Archive for the 'Neuroscience' Category

Apr 15 2016

Neural Bypass Helps Quadriplegic Man Use His Arm

Published by under Neuroscience

neuralprostheticI have been following and writing about the development of neural prosthetics and brain-machine interfaces as the technology has been advancing over the last decade. These are techniques that read electrical signals from the brain, process those signals through a computer algorithm, and use them to control some external device.

Another milestone has been reached in this technology. Researchers at Ohio State University implanted electrodes on the motor cortex of a man with a mid cervical quadriplegia. He cannot use his hands or legs. The output from these electrodes was then connected to a sleeve over his right forearm that could electrically stimulate his muscles in specific patterns to produce useful movements, like grasping and releasing.

After several hours of practice:

The system provided isolated finger movements and the participant achieved continuous cortical control of six different wrist and hand motions. Furthermore, he was able to use the system to complete functional tasks relevant to daily living.

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20 responses so far

Mar 14 2016

Patients Prefer Video to Face-to-Face Consultation

atmThere are now many aspects of my life in which I prefer to interact with a computer rather than a person. When I stop to fill up my tank or remove some cash from my bank account, I can do so quickly and efficiently by interfacing directly with an automated machine. It is interesting to think about exactly why this is, but first let me discuss the findings of a new study looking at this very question.

Dr. Matthew Winter and his fellow researchers presented the results of a randomized trial at the European Association of Urology 31st Annual Congress in which they compared giving informed consent via video vs in person prior to a urological procedure.

The study randomized 88 patients to either have a face-to-face consultation with the surgeon, or to viewing a prepared video including animation to describe the procedure. They then quizzed them on their knowledge of the procedure, and did a follow up cross-over in which the groups switched and then were re-tested.

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5 responses so far

Mar 08 2016

What Causes Overconfidence?

Published by under Neuroscience

overconfidencePeople are overconfident. That is a clear signal in psychological research that is reliably replicated. At this point it can be taken as a given. The brain is a complex machine, however, and any one factor such as confidence interacts in multiple and complex ways with many other mental factors.

Questions that have not been fully addressed include the possible causes and effects of overconfidence. Dunning and Kruger famously isolated one factor – overconfidence (the difference between self-assessment and actual performance) increases as performance decreases. This effect (called the Dunning-Kruger effect) is offered as one explanation for what causes overconfidence – the competence to assess one’s own competence.

A new series of studies looks at another factor that may influence overconfidence, ideas about the nature of intelligence itself. Joyce Ehrlinger and her colleagues performed three studies looking at the effect of two theories of intelligence on overconfidence. The two theories in question are the notion that intelligence is largely fixed (called the entity theory) vs the idea that intelligence is highly malleable (called the incremental theory).

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282 responses so far

Dec 22 2015

The Genetics of Intelligence

Published by under Neuroscience

DNA1A new study published in Nature Neuroscience explores genes that correlate with intelligence in healthy individuals as well as those with epilepsy and cognitive disorders. They looked at the brains of patients undergoing surgery for epilepsy, which means that a sample of their brain tissue was available. This allowed them to find which genes were highly expressed in brain tissue.

They then combined this data with other data sets including genetic analysis and IQ testing on healthy individuals and those with developmental disorders. They analysed thousands of genes to find those that correlate with differences in IQ.

They found that there are two sets of genes, which they are calling M1 and M3, that highly correlate with intelligence. M3 contains 150 genes that are tightly developmentally regulated. Keep in mind these are genes that they know are highly expressed in the brain.

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24 responses so far

Dec 10 2015

Delayed Gratification and the Brain

Published by under Neuroscience

Neuroscientists, both psychologists and neurobiologists, have been studying the phenomenon of delayed gratification. This is the ability to make choices that deny oneself an immediate or short-term benefit in order to garner a greater long term benefit. A recent study looks at the genetics associated with the ability to delay gratification.

Researchers use a study paradigm known as the marshmallow test to study impulsivity and the ability to delay gratification. The first such studies were conducted in the 1960s and 70s by Walter Mischel, then at Stanford University. Children in the study were offered a small treat, such as a marshmallow, immediately, or were told they could have two treats if they were willing to wait 15 minutes, during which time the researcher left the child alone with the marshmallow.

Follow up studies found that children who were able to hold off on eating the marshmallow had numerous better life outcomes – better academic performance, more successful marriages, better careers, and lower BMI.

Not surprisingly, children with ADHD perform worse on the marshmallow test.

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Dec 08 2015

What Are You Afraid Of?

Published by under Neuroscience

Fear is an adaptive emotion, phylogenetically ancient, and anatomically located mostly in the amygdala, which is part of the limbic system. Understanding fear, however, is about more than neuroanatomy. It is interesting to think what people generally fear, why, and what do they do about it.

Fear is an anxious feeling that can focus on either a current active threat (like being chased by a predator) or on the anticipation of a future negative event. It’s easy to see how that feeling would be adaptive – we worry about bad things happening in the future so that we will take action to prevent or at least mitigate them.

What We Fear?

Psychologists have identified five basic fears, out of which most other fears are based. They are: fear of death, mutilation, loss of autonomy, separation, and “ego death” which is the fear of humiliation or shame.

Despite the obvious adaptive function of fear, many people fear the wrong things, meaning that their fear and anxiety is not proportional to actual threat. This mismatch is maladaptive, so why is it the case?

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25 responses so far

Dec 03 2015

Detecting BS

A new study is getting a lot of attention, partly because of its provocative title: On the reception and detection of pseudo-profound bullshit. It also seems that people generally like to hear stories about how dumb other people are. That is why I often emphasize that such studies are not about “other” people, they are about people.

In this case, however, the researchers do find that there are subsets of subjects who react differently to what they call “pseudo-profound bullshit.” They write:

Here we focus on pseudo-profound bullshit, which consists of seemingly impressive assertions that are presented as true and meaningful but are actually vacuous. We presented participants with bullshit statements consisting of buzzwords randomly organized into statements with syntactic structure but no discernible meaning (e.g., “Wholeness quiets infinite phenomena”).

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77 responses so far

Dec 01 2015

Male and Female Brains

Published by under Neuroscience

Is it more accurate to say that male and female brains are generally the same or categorically different? This question has been somewhat of a controversy, both scientifically and culturally. A new extensive comparison of male and female brains with fMRI scans hopes to provide a definitive answer.

First for some background, we need to address the basic question of how we even approach or address the issue of categorization. Nature is fuzzy and complex, but humans tend to prefer neat and tidy categories to simplify the task of keeping track of everything, and even to help our understanding. There is therefore frequently a conflict between our desires and reality when it comes to creating categories.

The Pluto controversy is a good example of this, one which was surprisingly heated despite the fact that there are no real social or political issues at stake. There is no objective and definitive line between planets as solar system objects and other planet-like objects. Astronomers had to come up with some rules, rules that are unambiguous to apply. Ideally, such rules of categorization will reflect some underlying phenomenon, in this case, for example, how planets form.

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18 responses so far

Nov 10 2015

Dunning-Kruger in Groups

Published by under Neuroscience

This research was published in February of this year, but somehow I missed it when it came out. Fortunately, the internet never forgets, and the study is making the rounds again on social media, this time getting caught in my net.

The study is an examination of how we make decisions in groups, with the specific question of how we weight the opinions of different members of the group. The researchers studied pairs of subjects (which they call dyads) who were given a specific task, such as identifying a target in a photo they are able to briefly glimpse. Each member of the dyad registers their choice. If they disagree, then one member is chosen at random to be the arbiter. The question is – will the arbiter favor their own opinion, or that of their partner?

For each pair 256 trials were run, and after each one they were given feedback as to who was correct. The idea is that each member of the pair would learn who was performing better. In one experiment they were given a running tally, to make sure they knew who was performing better. In another the task was made more difficult for one partner, increasing the difference in their performance, and in a final experiment the pair was given a financial incentive to perform better.

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16 responses so far

Oct 29 2015

Superbrain Yoga is BS

Here is the latest fad to make you smarter with one easy trick – Superbrain Yoga. The technique is simple (and worthless, but we’ll get to that).

All you have to do is touch your left hand to your right earlobe, your right hand to your left earlobe, take a deep breath, and do a squat. Who knew it could be so easy to improve your brain function. There are a few more details, helpfully shared by Parenting Special Needs magazine:

– Connect your tongue to your palate.
– Face East
– The left arm must be inside and the right arm must be outside (over the left arm).
– Inhale while squatting down and exhale while standing up.
– You thumbs should be touching the front part of your earlobes, index fingers behind the earlobes.
– Perform the exercise 14-21 times, once or twice a day.

Facing East is very important, because magic.

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6 responses so far

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