Tanning is just one of those things, like chain smoking or base-jumping, that I’ve never cared to try; I am nowhere near athletic enough to attempt jumping off of a mountain face. I am also too, well, white to bask in the natural sun without SPF 50 sunscreen; like most people with skin of Fitzpatrick Scale type of I or II, I burn to a crisp and spend the next half-week smoothing aloe on my skin and crying in regret. More
There are numerous brain imaging techniques that allow us to gain insight into what damage the brain may have incurred after a patient has a traumatic injury. The ever popular fMRI measures blood flow to infer neural activity. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) uses the magnetic properties of water to look at white matter in the brain, while positron emission tomography (PET) uses radiolabeling to look for a specific chemical in the brain. All of these are important for possible disease diagnosis, however, there is skepticism around how dependent we should be on this technology, as the results should never be taken as the absolute truth.
Now, a new type of brain imaging developed by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh allows researchers to look for connections that have been broken as a result of traumatic brain injury, much like an X-Ray allows doctors to look for broken bones. It is called High Definition Fiber Tracking (HDFT). Although the technology is not specific at the cellular level, it is accurate in observing specific connections that have been lost as a result of injury. These lost connections act as a reliable predictor for cellular information, such as the percentage of axons that have been lost.
The accompanying publication in the Journal of Neurosurgery focuses on a case study of a man who sustained severe brain damage after crashing an all-terrain vehicle (public service announcement: this is why we wear helments!!!). Initial MRI scans showed hemorrhaging in the right basal ganglia, which was confirmed by a later DTI. The patient had extreme difficulty moving the left side of his body, and it was assumed to be a result of damage to the basal ganglia. It was not until the patient had a HDFT test that doctors could pinpoint the true problem: fiber tracts innervating the motor cortex had been lost. More
A research team led by Laura Matzen at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuqurque, NM has demonstrated that it is possible to predict how well people will remember information by monitoring their brain activity while studying. Matzen’s team monitored test volunteers with electroencephalography (EEG) sensors to make accurate predictions. Why bother making a prediction if the result will show how well someone remembered the information anyways? Matzen brought up this example, ”if you had someone learning new material and you were recording the EEG, you might be able to tell them, ‘You’re going to forget this, you should study this again,’ or tell them, ‘OK, you got it and go on to the next thing.” Essentially providing a real-time performance metric, the applications of which many students would appreciate. More
For many feminists, this effort to better understand female sexuality can be a means of empowerment, and it is not surprising that neuroscience research has branched into this area. Many people, rightfully so, believe that to understand our body and mind we must also understand the mechanisms of behavior in the brain. Yet due to its complexity, much of neuroscience research gets misinterpreted, reduced, or even generalized when written about for the public sphere.
Naomi Wolf’s Vagina: A New Biography, attempts to explain female sexuality by pulling from both subjective accounts and neuroscience to support her arguments. But what exactly does neuroscience research have to contribute to our knowledge of female sexuality? Although Wolf’s attempt at writing such a boldly stated book is admirable, it fell short, especially in terms of the science. Wolf misinterprets the roles of dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin in the brain and how they could plausibly influence a female’s romantic relationships.
As Maia Szalavits so eloquently wrote:
“The kind of oversimplification seen in Wolf’s book and, sadly, in many other popular accounts of neuroscience, threatens to perpetuate a psychological myth. Rather than illuminating the complex interplay between mind and body, it portrays human beings — especially women — as automatons, enslaved by brain chemicals we cannot control.”
So what does neuroscience have to say about female sexuality? At last year’s Society for Neuroscience Conference in Washington D.C., a 3D movie was presented of the brain during a female orgasm. Barry Komisaruk, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University, used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to map brain activity in several women. The women were required to masturbate to an orgasm in the fMRI machine. (fMRI results are brain images reflecting activation in specific areas, and these areas are said to be lit up.) More
Social interaction and communication are essential characteristics of the human experience. As humans, we desire to create and develop relationships with each other. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurological developmental condition that impairs this ability to relate. The spectrum refers to the fact that there are multiple conditions characterized by similar features all grouped together under this one disorder. These conditions include “classic” autism, Asperger syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. There are also varying degrees of severity associated with ASD. So, depending on the disorder and degree to which a person suffers from this disorder, there is truly a wide spectrum of possible conditions created by ASD that many people around the world must deal with. More
A decision is a fact of life. Both the good and the bad, the wrong and the right, one seemingly unjust turn waiting to happen amid the uncertain crossroads of life. Lets be honest, making a decision will always provide the answer, that is the ideal outcome, nothing goes wrong, everything is perfect, happily ever after. On the contrary, there is the undesirable result, which you would rather keep trapped in a cage and have thrown into a river in order to prevent ‘it’ from ruining your party. Now with making a decision comes the possibility for his arch-nemesis “regret” to appear in the equation. Lets look at it this way, if your friend ‘decision’ calls and asks if you want to see this movie which you assume is going to be terrible, you’d probably say “No,” thereby rejecting ‘decision.’ A week later ‘regret’ sends you a letter saying ‘decision’ went to the movie that day, saw your partner, they both hit it off, ‘decision’ slept with them, and now your partner never wants to see you again. See why you should have gone to the movie! That my friends is exactly, to a tee, the comic strip you will see when you look up decision in the dictionary. More
Researchers have developed a technique that reconstructs the words patients are thinking of that could help locked-in or comatose patients communicate.
A newly developed computer model reconstructs the sounds of words that patients think of. Over the past few years, scientists have been coming closer to being able to listen in to our thoughts. This study achieved that goal by implanting electrodes directly into patients’ brains. In an earlier 2011 study, test subjects with electrodes in their brains were able to move a cursor around a screen just by thinking of different vowel sounds. Another study, conducted in September of that year by Jack Gallant at the University of California, Berkeley, was able to guess images being thought of through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
The field of neuroscience has undoubtedly expanded over the past two decades, and the explosion of all this cutting-edge discovery has inevitably lead to its proliferation in our culture. However, the spread of interest to the general population has begun to instigate the problematic phenomenon of what some scientists deem “neurobabble”. It refers to the overly simplified and misinterpreted information that many contemporary writers use to appeal to the public. Neurobabble in recent pop-science books and articles often engenders false conclusions and denies proper understanding about how the brain really works. More
Paul Zak, the director of The Center for Neuroeconomic Studies at the Claremont Graduate University, for years has been searching for what makes us moral, and he thinks he has the answer. In this short talk Zak explains why massage, dance and prayer may increase donation to charity up to 50%, and how morals from a Californian high schooler to a primative Papua New Guinea subsistence farmer may have an identical physiological basis. The answer he claims, is Oxytocin. Here is the talk (via Youtube):
Trust, morality — and oxytocin – Ted.com
According to a recent study, there are at least two neural correlates for decision-making in the brain.
If you’re the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz who yearns for a brain, you have neither of these correlates. However, if you are someone who has frontal lobe damage to the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC), you have one functional neural correlate: for action value comparisons. You can make optimal decisions about how to get a brain (…although you obviously would already have one). Alternatively, you could have suffered damage to the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) - in which case you would be able to make stimulus value comparisons and choose which objects are optimal, such as the wittiest or the most creative brain, but not how to get the chosen object. More