background preloader


Facebook Twitter

Neuroscience Challenges Old Ideas about Free Will. Do we have free will? It is an age-old question which has attracted the attention of philosophers, theologians, lawyers and political theorists. Now it is attracting the attention of neuroscience, explains Michael S. Gazzaniga, director of the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of the new book, “Who’s In Charge: Free Will and the Science of the Brain.” He spoke with Mind Matters editor Gareth Cook. Cook: Why did you decide to tackle the question of free will? Gazzaniga: I think the issue is on every thinking person’s mind. Now, after 50 years of studying the brain, listening to philosophers, and most recently being slowly educated about the law, the issue is back on my front burner.

Cook: What makes you think that neuroscience can shed any light on what has long been a philosophical question? Gazzaniga: Philosophers are the best at articulating the nature of a problem before anybody knows anything empirical. Female orgasm captured in series of brain scans | Science. Scientists have used brain scan images to create the world's first movie of the female brain as it approaches, experiences and recovers from an orgasm. The animation reveals the steady buildup of activity in the brain as disparate regions flicker into life and then come together in a crescendo of activity before gently settling back down again. To make the animation, researchers monitored a woman's brain as she lay in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner and stimulated herself.

The research will help scientists to understand how the brain conducts the symphony of activity that leads to sexual climax in a woman. By studying people who have orgasms, Professor Barry Komisaruk, a psychologist at Rutgers University in New Jersey and his team hope to uncover what goes wrong in both men and women who cannot reach sexual climax. The animation was compiled from sequential brain scans of Nan Wise, a 54-year-old PhD student and sex therapist in Komisaruk's lab. Your brain's family album, from hydra to human - Image 1. How exactly do neurons pass signals through your nervous system? Brain's synaptic pruning continues into your 20s - health - 17 August 2011. The synaptic pruning that helps sculpt the adolescent brain into its adult form continues to weed out weak neural connections throughout our 20s.

The surprise finding could have implications for our understanding of schizophrenia, a psychological disorder which often appears in early adulthood. As children, we overproduce the connections – synapses – between brain cells. During puberty the body carries out a kind of topiary, snipping away some synapses while allowing others to strengthen. Over a few years, the number of synapses roughly halves, and the adult brain emerges. Or so we thought.

Pasko Rakic at Yale University and colleagues at the University of Zagreb, Croatia, and the VU University Medical Center in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, have now found that the brains of adults in their 20s are still subject to synaptic pruning. Rakic's team analysed post-mortem tissue from a brain region called the prefrontal cortex (PFC) in 32 people aged between 1 week old and 91 years. Why harmony pleases the brain - physics-math - 19 September 2011. The key to pleasant music may be that it pleases our neurons. A new model suggests that harmonious musical intervals trigger a rhythmically consistent firing pattern in certain auditory neurons, and that sweet sounds carry more information than harsh ones. Since the time of the ancient Greeks, we have known that two tones whose frequencies were related by a simple ratio like 2:1 (an octave) or 3:2 (a perfect fifth) produce the most pleasing, or consonant, musical intervals.

This effect doesn't depend on musical training – infants and even monkeys can hear the difference. But it was unclear whether consonant chords are easier on the ears because of the way the sound waves combine in the air, or the way our brains convert them to electrical impulses. A new mathematical model presents a strong case for the brain. "We have found that the reason for this difference is somewhere at the level of neurons," says Yuriy Ushakov at the N. That makes the model experimentally testable.

Surprise! How Embarrassing: Researchers Pinpoint Self-Consciousness in the Brain. Feeling embarrassed? You can probably thank your pregenual anterior cingulate cortex (pACC), a boomerang-shaped region of the brain nestled behind the eyes. Cognitive scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, and U.C. Berkeley probed the neuroanatomy of embarrassment by asking healthy people and those with neurodegenerative diseases to sing along to the Temptations’ “My Girl.” Horns blared, strings flowed and the subject’s voice soared—and then the music and professional vocals were stripped away. The subjects had to watch a video of their own solitary singing while researchers measured their racing hearts, sweaty palms, squirms and grimaces.

Those with damage in the right pACC were least likely to cringe at their own performance. The study, presented in April at the American Academy of Neurology conference in Hawaii, adds further evidence that this brain region has a role in many emotions, says U.C.S.F. postdoctoral fellow Virginia Sturm. The Neuroscience of Barbie. In science fiction and fantasy tales, there is a long running fascination with the idea of dramatically diminishing or growing in stature.

In the 1989 classic, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Rick Moranis invents a device which accidentally shrinks both his own and the neighbor’s children down to a quarter-of-an-inch tall. Preceding this by more than 100 years, Lewis Carroll wrote about a little girl who, after tumbling down a rabbit hole, nibbles on some cake and then grows to massive proportions. Nearly 300 years ago, Jonathan Swift described the adventures of Gulliver while on the island of Lilliputan, on which he is a giant, and then on the island of Brobdingnag, where everyone else is a giant. These kinds of experiences, however, have been limited to the world of fictional stories. The world around us does not actually change in size. Nor, with the exception of too many late-night Chinese deliveries, do our bodies become appreciably larger or smaller. How scientists discovered the "fear center" of the brain. It's less of a fear of the unknown, but we have a semantic memory store, which helps us to make implications about new or novel objects (such as a snake) that we've not seen before.

We might not be aware what snakes are, but might make associations by the way they move, or the fact that they are reptiles, or that they have big teeth as potentially scary, based on the way our previous memories are structured (in networks and nodes) where facets can be drawn from. If you think about it, how would you know that a Cobra is scary if youve only seen a Rattlesnake? They are two distinct things, even in the same way that it is hard for the brain to decide that two different Cobras are the same general object. The mind is capable of making huge generalisations which basically helps save space (you don't need a new memory for EVERY snake/object/person/platypus) you ever see; also, it allows us to confront things we've never seen before by making inferences. Take a psychedelic trip through 700 layers of the human brain. The Whole Brain Atlas. Neuroscientists identify a master controller of memory.

When you experience a new event, your brain encodes a memory of it by altering the connections between neurons. This requires turning on many genes in those neurons. Now, MIT neuroscientists have identified what may be a master gene that controls this complex process. The findings, described in the Dec. 23 issue of Science, not only reveal some of the molecular underpinnings of memory formation — they may also help neuroscientists pinpoint the exact locations of memories in the brain. The research team, led by Yingxi Lin, a member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT, focused on the Npas4 gene, which previous studies have shown is turned on immediately following new experiences. The gene is particularly active in the hippocampus, a brain structure known to be critical in forming long-term memories.

The researchers showed that Npas4 is turned on very early during this conditioning. “This sets Npas4 apart from many other activity-regulated genes,” Lin says. Seeking the neurological roots of conflict. MIT postdoc Emile Bruneau has long been drawn to conflict — not as a participant, but an observer. In 1994, while doing volunteer work in South Africa, he witnessed firsthand the turmoil surrounding the fall of apartheid; during a 2001 trip to visit friends in Sri Lanka, he found himself in the midst of the violent conflict between the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan military.

Those chance experiences got Bruneau, who taught high school science for several years, interested in the psychology of human conflict. While teaching, he also volunteered as counselor for a conflict-resolution camp in Ireland that brought Catholic and Protestant children together. At MIT, Bruneau is now working with associate professor of cognitive neuroscience Rebecca Saxe to figure out why empathy — the ability to feel compassion for another person’s suffering — often fails between members of opposing conflict groups. Just How Free Is Free Will? | Innovations. Neuromarketing - Ads That Whisper to the Brain. Bee swarms behave just like neurons in the human brain. TV Watching Is Bad for Babies' Brains. Babies who watch TV are more likely to have delayed cognitive development and language at 14 months, especially if they're watching programs intended for adults and older children. We probably knew that 24 and Grey's Anatomy don't really qualify as educational content, but it's surprising that TV-watching made a difference at such a tender age.

Babies who watched 60 minutes of TV daily had developmental scores one-third lower at 14 months than babies who weren't watching that much TV. Though their developmental scores were still in the normal range, the discrepancy may be due to the fact that when kids and parents are watching TV, they're missing out on talking, playing, and interactions that are essential to learning and development. This new study, which appeared in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, followed 259 lower-income families in New York, most of whom spoke Spanish as their primary language at home. But what about "good" TV, like Sesame Street? Brain waves can cut braking distances, researchers say. 29 July 2011Last updated at 09:44 By Judith Burns Science reporter, BBC News Volunteers wearing EEG caps used a driving simulator Tapping into drivers' brain signals can cut braking distances and avoid car crashes, according to scientists.

Researchers at the Berlin Institute for Technology attached electrodes to the scalps of volunteers inside a driving simulator. The system detected the intention to brake, and cut more than 3m (10ft) off stopping distances, the team report in the Journal of Neural Engineering. The team's next aim is to check the system in a series of road tests. The 18 volunteers were asked to keep 20m (66ft) behind the simulated car in front, which braked sharply at random intervals. Scientists used a technique called electroencephalograhy (EEG) to analyse the drivers' brain signals. The system was able to pinpoint the intention to brake 13 hundredths of a second before the driver applied pressure to the brakes.

"We were surprised it is so predictive. 'Point of no return' Split brain with one half atheist and one half theist. Smart Guide to 2012: Mapping the human brain - health - 21 December 2011. The Human Connectome Project aims to map the large-scale connections of 1200 human brains and will start reporting data in late 2012 Read more: "Smart Guide 2012: 10 ideas you'll want to understand" Since the 19th century people have speculated that the essence of human identity is stored in the connections between our neurons. Today we have the technology to find out if this is true. Until now, most of what we know about the brain has been based on observations of what happens when different regions are damaged, or on imaging techniques like functional MRI that show which areas are active but tell you little about how they relate to one another.

Not knowing how these different regions interact is like trying to work out how a telephone network works without knowing where all the wires go. With 100 billion neurons, each with around 10,000 connections, mapping the human brain will be no easy feat, and charting every single connection could take decades. New Scientist Not just a website! How your brain sees your body: Meet the cortical homunculus. Neuroscience: “Mirror Neurons: Why We Don’t Need God to Be Good” « Talesfromthelou's Blog. A Neuroscientist Uncovers A Dark Secret : NPR - StumbleUpon. Weird Wired Science. Austrian physician Franz Joseph Gall sought to understand the mind of murderers and other criminals by feeling the outside of their skulls.

This practice, which he first used in 1796, later came to be called Now largely discredited, it turned out that neither Gall nor anyone could systematically link the bumps and lumps on the head to any regular patterns of behavior, criminal or otherwise. Psychologists no longer need to use scalp massages as diagnostic tools. They can now look at what's happening inside the skull using one of several types of brain scans. The most successful of these methods is the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scan, particularly the functional MRI (or fMRI). Patients are placed within a scanning device that causes nuclei within the cells to produce a rotating magnetic field detected by the scanner. The fMRI provides a picture almost in real time of how a person's brain is reacting to particular stimuli. The "wow" factor is only part of the story.