Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Practicing paying attention can boost performance on a new task, and change the way the brain processes information, a new study says. This might explain why learning a new skill can start out feeling grueling, but eventually feels more natural — although right now, the study’s findings are limited to a simple pattern-recognition game.

A new study reports traumatic brain injury is associated with a higher risk of developing dementia in people of working age.

According to researchers, the ability to assess memory quality appears in children, and metamemory continues to improve beyond childhood into adolescence. The findings could provide new insights into effective learning methods and assist teachers to devise new educational strategies.

Researchers report harmful plaques associated with Alzheimer’s disease may build up in the brain as a result of high blood pressure and decreased cerebral blood flow.

A new paper may help answer some questions as to why some infants die suddenly. Looking at blood samples from infants who had died of SIDS, researchers discover 31% of the children had elevated levels of serotonin. The researchers concluded that abnormal serotonin metabolism could indicate an underlying vulnerability that increases SIDS risk.

Using musical cues to learn a physical task significantly develops an important part of the brain, according to a new study.

Poor sleep may be a sign that people who are otherwise healthy may be more at risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life than people who do not have sleep problems, according to a study published in Neurology. Researchers have found a link between sleep disturbances and biological markers for Alzheimer’s disease found in the spinal fluid.

A new study reports that listening to something while looking in a different direction may slow reaction times and increase the effort for auditory attention.

Finally, this week, higher intelligence (IQ) in childhood is associated with a lower lifetime risk of major causes of death, including heart disease, stroke, smoking-related cancers, respiratory disease and dementia, finds a study published by The BMJ.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Scientists have unpicked the regions of the brain involved in dreaming, in a study with significant implications for our understanding of the purpose of dreams and of consciousness itself. What’s more, changes in brain activity have been found to offer clues as to what the dream is about.

A machine learning algorithm shows that during sleep, the brain actively reprocesses information learned the previous day, strengthening the memory.

A new study of obese people suggests that changes in their brains’ reward regions make them more prone to overeating, and that women and men exhibit different brain activity related to overeating.

A plasma membrane protein affects the generation of new neurons in the adult hippocampus, a new study reports.

The brains of youth experiencing elevated depressive symptoms early in adolescence appear to develop differently from those experiencing depression in late adolescence, reports a study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Specifically, the MRI study found that cortical surface area was lower in youth with early depressive symptoms compared with those in the other groups.

While some researchers believe oxytocin is released to enhance a romantic relationship, this might not always be the case, a new study reveals.

Researchers have developed a new method to induce visual hallucinations in healthy people. The study could help to develop new treatments to control hallucinations in people with Parkinson’s and other disorders.

Exercise may bolster the brain function and thinking skills of people with dementia, according to a new report.

When prompted to use verbal thinking, people create visual images to accompany their speech, implying visual thinking could be hardwired into our brains, a new study reports.

Researchers report brain network organization changes can influence executive function in young adults.

What happens in the brain when we see other people experiencing a trauma or being subjected to pain? It seems the same regions that are involved when we feel pain ourselves are also activated when we observe other people who appear to be going through some painful experience. This is shown in a study from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden published in Nature Communications.

A new study reports EEG could accurately predict which newborn babies will have neurodevelopmental disorders.

Finally this week, new research, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience makes the case against fixed starting times, i.e. a fixed one-size-fits-all approach for students and employees.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Getting some sleep in between study sessions may make it easier to recall what you studied and relearn what you’ve forgotten, even 6 months later, according to new findings.

Metabolic syndrome, a cluster of cardiometabolic conditions, may be a biological mechanism linking posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to structural brain abnormalities, according to a new study in Biological Psychiatry. The findings highlight the need to develop effective interventions for PTSD to treat not only the symptoms associated with the disorder, but also potential ensuing metabolic and neurodegenerative consequences, which may be suggestive of premature aging.

A new study strengthens previous research that claims performing cognitive tasks later in life may reduce the risk of developing dementia.

Your brain activity differs depending on whether you’re working on a task, or at rest — and just how much that activity differs may be linked to how smart you are, a new study finds.

Researchers have developed a new, non-invasive technique that could be used to treat patients with consciousness disorders.

New research published in the New Journal of Physics tries to decompose the structural layers of the cortical network to different hierarchies enabling to identify the network’s nucleus, from which our consciousness could emerge.

A new neuroimaging study links alcohol cravings to the right ventral striatum.

According to researchers, age related changes in the organisation of neural networks when performing short term memory tasks may help to compensate for other aspects of brain ageing.

Researchers have identified a circuit that seems to be related to serotonin-driven anxiety.

A test of how sticky a protein molecule is could help diagnose the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, a study from the University of Edinburgh suggests.

Finally, this week a new study reports dogs have the ability to understand human speech intonation and vocabulary by using similar brain areas to humans.

 

How Your Brain Sees Things You Don’t

What do you see in this image?  (Credit: Jay Sanguinetti)

What do you see in this image? (Credit: Jay Sanguinetti)

A new study indicates that our brains perceive objects in everyday life that we may not be consciously aware of.

The finding by University of Arizona doctoral student Jay Sanguinetti challenges currently accepted models, in place for a century, about how the brain processes visual information.

Sanguinetti showed study participants a series of black silhouettes, some of which contained meaningful, real-world objects hidden in the white spaces on the outsides. He monitored subjects’ brainwaves with an electroencephalogram, or EEG, while they viewed the objects.

Study participants’ brainwaves indicated that even if a person never consciously recognized the shapes on the outside of the image, their brains still processed those shapes to the level of understanding their meaning.

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A brainwave that indicates recognition of an object

“There’s a brain signature for meaningful processing,” Sanguinetti said. A peak in the averaged brainwaves called N400 indicates that the brain has recognized an object and associated it with a particular meaning.

“It happens about 400 milliseconds after the image is shown, less than a half a second,” said Peterson. “As one looks at brainwaves, they’re undulating above a baseline axis and below that axis.

The negative ones below the axis are called N and positive ones above the axis are called P, so N400 means it’s a negative waveform that happens approximately 400 milliseconds after the image is shown.”

The presence of the N400 negative peak indicates that subjects’ brains recognize the meaning of the shapes on the outside of the figure.

“The participants in our experiments [in some cases] don’t see those shapes on the outside; nonetheless, the brain signature tells us that they have processed the meaning of those shapes,” said said Sanguinetti adviser Mary Peterson, a professor of psychology and director of the UA’s Cognitive Science Program.

“But the brain rejects them as interpretations, and if it rejects the shapes from conscious perception, then you won’t have any awareness of them.”

“We also have novel silhouettes as experimental controls,” Sanguinetti said. “These are novel black shapes in the middle and nothing meaningful on the outside.”

The N400 waveform does not appear on the EEG of subjects when they are seeing these truly novel silhouettes, without images of any real-world objects, indicating that the brain does not recognize a meaningful object in the image.

“This is huge,” Peterson said. “We have neural evidence that the brain is processing the shape and its meaning of the hidden images in the silhouettes we showed to participants in our study.”

So why does the brain process images that are not perceived?

The finding leads to the question: why would the brain process the meaning of a shape when a person is ultimately not going to perceive it?

“Many, many theorists assume that because it takes a lot of energy for brain processing, that the brain is only going to spend time processing what you’re ultimately going to perceive,” said Peterson.

“But in fact the brain is deciding what you’re going to perceive, and it’s processing all of the information and then it’s determining what’s the best interpretation.

“This is a window into what the brain is doing all the time. It’s always sifting through a variety of possibilities and finding the best interpretation for what’s out there. And the best interpretation may vary with the situation.”

Our brains may have evolved to sift through the barrage of visual input in our eyes and identify those things that are most important for us to consciously perceive, such as a threat or resources such as food, Peterson suggested.

Finding where the processing of meaning occurs

In the future, Peterson and Sanguinetti plan to look for the specific regions in the brain where the processing of meaning occurs to understand where and how this meaning is processed,” said Peterson.

Images were shown to Sanguinetti’s study participants for only 170 milliseconds, yet their brains were able to complete the complex processes necessary to interpret the meaning of the hidden objects.

“There are a lot of processes that happen in the brain to help us interpret all the complexity that hits our eyeballs,” Sanguinetti said. “The brain is able to process and interpret this information very quickly.”

How this relates to the real world

Sanguinetti’s study indicates that in our everyday life, as we walk down the street, for example, our brains may recognize many meaningful objects in the visual scene, but ultimately we are aware of only a handful of those objects, said Sanguinetti.

The brain is working to provide us with the best, most useful possible interpretation of the visual world — an interpretation that does not necessarily include all the information in the visual input.

“The findings in the research also show that our brains are processing potential objects in a visual scene to much higher levels of processing than once thought,” he explained to KurzweilAI. “Our models assume that potential objects compete for visual representation. The one that wins the competition is perceived as the object, the loser is perceived as the shapeless background.

“Since we’ve shown that shapeless backgrounds are processed to the level of semantics (meaning), there might be a way to bias this processing such that hidden objects in a scene might be perceived, by tweaking the image in ways to enunciate certain objects over others. This could be useful in many applications like radiology, product design, and even art.”

Notes:

Silhouette Image: Sanguinetti showed study participants images of what appeared to be an abstract black object. Sometimes, however, there were real-world objects hidden at the borders of the black silhouette. In this image, the outlines of two seahorses can be seen in the white spaces surrounding the black object.

Original source of article  http://www.kurzweilai.net/does-your-brain-see-things-you-dont

REFERENCES:

Joseph L. Sanguinetti, John J. B. Allen, and Mary A. Peterson, The Ground Side of an Object: Perceived as Shapeless yet Processed for Semantics, Psychological Science, 2013, doi: 10.1177/0956797613502814

Inside The Brain’s Rhythm

wufigure1To understand how the brain recognizes speech, appreciates music and performs other higher-level functions, it is necessary to understand how neural systems process temporal information.

Recently, scientists at Beijing Normal University studied a simple but powerful network model by which a neural system can extract long-period (several seconds in duration) external rhythms from visual input.

Moreover, the study’s findings suggest that a large neural network with a scale-free topology – that is, a network in which the probability distribution of the number of connections between its nodes follows a power law – is analogous to a repertoire where neural loops and chains form the mechanism by which exogenous rhythms are learned. Importantly, their model suggests that the brain does not necessarily require an internal clock to acquire and memorize these rhythms.

Interested in learning more? Read this story in full here.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Yusnier Viera

A new study of the brain of a maths supremo supports Darwin’s belief that intellectual excellence is largely due to “zeal and hard work” rather than inherent ability. University of Sussex neuroscientists took fMRI scans of champion ‘mental calculator’ Yusnier Viera during arithmetical tasks that were either familiar or unfamiliar to him and found that his brain did not behave in an extraordinary or unusual ways.

A fear memory was reduced in people by exposing them to the memory over and over again while they slept. It’s the first time that emotional memory has been manipulated in humans during sleep, report Northwestern Medicine scientists.

Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers have identified and validated two rare gene mutations that appear to cause the common form of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) that strikes after the age of 60.

Moderate reductions in body temperature can improve outcomes after a person suffers a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

When individuals with psychopathy imagine others in pain, brain areas necessary for feeling empathy and concern for others fail to become active and be connected to other important regions involved in affective processing and decision-making, reports a study published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Research from Virginia Tech suggests that with advances in neurofeedback techniques, the signal-to-noise ratio of the brain activity underlying our thoughts can be “remastered.”

In a landmark discovery, the final piece in the puzzle of understanding how the brain circuitry vital to normal fertility in humans and other mammals operates has been put together by researchers at New Zealand’s University of Otago.

Brain regions associated with memory shrink as adults age, and this size decrease is more pronounced in those who go on to develop neurodegenerative disease, reports a new study published Sept. 18 in the Journal of Neuroscience . The volume reduction is linked with an overall decline in cognitive ability and with increased genetic risk for Alzheimer’s disease, the authors say.

Scientists say that people who have a certain abnormality in their brain structure are more likely to develop chronic pain following a lower back injury, according to a study published in the journal Pain.

The development of fine motor control – the ability to use your fingertips to manipulate objects – takes longer than previously believed, and isn’t entirely the result of brain development, according to a pair of complementary studies.

Brain’s Flexible Hub Network Helps Humans Adapt

Background diagram shows 264 brain regions in the human brain color coded by network affiliation. Center sphere shows networks labeled with their potential functions; lines indicate how much inter-network communication changes across dozens of tasks, with especially dramatic changes in bold. (Credit: Michael Cole/WUSTL)

One thing that sets humans apart from other animals is our ability to intelligently and rapidly adapt to a wide variety of new challenges — using skills learned in much different contexts to inform and guide the handling of any new task at hand. Now, research from Washington University in St. Louis offers new and compelling evidence that a well-connected core brain network based in the lateral prefrontal cortex and the posterior parietal cortex contains “flexible hubs” that coordinate the brain’s responses to novel cognitive challenges.

Acting as a central switching station for cognitive processing, this fronto-parietal brain network funnels incoming task instructions to those brain regions most adept at handling the cognitive task at hand, coordinating the transfer of information among processing brain regions to facilitate the rapid learning of new skills, the study finds.

Read more on this story here

Speedier Scans Reveal New Distinctions In Brain Activity

Magnetoencephalography (MEG) can detect activity at the millisecond level.
(Credit: Paul Gannaway/Flickr)

A boost in the speed of brain scans is unveiling new insights into how brain regions work with each other in cooperative groups called networks.

Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis and the Institute of Technology and Advanced Biomedical Imaging at the University of Chieti in Italy are turning to faster technology called magnetoencephalography (MEG) to sample neural activity every 50 milliseconds.

In doing so, they’ve been afforded novel insights into the inner-workings of neural networks in resting and active brains. As the researchers report in the journal Neuron, these new insights could help us better understand how brain networks function and, in turn, better diagnose and treat brain injuries.

Read more on this story here

Weekly Neuroscience Update

FASD impacts brain development throughout childhood and adolescence not just at birth

Highlighted areas are some of the white matter tracts the research group studied. Credit: U of A

Medical researchers at the University of Alberta recently published findings showing that brain development is delayed throughout childhood and adolescence for people born with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD).

Whenever we have to acquire new knowledge under stress, the brain deploys unconscious rather than conscious learning processes. Neuroscientists at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum have discovered that this switch from conscious to unconscious learning systems is triggered by the intact function of mineralocorticoid receptors.

Researchers have reverse-engineered the outlines of a disrupted prenatal gene network in schizophrenia, by tracing spontaneous mutations to where and when they likely cause damage in the brain. Some people with the brain disorder may suffer from impaired birth of new neurons, or neurogenesis, in the front of their brain during prenatal development, suggests the study.

Autism is marked by several core features — impairments in social functioning, difficulty communicating, and a restriction of interests. Though researchers have attempted to pinpoint factors that might account for all three of these characteristics, the underlying causes are still unclear. Now, a new study suggests that two key attentional abilities — moving attention fluidly and orienting to social information — can be checked off the list, as neither seems to account for the diversity of symptoms we find in people with autism.

Anemia, or low levels of red blood cells, may increase the risk of dementia, according to a study published in the July 31, 2013, online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology

Physicists and neuroscientists from The University of Nottingham and University of Birmingham have unlocked one of the mysteries of the human brain, thanks to new research using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) and electroencephalography (EEG). The work will enable neuroscientists to map a kind of brain function that up to now could not be studied, allowing a more accurate exploration of how both healthy and diseased brains work.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

A novel screening method makes it easier to diagnose and treat children with autism

A child with autism discovers how to evoke the onscreen video he likes best. Credit: Rutgers Sensory-Motor Integration Lab

Researchers have developed a new screening method to diagnose autism, which unlike current methods does not rely on subjective criteria. These results are published in a series of studies in the open-access journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.

Going to bed at different times every night throughout early childhood seems to curb children’s brain power, according to a large, long term study.

A computational vision scientist at the University of South Australia has just published new research describing a key advance in our understanding of how the brain perceives the physical world.

Oxytocin has long been known as the warm, fuzzy hormone that promotes feelings of love, social bonding and well-being. It’s even being tested as an anti-anxiety drug. But new research shows oxytocin also can cause emotional pain, an entirely new, darker identity for the hormone.

Ultrasound waves sent to specific brain regions can alter a person’s mood, according to a new study published in the journal Brain Stimulation.

A gene related to neural tube defects in dogs has for the first time been identified by researchers.

UCLA chemists and molecular biologists have for the first time used a “structure-based” approach to drug design to identify compounds with the potential to delay or treat Alzheimer’s disease, and possibly Parkinson’s, Lou Gehrig’s disease and other degenerative disorders.