Chapter 18. Attention and Higher Cognition

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By Olivia Goldhill Free will, from a neuroscience perspective, can look like quite quaint. In a study published this week in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers in Australia were able to predict basic choices participants made 11 seconds before they consciously declared their decisions. In the study, 14 participants—each placed in an fMRI machine—were shown two patterns, one of red horizontal stripes and one of green vertical stripes. They were given a maximum of 20 seconds to choose between them. Once they’d made a decision, they pressed a button and had 10 seconds to visualize the pattern as hard as they could. Finally, they were asked “what did you imagine?” and “how vivid was it?” They answered these questions by pressing buttons. Using the fMRI to monitor brain activity and machine learning to analyze the neuroimages, the researchers were able to predict which pattern participants would choose up to 11 seconds before they consciously made the decision. And they were able to predict how vividly the participants would be able to envisage it. Lead author Joel Pearson, cognitive neuroscience professor at the University of South Wales in Australia, said that the study suggests traces of thoughts exist unconsciously before they become conscious. “We believe that when we are faced with the choice between two or more options of what to think about, non-conscious traces of the thoughts are there already, a bit like unconscious hallucinations,” he said in a statement. “As the decision of what to think about is made, executive areas of the brain choose the thought-trace which is stronger. In, other words, if any pre-existing brain activity matches one of your choices, then your brain will be more likely to pick that option as it gets boosted by the pre-existing brain activity.”

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 26167 - Posted: 04.23.2019

By Gina Kolata In a study that raises profound questions about the line between life and death, researchers have restored some cellular activity to brains removed from slaughtered pigs. The brains did not regain anything resembling consciousness: There were no signs indicating coordinated electrical signaling, necessary for higher functions like awareness and intelligence. But in an experimental treatment, blood vessels in the pigs’ brains began functioning, flowing with a blood substitute, and certain brain cells regained metabolic activity, even responding to drugs. When the researchers tested slices of treated brain tissue, they discovered electrical activity in some neurons. The work is very preliminary and has no immediate implications for treatment of brain injuries in humans. But the idea that parts of the brain may be recoverable after death, as conventionally defined, contradicts everything medical science believes about the organ and poses metaphysical riddles. “We had clear lines between ‘this is alive’ and ‘this is dead,’” said Nita A. Farahany, a bioethicist and law professor at Duke University. “How do we now think about this middle category of ‘partly alive’? We didn’t think it could exist.” For decades, doctors and grieving family members have wondered if it might ever be possible to restore function to a person who suffered extensive brain injury because of a severe stroke or heart attack. Were these brains really beyond salvage? The new research confirms how little we know about the injured brain and so-called brain death. Bioethicists like Dr. Farahany were stunned and intrigued by the findings, published on Wednesday in the journal Nature. “This is wild,” said Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania. “If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one.” © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 26153 - Posted: 04.18.2019

Laura Sanders Scientists have restored cellular activity to pig brains hours after the animals’ death — an unprecedented feat. This revival, achieved with a sophisticated system of artificial fluid, took place four hours after the pigs’ demise at a slaughterhouse. “This is a huge breakthrough,” says ethicist and legal scholar Nita Farahany of Duke University, who wasn’t involved in the research. “It fundamentally challenges existing beliefs in neuroscience. The idea of the irreversibility of loss of brain function clearly isn’t true.” The results, reported April 17 in Nature, may lead to better treatments for brain damage caused by stroke or other injuries that starve brain tissue of oxygen. The achievement also raises significant ethical puzzles about research on brains that are not alive, but not completely dead either. In the study, the brains showed no signs of the widespread neural activity thought to be required for consciousness. But individual nerve cells were still firing. “There’s this gray zone between dead animals and living animals,” says Farahany, who coauthored a perspective piece in Nature. The experiments were conducted on pigs that had been killed in a food processing plant. These animals were destined to become pork. “No animals died for this study,” the authors of the new work write in their paper. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2019

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 26152 - Posted: 04.18.2019

Nita A. Farahany, Henry T. Greely and Charles M. Giattino. Scientists have restored and preserved some cellular activities and structures in the brains of pigs that had been decapitated for food production four hours before. The researchers saw circulation in major arteries and small blood vessels, metabolism and responsiveness to drugs at the cellular level and even spontaneous synaptic activity in neurons, among other things. The team formulated a unique solution and circulated it through the isolated brains using a network of pumps and filters called BrainEx. The solution was cell-free, did not coagulate and contained a haemoglobin-based oxygen carrier and a wide range of pharmacological agents. The remarkable study, published in this week’s Nature1, offers the promise of an animal or even human whole-brain model in which many cellular functions are intact. At present, cells from animal and human brains can be sustained in culture for weeks, but only so much can be gleaned from isolated cells. Tissue slices can provide snapshots of local structural organization, yet they are woefully inadequate for questions about function and global connectivity, because much of the 3D structure is lost during tissue preparation2. The work also raises a host of ethical issues. There was no evidence of any global electrical activity — the kind of higher-order brain functioning associated with consciousness. Nor was there any sign of the capacity to perceive the environment and experience sensations. Even so, because of the possibilities it opens up, the BrainEx study highlights potential limitations in the current regulations for animals used in research. Most fundamentally, in our view, it throws into question long-standing assumptions about what makes an animal — or a human — alive. © 2019 Springer Nature Publishing AG

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 26151 - Posted: 04.18.2019

By Gretchen Vogel A research group’s claimed ability to communicate with completely paralyzed people has come under fire, prompting research misconduct investigations at a German university and at Germany’s main research agency, the German Research Foundation (DFG). Two years ago, researchers in Germany and Switzerland claimed that by analyzing blood flow in different parts of the brain with an electronic skullcap, they could elucidate answers to yes or no questions from completely paralyzed people. The find, published in PLOS Biology in 2017, raised hopes for patients with degenerative diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis that ultimately leave them without any voluntary muscle control—not even the ability to blink or move their eyes—a condition called a “completely locked-in state.” Now, a simmering controversy about the paper has erupted into public view. As first reported by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, PLOS Biology yesterday published a critique of the paper that claims the authors’ statistical analysis is incorrect. Martin Spüler, an informatics specialist at the Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen in Germany, says his analysis of the data shows no support for the authors’ claim that their system could allow patients to answer questions correctly 70% of the time. His critique, first raised in late 2017, has prompted investigations of possible scientific misconduct at both DFG and the University of Tübingen, where the group studying locked-in patients is also based. © 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Consciousness; Brain imaging
Link ID: 26127 - Posted: 04.11.2019

By Stephen L. Macknik, Susana Martinez-Conde We were very sad to learn that Johnny Thompson (aka The Great Tomsoni) passed away on March 9, 2019, at the age of 84. We first met Johnny in 2007, when he spoke at the ‘Magic of Consciousness’ Symposium that we organized at the annual meeting of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness, in Las Vegas. Johnny Thompson, along with Mac King, Teller, Apollo Robbins, and James Randi, talked to an academic audience of neuroscientists, psychologists and philosophers about his impressions about the psychologically puzzling aspects of magic, and helped jumpstart ‘neuromagic’ as a field of scientific enquiry. Johnny Thomson and his co-presenters inspired us, among many other investigators, to conduct research into the neuroscientific bases of magic. Dozens of papers by labs around the world have been published in the intervening decade as a result. Johnny himself co-authored an academic review with us, on the intersection of magic and neuroscience, published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience in 2008. Our later book Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals About Our Everyday Deceptions, drew significantly from our extensive conversations with Johnny and his keen insights. Thompson was regarded as a deeply knowledgeable magician's magician and magic theorist. He was generous and kind with his wisdom and is widely recognized for having served as consultant to numerous world-renowned magic acts. Though his contributions to the neuroscience of magic are less well known than his magic artistry, they have led to significant advances in the science of attention and misdirection, too. Among the magic aphorisms we have heard over the years, one of our favorites is Johnny’s assertion that “when the audience laughs, time stops,” allowing the magician, at that precise moment, to get away with magical murder. © 2019 Scientific American

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 26119 - Posted: 04.08.2019

By: Kevin P. Madore, Ph.D., and Anthony D. Wagner, Ph.D. As you go about your day, you may barely notice that you are frequently multitasking. It may be driving to work while listening to a radio program or talking to a loved one on the phone (putting yourself and others at risk), or perusing Facebook while texting a friend, or switching back and forth between a high-level project like compiling a report and a routine chore like scheduling an appointment. Multitasking means trying to perform two or more tasks concurrently, which typically leads to repeatedly switching between tasks (i.e., task switching) or leaving one task unfinished in order to do another. The scientific study of multitasking over the past few decades has revealed important principles about the operations, and processing limitations, of our minds and brains. One critical finding to emerge is that we inflate our perceived ability to multitask: there is little correlation with our actual ability. In fact, multitasking is almost always a misnomer, as the human mind and brain lack the architecture to perform two or more tasks simultaneously. By architecture, we mean the cognitive and neural building blocks and systems that give rise to mental functioning. We have a hard time multitasking because of the ways that our building blocks of attention and executive control inherently work. To this end, when we attempt to multitask, we are usually switching between one task and another. The human brain has evolved to single task. Together with studies of patients who have suffered focal neural injuries, functional neuroimaging studies indicate that key brain systems involved in executive control and sustained attention determine our ability to multitask. These include the frontoparietal control network, dorsal attention network, and ventral attention network. © 2019 The Dana Foundation

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 26117 - Posted: 04.06.2019

Corey Hill Allen and Eyal Aharoni Brain evidence is playing an increasing role in criminal trials in the United States. An analysis indicates that brain evidence such as MRI or CAT scans – meant to provide proof of abnormalities, brain damage or disorder in defendants – was used for leniency in approximately 5 percent of murder cases at the appellate level. This number jumps to an astounding 25 percent in death penalty trials. In these cases, the evidence is meant to show that the defendant lacked the capacity to control his action. In essence, “My brain made me do it.” But does evidence of neurobiological disorder or abnormality tend to help or hurt the defendant? Legal theorists have previously portrayed physical evidence of brain dysfunction as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it might decrease a judge’s or juror’s desire to punish by minimizing the offender’s perceived responsibility for his transgressions. The thinking would be that the crime resulted from disordered brain activity, not any choice on the part of the offender. On the other hand, brain evidence could increase punitive motivations toward the offender by making him seem more dangerous. That is, if the offender’s brain truly “made him” commit the crime, there is an increased risk such behavior could occur again, even multiple times, in the future. To tease apart these conflicting motivations, our team of cognitive neuroscientists, a medical bioethicist and a philosopher investigated how people tend to weigh neurobiological evidence when deciding on criminal sentences. © 2010–2019, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Brain imaging; Consciousness
Link ID: 26111 - Posted: 04.03.2019

By Bernardo Kastrup In his 2014 book, Our Mathematical Universe, physicist Max Tegmark boldly claims that “protons, atoms, molecules, cells and stars” are all redundant “baggage.” Only the mathematical apparatus used to describe the behavior of matter is supposedly real, not matter itself. For Tegmark, the universe is a “set of abstract entities with relations between them,” which “can be described in a baggage-independent way”—i.e., without matter. He attributes existence solely to descriptions, while incongruously denying the very thing that is described in the first place. Matter is done away with and only information itself is taken to be ultimately real. This abstract notion, called information realism is philosophical in character, but it has been associated with physics from its very inception. Most famously, information realism is a popular philosophical underpinning for digital physics. The motivation for this association is not hard to fathom. Indeed, according to the Greek atomists, if we kept on dividing things into ever-smaller bits, at the end there would remain solid, indivisible particles called atoms, imagined to be so concrete as to have even particular shapes. Yet, as our understanding of physics progressed, we’ve realized that atoms themselves can be further divided into smaller bits, and those into yet smaller ones, and so on, until what is left lacks shape and solidity altogether. At the bottom of the chain of physical reduction there are only elusive, phantasmal entities we label as “energy” and “fields”—abstract conceptual tools for describing nature, which themselves seem to lack any real, concrete essence. © 2019 Scientific American

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 26080 - Posted: 03.26.2019

By Bahar Gholipour Philosophers have spent millennia debating whether we have free will, without reaching a conclusive answer. Neuroscientists optimistically entered the field in the 1980s, armed with tools they were confident could reveal the origin of actions in the brain. Three decades later, they have reached the same conclusion as the philosophers: Free will is complicated. Now, a new research program spanning 17 universities and backed by more than $7 million from two private foundations hopes to break out the impasse by bringing neuroscientists and philosophers together. The collaboration, the researchers say, can help them tackle two important questions: What does it take to have free will? And whatever that is, do we have it? Neuroscience’s first and most famous encounter with free will occurred in 1983, when physiologist Benjamin Libet made a peculiar discovery. A brain signal called the readiness potential was known to precede self-initiated actions, such as raising a hand or spontaneously tapping a finger. Libet found the readiness potential starts to rise before people report they are aware of their decision to move. Many took that as a challenge to the existence of free will. But subsequent studies argued that was a flawed interpretation, and that the results said little about free will. © 2019 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 26063 - Posted: 03.22.2019

Jayshree Pandya Even though neuroscience has made amazing advances, the origin of consciousness in humans -- and its nature and processes -- still remain largely unknown; the underlying physiological mechanisms of generating conscious beings are still not clearly understood. However, with the advances in brain mapping and neuroscience, we are perhaps much closer to finally understanding the fundamentals of consciousness in humans than ever before. It is said that what we cannot create we do not understand. While the very nature of human consciousness is difficult to understand, there is an intense effort going on to build a conscious computer mind out of computer chips (now neuromorphic chips). Understandably, there are growing concerns and questions about building a conscious mind using neuromorphic chips when there is so little clarity about the human mind and the very nature of human consciousness. Now, we can perhaps understand the human brain as a functional computer and compare it with functional computer systems/machines. Now, over the years, we have wondered: to what degree are machines aware of their internal and external surroundings? Are computer systems/machines truly aware? Are self-aware machines already here? The answer to these questions perhaps raises only more questions, as comparing consciousness in functional machines to consciousness in functional humans is more difficult than expected. ©2019 Forbes Media LLC.

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 26032 - Posted: 03.14.2019

Nicola Davis “Acting is the least mysterious of all crafts,” Marlon Brando once said. But for scientists, working out what is going on in an actor’s head has always been something of a puzzle. Now, researchers have said thespians show different patterns of brain activity depending on whether they are in character or not. Dr Steven Brown, the first author of the research from McMaster University in Canada, said: “It looks like when you are acting, you are suppressing yourself; almost like the character is possessing you.” Character building and what makes a truly great actor Read more Writing in the journal Royal Society Open Science, Brown and colleagues report how 15 method actors, mainly theatre students, were trained to take on a Shakespeare role – either Romeo or Juliet – in a theatre workshop, and were asked various questions, to which they responded in character. They were then invited into the laboratory, where their brains were scanned in a series of experiments. Once inside the MRI scanner, the actors were asked to think about their response to a number of fresh conundrums that flashed up on screen, and which might well have occurred to the star-crossed lovers, such as: would they gatecrash a party? And would they tell their parents that they had fallen in love? Each actor was asked to respond to different questions, based on four different premises assigned in a random order. In one, they were asked for their own perspective; in another, they were asked to say how they thought a particular close friend would react, while in a third, they were asked to respond as though they were either Romeo or Juliet. = © 2019 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Attention; Brain imaging
Link ID: 26029 - Posted: 03.13.2019

Philip Ball Some problems in science are so hard, we don’t really know what meaningful questions to ask about them — or whether they are even truly solvable by science. Consciousness is one of those: Some researchers think it is an illusion; others say it pervades everything. Some hope to see it reduced to the underlying biology of neurons firing; others say that it is an irreducibly holistic phenomenon. The question of what kinds of physical systems are conscious “is one of the deepest, most fascinating problems in all of science,” wrote the computer scientist Scott Aaronson of the University of Texas at Austin. “I don’t know of any philosophical reason why [it] should be inherently unsolvable” — but “humans seem nowhere close to solving it.” Now a new project currently under review hopes to close in on some answers. It proposes to draw up a suite of experiments that will expose theories of consciousness to a merciless spotlight, in the hope of ruling out at least some of them. If all is approved and goes according to plan, the experiments could start this autumn. The initial aim is for the advocates of two leading theories to agree on a protocol that would put predictions of their ideas to the test. Similar scrutiny of other theories will then follow. Whether or not this project, funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation, narrows the options for how consciousness arises, it hopes to establish a new way to do science for difficult, contentious problems. Instead of each camp championing its own view and demolishing others, researchers will collaborate and agree to publish in advance how discriminating experiments might be conducted — and then respect the outcomes. © 2019 Quanta Magazine

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 26017 - Posted: 03.07.2019

By Max Evans BBC News A stranger once waved at Boo James on a bus. She did not think any more of it - until it later emerged it was her mother. She has a relatively rare condition called face blindness, which means she cannot recognise the faces of her family, friends, or even herself. Scientists have now launched a study they hope could help train people like Boo to recognise people better. Boo said for many years she thought she was "from another planet". "It is immensely stressful and very emotionally upsetting to sit and dwell upon so I try not to do that," she said. "It's very hard work. It can be physically and emotionally exhausting to spend a day out in public constantly wondering whether you should have spoken to someone." For most of her life, she didn't know she had the condition - also known as prosopagnosia - and blamed herself for the "social awkwardness" caused when she failed to recognise people. "I had to try and find a way to explain that. I really couldn't very well, except to think that I was just the one to blame for not being bothered to remember who people were. "[Like it was] some sort of laziness: I didn't want to know them, obviously I wasn't interested enough to remember them, so that was some kind of deficiency, perhaps, in me." But the penny dropped in her early 40s when she saw a news item about the condition on television. "I then knew that the only reason I wasn't recognising that person was because my brain physically wasn't able to do it," she said. "I could immediately engage more self-understanding and forgive myself and try to approach things from a different angle." Image caption Boo has developed techniques to try to help her cope, including remembering what people wear She said her childhood was punctuated by "traumatic experiences" with fellow children, childminders and teachers she could not recognise. © 2019 BBC

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 26011 - Posted: 03.06.2019

Bruce Bower WASHINGTON — Beliefs among some university professors that intelligence is fixed, rather than capable of growth, contribute to a racial achievement gap in STEM courses, a new study suggests. Those professors may subtly communicate stereotypes about blacks, Hispanics and Native Americans allegedly being less intelligent than Asians and whites, say psychologist Elizabeth Canning of Indiana University in Bloomington and her colleagues. In turn, black, Hispanic and Native American undergraduates may respond by becoming less academically motivated and more anxious about their studies, leading to lower grades. Even small dips in STEM grades — especially for students near pass/fail cutoffs — can accumulate across the 15 or more science, technology, engineering and math classes needed to become a physician or an engineer, Canning says. That could jeopardize access to financial aid and acceptance to graduate programs. “Our work suggests that academic benefits could accrue over time if all students, and particularly underrepresented minority students, took STEM classes with faculty who endorse a growth mind-set,” Canning says. Underrepresented minority students’ reactions to professors with fixed or flexible beliefs about intelligence have yet to be studied. But over a two-year period, the disparity in grade point averages separating Asian and white STEM students from black, Hispanic and Native American peers was nearly twice as large in courses taught by professors who regarded intelligence as set in stone, versus malleable, Canning’s team reports online February 15 in Science Advances. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2019.

Keyword: Attention; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 25970 - Posted: 02.18.2019

Laura Sanders A conscious brain hums with elaborate, interwoven signals, a study finds. Scientists uncovered that new signature of consciousness by analyzing brain activity of healthy people and of people who were not aware of their surroundings. The result, published online February 6 in Science Advances, makes headway on a tough problem: how to accurately measure awareness in patients who can’t communicate. Other methods for measuring consciousness have been proposed, but because of its size and design, the new study was able to find a particularly strong signal. Conducted by an international team of researchers spanning four countries, the effort “produced clear, reliable results that are directly relevant to the clinical neuroscience of consciousness,” says cognitive neuroscientist Michael Pitts of Reed College in Portland, Ore. Consciousness — and how the brain creates it — is a squishy concept. It slips away when we sleep, and can be distorted by drugs or lost in accidents. Though scientists have proposed many biological explanations for how our brains create consciousness, a full definition still eludes scientists. By finding a clear brain signature of awareness, the new work “bring us closer to understanding what consciousness is,” says study coauthor Jacobo Sitt of INSERM in Paris. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2019.

Keyword: Consciousness; Brain imaging
Link ID: 25943 - Posted: 02.09.2019

By Kate Johnson The doctor ordered a “push” on my sedative, and I succumbed to the sweet blackness. But then something went wrong, and I was awake too soon, flailing and crying, the medical team scrambling to maneuver the tube that had been placed down my throat in what should have been a straightforward gastroscopy. I put up a violent struggle on the table: gagging and choking, trying to scream, fighting to pull the medical device out of my esophagus. “Hold her arms!” I heard someone yell. I felt hot tears, and pure terror … and then more blackness. This was the third time I had woken up under the twilight anesthesia known as “conscious sedation.” “You’ll be awake, but you won’t remember” is something thousands of patients are told every day, because the sedatives that doctors use to prepare us for these kinds of procedures come with a convenient side effect: amnesia. I had been given midazolam, a benzodiazepine known for its superior amnestic effects. I should have forgotten. But I didn’t. Instead, the fight-or-flight panic that had ensued was seared into my memory. A terrifying sense of doom enveloped me in the following days, as I kept reliving a routine medical test that my brain had registered, not unreasonably, as a physical assault. What went wrong? My previous two awakenings under conscious sedation had not filled me with the same terror as this one. They had not even struck me as unusual, since I’d been told I would not be entirely asleep. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Consciousness; Sleep
Link ID: 25942 - Posted: 02.08.2019

Ruth Williams The brains of people in vegetative, partially conscious, or fully conscious states have differing profiles of activity as revealed by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), according to a report today (February 6) in Science Advances. The results of the study indicate that, compared with patients lacking consciousness, the brains of healthy individuals exhibit highly dynamic and complex connectivity. “This new study provides a substantial advance in characterizing the ‘fingerprints’ of consciousness in the brain” Anil Seth, a neuroscientist at the University of Sussex, UK, who was not involved in the project, writes in an email to The Scientist. “It opens new doors to determining conscious states—or their absence—in a range of different conditions.” A person can lose consciousness temporarily, such as during sleep or anesthesia, or more permanently as is the case with certain brain injuries. But while unconsciousness manifests behaviorally as a failure to respond to stimuli, such behavior is not necessarily the result of unconsciousness. Some seemingly unresponsive patients, for example, can display brain activities similar to those of fully conscious individuals when asked to imagine performing a physical task such as playing tennis. Such a mental response in the absence of physical feedback is a condition known as cognitive-motor dissociation. Researchers are therefore attempting to build a better picture of what is happening in the human brain during consciousness and unconsciousness. In some studies, electroencephalography (EEG) recordings of the brain’s electrical activities during sleep, under anesthesia, or after brain injury have revealed patterns of brain waves associated with consciousness. But, says Jacobo Sitt of the Institute of Brain and Spinal Cord in Paris, such measurements do not provide good spatial information about brain activity. With fMRI, on the other hand, “we know where the activity is coming from.” © 1986 - 2019 The Scientist.

Keyword: Consciousness; Brain imaging
Link ID: 25941 - Posted: 02.08.2019

By Alex Fox If math is the language of the universe, bees may have just uttered their first words. New research suggests these busybodies of the insect world are capable of addition and subtraction—using colors in the place of plus and minus symbols. In the animal kingdom, the ability to count—or at least distinguish between differing quantities—isn’t unusual: It has been seen in frogs, spiders, and even fish. But solving equations using symbols is rare air, so far only achieved by famously brainy animals such as chimpanzees and African grey parrots. Enter the honey bee (Apis mellifera). Building on prior research that says the social insects can count to four and understand the concept of zero, researchers wanted to test the limits of what their tiny brains can do. Scientists trained 14 bees to link the colors blue and yellow to addition and subtraction, respectively. They placed the bees at the entrance of a Y-shaped maze, where they were shown several shapes in either yellow or blue. If the shapes were blue, bees got a reward if they went to the end of the maze with one more blue shape (the other end had one less blue shape); if the shapes were yellow, they got a reward if they went to the end of the maze with one less yellow shape. © 2018 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Attention; Evolution
Link ID: 25938 - Posted: 02.08.2019

By Benedict Carey The world’s most common digital habit is not easy to break, even in a fit of moral outrage over the privacy risks and political divisions Facebook has created, or amid concerns about how the habit might affect emotional health. Although four in 10 Facebook users say they have taken long breaks from it, the digital platform keeps growing. A recent study found that the average user would have to be paid $1,000 to $2,000 to be pried away for a year. So what happens if you actually do quit? A new study, the most comprehensive to date, offers a preview. Expect the consequences to be fairly immediate: More in-person time with friends and family. Less political knowledge, but also less partisan fever. A small bump in one’s daily moods and life satisfaction. And, for the average Facebook user, an extra hour a day of downtime. The study, by researchers at Stanford University and New York University, helps clarify the ceaseless debate over Facebook’s influence on the behavior, thinking and politics of its active monthly users, who number some 2.3 billion worldwide. The study was posted recently on the Social Science Research Network, an open access site. “For me, Facebook is one of those compulsive things,” said Aaron Kelly, 23, a college student in Madison, Wis. “It’s really useful, but I always felt like I was wasting time on it, distracting myself from study, using it whenever I got bored.” Mr. Kelly, who estimated that he spent about an hour a day on the platform, took part in the study “because it was kind of nice to have an excuse to deactivate and see what happened,” he said. Well before news broke that Facebook had shared users’ data without consent, scientists and habitual users debated how the platform had changed the experience of daily life. A cadre of psychologists has argued for years that the use of Facebook and other social media is linked to mental distress, especially in adolescents. Others have likened habitual Facebook use to a mental disorder, comparing it to drug addiction and even publishing magnetic-resonance images of what Facebook addiction “looks like in the brain.” © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Attention; Depression
Link ID: 25919 - Posted: 01.31.2019