Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Sensory Recruitment

Are you familiar with the term recruitment as it applies to absorbing sensory data? Recruitment can be defined as the enhancing of a sensory experience through the use of two or more senses (as compared to only one) when absorbing sensory data. For example, regardless of your sensory preference, you probably benefit from seeing a person’s face while communicating with him/her, especially if the surrounding environment is noisy. Looking at beautifully presented food often enhances the perception of its taste. Watching a person present a musical concert as you listen to the music may provide a very different experience to your brain when you listen to a CD of the concert later on. Studies in France have shown that multisensory integration is mediated by flexible, highly adaptive physiological processes that can take place very early in the sensory processing chain and that operate in both sensory-specific and nonspecific cortical structures in the brain in differing ways. Bottom line? Sensory recruitment often enhances your sensory experience as your brain absorbs incoming data in a way that does not occur when you receive the data primarily through only one sensory system.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Erase Fear Memories

Did you know studies at Uppsala University have shown that it is possible to erase a fear memory. When you experience a fearful event, a long-lasting memory is created by the process of consolidation (based on the formation of proteins). According to Thomas Ă…gren, a doctoral candidate at the Department of Psychology and co-author of the study, when participants had the reconsolidation process interrupted, the fearful memory was rendered neutral and no longer incited fear. Using a fMRI scanner, the researchers were able to show that the traces of that memory also disappeared from the amygdala, a part of the brain that normally stores fearful memories.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Pick Up on Your Cues

How aware are you of what is going on in your brain and body at any given moment? Animals and children usually are highly competent at picking up on real emotional cues--in themselves and in others. It seems that some of this ability to perceive emotional reality has been lost in adulthood. There’s really no magic to it. Just as a vision-challenged individual learns to pay more attention to sound than do those with so-called normal vision, you can learn to pay attention again to your gut feelings, those internal reactions that you may have been socialized to stuff. You can learn your own body’s signs of stress, how it tries to get your attention when your mind has missed some cues. Some physicians are now saying that all those seeking to heal, or to stay healthy, need to reclaim the lost capacity for reading your body’s own language, for facing the truth about their lives based on the emotional reality that their bodies know and are trying to convey.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Education Online

Reports are that online schooling is exploding in the USA.  According to NewScientist, a small but rapidly growing number of families are turning to the Internet as an alternative to chronically under-resourced brick and mortar institutions. And as Kurzweil put it: Proponents say online primary and secondary education, whether full-time or as part of a “blended” program of online and face-to-face education, could usher in a new era of personalizing education that will give each child the best chance of success. According to the Evergreen Education Group based in Durango, Colorado, during the 2010-2011 school year, approximately a quarter of a million students attended online-only schools. Knowmia ( a Silicon Valley-based start-up, reportedly is building a recommendation engine for the ever-expanding collection of free online educational videos.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Green Tea and EGCG

It has long been believed that drinking green tea is good for the memory. Now Chinese researchers, led by Professor Yun Bai from the Third Military Medical University, Chongqing, China, have discovered how the chemical properties green tea affect the generation of brain cells, providing benefits for memory and spatial learning. The study focused on the organic chemical EGCG (epigallocatechin-3 gallate), the major polyphenol in green tea. EGCG can easily pass through the blood-brain barrier and reach the functional parts of the brain. While EGCG is a known antioxidant, the team believes it could also have a beneficial effect against age-related degenerative diseases. And unlike coffee where you add new coffee and water to the second cup. the tea leaves are always there, so you only need to add hot water to make the effective components release. Incidentally, green tea is touted as China's favorite beverage . . .

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Doorways and Forgetting

Have you ever entered a room and forgot what you were going to get or do in that room? Professor Gabriel Radvansky, Psychology Professor at University of Notre Dame, reported new research on this problem. According to Radvansky, “Entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an ‘event boundary’ in the mind, which separates episodes of activity and files them away.” Using college students as subjects, three experiments in both real and virtual environments were conducted. Subjects performed memory tasks while crossing a room and while exiting a doorway. Results showed that subjects forgot more after walking through a doorway compared to moving the same distance across a room, suggesting that the doorway or “event boundary” impedes one’s ability to retrieve thoughts or decisions made in a different room. As you pass through a doorway, say aloud what you want to do or find in the next room. That might help your brain to keep the goal in short-term working memory.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Your Brain's Imagination

Did you know that imagination forms the foundation for every uniquely human achievement? Creativity, progress, innovation, inventions, and so on all require imagination. As Ken Robinson PhD put it, through imagination you not only bring to mind things you have experienced, but things you have never experienced. You can conjecture, hypothesize, speculate, and suppose. Through imagination you can visit the past, contemplate, and present, and anticipate the future. You can also do something else that is both profound and of immense significance: you can create. Of all the brain’s capacities, the ability to imagine may be the one that most people tend to take for granted. That’s unfortunate. And yet imagination is different from creativity. Think of creativity as applied imagination, putting your imagination to work. Make something new, come up with new solutions to problems, think of new questions. Apply your imagination to every day living. Allow it help you be more successful.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Language Lateralization

Looking for hemispheric lateralization or functional localization, researchers at MIT used fMRI to analyze a variety of different types of language tasks. Out of the nine regions they analyzed — four in the left frontal lobe, including the region known as Broca’s area, and five further back in the left hemisphere — eight uniquely supported language, showing no significant activation for any of the seven other tasks (including music, memory, arithmetic, and cognitive control).. These findings indicate a “striking degree of functional specificity for language,” the researchers said. Although the results don’t imply that every cognitive function has its own dedicated piece of cortex, the results give hope to researchers looking to draw some distinctions within the human cortex.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Functional Specificity

Functional specificity refers to the idea that discrete parts of the brain handle distinct tasks. Scientists have long known that functional specificity exists in certain domains: in the motor system, for example, there is one patch of neurons that controls the fingers of your left hand, and another that controls your tongue. And now researchers have discovered that portions of the brain appear dedicated to language only. That finding marked a major advance in the search for brain regions specialized for sophisticated mental functions. The researchers used an innovative method to analyze fMRI data, subject by subject, allowing them to discern individual patterns of brain activity. More about their findings tomorrow.


Saturday, October 20, 2012

Imaginary Playmates

Did you ever had an imaginary playmate in childhood? Some children's brains do create one, although they may not talk about it to avoid being punished or shamed. The reality principle--even knowing the difference between imagining and pretending versus what is tangible and concrete--appears to kick in some time after the age of four. I had one and thought to call up his memory picture when I was just asked again about how to "make a child stop lying about a pretend friend."  Little John Deerfoot, my imaginary First Nation friend, was the recipient of a great deal of my childhood chatter about life. I was home schooled (alone) for K - Grade Five. He was my seat-mate in that one-student school.  Even today as I write this, he is as clear is my mind as if he was standing right in front of me, with his jet black hair, beaded headband, single feather stuck in the back, and buff deer-skin clothing. With lots of fringe!   I suggested the parent let it go, perhaps making a comment now and then about the difference between seeing and touching a person in real life and just visualizing the person  in the mind's eye. The power of imagination is a mental faculty built into the brain (likely in the right frontal lobe). If it has been developed, imagination can help you to plan, envision, create, innovate, invent, set and achieve goals, and so on. 

Friday, October 19, 2012

Exercise - Wonder Drug

Did you know that physical exercise may be the closest thing to a wonder drug that self-control scientists have discovered? Fifteen minutes on a treadmill reduces cravings (e.g., seen when researchers try to tempt dieters with chocolate and smokers with cigarettes). According to Kelly McGonigal PhD, author of The Willpower Instinct, the long-terms effects of physical exercises are even more impressive: it relieves everyday stress; is as powerful an antidepressant as Prozac; enhances the biology of selfcontrol by increasing baseline heart rate variability and training the brain; and can increase both gray matter and white matter in the brain. There's no scientific consensus on the amounts needed, however. A 2010 analysis of ten different studies showed that the largest mood-boosting and stress-reducing effects came from five-minute doses of exercise (not hour-long sessions).

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Phonagnosia is rare

Phonagnosia. Interesting word. Turns out it describes an interesting condition, too. Researchers at the University College London, have identified and reported this rare condition. When your cell phone rings and you answer, given that you know the indivdiual who is calling, you will recognize that person by the sound of their voice without having to check caller ID. Most people were born with this ability. They learn quite quickly to recognize people by the sound of their voices. But apparently not all. Dr Brad Duchaine, co-author of a case study reported in the online issue of the journal Neuropsychologia, says: "Occasionally, people have experienced problems recognizing voices following a stroke or brain damage, but this is the first documented case of someone growing up with this condition." In all likelihood, there are others on this plant with this condition. As someone with an auditory sensory preference, I wonder what that would be like?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Vitamin B12 and Brain Atrophy

Did you know that there seems to be a connection between Vitamin B 12 and a risk of brain shrinkage? A study published in the journal Neurology analyzed low levels of vitamin B12 that still fell within the normal range. Results showed that older individuals with low levels of vitamin B12 seemed to be at increased risk for brain atrophy, which is associated with Alzheimer's disease and impaired cognitive function. Although all participants had B12 levels within the normal range, there was a difference between the higher levels and the lower levels in terms of brain shrinkage. Ongoing research seeks to evaluate whether B vitamins can be recommended as a treatment.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Sexual Objectification of Women

Did you know that when focusing your eyes upon an object, the brain either perceives it in its entirety or as a collection of its parts? A new study suggests that these two distinct cognitive processes also are involved with one’s basic physical perceptions of men and women. The research, published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, found that the brain tends to see men as people and women as body parts. When viewing images of men, perceivers tended to rely more on "global" cognitive processing; images of women were more often the subject of "local" cognitive processing. According to lead author Sarah Gervais, U of Nebrasks-Lincoln, this is the first study to link cognitive processes to objectification theory. The perceiver pool was evenly divided between men and women. The gender of participants doing the observing had no effect on the outcome. Regardless of their gender, perceivers saw men more "globally" and women more "locally."

Saturday, October 13, 2012

ASD and Schizophrenia

Did you know that Autism Spectrum Disorders, Schizophrenia, (and perhaps Bipolar Disorder, as well), may share some common roots? Studies showed the risk of an autism spectrum disorder may be higher among people whose parents or siblings have been diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. Findings came from a case-control study using population registers in Sweden and Israel. According to Patrick F. Sullivan, professor in the department of genetics and director of psychiatric genomics at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, “The results were very consistent in large samples from several different countries and lead us to believe that autism and schizophrenia are more similar than we had thought.”

Friday, October 12, 2012

Your Brain on Fructose

How much fructose is in your diet? A new UCLA rat study, reported in the Journal of Physiology, may be the first to show how a diet steadily high in fructose slows the brain and hampers memory and learning. Two groups of rats were first taught to run a maze that had many holes but only one exit. Both groups were then fed a typical rat diet with the addition of fructose solution as drinking water. The second group was also given omega-3 fatty acids in the form of flaxseed oil and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which is essential for synaptic function. Six weeks later cells in the brains of rats who had not received omega-3 fatty acids brain cells had trouble signaling each other, disrupting the rats' ability to think clearly and recall the route they'd learned six weeks earlier. The rats had difficulty negotiating the maze and showed signs of insulin resistance. Typical Western diets include significant amounts of cane sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, an inexpensive liquid sweetener. (Fructose in fruits appears to be less impactful because fruits also contain important antioxidants).  You may want to reduce your fructose intake and be sure to include omega-3s in your diet when you do want a high-fructose item.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Brain-Heart Consciousness

Did you grow up believing that conscious awareness is not only a function of the brain but originates in the brain itself? Think again. Studies suggest that consciousness emerges from the brain and body acting together. A growing body of evidence suggests that the heart plays a particularly significant role in this process. Far more than a simple pump, the heart is now viewed as a highly complex, self-organizing information processing center. It has its own functional heart-brain that communicates with, and influences, the cranial brain via the nervous system, hormonal system, and other pathways.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Anti-Aging Brain Fitness Programs

Are you failing to engage regularly in brain aerobic exercises because you aren’t convinced that it will help to age-proof your brain? Think again. Kurzweil News reported on a study by UCLA researchers. They studied 59 participants who were recruited from local retirement communities in Southern California. The average age was 84. The study found that that older adults who regularly used a brain fitness program played on a computer demonstrated significantly improved memory and language skills. The volunteers were split into two groups:  the first group used a brain fitness program for an average of 73 twenty-minute sessions over a six-month period; the second group played it less than 45 times during the same period. Researchers found that the first group demonstrated significantly higher improvement in memory and language skills, compared to the second group. Age-related memory decline affects approximately forty percent of older adults and is characterized by self-perception of memory loss and decline in memory performance. Get busy age-proofing your brain!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Obesity and Cancer

Studies have shown a connection between obesity in women and an increased risk for symptoms of mental deterioration. Now studies have connected being overweight with an increased risk of cancer reoccurrence, especially in relation to hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. The trials were led by the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (now part of the ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group). They involved 6,885 women treated with standard chemotherapy for breast cancer and followed for eight years. Results, published in the American Cancer Society Journal. showed a 30 percent higher risk of recurrence and a 50 percent higher risk of death when compared with death rates for women of normal weight who had breast cancer. Doing whatever it takes to maintain your weight within normal limits for your body type may pay big dividends in more ways than originally believed.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Sleepy Foods #1

Did you know that some foods may help to promote better sleep? According to Russell Rosenberg, PhD and CEO of the National Sleep Foundation, some small studies suggest that some food items eaten before bedtime may be “sleep promoters” for some individuals. Cherries, for example, are one of the few foods that naturally contain melatonin. So eating a few cherries or sipping a little bit of tart cherry juice before retiring may be helpful in promoting sleep. Jasmine rice ranks high on the glycemic index, meaning the body digests it slowly, releasing glucose gradually into the bloodstream. A 2007 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that eating jasmine rice (high on the Glycemic Index scale) four hours before bedtime cut the amount of time it took to fall asleep by half compared with eating a high-glycemic-index meal at the same time interval. Watch for more examples.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Hippocampal Eavesdropping

By now you’ve no doubt heard that the brain can create new brain cells. Have you ever wondered how the brain figures out when to do this? According to Hongjun Song, PhD, professor of neurology and director of the Institute for Cell Engineering’s Stem Cell Program at Johns Hopkins Medicine, the hippocampus eavesdrops. That’s right. Cells in the hippocampus (your brain's search engine) listen in on the chemical communication among nearby neurons to find out what is stressing the system and when they need to act. Apparently they pick up communication sent by the neurotransmitter GABA. The communication appears to transmit information about what brain cells experience of the outside world. The Hippocampus then either keeps brain stem cells in reserve, so if you don’t need them, you don’t use them up, or triggers the process of creating new brain cells.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Brain Circuit Mathematics

As you know, the brain has billions of neurons. They are arranged in complex circuits that allow you to make decisions, control movement, perceive the world, and so on. MIT Neuroscientists have reported that simple mathematical computations underlie these brain circuits. No surprise, deciphering those circuits is critical to understanding how the brain works and what goes wrong in neurological disorders. According to Mriganka Sur, the Paul E. Newton Professor of Neuroscience and senior author of the Nature paper, two major classes of brain cells repress neural activity in specific mathematical ways: One type subtracts from overall activation, while the other divides it. “These are very simple but profound computations,” Sur said. There is growing evidence that alterations in excitation and inhibition are at the core of many subsets of neuropsychiatric disorders. Hopefully, these findings will help scientists learn more about diseases thought to be caused by these imbalances, including autism, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Epigenetics and Cancer

According to Kurzweil News, Jay Bradner, a physician and chemical biologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston (see his presentation on TED), believes that cancer may be defeated through control of epigenetics or cellular memory. “With all the things cancer is trying to do to kill our patient, how does it remember it is cancer?” Bradner says that the answer lies in epigenetics, the programs that manage the genome. Findings over the past ten years have strongly implicated dysregulation of epigenetic instructions in cancer, where growth-driving genes express like crazy, while genes that keep cell division in check are silenced. Bradner believes that it will be possible to create a drug that can rewrite those epigenetic instructions so that cancer cells forget what they are and cease their deadly proliferation. (A presentation by Dr. Jay Bradner is on TED.)

Thursday, October 4, 2012


According to Goleman, a core skill in social awareness is empathy (the essential building block for compassion), of which there are several types:
1.  Cognitive Empathy (I can figure out how you see things and can put things in terms you can understand) - Executives who are higher in cognitive empathy do better in foreign postings, because they pick up unspoken norms of another culture more quickly.
2. Emotional Empathy (I feel with you) - Individuals who excel in emotional empathy, the basis for rapport and chemistry, tend to make good teachers, counselors, group leaders, and client managers.
3.  Empathetic Concern (I sense you need help and I am ready to give it) - Those who have high levels of empathic concern tend to help out voluntarily as needed in groups, organizations, and the community.
How are your empathy skills? Are you able to exhibit compassion and still get the job done?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

SuperAger Brain

No doubt you’ve heard that it’s ‘‘normal’’ for old age to be associated with ga radual decline in both memory and brain mass. Maybe not so much. A study printed in the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society reported the identification of some cognitive SuperAgers; individuals whose brains appeared immune to age-related memory impairment and cortical volume. SuperAgers were defined as individuals over age 80 with episodic memory performance at least as good as normative values for 50- to 65-year-olds. What did the SuperAgers brains look like? cerebral cortex was significantly thicker than their healthy age-matched peers and displayed no atrophy compared to the 50- to 65-year-old healthy group. Unexpectedly, a region of left anterior cingulate cortex was significantly thicker in the SuperAgers than in both elderly and middle-aged controls. The question now is how to identify specific factors that resulted in this.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Group EQ

Studies have shown that group emotional intelligence (EQ) may be even more important than individual EQ. This is because most work in organizations is done in teams of one type or another. A group with emotionally intelligent members does not necessarily make for an emotionally intelligent group, because teams interact at more levels. Group EQ comes from norms that support awareness and regulation of emotions within and outside the team; that build trust, group identity, and a sense of group efficacy. According to Goleman, personal results from being aware of and regulating one’s own emotions, while social competence involves awareness and regulation of others’ emotions.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Murder and Brain Function

Have you ever wondered about the brain of individuals who murder? Dr. Daniel G. Amen has commented about murder and brain function in his newsletter (you can subscribe to it free --    ) based on studies of murderers performed at the Amen Clinic. (Not the murders, you understand, just the studies!)  In general, he described two types of murderers: compulsive murderers who seem to show too much overall activity in the brain versus impulsive murderers who tend to show very low activity in the pre-frontal portions of the brain. Just another example of how the brain functions best in balance.