Saturday, July 30, 2011

Brain, Braking, and Intention

Studies by researchers at the Technical University of Berlin (as reported in the Journal of Neural Engineering): Research using a driving simulator indicating that the driver's intention to perform emergency braking can be detected based on muscle activation and cerebral activity prior to any actual behavioral response. Electrical signals from the brain were detected 130 milliseconds before drivers actually hit the brakes. Reviewing EEG and EMG data, researchers were able to identify signals in the brain that occurred consistently during emergency brake response situations. Identical levels of predictive accuracy were attained using electroencephalography (EEG), which worked more quickly than electromyography (EMG), and using EMG, which worked more quickly than pedal dynamics. This is another indicating that the brain is "thinking" before those thoughts come to conscious awareness and before any action response occurs.

It will be interesting to follow results of any additional studies. This opens up speculation about what "pre-meditation" may involve and what it may mean . . .

Friday, July 22, 2011

Meditation and the LEFT Frontal Lobe

EEG studies (11 subjects) at University of Wisconsin: The subjects who practiced meditation over a five-week period were found to have increased activity in the left frontal region of the brain. (Fascinating, since meditation is usually associated--or at least has been--with activity in the right frontal activity.) Earlier research has found that this pattern of brain activity is associated with positive moods. (

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Meditation and Brain Connectors

UCLA studies: using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), a relatively new imaging mode that provides insights into the structural connectivity of the brain, researchers found differences between the brain of people who meditate and controls. The subjects reported a variety of styles of meditation. Meditation appears to be a powerful mental exercise with the potential to change the physical structure of the brain at large. People who meditate have stronger connections between brain regions and show less age-related brain atrophy. Stronger connections influence the ability to rapidly relay electrical signals in the brain. Significantly, these effects are evident throughout the entire brain, not just in specific areas. Studies showed increased structural connectivity in meditators throughout the brain’s pathways. The greatest differences were seen within the corticospinal tract (axons that connect cerebral cortex and spinal cord), the superior longitudinal fasciculus (long bundles of neurons connecting front and back of the cerebrum), and the uncinate fasciculus (white matter that connects parts of the limbic system, such as the hippocampus and amygdala, with the frontal cortex).


Monday, July 11, 2011

Brain Region Volume and Criminality?

Studies by Adrian Raine, University of Pennsylvania, suggest a connection between reduced amygdala function at age three and possible later criminal activity. As an aside:

Adult psychopaths appear to have an 18% reduction of the volume of the amygdala compared with non-psychopaths.

The orbital frontal cortex tends to be associated with being antisocial when its volume is smaller; as a group, men have a smaller orbital frontal cortex than women, which may help explain why men as a whole tend to commit more crimes than women.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Breastfeeding and the Brain

fMRI studies at Yale University have pointed to a connection between breast feeding and bonding between mother and child. This, in turn, may have implications for increased maternal sensitivity as infants enter their social world. Brain imaging of breastfeeding mothers showed there was greater activations in the superior frontal gyrus, insula, precuneus, striatum, and amygdala while the women listened to their own baby-cry (as compared to formula-feeding mothers). And at 3-4 months post partum, greater activations in the right superior frontal gyrus and amygdala were associated with higher maternal sensitivity. In the past, breastfeeding was associated with benefits to the infant. These studies suggest that some of those benefits may be due to changes in the maternal brain. Were you a breast-fed baby?