Chapter 15. Language and Our Divided Brain

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Links 1 - 20 of 1947

By Bethany Brookshire WASHINGTON — Estrogen can protect the brain from harmful inflammation following traumatic injury, a new study in zebra finches suggests. Boosting levels of the sex hormone in the brain might help prevent the cell loss that occurs following damage from injuries such as stroke. Estrogen levels quadrupled around the damaged area in both male and female zebra finches after researchers gave them experimental brain injuries, Colin Saldanha and colleagues at American University in Washington, D.C., reported November 17 at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. When the scientists prevented finch brains from making estrogen, inflammatory proteins at damaged sites increased. The helpful estrogen didn’t come from gonads. It’s made within the brain by support cells called astrocytes close to the injury. Injury inflames the brain. Initially, this inflammation recruits helpful cells to the damaged area and aids in recovery. But the long-term presence of inflammatory proteins can cause harm, killing off brain cells and reducing functions such as movement and memory. The researchers hope that by understanding how estrogen reduces inflammatory proteins, therapies might boost this natural estrogen production to keep harmful inflammation at bay. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2014.

Keyword: Hormones & Behavior; Aggression
Link ID: 20341 - Posted: 11.21.2014

Mo Costandi A team of neuroscientists in America say they have rediscovered an important neural pathway that was first described in the late nineteenth century but then mysteriously disappeared from the scientific literature until very recently. In a study published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, they confirm that the prominent white matter tract is present in the human brain, and argue that it plays an important and unique role in the processing of visual information. The vertical occipital fasciculus (VOF) is a large flat bundle of nerve fibres that forms long-range connections between sub-regions of the visual system at the back of the brain. It was originally discovered by the German neurologist Carl Wernicke, who had by then published his classic studies of stroke patients with language deficits, and was studying neuroanatomy in Theodor Maynert’s laboratory at the University of Vienna. Wernicke saw the VOF in slices of monkey brain, and included it in his 1881 brain atlas, naming it the senkrechte occipitalbündel, or ‘vertical occipital bundle’. Maynert - himself a pioneering neuroanatomist and psychiatrist, whose other students included Sigmund Freud and Sergei Korsakov - refused to accept Wernicke’s discovery, however. He had already described the brain’s white matter tracts, and had arrived at the general principle that they are oriented horizontally, running mostly from front to back within each hemisphere. But the pathway Wernicke had described ran vertically. Another of Maynert’s students, Heinrich Obersteiner, identified the VOF in the human brain, and mentioned it in his 1888 textbook, calling it the senkrechte occipitalbündel in one illustration, and the fasciculus occipitalis perpendicularis in another. So, too, did Heinrich Sachs, a student of Wernicke’s, who labeled it the stratum profundum convexitatis in his 1892 white matter atlas. © 2014 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Language
Link ID: 20333 - Posted: 11.20.2014

By David Shultz WASHINGTON, D.C.—Reciting the days of the week is a trivial task for most of us, but then, most of us don’t have cooling probes in our brains. Scientists have discovered that by applying a small electrical cooling device to the brain during surgery they could slow down and distort speech patterns in patients. When the probe was activated in some regions of the brain associated with language and talking—like the premotor cortex—the patients’ speech became garbled and distorted, the team reported here yesterday at the Society for Neuroscience’s annual meeting. As scientists moved the probe to other speech regions, such as the pars opercularis, the distortion lessened, but speech patterns slowed. (These zones and their effects are displayed graphically above.) “What emerged was this orderly map,” says team leader Michael Long, a neuroscientist at the New York University School of Medicine in New York City. The results suggest that one region of the brain organizes the rhythm and flow of language while another is responsible for the actual articulation of the words. The team was even able to map which word sounds were most likely to be elongated when the cooling probe was applied. “People preferentially stretched out their vowels,” Long says. “Instead of Tttuesssday, you get Tuuuesdaaay.” The technique is similar to the electrical probe stimulation that researchers have been using to identify the function of various brain regions, but the shocks often trigger epileptic seizures in sensitive patients. Long contends that the cooling probe is completely safe, and that in the future it may help neurosurgeons decide where to cut and where not to cut during surgery. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Language; Aggression
Link ID: 20328 - Posted: 11.20.2014

By Laura Geggel A major pathway of the human brain involved in visual perception, attention and movement — and overlooked by many researchers for more than a century — is finally getting its moment in the sun. In 2012, researchers made note of a pathway in a region of the brain associated with reading, but "we couldn't find it in any atlas," said Jason Yeatman, a research scientist at the University of Washington's Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences. "We'd thought we had discovered a new pathway that no one else had noticed before." A quick investigation showed that the pathway, known as the vertical occipital fasciculus (VOF), was not actually unknown. Famed neuroscientist Carl Wernicke discovered the pathway in 1881, during the dissection of a monkey brain that was most likely a macaque. [10 Things You Didn't Know About the Brain] But besides Wernicke's discovery, and a few other mentions throughout the years, the VOF is largely absent from studies of the human brain. This made Yeatman and his colleagues wonder, "How did a whole piece of brain anatomy get forgotten?" he said. The researchers immersed themselves in century-old brain atlases and studies, trying to decipher when and why the VOF went missing from mainstream scientific literature. They also scanned the brains of 37 individuals, and found an algorithm that can help present-day researchers pinpoint the elusive pathway.

Keyword: Vision; Aggression
Link ID: 20326 - Posted: 11.18.2014

By Kate Baggaley WASHINGTON, D.C. — Adding magnets to football helmets could reduce the risk of concussions, new research suggests. When two players collide, the magnets in their helmets would repel each other, reducing the force of the collision. “All helmet design companies and manufacturers have the same approach, which is to try to disperse the impact energy after the impact’s already occurred,” neuroscientist Raymond Colello said November 15 at the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. The magnets, he says, would put a brake on the impact before it happens. The idea hasn’t been tested yet in helmets with real players, said Judy Cameron, a neuroscientist at the University of Pittsburgh. “But a lot of thought has gone into it, and the data that was shown about the ability of the magnets to actually repel each other looked extremely promising.” On the field, football players can run at nearly 20 miles per hour and can experience up to 150 g’s of force upon impact. Concussions readily occur at impacts greater than 100 g’s. Every year there are 100,000 concussions at all levels of play among the nearly 1.2 million people who play football in the United States. Colello, of Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, is testing magnets made in China from the rare-earth element neodymium. They are the most powerful commercially available magnets and weigh about one-third of a pound each (football helmets weigh from 3.5 to 5.5 pounds). When placed one-fourth of an inch away from each other, two magnets with their same poles face-to-face exert nearly 100 pounds of repulsive force. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2014

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 20317 - Posted: 11.17.2014

by Helen Thomson As you read this, your neurons are firing – that brain activity can now be decoded to reveal the silent words in your head TALKING to yourself used to be a strictly private pastime. That's no longer the case – researchers have eavesdropped on our internal monologue for the first time. The achievement is a step towards helping people who cannot physically speak communicate with the outside world. "If you're reading text in a newspaper or a book, you hear a voice in your own head," says Brian Pasley at the University of California, Berkeley. "We're trying to decode the brain activity related to that voice to create a medical prosthesis that can allow someone who is paralysed or locked in to speak." When you hear someone speak, sound waves activate sensory neurons in your inner ear. These neurons pass information to areas of the brain where different aspects of the sound are extracted and interpreted as words. In a previous study, Pasley and his colleagues recorded brain activity in people who already had electrodes implanted in their brain to treat epilepsy, while they listened to speech. The team found that certain neurons in the brain's temporal lobe were only active in response to certain aspects of sound, such as a specific frequency. One set of neurons might only react to sound waves that had a frequency of 1000 hertz, for example, while another set only cares about those at 2000 hertz. Armed with this knowledge, the team built an algorithm that could decode the words heard based on neural activity aloneMovie Camera (PLoS Biology, doi.org/fzv269). © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Language; Aggression
Link ID: 20267 - Posted: 11.01.2014

GrrlScientist Since today is caturday, that wonderful day when the blogosphere takes a breather from hell-raising to celebrate pets, I thought some of my favourite animals: corvids. I ran across this lovely video created by Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology (more fondly referred to as the “Lab of O”) that discusses the differences between and potential meanings of the sounds made by crows and ravens. If you watch birds, even casually, you might be confused by trying to distinguish these two large black corvid species. However, both species are quite chatty, and these birds’ sounds provide important identifying information. In this video, narrated by Kevin McGowan, an ornithologist at the Cornell Lab of O, you’ll learn how to distinguish crows and ravens on the basis of their voices alone. Both crows and ravens make loud raspy signature calls, described as “caw” and “kraa” respectively, but American crows and common ravens have large repertoires of sounds in addition to these calls. They also can learn to imitate the calls of other birds. As you’ll learn in this video, crows often make a “rattle” sound along with their territorial “caw”. They also communicate using a wide variety of other sounds including clicks and bell-like notes. Ravens, on the other hand, produce deep, throaty kraa calls.

Keyword: Animal Communication
Link ID: 20255 - Posted: 10.29.2014

By Virginia Morell Human fetuses are clever students, able to distinguish male from female voices and the voices of their mothers from those of strangers between 32 and 39 weeks after conception. Now, researchers have demonstrated that the embryos of the superb fairy-wren (Malurus cyaneus, pictured), an Australian songbird, also learn to discriminate among the calls they hear. The scientists played 1-minute recordings to 43 fairy-wren eggs collected from nests in the wild. The eggs were between days 9 and 13 of a 13- to 14-day incubation period. The sounds included white noise, a contact call of a winter wren, or a female fairy-wren’s incubation call. Those embryos that listened to the fairy-wrens’ incubation calls and the contact calls of the winter wrens lowered their heart rates, a sign that they were learning to discriminate between the calls of a different species and those of their own kind, the researchers report online today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B. (None showed this response to the white noise.) Thus, even before hatching, these small birds’ brains are engaged in tasks requiring attention, learning, and possibly memory—the first time embryonic learning has been seen outside humans, the scientists say. The behavior is key because fairy-wren embryos must learn a password from their mothers’ incubation calls; otherwise, they’re less successful at soliciting food from their parents after hatching. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Language; Aggression
Link ID: 20254 - Posted: 10.29.2014

With the passing away of Professor Allison Doupe on Friday, October 24, of cancer, UCSF and biomedical science have lost a scholar of extraordinary intelligence and erudition and a campus leader. Allison Doupe was a psychiatrist and systems neuroscientist who became a leader of her field, the study of sensorimotor learning and its neural control. Allison was recruited to the Departments of Psychiatry and Physiology and the Neuroscience Graduate Program in 1993, rising to Professor in 2000. Her academic career has been outstanding at every stage, including First Class Honors at McGill, an MD and PhD in Neurobiology from Harvard, and a prestigious Junior Fellowship from the Harvard University Society of Fellows. Her PhD work with Professor Paul Patterson definitively established the role of particular environmental factors in the development of autonomic neurons and was important in the molecular and cellular investigations of the roles of hormones and growth factors in that system. After internship at the Massachusetts General Hospital and residency in psychiatry at UCLA, she chose to pursue a postdoctoral fellowship at Caltech, studying song learning in birds with Professor Mark Konishi as a way of combining her clinical interests in behavior and development with research in cognitive neuroscience. The development of birdsong is in many important respects similar to language development in humans. The pioneering work of Peter Marler, on song sparrows in Golden Gate Park, showed that each baby songbird learns its father’s dialect but could readily learn the dialect of any singing bird of the same species placed in the role of tutor. Many birds, including the ones studied by Allison Doupe, learn their song by listening to their father sing during a period of life in which they are not themselves singing, and they later practice and perfect their own song by comparison with their memory of the father’s (or tutor’s) song.

Keyword: Animal Communication; Aggression
Link ID: 20248 - Posted: 10.28.2014

|By Steve Mirsky People have been leaving messages on bathroom walls for thousands of years. Just google “ancient Roman bathroom graffiti.” But we’re not the only ones to use latrines for information exchange—as two German researchers have confirmed after hundreds of hours watching lemurs pee and poop. For science. Primatologists Iris Dröscher and Peter Kappeler concentrated on seven sets of pair-bonded members of a species called white-footed sportive lemurs, at a nature reserve in southern Madagascar. Their report is in the journal Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology. [Iris Dröscher & Peter M. Kappeler Maintenance of familiarity and social bonding via communal latrine use in a solitary primate (Lepilemur leucopus)] Many animals use the same spots repeatedly to do their business, primates in particular. For these lemurs, a specific tree becomes the urine and feces focal point. And because chemical compounds in their waste transmit information, the so-called latrine tree becomes like a bulletin board to post messages for the rest of the community. Based on their 1,097 hours of observations, the researchers conclude that urine and glandular secretions left on the tree trunk are the primary message vehicles. Feces mostly just collects on the ground. Some urine telegrams are probably signals from a particular lemur to the neighbors that he or she is around. But male lemurs upped their latrine visits when potential competitors for females came into their home area. So the frequent chemical messages left on the tree probably say in that case, “Buzz off, buddy, she’s with me.” In lemur. © 2014 Scientific American,

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste); Aggression
Link ID: 20211 - Posted: 10.18.2014

by Colin Barras LOCKED in but not shut out: for the first time people who have lost the ability to move or talk because of a stroke may be able to communicate with their loved ones using a brain-computer interface. Brain injuries can leave people aware but almost completely paralysed, a condition called locked-in syndrome. Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) can help some people communicate by passing signals from electrodes attuned to their brain activity as they watch a screen displaying letters. Subtle changes in neural activity let researchers know when a person wishes to select a particular on-screen item, allowing them to spell out messages by thought alone. Until now, BCIs have only been tested on healthy volunteers and people with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disease that leads to muscle wasting. But no one had tested whether the technology could help people locked in after a brain stem stroke. Now Eric Sellers and his colleagues at East Tennessee State University in Johnson City have tested the technique on a 68-year-old man. After more than a year of training he learned to communicate reliably via the BCI. He took the opportunity to thank his wife for her hard work, and to give his thoughts on gift purchases for his children (Science Translational Medicine, DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3007801). © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Stroke; Aggression
Link ID: 20185 - Posted: 10.09.2014

By Virginia Morell Two years ago, scientists showed that dolphins imitate the sounds of whales. Now, it seems, whales have returned the favor. Researchers analyzed the vocal repertoires of 10 captive orcas (Orcinus orca), three of which lived with bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) and the rest with their own kind. Of the 1551 vocalizations these seven latter orcas made, more than 95% were the typical pulsed calls of killer whales. In contrast, the three orcas that had only dolphins as pals busily whistled and emitted dolphinlike click trains and terminal buzzes, the scientists report in the October issue of The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. (Watch a video as bioacoustician and co-author Ann Bowles describes the difference between killer whale and orca whistles.) The findings make orcas one of the few species of animals that, like humans, is capable of vocal learning—a talent considered a key underpinning of language. © 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Language; Aggression
Link ID: 20173 - Posted: 10.08.2014

|By Tori Rodriguez The safety of football continues to be a heated topic for players and parents, with mixed evidence regarding the effect of head injuries on mental illness. Past studies on the connection have often been methodologically flawed or yielded ambiguous results. Now a paper in April in the American Journal of Psychiatry, the largest study yet to investigate the link, finds that even a single head injury indeed increases the risk of later mental illness, especially if the injury occurs during adolescence. Using Danish medical registries, researchers led by physician Sonja Orlovska of the University of Copenhagen studied 113,906 people who had been hospitalized for head injuries over a 23-year period. They discovered that in addition to cognitive symptoms caused by structural damage to the brain (such as delirium), these people were subsequently more likely than the general population to develop several psychiatric illnesses. Risk increased by 65 percent for schizophrenia and 59 percent for depression. Risk was highest in the first year postinjury but remained significantly elevated throughout the next 15 years. After the team controlled for several potential confounders, such as accident proneness and a family history of psychiatric problems, they found the strongest injury-related predictor for later onset of schizophrenia, depression and bipolar disorder was a head trauma experienced between the ages of 11 and 15. “Previous studies have shown that head injury induces inflammation in the brain, which causes several changes—for example, an increased permeability of the blood-brain barrier,” Orlovska says. Normally the barrier protects the brain from potentially harmful contents in the bloodstream, but injury-induced inflammation may allow these substances access to the brain. “For some individuals, this might initiate damaging processes in the brain,” she says. © 2014 Scientific American,

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion; Aggression
Link ID: 20164 - Posted: 10.06.2014

by Jason M. Breslow As the NFL nears an end to its long-running legal battle over concussions, new data from the nation’s largest brain bank focused on traumatic brain injury has found evidence of a degenerative brain disease in 76 of the 79 former players it’s examined. The findings represent a more than twofold increase in the number of cases of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, that have been reported by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ brain repository in Bedford, Mass. Researchers there have now examined the brain tissue of 128 football players who, before their deaths, played the game professionally, semi-professionally, in college or in high school. Of that sample, 101 players, or just under 80 percent, tested positive for CTE. To be sure, players represented in the data represent a skewed population. CTE can only be definitively identified posthumously, and many of the players who have donated their brains for research suspected that they may have had the disease while still alive. For example, former Chicago Bears star Dave Duerson committed suicide in 2011 by shooting himself in the chest, reportedly to preserve his brain for examination. Nonetheless, Dr. Ann McKee, the director of the brain bank, believes the findings suggest a clear link between football and traumatic brain injury. “Obviously this high percentage of living individuals is not suffering from CTE,” said McKee, a neuropathologist who directs the brain bank as part of a collaboration between the VA and Boston University’s CTE Center. But “playing football, and the higher the level you play football and the longer you play football, the higher your risk.” ©1995-2014 WGBH Educational Foundation

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 20146 - Posted: 10.01.2014

By Melissa Dahl If you are the sort of person who has a hard time just watching TV — if you’ve got to be simultaneously using your iPad or laptop or smartphone — here’s some bad news. New research shows a link between juggling multiple digital devices and a lower-than-usual amount of gray matter, the stuff that’s made up of brain cells, in the region of the brain associated with cognitive and emotional control. More details, via the press release: The researchers at the University of Sussex's Sackler Centre for Consciousness used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at the brain structures of 75 adults, who had all answered a questionnaire regarding their use and consumption of media devices, including mobile phones and computers, as well as television and print media. They found that, independent of individual personality traits, people who used a higher number of media devices concurrently also had smaller grey matter density in the part of the brain known as the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), the region notably responsible for cognitive and emotional control functions. But a predilection for using several devices at once isn’t necessarily causing a decrease in gray matter, the authors note — this is a purely correlational finding. As Earl Miller, a neuroscientist at MIT who was not involved in this research, wrote in an email, “It could be (in fact, is possibly more likely) that the relationship is the other way around.” In other words, the people who are least content using just one device at a time may have less gray matter in the first place.

Keyword: Attention; Aggression
Link ID: 20123 - Posted: 09.27.2014

by Helen Thomson My, what big eyes you have – you must be trying really hard. A study of how pupils dilate with physical effort could allow us to make strenuous tasks seem easier by zapping specific areas of the brain. We know pupils dilate with mental effort, when we think about a difficult maths problem, for example. To see if this was also true of physical exertion, Alexandre Zenon at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, measured the pupils of 18 volunteers as they squeezed a device which reads grip strength. Sure enough, the more force they exerted, the larger their pupils. To see whether pupil size was related to actual or perceived effort, the volunteers were asked to squeeze the device with four different grip strengths. Various tests enabled the researchers to tell how much effort participants felt they used, from none at all to the most effort possible. Comparing the results from both sets of experiments suggested that pupil dilation correlated more closely with perceived effort than actual effort. The fact that both mental effort and perceived physical effort are reflected in pupil size suggests there is a common representation of effort in the brain, says Zenon. To see where in the brain this might be, the team looked at which areas were active while similar grip tasks were being performed. Zenon says they were able to identify areas within the supplementary motor cortex – which plays a role in movement – associated with how effortful a task is perceived to be. © Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 20121 - Posted: 09.27.2014

By Smitha Mundasad Health reporter, BBC News A spice commonly found in curries may boost the brain's ability to heal itself, according to a report in the journal Stem Cell Research and Therapy. The German study suggests a compound found in turmeric could encourage the growth of nerve cells thought to be part of the brain's repair kit. Scientists say this work, based in rats, may pave the way for future drugs for strokes and Alzheimer's disease. But they say more trials are needed to see whether this applies to humans. Researchers from the Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine in Julich, Germany, studied the effects of aromatic-turmerone - a compound found naturally in turmeric. Rats were injected with the compound and their brains were then scanned. Particular parts of the brain, known to be involved in nerve cell growth, were seen to be more active after the aromatic-turmerone infusion. Scientists say the compound may encourage a proliferation of brain cells. In a separate part of the trial, researchers bathed rodent neural stem cells (NSCs) in different concentrations of aromatic-tumerone extract. NSCs have the ability to transform into any type of brain cell and scientists suggest they could have a role in repair after damage or disease. Dr Maria Adele Rueger, who was part of the research team, said: "In humans and higher developed animals their abilities do not seem to be sufficient to repair the brain but in fish and smaller animals they seem to work well." Picture of the spice turmeric Turmeric belongs to the same plant family as ginger BBC © 2014

Keyword: Alzheimers; Aggression
Link ID: 20119 - Posted: 09.27.2014

By SAM BORDEN Bellini, a Brazilian soccer star who led the team that won the 1958 World Cup and was honored with a statue outside the Estádio do Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro, had a degenerative brain disease linked to dozens of boxers and American football players when he died in March at age 83. At the time, his death was attributed to complications related to Alzheimer’s disease. But researchers now say he had an advanced case of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E., which is caused by repeated blows to the head and has symptoms similar to those of Alzheimer’s. C.T.E. can be diagnosed only posthumously, and few brains of former soccer players have been examined. Bellini is the second known case, according to Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist at Boston University and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Bedford, Mass., who assisted in examining Bellini’s brain. McKee was also involved this year when researchers found C.T.E. in the brain of a 29-year-old man from New Mexico who had played soccer semiprofessionally. McKee said in an interview that she was aware of a third former soccer player who had C.T.E. but that she was not yet authorized to publicly identify the person. As C.T.E. began to gain widespread attention about six years ago, it was often thought of as an American problem. Many of the early cases of the disease, for which there is no known cure, were connected to boxers and American football players. © 2014 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 20110 - Posted: 09.24.2014

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

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

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

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 20102 - Posted: 09.22.2014