Chapter 14. Attention and Consciousness

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By Bret Stetka Every day our brains grapple with various last-minute decisions. We adjust our gait to avoid a patch of ice; we exit to hit the rest stop; we switch to our backhand before thwacking a tennis ball. Scientists have long accepted that our ability to abruptly stop or modify a planned behavior is controlled via a single region within the brain’s prefrontal cortex, an area involved in planning and other higher mental functions. By studying other parts of the brain in both humans and monkeys, however, a team from Johns Hopkins University has now concluded that last-minute decision-making is a lot more complicated than previously known, involving complex neural coordination among multiple brain areas. The revelations may help scientists unravel certain aspects of addictive behaviors and understand why accidents like falls grow increasingly common as we age, according to the Johns Hopkins team. The findings, published Thursday in Neuron, reveal reneging on an intended behavior involves coordinated cross talk between several brain regions. As a result, changing our minds even mere milliseconds after making a decision is often too late to alter a movement or behavior. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging—a technique that monitors brain activity in real time—the Johns Hopkins group found reversing a decision requires ultrafast communication between two specific zones within the prefrontal cortex and another nearby structure called the frontal eye field, an area involved in controlling eye movements and visual awareness. © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 24403 - Posted: 12.08.2017

By Wendy Jones In Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Elinor Dashwood is talking to a new acquaintance, Lucy Steele. Based on their previous encounters, Elinor doesn’t think much of Lucy’s character. But Lucy seems determined to befriend Elinor and to make her a confidante. Elinor discovers Lucy’s true motives when the latter reveals that she is secretly engaged to Edward Ferrars, the man Elinor loves. Elinor is speechless: “Her astonishment at what she heard was at first too great for words.” Elinor isn’t the only one to experience this kind of shutdown and its accompanying frustration. When we’re angry, or upset, or fearful—in the grip of any strong emotion—most of us find it difficult to think clearly. This has to do with the inverse relationship between our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which manage (respectively) the degree to which we’re excited or calm. Neuroscientist Stephen Porges has suggested that the thermostat for adjusting sympathetic and parasympathetic input can be found within these systems themselves. He has highlighted the operations involved from a “polyvagal perspective,” which considers our neurophysiological functioning in the context of safety, whether our environments are threatening or benign. I explore these and other neurosocial phenomena through the lens of the immensely popular novels of Jane Austen in my new book, Jane on the Brain: Exploring the Science of Social Intelligence. © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Keyword: Attention; Emotions
Link ID: 24402 - Posted: 12.08.2017

Can you hear this gif? Remember the white and gold dress that some internet users were certain was actually blue and black? Well, this time the dilemma being discussed online is whether you can hear anything in a silent animation of skipping pylons. The gif was created in 2008 by @IamHappyToast as part of a photoshop challenge on the boards of b3ta.com and has been circulating online since then - such as on Reddit's r/noisygifs subreddit in 2013. Many social media users have discussed the noisy-gif phenomenon, as on Imgur in 2011, for example, where it was titled an "optical illusion for the ears". It resurfaced again last weekend when Dr Lisa DeBruine from the Institute of Neuroscience & Psychology at the University of Glasgow posted it on Twitter, asking her followers to describe whether they experienced any auditory sensations while watching it. One person who suffers from ringing ears replied: "I hear a vibrating thudding sound, and it also cuts out my tinnitus during the camera shake." Others offered explanations as to why. While another suggested it may have something to do with correlated neuronal activity: "The brain is 'expecting/predicting' what is coming visually and then fires a version of what it expects across the relevant senses. Also explains why some might 'feel' a physical shake." "My gut says the camera shake is responsible for the entire effect. Anything that shook the camera like that, would probably make the 'thud' sound," posted another Twitter user.

Keyword: Hearing; Attention
Link ID: 24401 - Posted: 12.07.2017

By Rebecca Robbins, Akili Interactive Labs on Monday reported that its late-stage study of a video game designed to treat kids with ADHD met its primary goal, a big step in the Boston company’s quest to get approval for what it hopes will be the first prescription video game. In a study of 348 children between the ages of 8 and 12 diagnosed with ADHD, those who played Akili’s action-packed game on a tablet over four weeks saw statistically significant improvements on metrics of attention and inhibitory control, compared to children who were given a different action-driven video game designed as a placebo. The company plans next year to file for approval with the Food and Drug Administration. “We are directly targeting the key neurological pathways that control attention and impulsivity,” said Akili CEO Eddie Martucci. The study “was meant to be a strong objective test to ask: Is it the targeting we do in the brain or is it general engagement with a treatment that’s exciting and interesting … that actually leads to these targeted effects? And so I think we clearly see that it’s the targeted algorithms that we have.” Despite the positive results, questions about the product remain. For instance, parents and physicians subjectively perceived about the same amount of improvement in children’s behavior whether they were playing the placebo game or the therapeutic game. And if Akili can get approval, it remains to be seen whether clinicians and insurers will embrace its product. The video game has not been tested head-to-head against ADHD medications or psychotherapy to see if it’s equally effective. © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: ADHD; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 24396 - Posted: 12.06.2017

Laura Sanders When you lock eyes with a baby, it’s hard to look away. For one thing, babies are fun to look at. They’re so tiny and cute and interesting. For another, babies love to stare back. I remember my babies staring at me so hard, with their eyebrows raised and unblinking eyes wide open. They would have killed in a staring contest. This mutual adoration of staring may be for a good reason. When a baby and an adult make eye contact, their brain waves fall in sync, too, a new study finds. And those shared patterns of brain activity may actually pave the way for better communication between baby and adult: Babies make more sweet, little sounds when their eyes are locked onto an adult who is looking back. The scientists report the results online November 28 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Psychologist Victoria Leong of the University of Cambridge and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and colleagues invited infants into the lab for two experiments. In the first, the team outfitted 17 8-month-old babies with EEG caps, headwear covered with electrodes that measure the collective behavior of nerve cells across the brain. The infants watched a video in which an experimenter, also outfitted in an EEG cap, sung a nursery rhyme while looking either straight ahead at the baby, at the baby but with her head turned at a 20-degree angle, or away from the baby and with her head turned at a 20-degree angle. When the researcher looked at the baby (either facing the baby or with her head slightly turned), the babies’ brains responded, showing activity patterns that started to closely resemble those of the researcher. © Society for Science and the Public

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Attention
Link ID: 24395 - Posted: 12.06.2017

By John Horgan What’s the difference between science and philosophy? Scientists address questions that can in principle be answered by means of objective, empirical investigation. Philosophers wrestle with questions that cannot be empirically resolved and hence remain matters of taste, not truth. Here is a classic philosophical question: What creatures and/or things are capable of consciousness? That is, who (and “who” is the right term, even if you’re talking about a jellyfish or sexbot) belongs to the Consciousness Club? This question animated “Animal Consciousness,” a conference I attended at New York University last month. It should have been called “Animal Consciousness?” or “Animal ‘Consciousness’” to reflect the uncertainty pervading the two-day meeting. Speakers disagreed over when and how consciousness evolved and what is required for it to occur. A nervous system? Brain? Complex responses to the environment? The ability to learn and adapt to new circumstances? And if we suspect that something is sentient, and hence capable of suffering, should we grant it rights? In my last post, I focused on the debate over whether fish can suffer. Scholars also considered the sentience of dogs, lampreys, wasps, spiders, crustaceans and other species. Speakers presented evidence that creatures quite unlike us are capable of complex cognition. Biologist Andrew Barron argued that bees, in spite of their minuscule brains, are not mindless automatons. Their capacity for learning rivals that of mammals. When harmed, bees stop eating and foraging as if they were depressed. Bees, Barron concludes, are conscious. © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Consciousness; Evolution
Link ID: 24394 - Posted: 12.05.2017

Anne Churchland Decisions span a vast range of complexity. There are really simple ones: Do I want an apple or a piece of cake with my lunch? Then there are much more complicated ones: Which car should I buy, or which career should I choose? Neuroscientists like me have identified some of the individual parts of the brain that contribute to making decisions like these. Different areas process sounds, sights or pertinent prior knowledge. But understanding how these individual players work together as a team is still a challenge, not only in understanding decision-making, but for the whole field of neuroscience. Part of the reason is that until now, neuroscience has operated in a traditional science research model: Individual labs work on their own, usually focusing on one or a few brain areas. That makes it challenging for any researcher to interpret data collected by another lab, because we all have slight differences in how we run experiments. Neuroscientists who study decision-making set up all kinds of different games for animals to play, for example, and we collect data on what goes on in the brain when the animal makes a move. When everyone has a different experimental setup and methodology, we can’t determine whether the results from another lab are a clue about something interesting that’s actually going on in the brain or merely a byproduct of equipment differences. © 2010–2017, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Attention
Link ID: 24392 - Posted: 12.05.2017

By PERRI KLASS, M.D. We can date our pregnancies by what we were told was safe that later turned out to be more problematic. My own mother often told me lovingly (and laughingly) of the understanding doctor who advised her to drink rum every night when she was pregnant with me and had trouble falling asleep. And we know that on balance, it’s a good thing that science and epidemiology march forward, with more careful and more thorough investigations of the possible effects of exposures during fetal development and their complex long-term implications. But it’s disconcerting to learn that something you did, or something you took, in all good faith, following all the best recommendations, may be part of a more complicated story. And the researchers who have been examining the possible effects of fairly extensive acetaminophen use during pregnancy are very well aware that these are complex issues to communicate to women who have been pregnant in the past, who are pregnant right now or who become pregnant in the future. Acetaminophen, found in Tylenol and many other over-the-counter products, has been the drug recommended for pregnant women with fever or pain or inflammatory conditions certainly as far back as my own pregnancies in the 1980s and ‘90s. But in recent years there have been concerns raised about possible effects of heavy use of acetaminophen on the brain of the developing fetus. A Danish epidemiological study published in 2014 found an association between prenatal acetaminophen use during pregnancy and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, especially if the acetaminophen use was more frequent. Zeyan Liew, a postdoctoral scholar in the department of epidemiology at the U.C.L.A. Fielding School of Public Health, who was the first author on the 2014 article, said it was challenging for researchers to look at effects that show up later in the child’s life. “With a lot of drug safety research in pregnancy, they only look into birth outcomes or congenital malformations,” Dr. Liew said. “It’s very difficult to conduct a longitudinal study and examine outcomes like neurobehavioral disorders.” © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: ADHD; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 24389 - Posted: 12.04.2017

Marcelo Gleiser Last week, my 13.7 co-blogger Tania Lombrozo reported on a study she developed with graduate student Sara Gottlieb on whether science can explain the human mind. As Tania wrote, this was a survey-based study asking the participants "whether they thought it was possible for science to one day fully explain various aspects of the human mind, from depth perception and memory loss to spirituality and romantic love." On average, the study found, people judged that certain mental phenomena — such as depth perception or the sense of touch — to be "much more amenable to scientific explanation than others — such as feeling pride or experiencing love at first sight." According to the participants, the dividing line separating what science can and cannot explain seems to be the perception that some mental phenomena, for example, religious devotion and complex decision-making, "involved an internal experience accessible through introspection" that distinguishes us from other animals that share with us sensorial experiences, such as seeing and hearing. As Tania remarked, these findings "don't tell us what science can or can't explain. They tell us about the beliefs about what science can and can't explain." The question, then, is: "What do people think explains the human mind, if not science?" This is an interesting point that merits further discussion. Is the mind explainable? © 2017 npr

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 24379 - Posted: 11.30.2017

By JAMES GORMAN One of the biggest problems in studying animal communication is figuring out whether the animals know what they are doing. A bird may screech and another bird may understand that the screech is a response to danger. But that doesn’t prove the screecher intended to warn others. It might have been a predictable but involuntary response to something scary, like a scream at a horror movie. So scientists spend a lot of time testing animals in ingenious ways to figure out what might be going on. Three scientists testing wild chimpanzees in Uganda reported Wednesday in the journal Science Advances that chimpanzees can do something that previously had only been known in human beings. They change the way they are communicating to take into account what their audience knows. Humans do this all the time. To a fellow baseball fan you might say, “So, there’s a runner on third, one out, bottom of the ninth, and McAfee hits a sac fly.” To someone from another planet, you might say, “There was a really exciting moment in a sporting event I was attending last night.” Or you might just forget it. Catherine Crockford and Roman M. Wittig of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, and Klaus Zuberbühler of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland were studying wild chimpanzees in Uganda, so the subject of their communication was snakes, not baseball. When a chimp saw a realistic model of a snake, the animal would make more sounds — called hoos — and make a greater effort to show where the snake was if it seemed that other chimps in the area were unaware of the danger. If it seemed other chimps already knew about the snake, it would make fewer calls and stay a shorter time at the danger. To run the experiment, the researchers put a model snake on a path chimpanzees used. When a chimp came along, before it reached the snake, they would play two different chimp calls — either a “rest hoo” or several “alert hoos.” The rest hoo would be made by a chimp that was resting, not aware of any danger. The alert hoos would indicate the chimp who made it had seen something dangerous, like a snake. So the chimp on the trail would know either that its neighbors were clueless or aware of danger. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Consciousness; Evolution
Link ID: 24333 - Posted: 11.16.2017

Mariah Quintanilla Emma Watson, Jake Gyllenhaal, journalist Fiona Bruce and Barack Obama all walk into a sheep pen. No, this isn’t the beginning of a baaa-d joke. By training sheep using pictures of these celebrities, researchers from the University of Cambridge discovered that the animals are able to recognize familiar faces from 2-D images. Given a choice, the sheep picked the familiar celebrity’s face over an unfamiliar face the majority of the time, the researchers report November 8 in Royal Society Open Science. Even when a celeb’s face was slightly tilted rather than face-on, the sheep still picked the image more often than not. That means the sheep were not just memorizing images, demonstrating for the first time that sheep have advanced face-recognition capabilities similar to those of humans and other primates, say neurobiologist Jennifer Morton and her colleagues. Sheep have been known to pick out pictures of individuals in their flock, and even familiar handlers (SN: 10/6/12, p. 20). But it’s been unclear whether the skill was real recognition or simple memorization. Sheep now join other animals, including horses, dogs, rhesus macaques and mockingbirds, that are able to distinguish between individuals of other species. Over a series of four training sessions, the sheep’s ability to choose a familiar face, represented by one of the four celebrities, over a completely unfamiliar face improved. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017.

Keyword: Attention; Evolution
Link ID: 24306 - Posted: 11.08.2017

Jon Hamilton When people don't get enough sleep, certain brain cells literally slow down. A study that recorded directly from neurons in the brains of 12 people found that sleep deprivation causes the bursts of electrical activity that brain cells use to communicate to become slower and weaker, a team reports online Monday in Nature Medicine. The finding could help explain why a lack of sleep impairs a range of mental functions, says Dr. Itzhak Fried, an author of the study and a professor of neurosurgery at the University of California, Los Angeles. "You can imagine driving a car and suddenly somebody jumps in front of the car at night," Fried says. "If you are sleep-deprived, your cells are going to react in a different way than in your normal state." The finding comes from an unusual study of patients being evaluated for surgery to correct severe epilepsy. As part of the evaluation, doctors place wires in the brain to find out where a patient's seizures are starting. That allows Fried and a team of scientists to monitor hundreds of individual brain cells, often for days. And because patients with epilepsy are frequently kept awake in order to provoke a seizure, the scientists had an ideal way to study the effects of sleep deprivation. In the study, all the patients agreed to categorize images of faces, places and animals. Each image caused cells in areas of the brain involved in perception to produce distinctive patterns of electrical activity. "These are the very neurons [that] are responsible for the way you process the world in front of you," Fried says. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Sleep; Attention
Link ID: 24301 - Posted: 11.07.2017

BC's Hogan twins, featured in the documentary Inseparable, are unique in the world. Joined at the head, their brains are connected by a thalamic bridge which gives them neurological capabilities that researchers are only now beginning to understand. Still, they are like other Canadian ten-year-olds; they attend school, have a favourite pet and are part of a large, loving family determined to live each day to the fullest. Here are a few highlights: Craniopagus twins, joined at the head, are a rarity — one in 2.5 million. The vast majority do not survive 24 hours. Krista and Tatiana Hogan were born October 25, 2006, in Vancouver, B.C. A CT scan of the twins showed they could never be separated due to the risk of serious injury or death. The structure of the twins’ brains makes them unique in the world. Their brains are connected by a thalamic bridge, connecting the thalamus of one with that of the other. The thalamus acts like a switchboard relaying sensory and motor signals and regulating consciousness. Krista and Tatiana Hogan share the senses of touch and taste and even control one another’s limbs. Tatiana can see out of both of Krista’s eyes, while Krista can only see out of one of Tatiana’s. Tatiana controls three arms and a leg, while Krista controls three legs and an arm. They can also switch to self-control of their limbs. The twins say they know one another’s thoughts without having to speak. “Talking in our heads” is how they describe it. The girls are diabetic and have epilepsy. They take a regimen of pills, blood tests and need daily insulin injections. The twins go to a regular school and as of September 2017 have started Grade 6. Though academically delayed, they are learning to read, write and do arithmetic. ©2017 CBC/Radio-Canada.

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Consciousness
Link ID: 24288 - Posted: 11.04.2017

Molecular method reveals neuronal basis of brain states – NIH-funded animal study. NIMH-funded scientists revealed the types of neurons supporting alertness, using a molecular method called MultiMAP in transparent larval zebrafish. Multiple types of neurons communicate by secreting the same major chemical messengers: serotonin (red), dopamine and noradrenalin (yellow) and acetylcholine (cyan). Using a molecular method likely to become widely adopted by the field, researchers supported by the National Institutes of Health have discovered brain circuitry essential for alertness, or vigilance – and for brain states more generally. Strikingly, the same cell types and circuits are engaged during alertness in zebra fish and mice, species whose evolutionary forebears parted ways hundreds of millions of years ago. This suggests that the human brain is likely similarly wired for this state critical to survival. “Vigilance gone awry marks states such as mania and those seen in post-traumatic stress disorder and depression,” explained Joshua Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., director of the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which along with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, co-funded the study. “Gaining familiarity with the molecular players in a behavior – as this new tool promises – may someday lead to clinical interventions targeting dysfunctional brain states.” For the first time, Multi-MAP makes it possible to see which neurons are activated in a behaving animal during a particular brain state – and subsequently molecularly analyze just those neurons to identify the subtypes and circuits involved.

Keyword: Attention; Evolution
Link ID: 24282 - Posted: 11.03.2017

By Helen Thomson Do you find it difficult to spot a face in the crowd? Now we know why: people with face blindness seem to have a missing “hub” of brain connections. The discovery could be used to diagnose children with the condition, and teach them new ways to identify faces. People with prosopagnosia, which often runs in families, cannot easily tell faces apart. This can have a significant impact on people’s lives. People with the condition rely heavily on voice recognition, clothes, hairstyle and gait to identify people, but can still fail to recognise family and friends. It can lead to social anxiety and depression, and can often go undiagnosed for many years. Face processing isn’t a function of a single brain region, but involves the coordinated activity of several regions. To investigate what might be causing the problem, Galia Avidan at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, and her colleagues scanned the brains of 10 adults who have reported life-long problems with face processing. They also scanned 10 adults without the condition. During the scan, participants were shown sets of images of emotional, neutral, famous and unfamiliar faces. During the task they were asked to press a button when two consecutive images were identical. Some of the images also included buildings, which people with face blindness do not have any trouble identifying – these acted as a control. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 24281 - Posted: 11.03.2017

By JANE E. BRODY After two hourlong sessions focused first on body awareness and then on movement retraining at the Feldenkrais Institute of New York, I understood what it meant to experience an incredible lightness of being. Having, temporarily at least, released the muscle tension that aggravates my back and hip pain, I felt like I was walking on air. I had long refrained from writing about this method of countering pain because I thought it was some sort of New Age gobbledygook with no scientific basis. Boy, was I wrong! The Feldenkrais method is one of several increasingly popular movement techniques, similar to the Alexander technique, that attempt to better integrate the connections between mind and body. By becoming aware of how one’s body interacts with its surroundings and learning how to behave in less stressful ways, it becomes possible to relinquish habitual movement patterns that cause or contribute to chronic pain. The method was developed by Moshe Feldenkrais, an Israeli physicist, mechanical engineer and expert in martial arts, after a knee injury threatened to leave him unable to walk. Relying on his expert knowledge of gravity and the mechanics of motion, he developed exercises to help teach the body easier, more efficient ways to move. I went to the institute at the urging of Cathryn Jakobson Ramin, author of the recently published book “Crooked” that details the nature and results of virtually every current approach to treating back pain, a problem that has plagued me on and off (now mostly on) for decades. Having benefited from Feldenkrais lessons herself, Ms. Ramin had good reason to believe they would help me.

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Attention
Link ID: 24259 - Posted: 10.30.2017

By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS Do brains trump brawn? A remarkable new study of how the human body prioritizes its inner workings found that if you intensely think at the same time as you intensely exercise, your performance in both thinking and moving can worsen. But your muscles’ performance will decline much more than your brain’s will, the study found. The results raise interesting questions about the roles that our body’s wide-ranging abilities may have played in the evolution of humans and also whether a hard workout is the ideal time to be cogitating. Compared to almost all other animals, we humans have disproportionately large brains for our size. Our supersized cranial contents probably provided an advantage during our evolution as a species. Smart creatures presumably could have outwitted predators and outmaneuvered prey, keeping themselves fed, uneaten and winners in the biological sweepstakes to pass on their genes. But most other species eschewed developing similarly outsized brains during evolution, because large brains carry a hefty metabolic cost. Brains are extraordinarily hungry organs, requiring, ounce for ounce, more calories to sustain their operations than almost any other tissue, and these caloric demands rise when the brain is hard at work. Thinking demands considerable bodily fuel. In order to feed and maintain these large brains, early humans’ bodies had to make certain trade-offs, most evolutionary biologists agree. Our digestive systems shrank during evolution, for one thing, since food processing is also metabolically ravenous. But whether a similar trade-off occurred with our muscles has remained in doubt. Muscles potentially provided another route to survival during our species’ early days. With sufficient brawn, animals, including people, could physically overpower prey and sprint from danger. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 24243 - Posted: 10.26.2017

By Jessica Hamzelou Ever realised you have driven yourself home but haven’t really been paying attention? Brain scans have revealed that when your mind wanders, it switches into “autopilot” mode, enabling you to carry on doing tasks quickly, accurately and without conscious thought. Our autopilot mode seems to be run by a set of brain structures called the default mode network (DMN). It was discovered in the 1990s, when researchers noticed that people lying in brain scanners show patterns of brain activity even when they aren’t really doing anything. This research provided the first evidence that our brains are active even when we aren’t consciously putting our minds to work. But what does the DMN do? Several studies have found that it seems to be involved in assessing past events and planning for the future. Others suggest the network is involved in self-awareness – although this has been called into question by findings that rats and newborns appear to have a version of the DMN too. It is unlikely that rats are conscious of themselves in the same way that humans are, says Deniz Vatansever at the University of York, UK. Instead, the DMN must have a more basic function, common to all animals. Vatansever and his colleagues at the University of Cambridge wondered if the network might help us do things without paying much attention, such as tying our shoelaces, or driving along a familiar road. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 24240 - Posted: 10.25.2017

Jon Hamilton When it comes to brain training, some workouts seem to work better than others. A comparison of the two most common training methods scientists use to improve memory and attention found that one was twice as effective as the other. The more effective method also changed brain activity in a part of the brain involved in high-level thinking. But neither method made anyone smarter, says Kara Blacker, the study's lead author and a researcher at The Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine in Bethesda, Md. "Our hypothesis was that training might improve fluid intelligence or IQ," Blacker says. "But that's not what we found." Blacker did the memory research when she was part of a team at Johns Hopkins University and the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. The results were reported in the Journal of Cognitive Enhancement. The team compared two approaches to improving working memory, which acts as a kind of mental workspace where we store information temporarily. "If somebody gives you directions, you have to keep that information in mind long enough to actually execute going to that location," Blacker says. "If someone tells you a phone number, you have to be able to remember it." To test different methods for improving working memory, the team had 136 young adults spend a month training their brains for 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Johns Hopkins University YouTube One group did something called a "complex span" test, which involves remembering the location of an item despite distractions. A second group trained with something called the dual n-back test. Each day they would sit at a computer watching flashing squares appear on a grid and listening to a voice reading letters from the alphabet. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Attention
Link ID: 24231 - Posted: 10.23.2017

Emma Young Every dog owner is familiar with the ‘puppy dog eyes’ expression. As the inner brow lifts, the eyes get bigger and bigger … It’s tempting to interpret this as a plea from a sad dog for a scrap of the family dinner. Now, a small study provides support for the idea that dogs do indeed produce facial expressions to communicate with people — although perhaps just to engage us, rather than to manipulate us. The dogs in the study produced more than twice as many facial expressions (‘puppy dog eyes’ was one of the most common) when a researcher was facing them than when she was turned away. But it didn't seem to matter whether she also held food. Earlier studies have shown that seeing food is more exciting to a dog than is social contact with a silent person, so something other than the dogs’ emotional state must have been responsible for the effect. “Dogs make their eyes more attractive to us while we are watching, not just when we are in the vicinity or in response to food,” says Brian Hare, a cognitive neuroscientist and co-director of the Duke Canine Cognition Center at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. “This is fantastic work.” The study, published on 19 October in Scientific Reports1, adds to a growing body of work that shows how sensitive dogs are to human attention. It also provides the first evidence in a non-primate species that facial expressions can be used actively to communicate, says psychologist Juliane Kaminski at the Dog Cognition Centre at the University of Portsmouth, UK, who led the research. Researchers had previously assumed that such expressions are an involuntary reflection of an animal’s emotional state. © 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited,

Keyword: Emotions; Attention
Link ID: 24224 - Posted: 10.20.2017