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The Learning Brain Gets Bigger

The Learning Brain Gets Bigger
With age and enough experience, we all become connoisseurs of a sort. After years of hearing a favorite song, you might notice a subtle effect that’s lost on greener ears. Perhaps you’re a keen judge of character after a long stint working in sales. Or maybe you’re one of the supremely practiced few who tastes his money’s worth in a wine. Whatever your hard-learned skill is, your ability to hear, see, feel, or taste with more nuance than a less practiced friend is written in your brain. But where, and how, exactly? One classical line of work has tackled these questions by mapping out changes in brain organization following intense and prolonged sensory experience. But don’t adopt that slogan quite yet. If you were to look at the side of someone’s brain, focusing on the thin sliver of auditory cortex, it would seem fairly uniform, with only a few blood vessels to provide some bearing. And yet, some aspects of this theory invited skepticism. So what does change? Are you a scientist?

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Brain Atlas - Introduction The central nervous system (CNS) consists of the brain and the spinal cord, immersed in the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Weighing about 3 pounds (1.4 kilograms), the brain consists of three main structures: the cerebrum, the cerebellum and the brainstem. Cerebrum - divided into two hemispheres (left and right), each consists of four lobes (frontal, parietal, occipital and temporal).

Meditation found to increase brain size Kris Snibbe/Harvard News Office Sara Lazar (center) talks to research assistant Michael Treadway and technologist Shruthi Chakrapami about the results of experiments showing that meditation can increase brain size. People who meditate grow bigger brains than those who don’t. Researchers at Harvard, Yale, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have found the first evidence that meditation can alter the physical structure of our brains. Brain scans they conducted reveal that experienced meditators boasted increased thickness in parts of the brain that deal with attention and processing sensory input. In one area of gray matter, the thickening turns out to be more pronounced in older than in younger people.

5 common beliefs about the human brain that are actually totally false MYTH: HUMANS USE ONLY 10 PERCENT OF THEIR BRAIN FACT: The 10 percent myth (sometimes elevated to 20) is mere urban legend, one perpetrated by the plot of the 2011 movieLimitless, which pivoted around a wonder drug that endowed the protagonist with prodigious memory and analytical powers. In the classroom, teachers may entreat students to try harder, but doing so will not light up “unused” neural circuits; academic achievement does not improve by simply turning up a neural volume switch.MYTH: “LEFT BRAIN” and “RIGHT BRAIN” PEOPLE DIFFER FACT: The contention that we have a rational left brain and an intuitive, artistic right side is fable: humans use both hemispheres of the brain for all cognitive functions. The left brain/right brain notion originated from the realization that many (though not all) people process language more in the left hemisphere and spatial abilities and emotional expression more in the right.

UCSB scientists discover how the brain encodes memories at a cellular level (Santa Barbara, Calif.) –– Scientists at UC Santa Barbara have made a major discovery in how the brain encodes memories. The finding, published in the December 24 issue of the journal Neuron, could eventually lead to the development of new drugs to aid memory. The team of scientists is the first to uncover a central process in encoding memories that occurs at the level of the synapse, where neurons connect with each other. "When we learn new things, when we store memories, there are a number of things that have to happen," said senior author Kenneth S. The Brain: A Body Fit for a Freaky-Big Brain Aiello and Wheeler noted that this dramatic increase in brain size would seem to have required a dramatic increase in metabolism—the same way that adding an air-conditioning system to a house would increase the electricity bill. Yet humans burn the same number of calories, scaled to size, as other primates. Somehow, Aiello and Wheeler argued, our ancestors found a way to balance their energy budget. As they expanded their brains, perhaps they slimmed down other organs. The scientists compared the sizes of organs in humans and other primates.

Personality Traits Correlate With Brain Activity Your personality says a lot about you. To categorize people by their disposition, psychologists have long relied on questionnaires. Now, however, researchers may be closing in on a tangible view of character in the brain. According to a recent study in PLoS One, resting brain activity varies with a person’s scores on a well-established personality test.

The Spice That Prevents Fluoride From Destroying Your Brain Fluoride is found everywhere today, from antibiotics to drinking water, no stick pans to toothpaste, making exposure inevitable. All the more reason why new research proving this common spice can prevent fluoride damage is so promising! Fluoride’s neurotoxicity has been the subject of academic debate for decades, and now a matter of increasingly impassioned controversy among the general public, as well. From ‘conspiracy theories’ about it being first used in drinking water in Russian and Nazi concentration camps to chemically lobotomize captives, to its now well-known IQ lowering properties, to its ability to enhance the calcification of the pineal gland – the traditional ‘seat of the soul’ – many around the world, and increasingly in the heavily fluoridated regions of the United States, are starting to organize at the local and statewide level to oust this ubiquitous toxicant from municipal drinking water.

Audio Excerpt: The Secret Lives of the Brain Most people probably feel like they know their own brain reasonably well. After all, our thoughts form the core of who we are, or at least who we understand ourselves to be. But it turns out we know only a tiny portion of what our brains are doing and where our own thoughts come from. LISTEN: Excerpt from Incognito [dewplayer: Neuroscientist David Eagleman takes us on an enlightening tour of all that our brains are up to behind our backs in his new book Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain.

How mapping neurons could reveal how experiences affect mental wiring This article was taken from the July 2012 issue of Wired magazine. Be the first to read Wired's articles in print before they're posted online, and get your hands on loads of additional content by subscribing online. No road, no trail can penetrate this forest. The long and delicate branches of its trees lie everywhere, choking space with their exuberant growth. No sunbeam can fly a path tortuous enough to navigate the narrow spaces between these entangled branches. All the trees of this dark forest grew from 100 billion seeds planted together. 20 Amazing Facts About Your Brain The human brain is amazing and the more I read about it the more fascinated I become with not only it’s limitations, but also it’s immense power. Since I originally wrote the post 30 Amazing Facts About Your Brain I have been on the look out for more amazing tidbits. Here are another 20 for you to wrap your head round, but don’t make the mistake of thinking they don’t apply to you, because they do. 1. Your neocortex (the weird looking bit on the outside of your brain) is only about as thick as a dinner napkin and is made up of 6 layers.

Do viruses make us smarter? Endogenous retroviruses in neural progenitor cells A new study from Lund University in Sweden indicates that inherited viruses that are millions of years old play an important role in building up the complex networks that characterise the human brain. Researchers have long been aware that endogenous retroviruses constitute around five per cent of our DNA. For many years, they were considered junk DNA of no real use, a side-effect of our evolutionary journey. The Singularity is Far: A Neuroscientist's View David J. Linden is the author of a new book,The Compass of Pleasure: How Our Brains Make Fatty Foods, Orgasm, Exercise, Marijuana, Generosity, Vodka, Learning, and Gambling Feel So Good. He is a professor of neuroscience at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Chief Editor of the Journal of Neurophysiology. Ray Kurzweil, the prominent inventor and futurist, can't wait to get nanobots into his brain. In his view, these devices will be equipped with a variety of sensors and stimulators and will communicate wirelessly with computers outside of the body.

The Brain's Highways: Mapping the Last Frontier Frontiers are in short supply. No explorer will again catch that first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean with “wild surmise,” take the first steps on the moon, or arrive first at the Challenger deep – the remotest corners of the earth are now tourist attractions. Even in science, great mysteries have fallen – life itself has gone from being the subject of metaphysical speculation about vital substances to the biophysical understanding of cellular processes. Uncharted territories, both physical and metaphorical, are hard to find. Yet there is one largely unmapped continent, perhaps the most intriguing of them all, because it is the instrument of discovery itself: the human brain.

Everyday Stress Can Shut Down the Brain's Chief Command Center The entrance exam to medical school consists of a five-hour fusillade of hundreds of questions that, even with the best preparation, often leaves the test taker discombobulated and anxious. For some would-be physicians, the relentless pressure causes their reasoning abilities to slow and even shut down entirely. The experience—known variously as choking, brain freeze, nerves, jitters, folding, blanking out, the yips or a dozen other descriptive terms—is all too familiar to virtually anyone who has flubbed a speech, bumped up against writer’s block or struggled through a lengthy exam.