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

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A new study reveals taking a short daytime nap can help to consolidate learning and memory of new foreign words.

Astrocytes, ‘caretaker’ cells that surround and support neurons in the brain, may lead the tempo of the body’s internal clock and control patterns of daily behavior, a new study reports.

Pre-teens who use a mobile phone or watch TV in the dark an hour before bed are at risk of not getting enough sleep, a new study reveals.

In a scientific first, neuroengineers have created a system that translates thought into intelligible, recognizable speech. This breakthrough, which harnesses the power of speech synthesizers and artificial intelligence, could lead to new ways for computers to communicate directly with the brain.

Scientists report brain connectivity appears to be dictated by the spatial architecture of neurons, rather than the cell type-specific cues.

A new study reports sleep deprivation increases the levels of tau, and accelerates the spread of the protein, in the brain. The findings reveal a lack of sleep alone may help drive the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers report alterations in RNA editing play a vital role in autism spectrum disorder.

According to a new study, the consequence of daily stress is linked to an increase in REM sleep. Researchers report the increase is associated with genes involved in apoptosis and cell survival. The findings shed light on how stress leads to mood disorders, and how changes in sleep contribute to this.

You can hack your brain to form good habits – like going to the gym and eating healthily – simply by repeating actions until they stick, according to new research.

Machine learning technology is helping researchers to detect the early signs of Alzheimer’s, by identifying potential blood based biomarkers of the disease. Researchers say the technology has found hidden factors associated with Alzheimer’s through medical data, and could help improve disease prediction.

A new study reveals the molecular switch that helps control the function of satiety neurons and body weight.

When we’re in pain, we have a hard time sleeping. But how does poor sleep affect pain? For the first time, scientists have answered that question by identifying neural glitches in the sleep-deprived brain that can intensify and prolong the agony of sickness and injury.

People with sleep apnea struggle to remember details of memories from their own lives, potentially making them vulnerable to depression, new research has shown.

Finally this week, using CRISPR gene editing, researchers mapped important genes for helping T helper cells. The findings could help generate new treatments to activate the immune system against infection and to attack tumor cells.

 

 

 

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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 Image credited to Dr. Vadim Axelrod

Researchers have identified neurons in the visual cortex that respond to different faces.

Leading a unique, collaborative research study with scientists across the globe, investigators have pinpointed a set of molecules that wire the body weight center of the brain.

A large-scale international study has discovered new genetic risk loci for Alzheimer’s disease, and researchers published their work in Nature Genetics.

A new study reports experiencing vital exhaustion, a symptom of psychological distress, during mid life may be associated with a higher risk of developing dementia later in life.

Researchers have identified over 500 genetic variants which affect the use of, and addiction to, alcohol and tobacco.

A new neuroimaging study has helped researchers capture the processes by which the brain stores information related to when events happen. The findings could help further the understanding of age-related dementia.

Researchers report using rhythmic movements while speaking helps to improve speech skills in children.

A new study uses an epigenetic approach to correct synaptic dysfunction in the brain associated with memory loss. The findings could help to restore memory function in those with Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Scientists say they can predict whether a person can expect to live longer or die sooner than average, by looking at their DNA.

Yale researchers have discovered several genetic variants that signal the risk of serious suicide attempts and noted some variants have also been linked to major depressive disorder.

Scientists report signs of memory problems in old age may be a result of hearing loss and not a neurodegenerative disease.

Using sophisticated computational tools, researchers have discovered biomarkers that may explain why symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be so severe for some people and not for others.

Researchers have discovered how the body is able to initiate repair mechanisms which can limit the extent of damage to the myelin sheath. The findings could help with the development of new therapies for multiple sclerosis.

A new EEG study reveals how the brain utilizes more cognitive resources to hold memory and process previous information.

Chaos in bodily regulation can optimize our immune system according to a recent discovery made by researchers. The discovery may prove to be of great significance for avoiding serious diseases such as cancer and diabetes.

A new neuroimaging study reveals brain activity is reduced when we experience self touch, as opposed to the touch of another person. The findings shed light on how the brain is able to distinguish between tactile sensations generated by the touch of another and personal touch.

A new study shows an association between excessive social media use and impaired risky decision making, a common deficient in substance addiction.

Researchers report children who experience deprivation early in life have impaired memory and executive function between the ages of 8 and 16 compared to peers who were placed in quality foster homes.

New research reveals frequency plays a key role in neural activation from electrical stimulation.

A new study reports amyloid precursor proteins modulate neural signal transmission by binding to a specific receptor. Researchers say modulating the receptor could help treat Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers report a genetic mutation that causes structural abnormalities in the adolescent brain may predict an increased risk of schizophrenia later in life.

A new neuroimaging study reveals tasks that require audiovisual processing are extremely difficult for children with dyslexia. The findings could lead to new tests that help identify the disorder before children fall behind their peers.

Finally this week, a new study reveals differences in genes in four areas of the brain that contribute to psychiatric disorders.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Image: di Domenico/Stem Cell Reports

A new study reveals a defective version of astrocytes may be linked to the build up of alpha synuclein and could spur Parkinson’s disease. The findings show the important role glial cells play in Parkinson’s and offers insights into new targets for therapies to fight the neurodegenerative disease.

A genome-wide analysis of nearly 45,000 people has identified 16 regions of DNA associated with epilepsy, 11 of which are newly identified.

Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research in Cologne found when people crave specific foods, the brain releases more dopamine when they finally consume the item. The study reports the gastrointestinal tract is in constant contact with the brain and uses reward stimuli to control our desire for food.

Researchers have developed a method to determine the length of mutated genes associated with Huntington’s disease quickly and easily.

Men with dyslexia have altered structural connections between the thalamus and auditory cortex on the left side of the brain, new research published in Journal of Neuroscience reveals.

A new study reports when we retrieve information about visual objects, the brain first focuses on the core meaning and afterwards recalls specific details.

Researchers report that neuron loss in Alzheimer’s disease may not be such a bad thing. The study reveals the loss of neurons may be the result of a cell quality control mechanism attempting to protect the brain from the accumulation of malfunctioning neurons.

Neurofeedback training stimulates the cortical learning process and can help improve the sense of touch, a new study reveals.

Research led by stem cell scientists at Harvard University points to a potential new biomarker and drug target for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a neurological disease that is extremely difficult to diagnose and treat.

Finally this week, researchers have identified over 500 genetic variants which affect the use of, and addiction to, alcohol and tobacco.

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Parents and carers who regularly read with small children are giving them a language advantage of eight months, a study shows.

Smartphone and internet addiction appears to have an impact on brain chemistry. A new study reports the ratio of GABA to Glx is significantly increased in the anterior cingulate cortex of teens who are addicted to their smartphones.

Researchers report neurons from people on the autism spectrum exhibit different growth patterns and develop at a faster rate.

A new study reports obesity and excessive body fat around the middle is associated with lower grey matter volume in the brain. The study also found a link between obesity and shrinkage in specific brain areas.

Researchers have shed light on the epidemiological factors that help shape our gut bacteria from social relationships, socioeconomic status and health related behaviors.

Scientists used EEG to investigate how the brain processes stimuli to determine whether an image or word is positive or negative. The study found words associated with loss causes neural reactions in the visual cortex after 100 milliseconds.

A new study identifies a direct dopamine neuron link to circadian rhythm.

A noninvasive hearing test may assist with early detection and diagnosis of autism spectrum disorders, according to research published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association.

Scripps researchers have uncovered the process that helps control neuron growth.

A new study has identified racial disparities between African Americans and Caucasians in the level of a key biomarker used to identify Alzheimer’s disease.

Neuroscientists have identified exactly how breathing changes the brain.

A new study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), sheds light on a mechanism underlying Parkinson’s disease and suggests that Tacrolimus — an existing drug that targets the toxic protein interaction explored in the study — could be used as a novel treatment.

Researchers have identified a mechanism that may explain what is known as the Mozart Effect, where sound input is linked to developing cognitive function.

Neuroscientists have identified a neural population in the human auditory cortex that responds selectively to sounds that people typically categorize as music, but not to speech or other environmental sounds.

Finally this week, researchers at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience revealed that there are five types of insomnia

 

 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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A new study reports the neurons that focus on coarse visual details could change to prefer finer details under different conditions. The findings shed new light on the neural mechanism that helps shape our perception of the world.

The most comprehensive genomic analysis of the human brain ever undertaken has revealed new insights into the changes it undergoes through development, how it varies among individuals and the roots of neuropsychiatric illnesses such as autism spectrum disorders and schizophrenia.

Researchers have identified a new role for the cerebellum. Rather than just helping to control muscle activity, the cerebellum may also play a critical role in cognitive functions.

When parents play with their child, their brains show similar bursts of brain activity. The activity is linked to their baby’s attention patterns, and not their own, researchers report.

We know a good meal can stimulate the release of the feel-good hormone dopamine, and now a study from the Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research in Germany suggests that dopamine release in the brain occurs at two different times: at the time the food is first ingested and another once the food reaches the stomach.

A new multi-site brain imaging study shows that sub-groups of people use their brains differently when imitating emotional faces – a task that reflects their ability to interact socially.

Finally, this week, according to researchers, Botulinum toxin, or Botox, injections can help to reduce the frequency of chronic migraines.

 

 

 

Why Keeping New Year’s Resolutions Is All In The Mind

Happy New Year!

Have you made any new year’s resolutions this year?

Despite the high failure rate of these resolutions – research by British psychologist Richard Wiseman in 2007  has shown that 88% of all resolutions end in failure – many continue to make the same resolutions year in and year out.

But just why are our old habit so hard to break?

The Science of Willpower

The brain area largely responsible for willpower is the prefrontal cortex (located just behind the forehead). This area of the brain is also in charge of keeping us focused, handling short-term memory and solving abstract problems.

Author Johan Lehrer writing in the Wall Street Journal proposed that adding new year’s resolutions to an overloaded prefrontal cortex is a sure-fire recipe for failure.

He referred to an experiment led by Baba Shiv at Stanford University, where several dozen undergraduates were divided into two groups. One group was given a two-digit number to remember, while the second group was given a seven-digit number. Then they were told to walk down the hall, where they were presented with two different snack options: a slice of chocolate cake or a bowl of fruit salad.

What do you think happened?

The students with seven digits to remember were nearly twice as likely to choose the cake as students given two digits. The reason, according to Prof. Shiv, is that those extra numbers took up valuable space in the brain—they were a “cognitive load”—making it that much harder to resist a decadent dessert. In other words, willpower is so weak, and the prefrontal cortex is so overtaxed, that all it takes is five extra bits of information before the brain starts to give in to temptation. “A tired brain, preoccupied with its problems, is going to struggle to resist what it wants, even when what it wants isn’t what we need.” writes Lehrer.

So instead of blaming our own lack of discipline in not keeping to our resolutions, perhaps this research shows that the power of will is not enough due to the very nature of the brain.

So now we know what doesn’t work when it comes to keeping those resolutions, let’s take a look at what might help.

How To Keep New Year’s Resolutions

Lehrer suggests we think of willpower as a muscle that needs to be strengthened. Prof Roy Baumeister, a psychologist at Florida State University who has pioneered the muscle metaphor, suggests that it might be possible to strengthen willpower by exercising it.

He asked a group of students to improve their posture for two weeks, thereby practicing mental discipline in one area. The students showed a marked improvement on subsequent measures of self-control, at least when compared to a group that didn’t work on posture control.

If this sounds like too much hard work, you could always try the tried and tested goal-setting approach to making positive change stick.

Think about some small changes you could make in your lifestyle that would help to bring about your ultimate goal.  The cumulative impact of a modest change to your daily routine will restore in you the feeling that you are in control.

Above all, don’t use your resolutions as a stick to beat yourself with. Ditch the negative connotations and instead focus on what those small changes will bring to your life in a positive way in the coming year.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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How do neural networks in different brain areas communicate with each other? The Bernstein Center Freiburg proposes a new model.

Researchers propose a new model to help explain how the level of activity in neural networks influences the flow of information.

A neurofeedback system enables Parkinson’s disease patients to voluntarily control brainwaves associated with symptoms of the disorder, according to new research published in eNeuro.

One night of sleep loss can increase the desirability of junk foods, finds a study of healthy weight young men published in Journal of Neuroscience.

When two events occur within a brief window of time they become linked in memory, such that calling forth the memory of one helps retrieve memory for the other event, according to research published in Psychological Science. This happens even when temporal proximity is the only feature that the two events share.

Researchers have identified specific diffusible molecules that are essential for boundary formation in the brain.

Scientists report that neuron loss in Alzheimer’s disease may not be such a bad thing. The study reveals the loss of neurons may be the result of a cell quality control mechanism attempting to protect the brain from the accumulation of malfunctioning neurons.

A new study reveals passive exposure to foreign speech sounds over the course of several consecutive days helps enhance language learning.

People with Huntington’s disease who participated in intellectually stimulating activities had less brain atrophy than those with the disease who did not take up such activities.

Finally this week, boys with good motor skills are better problem-solvers than their less skillful peers, a new study from Finland shows. 

Weekly Neuroscience Update

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Image Credit: Guillaume Sandoz, CNRS

Researchers at CNRS, Université Côte d’Azur and Inserm have demonstrated a new mechanism related to the onset of migraine. In fact, they found how a mutation, causes dysfunction in a protein which inhibits neuronal electrical activity, induces migraines. These results, published in Neuron on Dec. 17, 2018, open a new path for the development of anti-migraine medicines.

Scientists using eye tracking software, report what we look at helps guide our decisions when faced with two visible choices.

A new study reports children and teens who face chronic bullying have altered brain structure, as well as problems with anxiety and depression. Researchers found those who were bullies had structural changes to the putamen and caudate, contributing to the development of anxiety related behaviors and emotional processing.

Researchers have identified specific neurons in the medial prefrontal cortex, called self-monitoring error neurons, that fire immediately after people make a mistake.

New findings show how alcohol influences dopaminergic and inhibitory neurons in the ventral tegmental area. The findings could help develop new treatments for alcohol dependence.

A diet of fast food, cakes and processed meat increases your risk of depression, according to a new study.

Scientists who recently identified the molecular start of Alzheimer’s disease have used that finding to determine that it should be possible to forecast which type of dementia will develop over time – a form of personalized medicine for neurodegenerative diseases.

A new study reports lightly stroking an infant, at a speed of 3 centimeters per second, can help to provide pain relief prior to medical procedures.

Researchers have identified cognitive subgroups related to genetic differences in Alzheimer’s patients. The findings could open the door for more personalized treatments of the neurodegenerative disease.

A previously unknown brain mechanism that regulates anxiety has come to light. It allows a gene-altering protein to enter the nucleus of brain cells.

Finally this week, researchers discovered activity in brain regions involved in reward response from dopamine was higher in subjects injected with the hormone ghrelin, but only when responding to images associated with food smells. The study reports ghrelin controls the extent to which the brain associates reward with food odors.