This Is Your Brain on Pokémon

Adults who played Pokémon video games extensively as children have a brain region that responds preferentially to images of Pikachu and other characters from the series.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Human Behavior, help shed light on mysteries about our visual system.

The first Pokémon game was released in 1996 and played by children as young as 5 years old, many of whom continued to play later versions of the game well into their teens and even early adulthood.

The games not only exposed these children to the same characters over and over again, it rewarded them when they won a Pokémon battle or added a new character to the in-game encyclopedia called the Pokédex.

Furthermore, every child played the games on the same handheld device – the Nintendo Game Boy – which had the same small square screen and required them to hold the devices at roughly the same arm’s length. Playing Pokémon on a tiny screen means that the Pokémon characters only take up a very small part of the player’s center of view. The eccentricity bias theory thus predicts that preferential brain activations for Pokémon should be found in the part of the visual cortex that processes objects in our central, or foveal, vision.

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The occipitotemporal sulcus (OTS) of adults who played Pokémon extensively as children activated more (right) upon seeing images of Pokémon characters from their childhood videogames compared to adults who did not (left). (Image credit: Jesse Gomez)

The new findings are just the latest evidence that our brains are capable of changing in response to experiential learning from a very early age, but that there are underlying constraints hardwired into the brain that shape and guide how those changes unfold.

Read more on this story at https://news.stanford.edu/2019/05/06/regular-pokemon-players-pikachu-brain 

Is The Internet Changing Your Brain? #SaferInternetDay

Today, on #SaferInternetDay, I thought it a good time to return to a topic I’ve spoken about over the years. The question of whether our brains are being altered due to our increasing reliance on search engines, social networking sites, and other digital technologies, is always a timely one.

The Internet can be a force for positive change (as with new ‘cybertherapies’ to help patients with addiction and post-traumatic stress disorders), but equally, it can have a negative effect on mental health – especially with young people.

Today, I’m giving a talk to parents on the pros and cons of gaming and why gaming is so attractive to young people. I want to offer parents an opportunity to create a balance in their child’s world through understanding what is going on inside their child’s brain.

The talk takes place at Nenagh Arts Centre, Co Tipperary.  If you can’t attend in person, I’ll be sharing my slides later this week on SlideShare so check back in again.

This event is FREE but it is essential to book a seat with the Arts Centre on 067 34400 or through Eventbrite. 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

brain

Researchers have pinpointed an area of the brain that serves as an arbitrator between our two decision-making systems, one devoted to habitual behaviors and the other devoted to actions we take only after careful consideration.

Scientists who discovered a gene that links the thickness of the brain’s gray matter to intelligence say their finding might help improve understanding of brain disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.

People who appreciate the beauty of mathematics activate the same part of their brain when they look at aesthetically pleasing formula as others do when appreciating art or music, suggesting that there is a neurobiological basis to beauty.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, are looking at ways video game technology can be used to improve or heal the brain.

For the first time, scientists have identified a gene linking the thickness of the grey matter in the brain to intelligence. The study is published today in Molecular Psychiatry and may help scientists understand biological mechanisms behind some forms of intellectual impairment.

People with dyslexia have greater difficulty than others in shifting attention between the senses – from seeing something to hearing something – according to an Oxford University study. The researchers suggest that action video games, where attention is constantly shifting focus, may be able to boost literacy skills – though they have yet to test this. The findings are reported in the journal Current Biology.

A new study published in Social Neuroscience says that the brain has begun processing a typed emoticon with the same signals that previously only accompanied processing a real, emoting human face.

A specific type of neuron in the amygdala performs differently in individuals with autism spectrum disorder than in those without the disorder, according to a new study by researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in New York.

Finally, this Valentine’s weekend, new research reveals that  a region deep inside the brain controls how quickly people make decisions about love.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

To study how nerve cells respond to injuries in their branches, Washington University researcher Valeria Cavalli grows them in “spots” like the one shown above. Cavalli recently identified a chain reaction that enables repair of these branches when they are cut. Credit Yongcheol Cho/Washington University at St. Louis.

To study how nerve cells respond to injuries in their branches, Washington University researcher Valeria Cavalli grows them in “spots” like the one shown above. Cavalli recently identified a chain reaction that enables repair of these branches when they are cut. Credit Yongcheol Cho/Washington University at St. Louis.

Researchers have identified a chain reaction that triggers the regrowth of some damaged nerve cell branches, a discovery that one day may help improve treatments for nerve injuries that can cause loss of sensation or paralysis.

Groundbreaking research nearly two decades ago linking a mother’s educational background to her children’s literacy and cognitive abilities stands out among decades of social science studies demonstrating the adverse effects of poverty. Now new research has taken that finding in a neuroscientific direction: linking poor processing of auditory information in the adolescent brain to a lower maternal educational background.

A review of new research says there is growing evidence to support the idea that the brain plays a key role in normal glucose regulation and the development of type 2 diabetes.

University of Queensland (UQ) scientists have made a fundamental breakthrough into how the brain decodes the visual world.

Cocaine addicts may become trapped in drug binges not because they are always seeking euphoric highs but rather to avoid emotional lows, says a study in Psychopharmacology.

Researchers have developed a therapeutic at-home gaming program for stroke patients who experience motor weakness affecting 80 percent of survivors.

Learning a musical instrument as a child gives the brain a boost that lasts long into adult life, say scientists.

The birth of new neurons depend upon activation of an important molecular pathway in stem cells, a new Yale School of Medicine study shows.

Researchers have taken a major step towards understanding the causes of Alzheimer’s disease with the largest study yet into the genetics of the disorder.

Light enhances brain activity during a cognitive task even in some people who are totally blind, according to a new study.

Scientists have discovered biological mechanisms that may link Parkinson’s disease to Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study published in the journal Acta Neuropathologica.

 

A game to map the brain #TEDxNijmegen 2013

Yesterday I shared a video from Moritz Helmstaedter a neuroscientist who has pioneered crowd sourcing for connectomics, engaging more than a hundred students to work together to analyze the immense amounts of data.  In today’s video recorded at #TEDxNijmegen, Amy Robinson, a research affiliate in MIT’s Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences  explains that it takes a neuroscientist around 50 hours to map one cell, one neuron. And there are more than 80 billion neurons in one human brain. To complete the map of our brain MIT  are looking for help to accelerate this process by contributing to the EyeWire project. Watch the video which demonstrates how you can play the game.

The brain is a very complicated thing. You can however help us to fasten up the process of understanding as a non-scientist by joining EyeWire.” EyeWire is a game to map neural networks. Anyone can play, and you don’t need a scientific background ~ Amy Robinson

Weekly Neuroscience Update

xbox

When selecting a video game to play, opting to turn on your Wii may provide a different experience than playing your Xbox, according to a study from Mississippi State University.

Excessive alcohol use accounts for 4% of the global burden of disease, and binge drinking particularly is becoming an increasing health issue. A new review article published Cortex highlights the significant changes in brain function and structure that can be caused by alcohol misuse in young people.

Working with patients with electrodes implanted in their brains, researchers have shown for the first time that areas of the brain work together at the same time to recall memories. The unique approach promises new insights into how we remember details of time and place.

Researchers at the University of Glasgow are hoping to help victims of stroke to overcome physical disabilities by helping their brains to ‘rewire’ themselves.

Keeping active can slow down the progression of memory loss in people with Alzheimer’s disease, a study has shown.

Neuroscientists have released the results of a new study that examines how fear responses are learned, controlled, and memorized. They show that a particular class of neurons in a subdivision of the amygdala plays an active role in these processes.

Neuroscience researchers from Tufts University have found that our star-shaped brain cells, called astrocytes, may be responsible for the rapid improvement in mood in depressed patients after acute sleep deprivation. This in vivo study, published in the current issue ofTranslational Psychiatry, identified how astrocytes regulate a neurotransmitter involved in sleep. The researchers report that the findings may help lead to the development of effective and fast-acting drugs to treat depression, particularly in psychiatric emergencies.

UC Berkeley neuroscientists have found that the slow brain waves generated during the deep, restorative sleep we typically experience in youth play a key role in transporting memories from the hippocampus – which provides short-term storage for memories – to the prefrontal cortex’s longer term “hard drive.”

Researchers have found altered connectivity in the brain network for body perception in people with anorexia: The weaker the connection, the greater the misjudgement of body shape.

A group of scientists planning to map all the major connections in the human brain began studying their first test subjects in August. The $30 million Human Connectome Project will trace the main neural pathways that link the roughly 500 major regions in the brain, illuminating how biological circuitry underlies our mental functions. MRI scans of 1,200 people, including 300 pairs of twins, will be used to compile an atlas of communication routes throughout the brain. The resulting blueprint will also reveal how brain connectivity varies from person to person.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

Advertisers and public health officials may be able to access hidden wisdom in the brain to more effectively sell their products and promote health and safety, UCLA neuroscientists report in the first study to use brain data to predict how large populations will respond to advertisements.

A team led by psychology professor Ian Spence at the University of Toronto reveals that playing an action videogame, even for a relatively short time, causes differences in brain activity and improvements in visual attention.

A miniature atom-based magnetic sensor developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has passed an important research milestone by successfully measuring human brain activity. Experiments reported this week inBiomedical Optics Express verify the sensor’s potential for biomedical applications such as studying mental processes and advancing the understanding of neurological diseases.

A key protein, which may be activated to protect nerve cells from damage during heart failure or epileptic seizure, has been found to regulate the transfer of information between nerve cells in the brain. The discovery, made by neuroscientists at the University of Bristol and published in Nature Neuroscience and PNAS, could lead to novel new therapies for stroke and epilepsy.

Practices like physical exercise, certain forms of psychological counseling and meditation can all change brains for the better, and these changes can be measured with the tools of modern neuroscience, according to a review article now online at Nature Neuroscience.

A computer game designed to lift teenagers out of depression is as effective as one-on-one counselling, New Zealand doctors reported on Thursday in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).

What is the secret to a great game?

Image Source: Gamfication and Gamevertising

TEDxMaastricht starts today with the theme ‘The Future of Health’ and browsing through this list of abstracts of  health game nominees for the Future of Health award (the winner to be announced today), I was particularly struck by the concept of Daydream by Jan Jonk

I am very interested in and have lectured on the gaming brain. The key properties of a successful game are that it must (i) impart independence to the player – allow their own style to shine through, (ii) be interesting and complex and (iii) have a relationship between effort and reward.

Games and brains 

In the game Daydream players with locked-in syndrome or other similar paralysing brain dysfunctions such as stroke, wear a plug-and-play neuroheadset that measures their mental states to alter a rich visual world in which the world’s ecosystem can be influenced by changing the climate through their brainwaves – for instance – by concentrating, relaxing and thinking creatively.

Shining a light in dark corners 

By reaching those brain areas which would be otherwise inaccessible, Daydream has the potential to emotionally empower these patients by drawing them out of their social confinement and giving them a manner of social independency and act as a powerful antidote to depression. In addition, the game may allow doctors, psychologists, family members and pets to enter the patient’s world as avatars – as seen in James Cameron’s movie Avatar – where the wheelchair bound Sully whose avatar becomes a warrior leader in an alternative world.  

All patients are different 

As with inter-individual preferences in the general population the game may need to be tweaked to motivate each patient to engage.  Balancing the world’s ecosystem by influencing the climate may work for some patients while building a motorbike from scratch or designing and maintaining a garden may be of more interest to others.

 Related Post:  

Inside the gaming brain

 

Neuroscience News

Is Angry Birds keeping your brain healthy?

A new study from the Archives of Neurology says playing brain stimulating games can improve your memory and delay or prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

A new study suggests hearing metaphors can activate brain regions involved in sensory experience.

Whether you are an athlete, a musician or a stroke patient learning to walk again, practice can make perfect, but more practice may make you more efficient, according to a surprising new University of Colorado Boulder study.

Researchers have found a way to study how our brains assess the behavior – and likely future actions – of others during competitive social interactions. Their study, described in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first to use a computational approach to tease out differing patterns of brain activity during these interactions, the researchers report.

A molecular path from our body’s internal clock to cells controlling rest and activity have been revealed.

A new study looks at how our brain processes visual information to prevent collisions.

Can Brain Scans of Young Children Predict Reading Problems?  Brain scientists are studying whether they can predict which young children may struggle with reading, in order to provide early help.

Virtual therapists being developed to treat depression. Scientists at a U.S. university are developing new technologies to treat depression and other disorders — including a mood-detecting smart phone that will call to check up on you.

A new study shows how to boost the power of pain relief without drugs.

Neuroscience could change the face of warfare. Soldiers could have their minds plugged directly into weapons systems, undergo brain scans during recruitment and take courses of neural stimulation to boost their learning, if the armed forces embrace the latest developments in neuroscience to hone the performance of their troops

Brain activity differs when one plays against others. Researchers have found a way to study how our brains assess the behavior – and likely future actions – of others during competitive social interactions. Their study, described in a paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the first to use a computational approach to tease out differing patterns of brain activity during these interactions, the researchers report.

Reporting in PLoS Biology, researchers write that they were able to correlate words a person was hearing to specific electrical activity in the brain. Neuroscientist Robert Knight, a co-author of the study, discusses future applications of this research and concerns that it amounts to mental wiretapping.

Brains may be wired for addiction.  Abnormalities in the brain may make some people more likely to become drug addicts, according to scientists at the University of Cambridge.

Patients’ Brains May Adapt to ADHD Medication. New research reveals how the brain appears to adapt to compensate for the effects of long-term ADHD medication, suggesting why ADHD medication is more effective short-term than it is long-term.

A two-year study of high school football players suggests that concussions are likely caused by many hits over time and not from a single blow to the head, as commonly believed.

Weekly Round Up

Finnish researchers have developed a groundbreaking new method that allows them to study how the brain processes different aspects of music, such as rhythm, tonality and timbre (sound color) in a realistic listening situation. The study is pioneering in that it for the first time reveals how wide networks in the brain, including areas responsible for motor actions, emotions, and creativity, are activated during music listening. The new method helps us understand better the complex dynamics of brain networks and the way music affects us.

Dreaming may act like a type of overnight therapy, taking the edge off painful memories, a new study says.

Connectivity is a hot topic in neuroscience these days. Instead of trying to figure out what individual brain regions do, researchers are focusing more on how regions work together as a network to enable memory, language, and decision-making. Now, a study of more than 100 children finds that interconnected brain regions develop in concert through childhood and adolescence. The researchers say their work could have implications for understanding various puzzles in neuroscience, such as what goes wrong in autism or why adolescent boys are prone to risky behavior.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers have identified abnormalities in the brains of children with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) that may serve as a biomarker for the disorder.

People who meditate seem to be able ‘switch off’ areas of the brain associated with daydreaming as well as psychiatric disorders such as autism and schizophrenia, according to a new brain imaging study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Sustained changes in the region of the brain associated with cognitive function and emotional control were found in young adult men after one week of playing violent video games, according to study results presented by Indiana University School of Medicine researchers at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.