Sunday, June 28, 2009

Emotions in the Brain

fMRI studies at the University of Geneva, Switzerland: researchers presented subjects with pseudowords spoken in five ways - with anger, sadness, relief, joy, or neutral with no emotion at all. They were able to classify each emotion against all other alternatives by analyzing the spatial pattern of activity in the auditory cortex. Not only does this indicate that emotions do have their own brain-activity patterns, but also may provide increased understanding of what happens in brains that have difficulty recognizing, comprehending, or processing emotions. The comprehension of emotional prosody is crucial for social functioning. This ability appears to be compromised in various psychiatric disorders, including deficits for anger and sadness in schizophrenia, fear and surprise in bipolar affective disorder, and surprise in depression.

Michael Jackson's Death

I very much appreciated what Lisa Marie Presley wrote about Michael Jackson in her blog ( ) and sincerely hope she can get past feeling that she "failed" him. As a brain function specialist, my brain's opinion is that we can never "save" anyone but ourselves -- we can perhaps "influence" others but, even then, they need to be on board and willing to listen / make healthy choices. From watching Michael's career, my guess is that his brain was brilliant and introverted . . . the stress of being in the public "eye" from such a young age likely interfered with his emotional development (e.g., his seemingly child-like behavior at times and his less than stellar choices in some of the people with whom he surrounded himself). It's too bad there doesn't seem to be a way in this culture to live one's innate giftedness (at his level) without being sacrificed on the alter of public opinion . . . and/or without resorting to chemical solutions to try to manage the stressors . . . My wish for Lisa is that she is able to honor what she tried to do for Michael and let go of what she wished to have been able to accomplish . . .

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Einstein's Brain and Simulation

People often ask if stimulating their brain on a regular basis makes any positive difference. Studies of Einstein's brain structure may shed some light on such questions. Some of Einstein's abilities were probably hereditary. But the type of research he did required intense study, and such concentrated effort can apparently alter the brain physically. Researchers at UCLA, Laboratory of Neuroimaging, reported in the journal Neuroimage that regular meditation, for example, can increase the size of brain areas that regulate emotion. Interestingly enough, a curious knob-like feature that was identified in pictures of Einstein's motor cortex might be a result of his early musical training. The feature resembled a structure detected in neural studies of experienced pianists and violinists, thought to be caused by hand exercises.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

PowerPoint Animation

A seminar attendee recently asked me "why" (although the brain cannot really answer that question) I did not use animation in my PowerPoint presentations as it was "so much more entertaining." I was able to report conclusions from studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington on the impact of custom animation in PowerPoint lectures: although students appear to like the animation, it is actually entertaining distraction for the brain. Students seeing the non-animated lecture performed much better in subsequent tests of content than those who watched the animated lecture. According to the researchers, animated slides meant to present information incrementally actually require greater concentration, which makes it harder to remember content as well as reducing overall exposure time to the "complete" slide. So, no animated PowerPoint slides for my seminars. (Smile.)