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Encephalon #70: on Mysteries and Ilussions

Wel­come to the 70th edi­tion of Encephalon, the blog car­ni­val that offers some of the best neu­ro­science and psy­chol­o­gy blog posts every oth­er week.

Mys­ter­ies of Brain and Mind

Cog­ni­tive Dai­ly,
by Dave Munger
Guys on dates want to know: Is it real­ly impos­si­ble to ignore an attrac­tive face?
Recent research seems to demon­strate that, indeed, attrac­tive faces can dis­tract us from a vari­ety of tasks. Dat­ing Tip of the Week: what about impress­ing your date with a home­cooked din­ner next time and avoid poten­tial mis­un­der­stand­ings?
Neu­roan­thro­pol­o­gy,
by Greg Downey
BIG NEWS: First Neu­roan­thro­pol­o­gy Con­fer­ence!
The first Neu­roan­thro­pol­o­gy Con­fer­ence will be held 8 Octo­ber 2009 at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Notre Dame. Great theme, great speak­ers. Will it offer a cross-cul­tur­al analy­sis of the research men­tioned above?

On Neu­rons, Jour­neys, and Chem­i­cal Friends

Brain­Health­Hacks,
by Ward Plunet
The pow­er of one — neu­ron
We have all been told about the pow­er one per­son, that one per­son can make a dif­fer­ence. Well, does the gen­er­al prin­ci­ple also hold true about a sin­gle neu­ron? Can a sin­gle neu­ron make a dif­fer­ence — change your sleep state, motor move­ment, or induce a behav­ior?
Neu­rophiloso­pher,
by Mo
New cells in the adult brain migrate long dis­tances by crawl­ing along blood ves­sels
The jour­ney under­tak­en by new­ly gen­er­at­ed neu­rons in the adult brain is like the cel­lu­lar equiv­a­lent of the ardu­ous upstream migra­tion of salmon return­ing to the rivers in which they were hatched.
Neu­ro­topia,
by Sci­cu­ri­ous
The ele­gant log­ic of dopamine
What do we know about the for­ma­tion of dopamine neu­rons and the reg­u­la­tion of gene expres­sion?. A sim­ple and ele­gant recent study pro­vides some much-need­ed, crit­i­cal infor­ma­tion that could dras­ti­cal­ly affect how we pur­sue new ther­a­pies dopamin­er­gic dis­eases such as Parkinson’s.
Brain Stim­u­lant,
by Mike
Brain Synapse Com­pu­ta­tion­al Capac­i­ty
Evo­lu­tion has exploit­ed mul­ti­ple avenues to increase the brain’s com­pu­ta­tion­al capac­i­ty. This is great news for all humans, except per­haps for those try­ing to mod­el the mind exact­ly by build­ing com­put­er brain sim­u­la­tions, since they will like­ly have to mod­el all of these pro­tein inter­ac­tions to func­tion in a man­ner sim­i­lar to a real brain.

On Brain Func­tions

Sharp­Brains,
by Tra­cy Alloway
10% Stu­dents may have work­ing mem­o­ry prob­lems: Why does it mat­ter?
In screen­ing of over 3000 school-aged stu­dents in main­stream schools, 1 in 10 was iden­ti­fied as hav­ing work­ing mem­o­ry dif­fi­cul­ties. Why does this mat­ter? Clue: Work­ing mem­o­ry seems to be even more impor­tant to learn­ing than oth­er cog­ni­tive skills such as IQ.
Neu­ro­topia,
by Sci­cu­ri­ous
Cake or Death? It’s all a mat­ter of self-con­trol, and your vmPFC
A recent MRI study helps pin­point where sig­nals for self-con­trol may orig­i­nate, and could be a big deal clin­i­cal­ly. Not nec­es­sar­i­ly as a diet aid, but rather for prob­lems where there’s a lack of self-con­trol, as in addic­tion.
The Mouse Trap,
by Sandy Gau­tam
Low Latent Inhi­bi­tion, high faith in intu­ition and psychosis/creativity
What is the rela­tion­ship between low latent inhi­bi­tion (brain’s capac­i­ty to screen from cur­rent atten­tion­al focus stim­uli pre­vi­ous­ly tagged as irrel­e­vant), high faith in intu­ition and psychosis/creativity?

Fron­tiers in Per­cep­tion

Dr. Deb,
by Deb Serani
Can You Find The Twelve Faces?

How many faces can you see in this image?

Mind Hacks,
by Vaugh­an Bell
Deep­er into the neu­ro­science of hyp­no­sis
A new arti­cle from Trends in Cog­ni­tive Sci­ences explores how cog­ni­tive neu­ro­sci­en­tists are becom­ing increas­ing­ly inter­est­ed in under­stand­ing hyp­no­sis and are using it to sim­u­late unusu­al states of con­scious­ness in the lab. Might hyp­no­sis help you see the Twelve Faces above? or per­haps 25 of them?

Next edi­tion will be host­ed by Neu­roan­thro­pol­o­gy on Mon­day, May 25th. If you can’t wait until to read more, you may be inter­est­ed in the new in-depth fea­ture, Cog­ni­tive Month­ly, offered by Cog­ni­tive Dai­ly blog for $2/ month. This month’s issue, “The Illu­sion of The­ater,” dis­cuss­es the “remark­able sci­ence behind what the­atri­cal pro­fes­sion­als seem, to laypeo­ple, to do intu­itive­ly: cre­ate an envi­ron­ment that encour­ages us to believe that what we see on stage is a true rep­re­sen­ta­tion of real­i­ty.”

Understanding Brain Imaging

Daniel Lende and Greg Downey run the though-pro­vok­ing Neu­roan­thro­pol­o­gy blog. Daniel also teach­es a class at Uni­ver­si­ty of Notre Dame, and he asked his stu­dents to sub­mit group-based blog posts in lieu of the tra­di­tion­al final essays. He explains more on Why A Final Essay When We Can Do This?.

Below you have a spec­tac­u­lar post writ­ten by 4 of his stu­dents. They show how brain imag­ing is start­ing to pro­vide a win­dow into the plas­tic­i­ty (glos­sary here) of our brains, and how our very own actions impact them. For good and for bad.

Under­stand­ing Brain Imag­ing

— By Chris Dud­ley, Matt Gasperetti, Mikey Nar­vaez, and Sarah Walors­ki

Do you remem­ber the anti-drug pub­lic ser­vice announce­ment from the 1980s that showed an egg fry­ing in a hot pan which rep­re­sent­ed your brain on drugs?

Read the rest of this entry »

Build Your Cognitive Reserve: An Interview with Dr. Yaakov Stern

Yaakov SternDr. Yaakov Stern is the Divi­sion Leader of the Cog­ni­tive Neu­ro­science Divi­sion of the Sergievsky Cen­ter, and Pro­fes­sor of Clin­i­cal Neu­ropsy­chol­o­gy, at the Col­lege of Physi­cians and Sur­geons of Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty, New York. Alvaro Fer­nan­dez inter­views him here as part of our research for The Sharp­Brains Guide to Brain Fit­ness book.

Dr. Stern is one of the lead­ing pro­po­nents of the Cog­ni­tive reserve the­o­ry, which aims to explain why some indi­vid­u­als with full Alzheimer’s pathol­o­gy (accu­mu­la­tion of plaques and tan­gles in their brains) can keep nor­mal lives until they die, while oth­ers -with the same amount of plaques and tan­gles- dis­play the severe symp­toms we asso­ciate with Alzheimer’s Dis­ease. He has pub­lished dozens of peer-reviewed sci­en­tif­ic papers on the sub­ject.

The con­cept of a Cog­ni­tive Reserve has been around since 1989, when a post mortem analy­sis of 137 peo­ple with Alzheimer’s Dis­ease showed that some patients exhib­it­ed few­er clin­i­cal symp­toms than their actu­al pathol­o­gy sug­gest­ed. These patients also showed high­er brain weights and greater num­ber of neu­rons when com­pared to age-matched con­trols. The inves­ti­ga­tors hypoth­e­sized that the patients had a larg­er “reserve” of neu­rons and abil­i­ties that enable them to off­set the loss­es caused by Alzheimer’s. Since then, the con­cept of Cog­ni­tive Reserve has been defined as the abil­i­ty of an indi­vid­ual to tol­er­ate pro­gres­sive brain pathol­o­gy with­out demon­strat­ing clin­i­cal cog­ni­tive symp­toms. (You can check at the end of this inter­view a great clip on this).

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Key take-aways

- Life­time expe­ri­ences, like edu­ca­tion, engag­ing occu­pa­tion, and leisure activ­i­ties, have been shown to have a major influ­ence on how we age, specif­i­cal­ly on whether we will devel­op Alzheimer’s symp­toms or not.

- This is so because stim­u­lat­ing activ­i­ties, ide­al­ly com­bin­ing phys­i­cal exer­cise, learn­ing and social inter­ac­tion, help us build a Cog­ni­tive Reserve to pro­tect us.

- The ear­li­er we start build­ing our Reserve, the bet­ter; but it is nev­er too late to start. And, the more activ­i­ties, the bet­ter: the effect is cumu­la­tive.

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The Cog­ni­tive Reserve

Alvaro Fer­nan­dez (AF): Dear Dr. Stern, it is a plea­sure to have you here. Let me first ask you this: the impli­ca­tions of your research are pret­ty broad, pre­sent­ing major impli­ca­tions across sec­tors and age groups. What has been the most unex­pect­ed reac­tion so far?

YS: well…I was pret­ty sur­prised when Read the rest of this entry »

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