neurosciences

‘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 }

When I to sulphurous and tormenting flames must render up myself

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Have you ever felt lost and alone? If so, this experience probably involved your hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped structure in the middle of the brain. About 40 years ago, scientists with electrodes discovered that some neurons in the hippocampus fire each time an animal passes through a particular location in its environment. These neurons, called place cells, are thought to function as a cognitive map that enables navigation and spatial memory.

Place cells are typically studied by recording from the hippocampus of a rodent navigating through a laboratory maze. But in the real world, rats can cover a lot of ground. For example, many rats leave their filthy sewer bunkers every night to enter the cozy bedrooms of innocent sleeping children.

In a recent paper, esteemed neuroscientist Dr. Dylan Rich and colleagues investigated how place cells encode very large spaces. Specifically, they asked: how are new place cells recruited to the network as a rat explores a truly giant maze?

{ Sick papes | Continue reading }

One by one they were all becoming shades

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We will review evidence from neuroscience, complex network research and evolution theory and demonstrate that — at least in terms of psychopharmacological intervention — on the basis of our understanding of brain function it seems inconceivable that there ever will be a drug that has the desired effect without undesirable side effects.

{ Neuroethics | Continue reading }

photo { Hannes Caspar }

Turns out this principal is a religious fanatic, and he thinks I’m possessed by some sort of dick devil

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Some people can handle stressful situations better than others, and it’s not all in their genes: Even identical twins show differences in how they respond.

Researchers have identified a specific electrical pattern in the brains of genetically identical mice that predicts how well individual animals will fare in stressful situations.

The findings may eventually help researchers prevent potential consequences of chronic stress — such as post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other psychiatric disorders — in people who are prone to these problems.

{ EurekAlert | Continue reading }

‘Friends have all things in common.’ –Plato

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Everybody knows that men are women have some biological differences – different sizes of brains and different hormones. It wouldn’t be too surprising if there were some neurological differences too. The thing is, we also know that we treat men and women differently from the moment they’re born, in almost all areas of life. Brains respond to the demands we make of them, and men and women have different demands placed on them. […]

They report finding significant differences between the sexes, but don’t show the statistics that allow the reader to evaluate the size of any sex difference against other factors such as age or individual variability. […] A significant sex difference could be tiny compared to the differences between people of different ages, or compared to the normal differences between individuals.

{ The Conversation | Continue reading }

The most important thing to take from this research is – as the authors report – increasing gender equality disproportionately benefits women. This is because – no surprise! – gender inequality disproportionately disadvantages women. […] But the provocative suggestion of this study is that as societies develop we won’t necessarily see all gender differences go away. Some cognitive differences may actually increase when women are at less of a disadvantage.

{ Mind Hacks | Continue reading }

In order to determine the characteristics of non-philosophy, we frame it in opposition to an image of an established paradigm: Deconstruction

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“I looked up at the shower head, and it was as if the water droplets had stopped in mid-air” […]

Although Baker is perhaps the most dramatic case, a smattering of strikingly similar accounts can be found, intermittently, in medical literature. There are reports of time speeding up – so called “zeitraffer” phenomenon – and also more fragmentary experiences called “akinetopsia”, in which motion momentarily stops.

For instance, travelling home one day, one 61-year-old woman reported that the movement of the closing train doors, and fellow passengers, was in slow motion and “broken up”, as if in “freeze frames”. A 58-year-old Japanese man, meanwhile, seemed to be experiencing life like a badly dubbed movie; in conversation, he found that although others’ voices sounded normal, they were out of sync with their faces. […]

One explanation for this double-failure is that our motion perception system has its own stopwatch, recording how fast things are moving across our vision – and when this is disrupted by brain injury, the world stands still. For Baker, stepping into the shower might have exacerbated the problem, since the warm water would have drawn the blood away from the brain to the extremities of the body, further disturbing the brain’s processing.

Another explanation comes from the discovery that our brain records its perceptions in discrete “snapshots”, like the frames of a film reel. “The healthy brain reconstructs the experience and glues together the different frames,” says Rufin VanRullen at the French Centre for Brain and Cognition Research in Toulouse, “but if brain damage destroys the glue, you might only see the snapshots.”

{ BBC | Continue reading }

A man against capital punishment is accused of murdering a fellow activist and is sent to death row

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It’s a question that has plagued philosophers and scientists for thousands of years: Is free will an illusion?

Now, a new study suggests that free will may arise from a hidden signal buried in the “background noise” of chaotic electrical activity in the brain, and that this activity occurs almost a second before people consciously decide to do something. […]

Experiments performed in the 1970s also raised doubts about human volition. Those studies, conducted by the late neuroscientist Benjamin Libet, revealed that the region of the brain that plans and executes movement, called the motor cortex, fired prior to people’s decision to press a button, suggesting this part of the brain “makes up its mind” before peoples’ conscious decision making kicks in.

To understand more about conscious decision making, Bengson’s team used electroencephalography (EEG) to measure the brain waves of 19 undergraduates as they looked at a screen and were cued to make a random decision about whether to look right or left.

When people made their decision, a characteristic signal registered that choice as a wave of electrical activity that spread across specific brain regions.

But in a fascinating twist, other electrical activity emanating from the back of the head predicted people’s decisions up to 800 milliseconds before the signature of conscious decision making emerged.

{ Live Science | Continue reading }

related { Searching for the “Free Will” Neuron }

‘A place void of all light, which bellows like the sea in tempest.’ –Dante

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Some people report that in fear-related situations time seems to slowdown. That is to say, for example, during a car crash the event takes much longer from the point of a person experiencing the crash than the observer. But how and why the brain creates this slow motion experience is not completely understood. […]

In a situation where emotions are involved, there is an increased amygdala activity and a consequent increase in memory recording. When a person is asked to recall a fear-related event, the amount of details that he/she can recall is substantially increased compared to normal situation. However, the brain, not used to recalling so many details, is left to think that the event must have taken longer than it really did.

It is ‘the trick of memory’ as Eagleman puts it; the brain is not used to these exceptional circumstances and therefore, it tricks itself into false time perception.

{ The Question Gene | Continue reading }

Narcissists can feel empathy, research finds

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Those parents at the park taking all those photos are actually paying less attention to the moment, she says, because they’re focused on the act of taking the photo.

“Then they’ve got a thousand photos, and then they just dump the photos somewhere and don’t really look at them very much, ’cause it’s too difficult to tag them and organize them,” says Maryanne Garry, a psychology professor at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand. […]

Henkel, who researches human memory at Fairfield University in Connecticut, found what she called a “photo-taking impairment effect.”

“The objects that they had taken photos of — they actually remembered fewer of them, and remembered fewer details about those objects. Like, how was this statue’s hands positioned, or what was this statue wearing on its head. They remembered fewer of the details if they took photos of them, rather than if they had just looked at them,” she says.

Henkel says her students’ memories were impaired because relying on an external memory aid means you subconsciously count on the camera to remember the details for you.

{ NPR | Continue reading }

photo { Florian Maier-Aichen, Untitled (Cloud), 2001 }

An instant under the mirror

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Important peculiarities of the human memory system:

— A remarkable capacity for storing information is coupled with a highly fallible retrieval process.

— What is accessible in memory is highly dependent on the current environmental, interpersonal, emotional and body-state cues.

— Retrieving information from memory is a dynamic process that alters the subsequent state of the system.

— Access to competing memory representations regresses towards the earlier representation over time.

{ Robert Bjork | Continue reading }

‘A pair of powerful spectacles has sometimes sufficed to cure a person in love.’ –Nietzsche

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The brain systems that modulate “that loving feeling” are only just beginning to be understood, but neuroscience research is pointing more and more to the idea that the sensation of love relies on the same brain circuitry that goes awry in addiction. Love is a drug, basically — because only a drive as strong as an addiction could keep couples together through the stresses of parenting and keep parents tied to their kids.

Research has found, for example, that people in love are similar to those suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder — not only in terms of their obsessive thinking and compulsive behavior, but also the low levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin in their blood. So in a sense, love may be a special case of addiction

“The bottom line is that a lot of data on people rejected in love show that the major pathways linked with addiction become activated,” says Helen Fisher, a biological anthropologist at Rutgers University. If love is a drug, however, love’s chemistry can be chemically manipulated — those who are in love but don’t want to be could potentially take a pill that simply makes the formerly loved one seem no more special than a stranger.

{ NY mag | Continue reading }

“Love hurts”—as the saying goes—and a certain amount of pain and difficulty in intimate relationships is unavoidable. Sometimes it may even be beneficial, since adversity can lead to personal growth, self-discovery, and a range of other components of a life well-lived.

But other times, love can be downright dangerous. It may bind a spouse to her domestic abuser, draw an unscrupulous adult toward sexual involvement with a child, put someone under the insidious spell of a cult leader, and even inspire jealousy-fueled homicide. […]

Modern neuroscience and emerging developments in psychopharmacology open up a range of possible interventions that might actually work. These developments raise profound moral questions about the potential uses—and misuses—of such anti-love biotechnology. In this article, we describe a number of prospective love-diminishing interventions, and offer a preliminary ethical framework for dealing with them responsibly should they arise.

{ Taylor Francis Online | Continue reading }

‘Burrow for seed, the screech in hole’ —@TNI_InfantBat

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The contest, an unusual collaboration between industry and academic scientists, featured one-minute matches between 16 world-class “memory athletes” from all over the world as they met in a World Cup-like elimination format. The grand prize was $20,000; the potential scientific payoff was large, too. […]

Simon Reinhard, 35, a lawyer who holds the world record in card memorization (a deck in 21.19 seconds), and Johannes Mallow, 32, a teacher with the record for memorizing digits (501 in five minutes) […]

“We found that one of the biggest differences between memory athletes and the rest of us,” said Henry L. Roediger III, the psychologist who led the research team, “is in a cognitive ability that’s not a direct measure of memory at all but of attention.”

The technique the competitors use is no mystery.

People have been performing feats of memory for ages, scrolling out pi to hundreds of digits, or phenomenally long verses, or word pairs. Most store the studied material in a so-called memory palace, associating the numbers, words or cards with specific images they have already memorized; then they mentally place the associated pairs in a familiar location, like the rooms of a childhood home or the stops on a subway line. […] “When I see the eight of diamonds and the queen of spades, I picture a toilet, and my friend Guy Plowman,” said Ben Pridmore, 37, an accountant in Derby, England, and a former champion. […]

Now and then, a challenger boasts online of having discovered an entirely new method, and shows up at competitions to demonstrate it. “Those people are easy to find, because they come in last, or close to it,” said another world-class competitor, Boris Konrad, 29.

Anyone can learn to construct a memory palace, researchers say, and with practice remember far more detail of a particular subject than before.

{ NY Times | Continue reading }

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‘Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.’ –Hume

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“Neuroreductionism” is the tendency to reduce complex mental phenomena to brain states, confusing correlation for physical causation. In this paper, we illustrate the dangers of this popular neuro-fallacy, by looking at an example drawn from the media: a story about “hypoactive sexual desire disorder” in women. We discuss the role of folk dualism in perpetuating such a confusion, and draw some conclusions about the role of “brain scans” in our understanding of romantic love.

{ Savulescu & Earp | Continue reading }

photo { John Gutmann, Naked Breasts, Covered Face, 1939 }