Neuroscience Has a Lot To Learn from Buddhism - The AtlanticRicard: 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!
Human cognitive map scales according to surroundings -- ScienceDailyHumans rescale their internal coordinate system according to the size of each new environment. This flexibility differs from rodents' rigid map that has a constant grid scale and empowers humans to navigate diverse places. When seeking navigational cues in any given location, humans automatically align their internal compass with the corners and shape of the space. In contrast, rodents do so relative to the walls of the environment through physical exploration. The nature of the coordinate system differs between humans and rodents -- Cartesian and hexagonal respectively. The findings illuminate the fabric of the human memory and spatial navigation, which are vulnerable to disease and deterioration. Deeper knowledge of these neuronal mechanisms can inform the development of techniques to prolong the health of this part of the brain and combat diseases such as Alzheimer's.
fMRI study of 1,246 Duke undergrads finds common brain structures in disordersWorking with colleague and coauthor, Avshalom Caspi, also a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke, Romer first used information from the assessments to estimate each individual's p-factor score. She then used the MRI data to test correlations between the estimated p-factor scores and grey matter volume, a measure of brain density, and the "integrity" of white matter pathways throughout the brain. She and the team were surprised to find that higher p-factor scores were correlated with lower grey matter volume in the cerebellum, a region of the brain that has traditionally been associated more with motor function and coordination than with emotion and thinking. She also found that students with higher p-factor scores showed less integrity of white matter pathways within the pons, which includes wiring that connects the cerebellum with higher-order reasoning centers in the prefrontal cortex. These connections are known to play a key role in providing feedback on how well our movements are in sync with our internal model of what we hope to achieve, so that we can update and change course accordingly. These white matter pathways may also play a similar role in providing real-world feedback that helps us better regulate our thoughts and emotions, the researchers say.
The brain's spontaneous activity and its psychopathological symptoms - "Spatiotemporal binding and integration". - PubMed - NCBII here suggest to conceive the brain's spontaneous activity in spatiotemporal terms that is, by various mechanisms that are based on its spatial, i.e., functional connectivity, and temporal, i.e., fluctuations in different frequencies, features. I here point out two such spatiotemporal mechanisms, i.e., "spatiotemporal binding and integration". Alterations in the resting state's spatial and temporal features lead to abnormal "spatiotemporal binding and integration" which results in abnormal contents in cognition as in the various psychopathological symptoms. This, together with concrete empirical evidence, is demonstrated in depression and schizophrenia.
Brain 'rewires' itself to enhance other senses in blind people -- ScienceDaily"Our results demonstrate that the structural and functional neuroplastic brain changes occurring as a result of early ocular blindness may be more widespread than initially thought," said lead author Corinna M. Bauer, Ph.D., a scientist at Schepens Eye Research Institute of Mass. Eye and Ear and an instructor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School. "We observed significant changes not only in the occipital cortex (where vision is processed), but also areas implicated in memory, language processing, and sensory motor functions." The researchers used MRI multimodal brain imaging techniques (specifically, diffusion-based and resting state imaging) to reveal these changes in a group of 12 subjects with early blindness (those born with or who have acquired profound blindness prior to the age of three), and they compared the scans to a group of 16 normally sighted subjects (all subjects were of the same age range). On the scans of those with early blindness, the team observed structural and functional connectivity changes, including evidence of enhanced connections, sending information back and forth between areas of the brain that they did not observe in the normally sighted group. These connections that appear to be unique in those with profound blindness suggest that the brain "rewires" itself in the absence of visual information to boost other senses. This is possible through the process of neuroplasticity, or the ability of our brains to naturally adapt to our experiences.
During learning, neurons deep in brain engage in a surprising level of activity -- ScienceDailyIt's the part of the brain that makes sure you cannot tickle yourself. The cerebellum, an apple-sized region near the base of the skull, senses that your own fingers are the ones trying to tickle, and cancels your usual response. Now an international team of researchers has learned something surprising about this region, which despite its small size contains roughly half of all the neurons in the brain. These neurons, which were thought to fire only rarely as they take in information from the senses, are in fact far more active than previously suspected. The finding, published March 20 in the journal Nature Neuroscience, may signal a major shift in our understanding of how the cerebellum encodes information. "People used to think that the cerebellum's input layer of neurons was only sparsely active, and encoded only information collected from the external world," said Sam Wang, professor of molecular biology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, and a senior co-author on the study. "It turns out that they light up like a Christmas tree, and they convey information both from outside the body and from other areas within the brain."
The Human Connectome Project: 180 zones per hemisphereThe researchers report that they’ve found a total of 180 distinct areas per hemisphere, regions which are bounded by sharp changes in cortical architecture, function, connectivity, and/or topography.
autonomy, competence and connectionKennon Sheldon, a psychology professor at the University of Missouri and author of Optimal Human Being, says we’ll be happiest if they meet our primary psychological needs: autonomy, or, as Sheldon says, “doing what you want to be doing and believe in doing”; competence, or “doing something well and/or seeing improvement”; and relatedness, like “connecting to others, immersing in a community, or contributing something to the world.”
CBT creates lasting changes in connectivity, drugs do notIn the original study, participants underwent fMRI imaging to assess the brain’s response to images of faces expressing different emotions, before and after six months of CBT. Participants were already taking medication when they took part in the study, and so were compared to a group receiving medication only. The group receiving medication only did not show any increases in connectivity, suggesting that the effects on brain connections could be attributed to the CBT. For the new study, the health of 15 of the 22 participants who received CBT was tracked for eight years through their medical records. They were also sent a questionnaire at the end of this period to assess their level of recovery and wellbeing. The results show that increases in connectivity between several brain regions – most importantly the amygdala (the brain’s threat centre) and the frontal lobes (which are involved in thinking and reasoning) – are associated with long-term recovery from psychosis. This is the first time that changes in the brain associated with CBT have been shown to be associated with long-term recovery in people with psychosis.
Talking therapy changes the brain's wiring, study reveals for first time -- ScienceDailyCBT -- a specific type of talking therapy -- involves people changing the way they think about and respond to their thoughts and experiences. For individuals experiencing psychotic symptoms, common in schizophrenia and a number of other psychiatric disorders, the therapy involves learning to think differently about unusual experiences, such as distressing beliefs that others are out to get them. CBT also involves developing strategies to reduce distress and improve wellbeing. The findings, published in the journal Translational Psychiatry, follow the same researchers' previous work which showed that people with psychosis who received CBT displayed strengthened connections between key regions of the brain involved in processing social threat accurately. The new results show for the first time that these changes continue to have an impact years later on people's long-term recovery.
Runners' brains may be more connected, research shows | EurekAlert! Science NewsUniversity of Arizona researchers compared brain scans of young adult cross country runners to young adults who don't engage in regular physical activity. The runners, overall, showed greater functional connectivity -- or connections between distinct brain regions -- within several areas of the brain, including the frontal cortex, which is important for cognitive functions such as planning, decision-making and the ability to switch attention between tasks.
Brain connectivity disruptions may explain cognitive deficits in people with brain injury | EurekAlert! Science NewsA study recently published in the Journal of International Neuropsychological Society found that individuals who are at least six months post-injury exhibit between-network, long-range and inter-hemispheric connectivity disruptions. Specifically, scientists observed TBI-related connectivity disruptions in the default mode and dorsal attention networks and the default mode and frontoparietal control networks; interactions among the networks are key to achieving daily life goals.
Why Coincidences Happen and What They MeanBeitman in his research has found that certain personality traits are linked to experiencing more coincidences—people who describe themselves as religious or spiritual, people who are self-referential (or likely to relate information from the external world back to themselves), and people who are high in meaning-seeking are all coincidence-prone. People are also likely to see coincidences when they are extremely sad, angry, or anxious. “Coincidences never happen to me at all, because I never notice anything,” Spiegelhalter says. “I never talk to anybody on trains. If I’m with a stranger, I don’t try to find a connection with them, because I’m English.”
The eyes have it: Mutual gaze potentially a vital component in social interactions: Eye contact may be vital in establishing successful human connections -- ScienceDailyIndeed, the researchers detected synchronization of eye-blinks, together with enhanced inter-brain synchronization in the IFG, in the pairs when eye contact was established. Compared with findings from previous studies, these outcomes show that synchronization of eye-blinks is not attributable to a common activity, but rather to mutual gaze. This indicates that mutual eye contact might be a crucial component for human face-to-face social interactions, given its potential to bind two individuals into a singular connected system.
How brain architecture leads to abstract thought: Scientists link brain architecture to consciousness and abstract thought -- ScienceDailyall cognitive behaviors exist on a hierarchy, starting with the most tangible behaviors such as finger tapping or pain, then to consciousness and extending to the most abstract thoughts and activities such as naming. This hierarchy of abstraction is related to the connectome structure of the whole human brain, they add.
MRI scans could predict patients at risk of major depressive disorderIn the fMRI scans of those who went on to have another episode of depression there was a higher connectedness between two parts of the brain that have been previously linked to guilt – the anterior temporal lobe and the subgenual region. People who remained in remission over the following year did not have this increased interconnectedness. The researchers also tested the approach on a control group of 39 people with no personal or family history of major depressive disorder, finding that they also did not have the increased interconnectedness.
30 neurons act very differently, depending on chemical soupEve Marder, a prominent neuroscientist at Brandeis University, cautions against expecting too much from the connectome. She studies neurons that control the stomachs of crabs and lobsters. In these relatively simple systems of 30 or so neurons, she has shown that neuromodulators — signaling chemicals that wash across regions of the brain, omitted from Seung’s static map — can fundamentally change how a circuit functions. If this is true for the stomach of a crustacean, the mind reels to consider what may be happening in the brain of a mouse, not to mention a human.
The first connectome map was too earlyYet nearly three decades later, Brenner’s diagram continues to mystify. Scientists know roughly what individual neurons in C. elegans do and can say, for example, which neurons fire to send the worm wriggling forward or backward. But more complex questions remain unanswered. How does the worm remember? What is constant in the minds of worms? What makes each one individual? In part, these disappointments were a problem of technology, which has made connectome mapping so onerous that until recently nobody considered doing more. In science, it is a great accomplishment to make the first map, but far more useful to have 10, or a million, that can be compared with one another. “C. elegans was a classic case of being too far ahead of your time,” says Gerry Rubin of Janelia.
Building for the futureYears ago, Seung officiated at his best friend’s wedding, and during the invocation he told the gathering, “My father says that success is never achieved in just one generation.” As he has grown older and had a child of his own, he has felt his perspective shift. When Seung was in his 20s, science for him was solving puzzles, an extension of the math problems he did for fun as a child alone in his room on Saturdays after soccer. Now he finds great satisfaction in encouraging younger scientists, in helping them avoid dead ends that he has already explored. He wants to do something that will allow the community to progress, to build “strong foundations, steppingstones that the next generation can be sure of.”
EyeWire game to map mouse eye neuronsIn 2012, Seung started EyeWire, an online game that challenges the public to trace neuronal wiring — now using computers, not pens — in the retina of a mouse’s eye. Seung’s artificial-intelligence algorithms process the raw images, then players earn points as they mark, paint-by-numbers style, the branches of a neuron through a three-dimensional cube. The game has attracted 165,000 players in 164 countries. In effect, Seung is employing artificial intelligence as a force multiplier for a global, all-volunteer army that has included Lorinda, a Missouri grandmother who also paints watercolors, and Iliyan (a.k.a. @crazyman4865), a high-school student in Bulgaria who once played for nearly 24 hours straight. Computers do what they can and then leave the rest to what remains the most potent pattern-recognition technology ever discovered: the human brain.
Identity, time and the brainSeung told me to imagine a river, the roiling waters of the Colorado. That, he said, is our experience from moment to moment. Over time, the water leaves its mark on the riverbed, widening bends, tracing patterns in the rock and soil. In a sense, the Grand Canyon is a memory of where the Colorado has been. And of course, that riverbed shapes the flow of the waters today. There are two selves then, river and riverbed. The river is all tumult and drama. The river demands attention. Yet it’s the riverbed that Seung wants to know.
How Complex Networks Explode with GrowthThey have uncovered many other percolation models that do yield truly abrupt transitions. […] In traditional percolation, nodes and pairs of nodes are chosen at random to form connections, but the likelihood of two clusters merging is proportional to their size. Once a large cluster has formed, it dominates the system, absorbing any smaller clusters that might otherwise merge and grow. However, in the explosive models, the network grows, but the growth of the large cluster is suppressed. This allows many large but disconnected clusters to grow, until the system hits the critical threshold where adding just one or two extra links triggers an instantaneous switch to über-connectivity. All the large clusters combine at once in a single violent merger.
Oliver Sacks on Learning He Has Terminal CancerI feel intensely alive, and I want and hope in the time that remains to deepen my friendships, to say farewell to those I love, to write more, to travel if I have the strength, to achieve new levels of understanding and insight. […] This will involve audacity, clarity and plain speaking; trying to straighten my accounts with the world. But there will be time, too, for some fun (and even some silliness, as well).[…]I feel a sudden clear focus and perspective. There is no time for anything inessential. I must focus on myself, my work and my friends. I shall no longer look at “NewsHour” every night.
The brain's social network: Nerve cells interact like friends on Facebook - PsyPostBut why do neurons share such large numbers of weak connections? “We think this might have to do with learning,” says Dr Lee Cossell, one of the lead authors of the study. “If neurons need to change their behavior, weak connections are already in place to be strengthened, perhaps ensuring rapid plasticity in the brain.” As a result, the brain could quickly adapt to changes in the environment.
Another trait, it took me a while to notice. I noticed the following facts about people who work with the door open or the door closed. I notice that if you have the door to your office closed, you get more work done today and tomorrow, and you are more productive than most. But 10 years later somehow you don't know quite know what problems are worth working on; all the hard work you do is sort of tangential in importance. He who works with the door open gets all kinds of interruptions, but he also occasionally gets clues as to what the world is and what might be important. Now I cannot prove the cause and effect sequence because you might say, ``The closed door is symbolic of a closed mind.'' I don't know. But I can say there is a pretty good correlation between those who work with the doors open and those who ultimately do important things, although people who work with doors closed often work harder. Somehow they seem to work on slightly the wrong thing - not much, but enough that they miss fame.
And by disrupting specific phases of sleep, the research group showed deep or slow-wave sleep was necessary for memory formation. During this stage, the brain was "replaying" the activity from earlier in the day. Prof Wen-Biao Gan, from New York University, told the BBC: "Finding out sleep promotes new connections between neurons is new, nobody knew this before. "We thought sleep helped, but it could have been other causes, and we show it really helps to make connections and that in sleep the brain is not quiet, it is replaying what happened during the day and it seems quite important for making the connections."