NEWSWEEK reports on new neuroscience research into human emotion, which appears to be more closely linked to cognition than was thought to be the case just a couple of decades ago:
From the earliest days of brain mapping—determining which regions are responsible for which functions—neuroscientists traced feelings and thoughts to structures that were barely within hailing distance of each other. The limbic system deep in the brain, including the amygdala and hippocampus, seemed to be the brain’s holy terror of a 2-year-old, the site of anger, fear, and anxiety, as well as positive emotions. The frontal cortex, just behind the forehead, was the exalted thinker, where forethought and judgment, reason and volition, attention and cognition came from. As recently as the 1980s, neuroscientists focused almost exclusively on cognition and the other functions of the frontal cortex; emotions were deemed of so little interest that neuroscience left them to psychology…
[Subsequent research has found that] both prefrontal-cortex activity and the number of pathways sending calming signals to the amygdala determine just how easily a person will bounce back from adversity. Through these two mechanisms, our “thinking brain” is able to calm our “feeling” self, enabling the brain to plan and act effectively without being distracted by negative emotion.
The Washington Post reports:
Crosswords can reflect the nature of intuition, hint at the way we retrieve words from our memory and reveal a surprising connection between puzzle-solving and our ability to recognize a human face.
“What’s fascinating about a crossword is that it involves many aspects of cognition that we normally study piecemeal, such as memory search and problem-solving, all rolled into one ball,” says Raymond Nickerson, a psychologist at Tufts University. In a paper published last year, he analyzed the mental processes of crossword-solving.
The Washington Post reports:
To neuroscientists, what happened to Texas Gov. Rick Perry Wednesday night looked like something very ordinary, exacerbated by stress: a “retrieval failure.”
It happens more often as we age. But the brain scientists say it shouldn’t be seen as evidence of an intellectual deficit or some medical problem. Instead, they say, retrieval failures offer a glimpse into how the brain does and doesn’t work, not just in the skulls of presidential candidates but for everyone else, too.
The Los Angeles Times reports:
Intelligence is in the genes, researchers reported Tuesday in the journal Molecular Psychology.
The international team, led by Ian Deary of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and Peter Visscher of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Brisbane, Australia, compared the DNA of more than 3,500 people, middle aged and older, who also had taken intelligence tests. They calculated that more than 40% of the differences in intelligence among test subjects was associated with genetic variation.
The genome-wide association study, as such broad-sweep genetic studies are known, suggested that humans inherit much of their smarts, and a large number of genes are involved.
The New York Times reports:
Computer power is transforming the sciences, giving scientists tools as important to current research as the microscope and telescope were to earlier scientists. Their use accompanies a fundamental change in the material that scientists study.
Individual specimens, whether fossils, living organisms or cells, were once the substrate of discovery. Now, to an ever greater extent, researchers work with immense collections of digital data, and the mastery of such mountains of information depends on computing power.
The physical technology of scientific research is still here — the new electron microscopes, the telescopes, the particle colliders — but they are now inseparable from computing power, and it is the computers that let scientists find order and patterns in the raw information that the physical tools gather.
Computer power not only aids research, it defines the nature of that research: what can be studied, what new questions can be asked, and answered.
USA Today reports:
An early screening test for autism, designed to detect signs of the condition in babies as young as 1 year old, could revolutionize the care of autistic children, experts say, by getting them diagnosed and treated years earlier than usual.
The 24-item checklist takes just five minutes to complete and can be filled out in a pediatrician’s waiting room, when parents bring children for their routine 12-month checkup, says a study of more than 10,000 infants, published today in the Journal of Pediatrics.