Chapter 18. Attention and Higher Cognition

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or subscribe to our mailing list, to receive news updates. Learn more.


Links 1 - 20 of 1417

By Caterina Gawrilow, Sara Goudarzi Those affected by attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are clinically thought of as inattentive, hyperactive and impulsive. However, people with ADHD are also perceived as being very spontaneous, curious, inquisitive, enthusiastic, lively and witty, a perception that creates an impression they are more creative than those without ADHD. But is there truth to this idea? Creativity is generally the ability to generate something original and unprecedented. The ideas must not only be new and surprising, but also useful and relevant. Among other things, creativity comes through intensive knowledge and great motivation in a particular field, be it painting, music or mathematics. For years, both laypersons and scientists have been fascinated by the proverbial proximity of genius and madness. According to psychologist Dean Keith Simonton from the University of California, Davis, unusual and unexpected experiences, such as psychological difficulties and psychiatric stays, are an important characteristic of people who create masterpieces. Advertisement Two core symptoms, inattention and impulsiveness, suggest a connection between creativity and ADHD. Inattention, which occurs more frequently in those affected with the disorder, likely leads to mind wandering, or the drifting of thoughts from an activity or environment. Such drifting can lead to new, useful and creative ideas. © 2019 Scientific American

Keyword: ADHD
Link ID: 26324 - Posted: 06.12.2019

By John Horgan I can live without God, but I need free will. Without free will life makes no sense, it lacks meaning. So I’m always on the lookout for strong, clear arguments for free will. Christian List, a philosopher at the London School of Economics, provides such arguments in his succinct new book Why Free Will Is Real (Harvard 2019). I met List in 2015 when I decided to attend, after much deliberation, a workshop on consciousness at NYU. I recently freely chose to send him some questions, which he freely chose to answer. –John Horgan Horgan: Why philosophy? Was your choice pre-determined? List: I don’t think it was. As a teenager, I wanted to become a computer scientist or mathematician. It was only during my last couple of years at high school that I developed an interest in philosophy, and then I studied mathematics and philosophy as an undergraduate. For my doctorate, I chose political science, because I wanted to do something more applied, but I ended up working on mathematical models of collective decision-making and their implications for philosophical questions about democracy. Can majority voting produce rational collective outcomes? Are there truths to be found in politics? So, I was drawn back into philosophy. But the fact that I now teach philosophy is due to contingent events, especially meeting some philosophers who encouraged me. Horgan: Free-will denial seems to be on the rise. Why do you think that is? List: The free-will denial we are now seeing appears to be a by-product of the growing popularity of a reductionistic worldview in which everything is thought to be reducible to physical processes. If we look at the world solely through the lens of fundamental physics, for instance, then we will see only particles, fields, and forces, and there seems no room for human agency and free will. People then look like bio-physical machines. My response is that this kind of reductionism is mistaken. I want to embrace a scientific worldview, but reject reductionism. In fact, many scientists reject the sort of reductionism that is often mistakenly associated with science. © 2019 Scientific American

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 26318 - Posted: 06.10.2019

Nicholas A. Christakis What is our conscience, and where does it come from? In her highly readable Conscience, the philosopher Patricia Churchland argues that “we would have no moral stance on anything unless we were social”. That we have a conscience at all relates to how evolution has shaped our neurobiology for social living. Thus, we judge what is right or wrong using feelings that urge us in a general direction and judgement that shapes these urges into actions. Such judgement typically reflects “some standard of a group to which the individual feels attached”. This idea of conscience as a neurobiological capacity for internalizing social norms contrasts with strictly philosophical accounts of how and why we tell right from wrong. There is a strand of thought in evolutionary biology (advanced, for instance, by the theorist Bret Weinstein) that the capacity for moral debate itself has a social function, binding groups regardless of the topics contested or their abstract moral ‘rightness’. Moreover, many of our moral rules — such as the idea that we should not betray our friends or abandon our children — have clearly been shaped by natural selection to optimize our capacity to live in groups. Other rules, for instance regarding the correctness of reciprocity, are similar: we feel quite intensely and innately that if someone gives us a gift of food, we should reciprocate on a future occasion. © 2019 Springer Nature Publishing AG

Keyword: Emotions; Consciousness
Link ID: 26276 - Posted: 05.29.2019

By John Horgan In a previous post I summarized my remarks at “Souls or Selfish Genes,” a conversation at Stevens Institute of Technology about religious versus scientific views of humanity. I represented the agnostic position and David Lahti, a biologist and philosopher at the City University of New York, a position more friendly to theism. Below is Lahti’s summary of his opening comments. –John Horgan I’ve been asked to deal with the question of “Souls vs. Selfish Genes”. And whereas I am sure this is a false dichotomy, I’m not quite sure how exactly to fit the two parts of the truth together. But I’ll give you a few thoughts I’ve had about it, which can at least start us off. First, selfish genes. This of course is a reference to Richard Dawkins’ 1976 book of the same name, which is a popular and sensational description of a revolution in our understanding of the way evolution by natural selection operates. Briefly, we discovered in the 1960s-70s that the organismic individual was generally the most important level at which natural selection operates, meaning that evolution by natural selection proceeds primarily via certain individuals in a population reproducing more successfully than others. In fact, this is too simplistic. Hamilton’s theory of kin selection showed that it’s actually below the level of the individual where we really have to concentrate in order to explain certain traits, such as the self-sacrificial stinging of bees and the fact that some young male birds help their mother raise her next brood instead of looking for a mate. Those individuals are not being as selfish as we might predict. © 2019 Scientific American

Keyword: Consciousness; Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 26250 - Posted: 05.20.2019

By Dhruti Shah BBC News When Dani Donovan wanted to show her colleagues what life was like for her as someone diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), she never thought her sketches would lead to a series of web comics with a celebrity fan base. The 28-year-old, who lives in Omaha, Nebraska, was diagnosed about a decade ago with ADHD and now hopes her comics will help others to understand the challenges for those with the condition. She told the BBC: "I'd just started a new job working in data visualisation, and it was the first time I was able to be really open about having ADHD and talk to my colleagues about what it's like. "We were telling stories and joking about how I always get off track while I'm telling stories, and I said that it's very much like having a sleepy train conductor running my train of thought. I had the idea for a flowchart, I posted it on Twitter and it took off immediately." Her graphic shows that when she hears non-ADHD storytelling, it involves a straight move from the start of a story to the end. Her storytelling, however, involves a pre-story prologue before moving to the start of the story, and then wandering through 'too many details', a side-story and losing her train of thought before reaching the end of the tale - and then apologising. However, as with all things that hit the internet - once it's let loose, be careful of memes and amendments. Dani's diagram was re-versioned by an unknown person who split the flowcharts and created a meme with 'How a normal person tells a story' taking the place of the 'Non-ADHD Storytelling' heading Dani had given her first flowchart, and 'How I tell a story' replacing the 'ADHD Storytelling' heading for the meandering flowchart. © 2019 BBC

Keyword: ADHD
Link ID: 26246 - Posted: 05.18.2019

Ian Tucker Dr Hannah Critchlow is a neuroscientist at the University of Cambridge. Her debut book, The Science of Fate, examines how much of our life is predetermined at birth and to what extent we are in control of our destiny. How has the slow march of scientific research affected our concept of fate? On one hand, we know more about how genetics drives our lives, yet we also have more good evidence for things that we can do to shape our own outcomes. This concept of fate and destiny has around since the Greeks – it threads through different cultures and is deeply rooted in the way that we speak today; for instance, we often say that babies are born destined for greatness. It’s a seductive idea. If outcomes are predetermined, that absolves us of blame when things go wrong. Yeah, in some ways it’s a really nice idea, it’s a get-out-of-jail card: we are who we are, so we can just rest on our laurels. It’s quite reassuring. As a parent, I find it quite comforting for my child, because there are a millions of decisions that I have to make for him and it’s quite nice to think a lot of the work has been done now. The genes, the basic neural circuitry that acts as foundation for his life is already there. But as your book explains, our brains are quite plastic… In 2000, a landmark study demonstrated how the brains of London black-cab drivers changed as they took the Knowledge. The hippocampus, which is involved in navigation, learning and memory, enlarged in cabbies who passed the test. This study got a lot of attention and informed the idea that we can hone our brains in the same way as muscle and therefore change our ingrained habits, even become superhumans if we just train our brains in the right way. © 2019 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 26231 - Posted: 05.14.2019

By Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen L. Macknik The man and the woman sat down, facing each other in the dimly illuminated room. This was the first time the two young people had met, though they were about to become intensely familiar with each other—in an unusual sort of way. The researcher informed them that the purpose of the study was to understand “the perception of the face of another person.” The two participants were to gaze at each other’s eyes for 10 minutes straight, while maintaining a neutral facial expression, and pay attention to their partner’s face. After giving these instructions, the researcher stepped back and sat on one side of the room, away from the participants’ lines of sight. The two volunteers settled in their seats and locked eyes—feeling a little awkward at first, but suppressing uncomfortable smiles to comply with the scientist’s directions. Ten minutes had seemed like a long stretch to look deeply into the eyes of a stranger, but time started to lose its meaning after a while. Sometimes, the young couple felt as if they were looking at things from outside their own bodies. Other times, it seemed as if each moment contained a lifetime. Throughout their close encounter, each member of the duo experienced their partner’s face as everchanging. Human features became animal traits, transmogrifying into grotesqueries. There were eyeless faces, and faces with too many eyes. The semblances of dead relatives materialized. Monstrosities abounded. The bizarre perceptual phenomena that the pair witnessed were manifestations of the “strange face illusion,” first described by the psychologist Giovanni Caputo of the University of Urbino, Italy. Urbino’s original study, published in 2010, reported a new type of illusion, experienced by people looking at themselves in the mirror in low light conditions. © 2019 Scientific American

Keyword: Attention; Vision
Link ID: 26230 - Posted: 05.14.2019

Jenny Kitzinger In 1991, a car crash left Munira Abdulla, a 32-year-old woman from the United Arab Emirates, with devastating brain injuries. Doctors reportedly thought she might never regain full consciousness. However, in late 2018, almost three decades after her initial injury, Abdulla showed signs of recovery – including calling out her son’s name. Abdulla’s story became public on April 22 2019, when an interview with her son was published in The National (a major news outlet in the United Arab Emirates). The following day it was reported by international media under headlines such as “Modern-day miracle: Woman wakes after almost three decades in a coma”. The story was framed as extraordinary and inspiring – and I received a flurry of calls from journalists asking me to explain what had happened. Was she trapped in her body all along? How will she adjust to the modern world? What does this mean for families considering whether it would be kinder to let a loved one die? Just like these journalists – working to a tight timeframe – I relied on The National’s report to try to contribute to the public discussion of Abdulla’s case. This is far from ideal but, looking at this original source, there were clues that, although a very unusual case, the “miracle” might have been overstated and oversimplified. © 2010–2019, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 26228 - Posted: 05.11.2019

By John Horgan Last month my school, Stevens Institute of Technology, hosted a “debate” called “Souls or Selfish Genes?” The Stevens Christian Fellowship, which organized the event (along with Veritas), billed it as “a discussion between two professors (a Christian and non-Christian) in search of truth about what makes us human.” I was the non-Christian and David Lahti, a biologist at City University of New York, the Christian. The moderator and most of the audience (according to a show of hands) were Christian too. Lahti and I had a hard time finding things on which to disagree. I nodded along when he objected to the “souls or selfish genes” dichotomy, arguing that faith and evolutionary theory are compatible. I didn’t oppose religious belief so much as I defended disbelief, toward scientific as well as religious explanations of who we are. Below are things I said, or wanted to say, at the event. For as long as I can remember, the world has struck me as improbable, inexplicable, just plain weird. I have felt estranged from everything, including other people and myself. Psychiatrists call these feelings derealization and depersonalization. I yearned for a revelation that could dispel the weirdness and make me feel at home in my own skin. As a boy I took comfort in my parents’ religion, Catholicism. Priests, nuns and my parents assured me that I am a child of God with an immortal soul. If I obey the Ten Commandments, confess my sins and go to church, I will ascend to heaven, where I will hang out with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit (which a mural in my church depicted as a dove emanating laser beams). By the time I was 11 or so Catholicism stopped making sense. Why, if God loves us, would He inflict hell on us, just for skipping mass now and then? That doctrine, which hard-eyed nuns taught in catechism, seemed awfully harsh. Also, I couldn’t imagine how heaven could fail to be boring. © 2019 Scientific American

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 26212 - Posted: 05.07.2019

By Heather Murphy The scent of lily of the valley cannot be easily bottled. For decades companies that make soap, lotions and perfumes have relied on a chemical called bourgeonal to imbue their products with the sweet smell of the little white flowers. A tiny drop can be extraordinarily intense. If you can smell it at all, that is. For a small percentage of people, it fails to register as anything. Similarly, the earthy compound 2-ethylfenchol, present in beets, is so powerful for some people that a small chunk of the root vegetable smells like a heap of dirt. For others, that same compound is as undetectable as the scent of bottled water. These — and dozens of other differences in scent perception — are detailed in a new study, published this week in the journal PNAS. The work provides new evidence of how extraordinarily different one person’s “smellscape” may be from another’s. It’s not that some people are generally better smellers, like someone else may have better eyesight, it’s that any one person might experience certain scents more intensely than their peers. “We’re all smelling things a little bit differently,” said Steven Munger, director of The Center for Smell and Taste at the University of Florida, who was not involved in the study. The scientists who conducted the study looked for patterns in subjects’ genetic code that could explain these olfactory differences. They were surprised to find that a single genetic mutation was linked to differences in perception of the lily of the valley scent, beet’s earthiness, the intensity of whiskey’s smokiness along with dozens of other scents. “I think it’s a very important finding,” said Stavros Lomvardas, a neuroscientist at Columbia University’s Zuckerman Institute, who was not involved in the research either. The study was conducted in a large room at Rockefeller University in New York City. Around 300 subjects were invited to sit in front of a computer screen surrounded by 150 jars of assorted odors. The screen alerted them to which jar sniff at any given time, and they then rated the intensity of each on a scale from 1 (extremely weak) to 7 (extremely strong) and pleasantness from 1 (extremely unpleasant) to 7 (extremely pleasant). © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Chemical Senses (Smell & Taste); Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 26203 - Posted: 05.03.2019

By Jane E. Brody I was packing up at the end of a family vacation in Florida when my back went into an excruciating spasm unrelieved by a fistful of pain medication. As my twin sons, then 8 years old, wheeled me through the airport, one of them suggested, “Mom, if you think about something else, it won’t hurt so much.” At the time, I failed to appreciate the wisdom of his advice. Now, four decades later, a sophisticated distraction technique is being used to help patients of all ages cope with pain, both acute and chronic. The method, called Virtual Reality Therapy, goes beyond simple distraction, as might result from watching television. Rather, it totally immerses the patient in an entertaining, relaxing, interactive environment that so occupies the brain, it has no room to process pain sensations at the same time. “It’s not just a distraction — it’s like an endogenous narcotic providing a physiological and chemical burst that causes you to feel good,” said Jeffrey I. Gold, director of the pediatric pain management clinic at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “It’s different from reading a book or playing with a toy. It’s a multisensory experience that engages a person’s attention on a much deeper level.” Virtual Reality Therapy is the new kid on the block for pain management, now gradually growing in use as the opioid epidemic continues to soar and the price of the needed equipment has plummeted. VR, as it is called, has been most widely and successfully used so far to help children and adults weather acute pain, as can accompany an IV insertion or debridement of burns. But it can also enhance the effectiveness of established techniques like physical therapy, hypnosis and cognitive behavioral therapy to treat debilitating chronic pain. © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Pain & Touch; Attention
Link ID: 26182 - Posted: 04.29.2019

By Palko Karasz and Christopher F. Schuetze LONDON — When Munira Abdulla had last been fully awake, the first George Bush was America’s president and the Soviet Union was nearing its demise. It was the year the Persian Gulf war ended. In 1991, at the age of 32, Ms. Abdulla, from the oasis city of Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates, suffered injuries in a road accident that left her in a state of reduced consciousness for most of the next three decades. After 27 years, she awoke last June at a clinic near Munich, where doctors had been treating her for the complications of her long illness. “I never gave up on her, because I always had a feeling that one day she will wake up,” said Omar Webair, her 32-year-old son, who was just 4 when the accident happened. He shared his mother’s story with the Emirati news website The National on Monday. Dr. Friedemann Müller, the chief physician at the Schön Clinic, a private hospital with campuses around Germany, said that Ms. Abdulla had been in a state of minimal consciousness. He said only a handful of cases like hers, in which a patient recovered after such a long period, had been recorded. Patients in a state of reduced consciousness are usually classified into three categories. In a full coma, the patient shows no signs of being awake, with eyes closed and unresponsive to the environment. A persistent vegetative state includes those who seem awake but show no signs of awareness, while a minimally conscious state can include periods in which some response — such as moving a finger when asked — can be noted. Colloquially, all three categories are often described as comas. Signs that Ms. Abdulla was recovering started to emerge last year when she began saying her son’s name. A couple of weeks later, she started repeating verses from the Quran that she had learned decades ago. “We didn’t believe it at first,” Dr. Müller said. “But eventually it became very clear that she was saying her son’s name.” © 2019 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 26177 - Posted: 04.27.2019

Sam Wolfson People who are stoned often think they’re being funnier than they actually are, now we know they overestimate their driving ability too. Almost half of cannabis users believe it’s safe to drive when you’re high, according to a new study by PSB Research and Buzzfeed News. Perhaps unsurprisingly, those who abstain from weed, take a different view – only 14% believe someone who’s stoned can drive safely. The dangers of driving while intoxicated have been so well established that it’s easy to assume it’s the abstainers who are right and pot-smokers are simply failing to recognize the danger they pose to themselves. But a number of studies into the issue have produced a murkier picture. It’s true that THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, can impair a person’s levels of attention and their perception of time and speed, important skills you might think for driving a car. One meta-analysis of 60 studies found that marijuana use causes impairment on every measure of safe driving, including motor-coordination, visual function and completion of complex tasks. But a 2010 analysis published in the American Journal of Addiction found that while “cannabis and alcohol acutely impair several driving-related skills … marijuana smokers tend to compensate effectively while driving by utilizing a variety of behavioral strategies”. The authors concluded that while marijuana should, in theory, make you a worse driver, in tests it doesn’t seem to. “Cognitive studies suggest that cannabis use may lead to unsafe driving, experimental studies have suggested that it can have the opposite effect,” they wrote. © 2019 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Drug Abuse; Attention
Link ID: 26176 - Posted: 04.27.2019

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