were discussing the physiology of brain cells and how they might generate the thinking mind. In another, the subject was free will — real or an illusion? Next door was a session on panpsychism, the controversial (to say the least) idea that everything — animal, vegetable and mineral — is imbued at its subatomic roots with mindlike qualities. Running on parallel tracks were sessions titled “Phenomenal Consciousness,” the “Neural Correlates of Consciousness” and the “Extended Mind.” For much of the 20th century, the science of consciousness was widely dismissed as an impenetrable mystery, a morass of a problem that could be safely pursued only by older professors as they thought deep thoughts in their endowed chairs. Beginning in the 1990s, the field slowly became more respectable. There is, after all, a gaping hole in science. The human mind has plumbed the universe, concluding that it is precisely 13.8 billion years old. With particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, scientists have discovered the vanishingly tiny particles, like the Higgs boson, that underpin reality. But there is no scientific explanation for consciousness — without which none of these discoveries could have been made. © 2016 The New York Times Company
Link ID: 22227 - Posted: 05.18.2016
By John Horgan Speakers at the 2016 Tucson consciousness conference suggested that “temporal nonlocality” or other quantum effects in the brain could account for free will. But what happens when the brain is immersed in a hot tub? This is the second of four posts on “The Science of Consciousness” in Tucson, Arizona, which lasted from April 26 to April 30. (See Further Reading for links to other posts.) Once again, I’m trying to answer the question: What is it like to be a skeptical journalist at a consciousness conference? -- John Horgan DAY 2, THURSDAY, APRIL 28. HOT TUBS AND QUANTUM INCOHERENCE Breakfast on the patio with Stuart Kauffman, who has training in… almost everything. Philosophy, medicine, science. We’ve bumped heads in the past, but we’re friendly now. In his mid-70s, Stu is still obsessed with--and hacking away at--the biggest mysteries. We talk about… almost everything. Quantum mechanics, the origin of life, materialism, free will, God, the birth and death of his daughter, the death of his wife, his re-marriage, predictability versus possibility. As Stu speaks, his magnificent, weathered face looks happy/sad, arrogant/anxious. Superposition of emotions. He tells me about his brand-new book, Humanity in a Creative Universe, in which he outlines a perspective that can help lift us out of our spiritual crisis. Who saves the savior? I scoot to a morning session, “Consciousness and Free Will.” I hope it will supply me with ammo for my defenses of free will. I can do without God, but not free will. © 2016 Scientific American, a Division of Nature America, Inc.
Link ID: 22216 - Posted: 05.16.2016
By Daniel Barron No matter where we call home, where we were raised, or what we ate for breakfast, our brains process information pretty much the same as anyone else in the world. Which makes sense—our genomes are 99.6-99.9% identical, which makes our brains nearly so. Look at a landscape or cityscape and comparable computations occur in your brain as in someone from another background or country. Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, China. Credit: Chensiyuan, via Wikimedia Commons under GFDL Consider my recent walk through China’s Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, an inspiration for James Cameron’s Avatar. Some of our first steps into the park involved a 1,070 foot ascent in the Bailong elevator, the world’s tallest outdoor elevator. Crammed within the carriage were travelers from Japan, India, China, the U.S.A., and Korea. No matter our origin, the Wulingyuan landscape didn’t disappoint: the towering red and green rock formations stretched towards the sky as they defied gravity. Gasps and awes were our linguistic currency while our visual cortices gleefully fired away. The approximately 3000 quartzite sandstone pillars, with their unusual red and green contrasts, mesmerized our visual centers, demanding our attention. One of the brain’s earliest visual processing centers, V1, lies at the middle of the back of our head. V1 identifies simple forms like vertical, horizontal, and diagonal edges of contrasting intensities, or lines. Look at a vertical line, and neurons that are sensitive to vertical lines will fire more quickly; look at a horizontal line, and our horizontal neurons buzz away. © 2016 Scientific American
By John Horgan Scientists trying to explain consciousness are entitled to be difficult, but what’s philosophers’ excuse? Don’t they have a moral duty to be comprehensible to non-specialists? I recently attended “The Science of Consciousness,” the legendary inquest held every two years in Tucson, Arizona. I reported on the first meeting in 1994 and wanted to see how it’s evolved since then. This year’s shindig lasted from April 26 to April 30 and featured hundreds of presenters, eminent and obscure. I arrived on the afternoon of April 27 and stayed through the closing “End-of-Consciousness Party.” The only event I regret missing is a chat between philosopher David Chalmers, who loosed his “hard problem of consciousness” meme here in Tucson in 1994, and Deepak Chopra, the New Age mogul and a sponsor of this year’s meeting. I feel obliged to post something fast, because conference organizer and quantum-consciousness advocate Stuart Hameroff complained that most reporters “come for free, drink our booze and don’t write anything.” Hameroff also generously allowed me to give a talk, “The Quest to Solve Consciousness: A Skeptic’s View,” even though I teased him in my 1994 article for Scientific American, calling him an “aging hipster.” What follows is a highly subjective account of my first day at the meeting. I’d call this a “stream-of-consciousness report on consciousness,” but that would be pretentious. I'm just trying to answer this question: What is it like to be a skeptical journalist at a consciousness conference? I’ll post on the rest of the meeting soon. -- John Horgan DAY 1, WEDNESDAY, APRIL 27. THE HOROR A bullet-headed former New York fireman picks me up at the Tucson airport. Driving to the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort, he argues strenuously that President Trump will make us great again. As we approach the resort, he back-peddles a bit, no doubt worried about his tip. I tip him well, to show how tolerant I am. Everyone’s entitled to an irrational belief or two. © 2016 Scientific American
Link ID: 22193 - Posted: 05.09.2016
By Sarah Kaplan Scientists have known for a while that stereotypes warp our perceptions of things. Implicit biases — those unconscious assumptions that worm their way into our brains, without our full awareness and sometimes against our better judgment — can influence grading choices from teachers, split-second decisions by police officers and outcomes in online dating. We can't even see the world without filtering it through the lens of our assumptions, scientists say. In a study published Monday in the journal Nature Neuroscience, psychologists report that the neurons that respond to things such as sex, race and emotion are linked by stereotypes, distorting the way we perceive people's faces before that visual information even reaches our conscious brains. "The moment we actually glimpse another person ... [stereotypes] are biasing that processing in a way that conforms to our already existing expectations," said Jonathan Freeman, a psychology professor at New York University and one of the authors of the report. Responsibility lies in two far-flung regions of the brain: the orbital frontal cortex, which rests just above the eyes and is responsible for rapid visual predictions and categorizations, and the fusiform cortex, which sits in the back of the brain and is involved in recognizing faces. When Freeman and his co-author, Ryan Stolier, had 43 participants look at images of faces in a brain scanner, they noticed that neurons seemed to be firing in similar patterns in both parts of the brain, suggesting that information from each part was influencing the other.
By Scott Barry Kaufman "Just because a diagnosis [of ADHD] can be made does not take away from the great traits we love about Calvin and his imaginary tiger friend, Hobbes. In fact, we actually love Calvin BECAUSE of his ADHD traits. Calvin’s imagination, creativity, energy, lack of attention, and view of the world are the gifts that Mr. Watterson gave to this character." -- The Dragonfly Forest In his 2004 book "Creativity is Forever", Gary Davis reviewed the creativity literature from 1961 to 2003 and identified 22 reoccurring personality traits of creative people. This included 16 "positive" traits (e.g., independent, risk-taking, high energy, curiosity, humor, artistic, emotional) and 6 "negative" traits (e.g., impulsive, hyperactive, argumentative). In her own review of the creativity literature, Bonnie Cramond found that many of these same traits overlap to a substantial degree with behavioral descriptions of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD)-- including higher levels of spontaneous idea generation, mind wandering, daydreaming, sensation seeking, energy, and impulsivity. Research since then has supported the notion that people with ADHD characteristics are more likely to reach higher levels of creative thought and achievement than people without these characteristics (see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). Recent research by Darya Zabelina and colleagues have found that real-life creative achievement is associated with the ability to broaden attention and have a “leaky” mental filter-- something in which people with ADHD excel. © 2016 Scientific American
Link ID: 22166 - Posted: 05.02.2016
By Adam Bear It happens hundreds of times a day: We press snooze on the alarm clock, we pick a shirt out of the closet, we reach for a beer in the fridge. In each case, we conceive of ourselves as free agents, consciously guiding our bodies in purposeful ways. But what does science have to say about the true source of this experience? In a classic paper published almost 20 years ago, the psychologists Dan Wegner and Thalia Wheatley made a revolutionary proposal: The experience of intentionally willing an action, they suggested, is often nothing more than a post hoc causal inference that our thoughts caused some behavior. The feeling itself, however, plays no causal role in producing that behavior. This could sometimes lead us to think we made a choice when we actually didn’t or think we made a different choice than we actually did. But there’s a mystery here. Suppose, as Wegner and Wheatley propose, that we observe ourselves (unconsciously) perform some action, like picking out a box of cereal in the grocery store, and then only afterwards come to infer that we did this intentionally. If this is the true sequence of events, how could we be deceived into believing that we had intentionally made our choice before the consequences of this action were observed? This explanation for how we think of our agency would seem to require supernatural backwards causation, with our experience of conscious will being both a product and an apparent cause of behavior. In a study just published in Psychological Science, Paul Bloom and I explore a radical—but non-magical—solution to this puzzle. © 2016 Scientific America
Link ID: 22158 - Posted: 04.30.2016
Yuki Noguchi Hey! Wake up! Need another cup of coffee? Join the club. Apparently about a third of Americans are sleep-deprived. And their employers are probably paying for it, too, in the form of mistakes, productivity loss, accidents and increased health insurance costs. A recent Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report found a third of Americans get less sleep than the recommended seven hours. Another survey by Accountemps, an accounting services firm, put that number at nearly 75 percent in March. Bill Driscoll, Accountemps' regional president in the greater Boston area, says some sleepy accountants even admitted it caused them to make costly mistakes. "One person deleted a project that took 1,000 hours to put together," Driscoll says. "Another person missed a decimal point on an estimated payment and the client overpaid by $1 million. Oops. William David Brown, a sleep psychologist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and author of Sleeping Your Way To The Top, says Americans are sacrificing more and more sleep every year. Fatigue is cumulative, he says, and missing the equivalent of one night's sleep is like having a blood alcohol concentration of about .1 — above the legal limit to drive. "About a third of your employees in any big company are coming to work with an equivalent impairment level of being intoxicated," Brown says. © 2016 npr
By Matthew A. Scult My heart pounds as I sprint to the finish line. Thousands of spectators cheer as a sense of elation washes over me. I savor the feeling. But then, the image slowly fades away and my true surroundings come into focus. I am lying in a dark room with my head held firmly in place, inside an MRI scanner. While this might typically be unpleasant, I am a willing research study participant and am eagerly anticipating what comes next. I hold my breath as I stare at the bar on the computer screen representing my brain activity. Then the bar jumps. My fantasy of winning a race had caused the “motivation center” of my brain to surge with activity. I am participating in a study about neurofeedback, a diverse and fascinating area of research that combines neuroscience and technology to monitor and modulate brain activity in real time. My colleagues, Katie Dickerson and Jeff MacInnes, in the Adcock Lab at Duke University, are studying whether people can train themselves to increase brain activity in a tiny region of the brain called the VTA. Notably, the VTA is thought to be involved in motivation—the desire to get something that you want. For example, if I told you that by buying a lottery ticket you would be guaranteed to win $1,000,000, you would probably be very motivated to buy the ticket and would have a spike in brain activity in this region of your brain. But while studies have shown that motivation for external rewards (like money) activate the VTA, until now, we didn’t know whether people could internally generate a motivational state that would activate this brain region. To see if people can self-activate the VTA, my colleagues are using neurofeedback, which falls under the broader umbrella of biofeedback. © 2016 Scientific American