Chapter 18. Attention and Higher Cognition

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Kids with ADHD may be able to learn better focus through a computer game that trains the brain to pay attention, a new study suggests. The game was part of a neurofeedback system that used bicycle helmets wired to measure brain waves and gave immediate feedback when kids were paying attention, researchers reported Monday in Pediatrics. Giving kids feedback on what their brains are doing is "like turning on a light switch," said Dr. Naomi Steiner, the study's lead author and a developmental and behavioral pediatrician at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center. "Kids said 'Oh, this is what people mean when they tell me to pay attention.'" To test the system, Steiner and her colleagues randomly assigned 104 Boston area elementary school children to one of three groups: no treatment, 40 half-hour sessions of neurofeedback or 40 sessions of cognitive therapy. The kids getting neurofeedback wore standard bicycle helmets fitted with brain wave sensors while they performed a variety of exercises on the computer. In one exercise, kids were told to focus on a cartoon dolphin. When people pay attention, theta wave activity goes down while beta waves increase, Steiner explained. If the kids' brains showed they were paying attention, the dolphin would dive to the bottom of the sea. Parents' reports on ADHD symptoms six months later showed a lasting improvement in kids who had done neurofeedback.

Keyword: ADHD; Aggression
Link ID: 19253 - Posted: 02.17.2014

Carl Zimmer In 2011, a 66-year-old retired math teacher walked into a London neurological clinic hoping to get some answers. A few years earlier, she explained to the doctors, she had heard someone playing a piano outside her house. But then she realized there was no piano. The phantom piano played longer and longer melodies, like passages from Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto number 2 in C minor, her doctors recount in a recent study in the journal Cortex. By the time the woman — to whom the doctors refer only by her first name, Sylvia — came to the clinic, the music had become her nearly constant companion. Sylvia hoped the doctors could explain to her what was going on. Sylvia was experiencing a mysterious condition known as musical hallucinations. These are not pop songs that get stuck in your head. A musical hallucination can convince people there is a marching band in the next room, or a full church choir. Nor are musical hallucinations the symptoms of psychosis. People with musical hallucinations usually are psychologically normal — except for the songs they are sure someone is playing. The doctors invited Sylvia to volunteer for a study to better understand the condition. She agreed, and the research turned out to be an important step forward in understanding musical hallucinations. The scientists were able to compare her brain activity when she was experiencing hallucinations that were both quiet and loud — something that had never been done before. By comparing the two states, they found important clues to how the brain generates these illusions. If a broader study supports the initial findings, it could do more than help scientists understand how the brain falls prey to these phantom tunes. It may also shed light on how our minds make sense of the world. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Hearing; Aggression
Link ID: 19252 - Posted: 02.15.2014

Katherine Sharpe Ben Harkless could not sit still. At home, the athletic ten-year-old preferred doing three activities at once: playing with his iPad, say, while watching television and rolling on an exercise ball. Sometimes he kicked the walls; other times, he literally bounced off them. School was another story, however. Ben sat in class most days with his head down on his desk, “a defeated heap”, remembers his mother, Suzanne Harkless, a social worker in Berkeley, California. His grades were poor, and his teacher was at a loss for what to do. Harkless took Ben to a therapist who diagnosed him with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). He was prescribed methylphenidate, a stimulant used to improve focus in people with the condition. Harkless was reluctant to medicate her child, so she gave him a dose on a morning when she could visit the school to observe. “He didn't whip through his work, but he finished his work,” she says. “And then he went on and helped his classmate next to him. My jaw dropped.” ADHD diagnoses are rising rapidly around the world and especially in the United States, where 11% of children aged between 4 and 17 years old have been diagnosed with the disorder. Between half and two-thirds of those are put on medication, a decision often influenced by a child's difficulties at school. And there are numerous reports of adolescents and young adults without ADHD using the drugs as study aids. © 2014 Nature Publishing Group,

Keyword: ADHD; Aggression
Link ID: 19247 - Posted: 02.13.2014

By James Gallagher Health and science reporter, BBC News Brain scans show a complex string of numbers and letters in mathematical formulae can evoke the same sense of beauty as artistic masterpieces and music from the greatest composers. Mathematicians were shown "ugly" and "beautiful" equations while in a brain scanner at University College London. The same emotional brain centres used to appreciate art were being activated by "beautiful" maths. The researchers suggest there may be a neurobiological basis to beauty. The likes of Euler's identity or the Pythagorean identity are rarely mentioned in the same breath as the best of Mozart, Shakespeare and Van Gogh. The study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience gave 15 mathematicians 60 formula to rate. One of the researchers, Prof Semir Zeki, told the BBC: "A large number of areas of the brain are involved when viewing equations, but when one looks at a formula rated as beautiful it activates the emotional brain - the medial orbito-frontal cortex - like looking at a great painting or listening to a piece of music." The more beautiful they rated the formula, the greater the surge in activity detected during the fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scans. "Neuroscience can't tell you what beauty is, but if you find it beautiful the medial orbito-frontal cortex is likely to be involved, you can find beauty in anything," he said. To the the untrained eye there may not be much beauty in Euler's identify, but in the study it was the formula of choice for mathematicians. BBC © 2014

Keyword: Emotions; Aggression
Link ID: 19246 - Posted: 02.13.2014

By Roy H. Hamilton and Jihad Zreik It's hard to imagine anyone, no matter how brilliant, who doesn't yearn to be even smarter. Thanks to recent advances in neural science, that wish may come true. Researchers are finding ways to rev up the human brain like never before. There would be just one question: Do we really want to inhabit that world? It may be too late to ask. Modern society has already embraced the basic idea of fine-tuning our intellects via artificial procedures—what might be termed “cosmetic” neurology. Schoolchildren take Adderall, Concerta and other attention-focusing medications. Parents and teachers rely on antidepressants and antianxiety drugs. And self-help books offer the latest advances in neuroscience to help ordinary people think faster and sharper. Add to those advances another cognitive-enhancement method: transcranial direct-current stimulation (tDCS). With this technique, electrodes applied to the scalp deliver minuscule amperages of current to the brain. This trickle of electricity seems to cause incremental adjustments in the electrical potentials of membranes in the neurons closest to the electrodes, increasing or decreasing their likelihood of firing. And that, in turn, induces measurable changes in memory, language, mood, motor function, attention and other cognitive domains. Investigators still aren't sure whether tDCS can cause long-term neural changes. Although most tests show only transient effects, there is limited evidence that repeated applications might have more persistent results. The procedure is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the consensus among experts is that it should be performed only under qualified supervision. Nevertheless, if used properly, it is safe, portable, easy to implement and inexpensive. © 2014 Scientific American

Keyword: Intelligence; Aggression
Link ID: 19242 - Posted: 02.12.2014

By Molly Sharlach Reader, be proud. You’re a perceptual expert. As you read, your eyes alternately focus and move along each line of text in a seamless sequence honed over years of practice. Reading, recognizing faces and distinguishing colors or musical tones are all forms of perceptual expertise. To appreciate the visual skill involved in reading, turn a text upside down. You’ll stumble along in fits and starts, your eyes pausing longer and more often, each movement bringing less information to your brain. To assess how such neuro-ocular blundering might be improved, researchers at the University of British Columbia asked seven volunteers to practice reading novels upside down. After 30 half-hour sessions over a period of 10 weeks, they gained an average of 35 words per minute in reading speed on inverted text. This could be promising news for people with right hemianopia (hemi-uh-NOH-pee-uh), a condition that erases part of the right field of vision in both eyes. Any damage to the left occipital lobe of the brain, or the pathways connecting it to the eyes, can cause this disorder. Hemianopia, from the Greek for “half sight,” most often results from a stroke, but can also befall patients with multiple sclerosis, brain tumors or traumatic injuries. When we read, we see only three or four letters to the left of our eyes’ fixation point, but we pick up information 10 to 15 letters to the right. So in a society that reads from left to right, left hemianopia has little effect on reading ability, but right hemianopia can be devastating. Brain injury patients rank the inability to read among the most significant effects on their quality of life. © 2014 Scientific America

Keyword: Vision; Aggression
Link ID: 19194 - Posted: 02.01.2014

by Kat Arney Next time you struggle to resist an itchy rash or insect bite, you could find relief in the mirror. Perception of our own bodies can be easily manipulated using tricks such as the rubber hand illusion, which fools people into thinking a rubber hand is their own. Reflecting someone's limb in a mirror has also been used to treat phantom limb pain. Now Christoph Helmchen and his colleagues at the University of Lübeck in Germany have shown that a similar mirror illusion can fool people into feeling relief from an itch, even when they scratch the wrong place. The team injected the right forearms of 26 male volunteers with itch-inducing chemical histamine. Because the injection creates a red spot, they painted a corresponding dot on the opposite arm so both looked identical. One of the researchers then scratched each arm in turn. Unsurprisingly, scratching the itchy arm produced relief, while scratching the other one did not. Next, they placed a large vertical mirror in front of the itchy arm, blocking off the subject's view of their right arm and reflecting back the non-itchy one in its place . They asked the volunteers to look only at the reflected limb in the mirror, whilst a member of the team again scratched each arm. This time the participants felt relief when the unaffected, reflected arm was scratched. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Aggression
Link ID: 19178 - Posted: 01.28.2014

Want to read someone’s mind? Look at their pupils. A person about to answer “yes” to a question, especially if they are more used to answering “no,” will have more enlarged pupils than someone about to answer “no,” according to a new study. Normally, pupils dilate when a person is in a darkened environment to let more light into the eye and allow better vision. But pupil size can also be altered by levels of signaling chemicals naturally produced by the brain. In the study, published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists observed the pupils of 29 people as they pressed a “yes” or “no” button to indicate whether they’d seen a difficult-to-detect visual cue on a screen in front of them. When a person was deciding how to answer—in the seconds before pressing a button—their pupils grew larger. And if a person was normally biased toward answering “no” when they weren’t sure on the visual cue, then the pupil change was even more profound in the decision-making seconds before a “yes” answer. The finding could lead to new ways to detect people’s intrinsic biases and how confident they are in an answer given, important variables in many sociological and psychological studies. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Attention; Aggression
Link ID: 19166 - Posted: 01.25.2014

By DAN HURLEY Two and a half millenniums ago, a prince named Siddhartha Gautama traveled to Bodh Gaya, India, and began to meditate beneath a tree. Forty-nine days of continuous meditation later, tradition tells us, he became the Buddha — the enlightened one. More recently, a psychologist named Amishi Jha traveled to Hawaii to train United States Marines to use the same technique for shorter sessions to achieve a much different purpose: mental resilience in a war zone. “We found that getting as little as 12 minutes of meditation practice a day helped the Marines to keep their attention and working memory — that is, the added ability to pay attention over time — stable,” said Jha, director of the University of Miami’s Contemplative Neuroscience, Mindfulness Research and Practice Initiative. “If they practiced less than 12 minutes or not at all, they degraded in their functioning.” Jha, whose program has received a $1.7 million, four-year grant from the Department of Defense, described her results at a bastion of scientific conservatism, the New York Academy of Sciences, during a meeting on “The Science of Mindfulness.” Yet mindfulness hasn’t long been part of serious scientific discourse. She first heard another scientist mention the word “meditation” during a lecture in 2005. “I thought, I can’t believe he just used that word in this audience, because it wasn’t something I had ever heard someone utter in a scientific context,” Jha said. Although pioneers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, now emeritus professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, began teaching mindfulness meditation as a means of reducing stress as far back as the 1970s, all but a dozen or so of the nearly 100 randomized clinical trials have been published since 2005. And the most recent studies of mindfulness — the simple, nonjudgmental observation of a person’s breath, body or just about anything else — are taking the practice in directions that might have shocked the Buddha. In addition to military fitness, scientists are now testing brief stints of mindfulness training as a means to improve scores on standardized tests and lay down new connections between brain cells. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Attention; Aggression
Link ID: 19142 - Posted: 01.16.2014

By Emilie Reas “Come on. Get out of the express checkout lane! That’s way more than twelve items, lady.” Without having to count, you can make a good guess at how many purchases the shopper in front of you is making. She may think she’s pulling a fast one, but thanks to the brain’s refined sense for quantity, she’s not fooling anyone. This ability to perceive numerosity – or number of items – does more than help prevent express lane fraud; it also builds the foundation for our arithmetic skills, the economic system and our concept of value. Until recently, it’s remained a puzzle how the brain allows us to so quickly and accurately judge quantity. Neuroscientists believe that neural representations of most high-level cognitive concepts – for example, those involved in memory, language or decision-making – are distributed, in a relatively disorganized manner, throughout the brain. In contrast, highly organized, specialized brain regions have been identified that represent most lower-level sensory information, such as sights, sounds, or physical touch. Such areas resemble maps, in that sensory information is arranged in a logical, systematic spatial layout. Notably, this type of neural topography has only previously been observed for the basic senses, but never for a high-level cognitive function. Researchers from the Netherlands may have discovered an exception to this rule, as reported in their recently published Science paper: a small brain area which represents numerosity along a continuous “map.” Just as we organize numbers along a mental “number line,” with one at the left, increasing in magnitude to the right, so is quantity mapped onto space in the brain. One side of this brain region responds to small numbers, the adjacent region to larger numbers, and so on, with numeric representations increasing to the far end. © 2014 Scientific American,

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 19135 - Posted: 01.15.2014

By Matt McGrath Environment correspondent, BBC News Taking substances to enhance the brain is more popular among amateur athletes than taking drugs to boost the body. Researchers in Germany found that 15% of recreational triathletes admitted to brain doping, using prescription medicines that increase attention. Some 13% of competitors reported using physical enhancers like steroids or human growth hormone. Brain doping is more popular say the scientists, because many of the substances aren't banned. The research has been published in the journal Plos One. Previous studies have shown that, among amateur competitors, the use of performance-enhancing substances is widespread. This new work used the responses of almost 3,000 triathletes taking part in events in Germany, to analyse the broader picture of physical and cognitive doping. Researchers believe that many so-called "smart drugs" are being widely used to enhance mental functions outside the patients groups they have been designed to help. They are also concerned that competitors in a variety of sports may be using these substances to gain an edge. In the study, participants were asked whether they had used physical or brain-enhancing substances in the past 12 months. Overall, 13% said they had taken drugs like EPO, steroids, or growth hormones. BBC © 2014

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Aggression
Link ID: 19130 - Posted: 01.15.2014

By Partha Mitra Leonardo Da Vinci, in his Treatise on Painting (Trattato della Pittura), advises painters to pay particular attention to the motions of the mind, moti mentali. “The movement which is depicted must be appropriate to the mental state of the figure,” he advises; otherwise the figure will be considered twice dead: “dead because it is a depiction, and dead yet again in not exhibiting motion either of the mind or of the body.” Francesco Melzi, student and friend to Da Vinci, compiled the Treatise posthumously from fragmented notes left to him. The vivid portrayal of emotions in the paintings from Leonardo’s school shows that his students learned to read the moti mentali of their subjects in exquisite detail. Associating an emotional expression of the face with a “motion of the mind” was an astonishing insight by Da Vinci and a surprisingly modern metaphor. Today we correlate specific patterns of electrochemical dynamics (i.e. “motions”) of the central nervous system, with emotional feelings. Consciousness, the substrate for any emotional feeling, is itself a “motion of the mind,” an ephemeral state characterized by certain dynamical patterns of electrical activity. Even if all the neurons, their constituent parts and neuronal circuitry remained structurally the same, a change in the dynamics can mean the difference between consciousness and unconsciousness. But what kind of motion is it? What are the patterns of electrical activity that correspond to our subjective state of being conscious, and why? Can they be measured and quantified? This is not only a theoretical or philosophical question but also one that is of vital interest to the anesthesiologist trying to regulate the level of consciousness during surgery, or for the neurologist trying to differentiate between different states of consciousness following brain trauma. © 2014 Scientific American

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 19112 - Posted: 01.08.2014

By JAMES GORMAN St. Louis — I knew I wouldn’t find my “self” in a brain scan. I also knew as I headed into the noisy torpedo tube of a souped-up M.R.I. machine at Washington University in St. Louis that unless there was something terribly wrong (“Igor, look! His head is filled with Bitcoins!”), I would receive no news of the particulars of how my brain was arranged. Even if I had been one of the 1,200 volunteers in the part of the Human Connectome Project being conducted there, I wouldn’t have gotten a report of my own personal connectome and what it meant. Once the 10 hours of scans and tests are finished, and 10 hours more of processing and analysis done, the data for each of the volunteers — all anonymous — becomes part of a database to help scientists develop tools so that one day such an individual report might be possible. Besides, I was just going through a portion of the process, to see what it was like. Even so, I do have this sense of myself as an individual, different from others in ways good, bad and inconsequential, and the pretty reasonable feeling that whatever a “self” is, it lies behind my eyes and between my ears. That’s where I feel that “I” live. So I couldn’t shake the sense that there would be something special in seeing my brain, even if I couldn’t actually spot where all the song lyrics I’ve memorized are stored, or locate my fondness for cooking and singing and my deep disappointment that I can’t carry a tune (though I can follow a recipe). So I climbed into the M.R.I. machine. I tried to hold my head perfectly still as I stared at a spot marked by a cross, tried to corral my fading memory to perform well on tests, curled my toes and moved my fingers so that muscle motion could be mapped, and wondered at the extraordinary noises M.R.I. machines make. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Consciousness; Aggression
Link ID: 19104 - Posted: 01.07.2014

By NORIMITSU ONISHI SAN FRANCISCO — It started out as an operation to treat an increasingly common medical problem in America, childhood sleep apnea. It has become an anguished fight over the fate of a 13-year-old girl who, though pronounced legally dead by doctors, remains alive in the opinion of her religious parents. Sam Singer, a spokesman for Children’s Hospital, called the deal a victory for the hospital, which will release the girl to the Alameda County coroner. The girl, Jahi McMath, was declared brain-dead after complications from surgery on Dec. 9 at Children’s Hospital Oakland, which wanted to remove her from a ventilator. But her heart continues to beat, and her family protested the removal in court, so she has remained connected to the machine. On Friday, amid acrimonious battles in three courts, an Alameda County Superior Court judge mediated an agreement that could allow the child to be moved to another facility willing to take her, even though the hospital has declared her dead. As arguments in the courts continue, the girl will remain connected to the ventilator at least until Tuesday, under the judge’s order. In the meantime, family members are scrambling to identify a facility that will accept the girl and doctors willing to carry out procedures that will keep her heart beating during the transfer. Nailah Winkfield, the girl’s mother, said she was hopeful that Friday’s agreement would facilitate her daughter’s move. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 19096 - Posted: 01.04.2014

by Helen Thomson DRAW a line across a page, then write on it what you had for dinner yesterday and what you plan to eat tomorrow. If you are a native English speaker, or hail from pretty much any European country, you no doubt wrote last night's meal to the left of tomorrow night's. That's because we construct mental timelines to represent and reason about time, and most people in the West think of the past as on the left, and the future as on the right. Arnaud Saj at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, and his colleagues wondered whether the ability to conjure up a mental timeline is a necessary part of reasoning about events in time. To investigate, they recruited seven Europeans with what's called left hemispatial neglect. That means they have damage to parts of the right side of their brain, limiting their ability to detect, identify and interact with objects in the left-hand side of space. They may eat from only the right side of a plate, shave just the right side of their face, and ignore numbers on the left side of a clock. The team also recruited seven volunteers who had damage to the right side of their brain but didn't have hemispatial neglect, and seven people with undamaged brains. All the volunteers took part in a variety of memory tests. First, they learned about a fictional man called David. They were shown pictures of what David liked to eat 10 years ago, and what he might like to eat in 10 years' time. Participants were then shown drawings of 10 of David's favourite foods, plus four food items they hadn't seen before. Participants had to say whether it was a food that David liked in the past or might like in future. The tests were repeated with items in David's apartment, and his favourite clothes. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 19095 - Posted: 01.04.2014

The maker of a type of sleeping pill is lowering the dose to minimize the risk of next-day drowsiness. The drug, Sublinox, has been associated in the past with abnormal sleep behaviours. In late 2011, Meda Valeant Pharma Canada warned that some people taking the drug had reported getting out of bed while not fully awake and performing activities they were unaware of doing. Those activities including driving a car, eating and making phone calls The drug company has lowered the recommended initial dose to five milligrams for women and either five or 10 milligrams for men. The drug company says Sublinox should be taken immediately before bedtime, when the user will have the opportunity to get at least seven or eight hours of sleep. People aged 65 and older should use the five-milligram dose, regardless of gender, the company says. Meda Valeant Pharma Canada issued the new advice in conjunction with Health Canada. Long-term use not recommended The advisory says women metabolize the drug more slowly than men, and therefore have a higher chance of experiencing next-day drowsiness. Sublinox — the brand name for the drug zolpidem — is a hypnotic. As with all drugs of this class, long-term use is not recommended. It should not be taken in the middle of the night or at any time other than bedtime, the statement says. © CBC 2014

Keyword: Sleep; Aggression
Link ID: 19094 - Posted: 01.04.2014

Associated Press A sophisticated, real-world study confirms that dialing, texting or reaching for a cell phone while driving raises the risk of a crash or near-miss, especially for younger drivers. But the research also produced a surprise: Simply talking on the phone did not prove dangerous, as it has in other studies. This one did not distinguish between handheld and hands-free devices - a major weakness. And even though talking doesn't require drivers to take their eyes off the road, it's hard to talk on a phone without first reaching for it or dialing a number - things that raise the risk of a crash, researchers note. Earlier work with simulators, test tracks and cell phone records suggests that risky driving increases when people are on cell phones, especially teens. The 15- to 20-year-old age group accounts for 6 percent of all drivers but 10 percent of traffic deaths and 14 percent of police-reported crashes with injuries. For the new study, researchers at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute installed video cameras, global positioning systems, lane trackers, gadgets to measure speed and acceleration, and other sensors in the cars of 42 newly licensed drivers 16 or 17 years old, and 109 adults with an average of 20 years behind the wheel. © 2014 Hearst Communications, Inc.

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 19091 - Posted: 01.04.2014

By Christof Koch I grew up in a devout and practicing Roman Catholic family with Purzel, a fearless and high-energy dachshund. He, as with all the other, much larger dogs that subsequently accompanied me through life, showed plenty of affection, curiosity, playfulness, aggression, anger, shame and fear. Yet my church teaches that whereas animals, as God's creatures, ought to be treated well, they do not possess an immortal soul. Only humans do. Even as a child, to me this belief felt intuitively wrong. These gorgeous creatures had feelings, just like I did. Why deny them? Why would God resurrect people but not dogs? This core Christian belief in human exceptionalism did not make any sense to me. Whatever consciousness and mind are and no matter how they relate to the brain and the rest of the body, I felt that the same principle must hold for people and dogs and, by extension, for other animals as well. It was only later, at university, that I became acquainted with Buddhism and its emphasis on the universal nature of mind. Indeed, when I spent a week with His Holiness the Dalai Lama earlier in 2013 [see “The Brain of Buddha,” Consciousness Redux; Scientific American Mind, July/August 2013], I noted how often he talked about the need to reduce the suffering of “all living beings” and not just “all people.” My readings in philosophy brought me to panpsychism, the view that mind (psyche) is found everywhere (pan). Panpsychism is one of the oldest of all philosophical doctrines extant and was put forth by the ancient Greeks, in particular Thales of Miletus and Plato. Philosopher Baruch Spinoza and mathematician and universal genius Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, who laid down the intellectual foundations for the Age of Enlightenment, argued for panpsychism, as did philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, father of American psychology William James, and Jesuit paleontologist Teilhard de Chardin. It declined in popularity with the rise of positivism in the 20th century. © 2014 Scientific American,

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 19087 - Posted: 01.02.2014

Tomas Jivanda Being pulled into the world of a gripping novel can trigger actual, measurable changes in the brain that linger for at least five days after reading, scientists have said. The new research, carried out at Emory University in the US, found that reading a good book may cause heightened connectivity in the brain and neurological changes that persist in a similar way to muscle memory. The changes were registered in the left temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with receptivity for language, as well as the the primary sensory motor region of the brain. Neurons of this region have been associated with tricking the mind into thinking it is doing something it is not, a phenomenon known as grounded cognition - for example, just thinking about running, can activate the neurons associated with the physical act of running. “The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist,” said neuroscientist Professor Gregory Berns, lead author of the study. “We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.” 21 students took part in the study, with all participants reading the same book - Pompeii, a 2003 thriller by Robert Harris, which was chosen for its page turning plot. “The story follows a protagonist, who is outside the city of Pompeii and notices steam and strange things happening around the volcano,” said Prof Berns. “It depicts true events in a fictional and dramatic way. It was important to us that the book had a strong narrative line.” © independent.co.uk

Keyword: Attention; Aggression
Link ID: 19080 - Posted: 12.31.2013

By Christian Jarrett Christmas is over and the start of the movie awards season is only weeks away! This is my excuse for a post about cinema and the brain. Over the years I’ve been keeping note of actors who studied neuroscience and other similar factoids and now I have the chance to share them with you. So here, in no particular order, are 10 surprising links between the worlds of Hollywood and brain research: 1. Actress Mayim Bialik is a neuroscientist. Bialik currently plays the character of neuroscientist Amy Fowler in the Big Bang Theory, which is neat because Bialik herself has a PhD in neuroscience. Her PhD thesis, completed at UCLA in 2007, has the title: “Hypothalamic regulation in relation to maladaptive, obsessive-compulsive, affiliative, and satiety behaviors in Prader-Willi syndrome.” “I don’t try and rub my neuroscience brain in people’s face[s],” Bialik says, “but when we have lab scenes … I have had to say that’s not where the tectum would be, we need it down here … or I’ve actually carved the fourth ventricle into slices … ’cause you know, why not have me do it.” Among her other acting roles, Bialik also featured in the short film for Michael Jackson’s Liberian Girl and she played the child version of Bette Midler’s character in Beaches (1988). 2. Natalie Portman is a neuroscientist. Perform a Google Scholar search on her name and you won’t get very far. But under her original name of Natalie Hershlag, the Oscar-winning actress co-authored a paper in 2002 on the role of the frontal lobes in infants’ understanding of “object permanence” – recognizing that things still exist even when you can’t see them. According to the Mind Hacks blog, Ms. Portman contributed to this research while working as a research assistant at Harvard University. Her paper has now been cited in the literature over 100 times. © 2013 Condé Nast.

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 19079 - Posted: 12.31.2013