Chapter 1. Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook

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


Links 1 - 20 of 1070

By JAMES GORMAN and CHRISTOPHER WHITWORTH Cockatoos are smart birds, and the Goffin’s cockatoos in a Vienna lab are among the smartest. In an experiment reported about a year ago, they turned out to be real stars at making tools from a variety of materials in order to get a treat. In a new study, researchers tested the birds’ ability to match shapes using an apparatus reminiscent of a child’s toy. The birds had to put a square tile into a square hole and more complicated, asymmetrical shapes into matching holes. If they were successful, they got a treat. Cornelia Habl, a master’s student at the University of Vienna, and Alice M. I. Auersperg, a researcher at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, ran several experiments. They reported in the journal PLOS One that the cockatoos were not only able to match the shapes to the holes, but did much better than monkeys or chimpanzees. “It was thought to be an exclusively human ability for a long time,” Ms. Habl said. Tests of matching shapes are used to mark milestones in child development. Babies can put a sphere into the right hole at age 1, but they can’t place a cube until age 2. From there, they continue to improve. Some primates can do similar tasks, although they need a lot of basic training to get up to speed before they can use the experimental apparatus, called a key box. The birds jumped right in without any training and excelled. “Compared to primates, the cockatoos performed very well,” Ms. Habl said. Why are they so good? In the wild, they haven’t been observed using tools. But they are generalists, foragers who take whatever food they can find. They are adaptable enough to do well in some urban areas in Australia, Ms. Habl said. To succeed in a variety of environments eating a variety of foods, “they have to be very, very flexible.” © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Evolution; Intelligence
Link ID: 24344 - Posted: 11.21.2017

Tania Lombrozo In The Devil's Dictionary, Ambrose Bierce describes the mind as "a mysterious form of matter secreted by the brain," engaged in a futile attempt to understand itself "with nothing but itself to know itself with." Questions about the limits of self-understanding have persisted long after Bierce's 1911 publication. One user on Quora asks: "Is the human brain intelligent enough to fully understand itself?" A satirical headline at The Onion reports that psychology has come to a halt as "weary researchers say the mind cannot possibly study itself." Despite such doubts, the science of the mind has made enormous advances over the last century. Yet many questions remain, along with the more foundational worry that motivated Bierce. Are there fundamental limits to what science can explain about the human mind? Can science truly explain consciousness and love, morality and religious belief? And why do topics like these seem especially ineffable — further beyond the scope of scientific explanation than more mundane psychological phenomena, such as forgetting a name or recognizing a face? Psychology PhD student Sara Gottlieb and I decided to find out. In a series of studies forthcoming in the journal Psychological Science, we asked hundreds of participants to tell us whether they thought it was possible for science to one day fully explain various aspects of the human mind, from depth perception and memory loss to spirituality and romantic love. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 24342 - Posted: 11.21.2017

Jon Hamilton The Society for Neuroscience meeting is taking place in Washington, D.C., this weekend. Researchers there are focusing on how to find the biological underpinnings of mental disorders. MICHEL MARTIN, HOST: More than 30,000 brain scientists are in Washington, D.C., this week attending the Society for Neuroscience meeting. One of the hot topics this year is mental disorders such as depression and schizophrenia and autism. NPR science correspondent Jon Hamilton has just come from the meeting to talk about some of what he's been seeing and hearing. Hi, John. Thanks for coming. JON HAMILTON, BYLINE: Hi. MARTIN: So how does this work contribute to understanding mental disorders in people? HAMILTON: Twenty years ago, I'd say it didn't contribute much, but things are really changing. And I was really surprised. I was going through the abstracts to this year's meeting, and there were nearly a thousand papers that mentioned depression. There were 500 that mentioned schizophrenia or autism. And just this morning, there was this study on how - looking at the brain tissue of people with obsessive compulsive disorder and how it's different. So the fields of brain science and mental health are converging. And I think the reason is that brain scientists are finally beginning to figure out how the biology works, the biology that underlies mental health problems. So I was talking to a scientist at the meeting. His name is Robbie Greene. He's a psychiatrist, but he's also a lab scientist at UT Southwestern in Dallas. And he was telling me that neuroscience is now at a point where it can help psychiatrists and psychologists understand all of those things that are happening in the brain that we're not conscious of. Here's what he told me. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 24324 - Posted: 11.13.2017

By Lena H. Sun Experts who work on the mosquito-borne West Nile virus have long known that it can cause serious neurological symptoms, such as memory problems and tremors, when it invades the brain and spinal cord. Now researchers have found physical evidence of brain damage in patients years after their original infection, the first such documentation using magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI. Brain scans revealed damage or shrinkage in different parts of the cerebral cortex, the outer part of the brain that handles higher-level abilities such as memory, attention and language. “Those areas correlated exactly with what we were seeing on the neurological exams,” said Kristy Murray, an associate professor of pediatric tropical medicine at Texas Children’s Hospital and Baylor College of Medicine and lead author of the study. “The thought is that the virus enters the brain and certain parts are more susceptible, and where those susceptibilities are is where we see the shrinkage occurring.” Results of the study, which has not yet been published, were presented Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene. The 10-year study of 262 West Nile patients is one of the largest assessments studying the long-term health problems associated with West Nile infections. Most people who are infected do not develop symptoms. About 20 percent will develop fever, and less than 1 percent have the most severe type of infection that causes inflammation of the brain or surrounding tissues. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 24309 - Posted: 11.09.2017

By Emily Underwood In 2003, neurologist Helen Mayberg of Emory University in Atlanta began to test a bold, experimental treatment for people with severe depression, which involved implanting metal electrodes deep in the brain in a region called area 25. The initial data were promising; eventually, they convinced a device company, St. Jude Medical in Saint Paul, to sponsor a 200-person clinical trial dubbed BROADEN. This month, however, Lancet Psychiatry reported the first published data on the trial’s failure. The study stopped recruiting participants in 2012, after a 6-month study in 90 people failed to show statistically significant improvements between those receiving active stimulation and a control group, in which the device was implanted but switched off. Although that decision was “game over” for BROADEN, the story wasn’t finished for some 44 patients who asked to keep the implants in their brains, and the clinicians responsible for their long-term care, Mayberg explained last week to colleagues at a meeting on the ethical dilemmas of brain stimulation research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. The episode highlights a tricky dilemma for companies and research teams involved in deep brain stimulation (DBS) research: If trial participants want to keep their implants, who will take responsibility—and pay—for their ongoing care? And participants in last week’s meeting said it underscores the need for the growing corps of DBS researchers to think long-term about their planned studies. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Depression
Link ID: 24276 - Posted: 11.01.2017

By Warren Cornwall For years, scientists and universities have complained about the patchwork of U.S. regulations governing the welfare of animals used in research. Studies involving rabbits and larger mammals, for example, are overseen chiefly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Washington, D.C. Federally funded studies of rats, mice, and birds are subject to different rules and a different overseer, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland. Many privately funded animal studies, meanwhile, get relatively little federal oversight. “It’s a crazy quilt,” says Ross McKinney, chief science officer for the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) in Washington, D.C. Now, AAMC and three allied groups are pushing for sweeping changes to animal research rules. In a report released this week, the groups call for moving all oversight to a single, unnamed agency, conducting less frequent lab inspections, and giving researchers greater say in crafting new rules. The changes would ensure “that we’re protecting the research animals,” McKinney says. “But we want to do so in a way that’s consistent, coherent, and effective.” The political climate is ripe for reform, with a new law calling for federal officials to streamline regulation of animal research and a White House that dislikes regulations. But many of the recommendations aren’t sitting well with groups concerned about animal research. “It’s clear this would negatively impact animal welfare,” says Kathleen Conlee, vice president of animal research issues at The Humane Society of the United States in Washington, D.C. The changes would water down government oversight, the critics charge, and give researchers too much say over how their work is regulated. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 24239 - Posted: 10.25.2017

By Corinna Hartmann, Andreas Jahn Medical historians have recently published accounts that show neurologists were indeed complicit with the Nazis—and became victims if they were classified as “non-Aryan. Heiner Fangerau, who teaches the history and ethics of medicine at University Hospital Düsseldorf—along with colleagues Michael Martin at the Heinrich Heine University of Düsseldorf and Axel Karenberg from the University of Cologne—undertook extensive research on neurologists during the Third Reich for the German Society of Neurology. Fangerau discussed new findings with Corinna Hartmann and Andreas Jahn of Gehirn&Geist, the psychology and neuroscience specialty publication of Spektrum der Wissenschaft, and the German sister publication of Scientific American. An edited transcript of the interview follows. Professor Fangerau, your research project examines the role played by neurologists during the Nazi period. Why is this only happening 70 years after the fact? Advertisement There were several different phases in which people dealt with National Socialism after World War II. Immediately after 1945 the Allies pursued a policy of denazification. After that German society as a whole attempted to suppress its dark past. Many members of the next generation, however, found it impossible to close their eyes: Students in the 1968 movement were angry that their parents were unwilling to deal openly with the “Third Reich.” The medical specialties took even longer to begin working through the past. As a result, their reappraisal of the crimes committed began only in the 1980s. Part of the reason why historical research into neurology has only been conducted systematically over the past several years is that neurology and psychiatry were forced into the same disciplinary framework in 1935. Before then neurology had begun to separate from psychiatry. The basic idea was to leave psychological phenomena that are difficult to understand to the psychiatrists and to concentrate on disorders that are anatomically demonstrable. The National Socialists nullified this effort. They believed that they could control these medical specialties more effectively if they brought them together in the Society of German Neurologists and Psychiatrists, which was dominated by psychiatrists committed to the ideology of racial hygiene. The chairman of the society was Ernst Rüdin, a psychiatrist. As a result, neurology has come to be viewed as less implicated. Historical research conducted since the late 1980s, however, paints a very different picture. © 2017 Scientific American

Keyword: Genes & Behavior
Link ID: 24238 - Posted: 10.25.2017

Nell Greenfieldboyce In a small, windowless room at Johns Hopkins University, pigtail macaques jump around in cages. The braver ones reach out between the metal bars to accept pieces of apricot with their long fingers. In one cage, a monkey hangs back in the corner. At first it looks like he's all alone in there, until veterinarian Bob Adams points out, "No, he's got a friend." Another monkey is clinging to his back, almost hidden. Not too long ago, these guys wouldn't have had a pal to hold on to. Like humans, monkeys are social animals. But for two decades, researchers here routinely put animals in separate cages after experimentally infecting them with a monkey form of HIV. The concern was that cagemates might swap viruses and mess up the science. Then, a few years ago, Adams urged the research team to try pairing up the animals. It's worked out great, and now each cage houses two buddies. "Part of the realization that people are coming to is not just that it's not a problem, but that it actually helps to improve the science," says Kelly Metcalf Pate, who uses these monkeys to study how HIV can evade treatment. Loneliness can suppress the immune system, Pate notes, and being alone is not what most infected humans experience. "The majority of patients, regardless of disease that we're looking at, aren't living in isolation," she says. But many lab monkeys do live in cages alone. Last year, 109,821 primates were held in research facilities across the United States, according to data collected by the government. Some of those animals were kept for breeding or other non-experimental purposes, but the majority were used to study everything from cancer to diabetes to addiction. © 2017 npr

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 24206 - Posted: 10.18.2017

Barbara J. King In 1981, the evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould's book The Mismeasure of Man hit the presses. A take-down of studies purporting to demonstrate that the intelligence of humans is genetically determined — and that some human groups (read "white Western Europeans") are innately superior — the book exposed interpretive bias and scientific racism in the measurement of human intelligence. Different environmental histories across human groups, in fact, affect testing outcomes in significant ways: There is no innate superiority due to genes. The Mismeasure of Man ignited ferocious discussion (and the occasional subsequent correction) that has continued even in recent years across biology, anthropology, psychology and philosophy: Its argument mattered not only for how we do science, but how science entangles with issues of social justice. Now, psychologists David A. Leavens of the University of Sussex, Kim A. Bard of the University of Portsmouth, and William D. Hopkins of Georgia State University have framed their new Animal Cognition article, "The mismeasure of ape social cognition," around Gould's book. Ape (especially chimpanzee) social intelligence, the authors say, has been routinely mismeasured because apes are tested in comprehensively different circumstances from the children with whom they are compared — and against whose performance theirs is found to be lacking. Leavens et al. write: "All direct ape-human comparisons that have reported human superiority in cognitive function have universally failed to match the groups on testing environment, test preparation, sampling protocols, and test procedures." © 2017 npr

Keyword: Evolution; Intelligence
Link ID: 24123 - Posted: 09.29.2017

By Laurie McGinley The Food and Drug Administration has suspended experiments on the effects of nicotine in squirrel monkeys, research aimed at better understanding one of the most pernicious of addictions. Two weeks ago, British primatologist Jane Goodall wrote to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, urging an end to what she called “cruel and unnecessary” and “shameful” research. On Monday, he responded, saying that he had put a hold on the study this month “after learning of concerns related to the study you referenced.” He also said he has sent a medical team of primate experts to the FDA facility — the National Center for Toxicological Research in Arkansas — “to evaluate the safety and well-being of the monkeys and to understand whether there are additional precautions needed.” The research involved training adolescent and adult squirrel monkeys to press a lever to give themselves infusions of nicotine. Four monkeys in the studies, which began in 2014, have died, according to people close to the situation. The deaths are still being investigated, but nicotine overdose isn't seen as the likely cause. Gottlieb also told Goodall that he has appointed an FDA team, including senior career officials and guided by primate veterinarians, to assess the “science and integrity” of the animal research process for the study and whether the research should be resumed. If the study is terminated, he said, the monkeys will be sent to an alternative location that can provide appropriate long-term care. © 1996-2017 The Washington Post

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 24110 - Posted: 09.26.2017

By Neuroskeptic A new paper asks why neuroscience hasn’t had more “impact on our daily lives.” The article, Neuroscience and everyday life: facing the translation problem, comes from Dutch researchers Jolien C. Francken and Marc Slors. It’s a thought-provoking piece, but it left me feeling that the authors are expecting too much from neuroscience. I don’t think insights from neuroscience are likely to change our lives any time soon. Francken and Slors describe a disconnect between neuroscience research and everyday life, which they dub the ‘translation problem’. The root of the problem, they say, is that while neuroscience uses words drawn from everyday experience – ‘lying’, ‘love’, ‘memory’, and so on – neuroscientists rarely use these terms in the usual sense. Instead, neuroscientists will study particular aspects of the phenomena in question, using particular (often highly artificial) experimental tasks. As a result, say Francken and Slors, the neuroscience of (say) ‘love’ does not directly relate to ‘love’ as the average person would use the word: We should be cautious in interpreting the outcomes of neuroscience experiments simply as, say, results about ‘lying ’, ‘free will ’, ‘love’, or any other folk-psychological category. How then can neuroscientific findings be translated in terms that speak to our practical concerns in a nonmisleading, non-naive way? They go on to discuss the nature of the translation problem in much more detail, as well as potential solutions.

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 24099 - Posted: 09.23.2017

A family has settled a lawsuit against People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) after it took a girl’s unattended dog and put it down. The legal outcome ends an attempt to in effect put Peta on trial for euthanising hundreds of animals each year. Wilber Zarate from Virginia had sued the group for taking his daughter’s chihuahua from a mobile home park on the state’s eastern shore and euthanising it before the end of a required five-day grace period. Zarate alleged Peta operated under a broad policy of euthanising animals, including healthy ones, because it “considers pet ownership to be a form of involuntary bondage”. Peta denied the allegations and maintained the incident in 2014 was a “terrible mistake”. Two women affiliated with Peta – Victoria Carey and Jennifer Wood – travelled to Accomack County, Virginia, because they said a mobile home park owner asked for help capturing wild dogs and feral cats. The women removed an unattended and unleashed chihuahua named Maya, which was a Christmas present to nine-year-old Cynthia Zarate. Maya was put down later that day, a violation of a state law that requires a five-day grace period. Peta was fined $500 for the violation. A trial had been scheduled for September, during which Zarate’s attorneys had planned to question current and former Peta employees about its euthanasia policy. © 2017 Guardian News and Media Limited

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 24054 - Posted: 09.11.2017

By David Grimm It started in May with a web post by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). “Tell Yale University to Stop Tormenting Birds!” the headline read, followed by text accusing postdoc Christine Lattin of wasteful experiments and animal abuse in her research on stress in wild house sparrows. Then the emails from PETA supporters began flooding Lattin’s inbox: “You should kill yourself, you sick bitch!” Then the messages on Facebook and Twitter: “What you’re doing is so sick and evil.” “I hope someone throws you into the fire …” By the end of August, PETA—based in Norfolk, Virginia—had organized three protests against Lattin, and she says she was getting 40 to 50 messages a day. “Every time I went to check my email or Twitter, my heart started racing. I worried there might be another message. I worried about the safety of my family.” In some ways, Lattin’s story is nothing new. PETA and other animal rights groups have hounded researchers for decades in hopes of shutting down animal experiments in the United States and elsewhere. But Lattin is an unusual target. She’s a self-professed animal lover with a background in bird rescue; her studies are far less invasive than the research PETA has traditionally gone after; and she’s only a postdoc, much younger and less established than any scientist the group has singled out before. That has prompted critics to accuse PETA of trying to destroy Lattin’s career. “She’s at the most vulnerable point in the academic spectrum,” says Kevin Folta, a molecular biologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville. (Folta was targeted by activists opposed to genetically engineered crops after reports that he did not disclose funding from agriculture giant Monsanto; Folta say he did nothing wrong.) PETA’s campaign, he says, “is a warning shot for anyone even thinking about doing animal research.” © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Keyword: Animal Rights
Link ID: 24052 - Posted: 09.09.2017

Marsha Lederman Santiago Ramon y Cajal wanted to be an artist, but his father, a physician and anatomy teacher, wanted his son to follow in his medical footsteps. It's a familiar story of family dynamics, but what wound up happening in this case was revolutionary. Cajal, who was born in 1852 in northeastern Spain, did ultimately go into medicine, as his father wished. He became a pathologist, histologist and neuroscientist. But he also applied his artistic skills to his area of interest. His hand-drawn illustrations of the brain, based on what he saw through the microscope using stained brain tissue (thanks to a technique developed by his contemporary, the Italian histologist Camillo Golgi) were pioneering. Cajal, who won the Nobel Prize in 1906 (along with Golgi), is known as the father of modern neuroscience. More than a century after he made them, his drawings are still used to illustrate principles of neuroscience. "When I was a student … everybody would start their talk, 'as first shown by Cajal,'" says Brian MacVicar, co-director at Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain Health and Canada Research Chair in Neuroscience at the University of British Columbia. When MacVicar learned that an exhibition of Cajal's drawings was being planned by neuroscience colleagues in Minnesota along with the Weisman Art Museum at the University of Minnesota, he was immediately on a mission: to bring the drawings to Vancouver. He finally extracted a yes from the show organizers, but not operating in the art world, MacVicar wasn't sure who might want to exhibit them in Vancouver. The answer turned out to be right in his backyard – or at least, a few blocks away on campus. Scott Watson, director/curator of the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery at the University of British Columbia, had seen Cajal's work at the Istanbul Biennial in 2015 – and understood their appeal and value.

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 24030 - Posted: 09.04.2017

Sara Reardon Scientists studying human behaviour and cognitive brain function are up in arms over a plan by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) to classify most studies involving human participants as clinical trials. An open letter sent on 31 August to NIH director Francis Collins says that the policy could “unnecessarily increase the administrative burden on investigators,” slowing the pace of discovery in basic research. It asked the NIH to delay implementation of the policy until it consulted with the behavioural science community. As this article went to press, the letter had garnered 2,070 signatures. “Every scientist I have talked to who is doing basic research on the human mind and brain has been shocked by this policy, which makes no sense,” says Nancy Kanwisher, a cognitive neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, who co-wrote the letter with four other researchers. The policy is part of an NIH clinical trial reform effort started in 2014 to ensure that all clinical results were publicly reported. The policy is scheduled to go into effect in January 2018. Its definition of a clinical trial included anything involving behavioural ‘interventions’, such as having participants perform a memory task or monitor their food intake. Such studies would need special evaluation by NIH review committees and institutional ethics review boards; and the experiments would need to be registered online in the clinicaltrials.gov database. © 2017 Macmillan Publishers Limited

Keyword: Miscellaneous
Link ID: 24029 - Posted: 09.02.2017

By Aggie Mika A drawing based on one of Ramón y Cajal’s “selfies,” with his pyramidal neuron illustrations around him. According to Hunter, Ramón y Cajal obsessively took photos of himself throughout his life. DAWN HUNTER, WITH PERMISSIONIt was in the spring of 2015 when Dawn Hunter saw Santiago Ramón y Cajal’s century-old elaborate drawings of the nervous system in person for the first time, at the late scientist’s exhibit within the National Institutes of Health. She was instantly compelled to recreate his ornate illustrations herself. “I just immediately started drawing [them] because they were so beautiful,” says Hunter, a visual art and design professor at the University of South Carolina. “His drawings in person were even more amazing than I thought they were going to be.” Ramón y Cajal’s drawings first caught Hunter’s eye while doing research for a neuroanatomy textbook she was asked to illustrate in 2012. Ramón y Cajal, hailed by many as the father of modern neuroscience, depicted the inner workings of the brain through thousands of intricate illustrations before his death in 1934. He first posited that unique, inter-connected entities called neurons were the central nervous system’s fundamental unit of function. A recreation of Ramón y Cajal Cajal’s retina depiction. “His retina drawing is particularly interesting because he combines both of his main drawing techniques. . . . Part of the drawing is designed and drawn out preliminarily and part of it is drawn from observation,” says Hunter.DAWN HUNTER, WITH PERMISSIONWhile recreating his work, Hunter was able to shed unprecedented light on how he went about his craft. “Some neuroscientists erroneously think that he traced all of his drawings from a projection, which he did not,” she says. This involves expanding a magnified image of the specimen being viewed under the microscope onto the table using a drawing tube or camera lucida. While he did use this tool in certain instances, she says, he drew some of his drawings, like his famous pyramidal neurons, “through his observation with his eye,” a technique known as perceptual drawing. © 1986-2017 The Scientist

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 24024 - Posted: 09.02.2017

By Jocelyn Kaiser The National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, has confirmed that the agency’s definition of clinical trials now includes imaging studies of normal brain function that do not test new treatments. The change will impose new requirements that many researchers say don’t make sense and could stifle cognitive neuroscience. Although NIH revised its definition of clinical trials in 2014, the agency is only now implementing it as part of a new clinical trials policy. Concerns arose this summer when an NIH official said the definition could apply to many basic behavioral research projects, including brain studies—for example, having healthy volunteers perform a computer task while wearing an electrode cap or lying in an MRI machine. Scientists say the new requirements—such as training and registration on clinicaltrials.gov—are unnecessary, will impose a huge paperwork burden, and will confuse patients seeking to enroll in trials. NIH told ScienceInsider in July that the agency was still deciding exactly which behavioral studies would be covered by the new definition. On 11 August, the agency released a set of case studies that has confirmed many researchers’ fears. Case No. 18 states that a study in which a healthy volunteer undergoes MRI brain imaging while performing a working memory test is now a clinical trial because the effect being evaluated—brain function—is a health-related outcome. © 2017 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Keyword: Brain imaging
Link ID: 24003 - Posted: 08.26.2017

By WILLIAM GRIMES Marian C. Diamond, a neuroscientist who overturned long-held beliefs by showing that environmental factors can change the structure of the brain and that the brain continues to develop throughout one’s life, died on July 25 at her home in Oakland, Calif. She was 90. Her son Richard Diamond confirmed the death. Dr. Diamond’s most celebrated study was of the preserved brain of Albert Einstein, in the 1980s, but it was her work two decades earlier, at the University of California, Berkeley, that had the most lasting impact. Dr. Diamond was an instructor at Cornell University in the late 1950s when she read a paper in Science magazine showing that rats who navigated mazes quickly had a different brain chemistry than slower rats. They showed much higher levels of acetylcholinesterase, an enzyme that accelerates the transmission of neural signals. “What a thrill I had when my mind jumped immediately to the question, ‘I wonder if the anatomy of these brains would also show a difference in learning ability?’ ” Dr. Diamond wrote in an autobiographical essay for the Society for Neuroscience. She was able to test her theory after joining a team at Berkeley led by Mark R. Rosenzweig, one of the authors of the Science paper. To gauge the effects of environment on performance, Dr. Rosenzweig and his colleagues had begun raising rats in so-called enriched cages, outfitted with ladders and wheels, in the company of other rats. The rats in a control group were raised alone in bare cages. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23966 - Posted: 08.17.2017

By M. GREGG BLOCHE Was the Central Intelligence Agency’s post-9/11 “enhanced interrogation” program an instance of human experimentation? Recently declassified documents raise this explosive question. The documents were obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union in connection with a federal lawsuit scheduled for trial next month. The case was brought on behalf of three former detainees against two psychologists who developed the C.I.A.’s program. I reviewed some of the documents in a recent article in The Texas Law Review. Internal C.I.A. records indicate that the psychologists, James Mitchell and John Bruce Jessen, anticipated objections that critics would later level against the program, such as that coercion might generate unreliable information, and contracted with the agency to design research tools that addressed some of these concerns. Redactions in the released documents (and the C.I.A.’s withholding of others) make it impossible to know the full extent, if any, of the agency’s data collection efforts or the findings they yielded. At their depositions for the A.C.L.U. lawsuit, each of the psychologists denied having evaluated the program’s effectiveness. But the C.I.A. paid the psychologists to develop a research methodology and instructed physicians and other medical staff members at clandestine detention sites to monitor and chart the health conditions of detainees. In response, the advocacy group Physicians for Human Rights has charged that the program was an unlawful experiment on human beings. It calls the program “one of the gravest breaches of medical ethics by United States health professionals since the Nuremberg Code,” the ethical principles written to protect people from human experimentation after World War II. In its lawsuit, the A.C.L.U. is pressing a similar claim. © 2017 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Aggression
Link ID: 23956 - Posted: 08.14.2017

By Robert Sanders, Media relations Marian Cleeves Diamond, one of the founders of modern neuroscience who was the first to show that the brain can change with experience and improve with enrichment, and who discovered evidence of this in the brain of Albert Einstein, died July 25 at the age of 90 in Oakland. A professor emerita of integrative biology at the University of California, Berkeley, Diamond achieved celebrity in 1984 when she examined preserved slices of Einstein’s brain, finding that he had more support cells in the brain than average. Her main claim to fame, however, came from work on rats, in which she showed that an enriched environment — toys and companions — changed the anatomy of the brain. The implication was that the brains of all animals, including humans, benefit from an enriched environment, and that impoverished environments can lower the capacity to learn. “Her research demonstrated the impact of enrichment on brain development — a simple but powerful new understanding that has literally changed the world, from how we think about ourselves to how we raise our children,” said UC Berkeley colleague George Brooks, a professor of integrative biology. “Dr. Diamond showed anatomically, for the first time, what we now call plasticity of the brain. In doing so she shattered the old paradigm of understanding the brain as a static and unchangeable entity that simply degenerated as we age. ” Her results were initially resisted by some neuroscientists. At one meeting, she later recalled, a man stood up after her talk and said loudly, “Young lady, that brain cannot change!” © 2017 UC Regents

Keyword: Learning & Memory
Link ID: 23896 - Posted: 07.31.2017