Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Neurodegeneration sets in earlier for those with unhealthy diets and lifestyle choices.

A new study shows a particularly marked impairment of moral emotions in patients with frontotemporal dementia (FTD). The results, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, open a new approach for early, sensitive and specific diagnosis of FTD.

People with a genetic predisposition for Alzheimer’s disease may exhibit changes in memory up-to four decades before the typical age of dementia onset.

Without being aware of it, people sometimes wrongly perceive tactile sensations. A new study in the scientific journal “Current Biology” shows how healthy people can sometimes misattribute touch to the wrong side of their body, or even to a completely wrong part of the body.

A new study has found that information acts on the brain’s dopamine-producing reward system in the same way as money or food.

A link between disease activity in those with inflammatory bowel disease and less positive biases in emotional regulation could explain a higher risk of depression in those with IBD.

Researchers have identified a rare genetic mutation which occurs in clinical disorders with psychotic features, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

A newly developed mathematical framework describes the ecology of the microbiome coupled to its host. The approach allows researchers to evaluate the microbiome-host interaction landscape and examine why diverse microbiome are associated with similar health outcomes.

Combining multiple artificial intelligence agents sheds light on the aging process and can help further understanding of what contributes to healthy aging.

A novel surgical technique that connects functioning nerves with injured nerves helps restore function to paralyzed muscles. Following surgery, 13 young adults with tetraplegia now have restored hand and elbow function, allowing them to feed themselves, hold a drink and write.

Finally this week, exposure to unpleasant smells is associated with better memory recall 24 hours later.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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A new study reports babies’ brains are sensitive to different emotional tones they hear in voices. Researchers suggest maternal interactions may help to shape the same brain region adults use for emotional processing.

Researchers report brain alterations associated with heightened feelings of negative emotion and alienation in people who have a dependence on cannabis.

Further evidence that the brain undergoes a continuous phase transition when we awaken from sleep has been discovered.

A new deep learning algorithm can predict those at risk of psychosis with 93% accuracy by examining the latent semantic content of an individual’s speech.

Scientists in Sweden have found that some viruses can increase the buildup of protein ‘plaques’ linked to Alzheimer’s disease, a discovery that could lead to new vaccines treating the condition.

Individual differences in the striatum of habitual cannabis users distinguish between who is at increased risk of addiction and cannabis use disorder.

A new study reports areas of the brain housing alertness and determination may be on the right side for left dominant people. The new theory suggests the location of a person’s neural system for emotion depends on their handedness.

Finally this week, new research shows that 2 hours a week is a key dose of nature for health and wellbeing.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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An international team of researchers has found the Internet can produce both acute and sustained alterations in specific areas of cognition, which may reflect changes in the brain, affecting our attentional capacities, memory processes, and social interactions.

Memory performance can be enhanced by rhythmic neural stimulation, using both invasive and non-invasive techniques.

A new study has found that infants at high risk for autism were less attuned to differences in speech patterns than low-risk infants. The findings suggest that interventions to improve language skills should begin during infancy for those at high risk for autism.

A new ultrasound method restores dopaminergic pathway in the brain at Parkinson’s early stages.

Neuroimaging reveals a significantly diminished response in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex in children on the autism spectrum. The findings could be used as a biomarker for diagnosing ASD.

A correlative link has been discovered between weak upper and lower body physical performance, and an increase in depression and anxiety during midlife.

Researchers have examined new evidence about how low-grade inflammation could impact a person’s level of motivation. This may also have implications for the treatment of some cases of depression.

Finally this week, new research has suggested that virtual reality may play a crucial role in monitoring Alzheimer’s disease.

 

As The World Wide Web Turns 30, How Is The Internet Changing Your Brain? #BrainAwarenessWeek

This day 30 years ago signaled the birth of the World Wide Web, ushering in the information age and revolutionizing life as we know it.

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Former physicist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World-Wide Web as an essential tool for High Energy Physics (HEP) at CERN from 1989 to 1994. Together with a small team he conceived HTML, http, URLs, and put up the first server and the first wysiwyg (what you see is what you get) browser and html editor. (Photo: CERN)

Vague but exciting.”

This was how Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s boss responded when the 33-year-old British physicist submitted his proposal for a decentralized system of information management on March 12, 1989.

Today there are over 4.4 billion internet users worldwide, growing at a rate of more than 11 new users per second. Internet user growth has accelerated in the past year, with more than 366 million new users coming online since January 2018.

This is your brain on the internet

The Internet takes advantage of the two most important features within the human brain – that social behaviour elicits pleasure and that vision triggers memories and emotions deep within our unconscious minds.

The first feature is that social activity triggers a nerve pathway deep in our subconscious – the mesolimbic dopamine pathway – also called the reward pathway, releasing a chemical called dopamine which bathes the brain’s pleasure centres – similar to other activities with intrinsic value such as food, sex and getting money.

Getting high on social activity

People like talking about themselves on social media because it has intrinsic value by generating a warm emotion of being part of something important. In other words, we like sharing because it is enjoyable for its own sake as a social activity. In this way sharing is deeply sensory – we humans literally ‘get high’ on social activity.

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The image to the left is a view of the human brain cut down the middle. The reward pathway – shown in red – is activated by a rewarding stimulus.

The major structures in the reward pathway are highlighted: the ventral tegmental area (VTA), the nucleus accumbens and the prefrontal cortex.

The VTA sends information along its connections to both the nucleus accumbens and the prefrontal cortex. The neurons of the VTA contain the neurotransmitter dopamine which is released in the nucleus accumbens and in the prefrontal cortex. The pathway shown here is not the only pathway activated by rewards, other structures are involved too, but only this part of the pathway is shown for simplicity

The power of online images

The second feature worth noting is that over 70% of the human brain is dedicated to vision which means that our brains think in terms of visual images.

In fact, the visual system is the first to mature in the human brain so that by the age of five, children are able to compete on visual games with their grandparents …and win!

This explains why social networks like Instagram that use images are so popular.

The internet and the brain share common features

Ed Bullmore, professor of psychiatry at the University of Cambridge, has noted how the human brain and the internet have quite a lot in common.

“They are both highly non-random networks with a “small world” architecture, meaning that there is both dense clustering of connections between neighbouring nodes and enough long-range short cuts to facilitate communication between distant nodes, ” he points out.

Both the internet and the brain have a wiring diagram dominated by a relatively few, very highly connected nodes or hubs; and both can be subdivided into a number of functionally specialised families or modules of nodes. – Ed Bullmore

Berner Lee’s thoughts on the world wide web today

While the invention of the world wide web has changed our world in many positive ways, there is a dark side that has recently emerged.

In an open letter to mark the anniversary, Berner Lee questioned what it has become on the 30th anniversary of its creation, noting democracy and privacy were now under serious threat.

But he added it wasn’t too late to straighten the ship’s course.

“If we give up on building a better web now, then the web will not have failed us. We will have failed the web,” he wrote. “It’s our journey from digital adolescence to a more mature, responsible and inclusive future.”

We could equally apply these words to the neurobiology of internet usage. Whether the internet is changing our minds for the better or not is a debate that coalesced around Nicholas Carr’s book published a decade ago The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains).  Carr argues that the internet is making us “more stupid” as we are losing the ability to concentrate and remember.

Perhaps the question is less about how the internet is changing our brains, but more accurately how is it changing our thinking.

But that’s a debate for another day.

Since we’re not going to dismantle the world wide web any time soon, the most important question is: how should we respond?

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. 

Your Brain On Buzz. How Do Ideas Spread On The Internet?

Brain regions TPJ and DMPFC (Click for description) Psychologists report for the first time that the temporoparietal junction (TPJ) and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC) brain regions are associated with the successful spread of ideas, often called 'buzz.'

Psychologists report for the first time that the temporoparietal junction (TPJ) and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC) brain regions are associated with the successful spread of ideas, often called ‘buzz.’

How do ideas spread? What messages will go viral on social media, and can this be predicted?

UCLA psychologists have taken a significant step toward answering these questions, identifying for the first time the brain regionsassociated with the successful spread of ideas, often called “buzz.”

The research has a broad range of implications, the study authors say, and could lead to more effective public health campaigns, more persuasive advertisements and better ways for teachers to communicate with students.

“Our study suggests that people are regularly attuned to how the things they’re seeing will be useful and interesting, not just to themselves but to other people,” said the study’s senior author, Matthew Lieberman, a UCLA professor of psychology and of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences and author of the forthcoming book “Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect.”

We always seem to be on the lookout for who else will find this helpful, amusing or interesting, and our brain data are showing evidence of that. At the first encounter with information, people are already using the brain network involved in thinking about how this can be interesting to other people. We’re wired to want to share information with other people. I think that is a profound statement about the social nature of our minds.

The study findings are published in the online edition of the journal Psychological Science, with print publication to follow later this summer.
More information on the study can be found on the UCLA website.

From neurons to networks

Both a young child’s brain and our young, global Internet brain are in highly creative, experimental, innovative states of rapid development — just waiting to make connections. So, here’s a question for the 21st century: How do we help shape both of these young, rapidly growing networks to set a course for a better future? These were the questions that led filmmaker, Tiffany Shlainme, to make this short film.

Read more

The Neuroscience of Internet Addiction

Is your brain being altered due to our increasing reliance on search engines, social networking sites and other digital technologies? That is the question I  posed at last year”s 3D Bar Camp in Limerick. It is a subject I am increasingly becoming involved in and so I was interested to see this video from Nicholas Carr, author of  the best-selling book “The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google,” and “”The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains”, a book I referred to in my talk.