Chapter 17. Learning and Memory

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Links 1 - 20 of 1824

By Ed Yong On March 25, 2020, Hannah Davis was texting with two friends when she realized that she couldn’t understand one of their messages. In hindsight, that was the first sign that she had COVID-19. It was also her first experience with the phenomenon known as “brain fog,” and the moment when her old life contracted into her current one. She once worked in artificial intelligence and analyzed complex systems without hesitation, but now “runs into a mental wall” when faced with tasks as simple as filling out forms. Her memory, once vivid, feels frayed and fleeting. Former mundanities—buying food, making meals, cleaning up—can be agonizingly difficult. Her inner world—what she calls “the extras of thinking, like daydreaming, making plans, imagining”—is gone. The fog “is so encompassing,” she told me, “it affects every area of my life.” For more than 900 days, while other long-COVID symptoms have waxed and waned, her brain fog has never really lifted. Of long COVID’s many possible symptoms, brain fog “is by far one of the most disabling and destructive,” Emma Ladds, a primary-care specialist from the University of Oxford, told me. It’s also among the most misunderstood. It wasn’t even included in the list of possible COVID symptoms when the coronavirus pandemic first began. But 20 to 30 percent of patients report brain fog three months after their initial infection, as do 65 to 85 percent of the long-haulers who stay sick for much longer. It can afflict people who were never ill enough to need a ventilator—or any hospital care. And it can affect young people in the prime of their mental lives. Long-haulers with brain fog say that it’s like none of the things that people—including many medical professionals—jeeringly compare it to. It is more profound than the clouded thinking that accompanies hangovers, stress, or fatigue. For Davis, it has been distinct from and worse than her experience with ADHD. It is not psychosomatic, and involves real changes to the structure and chemistry of the brain. It is not a mood disorder: “If anyone is saying that this is due to depression and anxiety, they have no basis for that, and data suggest it might be the other direction,” Joanna Hellmuth, a neurologist at UC San Francisco, told me. (c) 2022 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All Rights Reserved.

Keyword: Attention; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28487 - Posted: 09.21.2022

By Erin Garcia de Jesús Human trash can be a cockatoo’s treasure. In Sydney, the birds have learned how to open garbage bins and toss trash around in the streets as they hunt for food scraps. People are now fighting back. Bricks, pool noodles, spikes, shoes and sticks are just some of the tools Sydney residents use to keep sulphur-crested cockatoos (Cacatua galerita) from opening trash bins, researchers report September 12 in Current Biology. The goal is to stop the birds from lifting the lid while the container is upright but still allowing the lid to flop open when a trash bin is tilted to empty its contents. This interspecies battle could be a case of what’s called an innovation arms race, says Barbara Klump, a behavioral ecologist at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Radolfzell, Germany. When cockatoos learn how to flip trash can lids, people change their behavior, using things like bricks to weigh down lids, to protect their trash from being flung about (SN Explores: 10/26/21). “That’s usually a low-level protection and then the cockatoos figure out how to defeat that,” Klump says. That’s when people beef up their efforts, and the cycle continues. Researchers are closely watching this escalation to see what the birds — and humans — do next. With the right method, the cockatoos might fly by and keep hunting for a different target. Or they might learn how to get around it. In the study, Klump and colleagues inspected more than 3,000 bins across four Sydney suburbs where cockatoos invade trash to note whether and how people were protecting their garbage. Observations coupled with an online survey showed that people living on the same street are more likely to use similar deterrents, and those efforts escalate over time. © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2022.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Evolution
Link ID: 28476 - Posted: 09.14.2022

James Brunton Badenoch Monkeypox’s effect on the skin – the disfiguring rashes – and the flu-like symptoms have been well described, but few have investigated the neurological and psychiatric problems the virus might cause. There are historic reports of neurological complications in people infected with the related smallpox virus and in people vaccinated against smallpox, which contains the related vaccinia virus. So my colleagues and I wanted to know whether monkeypox causes similar problems. We looked at all the evidence from before the current monkeypox pandemic of neurological or psychiatric problems in people with a monkeypox infection. The results are published in the journal eClinicalMedicine. A small but noticeable proportion of people (2% to 3%) with monkeypox became very unwell and developed serious neurological problems, including seizure and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain that can cause long-term disability). We also found that confusion occurred in a similar number of people. It’s important to note, though, that these figures are based on a few studies with few participants. Besides the severe and rare brain problems, we found evidence of a broader group of people with monkeypox who had more common neurological symptoms including headache, muscle ache and fatigue. From looking at the studies, it was unclear how severe these symptoms were and how long they lasted. It was also unclear how many people with monkeypox had psychiatric problems - such as anxiety and depression - as few studies looked into it. Of those that did, low mood was frequently reported.. © 2010–2022, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Epilepsy; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28475 - Posted: 09.14.2022

Yasemin Saplakoglu You’re on the vacation of a lifetime in Kenya, traversing the savanna on safari, with the tour guide pointing out elephants to your right and lions to your left. Years later, you walk into a florist’s shop in your hometown and smell something like the flowers on the jackalberry trees that dotted the landscape. When you close your eyes, the store disappears and you’re back in the Land Rover. Inhaling deeply, you smile at the happy memory. Now let’s rewind. You’re on the vacation of a lifetime in Kenya, traversing the savanna on safari, with the tour guide pointing out elephants to your right and lions to your left. From the corner of your eye, you notice a rhino trailing the vehicle. Suddenly, it sprints toward you, and the tour guide is yelling to the driver to hit the gas. With your adrenaline spiking, you think, “This is how I am going to die.” Years later, when you walk into a florist’s shop, the sweet floral scent makes you shudder. “Your brain is essentially associating the smell with positive or negative” feelings, said Hao Li, a postdoctoral researcher at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California. Those feelings aren’t just linked to the memory; they are part of it: The brain assigns an emotional “valence” to information as it encodes it, locking in experiences as good or bad memories. And now we know how the brain does it. As Li and his team reported recently in Nature, the difference between memories that conjure up a smile and those that elicit a shudder is established by a small peptide molecule known as neurotensin. They found that as the brain judges new experiences in the moment, neurons adjust their release of neurotensin, and that shift sends the incoming information down different neural pathways to be encoded as either positive or negative memories. To be able to question whether to approach or to avoid a stimulus or an object, you have to know whether the thing is good or bad. All Rights Reserved © 2022

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Emotions
Link ID: 28471 - Posted: 09.10.2022

By Rebecca Sohn Distinctive bursts of sleeping-brain activity, known as sleep spindles, have long been generally associated with strengthening recently formed memories. But new research has managed to link such surges to specific acts of learning while awake. These electrical flurries, which can be observed as sharp spikes on an electroencephalogram (EEG), tend to happen in early sleep stages when brain activity is otherwise low. A study published in Current Biology shows that sleep spindles appear prominently in particular brain areas that had been active in study participants earlier, while they were awake and learning an assigned task. Stronger spindles in these areas correlated with better recall after sleep. “We were able to link, within [each] participant, exactly the brain areas used for learning to spindle activity during sleep,” says University of Oxford cognitive neuroscientist Bernhard Staresina, senior author on the study. Staresina, Marit Petzka of the University of Birmingham in England and their colleagues devised a set of tasks they called the “memory arena,” which required each participant to memorize a sequence of images appearing inside a circle. While the subjects did so, researchers measured their brain activity with an EEG, which uses electrodes placed on the head. Participants then took a two-hour nap, after which they memorized a new image set—but then had to re-create the original image sequence learned before sleeping. During naps, the researchers recorded stronger sleep spindles in the specific brain areas that had been active during the pre-sleep-memorization task, and these areas differed for each participant. This suggested that the spindle pattern was not “hardwired” in default parts of the human brain; rather it was tied to an individual's thought patterns. The researchers also observed that participants who experienced stronger sleep spindles in brain areas used during memorization did a better job re-creating the images' positions after the nap. © 2022 Scientific American

Keyword: Sleep; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28460 - Posted: 09.03.2022

By Elizabeth Landau Ken Ono gets excited when he talks about a particular formula for pi, the famous and enigmatic ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. He shows me a clip from a National Geographic show where Neil Degrasse Tyson asked him how he would convey the beauty of math to the average person on the street. In reply, Ono showed Tyson, and later me, a so-called continued fraction for pi, which is a little bit like a mathematical fun house hallway of mirrors. Instead of a single number in the numerator and one in the denominator, the denominator of the fraction also contains a fraction, and the denominator of that fraction has a fraction in it, too, and so on and so forth, ad infinitum. Written out, the formula looks like a staircase that narrows as you descend its rungs in pursuit of the elusive pi. The calculation—credited independently to British mathematician Leonard Jay Rogers and self-taught Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan—doesn’t involve anything more complicated than adding, dividing, and squaring numbers. “How could you not say that’s amazing?” Ono, chair of the mathematics department at the University of Virginia, asks me over Zoom. As a fellow pi enthusiast—I am well known among friends for hosting Pi Day pie parties—I had to agree with him that it’s a dazzling formula. But not everyone sees beauty in fractions, or in math generally. In fact, here in the United States, math often inspires more dread than awe. In the 1950s, some educators began to observe a phenomenon they called mathemaphobia in students,1 though this was just one of a long list of academic phobias they saw in students. Today, nearly 1 in 5 U.S. adults suffers from high levels of math anxiety, according to some estimates,2 and a 2016 study found that 11 percent of university students experienced “high enough levels of mathematics anxiety to be in need of counseling.”3 Math anxiety seems generally correlated with worse math performance worldwide, according to one 2020 study from Stanford and the University of Chicago.4 While many questions remain about the underlying reasons, high school math scores in the U.S. tend to rank significantly lower than those in many other countries. In 2018, for example, American students ranked 30th in the world in their math scores on the PISA exam, an international assessment given every three years. © 2022 NautilusThink Inc,

Keyword: Attention; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28459 - Posted: 09.03.2022

By Kurt Kleiner The human brain is an amazing computing machine. Weighing only three pounds or so, it can process information a thousand times faster than the fastest supercomputer, store a thousand times more information than a powerful laptop, and do it all using no more energy than a 20-watt lightbulb. Researchers are trying to replicate this success using soft, flexible organic materials that can operate like biological neurons and someday might even be able to interconnect with them. Eventually, soft “neuromorphic” computer chips could be implanted directly into the brain, allowing people to control an artificial arm or a computer monitor simply by thinking about it. Like real neurons — but unlike conventional computer chips — these new devices can send and receive both chemical and electrical signals. “Your brain works with chemicals, with neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. Our materials are able to interact electrochemically with them,” says Alberto Salleo, a materials scientist at Stanford University who wrote about the potential for organic neuromorphic devices in the 2021 Annual Review of Materials Research. Salleo and other researchers have created electronic devices using these soft organic materials that can act like transistors (which amplify and switch electrical signals) and memory cells (which store information) and other basic electronic components. The work grows out of an increasing interest in neuromorphic computer circuits that mimic how human neural connections, or synapses, work. These circuits, whether made of silicon, metal or organic materials, work less like those in digital computers and more like the networks of neurons in the human brain. © 2022 Annual Reviews

Keyword: Robotics; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28449 - Posted: 08.27.2022

Diana Kwon People’s ability to remember fades with age — but one day, researchers might be able to use a simple, drug-free method to buck this trend. In a study published on 22 August in Nature Neuroscience1, Robert Reinhart, a cognitive neuroscientist at Boston University in Massachusetts, and his colleagues demonstrate that zapping the brains of adults aged over 65 with weak electrical currents repeatedly over several days led to memory improvements that persisted for up to a month. Previous studies have suggested that long-term memory and ‘working’ memory, which allows the brain to store information temporarily, are controlled by distinct mechanisms and parts of the brain. Drawing on this research, the team showed that stimulating the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex — a region near the front of the brain — with high-frequency electrical currents improved long-term memory, whereas stimulating the inferior parietal lobe, which is further back in the brain, with low-frequency electrical currents boosted working memory. “Their results look very promising,” says Ines Violante, a neuroscientist at the University of Surrey in Guildford, UK. “They really took advantage of the cumulative knowledge within the field.” Using a non-invasive method of stimulating the brain known as transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS), which delivers electrical currents through electrodes on the surface of the scalp, Reinhart’s team conducted a series of experiments on 150 people aged between 65 and 88. Participants carried out a memory task in which they were asked to recall lists of 20 words that were read aloud by an experimenter. The participants underwent tACS for the entire duration of the task, which took 20 minutes. © 2022 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28445 - Posted: 08.24.2022

By Frances Stead Sellers A study published this week in the journal Lancet Psychiatry showed increased risks of some brain disorders two years after infection with the coronavirus, shedding new light on the long-term neurological and psychiatric aspects of the virus. The analysis, conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford and drawing on health records data from more than 1 million people around the world, found that while the risks of many common psychiatric disorders returned to normal within a couple of months, people remained at increased risk for dementia, epilepsy, psychosis and cognitive deficit (or brain fog) two years after contracting covid. Adults appeared to be at particular risk of lasting brain fog, a common complaint among coronavirus survivors. The study’s findings were a mix of good and bad news, said Paul Harrison, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Oxford and the senior author of the study. Among the reassuring aspects was the quick resolution of symptoms such as depression and anxiety. “I was surprised and relieved by how quickly the psychiatric sequelae subsided,” Harrison said. David Putrino, director of rehabilitation innovation at Mount Sinai Health System in New York, who has been studying the lasting impacts of the coronavirus since early in the pandemic, said the study revealed some very troubling outcomes. “It allows us to see without a doubt the emergence of significant neuropsychiatric sequelae in individuals that had covid and far more frequently than those who did not,” he said. Because it focused only on the neurological and psychiatric effects of the coronavirus, the study authors and others emphasized that it is not strictly long-covid research.

Keyword: Alzheimers; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28438 - Posted: 08.20.2022

By Ingrid Wickelgren For as long as she can remember, Kay Tye has wondered why she feels the way she does. Rather than just dabble in theories of the mind, however, Tye has long wanted to know what was happening in the brain. In college in the early 2000s, she could not find a class that spelled out how electrical impulses coursing through the brain’s trillions of connections could give rise to feelings. “There wasn’t the neuroscience course I wanted to take,” says Tye, who now heads a lab at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif. “It didn’t exist.” When she dedicated a chapter of her Ph.D. thesis to emotion, she was criticized for it, she recalls. The study of feelings had no place in behavioral neuroscience, she was told. Tye disagreed at the time, and she still does. “Where do we think emotions are being implemented—somewhere other than the brain?” Since then, Tye’s research team has taken a step toward deciphering the biological underpinnings of such ineffable experiences as loneliness and competitiveness. In a recent Nature study, she and her colleagues uncovered something fundamental: a molecular “switch” in the brain that flags an experience as positive or negative. Tye is no longer an outlier in pursuing these questions. Other researchers are thinking along the same lines. “If you have a brain response to anything that is important, how does it differentiate whether it is good or bad?” says Daniela Schiller, a neuroscientist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, who wasn’t involved in the Nature paper. “It’s a central problem in the field.” The switch was found in mice in Tye’s study. If it works similarly in humans, it might help a person activate a different track in the brain when hearing an ice cream truck rather than a bear’s growl. This toggling mechanism is essential to survival because animals need to act differently in the contrasting scenarios. “This is at the hub of where we translate sensory information into motivational significance,” Tye says. “In evolution, it’s going to dictate whether you survive. In our modern-day society, it will dictate your mental health and your quality of life.” © 2022 Scientific American,

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Emotions
Link ID: 28436 - Posted: 08.13.2022

Heidi Ledford It’s not just in your head: a desire to curl up on the couch after a day spent toiling at the computer could be a physiological response to mentally demanding work, according to a study that links mental fatigue to changes in brain metabolism. The study, published on 11 August in Current Biology1, found that participants who spent more than six hours working on a tedious and mentally taxing assignment had higher levels of glutamate — an important signalling molecule in the brain. Too much glutamate can disrupt brain function, and a rest period could allow the brain to restore proper regulation of the molecule, the authors note. At the end of their work day, these study participants were also more likely than those who had performed easier tasks to opt for short-term, easily won financial rewards of lesser value than larger rewards that come after a longer wait or involve more effort. The study is important in its effort to link cognitive fatigue with neurometabolism, says behavioural neuroscientist Carmen Sandi at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne. But more research — potentially in non-human animals — will be needed to establish a causal link between feelings of exhaustion and metabolic changes in the brain, she adds. “It’s very good to start looking into this aspect,” says Sandi. “But for now this is an observation, which is a correlation.” Tired brain Previous research has demonstrated effects of mental strain on physiological parameters such as heart-rate variability and blood flow, but these tend to be subtle, says Martin Hagger, a health psychologist at the University of California, Merced. “It’s not like when you’re exercising skeletal muscle,” he says. “But it is perceptible.” Cognitive neuroscientist Antonius Wiehler at the Paris Brain Institute and his colleagues thought that the effects of cognitive fatigue could be due to metabolic changes in the brain. The team enrolled 40 participants and assigned 24 of them to perform a challenging task: for example, watching letters appear on a computer screen every 1.6 seconds and documenting when one matched a letter that had appeared three letters ago. The other 16 participants were asked to perform a similar, but easier task. Both teams worked for just over six hours, with two ten-minute breaks. © 2022 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Attention; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28430 - Posted: 08.11.2022

By Tim Vernimmen Just a few decades ago, even most biologists would have readily agreed that culture is a quintessentially human feature. Sure, they already knew there were dialects in birdsong, and good evidence that many birds largely learned these regional songs by copying other birds. They knew that some enterprising European songbirds called tits had learned how to open milk bottles by watching one another. Scientists had even reported that the practice of washing sweet potatoes in seawater had spread among the members of a Japanese colony of macaque monkeys. But these and similar behavioral differences between populations — ones that couldn’t easily be explained by differences in their genes or environment — seemed limited in scope. Compare that with human culture, which creates variation in nearly everything we do. In recent decades, however, scientists have learned that culture plays a much more pervasive role in the lives of nonhuman animals than anyone had imagined. “The whole field has absolutely exploded in discoveries in the present century,” says primatologist Andrew Whiten of the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, the author of a 2019 overview of cultural evolution in animals in the Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics. Whiten was one of the pioneers of the surge in animal culture research. In 1999, he oversaw an analysis in which primatologists published their findings from nearly four decades of studying wild chimpanzees, our closest living relatives. “We could show chimpanzees have multiple traditions affecting all different aspects of their lives,” he says — from foraging to tool use to courtship. Similar findings followed for several other apes and monkeys. © 2022 Annual Reviews

Keyword: Evolution; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28417 - Posted: 08.03.2022

Philip Ball How do you spot an optimistic pig? This isn’t the setup for a punchline; the question is genuine, and in the answer lies much that is revealing about our attitudes to other minds – to minds, that is, that are not human. If the notion of an optimistic (or for that matter a pessimistic) pig sounds vaguely comical, it is because we scarcely know how to think about other minds except in relation to our own. Here is how you spot an optimistic pig: you train the pig to associate a particular sound – a note played on a glockenspiel, say – with a treat, such as an apple. When the note sounds, an apple falls through a hatch so the pig can eat it. But another sound – a dog-clicker, say – signals nothing so nice. If the pig approaches the hatch on hearing the clicker, all it gets is a plastic bag rustled in its face. What happens now if the pig hears neither of these sounds, but instead a squeak from a dog toy? An optimistic pig might think there’s a chance that this, too, signals delivery of an apple. A pessimistic pig figures it will just get the plastic bag treatment. But what makes a pig optimistic? In 2010, researchers at Newcastle University showed that pigs reared in a pleasant, stimulating environment, with room to roam, plenty of straw, and “pig toys” to explore, show the optimistic response to the squeak significantly more often than pigs raised in a small, bleak, boring enclosure. In other words, if you want an optimistic pig, you must treat it not as pork but as a being with a mind, deserving the resources for a cognitively rich life. We don’t, and probably never can, know what it feels like to be an optimistic pig. Objectively, there’s no reason to suppose that it feels like anything: that there is “something it is like” to be a pig, whether apparently happy or gloomy. Until rather recently, philosophers and scientists have been reluctant to grant a mind to any nonhuman entity. Feelings and emotions, hope and pain and a sense of self were deemed attributes that separated us from the rest of the living world. To René Descartes in the 17th century, and to behavioural psychologist BF Skinner in the 1950s, other animals were stimulus-response mechanisms that could be trained but lacked an inner life. To grant animals “minds” in any meaningful sense was to indulge a crude anthropomorphism that had no place in science. © 2022 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Evolution; Intelligence
Link ID: 28367 - Posted: 06.11.2022

William E. Pelham, Jr. For decades, many physicians, parents and teachers have believed that stimulant medications help children with ADHD learn because they are able to focus and behave better when medicated. After all, an estimated 6.1 million children in the U.S. are diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and more than 90% are prescribed stimulant medication as the main form of treatment in school settings. However, in a peer-reviewed study that several colleagues and I published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, we found medication has no detectable effect on how much children with ADHD learn in the classroom. At least that’s the case when learning – defined as the acquisition of performable skills or knowledge through instruction – is measured in terms of tests meant to assess improvements in a student’s current academic knowledge or skills over time. Compared to their peers, children with ADHD exhibit more off-task, disruptive classroom behavior, earn lower grades and score lower on tests. They are more likely to receive special education services and be retained for a grade, and less likely to finish high school and enter college – two educational milestones that are associated with significant increases in earnings. In this study, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, we evaluated 173 children between the ages of 7 and 12. They were all participants in our Summer Treatment Program, a comprehensive eight-week summer camp for children with ADHD and related behavioral, emotional and learning challenges. Children got grade-level instruction in vocabulary, science and social studies. The classes were led by certified teachers. The children received medication the first half of summer and a placebo during the other half. They were tested at the start of each academic instruction block, which lasted approximately three weeks. They then took the same test at the end to determine how much they learned. © 2010–2022, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: ADHD; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28366 - Posted: 06.11.2022

Helena Horton Environment reporter Otters are able to learn from each other – but still prefer to solve some puzzles on their own, scientists have found. The semi-aquatic mammals are known to be very social and intelligent creatures, but a study by the University of Exeter has given new insight into their intellect. Researchers gave otters “puzzle boxes”, some of which contained familiar food, while others held unfamiliar natural prey – shore crab and blue mussels, which are protected by hard outer shells. For the familiar food – meatballs, a favourite with the Asian short-clawed otters in the study – the scientists had five different types of boxes, and the method to extract the food changed in each version, for example pulling a tab or opening a flap. The unfamiliar food presented additional problems because the otters did not know if the crab and mussels were safe to eat and had no experience of getting them out of their shells. In order to decide whether food was safe and desirable to eat, the otters, which live at Newquay zoo and the Tamar Otter and Wildlife Centre, watched intently as their companions inspected what was in the boxes and copied if the other otters sampled the treats. However, they spent more time trying to figure out how to remove the meat from the shells on their own and relied less on the actions of their companions. Of the 20 otters in the study, 11 managed to extract the meat from all three types of natural prey. © 2022 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Evolution
Link ID: 28360 - Posted: 06.09.2022

Daniel Lavelle With ADHD, thoughts and impulses intrude on my focus like burglars trying to break into a house. Sometimes these crooks carefully pick the backdoor lock before they silently enter and pilfer all the silverware. At other times, stealth goes out of the window; they’re kicking through the front door and taking whatever they like. Either way, I was supposed to be reading a book just now, but all I can think about is how great it would be if I waded into a river to save a litter of kittens from tumbling down a waterfall just in the nick of time. I’ve got the kittens in my hand, and the crowd has gone wild; the spectres of Gandhi, Churchill and Obi-Wan Kenobi hover over the riverbank, nodding their approval while fireworks crackle overhead … I snap back and realise I’ve read three pages, only I don’t remember a single line. I reread the same pages, but the same thing happens, only now I’m so hung up on concentrating that another fantasy has hijacked my attention. This time I’m imagining that I’m super-focused, so focused that Manchester United have called and told me they want me to be their special penalty taker. These Walter Mitty, borderline narcissistic episodes persist for a while until I give up and go and be distracted somewhere else. Advertisement Unfortunately, I don’t take Ritalin, a stimulant prescribed to daydreamers like me, so when it comes to focusing I need all the help I can get. Enter Swiss developer and typographic designer Renato Casutt, who has spent six years trying to develop a typographical trick that helps people read more quickly and efficiently. “Bionic reading” is a font people can use on their devices via apps for iPhone and other Apple products. It works by highlighting a limited number of letters in a word in bold, and allowing your brain – or, more specifically, your memory – to fill in the rest. © 2022 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: ADHD; Dyslexia
Link ID: 28358 - Posted: 06.07.2022

Jon Hamilton An HIV drug — known as maraviroc — may have another, unexpected, use. The medication appears to restore a type of memory that allows us to link an event, like a wedding, with the people we saw there, a team reports in this week's issue of the journal Nature. Maraviroc's ability to improve this sort of memory was demonstrated in mice, but the drug acts on a brain system that's also found in humans and plays a role in a range of problems with the brain and nervous system. "You might have an effect in Alzheimer's disease, in stroke, in Parkinson's and also in spinal cord injuries," says Dr. S. Thomas Carmichael, chair of neurology at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved in the study. The ability to link memories that occur around the same time is known as relational memory. It typically declines with age, and may be severely impaired in people with Alzheimer's disease. Problems with relational memory can appear in people who have no difficulty forming new memories, says Alcino Silva, an author of the new study and director of the Integrative Center for Learning and Memory at UCLA. "You learn about something, but you can't remember where you heard it. You can't remember who told you about it," Silva says. "These incidents happen more and more often as we go from middle age into older age." © 2022 npr

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28353 - Posted: 06.04.2022

By Benjamin Mueller Five years ago, Tal Iram, a young neuroscientist at Stanford University, approached her supervisor with a daring proposal: She wanted to extract fluid from the brain cavities of young mice and to infuse it into the brains of older mice, testing whether the transfers could rejuvenate the aging rodents. Her supervisor, Tony Wyss-Coray, famously had shown that giving old animals blood from younger ones could counteract and even reverse some of the effects of aging. But the idea of testing that principle with cerebrospinal fluid, the hard-to-reach liquid that bathes the brain and spinal cord, struck him as such a daunting technical feat that trying it bordered on foolhardy. “When we discussed this initially, I said, ‘This is so difficult that I’m not sure this is going to work,’” Dr. Wyss-Coray said. Dr. Iram persevered, working for a year just to figure out how to collect the colorless liquid from mice. On Wednesday, she reported the tantalizing results in the journal Nature: A week of infusions of young cerebrospinal fluid improved the memories of older mice. The finding was the latest indication that making brains resistant to the unrelenting changes of older age might depend less on interfering with specific disease processes and more on trying to restore the brain’s environment to something closer to its youthful state. “It highlights this notion that cerebrospinal fluid could be used as a medium to manipulate the brain,” Dr. Iram said. Turning that insight into a treatment for humans, though, is a more formidable challenge, the authors of the study said. The earlier studies about how young blood can reverse some signs of aging have led to recent clinical trials in which blood donations from younger people were filtered and given to patients with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s disease. But exactly how successful those treatments might be, much less how widely they can be used, remains unclear, scientists said. And the difficulties of working with cerebrospinal fluid are steeper than those involved with blood. Infusing the fluid of a young human into an older patient is probably not possible; extracting the liquid generally requires a spinal tap, and scientists say that there are ethical questions about how to collect enough cerebrospinal fluid for infusions. © 2022 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28327 - Posted: 05.14.2022

Imma Perfetto Have you ever driven past an intersection and registered you should have turned right a street ago, or been in a conversation and, as soon as the words are out of your mouth, realised you really shouldn’t have said that thing you just did? It’s a phenomenon known as performance monitoring; an internal signal produced by the brain that lets you know when you’ve made a mistake. Performance monitoring is a kind of self-generated feedback that’s essential to managing our daily lives. Now, neuroscientists have discovered that signals from neurons in the brain’s medial frontal cortex are responsible for it. A new study published in Science reports that these signals are used to give humans the flexibility to learn new tasks and the focus to develop highly specific skills. “Part of the magic of the human brain is that it is so flexible,” says senior author Ueli Rutishauser, professor of Neurosurgery, Neurology, and Biomedical Sciences at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, US. “We designed our study to decipher how the brain can generalise and specialise at the same time, both of which are critical for helping us pursue a goal.” They found that the performance monitoring signals help improve future attempts of a particular task by passing information to other areas of the brain. They also help the brain adjust its focus by signalling how much conflict or difficulty was encountered during the task. “An ‘Oops!’ moment might prompt someone to pay closer attention the next time they chat with a friend, or plan to stop at the store on the way home from work,” explains first author Zhongzheng Fu, researcher in the Rutishauser Laboratory at Cedars-Sinai.

Keyword: Attention; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28322 - Posted: 05.11.2022

Erin Spencer The octopus is one of the coolest animals in the sea. For starters, they are invertebrates. That means they don’t have backbones like humans, lions, turtles and birds. Understand new developments in science, health and technology, each week That may sound unusual, but actually, nearly all animals on Earth are invertebrates – about 97%. Octopuses are a specific type of invertebrate called cephalopods. The name means “head-feet” because the arms of cephalopods surround their heads. Other types of cephalopods include squid, nautiloids and cuttlefish. As marine ecologists, we conduct research on how ocean animals interact with each other and their environments. We’ve mostly studied fish, from lionfish to sharks, but we have to confess we remain captivated by octopuses. What octopuses eat depends on what species they are and where they live. Their prey includes gastropods, like snails and sea slugs; bivalves, like clams and mussels; crustaceans, like lobsters and crabs; and fish. To catch their food, octopuses use lots of strategies and tricks. Some octopuses wrap their arms – not tentacles – around prey to pull them close. Some use their hard beak to drill into the shells of clams. All octopuses are venomous; they inject toxins into their prey to overpower and kill them. There are about 300 species of octopus, and they’re found in every ocean in the world, even in the frigid waters around Antarctica. A special substance in their blood helps those cold-water species get oxygen. It also turns their blood blue. © 2010–2022, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Evolution; Intelligence
Link ID: 28321 - Posted: 05.11.2022