Weekly Round Up

In an attempt to put matter over mind, researchers are beginning to decipher what exactly is happening in our brains when we are making decisions. 

Historically, the dyslexia label has been assigned to children who whose high IQs mismatch their low reading scores, but a new brain-imaging study challenges this understanding of dyslexia.

Twin studies have shown that people with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder have changes in gene activity caused by their environment. The finding provides the strongest evidence yet that such gene changes might cause the conditions.

The famous dictum of Henry Ford “Whether you think you can or think you can’t – you’re right,” has been put to the test in new study, which finds that people who think they can learn from their mistakes have a different brain reaction to mistakes than people who think intelligence is fixed.

Everybody has experienced a sense of “losing oneself” in an activity and now researchers have caught the brain in the act.

The brains of autistic children have a distinctive topography that a team of Stanford University scientists was able to capture using new imaging techniques, with the hope of someday creating a template for the autistic brain that could be used to diagnose children at an early age.

Finally, modern society’s increasing dependency on online tools for both work and recreation opens up unique opportunities for the study of social interactions. With this in mind, scientists at Indiana University  have put Dunbar’s Number (a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships) to the test by analyzing the Twitter activity of 1.7 million individuals. Their research offers support to Dunbar’s hypothesis of a biological limit to the number of relationships than can be simultaneously maintained by a single individual.

Dyslexia rules KO

Image Source: Corbis

In my previous neuroeducation post, I briefly outlined the latest scientific research which shows that learning actually changes the shape of the brain, allowing specific areas in the brain to grow or change and how most importantly this brain growth can be accelerated to improve learning and memory using certain approaches to teaching.

Neuroeducation also encompasses the study of common conditions such as brain injury, dyslexia, hyperactivity attention deficit disorder, learning disability, malnutrition, stuttering and indeed depression and anxiety disorder.

Today let’s take a look at one of these conditions in more detail.  

Dyslexia rules KO 

Research has shown that children with dyslexia suffer from two specific problems: trouble analyzing and processing sound (phonology) and difficulties with rapid naming of objects. 

Early intervention particularly with phonological therapies – before the child gets into trouble in school – appears to prevent dyslexia. The old idea was that dyslexia was somehow a hole in brain – a mental deficit – is not the case. These children appear to be just on the low end of an ability to learn to read instead of having some problem in their brains in much the same way as those children who find difficulty learning a musical instrument.

The problem for dyslexic children is that unlike learning a musical instrument, learning to read is regarded by society as an essential skill – thus putting these kids on the back foot.  The good news is that early detection and treatment for dyslexia is available and better and more effective treatments are being developed as we speak.

The neuroscience of music

I am interested in ongoing research focusing on the effects of music training on the nervous system, and have given some talks on the subject over the past few years. It is also very interesting to note from recent studies that music training has implications for neuroeducation.

Research from Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory strongly suggests that an active engagement with musical sounds not only enhances neuroplasticity, but also enables the nervous system to provide the stable scaffolding of meaningful patterns so important to learning.

According to Northwestern’s Professor Nina Kraus, director of  Northwestern’s Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory “The brain is unable to process all of the available sensory information from second to second, and thus must selectively enhance what is relevant,” Kraus said. Playing an instrument primes the brain to choose what is relevant in a complex process that may involve reading or remembering a score, timing issues and coordination with other musicians.”

Again, I am most interested to note that in Northwestern’s research shows that children who are musically trained have a better vocabulary and reading ability than children who did not receive music training.

Furthermore Professor Kraus says that “Music training seems to strengthen the same neural processes that often are deficient in individuals with developmental dyslexia or who have difficulty hearing speech in noise.”

Professor Kraus argues for proper investment of resources in music training in schools: “The effect of music training suggests that, akin to physical exercise and its impact on body fitness, music is a resource that tones the brain for auditory fitness and thus requires society to re-examine the role of music in shaping individual development. ”

“Music training for the development of auditory skills,” by Nina Kraus and Bharath Chandrasekaran, will be published July 20 in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience.