Chapter 14. Attention and Higher Cognition

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By Robert Martone Neurological conditions can release a torrent of new creativity in a few people as if opening some mysterious floodgate. Auras of migraine and epilepsy may have influenced a long list of artists, including Pablo Picasso, Vincent van Gogh, Edvard Munch, Giorgio de Chirico, Claude Monet and Georges Seurat. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) can result in original thinking and newfound artistic drive. Emergent creativity is also a rare feature of Parkinson’s disease. But this burst of creative ability is especially true of frontotemporal dementia (FTD). Although a few rare cases of FTD are linked to improvements in verbal creativity, such as greater poetic gifts and increased wordplay and punning, enhanced creativity in the visual arts is an especially notable feature of the condition. Fascinatingly, this burst of creativity indicates that the potential to create may rest dormant in some of us, only to be unleashed by a disease that also causes a loss of verbal abilities. The emergence of a vibrant creative spark in the face of devastating neurological disease speaks to the human brain’s remarkable potential and resilience. A new study published in JAMA Neurology examines the roots of this phenomenon and provides insight into a possible cause. As specific brain areas diminish in FTD, the researchers find, they release their inhibition, or control, of other regions that support artistic expression. Frontotemporal dementia is relatively rare—affecting about 60,000 people in the U. S.—and distinct from the far more common Alzheimer’s disease, a form of dementia in which memory deficits predominate. FTD is named for the two brain regions that can degenerate in this disease, specifically the frontal and temporal lobes.

Keyword: Alzheimers; Attention
Link ID: 28797 - Posted: 05.27.2023

By Yasemin Saplakoglu Memories are shadows of the past but also flashlights for the future. Our recollections guide us through the world, tune our attention and shape what we learn later in life. Human and animal studies have shown that memories can alter our perceptions of future events and the attention we give them. “We know that past experience changes stuff,” said Loren Frank, a neuroscientist at the University of California, San Francisco. “How exactly that happens isn’t always clear.” A new study published in the journal Science Advances now offers part of the answer. Working with snails, researchers examined how established memories made the animals more likely to form new long-term memories of related future events that they might otherwise have ignored. The simple mechanism that they discovered did this by altering a snail’s perception of those events. The researchers took the phenomenon of how past learning influences future learning “down to a single cell,” said David Glanzman, a cell biologist at the University of California, Los Angeles who was not involved in the study. He called it an attractive example “of using a simple organism to try to get understanding of behavioral phenomena that are fairly complex.” Although snails are fairly simple creatures, the new insight brings scientists a step closer to understanding the neural basis of long-term memory in higher-order animals like humans. Though we often aren’t aware of the challenge, long-term memory formation is “an incredibly energetic process,” said Michael Crossley, a senior research fellow at the University of Sussex and the lead author of the new study. Such memories depend on our forging more durable synaptic connections between neurons, and brain cells need to recruit a lot of molecules to do that. To conserve resources, a brain must therefore be able to distinguish when it’s worth the cost to form a memory and when it’s not. That’s true whether it’s the brain of a human or the brain of a “little snail on a tight energetic budget,” he said. All Rights Reserved © 2023

Keyword: Learning & Memory; Attention
Link ID: 28787 - Posted: 05.18.2023

By Laura Sanders Like Dumbledore’s wand, a scan can pull long strings of stories straight out of a person’s brain — but only if that person cooperates. This “mind-reading” feat, described May 1 in Nature Neuroscience, has a long way to go before it can be used outside of sophisticated laboratories. But the result could ultimately lead to seamless devices that help people who can’t talk or otherwise communicate easily. The research also raises privacy concerns about unwelcome neural eavesdropping (SN: 2/11/21). “I thought it was fascinating,” says Gopala Anumanchipalli, a neural engineer at the University of California, Berkeley who wasn’t involved in the study. “It’s like, ‘Wow, now we are here already,’” he says. “I was delighted to see this.” As opposed to implanted devices that have shown recent promise, the new system requires no surgery (SN: 11/15/22). And unlike other external approaches, it produces continuous streams of words instead of having a more constrained vocabulary. For the new study, three people lay inside a bulky MRI machine for at least 16 hours each. They listened to stories, mostly from The Moth podcast, while functional MRI scans detected changes in blood flow in the brain. These changes are proxies for brain activity, albeit slow and imperfect measures. With this neural data in hand, computational neuroscientists Alexander Huth and Jerry Tang of the University of Texas at Austin and colleagues were able to match patterns of brain activity to certain words and ideas. The approach relied on a language model that was built with GPT, one of the forerunners that enabled today’s AI chatbots (SN: 4/12/23). © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2023.

Keyword: Brain imaging; Consciousness
Link ID: 28769 - Posted: 05.03.2023

By Oliver Whang Think of the words whirling around in your head: that tasteless joke you wisely kept to yourself at dinner; your unvoiced impression of your best friend’s new partner. Now imagine that someone could listen in. On Monday, scientists from the University of Texas, Austin, made another step in that direction. In a study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, the researchers described an A.I. that could translate the private thoughts of human subjects by analyzing fMRI scans, which measure the flow of blood to different regions in the brain. Already, researchers have developed language-decoding methods to pick up the attempted speech of people who have lost the ability to speak, and to allow paralyzed people to write while just thinking of writing. But the new language decoder is one of the first to not rely on implants. In the study, it was able to turn a person’s imagined speech into actual speech and, when subjects were shown silent films, it could generate relatively accurate descriptions of what was happening onscreen. “This isn’t just a language stimulus,” said Alexander Huth, a neuroscientist at the university who helped lead the research. “We’re getting at meaning, something about the idea of what’s happening. And the fact that that’s possible is very exciting.” The study centered on three participants, who came to Dr. Huth’s lab for 16 hours over several days to listen to “The Moth” and other narrative podcasts. As they listened, an fMRI scanner recorded the blood oxygenation levels in parts of their brains. The researchers then used a large language model to match patterns in the brain activity to the words and phrases that the participants had heard. © 2023 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Brain imaging; Consciousness
Link ID: 28768 - Posted: 05.03.2023

Sara Reardon The little voice inside your head can now be decoded by a brain scanner — at least some of the time. Researchers have developed the first non-invasive method of determining the gist of imagined speech, presenting a possible communication outlet for people who cannot talk. But how close is the technology — which is currently only moderately accurate — to achieving true mind-reading? And how can policymakers ensure that such developments are not misused? Most existing thought-to-speech technologies use brain implants that monitor activity in a person’s motor cortex and predict the words that the lips are trying to form. To understand the actual meaning behind the thought, computer scientists Alexander Huth and Jerry Tang at the University of Texas at Austin and their colleagues combined functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a non-invasive means of measuring brain activity, with artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms called large language models (LLMs), which underlie tools such as ChatGPT and are trained to predict the next word in a piece of text. In a study published in Nature Neuroscience on 1 May, the researchers had 3 volunteers lie in an fMRI scanner and recorded the individuals’ brain activity while they listened to 16 hours of podcasts each1. By measuring the blood flow through the volunteers’ brains and integrating this information with details of the stories they were listening to and the LLM’s ability to understand how words relate to one another, the researchers developed an encoded map of how each individual’s brain responds to different words and phrases. Next, the researchers recorded the participants’ fMRI activity while they listened to a story, imagined telling a story or watched a film that contained no dialogue. Using a combination of the patterns they had previously encoded for each individual and algorithms that determine how a sentence is likely to be constructed based on other words in it, the researchers attempted to decode this new brain activity. The video below shows the sentences produced from brain recordings taken while a study participant watched a clip from the animated film Sintel about a girl caring for a baby dragon. © 2023 Springer Nature Limited

Keyword: Brain imaging; Consciousness
Link ID: 28767 - Posted: 05.03.2023

By Sara Reardon Many people who have come close to death or have been resuscitated report a similar experience: Their lives flash before their eyes, memorable moments replay, and they may undergo an out-of-body experience, sensing they’re looking at themselves from elsewhere in the room. Now, a small study mapping the brain activity of four people while they were dying shows a burst of activity in their brains after their hearts stop. The authors say the finding, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may explain how a person’s brain could replay conscious memories even after the heart has stopped. It “suggests we are identifying a marker of lucid consciousness,” says Sam Parnia, a pulmonologist at New York University Langone Medical Center who was not involved in the study. Although death has historically been medically defined as the moment when the heart irreversibly stops beating, recent studies have suggested brain activity in many animals and humans can continue for seconds to hours. In 2013, for instance, University of Michigan neurologist Jimo Borjigin and team found that rats’ brains showed signs of consciousness up to 30 seconds after their hearts had stopped beating. “We have this binary concept of life and death that is ancient and outdated,” Parnia says. Still, despite the numerous reports over hundreds of years from people who have been resuscitated following clinical death or nearly died, “I was shocked to realize we know almost nothing” about brain activity during the dying process, Borjigin says. For the current study, she and her team looked at the medical records of four people who were in comas and on life support on whom physicians had placed electroencephalography caps. None of the patients had any chance of survival.

Keyword: Attention; Consciousness
Link ID: 28765 - Posted: 05.03.2023

By Tim Vernimmen This story starts in an unusual place for an article about human nutrition: a cramped, humid and hot room somewhere in the Zoology building of the University of Oxford in England, filled with a couple hundred migratory locusts, each in its own plastic box. It was there, in the late 1980s, that entomologists Stephen Simpson and David Raubenheimer began working together on a curious job: rearing these notoriously voracious insects, to try and find out whether they were picky eaters. Every day, Simpson and Raubenheimer would weigh each locust and feed it precise amounts of powdered foods containing varying proportions of proteins and carbohydrates. To their surprise, the young scientists found that whatever food the insects were fed, they ended up eating almost exactly the same amount of protein. In fact, locusts feeding on food that was low in protein ate so much extra in order to reach their protein target that they ended up overweight — not chubby on the outside, since their exoskeleton doesn’t allow for bulges, but chock-full of fat on the inside. Inevitably, this made Simpson and Raubenheimer wonder whether something similar might be causing the documented rise in obesity among humans. Many studies had reported that even as our consumption of fats and carbohydrates increased, our consumption of protein did not. Might it be that, like locusts, we are tricked into overeating, in our case by the irresistible, low-protein, ultraprocessed foods on the shelves of the stores where we do most of our foraging? That’s what Raubenheimer and Simpson, both now at the University of Sydney, argue in their recent book “Eat Like the Animals” and in an overview in the Annual Review of Nutrition. © 2023 Annual Reviews

Keyword: Obesity; Attention
Link ID: 28764 - Posted: 05.03.2023

Ruth Ogden A year and half alone in a cave might sound like a nightmare to a lot of people, but Spanish athlete Beatriz Flamini emerged with a cheerful grin and said she thought she had more time to finish her book. She had almost no contact with the outside world during her impressive feat of human endurance. For 500 days, she documented her experiences to help scientists understand the effects of extreme isolation. One of the first things that became apparent on April 12 2023 when she emerged from the cave was how fluid time is, shaped more by your personality traits and the people around you than a ticking clock. When talking to reporters about her experiences, Flamini explained she rapidly lost her sense of time. The loss of time was so profound that, when her support team came to retrieve her, she was surprised that her time was up, instead believing she had only been there for 160-170 days. Our actions, emotions and changes in our environment can have powerful effects on the way in which our minds process time. For most people, the rising and setting of the sun mark the passing of days, and work and social routines mark the passing of hours. In the darkness of an underground cave, without the company of others, many signals of passing of time will have disappeared. So Flamini may have become more reliant on psychological processes to monitor time. One way in which we keep track of the passage of time is memory. If we don’t know how long we have been doing something for, we use the number of memories formed during the event as an index to the amount of time that has passed. The more memories we form in an event or era, the longer we perceive it to have lasted. © 2010–2023, The Conversation US, Inc.

Keyword: Attention; Biological Rhythms
Link ID: 28755 - Posted: 04.26.2023

By Emily Underwood The ability to set a goal and pursue it without getting derailed by temptations or distractions is essential to nearly everything we do in life, from finishing homework to driving safely in traffic. It also places complex demands on the brain, requiring skills like working memory — the ability to keep small amounts of information in mind to perform a task — as well as impulse control and being able to rapidly adapt when rules or circumstances change. Taken together, these elements add up to something researchers call executive function. We all struggle with executive function sometimes, for example when we’re stressed or don’t get enough sleep. But in teenagers, these powers are still a work in progress, contributing to some of the contradictory behaviors and lapses in judgment — “My honor roll student did what on TikTok?” — that baffle many parents. This erratic control can be dangerous, especially when teens make impulsive choices. But that doesn’t mean the teen brain is broken, says Beatriz Luna, a developmental cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Pittsburgh and coauthor of a review on the maturation of one aspect of executive function, called cognitive control, in the 2015 Annual Review of Neuroscience. Adolescents have all the basic neural circuitry needed for executive function and cognitive control, Luna says. In fact, they have more than they need — what’s lacking is experience, which over time will strengthen some neural pathways and weaken or eliminate others. This winnowing serves an important purpose: It tailors the brain to help teens handle the demands of their unique, ever-changing environments and to navigate situations their parents may never have encountered. Luna’s research suggests that teens’ inconsistent cognitive control is key to becoming independent, because it encourages them to seek out and learn from experiences that go beyond what they’ve been actively taught. © 2023 Annual Reviews

Keyword: Development of the Brain; Attention
Link ID: 28751 - Posted: 04.26.2023

Nicola Davis Science Correspondent If the sound of someone chewing gum or slurping their tea gets on your nerves, you are not alone. Researchers say almost one in five people in the UK has strong negative reactions to such noises. Misophonia is a disorder in which people feel strong emotional responses to certain sounds, feeling angry, distressed or even unable to function in social or work settings as a result. But just how common the condition is has been a matter of debate. Now researchers say they have found 18.4% of the UK population have significant symptoms of misophonia. “This is the very first study where we have a representative sample of the UK population,” said Dr Silia Vitoratou, first author of the study at King’s College London. “Most people with misophonia think they are alone, but they are not. This is something we need to know [about] and make adjustments if we can.” Writing in the journal Plos One, the team report how they gathered responses from 768 people using metrics including the selective sound sensitivity syndrome scale. This included one questionnaire probing the sounds that individuals found triggering, such as chewing or snoring, and another exploring the impact of such sounds – including whether they affected participants’ social life and whether the participant blamed the noise-maker – as well as the type of emotional response participants felt to the sounds and the intensity of their emotions. As a result, each participant was given an overall score. The results reveal more than 80% of participants had no particular feelings towards sounds such as “normal breathing” or “yawning” but this plummeted to less than 25% when it came to sounds including “slurping”, “chewing gum” and “sniffing”. © 2023 Guardian News & Media Limited

Keyword: Hearing; Attention
Link ID: 28712 - Posted: 03.23.2023

By Ellen Barry It is a truism that time seems to expand or contract depending on our circumstances: In a state of terror, seconds can stretch. A day spent in solitude can drag. When we’re trying to meet a deadline, hours race by. A study published this month in the journal Psychophysiology by psychologists at Cornell University found that, when observed at the level of microseconds, some of these distortions could be driven by heartbeats, whose length is variable from moment to moment. The psychologists fitted undergraduates with electrocardiograms to measure the length of each heartbeat precisely, and then asked them to estimate the length of brief audio tones. The psychologists discovered that after a longer heartbeat interval, subjects tended to perceive the tone as longer; shorter intervals led subjects to assess the tone as shorter. Subsequent to each tone, the subjects’ heartbeat intervals lengthened. A lower heart rate appeared to assist with perception, said Saeedeh Sadeghi, a doctoral candidate at Cornell and the study’s lead author. “When we need to perceive things from the outside world, the beats of the heart are noise to the cortex,” she said. “You can sample the world more — it’s easier to get things in — when the heart is silent.” The study provides more evidence, after an era of research focusing on the brain, that “there is no single part of the brain or body that keeps time — it’s all a network,” she said, adding, “The brain controls the heart, and the heart, in turn, impacts the brain.” Interest in the perception of time has exploded since the Covid pandemic, when activity outside the home came to an abrupt halt for many and people around the world found themselves facing stretches of undifferentiated time. A study of time perception conducted during the first year of the lockdown in Britain found that 80 percent of participants reported distortions in time, in different directions. On average, older, more socially isolated people reported that time slowed, and younger, more active people reported that it sped up. © 2023 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Attention
Link ID: 28704 - Posted: 03.15.2023

By Marta Zaraska The Neumayer III polar station sits near the edge of Antarctica’s unforgiving Ekström Ice Shelf. During the winter, when temperatures can plunge below minus 50 degrees Celsius and the winds can climb to more than 100 kilometers per hour, no one can come or go from the station. Its isolation is essential to the meteorological, atmospheric and geophysical science experiments conducted there by the mere handful of scientists who staff the station during the winter months and endure its frigid loneliness. But a few years ago, the station also became the site for a study of loneliness itself. A team of scientists in Germany wanted to see whether the social isolation and environmental monotony marked the brains of people making long Antarctic stays. Eight expeditioners working at the Neumayer III station for 14 months agreed to have their brains scanned before and after their mission and to have their brain chemistry and cognitive performance monitored during their stay. (A ninth crew member also participated but could not have their brain scanned for medical reasons.) As the researchers described in 2019, in comparison to a control group, the socially isolated team lost volume in their prefrontal cortex — the region at the front of the brain, just behind the forehead, that is chiefly responsible for decision-making and problem-solving. They also had lower levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a protein that nurtures the development and survival of nerve cells in the brain. The reduction persisted for at least a month and a half after the team’s return from Antarctica. It’s uncertain how much of this was due purely to the social isolation of the experience. But the results are consistent with evidence from more recent studies that chronic loneliness significantly alters the brain in ways that only worsen the problem. Neuroscience suggests that loneliness doesn’t necessarily result from a lack of opportunity to meet others or a fear of social interactions. Instead, circuits in our brain and changes in our behavior can trap us in a catch-22 situation: While we desire connection with others, we view them as unreliable, judgmental and unfriendly. Consequently, we keep our distance, consciously or unconsciously spurning potential opportunities for connections. Simons Foundation All Rights Reserved © 2023

Keyword: Stress; Attention
Link ID: 28689 - Posted: 03.04.2023

By Stephani Sutherland Tara Ghormley has always been an overachiever. She finished at the top of her class in high school, graduated summa cum laude from college and earned top honors in veterinary school. She went on to complete a rigorous training program and build a successful career as a veterinary internal medicine specialist. But in March 2020 she got infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus—just the 24th case in the small, coastal central California town she lived in at the time, near the site of an early outbreak in the COVID pandemic. “I could have done without being first at this,” she says. Almost three years after apparently clearing the virus from her body, Ghormley is still suffering. She gets exhausted quickly, her heartbeat suddenly races, and she goes through periods where she can't concentrate or think clearly. Ghormley and her husband, who have relocated to a Los Angeles suburb, once spent their free time visiting their “happiest place on Earth”—Disneyland—but her health prevented that for more than a year. She still spends most of her days off resting in the dark or going to her many doctors' appointments. Her early infection and ongoing symptoms make her one of the first people in the country with “long COVID,” a condition where symptoms persist for at least three months after the infection and can last for years. The syndrome is known by medical professionals as postacute sequelae of COVID-19, or PASC. People with long COVID have symptoms such as pain, extreme fatigue and “brain fog,” or difficulty concentrating or remembering things. As of February 2022, the syndrome was estimated to affect about 16 million adults in the U.S. and had forced between two million and four million Americans out of the workforce, many of whom have yet to return. Long COVID often arises in otherwise healthy young people, and it can follow even a mild initial infection. The risk appears at least slightly higher in people who were hospitalized for COVID and in older adults (who end up in the hospital more often). Women and those at socioeconomic disadvantage also face higher risk, as do people who smoke, are obese, or have any of an array of health conditions, particularly autoimmune disease. Vaccination appears to reduce the danger but does not entirely prevent long COVID.

Keyword: Attention; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28667 - Posted: 02.15.2023

By Betsy Mason Some fish can recognize their own faces in photos and mirrors, an ability usually attributed to humans and other animals considered particularly brainy, such as chimpanzees, scientists report. Finding the ability in fish suggests that self-awareness may be far more widespread among animals than scientists once thought. “It is believed widely that the animals that have larger brains will be more intelligent than animals of the small brain,” such as fish, says animal sociologist Masanori Kohda of Osaka Metropolitan University in Japan. It may be time to rethink that assumption, Kohda says. Kohda’s previous research showed that bluestreak cleaner wrasses can pass the mirror test, a controversial cognitive assessment that purportedly reveals self-awareness, or the ability to be the object of one’s own thoughts. The test involves exposing an animal to a mirror and then surreptitiously putting a mark on the animal’s face or body to see if they will notice it on their reflection and try to touch it on their body. Previously only a handful of large-brained species, including chimpanzees and other great apes, dolphins, elephants and magpies, have passed the test. In a new study, cleaner fish that passed the mirror test were then able to distinguish their own faces from those of other cleaner fish in still photographs. This suggests that the fish identify themselves the same way humans are thought to — by forming a mental image of one’s face, Kohda and colleagues report February 6 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “I think it’s truly remarkable that they can do this,” says primatologist Frans de Waal of Emory University in Atlanta who was not involved in the research. “I think it’s an incredible study.” © Society for Science & the Public 2000–2023.

Keyword: Attention; Evolution
Link ID: 28659 - Posted: 02.08.2023

By John M. Beggs Over the last few decades, an idea called the critical brain hypothesis has been helping neuroscientists understand how the human brain operates as an information-processing powerhouse. It posits that the brain is always teetering between two phases, or modes, of activity: a random phase, where it is mostly inactive, and an ordered phase, where it is overactive and on the verge of a seizure. The hypothesis predicts that between these phases, at a sweet spot known as the critical point, the brain has a perfect balance of variety and structure and can produce the most complex and information-rich activity patterns. This state allows the brain to optimize multiple information processing tasks, from carrying out computations to transmitting and storing information, all at the same time. To illustrate how phases of activity in the brain — or, more precisely, activity in a neural network such as the brain — might affect information transmission through it, we can play a simple guessing game. Imagine that we have a network with 10 layers and 40 neurons in each layer. Neurons in the first layer will only activate neurons in the second layer, and those in the second layer will only activate those in the third layer, and so on. Now, I will activate some number of neurons in the first layer, but you will only be able to observe the number of neurons active in the last layer. Let’s see how well you can guess the number of neurons I activated under three different strengths of network connections. First, let’s consider weak connections. In this case, neurons typically activate independently of each other, and the pattern of network activity is random. No matter how many neurons I activate in the first layer, the number of neurons activated in the last layer will tend toward zero because the weak connections dampen the spread of activity. This makes our guessing game incredibly difficult. The amount of information about the first layer that you can learn from the last layer is practically nothing. All Rights Reserved © 2023

Keyword: Attention; Learning & Memory
Link ID: 28652 - Posted: 02.01.2023

By Kristen French George Church looks like he needs a nap. I’m talking to him on Zoom, and his eyelids have grown heavy, inclining toward slumber. Or maybe my mind is playing tricks on me. He assures me he is wide awake. But sleeping and waking life are often blurred for Church. One of the world’s most imaginative scientists, Church is a narcoleptic. A rare disorder, narcolepsy causes sudden attacks of sleep, and Church has fallen asleep in some unfortunate circumstances—at The World Economic Forum, just a few feet away from Microsoft founder Bill Gates, for instance. He also had to give up driving due to the risk that a bout of sleepiness will strike while he is behind the wheel. But Church, a Harvard geneticist known for his pathbreaking contributions to numerous fields—from genetics to astrobiology to biomedicine—says the benefits of his condition outweigh the inconveniences. Many of his wildest and most prescient ideas come from his narcoleptic naps. “The fact is, I fall asleep several times a day, and so almost everything comes from there,” Church says. His idea for a quick and simple way to “read” DNA—which resulted in the first commercial genome sequence, of the human pathogen H. pylori—came from a narcoleptic nap. He also conceived of editing genomes with CRISPR and building new genomes with off-the-shelf molecules during narcoleptic naps. More recently, in December, a wild idea for a space probe that could reach distant stars within just 20 years, at one-fifth the speed of light, came to him after a narcoleptic nap. He proposed that these lightning-speed interstellar missions could be launched by microbes and powered by laser sails. The ideas that come to him are often the result of collisions of unexpected images in his head. “I try to turn science fiction into science fact,” Church tells me. © 2023 NautilusNext Inc.,

Keyword: Sleep; Attention
Link ID: 28648 - Posted: 02.01.2023

By Dana G. Smith Do you: Cut the tags out of your clothes? Relive (and regret) past conversations? Have episodes of burnout and fatigue? Zone out while someone is talking? Become hyper-focused while working on a project? Take on dozens of hobbies? Daydream? Forget things? According to TikTok, you might have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Videos about the psychiatric condition are all over the social media app, with the #adhd hashtag receiving more than 17 billion views to date. Many feature young people describing their specific (and sometimes surprising) symptoms, like sensitivity to small sensory annoyances (such as clothing tags) or A.D.H.D. paralysis, a type of extreme procrastination. After viewing these videos, many people who were not diagnosed with A.D.H.D. as children may question whether they would qualify as adults. As with most psychiatric conditions, A.D.H.D. symptoms can range in type and severity. And many of them “are behaviors everyone experiences at some point or another,” said Joel Nigg, a professor of psychiatry at Oregon Health & Science University. The key to diagnosing the condition, however, requires “determining that it’s serious, it’s extreme” and it’s interfering with people’s lives, he said. It’s also critical that the symptoms have been present since childhood. Those nuances can be lost on social media, experts say. In fact, one study published earlier this year found that more than half of the A.D.H.D. videos on TikTok were misleading. If a video (or article) has you thinking you may have undiagnosed A.D.H.D., here’s what to consider. Approximately 4 percent of adults in the United States have enough symptoms to qualify for A.D.H.D., but only an estimated one in 10 of them is diagnosed and treated. For comparison, roughly 9 percent of children in the United States have been diagnosed with the condition, and three-quarters have received medication or behavioral therapy for it. One reason for the lack of diagnoses in adults is that when people think of A.D.H.D., they often imagine a boy who can’t sit still and is disruptive in class, said Dr. Deepti Anbarasan, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine. But those stereotypical hyperactive symptoms are present in just 5 percent of adult cases, she said. © 2023 The New York Times Company

Keyword: ADHD
Link ID: 28646 - Posted: 01.27.2023

By Jennifer Szalai “‘R’s’ are hard,” John Hendrickson writes in his new memoir, “Life on Delay: Making Peace With a Stutter,” committing to paper a string of words that would have caused him trouble had he tried to say them out loud. In November 2019, Hendrickson, an editor at The Atlantic, published an article about then-presidential candidate Joe Biden, who talked frequently about “beating” his childhood stutter — a bit of hyperbole that the article finally laid to rest. Biden insisted on his redemptive narrative, even though Hendrickson, who has stuttered since he was 4, could tell when Biden repeated (“I-I-I-I-I”) or blocked (“…”) on certain sounds. The article went viral, putting Hendrickson in the position of being invited to go on television — a “nightmare,” he said on MSNBC at the time, though it did lead to a flood of letters from fellow stutterers, a number of whom he interviewed for this book. “Life on Delay” traces an arc from frustration and isolation to acceptance and community, recounting a lifetime of bullying and well-meaning but ineffectual interventions and what Hendrickson calls “hundreds of awful first impressions.” When he depicts scenes from his childhood it’s often in a real-time present tense, putting us in the room with the boy he was, more than two decades before. Hendrickson also interviews people: experts, therapists, stutterers, his own parents. He calls up his kindergarten teacher, his childhood best friend and the actress Emily Blunt. He reaches out to others who have published personal accounts of stuttering, including The New Yorker’s Nathan Heller and Katharine Preston, the author of a memoir titled “Out With It.” We learn that it’s only been since the turn of the millennium or so that stuttering has been understood as a neurological disorder; that for 75 percent of children who stutter, “the issue won’t follow them to adulthood”; that there’s still disagreement over whether “disfluency” is a matter of language or motor control, because “the research is still a bit of a mess.” © 2023 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Language; Attention
Link ID: 28643 - Posted: 01.27.2023

By Alessandra Buccella, Tomáš Dominik  Imagine you are shopping online for a new pair of headphones. There is an array of colors, brands and features to look at. You feel that you can pick any model that you like and are in complete control of your decision. When you finally click the “add to shopping cart” button, you believe that you are doing so out of your own free will. But what if we told you that while you thought that you were still browsing, your brain activity had already highlighted the headphones you would pick? That idea may not be so far-fetched. Though neuroscientists likely could not predict your choice with 100 percent accuracy, research has demonstrated that some information about your upcoming action is present in brain activity several seconds before you even become conscious of your decision. As early as the 1960s, studies found that when people perform a simple, spontaneous movement, their brain exhibits a buildup in neural activity—what neuroscientists call a “readiness potential”—before they move. In the 1980s, neuroscientist Benjamin Libet reported this readiness potential even preceded a person’s reported intention to move, not just their movement. In 2008 a group of researchers found that some information about an upcoming decision is present in the brain up to 10 seconds in advance, long before people reported making the decision of when or how to act. Advertisement These studies have sparked questions and debates. To many observers, these findings debunked the intuitive concept of free will. After all, if neuroscientists can infer the timing or choice of your movements long before you are consciously aware of your decision, perhaps people are merely puppets, pushed around by neural processes unfolding below the threshold of consciousness. But as researchers who study volition from both a neuroscientific and philosophical perspective, we believe that there’s still much more to this story. We work with a collaboration of philosophers and scientists to provide more nuanced interpretations—including a better understanding of the readiness potential—and a more fruitful theoretical framework in which to place them. The conclusions suggest “free will” remains a useful concept, although people may need to reexamine how they define it. © 2023 Scientific American

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 28635 - Posted: 01.18.2023

By Dennis Overbye If you could change the laws of nature, what would you change? Maybe it’s that pesky speed-of-light limit on cosmic travel — not to mention war, pestilence and the eventual asteroid that has Earth’s name on it. Maybe you would like the ability to go back in time — to tell your teenage self how to deal with your parents, or to buy Google stock. Couldn’t the universe use a few improvements? That was the question that David Anderson, a computer scientist, enthusiast of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), musician and mathematician at the University of California, Berkeley, recently asked his colleagues and friends. In recent years the idea that our universe, including ourselves and all of our innermost thoughts, is a computer simulation, running on a thinking machine of cosmic capacity, has permeated culture high and low. In an influential essay in 2003, Nick Bostrom, a philosopher at the University of Oxford and director of the Institute for the Future of Humanity, proposed the idea, adding that it was probably an easy accomplishment for “technologically mature” civilizations wanting to explore their histories or entertain their offspring. Elon Musk, who, for all we know, is the star of this simulation, seemed to echo this idea when he once declared that there was only a one-in-a-billion chance that we lived in “base reality.” It’s hard to prove, and not everyone agrees that such a drastic extrapolation of our computing power is possible or inevitable, or that civilization will last long enough to see it through. But we can’t disprove the idea either, so thinkers like Dr. Bostrom contend that we must take the possibility seriously. In some respects, the notion of a Great Simulator is redolent of a recent theory among cosmologists that the universe is a hologram, its margins lined with quantum codes that determine what is going on inside. A couple of years ago, pinned down by the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Anderson began discussing the implications of this idea with his teenage son. If indeed everything was a simulation, then making improvements would simply be a matter of altering whatever software program was running everything. “Being a programmer, I thought about exactly what these changes might involve,” he said in an email. © 2023 The New York Times Company

Keyword: Consciousness
Link ID: 28634 - Posted: 01.18.2023