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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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