Chapter 17. Learning and Memory

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By Sam Wong Students who take Adderall to improve their test scores may get a slight benefit, but it’s mainly a placebo effect. The drug Adderall is a combination of the stimulants amphetamine and dextroamphetamine, and is used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). But it’s growing in popularity as a study drug in the US, where around a third of college students are thought to try using prescription stimulants for non-medical reasons. But does it work? Rachel Fargason, a psychiatrist at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, says the idea of stimulants as cognitive enhancers didn’t tally with her experience of patients who were diagnosed incorrectly. “If they didn’t have ADHD, the stimulants generally didn’t help them cognitively,” she says. To investigate further, Fargason’s team set up a trial in 32 people between the ages of 19 and 30, none of whom had ADHD. Each participant took a batch of cognitive tests four times. On two of these occasions they were given 10 milligrams of Adderall, while they were given a placebo the other times. With each treatment, they were once told they were getting medication, and once told they were getting a placebo. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: ADHD; Drug Abuse
Link ID: 23858 - Posted: 07.21.2017

Susan Milius Ravens have passed what may be their toughest tests yet of powers that, at least on a good day, let people and other apes plan ahead. Lab-dwelling common ravens (Corvus corax) in Sweden at least matched the performance of nonhuman apes and young children in peculiar tests of advanced planning ability. The birds faced such challenges as selecting a rock useless at the moment but likely to be useful for working a puzzle box and getting food later. Ravens also reached apelike levels of self-control, picking a tool instead of a ho-hum treat when the tool would eventually allow them to get a fabulous bit of kibble 17 hours later, Mathias Osvath and Can Kabadayi of Lund University in Sweden report in the July 14 Science. “The insight we get from the experiment is that [ravens] can plan for the future outside behaviors observed in the wild,” Markus Böckle, of the University of Cambridge, said in an e-mail. Böckle, who has studied ravens, coauthored a commentary in the same issue of Science. In the wild, ravens cache some of their food, but that apparent foresight could be more of a specific adaptation that evolved with diet instead of as some broader power of planning. The Lund tests, based on experiments with apes, tried to challenge ravens in less natural ways. The researchers say the birds aren’t considered much of a tool-using species in nature, nor do they trade for food. “The study for the first time in any animal shows that future planning can be used in behaviors it was not originally selected for” in evolution, Böckle says. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017.

Keyword: Intelligence; Evolution
Link ID: 23835 - Posted: 07.14.2017

By Ryan Cross Whether caused by a car accident that slams your head into the dashboard or repeated blows to your cranium from high-contact sports, traumatic brain injury can be permanent. There are no drugs to reverse the cognitive decline and memory loss, and any surgical interventions must be carried out within hours to be effective, according to the current medical wisdom. But a compound previously used to enhance memory in mice may offer hope: Rodents who took it up to a month after a concussion had memory capabilities similar to those that had never been injured. The study “offers a glimmer of hope for our traumatic brain injury patients,” says Cesario Borlongan, a neuroscientist who studies brain aging and repair at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Borlongan, who reviewed the new paper, notes that its findings are especially important in the clinic, where most rehabilitation focuses on improving motor—not cognitive—function. Traumatic brain injuries, which cause cell death and inflammation in the brain, affect 2 million Americans each year. But the condition is difficult to study, in part because every fall, concussion, or blow to the head is different. Some result in bleeding and swelling, which must be treated immediately by drilling into the skull to relieve pressure. But under the microscope, even less severe cases appear to trigger an “integrated stress response,” which throws protein synthesis in neurons out of whack and may make long-term memory formation difficult. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Brain Injury/Concussion
Link ID: 23825 - Posted: 07.11.2017

By Jennifer Oullette Are brain-training games any better at improving your ability to think, remember and focus than regular computer games? Possibly not, if the latest study is anything to go by. Joseph Kable at the University of Pennsylvania and his colleagues have tested the popular Luminosity brain-training program from Lumos Labs in San Francisco, California, against other computer games and found no evidence that it is any better at improving your thinking skills. Brain-training is a booming market. It’s based on the premise that our brains change in response to learning challenges. Unlike computer games designed purely for entertainment, brain-training games are meant to be adaptive, adjusting challenge levels in response to a player’s changing performance. The thinking is that this should improve a player’s memory, attention, focus and multitasking skills. But there are questions over whether brain-training platforms can enhance cognitive function in a way that is meaningful for wider life. Last year, Lumos Labs paid $2 million to settle a charge from the US Federal Trade Commission for false advertising. Advertising campaigns had claimed that the company’s memory and attention games could reduce the effects of age-related dementia, and stave off Alzheimer’s disease. Most studies on the effects of brain-training games have been small and had mixed results. For this study, Kable and his colleagues recruited 128 young healthy adults for a randomised controlled trial. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Alzheimers
Link ID: 23821 - Posted: 07.11.2017

By Diana Kwon By blocking specific enzymes, researchers were able to selectively remove memories stored in the neurons of Aplysia, a sea slug. These findings, published last week (June 22) in Current Biology, demonstrate that distinct memories stored in connections to a single nerve cell can be manipulated separately. “We were able to reverse long-term changes in synaptic strength at synapses known to contribute to different forms of memories,” study coauthor Samuel Schacher, a neuroscientist at Columbia University, told Motherboard. By stimulating multiple Aplysia sensory neurons that make connections with to the same motor neuron, Schacher and colleagues induced associative memory, which involves learning the relationship between two previously unrelated items (a new acquaintance’s name, for example), and non-associative memory, where recollections are unrelated to a specific event. The team measured the strength of the synaptic connections between the sensory and motor neurons and discovered that distinct forms of an enzyme, protein kinase M (PKM), played a role in developing the changes linked to the two types of memory. Selectively blocking these molecules, the researchers found, allowed them to remove the memories of their choice. Molecules associated with memory have been discovered in the past. For example, in a 2006 Science study, another team of researchers was able to erase memories in mice by blocking a related molecule, PKM-zeta. Subsequent papers, however, found that mice lacking this enzyme had no problem forming memories. © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23791 - Posted: 06.30.2017

People with higher IQs are less likely to die before the age of 79. That’s according to a study of over 65,000 people born in Scotland in 1936. Each of the people in the study took an intelligence test at the age of 11, and their health was then followed for 68 years, until the end of 2015. When Ian Deary, of the University of Edinburgh, UK, and his team analysed data from the study, they found that a higher test score in childhood was linked to a 28 per cent lower risk of death from respiratory disease, a 25 per cent reduced risk of coronary heart disease, and a 24 per cent lower risk of death from stroke. These people were also less likely to die from injuries, digestive diseases, and dementia – even when factors like socio-economic status were taken into account. Deary’s team say there are several theories for why more intelligent people live longer, such as people with higher IQs being more likely to look after their health and less likely to smoke. They also tend to do more exercise and seek medical attention when ill. “I’m hoping it means that if we can find out what smart people do and copy them, then we have a chance of a slightly longer and healthier life,” says Dreary. But there’s evidence genetics is involved too. A recent study suggests that very rare genetic variants can play an important role in lowering intelligence, and that these may also be likely to impair a person’s health. Journal reference: British Medical Journal, DOI: 10.1136/bmj.j2708 © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: Intelligence
Link ID: 23786 - Posted: 06.29.2017

By Anil Ananthaswamy To understand human consciousness, we need to know why it exists in the first place. New experimental evidence suggests it may have evolved to help us learn and adapt to changing circumstances far more rapidly and effectively. We used to think consciousness was a uniquely human trait, but neuroscientists now believe we share it with many other animals, including mammals, birds and octopuses. While plants and arguably some animals like jellyfish seem able to respond to the world around them without any conscious awareness, many other animals consciously experience and perceive their environment. Read more: Why be conscious – The improbable origins of our unique mind In the 19th century, Thomas Henry Huxley and others argued that such consciousness is an “epiphenomenon” – a side effect of the workings of the brain that has no causal influence, the way a steam whistle has no effect on the way a steam engine works. More recently, neuroscientists have suggested that consciousness enables us to integrate information from different senses or keep such information active for long enough in the brain that we can experience the sight and sound of car passing by, for example, as one unified perception, even though sound and light travel at different speeds. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: Consciousness; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23785 - Posted: 06.28.2017

/ By Rod McCullom Facebook has problem — a very significant problem — with the violent and gruesome content which has quickly found its way, in numerous instances, onto the social network and its Facebook Live feature, which was introduced to American users in January 2016. The disturbing litany of murders, suicides and assaults have already become macabre technological milestones. These include Robert Godwin Sr., the 74-year-old father of nine and grandfather of 14 who was selected by a gunman at random and then murdered in a video posted to Facebook in mid-April. One week later, a man in Thailand streamed the murder of his 11-month old daughter on Facebook Live before taking his own life. The beating and torture of an 18-year-old man with intellectual and development disabilities was live-streamed on the service in January, and the tragic shooting death of two-year-old Lavontay White Jr. followed a month later on Valentine’s Day. “At least 45 instances of violence — shootings, rapes, murders, child abuse, torture, suicides, and attempted suicides — have been broadcast via Live [since] December 2015,” Buzzfeed’s Alex Kantrowitz reported this month. “That’s an average rate of about two instances per month.” Copyright 2017 Undark

Keyword: Aggression; Robotics
Link ID: 23778 - Posted: 06.27.2017

Rebecca Hersher The first problem with the airplane bathroom was its location. It was March. Greg O'Brien and his wife, Mary Catherine, were flying back to Boston from Los Angeles, sitting in economy seats in the middle of the plane. "We're halfway, probably over Chicago," Greg remembers, "and Mary Catherine said, 'Go to the bathroom.' " "It just sounded like my mother," Greg says. So I said 'no.' " Mary Catherine persisted, urging her husband of 40 years to use the restroom. People started looking at them. "It was kind of funny," says Greg. Mary Catherine was more alarmed than amused. Greg has early-onset Alzheimer's, which makes it increasingly hard for him to keep track of thoughts and feelings over the course of minutes or even seconds. It's easy to get into a situation where you feel like you need to use the bathroom, but then forget. And they had already been on the plane for hours. Finally, Greg started toward the restroom at the back of the plane, only to find the aisle was blocked by an attendant serving drinks. Mary Catherine gestured to him. "Use the one in first class!" At that point, on top of the mild anxiety most people feel when they slip into first class to use the restroom, Greg was feeling overwhelmed by the geography of the plane. He pulled back the curtain dividing the seating sections. "This flight attendant looks at me like she has no use for me. I just said 'Look, I really have to go the bathroom,' and she says 'OK, just go.' " © 2017 npr

Keyword: Alzheimers; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23772 - Posted: 06.26.2017

Andrea Hsu Intuitively, we tend to think of forgetting as failure, as something gone wrong in our ability to remember. Now, Canadian neuroscientists with the University of Toronto are challenging that notion. In a paper published Wednesday in the journal Neuron, they review the current research into the neurobiology of forgetting and hypothesize that our brains purposefully work to forget information in order to help us live our lives. I spoke with Blake Richards, one of the co-authors of the paper, who applies artificial intelligence theories to his study of how the brain learns. He says that in the AI world, there's something called over-fitting — a phenomenon in which a machine stores too much information, hindering its ability to behave intelligently. He hopes that greater understanding of how our brains decide what to keep and what to forget will lead to better AI systems that are able to interact with the world and make decisions in the way that we do. We hear a lot about the study of memory. Is the study of forgetting a relatively new thing? Within psychology, there's a long history of work examining forgetting. So that's not a new field of study. But the neuroscientists — those of us who work with the biology of how the brain works — have not really examined forgetting much in the past. Generally, the focus for the last few decades in neuroscience has been the question of how do the cells in our brains change themselves in order to store information and remember things. It's only been in the last few years that there's been an upswing in scientific studies looking at what's happening inside our brains at the cellular level that might actually produce forgetting. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23771 - Posted: 06.24.2017

Staring down a packed room at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown San Francisco this March, Randy Gallistel gripped a wooden podium, cleared his throat, and presented the neuroscientists sprawled before him with a conundrum. “If the brain computed the way people think it computes," he said, "it would boil in a minute." All that information would overheat our CPUs. Humans have been trying to understand the mind for millennia. And metaphors from technology—like cortical CPUs—are one of the ways that we do it. Maybe it’s comforting to frame a mystery in the familiar. In ancient Greece, the brain was a hydraulics system, pumping the humors; in the 18th century, philosophers drew inspiration from the mechanical clock. Early neuroscientists from the 20th century described neurons as electric wires or phone lines, passing signals like Morse code. And now, of course, the favored metaphor is the computer, with its hardware and software standing in for the biological brain and the processes of the mind. In this technology-ridden world, it’s easy to assume that the seat of human intelligence is similar to our increasingly smart devices. But the reliance on the computer as a metaphor for the brain might be getting in the way of advancing brain research. As Gallistel continued his presentation to the Cognitive Neuroscience Society, he described the problem with the computer metaphor. If memory works the way most neuroscientists think it does—by altering the strength of connections between neurons—storing all that information would be way too energy-intensive, especially if memories are encoded in Shannon information, high fidelity signals encoded in binary.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Consciousness
Link ID: 23764 - Posted: 06.23.2017

By Kerry Grens Memory theories The theory goes that as memories form, they set up temporary shop in the hippocampus, a subcortical region buried deep in the brain, but over time find permanent storage in the cortex. The details of this process are sketchy, so Takashi Kitamura, a researcher in Susumu Tonegawa’s MIT lab, and colleagues wanted to pinpoint the time memories spend in each of these regions. Total recall As mice were subjected to a fearful experience, the team labeled so-called memory engram cells—neurons that are stimulated during the initial exposure and whose later activity drives recollection of the original stimulus (in this case, indicated by a freezing response). Using optogenetics, Kitamura turned off these cells in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) when the memory first formed as mice were exposed to a foot shock. Short-term memory was unaffected, but a couple of weeks later, the animals could not recall the event, indicating that PFC engrams formed contemporaneously with those in the hippocampus, not later, as some had suspected, and that this early memory trace in the cortex was critical for long-term retrieval. Going dark Over time, as untreated mice recalled the fearful event, engrams in the hippocampus became silent as PFC engrams became more active. “It’s a see-saw situation,” says Kitamura, “this maturation of prefrontal engrams and dematuration of hippocampal engrams.” Circuit dynamics Stephen Maren, who researches memory at Texas A&M University and was not part of the study, says the results reveal that the network circuitry involved in memory consolidation (of which Kitamura’s team dissected just one component) is much more dynamic than previously appreciated. “It’s the most sophisticated circuit-level analysis we have to date of these processes.” © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23735 - Posted: 06.13.2017

Alex Burmester When you need to remember a phone number, a shopping list or a set of instructions, you rely on what psychologists and neuroscientists refer to as working memory. It’s the ability to hold and manipulate information in mind, over brief intervals. It’s for things that are important to you in the present moment, but not 20 years from now. Researchers believe working memory is central to the functioning of the mind. It correlates with many more general abilities and outcomes – things like intelligence and scholastic attainment – and is linked to basic sensory processes. Given its central role in our mental life, and the fact that we are conscious of at least some of its contents, working memory may become important in our quest to understand consciousness itself. Psychologists and neuroscientists focus on different aspects as they investigate working memory: Psychologists try to map out the functions of the system, while neuroscientists focus more on its neural underpinnings. Here’s a snapshot of where the research stands currently. How much working memory do we have? Capacity is limited – we can keep only a certain amount of information “in mind” at any one time. But researchers debate the nature of this limit. Many suggest that working memory can store a limited number of “items” or “chunks” of information. These could be digits, letters, words or other units. Research has shown that the number of bits that can be held in memory can depend on the type of item – flavors of ice cream on offer versus digits of pi. © 2010–2017, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Attention
Link ID: 23711 - Posted: 06.06.2017

By Katie Langin No one likes a con artist. People avoid dealing with characters who have swindled them in the past, and—according to new research—birds avoid those people, too. Ravens, known more for their intelligence, but only slightly less for their love of cheese, were trained by researchers to trade a crust of bread for a morsel of cheese with human partners. When the birds then tried to broker a trade with “fair” and “unfair” partners—some completed the trade as expected, but others took the raven’s bread and kept (and ate) the cheese—the ravens avoided the tricksters in separate trials a month later. This suggests that ravens can not only differentiate between “fair” and “unfair” individuals, but they retain that ability for at least a month, the researchers write this month in Animal Behavior. Ravens have a complex social life involving friendships and rivalries. Their ability to recognize and punish dishonest individuals, even after a single encounter, may help explain how cooperation evolved in this group of birds. For people, though, the moral of the story is simple: Be nice to ravens. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Intelligence; Evolution
Link ID: 23709 - Posted: 06.06.2017

In a pair of studies, scientists at the National Institutes of Health explored how the human brain stores and retrieves memories. One study suggests that the brain etches each memory into unique firing patterns of individual neurons. Meanwhile, the second study suggests that the brain replays memories faster than they are stored. The studies were led by Kareem Zaghloul, M.D., Ph.D., a neurosurgeon-researcher at the NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). Persons with drug resistant epilepsy in protocols studying surgical resection of their seizure focus at the NIH’s Clinical Center enrolled in this study. To help locate the source of the seizures, Dr. Zaghloul’s team surgically implanted a grid of electrodes into the patients’ brains and monitored electrical activity for several days. “The primary goal of these recordings is to understand how to stop the seizures. However, it’s also a powerful opportunity to learn how the brain works,” said Dr. Zaghloul. For both studies, the researchers monitored brain electrical activity while testing the patients’ memories. The patients were shown hundreds of pairs of words, like “pencil and bishop” or “orange and navy,” and later were shown one of the words and asked to remember its pair. In one study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, the patients correctly remembered 38 percent of the word pairs they were shown. Electrical recordings showed that the brain waves the patients experienced when they correctly stored and remembered a word pair often occurred in the temporal lobe and prefrontal cortex regions. Nevertheless, the researchers showed that the waves that appeared when recalling the words happened faster than the waves that were present when they initially stored them as memories.

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Epilepsy
Link ID: 23704 - Posted: 06.03.2017

By Gary Stix In April, DARPA announced contracts for a program to develop practical methods to help someone learn more quickly. In the ensuing press coverage, the endeavor drew immediate comparisons to the The Matrix—in which Neo, the Keanu Reeves character, has his brain reprogrammed so that he instantly masters Kung Fu. DARPA is known for setting ambitious goals for its technology development programs. But it is not requiring contractors for the $50 million, four-year effort to find a way to let a special forces soldier upload neural codes to instantaneously execute a flawless Wushu butterfly kick. The agency did award contracts, though, to find some means of zapping nerves in the peripheral nervous system outside the brain to speed the rate at which a foreign language can be learned by as much as 30 percent, a still not-too-shabby goal. Sending an electrical current into the vagus nerve in the neck from a surgically implanted device is already approved for treating epilepsy and depression. The DARPA program, in tacit acknowledgement that mandatory surgery might be unacceptable for students contemplating an accelerated Mandarin class, wants to develop a non-invasive device to stimulate a peripheral nerve, perhaps in the ear. The goal is to hasten, not just the learning of foreign languages, but also to facilitate pattern recognition tasks such as combing through surveillance imagery. © 2017 Scientific American,

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23699 - Posted: 06.02.2017

By Mitch Leslie Colin Wahl, a market research consultant in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, was recovering nicely from triple bypass surgery last year when he noticed a white spot on the incision. It proved to be an obstinate infection that required three further surgeries to eradicate. Wahl, now 61, says his mind hasn't been as sharp since. "It's little things mostly related to memory." An avid recreational hockey player, he would forget to bring his skates or sticks to the rink. Certain words became elusive. Just hours after talking to a colleague about Tasmania, he couldn't recall the word. Instead, he says, the phrase "Outback Australia" was stuck in his mind. "I'm trying to remember something and something else slips into that memory slot." Many of us can recount a similar story about a friend, colleague, or loved one—usually elderly—whose mental condition deteriorated after a visit to an operating room. "The comment that ‘So-and-so has never been the same after the operation’ is pervasive," says anesthesiologist Roderic Eckenhoff of the University of Pennsylvania. Often, surgical patients are beset by postoperative delirium—delusions, confusion, and hallucinations—but that usually fades quickly. Other people develop what has been dubbed postoperative cognitive dysfunction (POCD), suffering problems with memory, attention, and concentration that can last months or even a lifetime. POCD not only disrupts patients' lives, but may also augur worse to come. According to a 2008 study, people who have POCD 3 months after they leave the hospital are nearly twice as likely to die within a year as are surgical patients who report no mental setbacks. With the ballooning senior population needing more surgeries, "this is going to become an epidemic," says anesthesiologist Mervyn Maze of the University of California, San Francisco. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Attention; Sleep
Link ID: 23691 - Posted: 06.01.2017

By David Z. Hambrick Physical similarities aside, we share a lot in common with our primate relatives. For example, as Jane Goodall famously documented, chimpanzees form lifelong bonds and show affection in much the same way as humans. Chimps can also solve novel problems, use objects as tools, and may possess “theory of mind”—an understanding that others may have different perspectives than oneself. They can even outperform humans in certain types of cognitive tasks. These commonalities may not seem all that surprising given what we now know from the field of comparative genomics: We share nearly all of our DNA with chimpanzees and other primates. However, social and cognitive complexity is not unique to our closest evolutionary cousins. In fact, it is abundant in species with which we would seem to have very little in common—like the spotted hyena. For more than three decades, the Michigan State University zoologist Kay Holekamp has studied the habits of the spotted hyena in Kenya’s Masai Mara National Reserve, once spending five years straight living in a tent among her oft-maligned subjects. One of the world’s longest-running studies of a wild mammal, this landmark project has revealed that spotted hyenas not only have social groups as complex as those of many primates, but are also capable of some of the same types of problem solving. This research sheds light on one of science’s greatest mysteries—how intelligence has evolved across the animal kingdom. According to the social brain hypothesis, intelligence has evolved to meet the demands of social life. The subject of many popular articles and books, this hypothesis posits that the complex information processing that goes along with coexisting with members of one’s own species—forming coalitions, settling disputes, trying to outwit each other, and so on—selects for larger brains and greater intelligence. By contrast, the cognitive buffer hypothesis holds that intelligence emerges as an adaption to dealing with novelty in the environment, in whatever form it presents itself. © 2017 Scientific American,

Keyword: Intelligence; Evolution
Link ID: 23685 - Posted: 05.31.2017

By Ulrich Boser A TECHNICIAN SNAPPED a stretchy electrode cap onto my head, and I felt a cold pinch as she affixed each sensor to my scalp with a dose of icy gel. Perched on an office chair, with a rainbow of wires spiraling from my head, I followed the tech’s instructions to stare at a small orange object while an EEG recording device measured the electrical activity in various regions of my brain. I was checking out the Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., branch of Neurocore, a “brain performance” company owned by the family of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. DeVos resigned her Neurocore board seat when she joined the Trump Cabinet, but she and her husband maintain a financial stake of between $5 million and $25 million, according to a financial disclosure statement filed with the Office of Government Ethics. The DeVoses’ private-equity firm, Windquest, identifies Neurocore as part of its “corporate family.” The Windquest website posts Neurocore news and includes links for job seekers to apply to Neurocore openings. In other words, the family has a lot riding on Neurocore’s claims that it can help you “train your brain to function better” — addressing problems as diverse as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, anxiety, stress, depression, poor sleep, memory loss and migraines. “Unlike medication, which temporarily masks your symptoms, neurofeedback promotes healthy changes in your brain to provide you with a lasting solution,” touts a Neurocore overview video. “. . . We’ve helped thousands of people strengthen their brain to achieve a happy, healthier, more productive life for years to come.” The company currently has nine offices in Michigan and Florida, though there’s been talk of making a national move. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23671 - Posted: 05.29.2017

Carl Zimmer In a significant advance in the study of mental ability, a team of European and American scientists announced on Monday that they had identified 52 genes linked to intelligence in nearly 80,000 people. These genes do not determine intelligence, however. Their combined influence is minuscule, the researchers said, suggesting that thousands more are likely to be involved and still await discovery. Just as important, intelligence is profoundly shaped by the environment. Still, the findings could make it possible to begin new experiments into the biological basis of reasoning and problem-solving, experts said. They could even help researchers determine which interventions would be most effective for children struggling to learn. “This represents an enormous success,” said Paige Harden, a psychologist at the University of Texas, who was not involved in the study. For over a century, psychologists have studied intelligence by asking people questions. Their exams have evolved into batteries of tests, each probing a different mental ability, such as verbal reasoning or memorization. In a typical test, the tasks might include imagining an object rotating, picking out a shape to complete a figure, and then pressing a button as fast as possible whenever a particular type of word appears. Each test-taker may get varying scores for different abilities. But over all, these scores tend to hang together — people who score low on one measure tend to score low on the others, and vice versa. Psychologists sometimes refer to this similarity as general intelligence. It’s still not clear what in the brain accounts for intelligence. Neuroscientists have compared the brains of people with high and low test scores for clues, and they’ve found a few. Brain size explains a small part of the variation, for example, although there are plenty of people with small brains who score higher than others with bigger brains. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Intelligence; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 23650 - Posted: 05.23.2017