Without the thousands of people who volunteer to have their brains scanned each year, many areas of modern neuroscience research would not be possible. But what is it like to have your brain scanned? This Wellcome Trust video shows us.
A person’s intensity of Facebook use can be predicted by activity in a reward-related area of the brain, according to a new study published in the open-access journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
Sleep helps the brain consolidate what we’ve learned, but scientists have struggled to determine what goes on in the brain to make that happen for different kinds of learned tasks. In a new study, researchers pinpoint the brainwave frequencies and brain region associated with sleep-enhanced learning of a sequential finger tapping task akin to typing, or playing piano.
Alcohol intoxication reduces communication between two areas of the brain that work together to properly interpret and respond to social signals, according to researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine.
Brain scans of people who say they have insomnia have shown differences in brain function compared with people who get a full night’s sleep.
The age at which children learn a second language can have a significant bearing on the structure of their adult brain, according to a new study.
In this brain video Dr. Greg Berns talks about a new study using brain imaging to study teen brain development. It turns out that adolescents who engage in dangerous activities have frontal white matter tracts that are more adult in form than their more conservative peers.
Open any newspaper, switch on any talk show on the radio this weekend, and you will be spoilt for choice with anxiety-inducing stories.
Living in this time of global recession, rising mortgage rates, political instability, it almost appears as if the media encourages us to be anxious on a daily basis.
Easy as it is to respond with anxiety to these stories, it is in fact the least productive response to have in life. It is like a mental pain we inflict on ourselves, clouding our judgment and reasoning, zapping us of the energy we need to move forward with our lives and make sound decisions. Anxious thoughts activate stress hormones that trigger the brain’s fight or flight response. But this arousal is temporary, and when it abates, is followed by exhaustion, apathy and even depression.
Not everyone is affected to the same degree by this tendency to react to life’s events with anxiety. We all know people who fret at the slightest thing, while others have the ability to remain calm and composed in the face of crisis. At its most chronic this tendency can lead to panic-attacks, social phobias, obsessive-compulsive behavior and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Now scientists at the University of California, Berkeley have discovered a neural explanation for why some individuals are indeed more anxiety-prone than others. Their findings, published in Neuron, reveal that chinks in our brain circuitry could be the answer, and may pave the way for more targeted treatment of chronic fear and anxiety disorders.
In the brain imaging study, the researchers discovered two distinct neural pathways that play a role in whether we develop and overcome fears. The first involves an overactive amygdala, which is home to the brain’s primal fight-or-flight reflex and plays a role in developing specific phobias.
The second involves activity in the ventral prefrontal cortex, a neural region that helps us to overcome our fears and worries. Some participants were able to mobilize their ventral prefrontal cortex to reduce their fear responses even while negative events were still occurring, the study found.
“This finding is important because it suggests some people may be able to use this ventral frontal part of the brain to regulate their fear responses – even in situations where stressful or dangerous events are ongoing”, said UC Berkeley psychologist Sonia Bishop, lead author of the paper.
“If we can train those individuals who are not naturally good at this to be able to do this, we may be able to help chronically anxious individuals as well as those who live in situations where they are exposed to dangerous or stressful situations over a long time frame,” Bishop added.
Bishop and her team used functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) to examine the brains of 23 healthy adults. As their brains were scanned, participants viewed various scenarios in which a virtual figure was seen in a computerized room. In one room, the figure would place his hands over his ears before a loud scream was sounded. But in another room, the gesture did not predict when the scream would occur. This placed volunteers in a sustained state of anticipation.
Participants who showed overactivity in the amygdala developed much stronger fear responses to gestures that predicted screams. A second entirely separate risk factor turned out to be failure to activate the ventral prefrontal cortex. Researchers found that participants who were able to activate this region were much more capable of decreasing their fear responses, even before the screams stopped.
The discovery that there is not one, but two routes in the brain circuitry that lead to heightened fear or anxiety is a key finding, the researchers said, and it offers hope for new targeted treatment approaches.
“Some individuals with anxiety disorders are helped more by cognitive therapies, while others are helped more by drug treatments,” Bishop said. “If we know which of these neural vulnerabilities a patient has, we may be able to predict what treatment is most likely to be of help.”
Source: University of California, Berkeley
In today’s weekly round-up..how memories take better hold during sleep, nature vs nurture, fake it til you make it, the nature of heroism, the pathology of Alzheimer’s, the neuroscience of fear and loathing, and more.
It appears from the latest research that the best way to hold onto a newly learned poem, card trick or algebra equation may be to take a quick nap, for the brain is better during sleep than during wakefulness at resisting attempts to scramble or corrupt a recent memory. The study, published in Nature Neuroscience, provides new insights into the complex process by which we store and retrieve deliberately acquired information.
Athena Stalk in Your Brain and The Power of Rehearsing Your Future explains that the advice to “fake it til you make it” is backed up by some of the latest findings on the brain.
Interesting article from Jonah Lehrer in the Wall Street Journal on the perennial nature vs nurture debate. And in a similar vein, is there a gene for heroism or is it down to social or economic factors? Can neuroscience explain the nature of heroism?
The Neuroscience of Fear and Loathing is an interesting look at this universal emotion.
Findings from a new study from the University of Haifa shows that people diagnosed as psychopathic have difficulty showing empathy, just like patients who have suffered frontal head injury.
Article in this week’s New York Times on a new brain scan technology to detect Alzheimer’s pathology in the brain.
How Perception Reveals Brain Differences explores the ways in which brains differ from one another and the ways in which we owners perceive the world accordingly.