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Some human brains are nearly twice the size of others – but how might that matter? Researchers at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and their NIH grant-funded colleagues have discovered that these differences in size are related to the brain’s shape and the way it is organized. The bigger the brain, the more its additional area is accounted for by growth in thinking areas of the cortex, or outer mantle – at the expense of relatively slower growth in lower order emotional, sensory, and motor areas. This mirrors the pattern of brain changes seen in evolution and individual development – with higher-order areas showing greatest expansion. The researchers also found evidence linking the high-expanding regions to higher connectivity between neurons and higher energy consumption. “Just as different parts are required to scale-up a garden shed to the size of a mansion, it seems that big primate brains have to be built to different proportions,” explained Armin Raznahan, M.D., Ph.D., of the NIMH Intramural Research Program (IRP). “An extra investment has to be made in the part that integrates information – but that’s not to say that it’s better to have a bigger brain. Our findings speak more to the different organizational needs of larger vs. smaller brains.” Raznahan, P.K. Reardon, Jakob Seidlitz, and colleagues at more than six collaborating research centers report on their study incorporating brain scan data from more than 3,000 people in Science. Reardon and Seidlitz are students in the NIH Oxford-Cambridge Scholars Program.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 25045 - Posted: 06.01.2018

By Simon Makin Everyone has unwelcome thoughts from time to time. But such intrusions can signal serious psychiatric conditions—from “flashbacks” in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to obsessive negative thinking in depression to hallucinations in schizophrenia. “These are some of the most debilitating symptoms,” says neuroscientist Michael Anderson of the University of Cambridge. New research led by Anderson and neuroscientist Taylor Schmitz, now at McGill University, suggests these symptoms may all stem from a faulty brain mechanism responsible for blocking thoughts. Researchers studying this faculty usually focus on the prefrontal cortex (PFC), a control center that directs the activity of other brain regions. But Anderson and his colleagues noticed that conditions featuring intrusive thoughts—such as schizophrenia—often involve increased activity in the hippocampus, an important memory region. The severity of symptoms such as hallucinations also increases with this elevated activity. In the new study, Anderson and his team had healthy participants learn a series of word pairs. The subjects were presented with one word and had to either recall or suppress the associated one. When participants suppressed thoughts, brain scans detected increased activity in part of the PFC and reduced activity in the hippocampus. The findings, which were published last November in Nature Communications, are consistent with a brain circuit in which a “stop” command from the PFC suppresses hippocampus activity. © 2018 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 24864 - Posted: 04.13.2018

Jason Murugesu We all daydream, whether about marrying Rihanna, discovering a sudden ability to sing opera or never having to answer another email again. Yet it is only in the last few decades that the science behind daydreaming, or mind-wandering as it is termed in most academic literature, has transitioned from the realms of pseudoscience to the cutting edge of cognitive neuroscience. At its most basic, daydreaming is your mind wandering from the here and now. Traditionally, daydreaming was considered to be a single psychological state of mind. This, however, caused conflict in academic literature, and the resulting confusion is the reason why you might read that daydreaming is linked to happiness in one paper, but to depression in the next. Different types of mind-wandering have been conflated. Using neuroimaging techniques, a study conducted last year by the University of York found that different types of daydreams – for example, those which are fantastical, autobiographical, future orientated or past oriented – were built up of different neuronal activation patterns, and by virtue could not be considered a single psychological construct. Nevertheless, if we consider all these types of mind-wandering together, you would be surprised about how much of our waking time we spend daydreaming. In 2008, Professor Matthew Killingsworth, then at Harvard University, used an app that contacted a large group of people at random points of the day to find out how often they were daydreaming. The app would ask its users what they were doing, and whether they were thinking about something else entirely. They found that 46.9 per cent of the time, the user was mind-wandering.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 24852 - Posted: 04.11.2018

by Meeri Kim On a beautiful autumn afternoon in New York’s Central Park, Carol Berman had the horrifying realization that her husband of 40 years no longer recognized her as his wife. In his eyes, she wasn’t the real Carol but rather some strange woman pretending to be Carol — effectively, an impostor. They were out for a stroll when he started yelling at a woman with a similar hairdo farther up the street: “Carol! Carol, come here!” Shocked, his wife faced him head-on, looked deep into his eyes and reassured him that she was right here. But he refused to acknowledge her as the real Carol. Marty Berman had been a warmhearted, highly intelligent and hard-working patent lawyer for much of his life. But at 74, he began to show signs of dementia. Once proficient in math and engineering, he could no longer subtract simple numbers correctly. A man who had walked the whole of Manhattan couldn’t go a few blocks by himself anymore without getting lost. Perhaps the most painful part for Carol was when her husband’s delusion developed a year or two after his initial symptoms arose. Capgras syndrome is a psychological condition that prompts a person to believe that loved ones have been replaced by identical duplicates of themselves. As a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at New York University, Carol had treated several Capgras patients. But witnessing the delusion in the person she loved the most, whom she was already losing to dementia, was agonizing. © 1996-2018 The Washington Post

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 24833 - Posted: 04.07.2018

By Simon Makin Everyone has unwelcome thoughts from time to time. But such intrusions can signal serious psychiatric conditions—from “flashbacks” in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to obsessive negative thinking in depression to hallucinations in schizophrenia. “These are some of the most debilitating symptoms,” says neuroscientist Michael Anderson of the University of Cambridge. New research led by Anderson and neuroscientist Taylor Schmitz, now at McGill University, suggests these symptoms may all stem from a faulty brain mechanism responsible for blocking thoughts. Researchers studying this faculty usually focus on the prefrontal cortex (PFC), a control center that directs the activity of other brain regions. But Anderson and his colleagues noticed that conditions featuring intrusive thoughts—such as schizophrenia—often involve increased activity in the hippocampus, an important memory region. The severity of symptoms such as hallucinations also increases with this elevated activity. In the new study, Anderson and his team had healthy participants learn a series of word pairs. The subjects were presented with one word and had to either recall or suppress the associated one. When participants suppressed thoughts, brain scans detected increased activity in part of the PFC and reduced activity in the hippocampus. The findings, which were published last November in Nature Communications, are consistent with a brain circuit in which a “stop” command from the PFC suppresses hippocampus activity. © 2018 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 24775 - Posted: 03.21.2018

Laura Sanders We can’t see it, but brains hum with electrical activity. Brain waves created by the coordinated firing of huge collections of nerve cells pinball around the brain. The waves can ricochet from the front of the brain to the back, or from deep structures all the way to the scalp and then back again. Called neuronal oscillations, these signals are known to accompany certain mental states. Quiet alpha waves ripple soothingly across the brains of meditating monks. Beta waves rise and fall during intense conversational turns. Fast gamma waves accompany sharp insights. Sluggish delta rhythms lull deep sleepers, while dreamers shift into slightly quicker theta rhythms. Researchers have long argued over whether these waves have purpose, and what those purposes might be. Some scientists see waves as inevitable but useless by-products of the signals that really matter — messages sent by individual nerve cells. Waves are simply a consequence of collective neural behavior, and nothing more, that view holds. But a growing body of evidence suggests just the opposite: Instead of by-products of important signals, brain waves are key to how the brain operates, routing information among far-flung brain regions that need to work together. MIT’s Earl Miller is among the neuro­scientists amassing evidence that waves are an essential part of how the brain operates. Brain oscillations deftly route information in a way that allows the brain to choose which signals in the world to pay attention to and which to ignore, his recent studies suggest. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2018

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Link ID: 24750 - Posted: 03.14.2018

By NEIL GENZLINGER Anne M. Treisman, whose insights into how we perceive the world around us provided some of the core theories for the field of cognitive psychology, died on Friday at her home in Manhattan. She was 82. Her daughter Deborah Treisman said the cause was a stroke after a long illness. Dr. Treisman considered a fundamental question: How does the brain make sense of the bombardment of input it is receiving and focus attention on a particular object or activity? What she came up with is called the feature integration theory of attention, detailed in a much-cited 1980 article written with Garry Gelade in the journal Cognitive Psychology, then refined and elaborated on in later work. “Perhaps Anne’s central insight in the field of visual attention was that she realized that you could see basic features like color, orientation and shape everywhere in the visual field, but that there was a problem in knowing how those colors, orientations, shapes, etc., were ‘bound’ together into objects,” Jeremy M. Wolfe, director of the Visual Attention Lab of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, explained in an email. “Her seminal feature integration theory,” he continued, “proposed that selective attention to an object or location enabled the binding of those features and, thus, enabled object recognition. Much argument has followed, but her formulation of the problem has shaped the field for almost four decades.” Dr. Treisman did not merely theorize about how perception works; she tested her ideas with countless experiments in which subjects were asked, for instance, to pick a particular letter out of a visual field, or to identify black digits and colored letters flashing by. The work showed not only how we perceive, but also how we can sometimes misperceive. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 10: Vision: From Eye to Brain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 7: Vision: From Eye to Brain
Link ID: 24657 - Posted: 02.14.2018

By NATALIE ANGIER Every night during breeding season, the male túngara frog of Central America will stake out a performance patch in the local pond and spend unbroken hours broadcasting his splendor to the world. The mud-brown frog is barely the size of a shelled pecan, but his call is large and dynamic, a long downward sweep that sounds remarkably like a phaser weapon on “Star Trek,” followed by a brief, twangy, harmonically dense chuck. Unless, that is, a competing male starts calling nearby, in which case the first frog is likely to add two chucks to the tail of his sweep. And should his rival respond likewise, Male A will tack on three chucks. Back and forth they go, call and raise, until the frogs hit their respiratory limit at six to seven rapid-fire chucks. The acoustic one-upfrogship is energetically draining and risks attracting predators like bats. Yet the male frogs have no choice but to keep count of the competition, for the simple reason that female túngaras are doing the same: listening, counting and ultimately mating with the male of maximum chucks. Behind the frog’s surprisingly sophisticated number sense, scientists have found, are specialized cells located in the amphibian midbrain that tally up sound signals and the intervals between them. “The neurons are counting the number of appropriate pulses, and they’re highly selective,” said Gary Rose, a biologist at the University of Utah. If the timing between pulses is off by just a fraction of a second, the neurons don’t fire and the counting process breaks down. “It’s game over,” Dr. Rose said. “Just as in human communication, an inappropriate comment can end the whole conversation.” © 2018 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 24623 - Posted: 02.06.2018

By ALAN BURDICK In his first year in office President Trump gave himself credit for numerous accomplishments that he had little or nothing to do with: the passage of the Republican tax bill; Walmart’s creating 10,000 jobs in the United States; the invention of the phrase “prime the pump”; and the fact that in his brief tenure, nobody died in a commercial aviation accident. (The last fatal crash on a domestic commercial airline in the United States was in 2009.) But one thing that Mr. Trump almost certainly managed to do, without effort or notice, is alter our perception of time. We’re all aware that our experience of time is fungible: Days fly by, conversations drag on, that weeklong vacation seems to last forever until suddenly it doesn’t. As long ago as 1890 the psychologist William James noted that our feelings of time “harmonize with different mental moods.” There now exists a large body of scientific literature demonstrating that emotions play a large part in generating these temporal flexions. For instance, when viewing faces on a computer monitor, lab subjects report that happy faces seem to last longer onscreen than nonexpressive ones, and angry faces seem to last longer still. Fear, alarm and stress are factors too. Forty-five seconds with a live spider seems to last far longer to people who are afraid of spiders. Watching three minutes of video clips of the Sept. 11 attacks feels longer than watching a three-minute clip from “The Wizard of Oz.” Now consider that Mr. Trump’s first year in office must rank as the most chaotic and tumultuous in modern presidential history. Virtually every week served up a new drama: the firing of the national security adviser Michael Flynn; the firing of the F.B.I. director James Comey; the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel; Mr. Trump’s announcement, via Twitter, banning transgender people from the military; his bungled phone call to the widow of a soldier killed in Niger; his support of the Senate candidacy of Roy Moore; his pardon of the former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio; his mockery of the television host Mika Brzezinski; his failure to immediately denounce the white supremacist marchers in Charlottesville, Va.; his rants about the peaceful protests of professional football players; his taunting of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un with his bigger “nuclear button.” It has been a 12-month-long emotional roller coaster, even for Mr. Trump’s supporters. © 2018 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 24551 - Posted: 01.22.2018

Ian Sample Science editor Donatella Versace finds it in the conflict of ideas, Jack White under pressure of deadlines. For William S Burroughs, an old Dadaist trick helped: cutting pages into pieces and rearranging the words. Every artist has their own way of generating original ideas, but what is happening inside the brain might not be so individual. In new research, scientists report signature patterns of neural activity that mark out those who are most creative. “We have identified a pattern of brain connectivity that varies across people, but is associated with the ability to come up with creative ideas,” said Roger Beaty, a psychologist at Harvard University. “It’s not like we can predict with perfect accuracy who’s going to be the next Einstein, but we can get a pretty good sense of how flexible a given person’s thinking is.” Creative thinking is one of the primary drivers of cultural and technological change, but the brain activity that underpins original thought has been hard to pin down. In an effort to shed light on the creative process, Beaty teamed up with colleagues in Austria and China to scan people’s brains as they came up with original ideas. The scientists asked the volunteers to perform a creative thinking task as they lay inside a brain scanner. While the machine recorded their white matter at work, the participants had 12 seconds to come up with the most imaginative use for an object that flashed up on a screen. Three independent scorers then rated their answers. © 2018 Guardian News and Media Limited

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System
Link ID: 24531 - Posted: 01.16.2018

By Adam Bear, Rebecca Fortgang and Michael Bronstein Have you ever felt as though you predicted exactly when the light was going to turn green or sensed that the doorbell was about to ring? Imagine the possibility that these moments of clairvoyance occur simply because of a glitch in your mind’s time logs. What happened first — your thought about the doorbell or its actual ringing? It may have felt as if the thought came first, but when two events (ringing of doorbell, thought about doorbell) occur close together, we can mistake their order. This leads to the sense that we accurately predicted the future when, in fact, all we did is notice the past. In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, we found that this tendency to mix up the timing of thoughts and events may be more than a simple mental hiccup. We supposed that if some people are prone to mixing up the order of their thoughts and perceptions in this way, they could develop a host of odd beliefs. Most obviously, they might come to believe they are clairvoyant or psychic — having abilities to predict such things as whether it is going to rain. Further, these individuals might confabulate — unconsciously make up — explanations for why they have these special abilities, inferring that they are particularly important (even godlike) or are tapping into magical forces that transcend the physical world. Such beliefs are hallmarks of psychosis, seen in mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, but they are not uncommon in less-extreme forms in the general population. Would even ordinary people who mistime their thoughts and perceptions be more likely to hold ­delusion-like ideas? © 1996-2018 The Washington Post

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 16: Psychopathology: Biological Basis of Behavior Disorders
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 12: Psychopathology: The Biology of Behavioral Disorders
Link ID: 24527 - Posted: 01.15.2018

by Ben Guarino The next time a friend tells you that you look sick, hear the person out. We are better than chance at detecting illness in others simply by looking at their faces, according to new research led by a Swedish psychologist. “We can detect subtle cues related to the skin, eyes and mouth,” said John Axelsson of the Karolinska Institute, who co-wrote the study published Tuesday in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B. “And we judge people as sick by those cues.” Other species have more finely tuned disease radars, relying primarily on the sense of smell. And previous research, Axelsson noted, has shown that animals can sniff sickness in other animals. (A Canadian hospital enlisted the help of an English springer spaniel trained to smell bacterial spores that infect patients.) Yet while there is some evidence that an unhealthy person gives off odors that another individual can identify as sickness, the face is our primary source of “social information for communication,” Axelsson said. He and his colleagues, a team that included neuroscientists and psychologists in Germany and Sweden, injected eight men and eight women with a molecule found in bacterial membranes. Like animals — from insects to mammals — people react very strongly to this substance, lipopolysaccharide. “People did not really become sick from the bacteria,” Axelsson said, but their bodies did not know the bacteria weren't actually attacking. Their immune systems kicked into action, complete with feelings of sickness. The subjects, all white, received about $430 for their trouble. © 1996-2018 The Washington Post

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 24483 - Posted: 01.03.2018

Just 10 minutes of aerobic exercise can improve executive function by priming parts of the brain used to laser focus on the task at hand, according to a new study. This paper, “Executive-Related Oculomotor Control Is Improved Following a 10-minute Single-Bout of Aerobic Exercise: Evidence from the Antisaccade Task,” was published in the January 2018 issue of Neuropsychologia. This research was conducted by Matthew Heath, who is a kinesiology professor and supervisor in the Graduate Program in Neuroscience at the University of Western Ontario, along with UWO master’s student Ashna Samani. For this study, Samani and Heath asked a cohort of healthy young adults to either sit quietly and read magazines or perform 10 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) on a stationary bicycle. (MVPA aerobic intensity is hard enough that you might break a sweat but easy enough that you can carry on a conversation.) Immediately after the 10-minute reading task or time spent doing aerobic exercise, the researchers used eye-tracking equipment to gauge antisaccades, which is a way to measure varying degrees of executive control. As the authors explain in the study abstract, “Antisaccades are an executive task requiring a goal-directed eye movement (i.e., a saccade) mirror-symmetrical to a visual stimulus. The hands- and language-free nature of antisaccades coupled with the temporal precision of eye-tracking technology make it an ideal tool for identifying executive performance changes.” © 1991-2018 Sussex Publishers, LLC

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 24476 - Posted: 01.02.2018

By Bret Stetka Every day our brains grapple with various last-minute decisions. We adjust our gait to avoid a patch of ice; we exit to hit the rest stop; we switch to our backhand before thwacking a tennis ball. Scientists have long accepted that our ability to abruptly stop or modify a planned behavior is controlled via a single region within the brain’s prefrontal cortex, an area involved in planning and other higher mental functions. By studying other parts of the brain in both humans and monkeys, however, a team from Johns Hopkins University has now concluded that last-minute decision-making is a lot more complicated than previously known, involving complex neural coordination among multiple brain areas. The revelations may help scientists unravel certain aspects of addictive behaviors and understand why accidents like falls grow increasingly common as we age, according to the Johns Hopkins team. The findings, published Thursday in Neuron, reveal reneging on an intended behavior involves coordinated cross talk between several brain regions. As a result, changing our minds even mere milliseconds after making a decision is often too late to alter a movement or behavior. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging—a technique that monitors brain activity in real time—the Johns Hopkins group found reversing a decision requires ultrafast communication between two specific zones within the prefrontal cortex and another nearby structure called the frontal eye field, an area involved in controlling eye movements and visual awareness. © 2017 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 24403 - Posted: 12.08.2017

By Wendy Jones In Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, Elinor Dashwood is talking to a new acquaintance, Lucy Steele. Based on their previous encounters, Elinor doesn’t think much of Lucy’s character. But Lucy seems determined to befriend Elinor and to make her a confidante. Elinor discovers Lucy’s true motives when the latter reveals that she is secretly engaged to Edward Ferrars, the man Elinor loves. Elinor is speechless: “Her astonishment at what she heard was at first too great for words.” Elinor isn’t the only one to experience this kind of shutdown and its accompanying frustration. When we’re angry, or upset, or fearful—in the grip of any strong emotion—most of us find it difficult to think clearly. This has to do with the inverse relationship between our sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems, which manage (respectively) the degree to which we’re excited or calm. Neuroscientist Stephen Porges has suggested that the thermostat for adjusting sympathetic and parasympathetic input can be found within these systems themselves. He has highlighted the operations involved from a “polyvagal perspective,” which considers our neurophysiological functioning in the context of safety, whether our environments are threatening or benign. I explore these and other neurosocial phenomena through the lens of the immensely popular novels of Jane Austen in my new book, Jane on the Brain: Exploring the Science of Social Intelligence. © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress; Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 24402 - Posted: 12.08.2017

Mariah Quintanilla Emma Watson, Jake Gyllenhaal, journalist Fiona Bruce and Barack Obama all walk into a sheep pen. No, this isn’t the beginning of a baaa-d joke. By training sheep using pictures of these celebrities, researchers from the University of Cambridge discovered that the animals are able to recognize familiar faces from 2-D images. Given a choice, the sheep picked the familiar celebrity’s face over an unfamiliar face the majority of the time, the researchers report November 8 in Royal Society Open Science. Even when a celeb’s face was slightly tilted rather than face-on, the sheep still picked the image more often than not. That means the sheep were not just memorizing images, demonstrating for the first time that sheep have advanced face-recognition capabilities similar to those of humans and other primates, say neurobiologist Jennifer Morton and her colleagues. Sheep have been known to pick out pictures of individuals in their flock, and even familiar handlers (SN: 10/6/12, p. 20). But it’s been unclear whether the skill was real recognition or simple memorization. Sheep now join other animals, including horses, dogs, rhesus macaques and mockingbirds, that are able to distinguish between individuals of other species. Over a series of four training sessions, the sheep’s ability to choose a familiar face, represented by one of the four celebrities, over a completely unfamiliar face improved. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 24306 - Posted: 11.08.2017

James Gorman Dogs have evolved to be friendly and tolerant of humans and one another, which might suggest they would be good at cooperative tasks. Wolves are known to cooperate in hunting and even in raising one another’s pups, but they can seem pretty intolerant of one another when they are snapping and growling around a kill. So researchers at the Wolf Science Center at the University of Vienna decided to compare the performance of wolves and dogs on a classic behavioral test. To get a food treat, two animals have to pull ropes attached to different ends of a tray. The trick is that they have to pull both ropes at the same time. Chimps, parrots, rooks and elephants have all succeeded at the task. When Sarah Marshall-Pescini, Friederike Range and colleagues put wolves and dogs to the test, wolves did very well and dogs very poorly. In recordings of the experiments, the pairs of wolves look like experts, while the dogs seem, well, adorable and confused. The researchers reported their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. With no training, five of seven wolf pairs succeeded in mastering the task at least once. Only one of eight dog pairs did. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 24304 - Posted: 11.08.2017

Molecular method reveals neuronal basis of brain states – NIH-funded animal study. NIMH-funded scientists revealed the types of neurons supporting alertness, using a molecular method called MultiMAP in transparent larval zebrafish. Multiple types of neurons communicate by secreting the same major chemical messengers: serotonin (red), dopamine and noradrenalin (yellow) and acetylcholine (cyan). Using a molecular method likely to become widely adopted by the field, researchers supported by the National Institutes of Health have discovered brain circuitry essential for alertness, or vigilance – and for brain states more generally. Strikingly, the same cell types and circuits are engaged during alertness in zebra fish and mice, species whose evolutionary forebears parted ways hundreds of millions of years ago. This suggests that the human brain is likely similarly wired for this state critical to survival. “Vigilance gone awry marks states such as mania and those seen in post-traumatic stress disorder and depression,” explained Joshua Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., director of the NIH’s National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), which along with the National Institute on Drug Abuse, co-funded the study. “Gaining familiarity with the molecular players in a behavior – as this new tool promises – may someday lead to clinical interventions targeting dysfunctional brain states.” For the first time, Multi-MAP makes it possible to see which neurons are activated in a behaving animal during a particular brain state – and subsequently molecularly analyze just those neurons to identify the subtypes and circuits involved.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 24282 - Posted: 11.03.2017

By Helen Thomson Do you find it difficult to spot a face in the crowd? Now we know why: people with face blindness seem to have a missing “hub” of brain connections. The discovery could be used to diagnose children with the condition, and teach them new ways to identify faces. People with prosopagnosia, which often runs in families, cannot easily tell faces apart. This can have a significant impact on people’s lives. People with the condition rely heavily on voice recognition, clothes, hairstyle and gait to identify people, but can still fail to recognise family and friends. It can lead to social anxiety and depression, and can often go undiagnosed for many years. Face processing isn’t a function of a single brain region, but involves the coordinated activity of several regions. To investigate what might be causing the problem, Galia Avidan at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, and her colleagues scanned the brains of 10 adults who have reported life-long problems with face processing. They also scanned 10 adults without the condition. During the scan, participants were shown sets of images of emotional, neutral, famous and unfamiliar faces. During the task they were asked to press a button when two consecutive images were identical. Some of the images also included buildings, which people with face blindness do not have any trouble identifying – these acted as a control. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 24281 - Posted: 11.03.2017

By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS Do brains trump brawn? A remarkable new study of how the human body prioritizes its inner workings found that if you intensely think at the same time as you intensely exercise, your performance in both thinking and moving can worsen. But your muscles’ performance will decline much more than your brain’s will, the study found. The results raise interesting questions about the roles that our body’s wide-ranging abilities may have played in the evolution of humans and also whether a hard workout is the ideal time to be cogitating. Compared to almost all other animals, we humans have disproportionately large brains for our size. Our supersized cranial contents probably provided an advantage during our evolution as a species. Smart creatures presumably could have outwitted predators and outmaneuvered prey, keeping themselves fed, uneaten and winners in the biological sweepstakes to pass on their genes. But most other species eschewed developing similarly outsized brains during evolution, because large brains carry a hefty metabolic cost. Brains are extraordinarily hungry organs, requiring, ounce for ounce, more calories to sustain their operations than almost any other tissue, and these caloric demands rise when the brain is hard at work. Thinking demands considerable bodily fuel. In order to feed and maintain these large brains, early humans’ bodies had to make certain trade-offs, most evolutionary biologists agree. Our digestive systems shrank during evolution, for one thing, since food processing is also metabolically ravenous. But whether a similar trade-off occurred with our muscles has remained in doubt. Muscles potentially provided another route to survival during our species’ early days. With sufficient brawn, animals, including people, could physically overpower prey and sprint from danger. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 11: Motor Control and Plasticity
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System
Link ID: 24243 - Posted: 10.26.2017