Weekly Neuroscience Update


A new study finds those “earworm” songs that get stuck in our heads are usually faster, fairly generic and easier to remember, but with unique intervals that set them apart from ‘average’ pop songs.

Researchers have for the first time recorded how cells of the epidermis behave during the regrowth of adult limbs after amputation.

Proper communication between the left and right sides of the brain is critical for the development of advanced language skills, according to new research.

A team of researchers at TU Dresden has examined the underlying neural processes associated with short term task learning in a current imaging study. The results of the study are published today in Nature Communications.

A new study confirms that scanning a person’s brain with an fMRI is more accurate at picking up lies than a traditional polygraph test.

Contrary to popular belief, language is not limited to speech. A  recent study published in the journal PNAS, reveals that people also apply the rules of their spoken language to sign language.

Scientists at The University of Manchester have shown for the first time that if the brain is ‘tuned-in’ to a particular frequency, pain can be alleviated.

A new study appears to build on the previous research that suggests genetic mutations which affect mitochondria function could be critical to the development and progression of Alzheimer’s disease. Meanwhile, researchers have also discovered a possible new treatment for the disease after noticing the way in which insulin signaling works in the brains and pancreas of diabetic patients; and in another study degeneration of the basal forebrain appears before cognitive and behavioural symptoms of Alzheimer’s occur.

Researchers were able to predict the orientation preference of individual neurons by adding up the responses of their dendritic spines, a new study reports.

Scientists have mapped what happens neurologically when new information influences a person to change his or her mind, a finding that offers more insight into the mechanics of learning.

The brain regulates social behaviour differently in males and females, according to a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A team of  researchers has uncovered new details about the biology of telomeres, “caps” of DNA that protect the tips of chromosomes and play key roles in a number of health conditions, including cancer, inflammation and aging.

A new study uses retinal prosthetics to assess the brain’s ability to process visual information years after blindness occurs.

People suffering medical conditions causing low levels of oxytocin perform worse on empathy tasks, according to new research. And a new measuring method has detected oxytocin at much higher rates in blood serum and plasma than researchers previously thought.

Researchers believe they may have pinpointed an area of the brain that plays a role in maintaining human consciousness.

Scientists have uncovered new details about how a repeating nucleotide sequence in the gene for a mutant protein may trigger Huntington’s disease and other neurological diseases.

Finally this  week, a new study reports context processing problems could help to explain some of the symptoms and neuroimaging findings associated with PTSD.


Weekly Neuroscience Update

Current treatment methods used are transcranial direct current simulation (tDCS) – which is application of a low intensity direct (constant) current between two electrodes on the head, and transcranial alternating current simulation (tACS) – which sees a constant electrical current flow back and forth. Image credit: Monash University.

Current treatment methods used are transcranial direct current simulation (tDCS) – which is application of a low intensity direct (constant) current between two electrodes on the head, and transcranial alternating current simulation (tACS) – which sees a constant electrical current flow back and forth. Image credit: Monash University.

Researchers have discovered a new technique to enhance brain excitability that could improve physical performance in healthy individuals such as athletes and musicians.

The constant movement of children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be distracting — but the fidgeting also may improve their cognitive performance, a study has found.

It is known that sleep facilitates the formation of long-term memory in humans. In a new study, researchers show that sleep does not only help form long-term memory but also ensures access to it during times of cognitive stress.

An international team of neuroscientists has proved the uniqueness of screams for the first time. In a study, they discovered that screams possess very special acoustic properties: This makes them a specific type of vocal expression which is only used in stressful and dangerous situations.

A new study published in the journal Cerebral Cortex suggests people who speak two languages have more gray matter in the executive control region of the brain.

Structural brain abnormalities in patients with schizophrenia, providing insight into how the condition may develop and respond to treatment, have been identified in an internationally collaborative study

Memories that have been “lost” as a result of amnesia can be recalled by activating brain cells with light.

High blood levels of a growth factor known to enable new blood vessel development and brain cell protection correlate with a smaller size of brain areas key to complex thought, emotion and behavior in patients with schizophrenia, researchers report in the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Scientists have discovered a link between autism and genetic changes in some segments of DNA that are responsible for switching on genes in the brain.

Finally this week, new research has found that types of empathy can be predicted by looking at physical differences in the brain. This raises the fascinating possibility that some kinds of empathy might be able to be increased by training or that it might be possible for people to lose their empathy over time.

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.

Empathy, Engagement And The Brain

The failure to understand one’s own emotions and to recognize their impact on others is a source of much personal and intra-personal conflict. In contrast, the understanding of one’s own emotions allows for self-regulation of disruptive emotions and impulses and helps in adapting to changing circumstances.

Empathy is a particularly important emotion in considering other people’s feelings especially when making decisions and is therefore a basic component of all helpful human relationships including effective, therapeutic interventions.

The best healthcare providers know this; yet empathy is often lacking in professional practice as frequently reported by patients.

Weekly Round Up

Latest study shows buddhist meditation promotes rational thinking

Studies looking at the brains of people playing a fairness game found very different responses between Buddhist meditators and other participants.

It’s possible that depression could be cured by reducing mild swelling in your brain.

New York University neuroscientists have identified the parts of the brain we use to remember the timing of events within an episode. The study, which appears in the latest issue of the journal Science, enhances our understanding of how memories are processed and provides a potential roadmap for addressing memory-related afflictions.

A leading University of Chicago researcher on empathy is launching a project to understand psychopathy by studying criminals in prisons.

A new study at the University of California at Davis has made progress in determining the factors that affect brain degeneration and why our brains shrink with age and a new drug to prevent the development of Alzheimer’s disease could be tested on patients within six years according to researchers at Lancaster University.

The Empathic Brain

Empathy is a powerful interpersonal tool which is under-valued in our society.  Ineed it is a skill that is frequently underutilised. Perhaps this is in part due to the misconception that em-pathetic somehow implies pathetic? It is often confused with sympathetic, but while empathy denotes a deep emotional understanding of another’s feelings or problems, sympathy is more general and can apply to small annoyances or setbacks.

In Deep Brain Learning: Pathways to Potential with Challenging Youth, Brendtro, Mitchell, and McCall summarize empathy as follows:

Empathy is the foundation of moral development and pro-social behavior. The original word began in the German language as Einfuhlung which is literally translated as feeling into. Empathy taps the ability of mirror neurons to display in our own brain the emotions, thoughts, and motives of another. Empathy allows us to share anothers joy and pain and motivates care and concern.

Stephen Covey writes in his book, ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’

Empathetic listening is so powerful because it gives you accurate data to work with.  Instead of projecting your own autobiography and assuming thoughts, feelings, motives and interpretation, you are dealing with the reality inside the other person’s head.

Empathy allows us to not only  interact with each other effectively, but
also to predict the actions, intentions, and feelings of others. A useful trait indeed. But is empathy something that we can cultivate or is it more innate? Are we hard wired for empathy?

Despite the advances in our understanding of neuroplasticity, research on the empathic brain is still in its early stages. In recent years, the field of social neuroscience has begun to shed light on the neural underpinnings of empathy.

In an interesting review paper,”The Social Neuroscience of Empathy“, Tania Singer and Claus Lamm of the University of Zurich,  give an overview of this research, and provide recommendations for future research. If you are interested in learning more, you can download a pdf copy by clicking here.

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Weekly Round-Up

Your brain is more responsive to your friends than to strangers

Researchers from UT Southwestern Medical Center have described for the first time how the brain’s memory center repairs itself following severe trauma – a process that may explain why it is harder to bounce back after multiple head injuries.

People with autism use their brains differently from other people, which may explain why some have extraordinary abilities to remember and draw objects in detail, according to new research from the University of Montreal.

Five more genes which increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease have been identified, according to research published in Nature Genetics. This takes the number of identified genes linked to Alzheimer’s to 10 – the new genes affect three bodily processes and could become targets for treatment. If the effects of all 10 could be eliminated the risk of developing the disease would be cut by 60%, although new treatments could be 15 years away.

The sudden understanding or grasp of a concept is often described as an “Aha” moment and now researchers from New York University are using a functional MRI (fMRI) scanner to study how these moments of insight are captured and stored in our brain.

Mark Changizi is asking the question how do we have reading areas for a brain that didn’t evolve to read?

In order to develop new medications for alcoholism, researchers need to understand how alcohol acts on the brain’s reward system. A previously unknown mechanism has been shown to block the rewarding effects of alcohol on the brain, reveals a thesis from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Researchers from the University of Valencia (UV)  investigating the brain structures involved with empathy have concluded that the brain circuits responsible are in part the same as those involved with violence.

And finally…your brain is more responsive to your friends than to strangers, even if those strangers have more in common with you, says a new study. Researchers looked at the brain areas associated with social information. The results of the study show that social connections override similar interests.

Weekly Round-Up

Does sleep help you learn? (Image: Big Stock)

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.