Posts tagged ‘neuroscience’

The Neuroscience Of “Harry Potter” or, What Happens to Your Brain When You’re Lost in a Book

Harry_Potter_Books

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.

Which passage did you find more engaging? Chances are it was the first. While the second passage might advance the plot, the first passage has drama, tension, and irresistible vampire-like behavior stuffed into a matter of four lines. It’s the type of action that helps readers get lost in a book. And it’s precisely this ability to immerse readers that helps sell hundreds of millions of copies.

Continue reading…

1 Comment

Corridors of the Mind

ARCHITECTS HAVE BEEN talking for years about “biophilic” design, “evidence based” design, design informed by the work of psychologists. But last May, at the profession’s annual convention, John Zeisel and fellow panelists were trying to explain neuroscience to a packed ballroom.

The late-afternoon session pushed well past the end of the day; questions just kept coming. It was a scene, Zeisel marveled—all this interest in neuroscience—that would not have taken place just a few years earlier.

Zeisel is a sociologist and architect who has researched the design of facilities for Alzheimer’s patients. Architects, he explains, “understand about aesthetics; they know about psychology. The next depth to which they can go is understanding the brain and how it works and why do people feel more comfortable in one space than another?” Continue reading…

Leave a comment

Why Movies Like Oscar-Winning ‘Undefeated’ Make Grown Men (and Women) Cry

The newly minted Oscar winner for best documentary, Undefeated, has left many critics gushing—with praise, but also tears. The true-life sports tale follows a struggling high school football team in a poor area of Memphis, Tennessee, whose fortunes begin to turn under the guidance of a devoted and determined coach. The emotional story has reduced folks at ForbesEsquire, and other media outlets to sniffles and sobs. It made us wonder: What actually causes people to cry at movies? Continue reading…

Leave a comment

How meditation can reshape our brains (and revisiting neuroplasticity)

I learned some of this at MARC (at UCLA) and found it fascinating.

Neuroplasticity is visited in this video. I often post about neuroplasticity and how that concept allows us to understand that we can heal and change our health and wellbeing by changing our brains.

Neuroscientist Sara Lazar’s amazing brain scans show meditation can actually change the size of key regions of our brain, improving our memory and making us more empathetic, compassionate, and resilient under stress.

Found on beyondmeds.com

3 Comments

Brain Scans Predict Subjective Beauty

When we find something aesthetically pleasing, the sensory areas of the brain light up, and the more beautiful we find, say, a piece of art,  the greater the brain activity in certain regions, a new study shows.

By further investigating the connection between humans’ subjective preferences and brain activity, scientists will someday be able to pinpoint various characteristics that make a painting, musical number or other sensory experience beautiful, researchers said.

“For the first time, we can ask questions about subjective preferences and relate them to activity in the brain,” lead researcher Semir Zeki, a neurobiologist at the University College London in the United Kingdom, told LiveScience. “There are some people who would prefer [beauty] to remain a mystery, but that’s not how scientists view things.”

In a previous study, Zeki found that an area in the pleasure and reward center of the brain is more active when people view a painting or hear a piece of music that they think is beautiful, compared with art they didn’t find particularly pleasing. Because the brain activity of study participants rose accordingly with their ratings of beauty, the results suggest that scientists can look at the brain to objectively measure an experience that seems wholly subjective.

“So the question that we askedis: Do beautiful objects have any specific characteristics that render them beautiful?” Zeki said.

Measuring beauty in the brain

If you look at a painting, video or some other piece of visual art, there are many “domains” that could contribute to the perception of its aesthetics, such as color, shape and motion. For the new study, Zeki and his colleague, Jonathan Stutters, zeroed in on motion, which is the simplest visual attribute, Zeki said.

The researchers used a computer program to generate sets of white dots moving on a black background. The eight patterns all had the same number of dots and changes in speed, but differed in the way the particles moved: Some of the patterns involved dots that moved uniformly on a grid, while others had groups of dots that moved in a seemingly random way.

They then had 16 adults view the patterns twice — once while in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner, which measures brain activity by detecting changes in blood flow, and once before going into the machine. With each viewing, the participants had to rate how much they likedeach visual stimulus.

“It turns out that there are certain patterns that are almost universally liked,” Zeki said, referring to those preferred by 14 out of the 16 participants.The researchers also found that a certain sensory brain area called V5, which is thought to play a major role in motion perception, activated more strongly when the participants viewed patterns they preferred the most.

By analyzing the participants’ preferences and the fMRI data, the researchers were able to pick out certain characteristics — such as the separation between dots — that made some patterns more preferable than others.

In a follow-up experiment, which was not detailed in their study published online today (Feb. 21) in the journal Open Biology, Zeki and Stutters created other patterns that utilized the characteristics they found. Participants overwhelmingly preferred these new patterns to the old ones.

Tip of the iceberg

“It’s nice to see that people are breaking down the aesthetic experience to basic processes,” said Marcos Nadal Roberts, a psychologist at theUniversity of the Balearic Islands in Spain, who was not involved with the study.”If we don’t break it down to smaller pieces, it will be very hard to understand the bigger picture.”

But, Roberts notes, the research is not saying that beauty can be reduced to a merely objective experience, because the participants in the study had slightly different likes and dislikes. For example, one of the participants in the study didn’t strongly prefer any of the patterns, while another participant preferred a pattern that no one else did.

“Beauty is not just about an object and all its features, it’s also about the person and all of his or her features,” Roberts told LiveScience. “So it’s subjective and objective, both happening at the same time.”

Roberts said that the study could have been more relatable to the real world if the researchers had used more natural forms of motion, such as the movement of waves in the ocean, the flocking of birds or the rustle of leaves in a tree as the wind blows.

The abstract motion of dots isn’t something that people would typically say is “beautiful,” Zeki concedes.

Zeki is now looking to tease out preferred characteristics in the other domains, and eventually combine them to get a better picture of the objective qualities of visual beauty. “This is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “Actually, it’s not even the tip, it’s just a few micrometers of the tip.”

Via livescience.com

5 Comments

Neuroscience: the new face of warfare

I find this scary and horrifying.

(Via Reuters) – Directed energy weapons that use wave beams to cause pain, and electrical brain stimulation that boosts a soldier’s combat ability – it may sound like science fiction warfare, but experts say advances in neuroscience mean it’s on the horizon.

Rapid progress in the ability to map brain activity and manipulate its responses with stimulants could change the face of warfare, a panel of experts said on Tuesday.

The experts, looking at the scope for neuroscience in future military conflict, said researchers on the cutting edge of medical science should remember that their work could have other, more harmful uses.

“We know neuroscience research has the potential to deliver great social benefit – researchers come closer every day to finding effective treatments for diseases and disorders such as Parkinson’s, depression, schizophrenia, epilepsy and addiction,” said Rod Flower, a professor of biochemical pharmacology at Queen Mary University of London, who led the panel.

“However, understanding of the brain and human behavior, coupled with developments in drug delivery, also highlight ways of degrading human performance that could possibly be used in new weapons.”

The report, published on Tuesday by the UK’s national academy of science, the Royal Society, was written by experts in neuroscience, international security, psychology and ethics.

It divided the issue of neuroscience in conflict and security into two main areas – the potential to enhance performance of military forces, and the potential to degrade or diminish the enemy’s performance.

Looking at performance enhancement, the report pointed to advances in neural interface technologies which could allow machines such as drone aircraft to be controlled directly with the human brain, and advances in neuroimaging which could help military chiefs screen for recruits with particular attributes.

“There is also a great deal of research taking place around drugs that improve the alertness, attention and memory of military personnel while in the field,” the report said.

The experts said it was in the interests of military commanders to screen for abilities relevant to a given task.

While one person may excel in detecting targets in a cluttered environment, they said, another might excel in decision making skills under stress, and advances in neuroimaging and brain stimulation techniques could help pinpoint these differences during screening and recruitment.

Irene Tracey, an expert on brain imaging from Oxford University and one of the report’s authors, said most of the applications of neural interface technology, such as brain prostheses or implants, have so far been only at the trial stage and mostly in medicine – particularly involving the rehabilitation of people using prosthetic limbs.

“You can imagine how you can be used for the military – both for rehabilitation of soldiers and for control of remote devices,” she told a briefing in London. “Some of it is the stuff of dreams at this stage, but the speed at which technologies tend develop … is always alarmingly quick.”

MIND AND MACHINE

Flower gave an example of how an aircraft like a drone could be in future be controlled by a person with such brain implant – raising tricky ethical questions.

“This idea brings about a bit of a blur in the distinction between mind and machine, which obviously has to be addressed very carefully,” he said. “If we got to the point where we could control a sophisticated machine, and the machine did something … like committing a war crime of some sort, who would be responsible for that, you or the machine?”

The report also looked at neuroscientific applications that could give rise to new weapons – particularly advances in neuropharmacology and drug delivery that could speed the development of incapacitating chemical agents.

The report highlighted new so-called directed energy weapons in development, including one called an Active Denial System (ADS) which uses a millimeter wave beam to heat the skin and cause a painful burning sensation.

Malcom Dando, a professor of international security at the University of Bradford and another of the authors, said the changes neuroscience could bring about were mostly in the future, giving experts time to assess their impact.

“We’re only at the beginning of a whole stream of neuroscience applications, and that gives us a window of opportunity to weigh up the pros and cons,” he said.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Leave a comment

The benefits of meditation – MIT News Office

Okay, I’ll admit I get completely geeky over findings about meditation practices, but check it out!

Studies have shown that meditating regularly can help relieve symptoms in people who suffer from chronic pain, but the neural mechanisms underlying the relief were unclear. Now, MIT and Harvard researchers have found a possible explanation for this phenomenon.

In a study published online April 21 in the journal Brain Research Bulletin, the researchers found that people trained to meditate over an eight-week period were better able to control a specific type of brain waves called alpha rhythms.

“These activity patterns are thought to minimize distractions, to diminish the likelihood stimuli will grab your attention,” says Christopher Moore, an MIT neuroscientist and senior author of the paper. “Our data indicate that meditation training makes you better at focusing, in part by allowing you to better regulate how things that arise will impact you.”

There are several different types of brain waves that help regulate the flow of information between brain cells, similar to the way that radio stations broadcast at specific frequencies. Alpha waves, the focus of this study, flow through cells in the brain’s cortex, where sensory information is processed. The alpha waves help suppress irrelevant or distracting sensory information.

Read more @ The benefits of meditation – MIT News Office.

Leave a comment