Monthly Archives: September 2008

The science of bad memories

From Live Science (via MSNBC):

Scientists may have found the glue that keeps fearful memories stuck in the brain, a discovery that could be useful in new treatments for Alzheimer’s disease and post-traumatic stress disorder.

That glue seems to be a protein that is key to maintaining the structure of cells and also is essential to embryonic development, a new study suggests.

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Teaching ‘executive function’ to young minds

The NY Times reports:

a small group of educational and cognitive scientists now say that mental exercises of a certain kind can teach children to become more self-possessed at earlier ages, reducing stress levels at home and improving their experience in school. Researchers can test this ability, which they call executive function, and they say it is more strongly associated with school success than I.Q.

“We know that the prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until the 20s, and some people will ask, ‘Why are you trying to improve prefrontal abilities when the biological substrate is not there yet?’ ” said Adele Diamond, a professor of developmental cognitive science at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. “I tell them that 2-year-olds have legs, too, which will not reach full length for 10 years or more — but they can still walk and run and benefit from exercise.”

New study offers insights into the impact of domestic violence on the development of aggression

Science Daily reports:

According to researchers from Indiana University’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, children who grow up in aggressive households may learn to process social information differently than their peers who grow up in non-aggressive environments.

“Children with high-conflict parents are more likely to think that aggressive responses would be good ways to handle social conflicts,” said John Bates, a professor of psychology in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and a co-author of the study.

Emotional intelligence strongly influences diet, food choice, study suggests

Science Daily reports:

Menus and advertising affect our emotions, and if we understand those emotions, we make better food choices, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Authors Blair Kidwell, David M. Hardesty, and Terry L. Childers (all University of Kentucky) examined the “emotional intelligence” of consumers, including obese people. They found that people who made the healthiest choices had high correlations between their emotional intelligence and confidence in their emotional intelligence—what the authors call “emotional calibration.”

“When perusing a restaurant menu, many consumers may not be aware of the subtle implicit feelings of arousal elicited by visually appealing presentations of unhealthy food choices,” the authors write. Faced with choices between healthy and unhealthy food options, individuals who are confident that they can appropriately interpret and employ their emotions, but who do not actually possess these emotional abilities, are likely to make low-quality decisions.”

Are political attitudes ‘hardwired’ from birth?

The LA Times reports:

Die-hard liberals and conservatives aren’t made, they’re born. It’s literally in their DNA.

That’s the implication of a study by a group of researchers who wanted to see if there was a biological basis for people’s political attitudes.

They found to their surprise that opinions on such contentious issues as gun control, pacifism and capital punishment are strongly associated with physiological traits that in all likelihood are present at birth.

Brain science offers new understanding of complex emotions

NEWSWEEK has just published this very extensive article on the latest cognitive neuroscience:

Neuroscientists consider it settled that the mind arises from the cooperation of billions of interconnected cells that, individually, are no smarter than amoebae. But it’s a shocking idea to some that the human mind could arise out of such an array of mindlessness. Many express amazement that emotions, pain, sexual feelings or religious belief could be a product of brain function. They are put off by the notion that such rich experiences could be reduced to mechanical or chemical bits. Or they worry that scientific explanations may seduce people into a kind of moral laziness that provides a ready excuse for any human failing: “My brain made me do it.” Our brains indeed do make us do it, but that is nonetheless consistent with meaningful lives and moral choices. Writing for the President’s Council on Bioethics earlier this year, philosopher Daniel Dennett made the point that building knowledge about the biology of mental life may improve our decision making, even our moral decision making. And it could enhance our chances of survival as a species, too.

Your heart, lungs, kidneys and digestive tract keep you alive. But your brain is where you live. The brain is responsible for most of what you care about—language, creativity, imagination, empathy and morality. And it is the repository of all that you feel. The endeavor to discovery the biological basis for these complex human experiences has given rise to a relatively new discipline: cognitive neuroscience. It has recently exploded as a field, thanks, in part, to decades of advances in neuroimaging technology that enable us to see the brain at work. As Dr. Joel Yager, professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado, has said, “We can now watch the mind boggle!”

Brain uses ‘temporal contiguity’ to learn to recognize objects, study finds

Science Daily reports:

In work that could aid efforts to develop more brain-like computer vision systems, MIT neuroscientists have tricked the visual brain into confusing one object with another, thereby demonstrating that time teaches us how to recognize objects.