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We may have less control over our thoughts than previously assumed -- ScienceDaily

Morsella and the other researchers conducted two experiments with SF State students. In the first experiment, 35 students were told beforehand to not count an array of objects presented to them. In 90 percent of the trials, students counted the objects involuntarily. In a second experiment, students were presented with differently colored geometric shapes and given the option of either naming the colors (one set) or counting the shapes (a different set). Even though students chose one over the other, around 40 percent thought about both sets. "The data support the view that, when one is performing a desired action, conscious thoughts about alternative plans still occupy the mind, often insuppressibly," said Morsella. Understanding how sets work could have implications for the way we absorb information -- and whether we choose to act or not. We think of our conscious minds as private and insulated from the outside world, says Morsella. Yet our "insulation" may be more permeable than we think. "Our conscious mind is the totality of our experience, a kind of 'prime real estate' in the cognitive apparatus, influencing both decision-making and action," Morsella said. The new study demonstrates that it's actually quite easy to activate sets in people and influence what occupies the brain's "prime real estate." "The research shows that stimuli in the environment are very important in determining what we end up thinking about and that once an action plan is strongly activated its many effects can be difficult to override," said Morsella.

Evidence Rebuts Chomsky's Theory of Language Learning - Scientific American

The research suggests a radically different view, in which learning of a child’s first language does not rely on an innate grammar module. Instead the new research shows that young children use various types of thinking that may not be specific to language at all—such as the ability to classify the world into categories (people or objects, for instance) and to understand the relations among things. These capabilities, coupled with a unique human ability to grasp what others intend to communicate, allow language to happen. The new findings indicate that if researchers truly want to understand how children, and others, learn languages, they need to look outside of Chomsky’s theory for guidance.

Fundamental Rule of Brain Plasticity Discovered - Neuroscience News

Our brains are famously flexible, or “plastic,” because neurons can do new things by forging new or stronger connections with other neurons. But if some connections strengthen, neuroscientists have reasoned, neurons must compensate lest they become overwhelmed with input. In a new study in Science, researchers at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT demonstrate for the first time how this balance is struck: when one connection, called a synapse, strengthens, immediately neighboring synapses weaken based on the action of a crucial protein called Arc. Senior author Mriganka Sur said he was excited but not surprised that his team discovered a simple, fundamental rule at the core of such a complex system as the brain, where 100 billion neurons each have thousands of ever-changing synapses. He likens it to how a massive school of fish can suddenly change direction, en masse, so long as the lead fish turns and every other fish obeys the simple rule of following the fish right in front of it.

Absence epilepsy: When the brain is like 'an orchestra without a conductor' -- ScienceDaily

"Normally the human brain, like an orchestra, is playing beautiful music and every player can understand what the others are playing. We thought that when a seizure started, the 'orchestra of neurons' would play extremely loud and intense music. And when the seizure ended, the neurons would go back to playing monotonous music," Maheshwari said. "Instead, we found that during an absence seizure the volume of the music went down and the 'musicians' were playing music without coordinating with others. Most of them were not playing at all, as if the conductor was not there anymore. When the seizure ended, it was like the conductor had returned and organized the musicians to play harmoniously again."

Rare mutation of gene carried by Quebec family gives insight into how the brain is wired: Brain scans could further understanding of psychiatric disorders, brain's reward system -- ScienceDaily

By scanning the brain of 20 family members who share an altered copy of DCC, the researchers found less connectivity between the areas where dopamine neurons originate (the substantia nigra and ventral tegmental area) and their target sites, such as the striatum and frontal cortex. One of these target sites -- the striatum -- was also smaller. "It's very interesting because we were able to show that this DCC gene alteration induces similar changes to the brain in both mice and humans," says Cecilia Flores. Because the brain systems affected by the gene influence responses to rewards, it was not surprising to see that the family members with the DCC mutation also have lower impulsivity traits and are less likely to smoke cigarettes. Indeed, an increasing number of studies, including those by Professor Flores' team, link DCC to psychiatric conditions. "Because the gene affects the brain's dopamine pathways, which are implicated in schizophrenia, addiction and depression, our study potentially helps us understand how these disorders arise.

Why being left-handed matters for mental health treatment -- ScienceDaily

Since the 1970s, hundreds of studies have suggested that each hemisphere of the brain is home to a specific type of emotion. Emotions linked to approaching and engaging with the world -- like happiness, pride and anger -- lives in the left side of the brain, while emotions associated with avoidance -- like disgust and fear -- are housed in the right. But those studies were done almost exclusively on right-handed people. That simple fact has given us a skewed understanding of how emotion works in the brain, according to Daniel Casasanto, associate professor of human development and psychology at Cornell University. That longstanding model is, in fact, reversed in left-handed people, whose emotions like alertness and determination are housed in the right side of their brains, Casasanto suggests in a new study. Even more radical: The location of a person's neural systems for emotion depends on whether they are left-handed, right-handed or somewhere in between, the research shows. The study, "Approach motivation in human cerebral cortex," is published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. According to the new theory, called the "sword and shield hypothesis," the way we perform actions with our hands determines how emotions are organized in our brains. Sword fighters of old would wield their swords in their dominant hand to attack the enemy -- an approach action -- and raise their shields with their non-dominant hand to fend off attack -- an avoidance action

Waves Move Across the Human Brain to Support Memory - Neuroscience News

“We also found that these traveling waves moved more reliably when subjects performed well while performing a working memory task,” says Joshua Jacobs, assistant professor of biomedical engineering and senior author of the paper. “This indicates that traveling waves are significant for memory and cognition–our findings show that these oscillations are an important mechanism for large-scale coordination in the human brain.”

20 to 30 Percent of Us Hear Something When Viewing Silent Videos, Do You? - Neuroscience News

As the unpaid volunteers were recruited via adverts with text such as “Do you experience ‘hearing motion?’”, it’s certainly possible that there was a self-selection bias. But, on enrolment, the paid participants did not know what the study was about, so, in theory, they should be more representative of the general population. Thirty-one per cent of this paid group (an even higher percentage, in fact, than in the bigger, unpaid group) reported past experience of vEAR. When it came to the survey results, anyone who rated half of the videos at greater than or equal to 3 was identified as experiencing vEAR. Just over 20 per cent of the paid participants fell into this category. Taken with the self reports of past experience of vEAR, the findings suggest that the phenomenon is far from rare. The higher-rated videos often depicted relatively familiar events that are reliably associated with particular sounds (like fists hitting a punchbag), suggesting that an understanding of what’s happening in the scene was involved in causing the illusory sounds.

Brain Waves Synchronize at Live Music Performances - Neuroscience News

“When the brain waves were synchronized in this live condition, they synchronized around the rate at which people tend to feel the beat. We call this ‘the delta band.’ This seemed to be the highest in the live condition.” This indicates greater enjoyment of music in the presence of a live performance, as well as greater enjoyment when experienced as part of a group.

Researchers Find Missing Link Between the Brain and Immune System - Neuroscience News

Instead of asking, ‘How do we study the immune response of the brain?’ ‘Why do multiple sclerosis patients have the immune attacks?’ now we can approach this mechanistically. Because the brain is like every other tissue connected to the peripheral immune system through meningeal lymphatic vessels,” said Jonathan Kipnis, PhD, professor in the UVA Department of Neuroscience and director of UVA’s Center for Brain Immunology and Glia (BIG). “It changes entirely the way we perceive the neuro-immune interaction. We always perceived it before as something esoteric that can’t be studied. But now we can ask mechanistic questions.”

Slow, steady waves keep brain humming: Such rhythmic waves linked to state of consciousness -- ScienceDaily

As the waves passed through each area of the brain, they enhanced the electrical activity there. Neurons fired more enthusiastically when a wave was in the vicinity. Moreover, the ultra-slow waves persisted when the mice were put under general anesthesia, but with the direction of the waves reversed. "There is a very slow process that moves through the brain to create temporary windows of opportunity for long-distance signaling," Mitra said. "The way these ultra-slow waves move through the cortex is correlated with enormous changes in behavior, such as the difference between conscious and unconscious states." The fact that the waves' trajectory changed so dramatically with state of consciousness suggests that ultra-slow waves could be fundamental to how the brain functions. If brain areas are thought of as boats bobbing about on a slow-wave sea, the choppiness and direction of the sea surely influences how easily a message can be passed from one boat to another, and how hard it is for two boats to coordinate their activity.

Honeybees may unlock the secrets of how the human brain works -- ScienceDaily

"The study also supports the view of bee colonies as being similar to complete organisms or better still, superorganisms, composed of a large number of fully developed and autonomous individuals that interact with each other to bring forth a collective response. "With this view in mind, parallels between bees in a colony and neurons in a brain can be traced, helping us to understand and identify the general mechanisms underlying psychophysics laws, which may ultimately lead to a better understanding of the human brain. Finding similarities between the behaviour of honeybee colonies and brain neurons is useful because the behaviour of bees selecting a nest is simpler than studying neurons in a brain that makes decisions."

Memories and recursion to the mean

The behavioral data revealed that as the rat awaited the second stimulus of the trial, the memory of the first stimulus shifted towards the mean of preceding stimuli. The experiment thus confirmed the sliding of memory towards the expected value, a phenomenon that earlier studies have termed 'contraction bias.'

The happiness project | Science

In 2010, cancer biologist Lei Cao—inspired by a family member who had died of cancer—wondered whether she could combat it by looking beyond drugs or genes. Her team at OSU created a 1-square-meter enclosure filled with so many mazes, running wheels, and bright red, blue, and orange igloos that her daughter dubbed it “Disneyland for Mice.” <img class="fragment-image" src=""/> A fish at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor gets to choose between an empty tank and one filled with marbles. PHOTO: AUSTIN THOMASON/MICHIGAN PHOTOGRAPHY When injected with cancer cells, animals housed there developed tumors 80% smaller than those in control mice, or no tumors at all. Cao even discovered a possible mechanism: A stimulating environment seemed to activate the brain's hypothalamus, which regulates hormones that affect everything from mood to cancer proliferation. “We showed that there's a hard science behind enrichment,” she says. “You can't just treat the body—you have to treat the mind.”

rat enrichment

Inspired by research that showed enrichment could spark the growth of new neurons, he provided the rodents with cardboard for making nests, brightly colored balls for play, and ladders and ropes to climb. Remarkably, the animals were much slower to develop symptoms of a Huntington-like disease than their counterparts in standard housing—the first demonstration that enrichment could significantly influence neurological disorders.

The happiness project | Science

Today, lab mice live in shoebox-size cages hundreds of thousands of times smaller than their natural ranges, and rats can't forage or even stand upright. Both spend their days blasted by ventilation and bright fluorescent lighting that disrupts their day-night cycles. “We're doing the exact opposite of what we should be doing to make these animals happy,” Garner says. Lab animals tend to be obese, have weak immune systems, and develop cancer—all before scientists do any experiments on them.

Similar neural responses predict friendship | Nature Communications

Two of the “Big Five” personality traits—extraversion11,12 and openness to experience12—appear to be more similar among friends than among individuals who are not friends with one another. However, the remaining Big Five traits do not predict friendship formation well13. Similarities in conscientiousness and neuroticism are not associated with friendship formation12, and evidence for more similar levels of trait agreeableness among friends has been found in some studies12, but not in others11.

Miles Davis is not Mozart: The brains of jazz and classical pianists work differently: Even when playing the same piece of music -- ScienceDaily

One crucial distinction between the two groups of musicians is the way in which they plan movements while playing the piano. Regardless of the style, pianists, in principle, first have to know what they are going to play -- meaning the keys they have to press -- and, subsequently, how to play -- meaning the fingers they should use. It is the weighting of both planning steps, which is influenced by the genre of the music. According to this, classical pianists focus their playing on the second step, the "How." For them it is about playing pieces perfectly regarding their technique and adding personal expression. Therefore, the choice of fingering is crucial. Jazz pianists, on the other hand, concentrate on the "What." They are always prepared to improvise and adapt their playing to create unexpected harmonies. "Indeed, in the jazz pianists we found neural evidence for this flexibility in planning harmonies when playing the piano," states Roberta Bianco, first author of the study. "When we asked them to play a harmonically unexpected chord within a standard chord progression, their brains started to replan the actions faster than classical pianists. Accordingly, they were better able to react and continue their performance." Interestingly, the classical pianists performed better than the others when it came to following unusual fingering. In these cases their brains showed stronger awareness of the fingering, and consequently they made fewer errors while imitating the chord sequence.

Monthly brain cycles predict seizures in patients with epilepsy: Implanted electrodes reveal long-term patterns of seizure risk -- ScienceDaily

The new study, based on recordings from the brains of 37 patients fitted with NeuroPace implants, confirmed previous clinical and research observations of daily cycles in patients' seizure risk, explaining why many patients tend to experience seizures at the same time of day. But the study also revealed that brain irritability rises and falls in much longer cycles lasting weeks or even months, and that seizures are more likely to occur during the rising phase of these longer cycles, just before the peak. The lengths of these long cycles differ from person to person but are highly stable over many years in individual patients, the researchers found.

Brain is strobing, not constant, neuroscience research shows: First sight, now sound: New discoveries show perception is cyclical -- ScienceDaily

The key findings are: 1. auditory perception oscillates over time and peak perception alternates between the ears -- which is important for locating events in the environment; 2. auditory decision-making also oscillates; and 3. oscillations are a general feature of perception, not specific to vision. The work is the result of an Italian-Australian collaboration, involving Professor David Alais, Johahn Leung and Tam Ho of the schools of Psychology and Medical Science, University of Sydney; Professor David Burr from the Department of Neuroscience, University of Florence; and Professor Maria Concetta Morrone of the Department of Translational Medicine, University of Pisa. With a simple experiment, they showed that sensitivity for detecting weak sounds is not constant, but fluctuates rhythmically over time. It has been known for some years that our sight perception is cyclical but this is the first time it has been demonstrated that hearing is as well. "These findings that auditory perception also goes through peaks and troughs supports the theory that perception is not passive but in fact our understanding of the world goes through cycles," said Professor Alais from the University of Sydney. "We have suspected for some time that the senses are not constant but are processed via cyclical, or rhythmic functions; these findings lend new weight to that theory." These auditory cycles happen at the rate of about six per second. This may seem fast, but not in neuroscience, given that brain oscillations can occur at up to 100 times per second.

Neuroscience Has a Lot To Learn from Buddhism - The Atlantic

Ricard: That is what a study conducted by Julie Brefczynski and Antoine Lutz at Richard Davidson’s lab seems to indicate. Brefczynski and Lutz studied the brain activity of novice, relatively experienced, and very experienced meditators when they engage in focused attention. Different patterns of activity were observed depending on the practitioners’ level of experience. Relatively experienced meditators (with an average of 19,000 hours of practice) showed more activity in attention-related brain regions compared with novices. Paradoxically, the most experienced meditators (with an average of 44,000 hours of practice) demonstrated less activation than the ones without as much experience. These highly advanced meditators appear to acquire a level of skill that enables them to achieve a focused state of mind with less effort. These effects resemble the skill of expert musicians and athletes capable of immersing themselves in the “flow” of their performances with a minimal sense of effortful control. This observation accords with other studies demonstrating that when someone has mastered a task, the cerebral structures put into play during the execution of this task are generally less active than they were when the brain was still in the learning phase. Singer: This suggests that the neuronal codes become sparser, perhaps involving fewer but more specialized neurons, once skills become highly familiar and are executed with great expertise. To become a real expert seems to require then at least as much training as is required to become a world-class violin or piano player. With four hours of practice a day, it would take you 30 years of daily meditation to attain 44,000 hours. Remarkable!

Neurons aren't binary

In an article published today in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers go against conventional wisdom to show that each neuron functions as a collection of excitable elements, where each excitable element is sensitive to the directionality of the origin of the input signal. Two weak inputs from different directions (e.g., "left" and "right") will not sum up to generate a spike, while a strong input from "left" will generate a different spike waveform than that from the "right." "We reached this conclusion using a new experimental setup, but in principle these results could have been discovered using technology that has existed since the 1980s. The belief that has been rooted in the scientific world for 100 years resulted in this delay of several decades," said Prof. Kanter and his team of researchers, including Shira Sardi, Roni Vardi, Anton Sheinin, and Amir Goldental.

Short-term exercise equals big-time brain boost: Even a one-time, brief burst of exercise can improve focus, problem-solving -- ScienceDaily

During the study, research participants either sat and read a magazine or did 10 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise on a stationary bicycle. Following the reading and exercise session, the researchers used eye-tracking equipment to examine participants' reaction times to a cognitively demanding eye movement task. The task was designed to challenge areas of the brain responsible for executive function such as decision-making and inhibition. "Those who had exercised showed immediate improvement. Their responses were more accurate and their reaction times were up to 50 milliseconds shorter than their pre-exercise values. That may seem minuscule but it represented a 14-per-cent gain in cognitive performance in some instances," said Heath, who is also an associate member of Western's Brain and Mind institute. He is conducting a study now to determine how long the benefits may last following exercise.

The Effects of Physical Exercise and Cognitive Training on Memory and Neurotrophic Factors | Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience | MIT Press Journals

This study examined the combined effect of physical exercise and cognitive training on memory and neurotrophic factors in healthy, young adults. Ninety-five participants completed 6 weeks of exercise training, combined exercise and cognitive training, or no training (control). Both the exercise and combined training groups improved performance on a high-interference memory task, whereas the control group did not. In contrast, neither training group improved on general recognition performance, suggesting that exercise training selectively increases high-interference memory that may be linked to hippocampal function. Individuals who experienced greater fitness improvements from the exercise training (i.e., high responders to exercise) also had greater increases in the serum neurotrophic factors brain-derived neurotrophic factor and insulin-like growth factor-1. These high responders to exercise also had better high-interference memory performance as a result of the combined exercise and cognitive training compared with exercise alone, suggesting that potential synergistic effects might depend on the availability of neurotrophic factors.

Smart people have better connected brains: In intelligent persons, some brain regions interact more closely, while others de-couple themselves -- ScienceDaily

The study shows that in more intelligent persons certain brain regions are clearly more strongly involved in the exchange of information between different sub-networks of the brain in order for important information to be communicated quickly and efficiently. On the other hand, the research team also identified brain regions that are more strongly 'de-coupled' from the rest of the network in more intelligent people. This may result in better protection against distracting and irrelevant inputs. "We assume that network properties we have found in more intelligent persons help us to focus mentally and to ignore or suppress irrelevant, potentially distracting inputs," says Basten. The causes of these associations remain an open question at present. "It is possible that due to their biological predispositions, some individuals develop brain networks that favor intelligent behaviors or more challenging cognitive tasks. However, it is equally as likely that the frequent use of the brain for cognitively challenging tasks may positively influence the development of brain networks. Given what we currently know about intelligence, an interplay of both processes seems most likely."

Your brain does not process information and it is not a computer | Aeon Essays

Worse still, even if we had the ability to take a snapshot of all of the brain’s 86 billion neurons and then to simulate the state of those neurons in a computer, that vast pattern would mean nothing outside the body of the brain that produced it. This is perhaps the most egregious way in which the IP metaphor has distorted our thinking about human functioning. Whereas computers do store exact copies of data – copies that can persist unchanged for long periods of time, even if the power has been turned off – the brain maintains our intellect only as long as it remains alive. There is no on-off switch. Either the brain keeps functioning, or we disappear. What’s more, as the neurobiologist Steven Rose pointed out in The Future of the Brain (2005), a snapshot of the brain’s current state might also be meaningless unless we knew the entire life history of that brain’s owner – perhaps even about the social context in which he or she was raised.