Friday, August 30, 2013

Lessons From Mother #6

I’ve received several more examples of tongue-in-cheek lessons from mother so here is another set. Do any of them bring back memories?

• My mother taught me about mind reading: “Put on your jacket. Don’t you think I know when you’re cold?”

• My mother taught me about maturity: “If you don’t eat all your vegetables, you’ll never grow up!”

• My mother taught me about my roots: “Shut the door behind you! Do you think you were born in a barn?”

• My mother taught me wisdom: “When you get to be my age, you’ll understand.”

• My mother taught me about justice: “One day when you have kids, I hope they turn out just like you.”

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Sleep Deprivation #2

Studies have established a link between obtaining inadequate sleep and weight gain. A new study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania has established a link between inadequate sleep and weight gain in "healthy adults" in a controlled laboratory setting. Even a few bad nights of sleep apparently can lead to packing on the pounds. There are other potentially negative consequenses, as well, because sleep affects almost every tissue in the body; that according to Michael Twery, a NIH sleep specialist. Getting less than six hours of sleep might raise your risk of heart attack. Inadquate amounts of sleep is also a risk factor for substance abuse, cancer, and depression. The elderly are especially vulnerable to negative consequences of inadequate sleep. Timothy Monk, director of Western Psychiatric's Human Chronobiology Research Program has been quoted as saying that the circadian signal isn't as strong as people age. Negative consequences are not relegated to adults only, however. According to NYU psychiatrist, Vatsal Thakkar, growth hormones are released during deep sleep so children can experience hormonal disruptions when they get too little sleep. In fact, poor sleep patterns may often be misdiagnosed as ADHD in children.

High Blood Sugar and Dementia

Research is so interesting. Sometimes it comes up with correlations and possible reasons. Sometimes it just makes connections and the reasons are not yet known. That’s the situation for a novel observational study of patients at a large health care system in Washington State that links high blood sugar levels with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and vascular dementia. Commenting on this study, Medha Munshi, a geriatrician and endocrinologist who directs the geriatric diabetes program at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston and who was not involved in this study said this research “offers more evidence that the brain is a target organ for damage by high blood sugar. And everyone is still working on the ‘why’.” What can people do even without knowing the ‘why?” Adopt a balanced, high-level wellness lifestyle, of course. Many people know what to do; actually doing it is another thing. With an increased risk of dementia on the line, it’s high time to actually do something . . .

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Neurovascular Coupling and Hot Chocolate

Next time I am eating breakfast out while traveling, I just might have a cup of hot chocolate. According to a study published in  Neurology, researchers wanted to investigate the relationship between neurovascular coupling and cognitive function in elderly individuals with vascular risk factors and to determine whether neurovascular coupling could be modified by cocoa consumption. The study author Farzaneh A. Sorond, MD, PhD, of Harvard Medical School in Boston and a member of the American Academy of Neurology pointed out that “As different areas of the brain need more energy to complete their tasks, they also need greater blood flow. This relationship, called neurovascular coupling, may play an important role in diseases such as Alzheimer’s.” The study concluded that drinking two cups of hot chocolate a day may assist older people in keeping their brains healthy and their thinking skills sharp.

F. A. Sorond et al., Neurovascular coupling, cerebral white matter integrity, and response to cocoa in older people, Neurology, 2013; DOI: 10.1212/WNL.0b013e3182a351aa

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

FTIR spectro-microtomography.

And speaking of 3D technology, here's a relatively new label:  Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectro-microtomography. According to Kurzweil News, this involves a non-destructive 3D imaging technique that provides molecular-level chemical information of unprecedented detail on biological and other specimens with no need to stain or alter the specimen. In full color, no less! According to Michael Martin, an infrared imaging expert at Berkeley Lab’s Advanced Light Source: "While the most immediate applications will be in biomedical imaging, I think full color FTIR spectro-microtomography will also be applicable to imaging 3D structures in biofuels, plants, rocks, algae, soils, agriculture and possibly even studies of art history where different layers of paints could be revealed.” Mouth-full-of-a-name notwithstanding, this could be pretty exciting!

Michael C Martin et al., 3D spectral imaging with synchrotron Fourier transform infrared spectro-microtomography, Nature Methods, 2013, DOI: 10.1038/nmeth.2596 (open access)

Monday, August 26, 2013

3D point-and-shoot scanner

An affordable 3D point-and-shoot scanner? For less than $1,000? Hmmm. I was thinking this idea was a bit unrealistic (like some "movies") until I read a piece by Kurzweil News indicating that this technology might be available as early as spring of 2014. The scanning is touted as combining high-resolution 3D modeling and accurate color capture for 3D printing. I can just imagine some gung-ho human being pointing and shooting and creating a 3D  ______________  (you fill in the blank).  Here's the URL if you want to check it out.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Single Option Aversion

Did you know that consumers are more likely to search for alternatives when they are given only one option? That’s the finding of a new study at Tulane University. According to Daniel Mochon, author of an article “Single Option Aversion” in the Journal of Consumer Research:“Single Option Aversion: “There has been a lot of recent attention devoted to the pitfalls of presenting consumers with too many options. However, consumers may also react negatively when choices are too restrictive. Isolating an option, even temporarily, may increase how much consumers search and potentially the likelihood that they make no purchase.” That got me thinking about my brain and options. It likes them. Yes, I typically narrow down options to two (after all my brain only has two hemispheres). Nevertheless, my brain likes options and I have walked away from a potential purchase when there was only one option. Unless, of course, it was an emergency and it was take what’s available or risk adverse outcomes. What does your brain tend to like?

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Maternal Perception and Children's Brain Function

Many studies going back to the 1950s have found that parental levels of education or income affect their children’s brains. Now a new study at Boston Children’s Hospital, published in the journal Developmental Science, has found that how a mother perceives herself in comparison to other mothers may also impact her child’s brain development. Specifically, the mother’s perceived level of social status consistently predicted levels of two things in the children’s brains: the stress hormone cortisol and activation in some of the brain’s memory areas. Margaret Sheridan PhD of the Labs of Cognitive Neuroscience and the study’s first author said: "Our results indicate that a mother's perception of her social status 'lives' biologically in her children." My brain is wondering if this has any connection with Epigenetics (cellular memory transmission)?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Alzheimer's and Parkinson's

New findings by researchers at Stanford University, published in the Journal of Neuroscience, have made a connection between brain aging and a protein called C1q. 
Levels of C1q appear to increase with the aging process. This protein, secreted by microglia (the brain's own  immune system cells) appears to lodge in synapses, the point between neurons, and is associated with cell death after a brain injury occurs.  According to professor and chair of neurobiology and senior author of the study, Ben Barres MD, PhD: “The first regions of the brain to show a dramatic increase in C1q are places like the hippocampus and substantia nigra, the precise brain regions most vulnerable to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, respectively.” Children don’t get Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and these findings may help to explain reasons behind that phenomenon.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Enhance Your Senses?

You’ve likely known about the “senses” since early childhood. By adulthood, you may also have been aware that the senses are often discussed within the framework of three main sensory systems: Visual, Auditory, and Kinesthetic. All communication is believed to occur through the senses. A Scientific American article by Melinda Wenner Moyer was titled:  entitled Brain Implant Could Enhance Our Senses.” Findings from an experiment using six trained rats suggests it might be possible to expand your sensory boundaries. A Duke University neurobiologist, Miguel Nicolelis, and colleagues (using brain implants—in the rats, not in the reseachers!) were able to teach rats to see infrared light, which rats usually cannot “see.”  The findings also suggest that the human brain can handle an expanded sensory repertoire. Some day you may be able to see, hear, touch and smell what you cannot today.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Autism and Biological Sex

Scientists at the Autism Research Centre at the University of Cambridge have reported that studies using magnetic resonance imaging have revealed that autism affects the brain of males and females differently. Estimates are that autism affects about 1% of the general public. Because more males than females have been identified, most studies have used male-dominant samples. This has resulted in a male-based understanding of this condition. According to Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, senior author of the paper, one of the new findings was “that females with autism show neuroanatomical 'masculinization'. This may implicate physiological mechanisms that drive sexual dimorphism, such as prenatal sex hormones and sex-linked genetic mechanisms." The article summary indicated that autism appears to manifest itself differently based on biological sex, although how differences in neuroanatomy relate to the similarities in cognition between males and females with autism remains to be understood. Future research should stratify by biological sex to reduce heterogeneity and to provide greater insight into the neurobiology of autism.

University of Cambridge. "Autism affects different parts of the brain in women and men." ScienceDaily, 9 Aug. 2013. Web. 20 Aug. 2013.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Ikea Effect

Are you familiar with the Ikea Effect? I found an article by Shankar Vedantam to be interesting reading. Studies by Daniel Mochon of Tulane University have shown that “The name for this psychological phenomenon derives from the love millions of Americans display toward their self-assembled furniture (or, dare we say it, their badly self-assembled furniture) from the do-it-yourself store with the Scandinavian name.” The bottom line? People tend to attach greater value to things they build themselves (compared to the same product that was built by someone else). Apparently, building your own stuff boosts your feelings of pride and signals "competence" to others. Hmmm. You might enjoy checking out the article.



Monday, August 19, 2013

Danish Adults and Longevity

WebMD reported a study of  2,262 Danish adults starting at age 92. The study was designed to determine whether or not exceptional longevity came with high levels of disability. The short answer was no, it did not. Overall, extreme age did not bring extreme disability. The study participants did have a slight decline in their ability to perform routine activities, mental skills test scores, grip strength, and other measures, and fewer were independent at 100 than at 92. However, the conclusions were: "Most individuals can expect to experience physical decline before they die, but the postponement of this individual decline makes it possible for us to live into a fourth age" stretching toward 100. That's encouraging so I'm aiming for 120!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Brain Battles

According to Antoine Bechara, USC professor of psychology, "We can see risk as a battle of forces. There is always 
a lure of reward. There's always a fear of failure. These are the 
two forces that are always battling each other." Apparently this is 
rooted in the brain itself. Researchers used fMRI studies at USC's 
Brain and Creativity Institute to locate regions in the prefrontal cortex, 
an area behind the forehead involved in analysis and planning, that 
seem to complete with each other in terms of reward and failure.
Activity in one region identified risk-averse volunteers, while 
activity in a different region was greater in those with an appetite 
for risk.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Aging Brain and Names

Having trouble recalling names? When older people can no longer remember names at a meeting or social gathering, the tendency is to immediately assume that their brainpower is declining. But a growing number of studies suggest that this assumption may be erroneous. Instead, the research finds, the aging brain is simply taking in more data and trying to sift through a clutter of information, often to its long-term benefit. The studies are analyzed in a new edition of a neurology book, Progress in Brain Research. There are strategies to help retard the onset of symptoms of aging, you know. Remember to keep stimulating your brain with at least 30 minutes of challenging brain aerobic exercises a day. AND read aloud for at least 10 minutes every day.

Friday, August 16, 2013

The Brain and Math

Do you think your brain cannot do mathematics? Think again. By request I located the BBC news source that reported the brain appears to have “counting skills” built into it. Researchers studied a group of Australian Aboriginal children who did not know “words for numbers” because their languages lacked number words. Interestingly enough, these children did equally well in numeracy when compared with English-speaking children who lived in Melbourne. The study concluded that the human brain possesses a built-in ability to do mathematics even if the individual does not possess the language to express numbers in words.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Neurons and Memory Recall

Someone just asked me whether neurons divide and multiply as do other cells in the body. My information is that they do not. In fact, an article in the New York Times several years ago reported on a study wherein scientists succeeded (for the first time) in recording individual brain cells in the act of summoning a spontaneous memory. This study showed not only where a remembered experience was registered in the brain but also, in part, how the brain was able to recreate it. This provided some direct biological evidence related to recall, much of which has heretofore been almost entirely theoretical. When a distant memory comes to mind, at least some of the neurons that fire are the same ones that fired back when the event actually happened. In some cases, researchers have been able to identify specific memories in the participants a second or two before the individuals themselves became aware of / reported having them. Take good care of your neurons! They are going to be with you for an entire lifetime—hopefully!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


Here’s a new word to add to your brain-function vocabulary. Magnetoencephalography or MEG is a type of brain scanning that can allow “researchers to observe neural activity with frequency waves that are faster than 50 cycles per second. An article by Elizabeth Armstrong Moore, published in CNET, explains that the human brain is so fast that it cannot be fully observed using the current gold standard: functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). According to senior researchers and neurology professor Maurizio Corbetta, "Brain activity occurs in waves that repeat as slowly as once every 10 seconds or as rapidly as once every 50 milliseconds.”Enter this new brain scan equipment: magnetoencephalography or MEG. It can not only detect neural activity at the millisecond level but also sample neural activity every 50 milliseconds

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Brain Cells and Tunes

Kurzweil recently reported a study by Dr. Sheng and colleagues, researchers at NIH’s National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke or NINDS. The researchers were studying how brain cells communicate and how they change their tune. Change their tune? That got my attention. According to a senior principal investigator Sheng, “We may have answered a long-standing, fundamental question about how brain cells communicate with each other in a variety of voice tones. Apparently brain cells talk to each other in a variety of tones, sometimes speaking loudly but other times struggling to be heard. Results of this study, published in Cell Reports, indicated that mitochondria, power plants within cells, may release bursts of chemical energy that tune brain cell communication. If you’re interested in reading more, check out the article.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Mitochondria - Powerhouses

Is the word mitochondria still part of your vocabulary or did it disappear as soon as you passed the biology quiz in high school? Do you know what they are? According to Biology-On Line, mitochondria are tiny spherical or rode shaped organs that live inside cells (but outside the nucleus) and that orchestrate the biochemical processes of energy production. Sometimes referred to as the powerhouse of the cell they are the vital energy source for several cellular processes, including the production of high-energy compounds such as adenosine triphosphate or ATP. Without these power plants, the human organism, especially brain function, would grind to a halt. Interestingly enough, mitochondrial deoxyribonucleic acid (mtDNA) is inherited by an offspring from its mother. Maternal inheritance enables the transmission of mtDNA to be traced down a single line of ancestors through many generations. So, energy powerhouses as well a your genetic inheritance history. And there’s more. See you tomorrow!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Internet Psychotherapy

A group of researchers at the University of Zurich have compared the effectiveness of online psychotherapy versus conventional face-to-face therapy in the treatment of depression. They discovered that psychotherapy via the internet was as good as or better than face-to-face therapy. In both the short term and the medium term, patients receiving internet psychotherapy evidenced a decline in depression. In fact, three months after completing eight weeks of treatment, the depression in patients who had been treated online further decreased (those who had been treated conventionally only displayed a minimal decline). For both patient groups (traditional face-to-face and internet psychotherapy), the degree of satisfaction with the treatment and therapists was more or less equally high. Professor Andreas Maercker reported: “Our study is evidence that psychotherapeutic services on the Internet are an effective supplement to therapeutic care.” And in this age of clogged freeways and high fuel prices, internet psychotherapy might prove to be the treatment style-of-choice for many.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Cultural Neuroscience Brain Mapping


Cultural Neuroscience is a relatively new science and I regularly look for new study results that can help people better understand how differences around the globe have a basis in the brain. The Department of Defense reportedly has provided a three-year grant to the University of Maryland. Cross-cultural psychologist lead researcher Michele Gelfand and her interdisciplinary research team will use brain measurements to help explain and predict a wide range of cultural differences, from self-control to creativity to cooperation. "Social norms, though omnipresent in our everyday lives, are highly implicit," Gelfand says. "This research has the potential to facilitate the development of theoretical models and measures with improved predictive power. It will advance our understanding of the connection between culture, brain, and behavior."

Friday, August 9, 2013

Technology and Chemistry

Technology is here to stay. That’s a given. There are on-going debates about what you “get” versus what you “give up” to obtain and use this technology, however. What does one give up? According to Cindy Herington, dating expert at It’s Just Lunch (reportedly the world’s largest personalized matchmaking service):  “While we may use technology to stay connected to friends and family, when it comes to meeting potential partners, the digital world obscures the thing that matters most: chemistry… Real chemistry happens in person.” What does one get? It depends on who you talk to and their age. Recently a friend of mine described a YouTube presentation she was developing that shows how some teachers are using technology to motivate students to learn. Each student gets an iPad and downloads assignments from a cloud and uploads completed work to the cloud. The teacher can access the student’s work at any time from that same cloud. Hopefully, in the very near future I will be able to share a link to that YouTube presentation, which you just might find fascinating. Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Fitness and Peers

Study conclusions continue to recommend that physical fitness is one way to help keep the brain healthy. The Harvard Business review reported on research led by Scott E. Carrell of UC Davis. Carrell and his team studied college students who were assigned to spend most of their time with 30 other randomly chosen undergraduates. The study concluded that poor levels of fitness tend to spread through peer groups.  For example: 
  • Individuals may adopt the diet and exercise patterns of the least fit within a peer group
  • Those most susceptible to being influenced by the least fit are those who are already struggling to maintain their fitness
  • Your own fitness level would likely drop by nearly one fifth of a standard deviation if half of your friends were to become among the least fit (for reasons unrelated to you).
One takeaway? Choose your friends carefully. Their diet and exercise patterns may impact yours.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Excitotoxins - Neurotoxins

According to Russell L. Blaylock MD, author of Excitotoxins, the Taste that Kills, the Japanese taste-enhancer monosodium glutamate has been added to American foods since the late 1940's and its use has doubled every decade since. (MSG was voluntarily removed from baby food in America in 1969 due to concerns about the potentially negative impact to developing brains.) MSG is often added to foods in disguised form (e.g., hydrolyzed vegetable protein, natural flavorings, spices, vegetable protein) that may contain from 12%-40% MSG. These substances contains three powerful brain-cell toxins (glutamate, aspartate, and cysteic acid) as well as several known carcinogens. Glutamate and aspartate are neurotransmitters that are needed for effective brain function but when they get out of balance brain cells can die. The more I learn about neurotoxins, the more carefully I read labels! For example, Campbell's cream of mushroom soup used to be a staple in our pantry. No more because the contents include one or more substances that contain MSG. I am also very pleased when I find a restaurant that states right up front: No MSG used.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Impulsivity and Time Perception

According to Marc Whittmann, empirical evidence exists for the association between a person’s level of impulsivity and accuracy of time perception. A study in Germany has correlated fMRI activation of the brain’s core control network, which includes the insular cortex, and two self-reported questionnaires: the Barratt Impulsiveness Scale, BIS; and the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory, ZTPI. Results indicated that activation in the brain’s core control network is related to cognitive time management, and that more impulsive individuals tend to under-reproduce time duration more strongly. That is, participants who scored high in impulsivity measures showed some reduced ability to perceive duration of time accurately. Study results suggest that the accumulation of physiological changes in a person’s body states constitutes his/her experience of time. Perception of duration of time, therefore, is subjective and can differ depending on what is going on for a given brain at any given moment. Other studies by Anna Smith of the Institute of Psychiatry in the UK have found that children with ADHD performed poorly on time reproduction tasks, suggesting that these children may have a perceptual deficit related to time discrimination.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Perception of Time

Does time seem to fly by when you’re having fun and drag when you’re not? Research by Marc Whittmann of Germany and colleagues suggests that one’s sense of time intervals in the range of seconds is directly related to activity in the insular cortex. In each cerebral hemisphere, the insular cortex is located within the lateral sulcus, a fissure that separates the temporal lobe from the parietal and frontal lobes of the cerebral cortex. The insular cortex contains the primary sensory area for interoception—sensitivity to stimuli that originate inside the brain and body. According to Whittmann, neural processes in the insular cortex, which are related to body signals, feeling states as well as to self-consciousness, constitute neurophysiological mechanisms for the creation of subjective time. Increasing neural activity in the insular cortex, which is associated with feeling states of the body and emotions, may be related to the cumulative representation of time—the way in which a specific brain perceives how much time passed. No wonder time perception can be so subjective!

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Features of Human Intelligence

What actually is comprised within the framework of human intelligence is open for discussion. Robinson wrote of three features that appear to characterize human intelligence:

1.  Diverse - Human intelligence is extraordinarily diverse, can be expressed in a myriad of ways, and is not limited to expression in just one way.

2. Dynamic - Human intelligence is tremendously dynamic. True breakthroughs occur as the brain finds new connections between things in its intensely interactive style.

3.  Distinctive - Human intelligence is as unique as the person's fingerprint. Even twins tend to use their intelligences different from one another.

When you identify and implode any preconceived ideas about intelligence, you just may begin to view yours in a new way. So, back to the question: "How are YOU intelligent?"

Saturday, August 3, 2013

"How Are YOU Intelligent?"

There are likely other human intelligences beyond those identified by Howard Gardner.  For example:

1. Daniel Goleman (author of Emotional Intelligence) argues for emotional intelligence and social intelligence, both of which are essential to getting along with the world around us and the people in it.

2.  Robert Cooper (author of The Other 90%) talks about the intelligence of the enteric nervous system, indepentent of but also interconnected with the cerebrum, which give us valuable iformation through gut reactions.

The bottom line is that human intelligence is diverse and multifaceted (to use a Ken Robinson phrase). Unfortunately, some very intelligent human beings have perceived themselves to be very unintelligent simply because their diverse and multifaceted type of intelligence has not been high on the somewhat artificial list of societally-rewarded abilities. That makes it even more important to ask the right question, which may be, "How are YOU intelligent?"

Friday, August 2, 2013

"How Intelligent Are You?"

That’s the typical bottom line question many individuals have had to struggle with in the school environment, whether it’s via an IQ test or a SAT or percentile placement or some other supposed measure. In a nutshell, my interest in brain function is designed to promote what I believe is a much more helpful question: "How are you intelligent?" If you figure that out and capitalize on it, life is much more likely to be lived by design. There may be as many ways to exhibit intelligence as there are brains on this planet (albeit society rewards some types far more than others) and no one assessment will ever measure all of yours. In fact, assessments don’t even exist to measure some aspects of intelligence. According to Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, the human brain has multiple intelligences (e.g., intra-personal, inter-personal, mathematical, spatial, musical, linguistic, kinesthetic), which are more or less independent of each other. So, how are YOU intelligent? Figure it out and find a way to capitalize on it. More on other types of intelligences tomorrow.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

More on Mirror Neurons

A mirror neuron can be defined as a brain thinking cell that fires both when a creature acts and when it observes another performing the same action. These neurons, dubbed “mirror neurons” because they behave as if the observer were itself performing the action, have been observed directly in some primates and birds. Of course, it’s more difficult to observe neurons in human beings. However, researchers have observed brain activity in the human brain’s premotor cortex (frontal lobes), the primary somatosensory cortex (parietal lobes) and the inferior parietal cortex, that is consistent with the concept of mirror neurons. A study by Terje Falck-Ytter, et al found that during the second half of their first year of life infants showed pro-active directed eye movements that seem to require observing the hand of an agent and an object, supporting the mirror neuron account in general. Infants develop this gaze behavior and come to predict others’ actions during the very limited time frame derived from the MSN hypothesis of social recognition. The study conclusion was that the mirror neuron system is likely to predict this process. That does put a different spin on the potential impact of what people choose to watch or what they see when they didn't choose to watch (e.g., situations or movies about war or terrorism acts or other forms of violence).