neurosciences

*sighs heavily, walks over to big DAYS SINCE MAX GOT TOO DRUNK AT AN OFFICE PARTY AND EMBARRASSED HIMSELF sign, flips number back to 0* —Max Read

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15 years ago, the neurosciences defined the main function of brains in terms of processing input to compute output: “brain function is ultimately best understood in terms of input/output transformations and how they are produced” wrote Mike Mauk in 2000.

Since then, a lot of things have been discovered that make this stimulus-response concept untenable and potentially based largely on laboratory artifacts.

For instance, it was discovered that the likely ancestral state of behavioral organization is one of probing the environment with ongoing, variable actions first and evaluating sensory feedback later (i.e., the inverse of stimulus response). […]

In humans, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies over the last decade and a half revealed that the human brain is far from passively waiting for stimuli, but rather constantly produces ongoing, variable activity, and just shifts this activity over to other networks when we move from rest to task or switch between tasks.

{ Björn Brembs | Continue reading }

‘The bassoon or the piccolo, grumbling its discontent or shrilling its longing, personify the empty stomach for me.’ –Gioachino Rossini

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Scientists are increasingly convinced that the vast assemblage of microfauna in our intestines may have a major impact on our state of mind. The gut-brain axis seems to be bidirectional—the brain acts on gastrointestinal and immune functions that help to shape the gut’s microbial makeup, and gut microbes make neuroactive compounds, including neurotransmitters and metabolites that also act on the brain. […]

Microbes may have their own evolutionary reasons for communicating with the brain. They need us to be social, says John Cryan, a neuroscientist at University College Cork in Ireland, so that they can spread through the human population. Cryan’s research shows that when bred in sterile conditions, germ-free mice lacking in intestinal microbes also lack an ability to recognize other mice with whom they interact. In other studies, disruptions of the microbiome induced mice behavior that mimics human anxiety, depression and even autism. In some cases, scientists restored more normal behavior by treating their test subjects with certain strains of benign bacteria. Nearly all the data so far are limited to mice, but Cryan believes the findings provide fertile ground for developing analogous compounds, which he calls psychobiotics, for humans. “That dietary treatments could be used as either adjunct or sole therapy for mood disorders is not beyond the realm of possibility,” he says.

{ Scientific American | Continue reading }

related { Is Neuroscience Based On Biology? }

This too is for the best

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The scientific study of heartbreak is extremely new, with nearly all articles on the matter appearing in the last 10-15 years. In fact, the notion that strong emotional stress can impact health was not widely accepted in academia until recently.

In the 1990’s, Japan started accruing cases of a disease called “takotsubo cardiomyopathy,” where patients’ hearts would actually become damaged and their ventricles would be misshapen (into that of a “takotsubo,” or octopus-catching pot – a very bad shape for a heart chamber). Curiously, these cases were not heart attacks, but instead were a form of heart failure brought on by a rush of stress hormones.

After 15 years, the syndrome was finally mentioned in a 2005 New England Journal of Medicine article, where it was renamed “Broken Heart Syndrome.” Among the causes of Broken Heart Syndrome are romantic rejection, divorce, or the death of a loved one, and the outcome can be as serious as death.

{ NeuWrite | Continue reading }

‘You loved me once, you loved me twice.’ –Ralphi Rosario

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“The goal of memory isn’t to keep the details. It’s to be able to generalize from what you know so that you are more confident in acting on it,” Davachi says.

You run away from the dog that looks like the one that bit you, rather than standing around questioning how accurate your recall is.

{ The New Yorker | Continue reading }

‘The present contains nothing more than the past, and what is found in the effect was already in the cause.’ –Bergson

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Few studies have investigated the role of sleep deprivation in the formation of false memories, despite overwhelming evidence that sleep deprivation impairs cognitive function. We examined the relationship between self-reported sleep duration and false memories and the effect of 24 hr of total sleep deprivation on susceptibility to false memories. We found that under certain conditions, sleep deprivation can increase the risk of developing false memories.

{ Neuroethics & Law | Continue reading }

acrylic on canvas { William Betts, Amber, 03/19/04, 20:05:12, 2008 }

‘There are ideal series of events which run parallel with the real ones. They rarely coincide.’ –Novalis

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A car accident, the loss of a loved one and financial trouble are just a few of the myriad stressors we may encounter in our lifetimes. Some of us take it in stride, while others go on to develop anxiety or depression. How well will we deal with the inevitable lows of life?

A clue to this answer, according to a new Duke University study, is found in an almond-shaped structure deep within our brains: the amygdala. By measuring activity of this area, which is crucial for detecting and responding to danger, researchers say they can tell who will become depressed or anxious in response to stressful life events, as far as four years down the road.

{ EurekAlert | Continue reading }

‘Not the power to remember, but its very opposite, the power to forget, is a necessary condition for our existence.’ –Sholem Asch

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Memory has to be ‘turned on’ in order to remember even the simplest details, a new study finds. When not expecting to be tested, people can forget information just one second after paying attention to it. But, when they expect to be tested, people’s recall is doubled or even tripled.

{ PsyBlog | Continue reading }

photo { Spot | NYT }

Yes, of course, we all know Anna Livia

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We’ve all had that experience of going purposefully from one room to another, only to get there and forget why we made the journey. Four years ago, researcher Gabriel Radvansky and his colleagues stripped this effect down, showing that the simple act of passing through a doorway induces forgetting.

Now psychologists at Knox College, USA, have taken things further, demonstrating that merely imagining walking through a doorway is enough to trigger increased forgetfulness.

{ BPS | Continue reading }

photo { Barbara Klemm, Louvre, Paris, 1987 }

‘Is this mine? Naw. Nothing’s mine.’ —Richard Prince

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In an experiment researchers showed that the human brain uses memories to make predictions about what it expects to find in familiar contexts. When those subconscious predictions are shown to be wrong, the related memories are weakened and are more likely to be forgotten. And the greater the error, the more likely you are to forget the memory.

{ Lunatic Laboratories | Continue reading }

James Bond: Miss Anders, I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on.

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Ghost illusion created in the lab

On June 29, 1970, mountaineer Reinhold Messner had an unusual experience. Recounting his descent down the virgin summit of Nanga Parbat with his brother, freezing, exhausted, and oxygen-starved in the vast barren landscape, he recalls, “Suddenly there was a third climber with us… a little to my right, a few steps behind me, just outside my field of vision.”

It was invisible, but there. Stories like this have been reported countless times by mountaineers, explorers, and survivors, as well as by people who have been widowed, but also by patients suffering from neurological or psychiatric disorders. They commonly describe a presence that is felt but unseen, akin to a guardian angel or a demon. Inexplicable, illusory, and persistent.

Olaf Blanke’s research team at EPFL has now unveiled this ghost. The team was able to recreate the illusion of a similar presence in the laboratory and provide a simple explanation. They showed that the “feeling of a presence” actually results from an alteration of sensorimotor brain signals, which are involved in generating self-awareness by integrating information from our movements and our body’s position in space.

{ EurekAlert | Continue reading | more }

Plato has Socrates describe a gathering of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall

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We assume that we can see the world around us in sharp detail. In fact, our eyes can only process a fraction of our surroundings precisely. In a series of experiments, psychologists at Bielefeld University have been investigating how the brain fools us into believing that we see in sharp detail. The results have been published in the scientific magazine ‘Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.’ Its central finding is that our nervous system uses past visual experiences to predict how blurred objects would look in sharp detail.

{ Universität Bielefeld | Continue reading }

related { Scientists have found “hidden” brain activity that can indicate if a vegetative patient is aware }

‘Two simple words in the English language: I forgot!’ –Steve Martin

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In December last year, researchers Brian Dias and Kerry Ressler made a splash with a paper seeming to show that memories can be inherited.

This article, published in Nature Neuroscience, reported that if adult mice are taught to be afraid of a particular smell, then their children will also fear it. Which is pretty wild. Epigenetics was proposed as the mechanism.

Now, however, psychologist Gregory Francis says that the data Dias and Ressler published are just too good to be true.

{ Neuroskeptic | Continue reading }