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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

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 9: Hearing, Vestibular Perception, Taste, and Smell
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell
Link ID: 24173 - Posted: 10.11.2017

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

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 24161 - Posted: 10.07.2017

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

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
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.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
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.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 23984 - Posted: 08.22.2017

By Abby Olena Our brains quickly characterize everything we see as familiar or new, and scientists have been investigating this connection between vision and cognition for years. Now, research in Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata) reveals that the activation of neurons in a part of the primate brain called the perirhinal cortex can cause monkeys to recognize new objects as familiar and vice versa. The study was published today (August 17) in Science. “There are a lot of really exciting aspects to this paper,” says neuroscientist David Sheinberg of Brown University, who did not participate in the work. “This group continues to make advances that are helping us understand how we convert visual impressions into things we know.” Primate brains process visual information through several brain structures that make up the ventral visual stream. The last stop in this stream is the perirhinal cortex, part of the medial temporal lobe. Scientists know that this brain structure plays roles in visual memory and object discrimination. But one open question is whether the perirhinal cortex represents objects’ physical traits or whether it might also communicate information about nonphysical attributes, such as whether an object has been seen before. “In the primate, the perirhinal cortex is the link between the visual pathway and the limbic memory system,” coauthor and University of Tokyo neuroscientist Yasushi Miyashita writes in an email to The Scientist. “Therefore, the perirhinal cortex is one of the most likely candidates in the brain where visual information is transformed to subjective semantic values by referring to one’s own memory.” © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 23979 - Posted: 08.19.2017

By Aylin Woodward Two newly identified brain areas in rhesus monkeys seem to help the animals recognise familiar faces. Primates, Homo sapiens included, must be able to differentiate between faces and recognise friend from foe because social hierarchies play a large role in daily life. But exactly how primate brains deal with faces is not completely clear. One idea is that the same parts of the brain are involved in recognising both familiar and unfamiliar faces, just with varying efficiency. But Sofia Landi and Winrich Freiwald at Rockefeller University in New York have now cast doubt on that thinking. Their work shows that distinct brain areas are responsible for recognising the primates you know. Many researchers have already shown that certain areas of the temporal and prefrontal cortex are involved in unfamiliar face perception in rhesus monkey brains. Using whole-brain fMRI scans of four monkeys, Landi and Freiwald have now identified two additional brain areas that play a role not only in unfamiliar face perception but also in recognising familiar faces. The two new areas are in the anterior temporal lobe – the part of our brains above and in front of our ears. One is in the perirhinal cortex and one is in the temporal pole. These regions lit up far more when the monkeys recognised a familiar face in a photograph, as opposed to when they were presented with images of a stranger. © 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: 23949 - Posted: 08.11.2017

By Amanda Onion, While driving and accelerating in his car, a patient in France suddenly had a bizarre sensation. He felt like he was outside his car, looking in at his physical self, which was still at the wheel. The patient was part of a new study that links problems of the inner ear with eerie "out-of-body" experiences. These experiences arecurious, usually brief sensations in which a person's consciousness seems to exitthe body and then view the body from the outside. The study analyzed 210 patients who had visited their doctors with so-called vestibular disorders. The vestibular system, which is made up of several structures in the inner ear, provides the body with a sense of balance and spatial orientation. Problems with this system can cause dizziness or a floating sensation, among other symptoms. [7 Weird Facts About Balance] Maya Elzière, an ear, nose and throat specialist at Hôpital Européen in Marseille, France, and co-author of the study, enlisted patients who had experienced a range of issues, from recurrent vertigo and tinnitus to infections in the ear. Among these patients, 14 percent reported out-of-body experiences, compared with only 5 percent of healthy people without vestibular disorders who said the same. "Out-of-body experiences were about three times more frequent" in patients with vestibular disorders, versus those without these disorders, said Christophe Lopez, lead author of the study and a neuroscientist at Aix-Marseille Université in France. © 2017 Scientific American,

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 9: Hearing, Vestibular Perception, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 23922 - Posted: 08.07.2017

By Knvul Sheikh The brain has evolved to recognize and remember many different faces. We can instantly identify a friend's countenance among dozens in a crowded restaurant or on a busy street. And a brief glance tells us whether that person is excited or angry, happy or sad. Brain-imaging studies have revealed that several blueberry-size regions in the temporal lobe—the area under the temple—specialize in responding to faces. Neuroscientists call these areas “face patches.” But neither brain scans nor clinical studies of patients with implanted electrodes explained exactly how the cells in these patches work. Now, using a combination of brain imaging and single-neuron recording in macaques, biologist Doris Tsao and her colleagues at the California Institute of Technology appear to have finally cracked the neural code for primate face recognition. The researchers found the firing rate of each face patch cell corresponds to a separate facial feature. Like a set of dials, the cells can be fine-tuned to respond to bits of information, which they can then combine in various ways to create an image of every face the animal encounters. “This was mind-blowing,” Tsao says. “The values of each dial are so predictable that we can re-create the face that a monkey sees by simply tracking the electrical activity of its face cells.” Previous studies had hinted at the specificity of these brain areas for encoding faces. In the early 2000s, when Tsao was a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard Medical School, she and electrophysiologist Winrich Freiwald showed that neurons in a monkey's face patches would fire electrical signals every time the animal saw pictures of a face. But the same brain cells showed little or no response to other objects, such as images of vegetables, radios or nonfacial body parts. Other experiments indicated that neurons in these regions could also distinguish among individual faces, even if they were cartoons. © 2017 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 23913 - Posted: 08.03.2017

By Karl Gruber Are you good with faces? So is the Japanese rice fish – at least, it is if the faces are the right way up. Just like humans, the tiny fish has no problem recognising faces orientated the usual way, but, again like us, it struggles when they are inverted. The finding indicates that the fish may have developed a unique brain pathway for face recognition, just as humans have. We have no problem identifying most objects in our environment – say, a chair – no matter what way up they are. But faces are different. It is relatively easy for us to spot the differences between two faces, even if they are physically similar, if we see them in photographs the right way up. But if the images are upside down, telling them apart gets a bit tricky. “This is because we have a specific brain area for processing faces, and when the face is upside down, we process the image through object processing pathways, and not the face-processing pathways any more,” says Mu-Yun Wang at the University of Tokyo, Japan. Until now, this face-inversion effect was considered exclusive to mammals as it has only been observed in primates and sheep. Enter the Japanese rice fish, also known as the medaka (Oryzias latipes), a 3.5-centimetre-long shoaling fish commonly found in rice paddies, marshes, ponds and slow-moving streams in East Asia. These fish are very social, so identifying the right individuals to associate with is important. © Copyright New Scientist Ltd.

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: 23891 - Posted: 07.28.2017

Sarah Zhang In 1958, Robert Monroe floated out of his body for the first time. It began “without any apparent cause,” he wrote. His doctor, finding no physical ailment, prescribed tranquilizers. A psychologist friend, meanwhile, told me him to try leaving his body again. After all, the friend said, “some of the fellows who practice yoga and those Eastern religions claim they can do it whenever they want to.” Monroe did try it again—and again and again. He recalls these experiences in his classic 1971 book Journeys out of the Body, which launched the phrase “out-of-body experiences” into the public conversation. Monroe died in 1995, but the fascination with out-of-body experiences endures. Out-of-body experience can vary person to person, but they often involve the sense of floating above one’s actual body and looking down. For neuroscientists, the phenomenon is a puzzle and an opportunity: Understanding how the brain goes awry can also illuminate how it is supposed to work. Neuroscientists now think that out-of-body experiences involve the vestibular system—made up of canals in the inner ear that track a person’s locations in space—and how that information gets integrated with other senses in the brain. In a recent study from France, Christophe Lopez, a neuroscientist at Aix-Marseille Université, teamed up with Maya Elzière, a doctor who sees patient with vestibular disorders. Some of these patients complained of dizziness, with physical causes that ranged from fluid leaking out of the inner ear to an infection of a nearby nerve. Of 210 patients who reported dizziness, 14 percent said they have had out-of-body experiences. In contrast, only 5 percent of healthy participants in the study reported such sensations. © 2017 by The Atlantic Monthly Group

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 9: Hearing, Vestibular Perception, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 6: Hearing, Balance, Taste, and Smell; Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 23884 - Posted: 07.27.2017

By CLAY ROUTLEDGE Are Americans becoming less religious? It depends on what you mean by “religious.” Polls certainly indicate a decline in religious affiliation, practice and belief. Just a couple of decades ago, about 95 percent of Americans reported belonging to a religious group. This number is now around 75 percent. And far fewer are actively religious: The percentage of regular churchgoers may be as low as 15 to 20 percent. As for religious belief, the Pew Research Center found that from 2007 to 2014 the percentage of Americans who reported being absolutely confident God exists dropped from 71 percent to 63 percent. Nonetheless, there is reason to doubt the death of religion, or at least the death of what you might call the “religious mind” — our concern with existential questions and our search for meaning. A growing body of research suggests that the evidence for a decline in traditional religious belief, identity and practice does not reflect a decline in this underlying spiritual inclination. Ask yourself: Why are people religious to begin with? One view is that religion is an ancient way of understanding and organizing the world that persists largely because societies pass it down from generation to generation. This view is related to the idea that the rise of science entails the fall of religion. It also assumes that the strength of religion is best measured by how much doctrine people accept and how observant they are. This view, however, does not capture the fundamental nature of the religious mind — our awareness of, and need to reckon with, the transience and fragility of our existence, and how small and unimportant we seem to be in the grand scheme of things. In short: our quest for significance. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language; Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 23868 - Posted: 07.24.2017

by Helen Thompson Paper wasps have a knack for recognizing faces, and a new study adds to our understanding of what that means in a wasp’s brain. Most wasps of a given species look the same, but some species of paper wasp (Polistes sp.) display varied colors and markings. Recognizing these patterns is at the core of the wasps’ social interactions. One species, Polistes fuscatus, is especially good at detecting differences in faces — even better than they are at detecting other patterns. To zero on the roots of this ability, biologist Ali Berens of Georgia Tech and her colleagues set up recognition exercises of faces and basic patterns for P. fuscatus wasps and P. metricus wasps — a species that doesn’t naturally recognize faces but can be trained to do so in the lab. After the training, scientists extracted DNA from the wasps’ brains and looked at which bits of DNA or genes were active. The researchers found 237 genes that were at play only in P. fuscatus during facial recognition tests. A few of the genes have been linked to honeybee visual learning, and some correspond to brain signaling with the neurotransmitters serotonin and tachykinin. In the brain, picking up on faces goes beyond basic pattern learning, the researchers conclude June 14 in the Journal of Experimental Biology. It’s possible that some of the same genes also play a broader role in how organisms such as humans and sheep tell one face from another. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 23742 - Posted: 06.15.2017

Laurel Hamers A monkey’s brain builds a picture of a human face somewhat like a Mr. Potato Head — piecing it together bit by bit. The code that a monkey’s brain uses to represent faces relies not on groups of nerve cells tuned to specific faces — as has been previously proposed — but on a population of about 200 cells that code for different sets of facial characteristics. Added together, the information contributed by each nerve cell lets the brain efficiently capture any face, researchers report June 1 in Cell. “It’s a turning point in neuroscience — a major breakthrough,” says Rodrigo Quian Quiroga, a neuroscientist at the University of Leicester in England who wasn’t part of the work. “It’s a very simple mechanism to explain something as complex as recognizing faces.” Until now, Quiroga says, the leading explanation for the way the primate brain recognizes faces proposed that individual nerve cells, or neurons, respond to certain types of faces (SN: 6/25/05, p. 406). A system like that might work for the few dozen people with whom you regularly interact. But accounting for all of the peripheral people encountered in a lifetime would require a lot of neurons. It now seems that the brain might have a more efficient strategy, says Doris Tsao, a neuroscientist at Caltech. Tsao and coauthor Le Chang used statistical analyses to identify 50 variables that accounted for the greatest differences between 200 face photos. Those variables represented somewhat complex changes in the face — for instance, the hairline rising while the face becomes wider and the eyes becomes further-set. |© Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2017.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 23701 - Posted: 06.02.2017

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

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 17: Learning and Memory; Chapter 14: Biological Rhythms, Sleep, and Dreaming
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development; Chapter 10: Biological Rhythms and Sleep
Link ID: 23691 - Posted: 06.01.2017

Giuseppe Gangarossa Could it be possible to run a normal existence without social life? Indeed, sociability is an important aspect for individuals and social interaction builds our lives. In fact, social interaction enhances quality of life and improves the stability of communities. Impaired sociability is a classical symptom observed in many neuropsychiatric disorders including autism, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety and generalized fear. Interestingly, many studies have pointed to the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), a brain area located in the ventromedial part of the frontal lobe, as key region involved in the neural bases of sociability (Valk et al, 2015; Treadway et al., 2015; Frith et al., 2007). The prelimbic cortex (PL) and the infralimbic cortex (IL), two subregions of the mPFC, have been strongly suggested to play an important role in the neural mechanisms underlying sociability as isolation rearing in rats results in impaired social behavior and structural modifications in the PL and IL. Isolation rearing is a neurodevelopmental manipulation that produces neurochemical, structural, and behavioral alterations in rodents that in many ways are consistent with psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia, anxiety and depression. In particular, it has been shown that isolation rearing can alter the volume of mPFC, the dendritic length and the spine density of pyramidal neurons. However, the detailed mechanisms involved in sociability disorders remain elusive and poorly understood. A recent article published in Plos ONE by Minami and colleagues aimed at measuring neural activity in the PL and IL of control and isolated rats during social interaction in order to determine whether there is neural activity related to social behavior in these areas.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 23688 - Posted: 06.01.2017

by Angela Chen@chengela What happens when you look up and see a ball headed toward you? Without even thinking about it, you flinch. That might be because our brains are constantly living our lives in fast-forward, playing out the action in our head before it happens. Humans have to navigate, and respond to, an environment that is always changing. Our brain compensates for this by constantly making predictions about what’s going to happen, says Mattias Ekman, a researcher at Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands. We’ve known this for a while, but these predictions are usually associative. An example: if you see a hamburger, your brain might predict that there will be fries nearby. In a study published today in the journal Nature Communications, Ekman and other scientists focused instead on how the brain predicts motion. So they used brain scans to track what happened as participants observed a moving dot. First, 29 volunteers looked at a white dot the size of a ping-pong ball. The dot went from left to right and then reversed directions. The volunteers watched the dot for about five minutes while scientists scanned their brains with ultra-fast fMRI. This way, the researchers know what pattern of brain activity was activated in the visual cortex while they watched the dot. After these five minutes, the researchers showed only the beginning of the sequence to the volunteers. Here, the scans showed that the brain “autocompletes” the full sequence — and it does it at twice the rate of the actual event. So if a dot took two seconds to go across the screen, the brain predicted the entire sequence in one second. “You’re actually already trying to predict what’s going to happen,” says Ekman. “These predictions are hypothetical, so in a way you’re trying to generate new memories that match the future.” © 2017 Vox Media, Inc.

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness
Link ID: 23653 - Posted: 05.24.2017

Jon Hamilton It took an explosion and 13 pounds of iron to usher in the modern era of neuroscience. In 1848, a 25-year-old railroad worker named Phineas Gage was blowing up rocks to clear the way for a new rail line in Cavendish, Vt. He would drill a hole, place an explosive charge, then pack in sand using a 13-pound metal bar known as a tamping iron. But in this instance, the metal bar created a spark that touched off the charge. That, in turn, "drove this tamping iron up and out of the hole, through his left cheek, behind his eye socket, and out of the top of his head," says Jack Van Horn, an associate professor of neurology at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. Gage didn't die. But the tamping iron destroyed much of his brain's left frontal lobe, and Gage's once even-tempered personality changed dramatically. "He is fitful, irreverent, indulging at times in the grossest profanity, which was not previously his custom," wrote John Martyn Harlow, the physician who treated Gage after the accident. This sudden personality transformation is why Gage shows up in so many medical textbooks, says Malcolm Macmillan, an honorary professor at the Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences and the author of An Odd Kind of Fame: Stories of Phineas Gage. "He was the first case where you could say fairly definitely that injury to the brain produced some kind of change in personality," Macmillan says. © 2017 npr

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: 23643 - Posted: 05.22.2017

By MARTIN E. P. SELIGMAN and JOHN TIERNEY We are misnamed. We call ourselves Homo sapiens, the “wise man,” but that’s more of a boast than a description. What makes us wise? What sets us apart from other animals? Various answers have been proposed — language, tools, cooperation, culture, tasting bad to predators — but none is unique to humans. What best distinguishes our species is an ability that scientists are just beginning to appreciate: We contemplate the future. Our singular foresight created civilization and sustains society. It usually lifts our spirits, but it’s also the source of most depression and anxiety, whether we’re evaluating our own lives or worrying about the nation. Other animals have springtime rituals for educating the young, but only we subject them to “commencement” speeches grandly informing them that today is the first day of the rest of their lives. A more apt name for our species would be Homo prospectus, because we thrive by considering our prospects. The power of prospection is what makes us wise. Looking into the future, consciously and unconsciously, is a central function of our large brain, as psychologists and neuroscientists have discovered — rather belatedly, because for the past century most researchers have assumed that we’re prisoners of the past and the present. Behaviorists thought of animal learning as the ingraining of habit by repetition. Psychoanalysts believed that treating patients was a matter of unearthing and confronting the past. Even when cognitive psychology emerged, it focused on the past and present — on memory and perception. But it is increasingly clear that the mind is mainly drawn to the future, not driven by the past. Behavior, memory and perception can’t be understood without appreciating the central role of prospection. We learn not by storing static records but by continually retouching memories and imagining future possibilities. Our brain sees the world not by processing every pixel in a scene but by focusing on the unexpected. © 2017 The New York Times Company

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: 23641 - Posted: 05.20.2017

By Bret Stetka For many hours a day they pluck dirt, debris and bugs from each other’s fur. Between grooming sessions they travel in troops to search for food. When ignored by mom, they throw tantrums; when not ignored by zoo-goers, they throw feces. Through these behaviors, monkeys demonstrate they understand the meaning of social interactions with other monkeys. They recognize when their peers are grooming one another and infer social rank from seeing such actions within their group. But it has long been unclear how the brains of our close evolutionary relatives actually process what they observe of these social situations. New findings published Thursday in Science offer a clue. A team of researchers from The Rockefeller University have identified a network in the monkey brain dedicated exclusively to analyzing social interactions. And they believe this network could be akin to human brains’ social circuitry. In the new work—led by Winrich Freiwald, an associate professor of neurosciences and behavior—four rhesus macaques viewed videos of various social and physical interactions while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging. (Monkeys love watching TV, so they paid attention.) They were shown clips of monkeys interacting, as well as performing tasks on their own. They also watched videos of various physical interactions among inanimate objects. © 2017 Scientific American

Related chapters from BN8e: Chapter 18: Attention and Higher Cognition; Chapter 19: Language and Lateralization
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 14: Attention and Consciousness; Chapter 15: Brain Asymmetry, Spatial Cognition, and Language
Link ID: 23637 - Posted: 05.19.2017