Chapter 15. Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language

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Kerin Higa After surgery to treat her epilepsy severed the connection between the two halves of her brain, Karen's left hand took on a mind of its own, acting against her will to undress or even to slap her. Amazing, to be sure. But what may be even more amazing is that most people who have split-brain surgery don't notice anything different at all. But there's more to the story than that. In the 1960s, a young neuroscientist named Michael Gazzaniga began a series of experiments with split-brain patients that would change our understanding of the human brain forever. Working in the lab of Roger Sperry, who later won a Nobel Prize for his work, Gazzaniga discovered that the two halves of the brain experience the world quite differently. When Gazzaniga and his colleagues flashed a picture in front of a patient's right eye, the information was processed in the left side of the brain and the split-brain patient could easily describe the scene verbally. But when a picture was flashed in front of the left eye, which connects to the right side of the brain, the patient would report seeing nothing. If allowed to respond nonverbally, however, the right brain could adeptly point at or draw what was seen by the left eye. So the right brain knew what it was seeing; it just couldn't talk about it. These experiments showed for the first time that each brain hemisphere has specialized tasks. In this third episode of Invisibilia, hosts Alix Spiegel and Hanna Rosin talk to several people who are trying to change their other self, including a man who confronts his own biases and a woman who has a rare condition that causes one of her hands to take on a personality of its own. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Consciousness; Laterality
Link ID: 23749 - Posted: 06.17.2017

By JANE E. BRODY Hurray for the HotBlack Coffee cafe in Toronto for declining to offer Wi-Fi to its customers. There are other such cafes, to be sure, including seven of the eight New York City locations of Café Grumpy. But it’s HotBlack’s reason for the electronic blackout that is cause for hosannas. As its president, Jimson Bienenstock, explained, his aim is to get customers to talk with one another instead of being buried in their portable devices. “It’s about creating a social vibe,” he told a New York Times reporter. “We’re a vehicle for human interaction, otherwise it’s just a commodity.” What a novel idea! Perhaps Mr. Bienenstock instinctively knows what medical science has been increasingly demonstrating for decades: Social interaction is a critically important contributor to good health and longevity. Personally, I don’t need research-based evidence to appreciate the value of making and maintaining social connections. I experience it daily during my morning walk with up to three women, then before and after my swim in the locker room of the YMCA where the use of electronic devices is not allowed. The locker room experience has been surprisingly rewarding. I’ve made many new friends with whom I can share both joys and sorrows. The women help me solve problems big and small, providing a sounding board, advice and counsel and often a hearty laugh that brightens my day. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 23730 - Posted: 06.12.2017

By Amina Zafar, CBC News Senator Murray Sinclair suffered a mild stroke 10 years ago, while he was still serving as a justice in Manitoba. He got swift treatment, but says for weeks after even simple tasks left him exhausted. It's a hidden issue many stroke survivors experience, according to a new report. A stroke happens in about one in 10,000 adults under the age of 64, the group says. Sinclair, who experienced his stroke in 2007 at the age of 56, recalls waking up feeling dizzy and fuzzy headed. He had trouble getting into his robes for court and found he was bumping into a desk and doorway. Typing with his left hand was also difficult. Sinclair chalked it up to lack of sleep. After court, he called his family doctor in Winnipeg. The doctor performed a few co-ordination tests, immediately administered Aspirin and sent him to the emergency department where he was diagnosed, treated and released that night with medication and follow-up appointments arranged. "For several weeks thereafter whenever I would do something, if I would just go for a walk or if I would go outside and try to cut the grass, which I couldn't, I would just be too exhausted to finish a task. Or after I'd done a small task I'd just need to lay down or sit down," he recalled in an interview. "Even writing and reading were problematic for a while." ©2017 CBC/Radio-Canada.

Keyword: Stroke
Link ID: 23715 - Posted: 06.07.2017

Giuseppe Gangarossa Could it be possible to run a normal existence without social life? Indeed, sociability is an important aspect for individuals and social interaction builds our lives. In fact, social interaction enhances quality of life and improves the stability of communities. Impaired sociability is a classical symptom observed in many neuropsychiatric disorders including autism, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety and generalized fear. Interestingly, many studies have pointed to the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), a brain area located in the ventromedial part of the frontal lobe, as key region involved in the neural bases of sociability (Valk et al, 2015; Treadway et al., 2015; Frith et al., 2007). The prelimbic cortex (PL) and the infralimbic cortex (IL), two subregions of the mPFC, have been strongly suggested to play an important role in the neural mechanisms underlying sociability as isolation rearing in rats results in impaired social behavior and structural modifications in the PL and IL. Isolation rearing is a neurodevelopmental manipulation that produces neurochemical, structural, and behavioral alterations in rodents that in many ways are consistent with psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, anxiety and depression. In particular, it has been shown that isolation rearing can alter the volume of mPFC, the dendritic length and the spine density of pyramidal neurons. However, the detailed mechanisms involved in sociability disorders remain elusive and poorly understood. A recent article published in Plos ONE by Minami and colleagues aimed at measuring neural activity in the PL and IL of control and isolated rats during social interaction in order to determine whether there is neural activity related to social behavior in these areas.

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 23688 - Posted: 06.01.2017

By LAWRENCE K. ALTMAN, M.D. Evidence continues to mount that professional athletes in a number of contact sports are suffering brain damage as a result of head impacts. But there is no reliable test to detect the injury, called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, in its earliest stages. Even if a doctor strongly suspects that an athlete’s confusion or memory loss is related to C.T.E., proof can only be obtained on autopsy. Now a small study of National Football League players suggests another possibility: that the signs of C.T.E. may be found with a low-cost, noninvasive test that tracks changes in conversational language years before symptoms appear. If it works, the linguistic test also would be valuable in assessing the effectiveness of treatments to prevent cognitive damage because of C.T.E. or to slow its progression. In the study, to be published this week in the journal Brain and Language, researchers at Arizona State University tracked a steeper decline in vocabulary size and other verbal skills in 10 players who spoke at news conferences over an eight-year period, compared with 18 coaches and executives who had never played professional football and who also spoke in news conferences during the same period. The players included seven quarterbacks, one nose tackle, one cornerback and one wide receiver. Although the small sample size and limited study period prevented reaching definitive conclusions, the findings underscored the need for larger, long-term studies of changes in spoken and written language that could be harbingers of severe brain damage later in life. And not just for injuries related to C.T.E. Development of a reliable linguistic tool could also help evaluate head injuries among military personnel and victims of domestic violence, said Dr. Javier Cardenas, who directs the Concussion and Brain Injury Center at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion; Language
Link ID: 23679 - Posted: 05.30.2017

By Julie Hecht I have been scaring dog lovers for nearly a decade, and Tamas Farago—lead researcher behind a new study on dog growls and cross-species communication—is mostly to blame. I met Farago in 2010 when visiting his research group—the Family Dog Project at Eotvos Lorand University—to conduct my Masters research. By then, Farago was already immersed in the study of dog vocalizations—particularly their barks and growls—so when my study concluded and it was time to leave Budapest, I departed with not only a deep appreciation for paprika and palinka, but also a few audio clips of dogs growling, courtesy of Farago. Since then, whenever I give a talk about canine science, audience members are sure to chuckle, their faces brightening, as recordings of a dog’s breathy, garbled, fast-paced, play growls take over the room. But when I play the low, elongated aggressive growls corresponding to a dog being approached by a threatening stranger or a dog guarding food, even my hair will often stand up. These growls mean business. If a dog happens to be attending the talk—not that I hold lectures for dogs, but if a human brought their dog—I take note before playing the growls. This is because a 2010 study by Farago and colleagues found that dogs not only listen to growls, but extract meaningful information from them. Here’s how they figured this out: In the study, dogs entered a room where they came across a bone. Fine. Normal so far. Just a bone sitting all alone. But unbeknownst to the dogs, a speaker was concealed in a covered crate sitting just behind the bone, and as the dogs approached, one of three growls was played from the speaker (food guarding, threatening stranger, or play). Excellent work sneaky researchers! © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Animal Communication; Language
Link ID: 23672 - Posted: 05.29.2017

By Virginia Morell Baby marmosets learn to make their calls by trying to repeat their parents’ vocalizations, scientists report today in Current Biology. Humans were thought to be the only primate with vocal learning—the ability to hear a sound and repeat it, considered essential for speech. When our infants babble, they make apparently random sounds, which adults respond to with words or other sounds; the more this happens, the faster the baby learns to talk. To find out whether marmosets (Callithrix jacchus, pictured) do something similar, scientists played recordings of parental calls during a daily 30-minute session to three sets of newborn marmoset twins until they were 2 months old (roughly equivalent to a 2-year-old human). Baby marmosets make noisy guttural cries; adults respond with soft “phee” contact calls (listen to their calls below). The baby that consistently heard its parents respond to its cries learned to make the adult “phee” sound much faster than did its twin, the team found. It’s not yet known if this ability is limited to the marmosets; if so, the difference may be due to the highly social lives of these animals, where, like us, multiple relatives help care for babies. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Language; Animal Communication
Link ID: 23662 - Posted: 05.26.2017

Gary Stix Illiterate women in northern Indian learned how to read and write in Hindi for six months after which they had reached a level comparable to a first-grader. Credit: Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences The brain did not evolve to read. It uses the neural muscle of pre-existing visual and language processing areas to enable us to take in works by Tolstoy and Tom Clancy. Reading, of course, begins in the first years of schooling, a time when these brain regions are still in development. What happens, though, when an adult starts learning after the age of 30? A study published May 24 in Science Advances turned up a few unexpected findings. In the report, a broad-ranging group of researchers—from universities in Germany, India and the Netherlands—taught reading to 21 women, all about 30 years of age from near the city of Lucknow in northern India, comparing them to a placebo group of nine women. The majority of those who learned to read could not recognize a word of Hindi at the beginning of the study. After six months, the group had reached a first-grade proficiency level. When the researchers conducted brain scans—using functional magnetic resonance imaging—they were startled. Areas deep below the wrinkled surface, the cortex, in the brains of the new learners had changed. Their results surprised them because most reading-related brain activity was thought to involve the cortex. The new research may overturn this presumption and may pertain pertain to child learners as well. After being filtered through the eyes, visual information may move first to evolutionarily ancient brain regions before being relayed to the visual and language areas of the cortex typically associated with reading. © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Language
Link ID: 23661 - Posted: 05.25.2017

By Bret Stetka For many hours a day they pluck dirt, debris and bugs from each other’s fur. Between grooming sessions they travel in troops to search for food. When ignored by mom, they throw tantrums; when not ignored by zoo-goers, they throw feces. Through these behaviors, monkeys demonstrate they understand the meaning of social interactions with other monkeys. They recognize when their peers are grooming one another and infer social rank from seeing such actions within their group. But it has long been unclear how the brains of our close evolutionary relatives actually process what they observe of these social situations. New findings published Thursday in Science offer a clue. A team of researchers from The Rockefeller University have identified a network in the monkey brain dedicated exclusively to analyzing social interactions. And they believe this network could be akin to human brains’ social circuitry. In the new work—led by Winrich Freiwald, an associate professor of neurosciences and behavior—four rhesus macaques viewed videos of various social and physical interactions while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. (Monkeys love watching TV, so they paid attention.) They were shown clips of monkeys interacting, as well as performing tasks on their own. They also watched videos of various physical interactions among inanimate objects. © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Attention; Evolution
Link ID: 23637 - Posted: 05.19.2017

By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS When young athletes sustain concussions, they are typically told to rest until all symptoms disappear. That means no physical activity, reading, screen time, or friends, and little light exposure, for multiple days and, in severe cases, weeks. Restricting all forms of activity after a concussion is known as “cocooning.” But now new guidelines, written by an international panel of concussion experts and published this month in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, question that practice. Instead of cocooning, the new guidelines suggest that most young athletes should be encouraged to start being physically active with a day or two after the injury. “The brain benefits from movement and exercise, including after a concussion,” says Dr. John Leddy, a professor of orthopedics at the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo, and one of the co-authors of the new guidelines. There has long been controversy, of course, about the best ways to identify and treat sports-related concussions. Twenty years ago, athletes who banged their heads during play were allowed to remain in the practice or game, even if they stumbled, seemed disoriented, or were “seeing stars.” Little was known then about any possible immediate or long-term consequences from head trauma during sports or about the best responses on the sidelines and afterward. Since then, mounting evidence has indicated that sports-related concussions are not benign and require appropriate treatment. The question has been what these appropriate treatments should be. In the early 2000s, dozens of the world’s premier experts on sports-related concussions started meeting to review studies about concussions, with plans to issue a consensus set of guidelines on how best to identify and deal with the condition. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 23633 - Posted: 05.18.2017

By DAVE PHILIPPS Three-fifths of troops discharged from the military for misconduct in recent years had a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury or another associated condition, according to a report released Tuesday by the Government Accountability Office. The report, mandated by Congress, for the first time combined military medical and staffing data, as well as data from the Department of Veterans Affairs, to show that tens of thousands of wounded troops were kicked out of the armed forces and severed from benefits designed to ease their transition from service in war. “It is everything many of us believed for years” said Kristopher Goldsmith, a veteran who served in Iraq and was discharged for misconduct after a suicide attempt. He is now an assistant director for policy at Vietnam Veterans of America, a veterans advocacy group based in Washington. “Many people didn’t believe that the problem could be this big. Now I hope Congress will direct the resources to making it right.” From 2011 to 2015, according to the report, nearly 92,000 troops were discharged for misconduct — the military equivalent of being fired. Troops can be discharged for reasons like testing positive for drugs or repeatedly showing up late. And in recent years, as the military was downsized, misconduct discharges surged. Of those discharged, 57,000 had a diagnosis of PTSD, traumatic brain injury (known as T.B.I.) or a related condition. About 9,000 were found to have PTSD or T.B.I. But a majority had a personality disorder or an adjustment disorder — diagnoses that count as pre-existing conditions, not war wounds. Critics of the military’s handling of mental health have long accused the military of using such diagnoses to sidestep safeguards put in place for troops with PTSD. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion; Stress
Link ID: 23626 - Posted: 05.17.2017

Nicola Davis Humans can determine a dog’s mood by the sound of its growl, scientists have found, with women showing greater ability than men. While previous studies have found that humans can unpick the context of barks, the latest study investigated whether the same was true of canine grumbles, with some previous research suggesting humans struggle to differentiate between playful and aggressive vocalisations. “It is an important thing that humans are capable [of recognising] the emotional state of another species just based on the vocal characteristics,” said Tamás Faragó, first author of the study from Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary. To tackle the conundrum, Faragó and colleagues used previously captured recordings of 18 dogs growling in three contexts: guarding food from other dogs, playing tug-of-war with humans, and being threatened by the approach of a stranger. The researchers monitored several features, including the length of each growl and its frequency. Two sets of the recordings, which included two growls from each context, were played to 40 adults. Each participant was asked to record their impression of the first set of growls on a sliding scale, rating their perception of the dog for five emotions: fear, aggression, despair, happiness and playfulness. © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Animal Communication; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 23621 - Posted: 05.17.2017

By FERRIS JABR Con Slobodchikoff and I approached the mountain meadow slowly, obliquely, softening our footfalls and conversing in whispers. It didn’t make much difference. Once we were within 50 feet of the clearing’s edge, the alarm sounded: short, shrill notes in rapid sequence, like rounds of sonic bullets. We had just trespassed on a prairie-dog colony. A North American analogue to Africa’s meerkat, the prairie dog is trepidation incarnate. It lives in subterranean societies of neighboring burrows, surfacing to forage during the day and rarely venturing more than a few hundred feet from the center of town. The moment it detects a hawk, coyote, human or any other threat, it cries out to alert the cohort and takes appropriate evasive action. A prairie dog’s voice has about as much acoustic appeal as a chew toy. French explorers called the rodents petits chiens because they thought they sounded like incessantly yippy versions of their pets back home. On this searing summer morning, Slobodchikoff had taken us to a tract of well-trodden wilderness on the grounds of the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. Distressed squeaks flew from the grass, but the vegetation itself remained still; most of the prairie dogs had retreated underground. We continued along a dirt path bisecting the meadow, startling a prairie dog that was peering out of a burrow to our immediate right. It chirped at us a few times, then stared silently. “Hello,” Slobodchikoff said, stooping a bit. A stout bald man with a scraggly white beard and wine-dark lips, Slobodchikoff speaks with a gentler and more lilting voice than you might expect. “Hi, guy. What do you think? Are we worth calling about? Hmm?” Slobodchikoff, an emeritus professor of biology at Northern Arizona University, has been analyzing the sounds of prairie dogs for more than 30 years. Not long after he started, he learned that prairie dogs had distinct alarm calls for different predators. Around the same time, separate researchers found that a few other species had similar vocabularies of danger. What Slobodchikoff claimed to discover in the following decades, however, was extraordinary: Beyond identifying the type of predator, prairie-dog calls also specified its size, shape, color and speed; the animals could even combine the structural elements of their calls in novel ways to describe something they had never seen before. No scientist had ever put forward such a thorough guide to the native tongue of a wild species or discovered one so intricate. Prairie-dog communication is so complex, Slobodchikoff says — so expressive and rich in information — that it constitutes nothing less than language.

Keyword: Language; Evolution
Link ID: 23606 - Posted: 05.12.2017

By GINA KOLATA Researchers have traced the cause of a baffling brain disorder to a surprising source: a particular type of bacteria living in the gut. Scientists increasingly suspect that the body’s vast community of bacteria — the microbiome — may play a role in the development of a wide variety of diseases, from obesity to perhaps even autism. The new study, published on Wednesday in Nature, is among the first to suggest convincingly that these bacteria may initiate disease in seemingly unrelated organs, and in completely unexpected ways. Researchers “need to be thinking more broadly about the indirect role of the microbiome” in influencing even diseases that have no obvious link to the gut, said Dr. David Relman, professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford. The researchers studied hereditary cerebral cavernous malformations — blood-filled bubbles that protrude from veins in the brain and can leak blood or burst at any time. The findings do not point to a cure, but they do suggest a way to prevent these brain defects in children who inherit a mutated gene that can cause them. Researchers warned, though, that it is too soon to say whether the potential treatment — antibiotics, followed by a fecal transplant — will work. “Caution, caution, caution,” urged Dr. Mark Ginsberg, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Diego, who was not involved in the new study. Still, he added, “The findings are very convincing.” When Dr. Mark Kahn, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, began this work, the microbiome was the last thing on his mind. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Stroke; Epilepsy
Link ID: 23603 - Posted: 05.11.2017

By Agata Blaszczak-Boxe We tend to be worse at telling apart faces of other races than those of our own race, studies have found. Now research shows some people are completely blind to features that make other-race faces distinct. Such an impairment could have important implications for eyewitness testimony in situations involving other-race suspects. The ability to distinguish among members of one's own race varies wildly: some people can tell strangers apart effortlessly, whereas others cannot even recognize the faces of their own family and friends (a condition known as prosopagnosia). Psychologist Lulu Wan of the Australian National University and her colleagues wanted to quantify the distribution of abilities for recognizing other-race faces. They asked 268 Caucasians born and raised in Australia to memorize a series of six Asian faces and conducted the same experiment, involving Caucasian faces, with a group of 176 Asians born and raised in Asia who moved to Australia to attend university. In 72 trials, every participant was then shown sets of three faces and had to point to the one he or she had learned in the memorization task. The authors found that 26 Caucasian and 10 Asian participants—8 percent of the collective study population—did so badly on the test that they met the criteria for clinical-level impairment. “We know that we are poor at recognizing other-race faces,” says Jim Tanaka, a professor of psychology at the University of Victoria in British Columbia, who was not involved in the research. “This study shows just how poor some people are.” Those individuals “would be completely useless in terms of their legal value as an eyewitness,” says study co-author Elinor McKone, a professor of psychology at the Australian National University. The world's legal systems do not, however, take into account individual differences in other-race face recognition, she notes. © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 23602 - Posted: 05.11.2017

By Jane C. Hu New evidence suggests that the earliest traces of a language can stay with us into adulthood, even if we no longer speak or understand the language itself. And early exposure also seems to speed the process of relearning it later in life. In the new study, recently published in Royal Society Open Science, Dutch adults were trained to listen for sound contrasts in Korean. Some participants reported no prior exposure to the language; others were born in Korea and adopted by Dutch families before the age of six. All participants said they could not speak Korean, but the adoptees from Korea were better at distinguishing between the contrasts and more accurate in pronouncing Korean sounds. “Language learning can be retained subconsciously, even if conscious memories of the language do not exist,” says Jiyoun Choi, postdoctoral fellow at Hanyang University in Seoul and lead author of the study. And it appears that just a brief period of early exposure benefits learning efforts later; when Choi and her collaborators compared the results of people adopted before they were six months old with results of others adopted after 17 months, there were no differences in their hearing or speaking abilities. “It's exciting that these effects are seen even among adults who were exposed to Korean only up to six months of age—an age before which babbling emerges,” says Janet Werker, a professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia, who was not involved with the research. Remarkably, what we learn before we can even speak stays with us for decades. © 2017 Scientific American,

Keyword: Language; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 23598 - Posted: 05.10.2017

By Ian Randall René Descartes began with doubt. “We cannot doubt of our existence while we doubt. … I think, therefore I am,” the 17th century philosopher and scientist famously wrote. Now, modern scientists are trying to figure out what made the genius’s mind tick by reconstructing his brain. Scientists have long wondered whether the brains of geniuses (especially the shapes on their surfaces) could hold clues about their owners’ outsized intelligences. But most brains studied to date—including Albert Einstein’s—were actual brains. Descartes’s had unfortunately decomposed by the time scientists wanted to study it. So with techniques normally used for studying prehistoric humans, researchers created a 3D image of Descartes’s brain (above) by scanning the impression it left on the inside of his skull, which has been kept for almost 200 years now in the National Museum of Natural History in Paris. For the most part, his brain was surprisingly normal—its overall dimensions fell within regular ranges, compared with 102 other modern humans. But one part stood out: an unusual bulge in the frontal cortex, in an area which previous studies have suggested may process the meaning of words. That’s not to say this oddity is necessarily indicative of genius, the scientists report online in the Journal of the Neurological Sciences. Even Descartes might agree: “It is not enough to have a good mind,” he wrote. “The main thing is to use it well.” © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Intelligence
Link ID: 23579 - Posted: 05.06.2017

Ian Sample Science editor It isn’t big and it isn’t clever. But the benefits, known to anyone who has moved home, climbed a mountain, or pushed a broken-down car, have finally been confirmed: according to psychologists, swearing makes you stronger. The upside of letting profanities fly emerged from a series of experiments with people who repeated either a swear word or a neutral word as they pounded away on an exercise bike, or performed a simple hand-grip test. When people cursed their way through the half-minute bike challenge, their peak power rose by 24 watts on average, according to the study. In the 10-second grip task, swearers boosted their strength by the equivalent of 2.1kg, researchers found. “In the short period of time we looked at there are benefits from swearing,” said Richard Stephens, a psychologist at Keele University, who presented the results at the British Psychological Society meeting in Brighton. Stephens enrolled 29 people aged about 21 for the cycling test, and 52 people with a typical age of 19 for the hand-grip test. All were asked to choose a swearword to repeat in the studies, based on a term they might utter if they banged their head. For the neutral word, the volunteers were asked to pick a word they might use to describe a table, such as “wooden” or “brown”. © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Attention; Language
Link ID: 23575 - Posted: 05.05.2017

Jon Hamilton A little spit may help predict whether a child's concussion symptoms will subside in days or persist for weeks. A test that measures fragments of genetic material in saliva was nearly 90 percent accurate in identifying children and adolescents whose symptoms persisted for at least a month, a Penn State team told the Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting in San Francisco, Calif. In contrast, a concussion survey commonly used by doctors was right less than 70 percent of the time. If the experimental test pans out, "a pediatrician could collect saliva with a swab, send it off to the lab and then be able to call the family the next day," says Steven Hicks, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Penn State Hershey. Hicks helped develop the test and consults for a company that hopes to market concussion tests. A reliable test would help overcome a major obstacle in assessing and treating concussions, which affect more than one million children and adolescents in the U.S. each year. Many of the injuries are related to sports. In most cases, concussion symptoms last only a few days. But up to 25 percent of young patients "go on to have these prolonged headaches, fatigue, nausea, and those symptoms can last sometimes one to four months," Hicks says. And, right now, there's no way to know which kids are going to have long-term problems, he says. "Parents often say that their biggest concern is, 'When is my child going to be back to normal again?' " Hicks says. "And that's something we have a very difficult time predicting." © 2017 npr

Keyword: Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 23567 - Posted: 05.04.2017

By Mo Costandi The world is an unpredictable place. But the brain has evolved a way to cope with the everyday uncertainties it encounters—it doesn’t present us with many of them, but instead resolves them as a realistic model of the world. The body’s central controller predicts every contingency, using its stored database of past experiences, to minimize the element of surprise. Take vision, for example: We rarely see objects in their entirety but our brains fill in the gaps to make a best guess at what we are seeing—and these predictions are usually an accurate reflection of reality. The same is true of hearing, and neuroscientists have now identified a predictive textlike brain mechanism that helps us to anticipate what is coming next when we hear someone speaking. The findings, published this week in PLoS Biology, advance our understanding of how the brain processes speech. They also provide clues about how language evolved, and could even lead to new ways of diagnosing a variety of neurological conditions more accurately. The new study builds on earlier findings that monkeys and human infants can implicitly learn to recognize artificial grammar, or the rules by which sounds in a made-up language are related to one another. Neuroscientist Yukiko Kikuchi of Newcastle University in England and her colleagues played sequences of nonsense speech sounds to macaques and humans. Consistent with the earlier findings, Kikuchi and her team found both species quickly learned the rules of the language’s artificial grammar. After this initial learning period the researchers played more sound sequences—some of which violated the fabricated grammatical rules. They used microelectrodes to record responses from hundreds of individual neurons as well as from large populations of neurons that process sound information. In this way they were able to compare the responses with both types of sequences and determine the similarities between the two species’ reactions. © 2017 Scientific American,

Keyword: Language; Attention
Link ID: 23558 - Posted: 05.01.2017