Chapter 18. Attention and Higher Cognition

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By Helen Thomson The most detailed study yet of orgasm brain activity has discovered why climaxing makes women feel less pain and shown that ‘switching off’ isn’t necessary. It’s not easy to study the brain during orgasm. “A brain scanner like fMRI is the least sexy place in the world,” says Nan Wise at Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey. “It’s noisy, claustrophobic and cold.” There is also the problem of keeping your head still – movement of little more than the width of a pound coin can render data useless. Despite these hurdles, Wise and her colleagues recruited 10 heterosexual women to lay in a fMRI scanner and stimulate themselves to orgasm. They then repeated the experiment but had their partners stimulate them. Wise’s custom-fitted head stabiliser allowed the team to follow brain activity in 20 second intervals to see what happens just before, during, and after an orgasm. Pain relief Back in 1985, Wise’s colleagues Beverly Whipple and Barry Komisaruk, both at Rutgers, discovered that, during self-stimulation and orgasm, women are less likely to notice painful squeezing of a finger, and can tolerate more of this pain. They found that women’s ability to withstand pain increased by 75 per cent during stimulation, while the level of squeezing at which women noticed the pain more than doubled. Now Wise’s team has explained why. At the point of orgasm, the dorsal raphe nucleus area of the brain becomes more active. This region plays a role in controlling the release of the brain chemical serotonin, which can act as an analgesic, dampening the sensation of pain. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: Sexual Behavior; Attention
Link ID: 24187 - Posted: 10.13.2017

By Bret Stetka The concept of mindfulness involves focusing on your present situation and state of mind. This can mean awareness of your surroundings, emotions and breathing—or, more simply, enjoying each bite of a really good sandwich. Research in recent decades has linked mindfulness practices to a staggering collection of possible health benefits. Tuning into the world around you may provide a sense of well-being, an array of studies claim. Multiple reports link mindfulness with improved cognitive functioning. One study even suggests it may preserve the tips of our chromosomes, which whither away as we age. Yet many psychologists, neuroscientists and meditation experts are afraid that hype is outpacing the science. In an article released this week in Perspectives on Psychological Science, 15 prominent psychologists and cognitive scientists caution that despite its popularity and supposed benefits, scientific data on mindfulness is woefully lacking. Many of the studies on mindfulness and meditation, the authors wrote, are poorly designed—compromised by inconsistent definitions of what mindfulness actually is, and often void of a control group to rule out the placebo effect. The new paper cites a 2015 review published in American Psychologist reporting that only around 9 percent of research into mindfulness-based interventions has been tested in clinical trials that included a control group. © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Stress; Attention
Link ID: 24182 - Posted: 10.12.2017

Nicola Davis When it comes to understanding how another person thinks and feels, it might be best to close your eyes and listen. A study by an American psychologist suggests that people are better able to pick up on the emotions of others when simply focusing on their voice, compared with both watching and listening to them, or just watching them. “Humans are actually remarkably good at using many of their senses for conveying emotions, but emotion research historically is focused almost exclusively on the facial expressions,” said Michael Kraus, a social psychologist at Yale University and author of the study. While combining information from a person’s voice with their facial expressions and other cues might at first seem like a way to boost understanding of their thoughts and feelings, Kraus says pooling the senses divides attention. What’s more, he notes, facial expressions can mask a person’s true feelings – something that he says is harder to do with the voice – while language plays a key role in how people understand and label their emotions. The upshot, he says, is that what people say, and the way they say it, offers the clearest insights into the emotions of others. “Listening matters,” said Kraus. “Actually considering what people are saying and the ways in which they say it can, I believe, lead to improved understanding of others at work or in your personal relationships.” © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Attention; Hearing
Link ID: 24173 - Posted: 10.11.2017

Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder may fidget, tap and swivel around in a chair much more than normally developing children because it helps them to learn complex material, psychologists have found. ADHD is often perceived as a behavioural problem because it can result in symptoms such as inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity that can affect social interaction and learning. Scientists increasingly recognize ADHD as a brain disorder that affects about five per cent of the school-age population. Now brain tests show children with ADHD tend to learn less when sitting still compared to when they're moving. It is not for lack of motivation, says Prof. Mark Rapport, a child psychopathology researcher who focuses on ADHD at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. Rapport and his colleagues set out to test an observation made by many parents — that children with ADHD can pay attention if they are doing an activity they enjoy. They put 32 boys aged eight to 12 with ADHD and 30 of their peers who are not affected by the disorder through a battery of memory and other tests. Participants watched two videos on separate days: an instructional math lesson without performing the calculations, and a scene from Star Wars Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace. During the Star Wars movie, the boys with ADHD did not squirm more than other children, but when asked to concentrate on the math lesson, there was a difference between the two groups. "All children and all people in general, moved more when they were engaged in a working memory task. Kids with ADHD move about twice as much under the same conditions," Rapport said. ©2017 CBC/Radio-Canada.

Keyword: ADHD; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 24164 - Posted: 10.09.2017

By HEATHER MURPHY Well done -- you are an atypical person. Usually people notice the other, smaller toothbrush first. Most people will quickly spot the toothbrush on the front of the counter, but take longer — or even fail to find — the much bigger one behind it. The oversight has to do with scale. People have a tendency to miss objects when their size is inconsistent with their surroundings, according to a recent study in Current Biology. This is just the latest in a robust body of research that reveals how expectations dramatically affect our ability to notice what’s around us. Though the image above was provided by the authors of the study to illuminate their point, the study was set up slightly differently. The researchers were interested not only in what people saw — but also in how their performance compared with computers. Flesh-and-blood participants and a deep neural network, a computer system with advanced machine vision, were given one second to select an object in a computer-rendered scene, such as the one below. The object could be absent, presented at scale or featured at four times scale. Is there a parking meter in this image? Once you know what to expect, of course, it's easier. In the study, the object was either absent, presented at scale or featured at four times scale. Humans missed giant objects about 13 percent more than normal-sized objects, the researchers found. Scale had no impact on machine performance. “We were surprised about how compelling of an effect it is,” said Miguel Eckstein, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara’s Vision and Image Understanding Laboratory and one of the authors. In particular, the first time a person examined a photo with a giant object, the object often seemed to be invisible. But it’s not a deficiency, he said: “This is a useful trick the brain does to rapidly process scenes and find what we are looking for.” © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 24161 - Posted: 10.07.2017

Victoria Lorrimar Michael Burdett The idea of dangerous, inhumane artificial intelligence taking over the world is familiar to many of us, thanks to cautionary tales such as the Matrix and Terminator franchises. But what about the more sympathetic portrayals of robots? The benevolence of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator character in the later movies of the franchise may have been the exception in older portrayals of AI, but human-like machines are often represented more positively in contemporary films. Think of Ex Machina, Chappie or A.I. Artificial Intelligence. This shift is very likely representative of a wider shift in how we think about these technologies in reality. Blade Runner 2049, long-anticipated sequel to the original 1982 Blade Runner film, is a part of this shift. The ability of science fiction to inspire technological innovation is well-known. A lot of science fiction writers are scientists and technologists (Arthur C Clarke and Geoffrey Landis are two examples), and ideas from science fiction have sparked more serious scientific research (touch screens and tablet computers are common examples). But science fiction serves other purposes too. It can be a tool for exploring the social and ethical implications of technologies being developed now – a fictional laboratory for testing possible futures. It can also prepare us to deal with certain technologies as they arise in the real world. © 2010–2017, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Consciousness; Robotics
Link ID: 24160 - Posted: 10.07.2017

Hannah Devlin French scientists have been criticised for concealing the death of the patient at the centre of a breakthrough in which consciousness was restored to a man in a persistent vegetative state. The treatment was hailed as a major advance in the field and suggested that the outlook for these patients and their families might be less bleak than was previously thought. However, it has emerged that the scientists behind the research withheld the fact that the man, who remains anonymous, died a few months after receiving the therapy. The team justified the decision, citing the family’s wish to keep the death private and a concern that people might have wrongly linked the therapy, which involved nerve stimulation, to the 35-year-old’s death from a lung infection. However, others said the decision had created an over-optimistic narrative of a patient on an upward trajectory. Damian Cruse, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Birmingham, said: “I do worry that the media coverage of the study gave a more hopeful message to other families in this situation than the message that perhaps would have been delivered with all of the facts … If we protect patient anonymity, then there’s no reason not to be able to tell the full story.” When the paper came out last month, Angela Sirigu, who led the work at the Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod in Lyon, France, told the Guardian: “He is still paralysed, he cannot talk, but he can respond. Now he is more aware.” © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 24155 - Posted: 10.06.2017

By Caroline Williams We are used to hearing that meditation is good for the brain, but now it seems that not just any kind of meditation will do. Just like physical exercise, the kind of improvements you get depends on exactly how you train – and most of us are doing it all wrong. That the brain changes physically when we learn a new skill, like juggling or playing a musical instrument, has been known for over a decade. Previous studies had suggested that meditation does something similar for parts of the brain involved in focused attention. Two new studies published in Science Advances suggest that certain kinds of meditation can change social and emotional circuitry, too. The research comes out of the ReSource Project at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany, and looked at the effects of three different meditation techniques on the brains and bodies of more than 300 volunteers over 9 months. One technique was based on mindfulness meditation, and taught people to direct attention to the breath or body. A second type concentrated on compassion and emotional connection via loving kindness meditations and non-judgmental problem-sharing sessions with a partner. A final method encouraged people to think about issues from different points of view, also via a mix of partnered sessions and solo meditation. In one study, MRI scans taken after each three-month course showed that parts of the cortex involved in the specific skill that was trained grew thicker in comparison with scans from a control group. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: Stress
Link ID: 24149 - Posted: 10.05.2017

Alva Noë Philosophers have long worried whether it is ever really possible to know how things are, internally, with another. After all, we are confined to the external — to mere behavior, or perhaps to behavior plus measurements of brain activity. But the thoughts, feelings, images, sensations of another person, these are always hidden from our direct inspection. The situation of doctors facing unresponsive victims of brain injury is a terrifying real-world example of the fact that we our locked out of the minds of another. Consider the remarkable report, published Monday in Current Biology and discussed here, that a team in France has enabled a patient who has languished for 15 years in a vegetative state, to show, as they claim, a marked improvement in his levels of consciousness. They achieved this by means of the direct and sustained stimulation of the vagus nerve. As Dr. Angela Sirigu, one of the team leaders, explains by email, the results are dramatic: "After VNS [vagus nerve stimulation] the patient could respond to simple orders that were impossible before (to follow an object with his gaze, to turn the head on the other side of the bed on verbal request). His ability to sustain attention, like staying awake when listening to his therapist reading a book, greatly improved as reported by the mother. After stimulation, we found also responses to 'threat' that were absent before implantation. For instance, when the examiner's head suddenly approached to the patient's face, he reacted with surprise by opening the eyes wide, a reaction which indicates that he was fully aware that the examiner was too close to him." © 2017 npr

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 24127 - Posted: 09.30.2017

Hannah Devlin A 35-year-old man who had been in a persistant vegetative state (PVS) for 15 years has shown signs of consciousness after receiving a pioneering therapy involving nerve stimulation. The treatment challenges a widely-accepted view that there is no prospect of a patient recovering consciousness if they have been in PVS for longer than 12 months. Since sustaining severe brain injuries in a car accident, the man had been completely unaware of the world around him. But when fitted with an implant to stimulate the vagus nerve, which travels into the brain stem, the man appeared to flicker back into a state of consciousness. He started to track objects with his eyes, began to stay awake while being read a story and his eyes opened wide in surprise when the examiner suddenly moved her face close to the patient’s. He could even respond to some simple requests, such as turning his head when asked – although this took about a minute. Angela Sirigu, who led the work at the Institut des Sciences Cognitives Marc Jeannerod in Lyon, France, said: “He is still paralysed, he cannot talk, but he can respond. Now he is more aware.” Niels Birbaumer, of the University of Tübingen and a pioneer of brain-computer interfaces to help patients with neurological disorders communicate, said the findings, published in the journal Current Biology, raised pressing ethical issues. “Many of these patients may and will have been neglected, and passive euthanasia may happen often in a vegetative state,” he said. “This paper is a warning to all those believing that this state is hopeless after a year.” © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 24116 - Posted: 09.26.2017

By Anil Ananthaswamy “We were very happy when we saw him reacting,” says Angela Sirigu of the French National Centre for Scientific Research in Bron, leader of the team that has “woken” a man from a vegetative state. “This patient is like our baby. We are very attached to him. He’ll always remain in our hearts, because he’s our first patient.” Sirigu and her colleagues chose the 35-year-old man to be the first to trial vagus nerve stimulation because his condition had not improved for 15 years. They reasoned that any improvements in his behaviour would be down to the stimulation and not simply chance fluctuations. Before the stimulation started, the man was unresponsive, and his eyes were shut for most of the day. If open, they would stare into empty space, says Sirigu. “You had the feeling he was not looking at you.” That changed once her team began stimulating his vagus nerve. Almost immediately, he began opening his eyes more often. About a month after stimulation began, his behavioural improvements started stabilising. “His eyes were moving around as if he wanted to follow me,” says Sirigu. He then began to respond to instructions to turn his gaze from one side of the bed to another. When a clinician asked him to smile, he’d react by raising his left cheek. When the team played some of his favourite music by French singer Jean-Jacques Goldman, the man had tears in his eyes. Sirigu says vagus nerve stimulation activates the neuroendocrinal system, which can explain the tears. But it happened at the same time as he listened to his preferred music, says Sirigu. “What can we say? We can conclude that there was an emotional reaction.” © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 24115 - Posted: 09.26.2017

By Anna Azvolinsky To define human consciousness at the neuronal level is among the most difficult of tasks for neuroscience. Still, researchers have made inroads, most recently by sinking electrodes deep with the brains of epilepsy patients and recording the activity of single neurons as the awake patients described whether they observed an image flashed before them. Previous work had found that the stronger the individual neuron activity, the more likely it is to be associated with conscious perception. In this latest study, published today (September 21) in Current Biology, researchers from the University of Bonn Medical Center in Germany find a second factor—timing—that appears important to the brain’s conscious awareness. Firing of single neurons within the medial temporal lobe (MTL), which is important for long-term memory, was weaker and delayed when human subjects were not aware of seeing an image compared to when they reported seeing one. “[The authors] contribute a major piece of the puzzle of human consciousness with a set of data that is very impressive,” says Rafael Malach, a neurobiologist who studies the human brain at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and who was not involved in the work. “This is a well-designed study done in a medical setting that generated a unique dataset that is not easy to obtain,” says Itzhak Fried, a professor of neurosurgery at the Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was also not involved in the work but who has previously collaborated with one of the study’s authors, Florian Mormann. © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 24100 - Posted: 09.23.2017

James Gorman Imagine a species that lived in a world of smells and didn’t pay a lot of attention to what things look like. What would members of that species use for a mirror? Would they even want a mirror? Yes, of course, we are talking about dogs, who usually don’t seem to understand the mirrors humans use. Sometimes they ignore them. Often they bark as if the dog in the mirror were a stranger. Scientists use mirrors to find out if animals recognize themselves, to see if they have some sense of self. Chimpanzees do very well on what is called the mirror test. A chimp will notice a mark on his face and perhaps even use the mirror to aid in removing it. He might use the mirror to examine parts of his body he can’t normally see, like the inside of his mouth. Researchers have reported that dolphins, one elephant and a magpie have also passed this test. Dogs have not, and that has raised questions about whether dogs might recognize themselves if another sense were tested. Alexandra Horowitz, a psychologist at Barnard College who studies the behavior of dogs and has written several books about them, decided to give dogs a chance at showing self-recognition on their own, smelly terms. In a recent study, she concludes that they do recognize the smell of their own urine. While some researchers find the study intriguing, the scientist who first developed that mirror mark test doesn’t think the evidence supports her conclusion. Still, even the idea of a smell mirror is mind (nose?) boggling. “I had always flirted with the idea in my head that there should be an olfactory mirror,” Dr. Horowitz said, acknowledging that “it could be horrifying for humans.” © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste); Consciousness
Link ID: 24095 - Posted: 09.22.2017

By Ariana Eunjung Cha Over the past two decades, U.S. parents and teachers have reported epidemic levels of children with trouble focusing, impulsive behavior and so much energy that they are bouncing off walls. Educators, policymakers and scientists have referred to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, as a national crisis and have spent billions of dollars looking into its cause. They've looked at genetics, brain development, exposure to lead, the push for early academics, and many other factors. But what if the answer to at least some cases of ADHD is more obvious? What if, as a growing number of researchers are proposing, many kids today simply aren't getting the sleep they need, leading to challenging behaviors that mimic ADHD? That provocative and controversial theory has been gaining momentum in recent years, with several studies suggesting strong links between ADHD and the length, timing and quality of sleep. In an era in which even toddlers know the words Netflix and Hulu, when demands for perfectionism extend to squirmy preschoolers and many elementary-age students juggle multiple extracurricular activities each day, one question is whether some kids are so stimulated or stressed that they are unable to sleep as much or as well as they should. Growing evidence suggests that a segment of children with ADHD are misdiagnosed and actually suffer from insufficient sleep, insomnia, obstructed breathing or another known sleep disorder. But the most paradigm-challenging idea may be that ADHD may itself be a sleep disorder. If correct, this idea could fundamentally change the way ADHD is studied and treated. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Keyword: ADHD; Sleep
Link ID: 24092 - Posted: 09.21.2017

Patrick Barkham Humans trying to chat each other up in a noisy nightclub may find verbal communication futile. But it appears even more pointless for pumpkin toadlets after scientists discovered that females have lost the ability to hear the sound of male mating calls. An international team from Brazil, Denmark and the UK has discovered that the males of two species of tiny orange frogs continue to make high-pitched calls despite neither females nor males being able to hear them. It is believed to be the first case in the animal kingdom of a communication signal enduring even after its target audience has lost the ability to detect it. Field studies began in Brazil’s Atlantic forest by playing frog calls to determine how these species, which possess a middle ear, could hear their own calls. Lead researcher Dr Sandra Goutte at the Universidade Estadual de Campinas, São Paulo, was surprised to find the frogs refused to respond to her playback communication, didn’t change their calling behaviour and didn’t even orient themselves towards the sounds. “I thought I would find the sound transmission pathway from the outside to the middle ear,” she said. “We didn’t think it would be possible that they would not be able to hear their own calls.” © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Hearing; Sexual Behavior
Link ID: 24088 - Posted: 09.21.2017

Sigal Samuel James Kugel has been spent his entire scholarly career studying the Bible, but some very basic questions about it still obsess him. What was it about the minds of ancient Israelites that allowed them to hear and see God directly—or at least, to believe that they did? Were the biblical prophets literally hearing voices and seeing visions, understanding themselves to be transmitting God’s own exact words? If so, why did such direct encounters with God become rarer over time? In his new and final book, The Great Shift, Kugel investigates these questions through the lens of neuroscientific findings. (The approach is reminiscent of other recent books, like Kabbalah: A Neurocognitive Approach to Mystical Experiences, co-written by a neurologist and a mysticism scholar.) First, Kugel uses biblical research to show that ancient people had a “sense of self” that was fundamentally different from the one modern Westerners have—and that this enabled them to experience and interpret prophecy differently than we do. Then he uses scientific research to show that we shouldn’t assume their view was wrong. If anything, our modern Western notion of the bounded, individual self is the anomaly; most human beings throughout history conceived of the self as a porous entity open to intrusions. In fact, much of the rest of the world today still does. Kugel cites several studies showing that even now, many healthy people hear voices—as much as 15 percent of the general population. He also cites a recent cross-cultural study in which researchers interviewed voice hearers in the United States, Ghana, and India. The researchers recorded “striking differences” in how the different groups of people felt about the voices they hear: In Ghana and India, many participants “insisted that their predominant or even only experience of the voice was positive. … Not one American did so.” (c) 2017 by The Atlantic Monthly Group.

Keyword: Consciousness; Attention
Link ID: 24084 - Posted: 09.20.2017

By Bernardo Kastrup An article on the neuroscience of infant consciousness, which attracted some interest a few years ago, asked: “When does your baby become conscious?” The premise, of course, was that babies aren’t born conscious but, instead, develop consciousness at some point. (According to the article, it is about five months of age). Yet, it is hard to think that there is nothing it feels like to be a newborn. Newborns clearly seem to experience their own bodies, environment, the presence of their parents, etcetera—albeit in an unreflective, present-oriented manner. And if it always feels like something to be a baby, then babies don’t become conscious. Instead, they are conscious from the get-go. The problem is that, somewhat alarmingly, the word “consciousness” is often used in the literature as if it entailed or implied more than just the qualities of experience. Dijksterhuis and Nordgren, for instance, insisted that “it is very important to realize that attention is the key to distinguish between unconscious thought and conscious thought. Conscious thought is thought with attention.” This implies that if a thought escapes attention, then it is unconscious. But is the mere lack of attention enough to assert that a mental process lacks the qualities of experience? Couldn’t a process that escapes the focus of attention still feel like something? Consider your breathing right now: the sensation of air flowing through your nostrils, the movements of your diaphragm, etcetera. Were you not experiencing these sensations a moment ago, before I directed your attention to them? Or were you just unaware that you were experiencing them all along? By directing your attention to these sensations, did I make them conscious or did I simply cause you to experience the extra quality of knowing that the sensations were conscious? © 2017 Scientific American,

Keyword: Consciousness; Attention
Link ID: 24083 - Posted: 09.20.2017

You may well be yawning just reading this - it's contagious. Now researchers have looked at what happens in our brains to trigger that response. A University of Nottingham team found it occurs in a part of the brain responsible for motor function. The primary motor cortex also plays a part in conditions such as Tourette's syndrome. So the scientists say understanding contagious yawning could also help understand those disorders too. Contagious yawning is a common form of echophenomena - the automatic imitation of someone else's words or actions. Echophenomena is also seen in Tourette's, as well as in other conditions, including epilepsy and autism. To test what's happening in the brain during the phenomenon, scientists monitored 36 volunteers while they watched others yawning. In the study, published in the journal Current Biology, some were told it was fine to yawn while others were told to stifle the urge. The urge to yawn was down to how each person's primary motor cortex worked - its "excitability". And, using external transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), it was also possible to increase "excitability" in the motor cortex and therefore people's propensity for contagious yawns. Georgina Jackson, professor of cognitive neuropsychology who worked on the study, said the finding could have wider uses: "In Tourette's, if we could reduce the excitability we might reduce the ticks, and that's what we are working on." Prof Stephen Jackson, who also worked on the research, added: "If we can understand how alterations in cortical excitability give rise to neural disorders we can potentially reverse them. "We are looking for potential non-drug, personalised treatments, using TMS that might be effective in modulating imbalances in the brain networks." © 2017 BBC

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 24022 - Posted: 09.01.2017

By Helen Thomson Have you ever seen the Virgin Mary in your grilled cheese? Or a screaming face inside a bell pepper? Seeing faces in inanimate objects is a common phenomenon. Now it seems that we’re not alone in experiencing it – monkeys do too. Pareidolia is the scientific term for erroneously perceiving faces where none exist. Other examples including seeing “ghosts” in blurry photos and the man in the moon. To investigate whether pareidolia was a uniquely human experience, Jessica Taubert at the US National Institute of Mental Health in Maryland and her colleagues trained five rhesus macaques to stare at pairs of photos. Each photo showed either an inanimate object that prompts pareidolia in humans, an equivalent object that doesn’t, or the face of a monkey (below). We already knew that both people and monkeys will look longer at images of faces than other things. So the team presented each of the photos in every possible pairing – 1980 in all – and measured the time the monkeys spent looking at each. The monkeys did indeed seem to succumb to pareidolia – they spent more time looking at illusory faces than the non-illusory photos they were paired with. Interestingly, they also spent more time looking at the illusory faces than the monkey faces, perhaps because they spent longer studying these more unusual “faces”, or because they tend to dislike holding the gaze of another monkey. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 23997 - Posted: 08.25.2017

By Helen Thomson Our brains seem better at predictions than we are. A part of our brain becomes active when it knows something will be successfully crowdfunded, even if we consciously decide otherwise. If this finding stands up and works in other areas of life, neuroforecasting may lead to better voting polls or even predict changes in financial markets. To see if one can predict market behaviour by sampling a small number of people, Brian Knutson at Stanford University in California and his team scanned the brains of 30 people while they decided whether to fund 36 projects from the crowdfunding website Kickstarter. The projects were all recently posted proposals for documentary films. Each participant had their brain scanned while taking in the pictures and descriptions of each campaign, and they were then asked if they would want to fund the project. When the real Kickstarter campaigns ended a few weeks later, 18 of the projects had gained enough funding to go forward. Examining the participants’ brain scans, the team discovered that activity in a region called the nucleus accumbens had been different when they considered projects that later went on to be successful. Prediction paradox The team trained an algorithm to recognise these differences in brain activity using scan data from 80 per cent of the projects, then tested the program on the remaining 20 per cent. Using neural activity alone, the algorithm was able to forecast which Kickstarter campaigns would be funded with 59.1 per cent accuracy – more than would be expected by chance. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 23984 - Posted: 08.22.2017