In an exclusive preview of his new book, The Stuff of Thought, Steven Pinker looks at language, and the way it expresses the workings of our minds. By analyzing common sentences and words, he shows us how, in what we say and how we say it, we’re communicating much more than we realize
New research at the University of Chicago finds evidence for a clever way that people manage to alleviate the pain of loneliness: They create people in their surroundings to keep them company.
“Biological reproduction is not a very efficient way to alleviate one’s loneliness, but you can make up people when you’re motivated to do so,” said Nicholas Epley, Assistant Professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business. “When people lack a sense of connection with other people, they are more likely to see their pets, gadgets or gods as human-like.”
People from different cultures use their brains differently to solve the same visual perceptual tasks, MIT researchers and colleagues report in the first brain imaging study of its kind.
Psychological research has established that American culture, which values the individual, emphasizes the independence of objects from their contexts, while East Asian societies emphasize the collective and the contextual interdependence of objects. Behavioral studies have shown that these cultural differences can influence memory and even perception. But are they reflected in brain activity patterns”
Researchers at Duke University have demonstrated that monkeys have the ability to perform mental addition. In fact, monkeys performed about as well as college students given the same test.
The findings shed light on the shared evolutionary origins of arithmetic ability in humans and non-human animals, according to Assistant Professor Elizabeth Brannon, Ph.D. and Jessica Cantlon, Ph.D., of the Duke Center for Cognitive Neuroscience.
Practice makes perfect — or at least that’s what we’re told as we struggle through endless rounds of multiplication tables, goal kicks and piano scales — and it seems, based on the personal experience of many, to be true. That’s why neuroscientists have been perplexed by data showing that at the level of individual synapses, or connections between neurons, increased, repetitive stimulation might actually reverse early gains in synaptic strength. Now, neuroscientists from Carnegie Mellon University and the Max Planck Institute have discovered the mechanism that resolves this apparent paradox. The findings are published in the Jan. 4 issue of Science.
Brain imaging has revealed a breakdown in normal patterns of emotional processing that impairs the ability of people with clinical depression to suppress negative emotional states. Efforts by depressed patients to suppress their feelings when viewing emotionally negative images enhanced activity in several brain areas, including the amygdala, known to play a role in generating emotion, according to a report in the August 15 issue of The Journal of Neuroscience.
MIT neuroscientists exploring how memory formation differs between children and adults have found that although the two groups have much in common, maturity brings richer memories.In the August 5 advance online edition of Nature Neuroscience, the MIT team reports that children rival adults in forming basic memories, but adults do better at remembering the rich, contextual details of that information. The MIT study provides new insights into how children learn that are not only theoretically important, but could also inform practical learning in everyday settings. Continue reading “Maturity brings richer memories”
n article published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences provides strong evidence for a novel type of communication between nerve cells in the brain. The findings may have relevance for the prevention and treatment of epilepsy, and possibly in the exploration of other aspects of brain functions, from creative thought processes to mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.
A probe of the upper echelons of the human brain’s chain-of-command has found strong evidence that there are not one but two complementary commanders in charge of the brain, according to neuroscientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
It’s as if Captains James T. Kirk and Jean-Luc Picard were both on the bridge and in command of the same starship Enterprise.
In reality, these two captains are networks of brain regions that do not consult each other but still work toward a common purpose — control of voluntary, goal-oriented behavior. This includes a vast range of activities from reading a word to searching for a star to singing a song, but likely does not include involuntary behaviors such as control of the pulse rate or digestion.
Researchers at the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory at MIT have, for the first time, reversed symptoms of mental retardation and autism in mice.
The mice were genetically manipulated to model Fragile X Syndrome (FXS), the leading inherited cause of mental retardation and the most common genetic cause of autism. The condition, tied to a mutated X chromosome gene called fragile X mental retardation 1 (FMR1) gene, causes mild learning disabilities to severe autism.
Psychologists from the University of Exeter have identified an ‘early warning signal’ in the brain that helps us avoid repeating previous mistakes. Published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, their research identifies, for the first time, a mechanism in the brain that reacts in just 0.1 seconds to things that have resulted in us making errors in the past.
Previous research has shown that we learn more about things for which we initially make incorrect predictions than for things for which our initial predictions are correct. The element of surprise in discovering we are wrong is conducive to learning, but this research is the first to show how amazingly rapid our brain’s response can be. This discovery was made possible through the use of electrophysiological recordings, which allow researchers to detect processes in the brain at the instant they occur.
A natural compound found in blueberries, tea, grapes, and cocoa enhances memory in mice, according to newly published research. This effect increased further when mice also exercised regularly.
“This finding is an important advance because it identifies a single natural chemical with memory-enhancing effects, suggesting that it may be possible to optimize brain function by combining exercise and dietary supplementation,” says Mark Mattson, PhD, at the National Institute on Aging.
Continue reading “A natural compound found in fruits, cocoa and tea enhances memory in mice”
Losing money may be intrinsically linked with fear and pain in the brain, scientists have discovered. In a Wellcome Trust study published in the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers have shown that during a gambling task, losing money activated an area of the brain involved in responding to fear and pain.
Continue reading “Why Losing Money May Be More Painful Than You Think”
Memorizing a series of facts is one thing, understanding the big picture is quite another. Now a new study demonstrates that relational memory — the ability to make logical “big picture” inferences from disparate pieces of information – is dependent on taking a break from studies and learning, and even more important, getting a good night’s sleep.
Continue reading “To understand the big picture, give it time — and sleep”
New Haven, Conn. — Yale School of Medicine and University of Crete School of Medicine researchers report in Cell April 20 the first evidence of a molecular mechanism that dynamically alters the strength of higher brain network connections.
This discovery may help the development of drug therapies for the cognitive deficits of normal aging, and for cognitive changes in schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Continue reading “Brain networks strengthened by closing ion channels”
In a study that could help reveal how illusions are produced in the brain’s visual cortex, researchers at the UCSD School of Medicine have found new evidence of rapid integration of auditory and visual sensations in the brain. Their findings, which provide new insight into neural mechanisms by which visual perception can be altered by concurrent auditory events, will be published online in the April 12 edition of the Journal of Neuroscience.
Continue reading “Wired for sound: How the brain senses visual illusions”
Will you lose weight and keep it off if you diet? No, probably not, UCLA researchers report in the April issue of American Psychologist, the journal of the American Psychological Association.
“You can initially lose 5 to 10 percent of your weight on any number of diets, but then the weight comes back,” said Traci Mann, UCLA associate professor of psychology and lead author of the study. “We found that the majority of people regained all the weight, plus more. Sustained weight loss was found only in a small minority of participants, while complete weight regain was found in the majority. Diets do not lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits for the majority of people.”
Continue reading “Does dieting work?”
New research from Columbia University Medical Center may explain why people who are able to easily and accurately recall historical dates or long-ago events, may have a harder time with word recall or remembering the day’s current events. They may have too much memory – making it harder to filter out information and increasing the time it takes for new short-term memories to be processed and stored.
Continue reading “New research shows why too much memory may be a bad thing”
Autistic children are able to interpret the mental state of others by looking at their eyes, contrary to previous research, a new University of Nottingham study has found.
In findings that contradict previous studies, psychologists found that autistic children can ‘read’ a stranger’s mental state based on that person’s eyes. Autistic children have long been thought to be poor at interpreting people’s mental states based on facial expressions, especially expressions around the eyes.
Continue reading “Autistic children can read mental state of others through their eyes”
Every day we plan numerous actions, such as to return a book to a friend or to make an appointment. How and where the brain stores these intentions has been revealed by John-Dylan Haynes from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences. For the first time they were able to “read” participants’ intentions out of their brain activity. This was made possible by a new combination of functional magnetic resonance imaging and sophisticated computer algorithms
Should you leave your comfortable job for one that pays better but is less secure? Should you have a surgery that is likely to extend your life but poses some risk that you will not survive the operation? Should you invest in a risky startup company whose stock may soar even though you could lose your entire investment? In the Jan. 26 issue of the journal Science, UCLA psychologists present the first neuroscience research comparing how our brains evaluate the possibility of gaining versus losing when making risky decisions.
Continue reading “How does your brain respond when you think about gambling or taking risks?”
Typically, when someone places a bet—be it on a sporting event, obscure trivia or where the ball in a roulette wheel will land—he or she is fully aware of the decision to do so. And now scientists at Oxford University in England have discovered that they can better determine if decisions in general are conscious (or subconscious) by having subjects literally gamble on, well, their decisions. The researchers, reporting in this week’s Nature Neuroscience, found that study participants were reluctant to wager big bucks unless they were confident in their choices, indicating that they knew full well what they were doing.
Read rest of the story at Scientific American.
Duke University Medical Center researchers have discovered that activation of a particular brain region predicts whether people tend to be selfish or altruistic.
“Although understanding the function of this brain region may not necessarily identify what drives people like Mother Theresa, it may give clues to the origins of important social behaviors like altruism,” said study investigator Scott A. Huettel, Ph.D., a neuroscientist at the Brain Imaging and Analysis Center.
Continue reading “Activation of brain region predicts altruism”
Many people think they can safely drive while talking on their cell phones. Vanderbilt neuroscientists Paul E. Dux and René Marois have found that when it comes to handling two things at once, your brain, while fast, isn’t that fast.
“Why is it that with our incredibly complex and sophisticated brain, with 100 billion neurons processing information at rates of up to a thousand times a second, we still have such a crippling inability to do two tasks at once?” Marois, associate professor of Psychology, asked. “For example, what is it about our brain that gives us such a hard time at being able to drive and talk on a cell phone simultaneously?”
Researchers have long thought that a central “bottleneck” exists in the brain that prevents us from doing two things at once. Dux and Marois are the first to identify the regions of the brain responsible for this bottleneck, by examining patterns of neural activity over time.
Continue reading “Neural bottleneck found that thwarts multi-tasking”
A gene variation that helps people live to a ripe old age also appears to preserve memory and thinking power, US work suggests. The “longevity” gene alters the size of fatty cholesterol particles in the blood, making them bigger than normal.
This stops them causing the fatty build up in blood vessels that is linked with brain impairment, and deadly strokes and heart attacks, Neurology reports.
Continue reading “Longevity gene keeps mind sharp”
A region of the human brain that scientists believe is critical to human intellectual abilities surprisingly functions much like a digital computer, according to psychology Professor Randall O’Reilly of the University of Colorado at Boulder.
The finding could help researchers better understand the functioning of human intelligence.
Continue reading “Part Of Human Brain Functions Like A Digital Computer”
Eating vegetables, not fruit, helps slow down the rate of cognitive change in older adults, according to a study published in the October 24, 2006, issue of Neurology, the scientific journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
Continue reading “Vegetables help fight memory problems in old age”
-A Yale School of Medicine study shows for the first time that a high level of testosterone, such as that caused by the use of steroids to increase muscle mass or for replacement therapy, can lead to a catastrophic loss of brain cells.
Taking large doses of androgens, or steroids, is known to cause hyperexcitability, a highly aggressive nature, and suicidal tendencies. These behavioral changes could be evidence of alterations in neuronal function caused by the steroids, said the senior author, Barbara Ehrlich, professor of pharmacology and physiology.
Continue reading “Elevated testosterone kills nerve cells”
A protein once thought to play a role only in the immune system could hold a clue to one of the great puzzles of neuroscience: how do the highly malleable and plastic brains of youth settle down into a relatively stable adult set of neuronal connections?
Harvard Medical School researchers report in the August 17 Science Express that adult mice lacking the immune system protein paired-immunoglobulin like receptor-B (PirB) had brains that retained the plasticity of much younger brains, suggesting that PirB inhibits such plasticity.
Continue reading “Study Provides Insight Into How the Brain Loses Plasticity of Youth”
Irrational behaviour arises as a consequence of emotional reactions evoked when faced with difficult decisions, according to new research at UCL (University College London), funded by the Wellcome Trust. The UCL study suggests that rational behaviour may stem from an ability to override automatic emotional responses, rather than an absence of emotion per se.
Continue reading “Irrational decisions driven by emotions”