Tag Archives | Neuroscience

Anandamide: The Feel-Good Gene

Emperor Traianus Decius (Mary Harrsch).jpg If you’re lucky you have a genetic mutation that produces high levels of  anandamide, which Richard A. Friedman refers to as “the so-called bliss molecule and our own natural marijuana.” He describes the latest neuroscience research in the New York Times:

Chances are that everyone on this planet has experienced anxiety, that distinct sense of unease and foreboding.

Most of us probably assume that anxiety always has a psychological trigger.

Yet clinicians have long known that there are plenty of people who experience anxiety in the absence of any danger or stress and haven’t a clue why they feel distressed. Despite years of psychotherapy, many experience little or no relief. It’s as if they suffer from a mental state that has no psychological origin or meaning, a notion that would seem heretical to many therapists, particularly psychoanalysts.

Recent neuroscience research explains why, in part, this may be the case. For the first time, scientists have demonstrated that a genetic variation in the brain makes some people inherently less anxious, and more able to forget fearful and unpleasant experiences.

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Brain-Altering Devices Now Available

Imagine this: you can change your mood without drugs, meditation, or any of the other more or less undesirable techniques now in use for mood alteration. How? With brain-altering devices now coming to market, reports the Daily Dot:

It feels like a long time since the Quantified Self movement caught us in its clutches. The first fitness bands and their corresponding apps sucked us in; the ability to monitor self-defined statistics made us feel more in control of ourselves. It’s part narcissism, part hypervigilance.

(C) Zen Vibez

(C) Zen Vibez

 

But the most significant roadblock has been taking all the information we’re self-quantifying and acting on it. You know you’re taking 1,000 too few steps a day, eating 500 more calories than you should, and getting only a fraction of the outside time you need; actually doing something with the data is the hard part.

Motivation and habit change are hard, and no heart-monitoring bracelet is going to magically solve that problem.

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Warning: Thoughts Can Kill

To die, sometimes you need only believe you are ill, and as David Robson discovers at BBC Future, we can unwittingly ‘catch’ such fears, often with terrifying consequences:

Beware the scaremongers. Like a witch doctor’s spell, their words might be spreading modern plagues.

Vudu

We have long known that expectations of a malady can be as dangerous as a virus. In the same way that voodoo shamans could harm their victims through the power of suggestion, priming someone to think they are ill can often produce the actual symptoms of a disease. Vomiting, dizziness, headaches, and even death, could be triggered through belief alone. It’s called the “nocebo effect”.

But it is now becoming clear just how easily those dangerous beliefs can spread through gossip and hearsay – with potent effect. It may be the reason why certain houses seem cursed with illness, and why people living near wind turbines report puzzling outbreaks of dizziness, insomnia and vomiting.

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Jim Fallon: Exploring the Mind of a Killer

Psychopathic killers are the basis for some must-watch TV, but what really makes them tick? Neuroscientist Jim Fallon talks about brain scans and genetic analysis that may uncover the rotten wiring in the nature (and nurture) of murderers. In a too-strange-for-fiction twist, he shares a fascinating family history that makes his work chillingly personal.

You can view an interactive transcript here.

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‘Brain Drinks’ Might Make You Less Smart

neurosonicCognitive neuroscientist Christian Jarrett debunks the ambitious claims of Neuro “brain drinks” at Wired:

Like pretty much everyone else, drink companies are jumping on the neuroscience bandwagon. These widely available “brain branded” beverages make promises that should raise any skeptic’s eyebrows. Today I want to focus on NeuroSonic, which its manufacturers claim is carefully designed to “deliver sustained focus and revitalized energy”.

The curvy, colorful bottle depicts a human head with a sciencey waveform running through it, the strapline “mental performance in every bottle”, and on the back, the promise that you will “stay energized, focused, alert … with modern science’s greatest blend of natural mental performance enhancers. Get smart, DRINK NEURO.”

Founded by Bosnian émigré Sanela Diana Jenkins, NeuroSonic is just one of a portfolio of brain drinks offered by her company Neuro, with others promising to boost sleep, relaxation and other states of mind.

NeuroSonic’s “proprietary blend” includes caffeine and l-theanine (an amino acid found in green tea).

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Why Can’t the World’s Greatest Minds Solve the Mystery of Consciousness?

Consciousness. What is it? No one knows, but many intelligent people have tried to explain it. Here’s the Guardian‘s take (note, it’s a long, #longread):

One spring morning in Tucson, Arizona, in 1994, an unknown philosopher named David Chalmers got up to give a talk on consciousness, by which he meant the feeling of being inside your head, looking out – or, to use the kind of language that might give a neuroscientist an aneurysm, of having a soul. Though he didn’t realise it at the time, the young Australian academic was about to ignite a war between philosophers and scientists, by drawing attention to a central mystery of human life – perhaps the central mystery of human life – and revealing how embarrassingly far they were from solving it.

The scholars gathered at the University of Arizona – for what would later go down as a landmark conference on the subject – knew they were doing something edgy: in many quarters, consciousness was still taboo, too weird and new agey to take seriously, and some of the scientists in the audience were risking their reputations by attending.

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Brain-based Lie Detection and the Mereological Fallacy

This post was originally published on Philosophical Disquisitions. It has been republished here under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Some people think that neuroscience will have a significant impact on the law. Some people are more sceptical. A recent book by Michael Pardo and Dennis Patterson — Minds, Brains and Law: The Conceptual Foundations of Law and Neuroscience — belongs to the sceptical camp. In the book, Pardo and Patterson make a passionate plea for conceptual clarity when it comes to the interpretation of neuroscientific evidence and its potential application in the law. They suggest that most neurolaw hype stems from conceptual confusion. They want to throw some philosophical cold water on the proponents of this hype.

In many ways, I am sympathetic to their aims. I too am keen to downplay the neurolaw hype. Once upon a time, I wrote a thesis about criminal responsibility and advances in neuroscience.… Read the rest

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Wearable for state-of-mind shift set for 2015

MRI brain scan

MRI brain scan

via Phys.org:

How will neuroscience impact daily life? A more topical question might be, how will neuroscience play a role in the business of electronic-device vendors of headsets and other wearables? One entry to this niche is Thync, which is in the business of neurosignaling products. Their motto is “Forward thinking in every sense.” They have a device that enables the person to shift the state of mind. This represents a new realm in wearable products based on advanced neuroscience. We might now become accustomed to neuroscience-inspired “lifestyle” wearables to optimize a state of mind, whether one feels a need for a calm mood or more energetic mood. The company uses neurosignaling algorithms– waveforms that signal neural pathways –to shift and optimize people’s state of mind related to energy, calm and focus. MIT Technology Review ran an article on them on Monday, defining their product as a smartphone-connected device that delivers electrical stimulation to nerves in the head.

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What Happens To Your Brain When You’re Lost In A Book?

Harry Potter English Australian Series.jpg

Photo: B.Davis2003 (CC)

Entitled “The Neuroscience of Harry Potter,” this Fast Company story investigates what happens to your brain when you’re truly lost in a book:

Let’s do a casual experiment. Here’s a brief passage from the first book in some obscure fiction series called Harry Potter:

A bush on the edge of the clearing quivered. … Then, out of the shadows, a hooded figure came crawling across the ground like some stalking beast. Harry, Malfoy, and Fang stood transfixed. The cloaked figure reached the unicorn, lowered its head over the wound in the animal’s side, and began to drink its blood.

And here’s another passage from the final book of the series:

He got up off the floor, stretched and moved across to his desk. Hedwig made no movement as he began to flick through the newspapers, throwing them on to the rubbish pile one by one; the owl was asleep, or else faking; she was angry with Harry about the limited amount of time she was allowed out of her cage at the moment.

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This Is Your Brain on Drugs

A Harvard-Northwestern study has found differences between the brains of young adult marijuana smokers and those of nonsmokers. In these composite scans, colors represent the differences — in the shape of the amygdala, top, and nucleus accumbens. Yellow indicates areas that are most different, red the least. Credit The Journal of Neuroscience

A Harvard-Northwestern study has found differences between the brains of young adult marijuana smokers and those of nonsmokers. In these composite scans, colors represent the differences — in the shape of the amygdala, top, and nucleus accumbens. Yellow indicates areas that are most different, red the least. Credit The Journal of Neuroscience

Want to know what your brain looks like when you smoke weed? If so you’re in luck because some scientists at Harvard and Northwestern University have taken photographs of marujuana-affected brain scans and analyzed what happens. Report via the New York Times:

The gray matter of the nucleus accumbens, the walnut-shaped pleasure center of the brain, was glowing like a flame, showing a notable increase in density. “It could mean that there’s some sort of drug learning taking place,” speculated Jodi Gilman, at her computer screen at the Massachusetts General HospitalHarvard Center for Addiction Medicine. Was the brain adapting to marijuana exposure, rewiring the reward system to demand the drug?

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