Tag Archives | Neurology

Fear is the Mind Killer

Picture: Robbie Grubbs (CC)

Interesting work on fear and memory published in Science and dumbed down for mass consumption at Psychcentral:

For one experimental group, the re-consolidation process was disrupted with the aid of repeated presentations of the picture. For a control group, the re-consolidation process was allowed to complete before the subjects were shown the same repeated presentations of the picture.

Because the experimental group was not allowed to re-consolidate the fear memory, the fear they previously associated with the picture dissipated. This rendered the memory neutral — and no longer able to incite fear.

What’s notable about this is that it shows how fear is tied to signifiers and conditioned responses. Although that doesn’t cover the entirety of the range of fear responses to various stimulus, one is forced to wonder about the panic responses involved in various alien abduction/mad gasser/witch hunt phenomena where a specific fear spreads as a meme acros entire communities of people, some of them not even geographically connected to each other.… Read the rest

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Animal Study Proves That Early Isolation and Neglect Permanently Damages Young Brains

Picture: Thomas Black (PD)

Caregivers and clinicians have long known that profoundly neglected infants grow into children with behavioral issues: studies of children rescued from dismal Romanian orphanages often show a wide range of neurological and psychological deficits, known collectively as “Reaction Attachment Disorder.” The exact mechanisms behind these changes were not known.

Now, a groundbreaking new study conducted by researchers from Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School has provided the world with a neurobiological model for how isolation can damage the developing brain:

By studying mice that had been isolated early in life, researchers led by Gabriel Corfas of Children’s Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School hoped to uncover how social deprivation can affect the developing brain. After the mice had weaned, the researchers put them into one of three environments: One was a deluxe suite, enriched with fresh toys every other day and populated by friends of similar ages, one was a standard laboratory cage holding four mice, and one was a holding cell for total isolation.

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Did Temporal Lobe Epilepsy Cause The Birth Of Monotheism?

Via New Scientist, a new theory claims that a specific form of genetically-inherited epilepsy among several generations of Egyptian pharaohs is responsible for the sun-inspired visions that led to humanity’s belief in a single supreme god:

Tutankhamun’s mysterious death as a teenager may finally have been explained. And the condition that cut short his life may also have triggered the earliest monotheistic religion, suggests a new review of his family history.

Tuthmosis IV had a religious experience in the middle of a sunny day, recorded in the Dream Stele – an inscription near the Great Sphinx in Giza. But his visions were nothing compared with those experienced by Akhenaten. They encouraged Akhenaten to raise the status of a minor deity called the “sun-disk”, or Aten, into a supreme god – abandoning the ancient Egyptian polytheistic traditions to start what is thought to be the earliest recorded monotheistic religion. If Hutan Ashrafian’s theory is correct, Akhenaten’s religious experiment and Tutankhamun’s premature death may both have been a consequence of a medical condition.

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Scientists Implant Short-Term Memories in Rat Brain tissue

Picture: Janet Stephens (PD)

Via ScienceDaily:

Evoking scenes from science fiction B-movies, (I’m looking at you, Battlefield Earth), scientists at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine succeeded in implanting rudimentary memories in sections of puny rat-brains! rat brain tissue.

In their study, the researchers sought to better understand the mechanisms underlying short-term declarative memories such as remembering a phone number or email address someone has just shared.

Using isolated pieces of rodent brain tissue, the researchers demonstrated that they could form a memory of which one of four input pathways was activated. The neural circuits contained within small isolated sections of the brain region called the hippocampus maintained the memory of stimulated input for more than 10 seconds. The information about which pathway was stimulated was evident by the changes in the ongoing activity of brain cells.

The experiment will pave the way for a greater understanding of how short-term memories are formed, according to the article at ScienceDaily.… Read the rest

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Mental Health is a Privilege

Pic: Christian R. Linder (CC)

First, before anyone gets into a tizzy because of the use of the word “privilege,” let me excerpt from the introduction to the Checklist of Neurotypical Privilege Sarah Langston refers to in her piece:

… For those who find themselves feeling defensive upon reading, you are not alone. For most of us, this is a necessary part of the process of acknowledging and understanding privilege. Here are a few basic things to remember about privilege:

Privilege is not your fault. It is an artifact of systems that favor some people over others, systems that have evolved naturally to meet the needs of the majority, but have failed to provide adequate accommodations for those outside it. For more information on understanding and confronting privilege, please see this link.

Privilege is not, in itself, a terrible thing. Having any form of privilege does not make you a bad person.

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MIT Scientists Successfully Control Rats’ Dreams

Our dreamtime seems to be ripe for tinkering. Via io9:

Researchers working at MIT have successfully manipulated the content of a rat’s dream by replaying an audio cue that was associated with the previous day’s events, namely running through a maze (what else). The breakthrough furthers our understanding of how memory gets consolidated during sleep — but it also holds potential for the prospect of “dream engineering.”

Wilson and his team trained a group of rats to run through a maze using two distinct audio cues…and…recorded their neural activity. Later, while the rats were sleeping, the researchers once again recorded the neural activity of their brains [and] confirmed that the rats were dreaming of their maze navigating exploits from the day before.

But when the researchers played the audio cues from the experiment, they noticed a very interesting thing: the rats would dream about the section of the maze previously associated with the audio cue.

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Are We Ready For A Morality Pill?

o_wX8Mjxq8zORZf4TIn the New York Times, Peter Singer and Agata Sagan say it’s only a matter of time before we pinpoint chemicals in the brain that produce empathetic behavior. Will religion be rendered obsolete? And, when we develop an ethical-behavior-boosting pill, will it be recommended (or mandatory) that everyone take it?

If continuing brain research does in fact show biochemical differences between the brains of those who help others and the brains of those who do not, could this lead to a “morality pill” — a drug that makes us more likely to help? Given the many other studies linking biochemical conditions to mood and behavior, and the proliferation of drugs to modify them that have followed, the idea is not far-fetched. If so, would people choose to take it? Could criminals be given the option, as an alternative to prison, of a drug-releasing implant that would make them less likely to harm others?

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Freak Accident Turns Macho Rugby Player Into Gay Hairdresser

changeA tabloid-y tale from the U.K.’s Metro, but one that raises a host of interesting questions: Could a completely opposite person (with a different sexuality, even) be waiting, hidden, inside each of us? And can an injury really bring on this sort of change?

Former rugby player Chris Birch suffered a stroke in training and woke up to find he was gay. Mr. Birch was straight and engaged to be married when he suffered a freak accident in the gym. The 26-year-old tried to impress his friends with a back flip but broke his neck and suffered the stroke.

When he woke up, he underwent a drastic personality change that included an attraction to men. ‘I’d never even had any gay friends. But I didn’t care about who I was before, I had to be true to my feelings,’ he said.

Mr Birch broke off his engagement and found a boyfriend.

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Scientists Find Evidence That Hypnotic Trances Are Real

eyesMany people are skeptical of hypnosis, believing it to be a pseudoscientific practice based on some combination of relaxation/image visualization/the power of suggestion, et cetera.

However, a group of Scandinavian scientists say they have evidence that hypnotic trances are a real and unique state of consciousness, which cannot be imitated or faked by the non-hypnotized, and which (at least some) hypnotists can activate and deactivate at will using a one-word cue. So be careful out there. Nano Patents and Innovations writes:

A multidisciplinary group of researchers from Finland and Sweden has found that strange stare may be a key that can eventually lead to a solution to this long debate about the existence of a hypnotic state.

One of the most widely known features of a hypnotized person in the popular culture is a glazed, wide-open look in the eyes. Paradoxically, this sign has not been considered to have any major importance among researchers and has never been studied in any detail, probably due to the fact that it can be seen in only some hypnotized people.

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Aging Brains Made Youthful?

Photo: Mieciu K2 (CC)

Photo: Mieciu K2 (CC)

Can we restore our “mental sketch pads” by renewing how our brain holds memory on the neurological level? The National Geographic reports:

You can’t teach an old brain new tricks—but you can restore its ability to remember the old ones, a new study in monkeys suggests.

Chemicals given to rhesus macaques blocked a brain molecule that slows the firing of the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, as we age—prompting those nerve cells to act young again.

“It’s our first glimpse of what’s going on physiologically that’s causing age-related cognitive decline,” said study leader Amy Arnsten, a neurobiologist at Yale University.

“We all assumed, given there’s a lot of architectural changes in aged brains … that we were stuck with it,” Arnsten said.

But with the new results, “the hopeful thing is that the neurochemical environment still makes a big difference, and we might be able to remediate some of these things.”

[Continues at National Geographic]

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