Chapter 17. Learning and Memory

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/ By Caroline Williams I‘m not the kind of girl who jumps into a strange man’s car and hopes for the best. Especially when a quick Google stalk reveals him to be recovering from an addiction to methamphetamine. But having been assured by someone I trust that he was “one of the good guys,” I accepted his offer of a ride to the airport and … hoped for the best. WHAT I LEFT OUT is a recurring feature in which book authors are invited to share anecdotes and narratives that, for whatever reason, did not make it into their final manuscripts. In this installment, Caroline Williams shares a story that was left out of “My Plastic Brain: One Woman’s Yearlong Journey to Discover if Science Can Improve Her Mind,” published by Prometheus Books. Some books make it sound so easy: Change the way you think, and hey presto, you can become a different person. In hindsight I’m glad I did. After many months talking to scientists about brain change, it was this journey that prompted me to think more deeply about what that actually meant. I was in Lawrence, Kansas, researching a book that I hoped would apply the latest science to make real, measurable, and lasting changes to my brain. I wanted to learn, among other things, how to concentrate better and to overcome my irrational anxieties about life. I was in Kansas to try to boost my powers of creativity. Copyright 2018 Undark

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Depression
Link ID: 25349 - Posted: 08.18.2018

By Neuroskeptic On this blog I usually focus on academic, scientific neuroscience. However, there is a big world outside the laboratory and, in the real world, the concepts of neuroscience are being used (and abused) in ways that would make any honest neuroscientist blush. In this post I’m going to focus on three recent examples of neuro-products: commercial products that are promoted as having some kind of neuroscience-based benefit. 1) Neuro Connect Golf Bands We’ll start out with a silly one. This product, full name Neuro Connect™ INFUSED Shaft Bands, costs $150 for a pack of ten bands. You’re supposed to place one of these bands just below the grip on your golf clubs. This will improve your golf swing by providing a ‘subtle energy connection’ between your club and your brain. Here’s how it works: “A field emitted by the shaft bands intersects with the central nervous system when the club is swung around the body. Swinging with an INFUSED shaft band immediately enhances the function of nerve receptors in muscles and joints.” Now, generally speaking, when an “energy field” interacts with your nerves, the result is rather painful, but Neuro Connect uses a special “subtle energy pattern” which has no known negative effects. I suspect the field has no positive effects either, and that it doesn’t exist. On their FAQ, under the heading of “Do you have any scientific proof the devices work?”, Neuro Connect admit that “credible peer-reviewed studies take years to complete” which I take as a roundabout way of saying “no”.

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 25336 - Posted: 08.16.2018

By Jane E. Brody Attention all you happy high school graduates about to go off to college, as well as the many others returning for another year of higher education. Grandsons Stefan and Tomas, that includes you. Whatever you may think can get in the way of a successful college experience, chances are you won’t think of one of the most important factors: how long and how well you sleep. And not just on weekends, but every day, Monday through Sunday. Studies have shown that sleep quantity and sleep quality equal or outrank such popular campus concerns as alcohol and drug use in predicting student grades and a student’s chances of graduating. Although in one survey 60 percent of students said they wanted information from their colleges on how to manage sleep problems, few institutions of higher learning do anything to counter the devastating effects of sleep deprivation on academic success and physical and emotional well-being. Some, in fact, do just the opposite, for example, providing 24-hour library hours that encourage students to pull all-nighters. (I did that only once, to study for an exam in freshman year, and fell asleep in the middle of the test. Lesson well learned!) An all-nighter may help if all you have to do is memorize a list, but if you have to do something complex with the information, you’ll do worse by staying up all night, J. Roxanne Prichard, an expert on college sleep issues, told me. After being awake 16 hours in a row, brain function starts to decline, and after 20 hours awake, you perform as if legally drunk, she said. Many college-bound kids start out with dreadful sleep habits that are likely to get worse once the rigorous demands of college courses and competing social and athletic activities kick in. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Sleep; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 25324 - Posted: 08.13.2018

Kelsey Tyssowski The first dance at my wedding lasted exactly four minutes and 52 seconds, but I’ll probably remember it for decades. Neuroscientists still don’t entirely understand this: How was my brain able to translate this less-than-five-minute experience into a lifelong memory? Part of the puzzle is that there’s a gap between experience and memory: our experiences are fleeting, but it takes hours to form a long-term memory. In recent work published in the journal Neuron, my colleagues and I figured out how the brain keeps temporary molecular records of transient experiences. Our finding not only helps to explain how the brain bridges the gap between experience and memory. It also allows us to read the brain’s short-term records, raising the possibility that we may one day be able to infer a person’s, or at least a laboratory mouse’s, past experience – what they saw, thought, felt – just by looking at the molecules in their brain. To uncover how the brain keeps track of an animal’s experience, we started by asking how the brain records its electrical activity. Every experience you have, from chatting with a friend to smelling french fries, corresponds to its own unique pattern of electrical activity in the nervous system and brain. These activity patterns are defined by which neurons are active and in what way they’re active. For example, say you’re at the gym lifting weights. Which neurons are active is fairly straightforward: If you’re lifting with your right arm, different neurons will be active than if you’re lifting with your left arm because different neurons are connected to the muscles of each arm. © 2010–2018, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 25307 - Posted: 08.08.2018

By Matthew Hutson For millions who can’t hear, lip reading offers a window into conversations that would be lost without it. But the practice is hard—and the results are often inaccurate (as you can see in these Bad Lip Reading videos). Now, researchers are reporting a new artificial intelligence (AI) program that outperformed professional lip readers and the best AI to date, with just half the error rate of the previous best algorithm. If perfected and integrated into smart devices, the approach could put lip reading in the palm of everyone’s hands. “It’s a fantastic piece of work,” says Helen Bear, a computer scientist at Queen Mary University of London who was not involved with the project. Writing computer code that can read lips is maddeningly difficult. So in the new study scientists turned to a form of AI called machine learning, in which computers learn from data. They fed their system thousands of hours of videos along with transcripts, and had the computer solve the task for itself. The researchers started with 140,000 hours of YouTube videos of people talking in diverse situations. Then, they designed a program that created clips a few seconds long with the mouth movement for each phoneme, or word sound, annotated. The program filtered out non-English speech, nonspeaking faces, low-quality video, and video that wasn’t shot straight ahead. Then, they cropped the videos around the mouth. That yielded nearly 4000 hours of footage, including more than 127,000 English words. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Hearing; Robotics
Link ID: 25280 - Posted: 08.01.2018

By Darold A. Treffert Savant syndrome comes in different forms. In congenital savant syndrome the extraordinary savant ability surfaces in early childhood. In acquired savant syndrome astonishing new abilities, typically in music, art or mathematics, appear unexpectedly in ordinary persons after a head injury, stroke or other central nervous system (CNS) incident where no such abilities or interests were present pre-incident. But in sudden savant syndrome an ordinary person with no such prior interest or ability and no precipitating injury or other CNS incident has an unanticipated, spontaneous epiphanylike moment where the rules and intricacies of music, art or mathematics, for example, are experienced and revealed, producing almost instantaneous giftedness and ability in the affected area of skill sets. Because there is no underlying disability such as that which occurs in congenital or acquired savant syndromes, technically sudden savant syndrome would be better termed sudden genius A 28-year-old gentleman from Israel, K. A., sent his description of his epiphany moment. He was in a mall where there was a piano. Whereas he could play simple popular songs from rote memory before, “suddenly at age 28 after what I can best describe as a ‘just getting it moment,’ it all seemed so simple. I suddenly was playing like a well-educated pianist.” His friends were astonished as he played and suddenly understood music in an entirely intricate way. “I suddenly realized what the major scale and minor scale were, what their chords were and where to put my fingers in order to play certain parts of the scale. I was instantly able to recognize harmonies of the scales in songs I knew as well as the ability to play melody by interval recognition.” He began to search the internet for information on music theory and to his amazement “most of what they had to teach I already knew, which baffled me as to how could I know something I had never studied." © 2018 Scientific American

Keyword: Attention; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 25255 - Posted: 07.26.2018

By Jocelyn Kaiser Basic brain and behavioral researchers will get more than a year to comply with a new U.S. policy that will treat many of their studies as clinical trials. The announcement from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) appears to defuse, for now, a yearlong controversy over whether basic research on humans should follow the same rules as studies testing drugs. Although research groups had hoped NIH would drop its plans to tag basic studies with humans as trials, they say they’re relieved they get more time to prepare and give the agency input. “It’s a positive step forward,” says Paula Skedsvold, executive director of the Federation of Associations in Behavioral & Brain Sciences in Washington, D.C. At issue is a recently revised definition of a clinical trial along with a set of rules in effect since January that are meant to increase the rigor and transparency of NIH-funded clinical trials. About a year ago, basic scientists who study human cognition—for example, using brain imaging with healthy volunteers—were alarmed to realize many of these studies fit the new clinical trial definition. Researchers protested that many requirements, such as registering and reporting results in the federal database, made no sense for studies that weren’t testing a treatment and would confuse the public. NIH then issued a set of case studies explaining that only some basic studies would fall under the trials definition. But concerns remained about confusing criteria and burdensome new paperwork. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Attention; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 25248 - Posted: 07.25.2018

Carl Zimmer In the largest genetics study ever published in a scientific journal, an international team of scientists on Monday identified more than a thousand variations in human genes that influence how long people stay in school. Educational attainment has attracted great interest from researchers in recent years, because it is linked to many other aspects of people’s lives, including their income as adults, overall health and even life span. The newly discovered gene variants account for just a fraction of the differences in education observed between groups of people. Environmental influences, which may include family wealth or parental education, together play a bigger role. Still, scientists have long known that genetic makeup explains some of the differences in time spent in school. Their hope is that the data can be used to gain a better understanding of what educators must do to keep children in school longer. With a fuller understanding of the influences exerted by genes, scientists think they will be able to better measure what happens when they try to improve a child’s learning environment. The new study, published in the journal Nature Genetics, finds that many of the genetic variations implicated in educational attainment are involved in how neurons communicate in the brain. A striking number are involved in relaying signals out of neurons and into neighboring ones through connections called synapses. The findings are based on genetic sequencing of more than 1.1 million people. But the subjects were all white people of European descent. In order to maximize the odds of discovering genetic links, the scientists say they needed a very large, homogeneous sample. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Genes & Behavior; Intelligence
Link ID: 25244 - Posted: 07.24.2018

By Sara Chodosh Think back to your earliest memory. What age were you in it? If its under two, you're not alone. In a recent survey, 40 percent of people say they remember events earlier than age two. But here's the problem: Most memory researchers argue that its essentially impossible to remember anything before those terrible twos. So what gives? Understanding how and why our brains form memories in the first place might convince you that if you're in that 40 percent, perhaps your memory is a fictional one after all. That number comes courtesy of a recent study out this week in the journal Psychological Science, which sought to understand when most people have their first memories and what they’re about. . The researchers asked 6,641 U.K. residents to describe in writing their first recollection and the age they were in that memory. They then used that data to figure out how many of these first impressions were real. Aside from interviewing friends and family (who might also have false memories), it’s difficult to determine whether a memory is real or not. Instead, the psychologists operated on the assumption—albeit an assumption backed by a lot of research—that people can’t remember anything before about age two. Based on that cutoff, 38.6 percent of the first memories in this dataset were fictional. Most of those were dated to somewhere between ages one and two, but 893 people claimed they could remember being less than one year old. Why are researchers so quick to dismiss those first couple years of life thoughts? There’s a lot of research that suggests it’s all made up. It might seem dismissive to assume that these memories are false, but memory researchers have good reason to conclude that people aren’t truly remembering being a baby. Research on infantile amnesia, the official term for the phenomenon in which we forget things that happened to us as babies and young children, has shown that it’s close to impossible to retain declarative memories at that young age. Babies can obviously remember other, nondeclarative things because they learn how to walk and talk—both of those are reliant on retaining some kind of information—but a declarative memory happens in a separate part of the brain. Copyright © 2018 Popular Science.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Development of the Brain
Link ID: 25225 - Posted: 07.19.2018

By Matthew Hutson Bird populations are plummeting, thanks to logging, agriculture, and climate change. Scientists keep track of species by recording their calls, but even the best computer programs can’t reliably distinguish bird calls from other sounds. Now, thanks to a bit of crowdsourcing and a lot of artificial intelligence (AI), researchers say they have something to crow about. AI algorithms can be as finicky as finches, often requiring manual calibration and retraining for each new location or species. So an interdisciplinary group of researchers launched the Bird Audio Detection challenge, which released hours of audio from environmental monitoring stations around Chernobyl, Ukraine, which they happened to have access to, as well as crowdsourced recordings, some of which came from an app called Warblr. Humans labeled each 10-second clip as containing a bird call or not. Using so-called machine learning, in which computers learn from data, 30 teams trained their AIs on a set of the recordings for which labels were provided and then tested them on recordings for which they were not. Most relied on neural networks, a type of AI inspired by the brain that connects many small computing elements akin to neurons. At the end of the monthlong contest, the best algorithm scored 89 out of 100 on a statistical measure of performance called AUC. A higher number, in this case, indicates the algorithm managed to avoid labeling nonbird sounds as bird sounds (humans, insects, or rain often threw them off) and avoid missing real bird sounds (usually because of faint recordings), the organizers report in a paper uploaded to the preprint server arXiv. The best previous algorithm they tested had an AUC score of 79. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Scienc

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Animal Communication
Link ID: 25223 - Posted: 07.19.2018

By Niraj Chokshi Six months after a White House physician told reporters that President Trump had aced a well-regarded test of cognitive impairment, a group of doctors is warning that the exam may have been compromised by the resulting news coverage, which revealed some of its questions. Until it’s clear what effect the exposure has had on the effectiveness of the test, known as the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, or MoCA, doctors should consider using alternatives, said Dr. Hourmazd Haghbayan, an internist at the University of Toronto. “When I saw that this test was being disseminated to the mass population, and in some cases individuals were being invited to take it online, I wondered whether there would be an effect,” Dr. Haghbayan and colleagues wrote in a letter published Monday in the medical journal JAMA Neurology. The group collected data to show how widely the test’s questions were publicized after Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, a rear admiral in the Navy and then the White House physician, mentioned it at a news conference in January. Dr. Jackson, who later withdrew as nominee for veterans affairs secretary under a cloud of scandal, told reporters at the time that Mr. Trump was in “excellent” overall health and that he had landed a perfect MoCA score. “The fact that the president got 30 out of 30 on that exam, I think that there’s no indication whatsoever that he has any cognitive issues,” Dr. Jackson said. Mr. Trump has long faced questions about his mental stability and his fitness for office. He has occasionally responded to them directly, as he did in early January when he described himself on Twitter as “a very stable genius.” Using a Google News search, the researchers found 190 articles published in the days after the announcement that mentioned MoCA in reference to the president. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Alzheimers
Link ID: 25216 - Posted: 07.17.2018

By Kate Sheridan On Sunday, neuroscientist Brenda Milner turns 100, and she plans to celebrate in two ways: the World Cup finals, followed by a party. “I tipped France from the beginning of the tournament to win, but I must say that Croatia has really impressed me,” she told STAT recently. In her 100 years of life, our understanding of the nervous system has changed dramatically. For example, only a few decades before Milner was born, some scientists still believed the nervous system was an uninterrupted network throughout the body. Now we know it isn’t, and drugs are created specifically to manipulate the movement of chemicals across the gaps between neurons. Milner’s work in memory and language processing has contributed mightily to that shift in understanding, and her decades-long career has made her both witness and player to the growth of neuroscience as a field. Yet as she journeyed from Cambridge University to the British defense ministry during World War II to the Montreal Neurological Institute, perhaps no encounter has shaped her career — and the study of human cognition — as meeting a man in the late 1950’s known as Patient H.M. H.M. was a young man who had epilepsy — and until his death in 2008, very few people knew his real name. A few years before Milner met him, surgeons removed parts of his brain, including his hippocampus, where doctors then thought his seizures began. © 2018 STAT

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 25208 - Posted: 07.16.2018

By Sarah Gibbens Can you remember how you felt the first time you rode a bike? What about your first kiss—or your first heartbreak? Memorable moments and the emotions they trigger can resonate in our minds for decades, accumulating and powerfully shaping who we are as individuals. But for those who experience severe trauma, such memories can be haunting, and brutally painful memories can leave people with life-altering mental conditions.  So, what if traumatic memories didn't have to cause so much pain? As our understanding of the human brain evolves, various groups of neuroscientists are inching closer to techniques that manipulate memory to treat conditions such as PTSD or Alzheimer’s.  For now, the work is mainly happening in other animals, such as mice. But as these initial trials show continued success, scientists are looking toward the potential for tests in people, while grappling with the ethical implications of what it means to change a fundamental piece of someone’s identity. Feasibly, we could alter human memory in the not too distant future—but does that mean we should? Neuroscientists usually define a singular memory as an engram—a physical change in brain tissue associated with a particular recollection. Recently, brain scans revealed that an engram isn't isolated to one region of the brain and instead manifests as a colorful splattering across the neural tissue.

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 25206 - Posted: 07.14.2018

By Esther Landhuis From savoring a piece of cake to hugging a friend, many of life’s pleasures trigger a similar reaction in the brain—a surge of chemicals that tell the body “that was good, do it again.” Research published Friday in Nature Communications suggests this feel-good circuit may do much more. Using lab tools to activate that reward circuit in mice, scientists discovered that its chemical signals reach the immune system, empowering a subset of bone marrow cells to slow the growth of tumors. The findings have yet to be confirmed in humans. But given the reward system is linked with positive emotions, the research offers a physiological mechanism for how a person’s psychological state could help to stall cancer progression. Plenty of research measures the health impact of stress and negative feelings, says Erica Sloan, a biologist at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. But the potential for immune activity to shift in response to positive influences through the brain’s reward center—“that’s what I think is really exciting,” says Sloan, who studies neural-immune activity in cancer but was not involved in the present study. The notion that the brain talks to the immune system isn’t new. One of the most compelling examples is the placebo effect—the centuries-old observation that sugar pills can work as well as evidence-based medicine in some people. For years scientists have tried to unravel the biology behind this mysterious phenomenon. © 2018 Scientific American

Keyword: Neuroimmunology; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 25205 - Posted: 07.14.2018

By Erica Goode Suppose that, seeking a fun evening out, you pay $175 for a ticket to a new Broadway musical. Seated in the balcony, you quickly realize that the acting is bad, the sets are ugly and no one, you suspect, will go home humming the melodies. Do you head out the door at the intermission, or stick it out for the duration? Studies of human decision-making suggest that most people will stay put, even though money spent in the past logically should have no bearing on the choice. This “sunk cost fallacy,” as economists call it, is one of many ways that humans allow emotions to affect their choices, sometimes to their own detriment. But the tendency to factor past investments into decision-making is apparently not limited to Homo sapiens. In a study published on Thursday in the journal Science, investigators at the University of Minnesota reported that mice and rats were just as likely as humans to be influenced by sunk costs. The more time they invested in waiting for a reward — in the case of the rodents, flavored pellets; in the case of the humans, entertaining videos — the less likely they were to quit the pursuit before the delay ended. “Whatever is going on in the humans is also going on in the nonhuman animals,” said A. David Redish, a professor of neuroscience at the University of Minnesota and an author of the study. This cross-species consistency, he and others said, suggested that in some decision-making situations, taking account of how much has already been invested might pay off. “Evolution by natural selection would not promote any behavior unless it had some — perhaps obscure — net overall benefit,” said Alex Kacelnik, a professor of behavioral ecology at Oxford, who praised the new study as “rigorous” in its methodology and “well designed.” © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Attention; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 25203 - Posted: 07.13.2018

Sukanya Charuchandra Like humans, mice experience a period of amnesia when they lose their memories of experiences from infancy. Now, researchers report that these memories are not entirely forgotten by mice but simply difficult to recollect—and can be brought out of storage. These findings were published today (July 5) in Current Biology. According to this study, early life experiences “leave very long-lasting traces even if the memories are not expressed,” writes Cristina Alberini, who studies memory at New York University’s Center for Neural Science and was not involved in the study, in an email to The Scientist. Having encountered patients who couldn’t remember their early years, Sigmund Freud first coined the term infantile amnesia in the late 19th century. Since then, scientists have tried to understand why humans, nonhuman primates, and rodents alike experience this phenomenon. Whether these lost memories were due to improper storage or inefficient recollection was unknown. In this latest study, Paul Frankland, a psychologist at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, and his colleagues sought to establish which of these possibilities was operating in mice. To first induce memory formation in the animals, the scientists placed the mice in a box and gave them a mild foot shock. While young adult mice retained this memory and froze when put in the box a second time, infant mice forgot this fear-related memory after a day and behaved normally when they encountered the box again. © 1986 - 2018 The Scientist.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Emotions
Link ID: 25182 - Posted: 07.07.2018

By Karen Weintraub New Caledonian crows are known for their toolmaking, but Alex Taylor and his colleagues wanted to understand just how advanced they could be. Crows from New Caledonia, an island in the South Pacific, can break off pieces of a branch to form a hook, using it to pull a grub out of a log, for instance. Once, in captivity, when a New Caledonian male crow had taken all the available hooks, its mate Betty took a straight piece of wire and bent it to make one. “They are head and shoulders above almost every other avian subjects” at toolmaking, said Irene Pepperberg, an avian cognition expert and research associate in Harvard University’s department of psychology. “These crows are just amazing.” Dr. Taylor, a researcher at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, and several European colleagues wondered how the crows, without an ability to talk and showing no evidence of mimicry, might learn such sophisticated toolmaking. Perhaps, the scientists hypothesized in a new paper published Thursday in Scientific Reports, they used “mental template matching,” where they formed an image in their heads of tools they’d seen used by others and then copied it. “Could they look at a tool and just based on mental image of the tool — can they recreate that tool design?” Dr. Taylor said. “That’s what we set out to test, and that’s what our results show.” In a series of steps, the researchers taught the birds to feed pieces of paper into a mock vending machine to earn food rewards. The scientists chose a task that was similar enough to something the animals do in the wild — while also brand new. The birds had never seen card stock before, but learned how to rip it into big or little shapes after being shown they would get a reward for the appropriate size. The template used to show the birds the right size of paper was not available to them when they made their “tools,” yet the crows were able to use their beaks to tear off bits of paper, which they sometimes held between their feet for leverage. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Intelligence; Evolution
Link ID: 25161 - Posted: 06.29.2018

By Erica L. Green A “brain-performance” business backed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos has agreed to stop advertising success rates for children and adults suffering from maladies such as attention deficit disorder, depression and autism after a review found the company could not support the outcomes it was promoting. The company, Neurocore, which has received more than $5 million from Ms. DeVos and her husband, Richard DeVos Jr., to run “brain performance centers” in Michigan and Florida, lost an appeal before an advertising-industry review board, which found that the company’s claims of curbing and curing a range of afflictions without medication were based on mixed research and unscientific internal studies. The National Advertising Review Board, an oversight arm of the advertising industry’s self-regulatory body, announced its decision last week. Neurocore came under scrutiny during Ms. DeVos’s confirmation process, when she valued her stake in it at $5 million to $25 million. Ms. DeVos and her husband were chief investors, and she served on the company’s board of directors for seven years, until her nomination. The New York Times found that the company’s claims of treating disorders for more than 10,000 adults through “proven neurofeedback therapy” had been challenged by medical experts and insurance companies. After being nominated for education secretary, Ms. DeVos resigned from the board, but in an agreement with the Office of Government Ethics, retained her financial interest in Neurocore. The investment raised ethical concerns for Ms. DeVos after the company expressed hope that it could expand and help improve performance for students in schools. Ms. DeVos said she would “not participate personally and substantially in any particular matter” concerning the company. But her family has continued to invest. Among the representatives of the company before the National Advertising Review Board was Jason Mahar, the in-house counsel for Windquest Group, the investment management firm of Ms. DeVos’s husband. Windquest also continues to promote the company on its website as part of its “corporate family.” © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: ADHD; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 25151 - Posted: 06.28.2018

By Lisa Feldman Barrett Jasanoff’s big message in “The Biological Mind” is you are not your brain. Or rather, you are not merely your brain — your body and the broader circumstances of your life also make you who you are. Jasanoff reminds us that the brain is not some mystical machine — it’s a gooey, bloody tangle of cells, dripping with chemicals. But we mythologize brains, creating false boundaries that divorce them from bodies and the outside world, blinding us to the biological nature of the mind. These divisions, Jasanoff contends, are why neuroscience has failed to make a real difference in anyone’s life. Unfortunately, the book’s own divisions between body versus brain, and nature versus nurture, reinforce the very dualisms that Jasanoff indicts. He gives examples of the ways our bodies and the world around us affect our thoughts, feelings and actions, but not how body and world become biologically embedded to constitute a mind. Missing is a discussion of how the workings of your body necessarily and irrevocably shape your brain’s structure and function, and vice versa. The artificial boundary between brain and world also goes largely unmentioned. In real life, the experiences we have from infancy onward impact the brain’s wiring. For example, childhood poverty and adversity fundamentally alter brain development, leaving an indelible mark that increases people’s risk of illness in adulthood. This is fascinating and profound stuff, but it mostly goes unexamined in Jasanoff’s book. Still, “The Biological Mind” is chock-full of fun facts that entertain. And best of all, it makes you think. I found myself debating with Jasanoff in my head as I read — surely a sign of a worthy book. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 25143 - Posted: 06.26.2018

By Victoria Davis Some people can trace their traditions back decades; the swamp sparrow has passed its songs down for more than 1500 years. The findings, published today in Nature Communications, suggest humans are not alone in keeping practices alive for long periods of time. To conduct the study, researchers recorded a collection of songs from 615 adult male swamp sparrows from six densely populated areas across the northeastern United States. They dissected each bird’s song repertoire, identifying only 160 different syllable types within all the recorded sample. Most swamp swallows sang the same tunes, using the same common syllables, but there were a few rare types in each population, just as there are variations in human oral histories over time. Using a statistical method of calculation called approximate Bayesian computation and models that measure the diversity of syllable types present in each population, the scientists were able to calculate how the songs of each male would have changed over time. They also found that all but two of the most common syllables used during their sampling in 2009 were also the most common during an earlier study of the species when recordings were made in the 1970s. Overall, the analysis indicated that the average age of the oldest tune dated back about 1537 years. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Animal Communication; Language
Link ID: 25112 - Posted: 06.21.2018