Sunday, April 24, 2011

Music and Cognition

Studies at the University of Kansas Medical Center of amateur musicians and cognition: studying a musical instrument, which requires years of practice and learning, may create alternate connections in the brain that could compensate for cognitive decline as people age. According to the researchers, results suggest a “strong predictive effect of high musical activity throughout the lifespan on preserved cognitive functioning in advanced age." If you don't already play a musical instrument, you may be well advised to select an instrument, take lessons, and practice!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Brain Map Released

Brain map? It appears so! The Allen Institute for Brain Science has released the world’s first anatomically and genomically comprehensive human brain map, a previously unthinkable feat made possible through leading-edge technology and more than four years of rigorous studies and documentation(according to their press release).

The Allen Human Brain Atlas is free and available to scientists, physicians and the education community as an online public resource at

Friday, April 15, 2011

Sugar Ray and Dancing With the Stars

I'm laughing aloud as I write this. Last night I received an e-mail that read, "From a brain function perspective, what do you think of Sugar Ray getting voted off Dancing with the Stars? He didn't win!" Immediately I thought "that would depend upon the person's perspective of what it meana to win." Think about it. For decades Sugar Ray's neuronal circuits were honed to keep his head down, hunch his shoulders, and jab from arms kept close to his body. Suddenly his brain is being asked to keep his head up, straighten his shoulders, and throw his arms open wide. That in a matter of weeks, Sugar Ray's neuronal circuits were able to embrace this reversal sufficiently well enough to last for several weeks on Dancing with the Stars is nothing short of phenomenal (in my brain's opinion). It has to do with practice, persistence, and "myelin." If your understanding of the importance of myelin could stand an update, read Daniel Coyle's book entitled "The Talent Code." I'm going to recommend it to my e-mail correspondent and also suggest it might be helpful for the questioner to expand his/her perception of what it means to "win." Do I like boxing? Heavens NO. I think all pugilistic sports can damage brain function. Do I commend Sugar Ray for his recent gallant efforts in a venue that basically required skills opposite from those of boxing? You bet!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Politics and the Brain

Have you ever wondered how the brains of conservative politicians differ from the brains of those who are more liberal? The recent feuding between a Democratic President and a Republican-controlled House might trigger such a though. Turns out that a recent study has uncovered the proverbial tip of an iceberg.

Studies at the University College London have linked personality traits with specific brain structures (the study reportedly having been commissioned by Oscar-winning actor Colin Firth). Using data from MRI scans, researchers found that self-described liberals had a larger anterior cingulate cortex, while individuals who described themselves as conservatives were more likely to have larger amygdalae. Based on what is known about the functions of those two brain regions, the structural differences are consistent with reports showing a greater ability of liberals to cope with conflicting information and a greater ability of conservatives to recognize a threat.

Of course this raises a whole host of questions. For example, are humans born with a predisposition to gravitate toward specific political beliefs or does the brain adjust itself to life experiences? Do structures of the brain alter as its owner embraces specific attitudes or do existing brain structures somehow mediate the formation of specific political attitudes? I love it!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Longevity Study

Authors Friedman and Martin have recently released a book entitled "The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study." The contents of this book upends some of the advice that, up until now, has comprised the accepted recipe for how to live to a healthy old age. The authors expose what really impacts a person's lifespan (e.g., friends, family, personality, and work) and burst some long-standing myths related to achieving health and long life. For example, people do not die from working long hours at a challenging job; many who worked the hardest lived the longest. Getting and staying married is not the magic ticket to long life, especially if you’re a woman. And it’s the prudent and persistent who flourish through the years, not necessarily the happy-go-lucky ones. Expect the results of this study to change conversations about what it means to live a long, healthy life.