Weekly Neuroscience Update


Chang Lab’s research reveals what area of the human brain controls the pitch of our speech.

Researchers have revealed the area of the brain that controls our voice box, allowing us to alter the pitch of our speech. The insight could pave the way for advancing neuroprosthetics to allow people who can’t speak, to express themselves in a naturalistic way.

A new study reports the brain mechanisms responsible for triggering memory are identical, whether a person is awake or asleep.

While the effects of sleep deprivation are well known, researchers discover sleeping too much could have a detrimental effect on your brain. A new study reports sleeping more than eight hours per night can reduce cognitive ability and reasoning skills.

Researchers have discovered the thalamus plays a crucial role in the development of normal sleep and waking states.

A new study reports T cells are activated in the intestines and migrate to the brain, causing an inflammatory cascade that may lead to multiple sclerosis. Researchers say the gut microbiome may play a more significant role in the development and progression of MS than previously believed.

A new study reports an afternoon nap can help us to process unconscious information and enhance cognition.

Utilizing lesion network mapping, a recently developed technique for analyzing how the brain works, researchers have studied free will perception related to movement decisions.

A new study reports a protein made by astrocytes plays a critical role in brain plasticity by assisting with neural maturation and flexibility.

Only a small proportion of cases of dementia are thought to be inherited – the cause of the vast majority is unknown. Now, in a study published today in the journal Nature Communications, a team of scientists led by researchers at the University of Cambridge believe they may have found an explanation: spontaneous errors in our DNA that arise as cells divide and reproduces.

An international team of researchers has demonstrated, with electrophysiological evidence, the existence of grid-like activity in the human brain.

Finally, this week, a new study reports people may be able to avoid depression, even if they have a genetic predisposition to SAD, by maintaining or boosting serotonin levels throughout the year.







Weekly Neuroscience Update


Whole brain analyses revealed that higher dispositional mindfulness during painful heat was associated with greater deactivation of a brain region called the posterior cingulate cortex, a central neural node of the default mode network. Further, in those that reported higher pain, there was greater activation of this critically important brain region. image is credited to Zeidan et al.

Ever wonder why some people seem to feel less pain than others? A  new study may have found one of the answers – mindfulness.

Researchers at the Kavli Institute for Systems Neuroscience in Norway in have discovered a network of brain cells that express our sense of time within experiences and memories.

A new study reveals elevated glial activation in the brains of those with fibromyalgia.

Brains of baby boys born prematurely are affected differently and more severely than premature infant girls’ brains. This is according to a study published in the Springer Nature-branded journal Pediatric Research.

According to researchers, the speed at which a person speaks influences the way we hear and understand upcoming words. 

A new study reports under conditions of stress, KCNB1 builds up in the brain, before becoming toxic and promoting the production of amyloid beta. In Alzheimer’s patients, the KCNB1 levels are higher than in those without the condition.

Researchers report pyramidal neurons in the basolateral amygdala help us to recognize and categorize foods.

A new study sheds additional light on how the brain consolidates memory during sleep. Researchers report rapid fluctuations in gamma band activity in the hippocampus during nREM sleep helps facilitate memory reactivation.

Finally this week, researchers report on how the brain learns to recognize an individual face, regardless of where it appears in different visual locations.


Could this tactic help you give up smoking and other addictions?

Over the past three decades I have visited high schools and colleges to talk on how addictive drugs affect the brain and to explain the many theories about why certain people become addicted. There are as many reasons why someone becomes addicted as there are addicts. This situation is not helped by the fact that we cannot yet predict who will become addicted, or how to cure it.

Psychiatrist Judson Brewer studies the relationship between mindfulness and addiction — from smoking to overeating to all those other things we do even though we know they’re bad for us. In this short video, you will learn more about the mechanism of habit development and discover a simple but profound tactic that might help you beat your next urge to smoke, snack or check a text while driving.

Inside The Compassionate Brain

Emiliana R. Simon-Thomas, Ph.D., is the science director of the UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center. In this video for the Mindfulness and Compassion conference, Dr. Simon-Thomas explains the neurological mechanisms that support compassion – and why mindfulness meditation can help support the growth of compassion.

Introducing the Mindfulness and Relaxation Centre at Beaumont Hospital

Beaumont Hospital is offering a new online resource with audio tracks to help people relax and reduce stress. The new online Mindfulness and Relaxation Centre is a place to learn about how and why to practice relaxation and mindfulness exercises. Relaxation and mindfulness training are helpful for managing stress as well as helping people cope with physical illness and ongoing medical treatment.

Listen  here

Further Reading: Set Your Brain To Meditate


Weekly Round-Up

Transcranial magnetic stimulation can minimize forgetfulness

Memory failure is a common occurrence yet scientists have not reached a consensus as to how it happens. However, according to a new study at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is able to minimize forgetfulness by disrupting targeted brain regions as they compete between memories.

A new study which will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, finds changes in brain activity after only five weeks of meditation training.

In an ongoing quest to map the brain, scientists have determined how the brain works to understand others. According to a new study, the brain generates empathy in one manner for those who differ physically and in another method for those who are similar. In a paper published online by Cerebral Cortex, researcher Dr Lisa Aziz-Zadeh, suggests empathy for someone to whom you can directly relate — (for example, because they are experiencing pain in a limb that you possess) — is mostly generated by the intuitive, sensory-motor parts of the brain. However, empathy for someone to whom you cannot directly relate relies more on the rationalizing part of the brain.

The brain holds on to false facts, even after they have been retracted according to a report in Scientific American.

Psychologists have found that thought patterns used to recall the past and imagine the future are strikingly similar. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging to show the brain at work, they have observed the same regions activated in a similar pattern whenever a person remembers an event from the past or imagines himself in a future situation. This challenges long-standing beliefs that thoughts about the future develop exclusively in the frontal lobe.

Many dementia patients being prescribed antipsychotic drugs could be better treated with simple painkillers, say researchers from Kings College, London, and Norway.

Brain damage can cause significant changes in behaviour, such as loss of cognitive skills, but also reveals much about how the nervous system deals with consciousness. New findings reported in the July 2011 issue of Cortex demonstrate how the unconscious brain continues to process information even when the conscious brain is incapacitated.

Years after a single traumatic brain injury (TBI), survivors still show changes in their brains. In a new study, researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania suggest that Alzheimer’s disease-like neurodegeneration may be initiated or accelerated following a single traumatic brain injury, even in young adults.

Weekly Round Up

Research shows that our brains understand music not only as emotional diversion, but also as a form of motion and activity.

Research shows that our brains understand music not only as emotional diversion, but also as a form of motion and activity. The same areas of the brain that activate when we swing a golf club or sign our name also engage when we hear expressive moments in music. Brain regions associated with empathy are activated, too, even for listeners who are not musicians.

And still on the theme of music and the brain, a recent study of seventy healthy adults ages sixty to eighty-three with various levels of music education starting around the age of ten showed impressive differences in brain functioning far later in life than any other research has previously shown.

A new study has suggested that sustained training in mindfulness meditation may impact distinct domains of human decision-making, enabling them to make decisions rationally.

Older bilingual adults compensate for age-related declines in brainpower by developing new strategies to process language, according to a recent study published in the journal Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition.

Emerging research suggest antidepressant medications may aid creation and survival of new brain cells after a brain injury.

New study examines brain processes behind facial recognition 

Finally, here is an interesting post from Chris Mooney on the science of why we don’t believe science.

Weekly Round Up

Meditation can "thicken" the brain and make people less sensitive to pain.

As humans face increasing distractions in their personal and professional lives, University of British Columbia researchers have discovered that people can gain greater control over their thoughts with real-time brain feedback.

In Fame, Marketing, and your Brain, Dr Susan Krauss Whitbourne takes a look at neuromarketing and celebrity endorsements.

Scientists have shed new light on how older people may lose their memory. The development could aid research into treatments for age-related memory disorders and scientists at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) have pinpointed a reason older adults have a harder time multitasking than younger adults. Read about their discovery here.

Meditation produces powerful pain-relieving effects in the brain, according to new research published in the April 6 edition of the Journal of Neuroscience.

And finally, five children in India have helped to answer a question posed in 1688 by Irish philosopher William Molyneux: can a blind person who then gains their vision recognise by sight an object they previously knew only by touch?

Weekly Round-Up

Can meditation change brain signature?

This week..how the brain corrects perceptual errors, how meditation and hypnosis change the brain’s signature, a new method for delivering complex drugs directly to the brain, the brain development of children, and how regular exercise helps overweight children do better at school. 

New research provides the first evidence that sensory recalibration – the brain’s automatic correcting of errors in our sensory or perceptual systems – can occur instantly.

In Meditation, Hypnosis Change the Brain signature the Vancouver Sun reports that mindfulness training is ‘a valuable, drug-free tool in the struggle to foster attention skills, with positive spinoffs for controlling our emotions.’

Oxford University scientists have developed a new method for delivering complex drugs directly to the brain, a necessary step for treating diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Motor Neuron Disease and Muscular Dystrophy.

A new study has found that a mother’s iron deficiency early in pregnancy may have a profound and long-lasting effect on the brain development of the child, even if the lack of iron is not enough to cause severe anemia.

Children with Tourette syndrome could benefit from behavioural therapy to reduce their symptoms, according to a new brain imaging study.

Regular exercise improves the ability of overweight, previously inactive children to think, plan and even do mathematics, Georgia Health Sciences University researchers report.

Image Credit: Photostock

Set your Brain to Meditate: Part 3

This is the third part in this series on mindfulness and today we will be taking a look at our mental images and preconceived ideas, more on mindlessness, the power of imagination and the role of intuition in our lives.

Ms. Havisham in Dickens’s Great Expectations

We need to be careful not to hold on to outmoded opinions and attitudes  – false frozen mental images –  best exemplified in Ms. Havisham in Dickens’s Great Expectations – who continued to wear her wedding dress in which she was abandoned many years before and which hung in torn and faded threads over her aged body.

Even a child can fall into this trap – for instance by regarding all old men as grumpy after just one experience with a grumpy old man and this impression may even be carried into adulthood.  In not bothering to change this perception in later life – a person can be locked into a false perception in later life that is likely to be reflected in their own experience – they will turn into an old grump too!  –  and this of course applies to other aspects of life.

Context is everything

Mindlessness results when people accept information without taking the context into account. However in mindfulness context is everything! In fact, psychologists argue that all pain is context dependent. Getting a bruise out on the football pitch will matter much less to us than if we sustain one at home.

The power of imagination

Imagination is the key to perceiving things differently. The Birdman of Alcatraz stuck in his prison cell for over 40 years managed to make his life a rich one by taking care of injured birds.  The message is simple – you can put up with anything as long as it is within a positive context – and with a personal vision everything can be put into perspective. In the famous words of Nitzche “If you have a WHY you can put up with almost any HOW”.

It’s not what you do – it’s the way that you do it!

Another key characteristic of mindfulness is a focus on process before outcome – doing rather than achieving. We look at a text book and assume that the author must be a genius …but this is a faulty comparison.  With rare exceptions most successes in life are the result of years of work that can be broken down into stages. Before you face any task no matter how daunting – ask not ‘can I do it?  – But – HOW can I do it?’  This type of approach sharpens your judgment and leads to increased self confidence.

Intuition is effortless and it works!

Sometimes it’s good to drop old habits and expectations and try something that may go against reason. Intuition is an important path to mindfulness. It may surprise you to know that the best scientists are intuitive – many spending years methodically validating what appeared to them in a flash of intuitive truth.

Intuition is achieved by escaping the heavy single minded striving of everyday life. It is believed to occur on those rare occasions when both hemispheres of the brain – the logical left side and the holistic right side – have a brief uninterrupted conversation. Intuition gives valuable information about our survival and success – ignore it at your cost.

The mindful person will go with what works even if it doesn’t make sense!

In summary, the beauty of mindfulness is that it is not work. It leads to greater control of your own thinking and can create a sense of quiet excitement about what is possible.

Try it and see for yourself!

Set Your Brain To Meditate

Part 1

Part 2