Apr 29, 2009
By: Alvaro Fernandez
Round-up of April articles and news on neuroscience, brain development and cognitive health:
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– “Unlike the monolingual group, the bilingual group was able to successfully learn a new sound type and use it to predict where each character would pop up…The bilingual babies’ skill applies to more than just switching between languages. Mehler likened this apparently enhanced cognitive ability to a brain selecting “the right tool for the right operation”—also called executive function.”
– “In this basic process, the brain, ever flexible, nimbly switches from one learned response to another as situations change…Monolingual babies hone this ability later in their young lives, Mehler suggests.”
“Now, research is providing what could be crucial clues to explain how childhood poverty translates into dimmer chances of success: Chronic stress from growing up poor appears to have a direct impact on the brain, leaving children with impairment in at least one key area – working memory.”
– “Failure to control type 2 diabetes may have a long-term impact on the brain, research has suggested.
– Lead researcher Dr Jackie Price said: “Either hypos lead to cognitive decline, or cognitive decline makes it more difficult for people to manage their diabetes, which in turn causes more hypos.
– “A third explanation could be that a third unidentified factor is causing both the hypos and the cognitive decline.”
– “Alex remains enthusiastic about Adderall, but he also has a slightly jaundiced critique of it. “It only works as a cognitive enhancer insofar as you are dedicated to accomplishing the task at hand,” he said. “The number of times I’ve taken Adderall late at night and decided that, rather than starting my paper, hey, I’ll organize my entire music library! I’ve seen people obsessively cleaning their rooms on it.” Alex thought that generally the drug helped him to bear down on his work, but it also tended to produce writing with a characteristic flaw. “Often, I’ve looked back at papers I’ve written on Adderall, and they’re verbose. They’re belaboring a point, trying to create this airtight argument, when if you just got to your point in a more direct manner it would be stronger. But with Adderall I’d produce two pages on something that could be said in a couple of sentences.” Nevertheless, his Adderall-assisted papers usually earned him at least a B. They got the job done. As Alex put it, “Productivity is a good thing.”
– “Who might use them? Students will be tempted, as might players of any game involving counting or remembering (chess, bridge, and even poker and blackjack). Certain professionals might desire a boost in attention or memory”
– “But these potentially powerful medicines should not be made available to everyone, for two reasons. The first is safety. The last several years have provided many examples of side effects, some life-threatening…The second reason is that we still know relatively little about learning and memory and how they are integrated to make judgments and decisions.”
– “The FTC said that Kellogg promoted the cereal as “clinically shown to improve kids’ attentiveness by nearly 20%,” when in fact the study referred to in the ads showed different results.”
– “The study found that only about half the children who ate Frosted Mini-Wheats for breakfast showed any improvement in attentiveness, and only about one in nine improved by 20% or more, the FTC said.”
– “The US army also screens for symptoms of mTBI when soldiers return from a tour of duty, and again three months later. The army is also carrying out neurocognitive tests on recruits before they are sent into combat so that doctors can check for deterioration in later tests.”
– “When it comes to combat trauma, unpicking the physical from the psychological is bound to be highly complex. As Barth says, perhaps the greatest danger could be in trying to simplify the picture too much. “I recommend that we get comfortable with the complexity,” he says, “and treat it as a challenge.”
– “More than 150,000 service members from the Marines, Air Force, Army and Navy have undergone the testing that became mandatory last year.”