Category: Uncategorized

More Shirts…

April 6th, 2011 in Uncategorized 37 comments

Here are two more renditions of shirts for BU Neuroscience. Please VOTE!!

SomersBrainX

D.C. Somers

Devyn Buckley

Devyn Buckley

The Psychology of Facebook

April 5th, 2011 in Uncategorized 8 comments


Psych Central’s April Fool’s Day Joke for 2011 was an article that read: “Facebook Revealed to be Psychology Experiment Gone Wrong.” The author used a fake source of Harvard University and several quotes from ‘professor of psychology’ Mark Zuckerberg. This article seemed pretty believable…for about a day.

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The researchers behind this project claimed to be interested in “whether or not people in the class would immediately become competitive and try and gain as many friends as possible.” And though this research experiment is far from the truth, the psychological implications of Facebook are certainly a reality.

Rishi Bandopadhay of PsyBlog equated Facebook networking to a competitive sport. He listed 7 rules to ‘get ahead’ using Facebook.

  1. Get between 100 and 300 friends. (You don’t want to look like a loner, or like you are trying too hard)
  2. Court attractive friends (Walther et al. (2008) found that attractive friends boosted the perceived attractiveness of participant’s profiles)
  3. Understand the 7 motivations (Joinson (2008) found 7 basic motivations for using Facebook: connecting with old or distant friends, social surveillance (see what old friends are up to, but without talking to them), looking up people met offline, virtual people watching, status updating and content)
  4. Don’t let your partner use Facebook (Muise et al. (2009) found that the more time spent on Facebook, the more jealousy)
  5. Guard your privacy
  6. Display your real self
  7. Use Facebook to get a job

Is Facebook really this competitive? I can’t remember the last time I noted how many Facebook friends someone had or judged their popularity by their friends’ good looks. Facebook can also tell you a lot about someone’s personality.

Buffardi and Campbell of the University of Georgia found that individuals’ level of activity on their social networking website is strongly correlated to their level of narcissism; this finding is relatively obvious. It’s easy to see which friends of ours, whose ‘activities’ constantly show up on our newsfeed, are self-centered.

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Next Orr, Sisic, Ross, Simmering, and Arseneault set out to study correlations of shyness to various aspects of social networking websites. They found that shy people spend considerably more time on Facebook than people who are not; however, these shy people also had considerably fewer friends, despite their increased time spent on Facebook. So the quiet kid who sits in the back of your Statistics class has probably Facebook stalked you, but you’ll never be receiving a friend request because that person does not have the guts to hit “Send Request.”

Psych Central- Facebook Revealed to be a Psychology Experiment Gone Wrong
PsyBlog- Facebook: 7 Highly Effective Habits
The Layman’s Guide to Psychology- The Psychology of Twitter, Facebook, and other Social Networking Devices

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Infectious Emotions?

March 18th, 2011 in Uncategorized 2 comments



Biological systems, such as the circulatory, respiratory, and nervous systems, are groups of organs that function together to perform a common task. Some can also participate in crosstalk with other organ systems. The respiratory system, for example, brings in the oxygen that the circulatory system delivers to all the cells of the body, and maintains blood pH. The endocrine and nervous systems are signaling systems that facilitate communication between different parts of the body by use of hormones and neurotransmitters, respectively. These connections are numerous and complex, but it was previously thought that the immune system and the nervous systems were separate and largely autonomous.

In June 2010, Mauricio Vargas and colleagues from Stanford University School of Medicine reported research in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing that endogenous antibodies play an important role in repairing peripheral nervous system (PNS) damage. Antibodies are a principal part of the adaptive immune response to infection, but this research suggested that antibodies are also able to clear degenerating myelin which inhibits axon regeneration, akin to a homeostasis function. This repair was only present after PNS injury, whereas myelin debris remained in the central nervous system (CNS) white matter for years. The well known blood-brain barrier concurs with this separation in responses, as it is understood to be impermeable to large proteins such as antibodies.

Various new studies, howeveantibodyr, have shown that behavior, mood, and memory can all be influenced by aspects of the immune system, suggesting that antibodies can somehow infiltrate the brain.

Sammy Maloney was a happy and outgoing 12-year-old boy. In 2002, however, his mother started to notice curious deviations in his personality. In six months, he underwent complete mental deterioration and was diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder and Tourette’s syndrome. Shortly afterwards, he was found to be harboring a streptococcal infection, although he exhibited no physical symptoms of one. Interestingly, when he started taking the prescribed antibiotics, his behavior markedly improved.

Madeline Cunningham at the University of Oklahoma has spent several years investigating various behavioral disorders associated with streptococcal infections. Cunningham has shown that antibodies against one group of streptococcal bacteria are able to bind to a site in the brain that controls movement, and consequently trigger the release of dopamine. This could explain the emotional disturbances associated with these types of disorders (1).

Studies also suggest that an activated immune system has other perceivable effects on the nervous system. For example, Jonathan Kipnis of the University of Virginia and his colleagues have shown that learning triggers a stress response in the brain, which causes CD4 cells, a type of T lymphocytes, to gather at the meninges and release interleukin-4. IL-4 switches off the stress response and causes a release of brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which facilitates memory formation. Interestingly, cancer pdn19953-1_220atients treated with chemotherapy drugs often experience various cognitive defects and some memory loss.  This is commonly called “chemobrain”, and these studies raise the possibility that it is a consequence of immunosuppression. Finally, an immune response against Mycobacterium vaccae has been shown to improve mood by causing neurons in the prefrontal cortex to release excess seratonin.

So it could be that the blood-brain barrier is kind of leaky after all. Understanding the connections between the immune system and the brain could lead to all sorts of ingenious treatments for various disorders. Perhaps those scientists at Stanford will utilize antibodies to develop a treatment for central nervous system repair. Perhaps we’ll one day be faced with immuno-emotive treatments for depression. Who knows? Anything is possible when a long-standing “truth” turns out not to be absolute – I’m optimistic since scientific advancement is often built on the refinement of prior knowledge.

Happiness is Catching – New Scientist

Endogenous Antibodies Promote Rapid Myelin Clearance and Effective Axon Regeneration after Nerve Injury – Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Previous The Nerve Blog post About PNAS Article

Footnote:

(1) Antibodies raised against the Streptococcal M protein and human myocardial tissue, and Guillain-Barre syndrome in response to Campylobacter infection, are well studied examples of cross-reactivity between anti-pathogen antibodies with host tissues.


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Smokescreen: Scanning the Addict's Brain

March 11th, 2011 in Uncategorized 9 comments


The neuroscience of addiction has been extensively studied, giving priceless insight into what is happening in the addict’s brain and what keeps people hooked on drug-seeking behavior. Most of the research, though, has been all about the chemical changes in the brain, delving into the molecular level of receptors, neurotransmitters, and reward pathways, etc. But a new approach is being taken from research focusing on extended applications of neuroscience, such as linking neuroscience and “social research and communication studies.” In this video, primary researcher Emily Falk explains the work that is being done at the University of Michigan to try to use the brain as a More

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Untangling the Wires

March 10th, 2011 in Uncategorized 0 comments


Here’s a great video summary from Nature on the recent advances in the field of connectomics by researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Germany and Harvard University:

The video on Nature Blogs

And the original research, here.

My previous post on Connectomics.


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Discussion Preview: Culture-Bound Syndromes with BU Mind and Brain Society

March 4th, 2011 in Uncategorized 1 comment


Today, the concept of a ‘culture-bound syndrome’ seems almost mundane. Surely we already know that particular genes and environmental influences can predispose a population to certain diseases. For example, Ashkenazi Jews are at a much higher risk for developing the genetic defect associated with Tay-Sachs disease than other populations, and one is much more likely to contract malaria in tropical and subtropical regions than in, say, Massachusetts. However, these types of disease have biological causes. What is interesting about the phenomena of culture-bound syndromes is that they have no physical mechanism and arise only from the emerging characteristics of one’s culture. More

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Turquoise Melodies and Quadrilaterals for Breakfast: The Life of a Synesthete

February 28th, 2011 in Uncategorized 4 comments


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Middle World

February 27th, 2011 in Uncategorized 2 comments

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A little self-education goes a long way. Let Richard Dawkins enlighten you (and if you’ve seen this already, it’s never a bad idea to brush up on the basics of life):

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Neural Feedback: Smiling

February 25th, 2011 in Uncategorized 6 comments


In Justin Bieber’s 2010 smash hit ‘U Smile’ he addresses the idea that when “You smile I smile”, obviously deriving his inspiration from recent work by V.S. Ramachandran on the human mirror neuron system. Over 50 years before Justin Bieber’s efforts to bring Ramachandran’s research to the forefront of the media, Dale Carnegie noted in his 1936 masterpiece, How To Win Friends And Influence People, the undeniable positive effects of smiling on the people around you. Carnegie goes on to explain how smiling can actually have a positive affect on the smiler as well. He notes a passage written by the great psychologist William James: More

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Moral Code

February 15th, 2011 in Uncategorized 1 comment

Why is it wrong to kill babies? Why is it wrong to take advantage of mentally retarded people? To lie with the intention of cheating someone? To steal, especially from poor people? Is it possible that Medieval European society was wrong to burn women suspected of witchcraft? Or did they save mankind from impending doom by doing so? Is it wrong to kick rocks when you’re in a bad mood?

Questions of right and wrong, such as these, have for millenia been answered by religious authorities who refer to the Bible for guidance. While the vast majority of people still turn to Abrahamic religious texts for moral guidance, there are some other options for developing a moral code. Bibles aside, we can use our “natural” sense of what’s right and wrong to guide our actions; a code based on the natural sense would come from empirical studies on what most people consider to be right or wrong. Ignoring the logistics of creating such as code, we should note that the rules in this code would not have any reasoning behind them other than “we should do this because this is what comes naturally.” How does that sound? Pretty stupid.

The other option is to develop a moral code based on some subjective metaphysical ideas, with a heavy backing of empirical facts. “Subjective” means these ideas won’t have an undeniability to them; they are what they are and that’s it. Take as an example the rule such as “we should not kill babies.” There is no objective, scientific reason why we shouldn’t kill babies. Wait!, you say, killing babies is wrong because it harms the proliferation of our species and inflicts pain on the mothers and the babies themselves! But why should we care about the proliferation of our species? About hurting some mother or her baby? While no one will deny that we should care about these, there is nothing scientific that will explain why. Science may give us a neurological reason why we care about species proliferation (it will go something like, “there is a brain region that makes us care about proliferation of our species.”), but why should we be limited to what our brains tend to make us think or do?

Subjective rules like these must therefore be agreed upon with the understanding that they are subject to change. Interestingly, some argue that science can answer moral questions because it can show us what “well-being” is, how we can get it, etc. But the scientific reason why we should care about well-being is nowhere to be found. The result is that we can use science to answer moral questions, but we have to first agree (subjectively) that we want well-being. Science by itself cannot answer moral questions because it shows us what is rather than what ought to be. (Actually, Sam Harris is the only one to argue that science can be an authority on moral issues; his technical faux-pas is an embarrassment to those who advocate “reason” in conduct).

morals

But more on the idea of metaphysically constructed moral codes. What properties should this code have, and how should we go about synthesizing it? Having one fixed/rigid source as an authority for moral guidance is dangerous. Make no mistake: there must be some authority on moral questions, but it must be flexible, and adaptable; it must be able to stand the test of time on the one hand, but to be able to adjust to novel conditions on the other. This sounds a lot like the constitution of the U.S. But even with such a document as The Constitution, which has provided unity and civil progress since the country’s founding, there are some who take its words literally and allow no further interpretation; if it’s not written in the constitution, it can’t be in the law, they argue (see Strict Constructionism versus Judicial Activism). These folks also tend to be rather religious (read: they spend a lot of time listening to stories from the Bible; not to be confused with “spiritual” or of religions other than the Abrahamic ones). So while we must have a moral code, it must be flexible (i.e. change with time) and we must seek a balance between literal and imaginative interpretations, just as we do with the US Constitution.

Why and how is a rigid moral authority dangerous? Our authority must change with time because new developments in our understanding of the world must update how we interact with others. For example, if science finds tomorrow that most animals have a brain part that allows them to feel emotional pain in the same way that humans do, we will have to treat them with more empathy; research on dolphin cognition has recently produced an effort by scientists to have dolphins be considered and treated as nonhuman persons. Furthermore, if we don’t explain why we do certain things, we won’t understand why we do them and therefore won’t know why violating them is bad. This unquestionability aspect of God as moral authority or the Strict Constructionists as law-makers is what makes them particularly dangerous and leads to prejudice and ignorance. Our moral code must therefore be based on empirical research, with every rule being subject to intense scrutiny (think of two-year-olds who keep asking, “but why?”).

But why should we have a moral code in the first place? Perhaps if everyone followed a moral code of some sort, the world would have fewer injustices and atrocities. Getting people to follow a moral code of any kind is a completely different issue.

Sam Harris gets it wrong.

Nonhuman Personhood for Dolphins

Cetacean Cognition

Mirror Self –Recognition in Dolphins

Witches are immoral and should be burned

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