Tuesday, February 28, 2012

First and Second Brains

Did you know that the brain in your head influences the brain in your stomach? Butterflies in the stomach arise when brain neurons send a message of anxiety to stomach neurons, which sends messages back to the brain that your gut is unhappy. This “second brain” can also work in isolation to trigger Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS. No surprise, low doses of antidepressants (like SSRIs) have been found effective in treating IBS.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Brain Plasticity and Adaption

Did you know that blindness causes structural brain changes, implying brain plasticity? The brain can re-organize itself to adapt. In non-sighted individuals (as compared to sighted individuals) visual regions of the brain were smaller in volume. However, for non-visual areas, the trend was reversed in that the areas grew larger in the non-sighted individuals. This suggests that the brains are compensating for the reduced volume in areas normally devoted to vision, and shows the exceptional plasticity of the brain. It appears the brain will attempt to compensate for the fact that a person can no longer see, and this is particularly true for those who are blind since early infancy, a developmental period in which the brain is much more plastic and modifiable than it is in adulthood.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Rewiring White Matter

Did you know that the brain’s white matter can be rewired? Brain imaging of children between the ages of 8 and 10 showed that the quality of white matter (the brain tissue that carries signals between areas of grey matter, where information is processed) improved substantially after the children received 100 hours of remedial training. After the training, imaging indicated that the capability of the white matter to transmit signals efficiently had increased, and testing showed the children could read better. That it is possible to rewire a brain's white matter may have important implications for treating reading disabilities and perhaps other developmental disorders, including autism.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Long-Term Memories

Did you know that different patterns of training and learning lead to different types of memory formation? Studies at McGill University have shown that memory formation is highly sensitive not only to the total amount of training, but also to the pattern of trials used during training. In particular, trials distributed over time are superior at generating long-term memories as compared to trials presented at very short intervals.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Wagon Wheel Illusion

Have you noticed the “wagon wheel illusion", in which the wheels of a forward-moving vehicle appear to slow down or even roll backwards? Reportedly, the illusion was first noted during the playback of old films. Dr. David Eagleman at Baylor College of Medicine is studying how the brain processes time. Apparently the wagon wheel effect is not restricted to the movies: people also report experiencing it in real life. http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20427311.300-timewarp-how-your-brain-creates-the-fourth-dimension.html?page=1

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Baby Brains and Math

Do you know that a branch of research called cognitive neuroscience is helping to clarify when young brains are best able to grasp fundamental concepts? Turns out that infants can distinguish one object from two, and two from three. And as early as 18 months of age children begin recognizing geometric shapes. That certainly upsets previous conventional wisdom that children’s brains couldn’t do math before the age of five.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Learn to "See?"

What do you really see? Although people think they can see everything in their field of vision, the brain actually picks and chooses the stimuli that come into their consciousness. The Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology's Journal of Vision has reported on a new study that showed human brains can be trained to consciously see stimuli that would normally be invisible, that one's perception of invisible stimuli improves with training.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Serotonin - Brain and Body

Did you know that 90% of the body’s serotonin is found in the gut, where it triggers digestion and regulates intestinal movements? Stomach neurons use serotonin to signal back to the brain. This exchange of information can train a person not to eat certain foods by communicating pain, gas, and other uncomfortable sensations. Serotonin also functions in the central nervous system, affecting sleep, appetite, mood, memory, and learning.

Immune-System Wars

Did you know that your Immune System is able to create and maintain armed-forces? The fighters, perhaps 10 million or more unique varieties, are known as antibodies. Genes coding for antibodies can be shuffled to create the necessary variety of antibodies capable of recognizing an infinite number of distinct antigens. Every time you are exposed to harmful organisms and are able to avoid getting sick, thank your Immune System fighters. It really is a star-wars story.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Jumping Genes

Have you heard of jumping genes? Not jumping beans. Jumping genes. Turns out that scientists at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies have identified something they are calling “jumping genes.” They found that human brain cells contain an unexpected number of so-called mobile elements, extraordinary pieces of DNA that insert extra copies of themselves throughout the genome using a copy and paste mechanism. These mobile pieces of DNA likely give the brain’s 100 billion individual neurons a slightly different capacity from each other and could help to explain brain development and individuality, as well as lead to a better understanding of neurological diseases.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Choose to Laugh

Do you choose to take humor personally, get upset by it, or overreact? Healthy humor (not angry, sarcastic, or hurtful humor) is simply an exaggeration of real life. That's what makes it funny. For example, when Red Skelton reportedly said, I haven't spoken to my wife for several months--I hate to interrupt her, that's just an exaggeration of what often happens in life. Studies have shown that the average male speaks about 12,000 words a day while the average female speaks about 50,000 words. So laugh.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Whose Random Thoughts?

Did you know that the brain is likely far too complex for scientists to decode a person's random thoughts? However, after teaching a computer to recognize the unique pattern of brain activity associated with subject preferences, researchers have demonstrated something quite amazing. The computer was able to predict a person's preference for one of two drinks with 80 percent accuracy by measuring the intensity of near-infrared light absorbed in subject's brain tissue.

Friday, February 17, 2012

What Do You Look At?

Did you know that what males look at can impact their behavior? When men viewed images of highly sexualized women, and then interacted with a woman in a separate setting, they were more likely to have sexual words on their minds, to remember the woman’s physical appearance, and to sit closer to her, for instance, at a job interview. Viewing specific images in one setting appears able to affect the behaviors exhibited by males when they are in a different setting.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Brain Asphalt and IQ

Did you know that a high quality of myelin (that seems to be inheritable) appears to correlate with higher IQ scores? Using DTI (diffusion-tensor imaging) in studies of 92 pairs of fraternal and identical twins, researchers found a strong correlation between the integrity of the white matter or myelin and performance on a standard IQ test. Think of myelin as the brain’s asphalt, which paves its neuron highways by coating neuronal axons.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Out-of-Body Experiences

Have you ever wondered about so-called out-of-body experiences? Researchers have succeeded in creating a type of out-of-body illusionary experience. They were able to achieve this by showing participants videos of themselves from an unusual perspective accompanied by tactile stimulation. Out-of-body sensations sometimes occur when brain function is altered, for example through use of drugs or due to a stroke or seizure.

Monday, February 13, 2012

School Via iPhone?

Can you imagine going to school via your iPod or iPhone? Professor David Wiley at Utah’s Brigham Young University believes that Universities will be irrelevant by 2020. He predicts a world where students listen to free online lectures on iPods, course materials are shared between universities, science laboratories labs are virtual, and digital textbooks are free. You could study anytime, anywhere, and move around as much as you want.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Abuse, Stress, and the Brain

Did you know there appears to be a correlation between affectionate mothering and the ability of offspring to dampen their physiological response to stress? Studies at McGill University in Montreal appear to correlate abuse during childhood with changes to the brain (e.g., genes that code for cortisol receptors were about 40 percent less active in people who had been abused as children as compared to those who had not).

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Estrogen and Brain What?

Did you know that the hormone estrogen plays a key role in how the brain processes sounds? Studies at the University of Rochester showed that there needs to be a correct balance of estrogen for the brain to extract and process sounds, to interpret the auditory information, and to lay down memories of the sounds. Both male and female bodies contain estrogen. The difference is in the relative amount of estrogen that each contains.

Friday, February 10, 2012

To Face or Not to Face

Did you know that the human brain almost never mistakes an object that may look like a face (e.g., New Hampshire's Old Man of the Mountain) for a human face? Facial recognition results from your two brain hemispheres working together. fMRI studies at MIT have shown that the left hemisphere calculates how facelike an image is. Then the right hemisphere uses that information to decide whether the object is, indeed, a human face. Although hemispheric differences have been seen in other brain functions such as language and spatial perception, according to the researchers, this distribution of labor is one of the first known examples of the left and right hemispheres taking on different roles in high-level visual-processing tasks.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Color and Brain Messages

Did you know that the colors you choose to wear may send a subtle message to the brains of others who see you? According to Leatrice Eiseman, author of the book More Alive With Color, police officers wear dark blue to indicate authority, while USP carriers wear brown to indicate reliability, and so on. Think about the colors you prefer to wear and/or the colors in which you feel most comfortable. Are they the same or different?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

REM for Creativity

Did you know that REM or Rapid Eye Movement sleep allows the brain to form new nerve connections without the interference of other thought pathways that occur when the brain is awake or in non-REM-sleep? In sleep studies at UC San Diego, volunteers who entered REM states during sleep improved their creative problem solving ability by almost 40% (as compared with quiet rest and non-REM sleep). The passage of time is enough for the brain to find solutions for creative problems that the person has already been working on. Lead researcher, Professor Sara Mednick, indicated that for new problems, however, only REM sleep enhances creativity.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Nanoparticles and the BBB

Did you know that being able to detect brain tumors quickly and accurately can be key to treatment? University of Washington researchers used nanoparticles, about 33 nanometers in diameter when wet, to safely cross the blood-brain barrier (an almost impenetrable barrier that protects the brain from infection) and enable a process known as brain tumor painting. This process lights up tumors and better pinpoints their location in the brain, which allows doctors not only to better identify the location of the tumor but also to identify its boundaries. Eventually, it may be possible even use the nanoparticles to carry treatment medication across the blood-brain barrier to the tumor.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Emotional Prosody

Did you know that the comprehension of emotional prosody is crucial for social functioning? According to researchers at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, this critical ability for recognizing, comprehending, or processing emotions appears to be compromised in various psychiatric disorders. For example, deficits for anger and sadness in schizophrenia, fear and surprise in bipolar affective disorder, and surprise in depression. Understanding that emotions do have their own brain-activity patterns may provide increased understanding of what happens in brains that have difficulty comprehending emotional prosody.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

What Was I Looking For?

Have you ever gone into another room to get something and couldn't remember what it was you wanted? Turns out that when the brain moves through a doorway it sort of readjusts itself to begin paying attention to what is in the new room--and sometimes neglects to recall the reason you went there in the first place. When you return to where you started, the brain usually recalls what you were thinking at the time in that room. Solution? As you go through the doorway, say aloud what you want to get in the next room to help fix that thought in working memory.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Fat Intake and Your Brain

Do you think you can eat fatty foods and just compensate with physical exercise? Think again! Studies in rats and humans at Cambridge University in Britain have shown that high-fat foods appear to have an almost immediate negative impact on both short-term memory and exercise performance. The short-term decline in cognitive function may be because a high-fat diet can trigger insulin resistance, which means the body becomes less efficient at using the glucose, which is so important to brain function. A short-term negative effect on exercise performance may be because the body reacts to high fat content in the blood by releasing specific proteins that essentially make the metabolism less efficient (e.g., muscles are less efficient at using oxygen and fuel to make the energy needed to exercise). Ouch!

Friday, February 3, 2012

Half-a-Brain Plasticity

Do you fully appreciate the brain’s amazing plasticity? Researchers at the University of Glasgow studied the brain of a ten-year-old girl who had been born with the entire right hemisphere missing. The fMRI studies (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) showed that her brain had rewired its retinal nerve fibers in order to process information from the right and left visual fields in spite of her not having a whole brain. Lead researcher Dr Lars Muckli of the Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging in the Department of Psychology, said: “The brain has amazing plasticity but we were quite astonished to see just how well the single hemisphere of the brain in this girl has adapted to compensate for the missing half." (http://www.physorg.com/news167324813.html)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

REM Sleep and Learning Retention

Are you getting sufficient REM sleep every night? If not, it could impact your learning retention. According to Pierce Howard, director of research at the Center for Applied Cognitive Studies in Charlotte, N.C., without sufficient rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, you can lose what you learned the day preceding sleep. More and more information is pointing toward the importance of getting sufficient sleep for your brain, every day. Employees who are learning new information on the job can further maximize learning retention by getting enough rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. (Fox, Adrienne. HR Magazine (03/08) Vol. 53, No. 3, P. 37)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Music and the Corpus Callosum

Did you know that it’s possible to strengthen the Corpus Callosum, one of several bridges connecting the brain’s right and left hemispheres? Researchers at Harvard Medical School and Boston College found that taking music lessons can do this. In children who practiced music at least 2.5 hours a week, a portion of the corpus callosum that connects movement-planning regions grew about 25% relative to the size of the brain. Have you ever taken music lessons? Keep practicing. No? Then start now!