Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Who Makes the Decision, 2?

Try this, take a piece of paper and draw a dot on it. Count backwards from ten to zero. When you start to say the word zero put your finger on the dot and press it as if it were a button. Pay attention and ask yourself: “At what moment did my brain tell my finger to move?” In one sense, your brain—although it is inside your skull and part of your brain-body—can be thought of as a separate entity. The brain can only do what it thinks it can do and you are the one who tells it what it can do. That forms part of the basis for learning to talk to you brain as if it were a separate entity and you are giving it directions about what it can do. So you say, “Maylene, you exercise for 20 minutes every morning before breakfast.” “Jacob, you drink a glass of water before every meal.” That helps ‘to program’ your brain and tell it what you are expecting—and now the two of you work together to accomplish what you want to have happen.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Who Makes the Decision?

Did you know that taking some physical action—reaching for a glass of water, for example—appears to begin in one part of your subconscious brain even before your brain consciously ‘wills’ to do   the action and initiates it? Researchers such as Hans Helmut Kornhuber and Luder Deecke, as well as Benjamin Libet in the 1980s have studied this phenomenon using simple finger movement. Kornhuber and Deecke found a precursor spike in the brain 0.8 seconds before the finger actually moved and dubbed it the ‘readiness potential.’ They also found a second and smaller spark of electrical activity at 0.05 seconds before actual finger movement. Libet used a clock to identify the moment of ‘wanting to move a finger.’ That moment occurred after the point of readiness potential but before sensors detected any actual finger movement. Conclusions were that part of your brain ‘wills’ an action to occur before your conscious brain makes you aware of your desire to make it happen. Hmmm.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Sayings #5

1.   I like long walks, especially when they're taken by people who annoy me.
2.   I was going to wear my camouflage shirt today, but I couldn't find it.
3.   If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you.
4.   Sometimes I wake up grumpy; other times I let him sleep.
5.   If tomatoes are technically a fruit, is ketchup a smoothie?
6.   Money is the root of all wealth.
7.   No matter how much you push the envelope, it'll still be stationery.
8. I thought my brain was really unique until someone told me that every brain is.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Recognizing Faces, 7

The difficulty in recognizing faces on your own-race effect verses other races seems to be related to increased ability to extract information about the spatial relationships between different facial features. Daniel T. Levin has reportedly explained it this way: a deficit occurs when viewing people of another race because visual information specifying race takes up mental attention at the expense of individuating information when recognizing faces of other races. It will be interesting if further research using perceptual tasks can shed light on the specific cognitive processes involved in the other-race effect. Studies in 2007 led by Bernstein, found that the own-race effect likely extends beyond racial membership into concepts of in-group versus out-group. For example, research showed that categorizing somebody by the university he or she attends showed similar results compared to studies about the own-race effect. Hugenberg, Miller, and Claypool (2007) performed a study in which they introduced people to the concept of the own-race effect before presenting them with a series of differing faces. If study participants were made aware of the own-race effect prior to the experiment, the study participants showed significantly less if any own-race effect. To me, this sounds like ‘knowledge is power,’ which can enable individuals to alter their perceptions if they choose to do so.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Recognizing Faces, 6

In general, humans find it easier to recognize faces within one’s own race. That is, humans tend to perceive people of other races than their own to all look alike. As early as 1914 researchers were studying differences in own-race recognition versus other-race recognition. Other things being equal, individuals of a given race are distinguishable from each other in proportion to one’s familiarity and contact with the race as whole. To the uninitiated Caucasian, all Asians look alike; to the uninitiated Asian, most native Americans or African Americans or Caucasians look alike. This phenomenon is known by several names: cross-race effect, own-race effect, other-race effect, own race bias, interracial-face-recognition-deficit, and so on. This cross-race effect seems to appear around six months of age in human beings. Interesting, researchers have found it can be altered in early childhood through adulthood through interaction with people of other races. More tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Recognizing Faces, 5

Specific mental challenges appear to impact face and emotion perception. Take schizophrenia for example. When asked to match faces, remember faces, and recognize which emotions are present in a face, individuals with schizophrenia demonstrate worse accuracy and slower response time. Schizophrenia patients are able to easily identify a happy facial affect but struggle to identify faces as sad or fearful. Furthermore, the severity of schizophrenia symptoms has been found to correlate with the severity of impairment in face perception. Impairments in face and emotion perception are linked to impairments in social skills, due to the individual's inability to distinguish facial emotions Individuals with diagnoses of both schizophrenia and antisocial personality disorder have been found to have even more impairment in face and emotion perception (as compared with individuals with just schizophrenia). These individuals have been found to struggle to identify anger, surprise, and disgust. There is also a link between aggression and emotion perception difficulties for people with this dual diagnosis. More tomorrow.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Recognizing Faces, 4

It appears that early visual experience is important to the development of face-processing skills. At birth it is thought that a baby is able to see clearly about a foot in front of its eyes, while actual visual recognition probably takes a few weeks. Study conclusions differ in attempting to identify when a newborn can recognize its mother’s and father’s face. Some research suggests babies may be able to recognize parental faces within days of birth while other research estimates this could take up to a couple month. (If you are discussing voice recognition, some researchers believe newborns can recognize parental voices (they heard frequently during gestation) almost immediately after birth. And in terms of recognizing scent, breastfed newborns appear to become familiar with their mother's unique scent very quickly. Visual recognition skills improve rapidly, however. By the time an infant is about eight months old, he or she will likely be able to recognize parents and familiar care providers from across a room. From across a crowded room? Maybe not . . .   More tomorrow.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Recognizing Faces, 3

Human brains learn to discern among the types of faces they see the most frequently. Studies at England's University of Sheffield suggest that babies are born with a broad idea of what a face is. They start out with the ability to recognize a wide range of faces, even among races or species different from their own. Fast forward to the age of nine months, however, and processing of faces narrows based on faces the babies see most often. For example, if infants are exposed mainly to Asian faces, they will gradually become less skilled at discerning among different faces of other races. Study results suggest that broad exposure to races and other species in infancy may prevent that loss of ability. The National Geographic News reported on studies that focused on face processing—the ability to recognize and categorize faces, determine identity and gender, and read emotions. Six-month-old study participants were able to recognize the faces of individuals of a different races as well as different species (e.g., monkey faces). Infants who received visual training for this retained the ability. Infants with no training lost the skill by the time they were nine months old. Their findings suggest that, in humans, this skill is another instance of "use it or lose it." More next week.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Recognizing Faces, 2

Humans find it almost impossible to recognize a face if it is upside down, or lit from an unfamiliar angle, or viewed as a photographic negative. (Interestingly, individuals diagnosed with schizophrenia are sometimes able to identify a face when seen upside down.) Some studies have shown gender differences in facial recognition. In general, men tend to recognize fewer faces of women than women do, whereas no sex differences were found with regard to male faces. When attempting the complex task of recognizing faces, nerve pathways make connections in the brain to recall memories. A person’s voice can help with facial recognition. The Seminal Model of face perception, proposes three stages of face processing including recognition of the facial features, recall of memories linked with that face, and name recall—which may or may not occur in that order. The representation of an entire face may be filed in a single neuron. This is sometimes referred to as the Jennifer Aniston phenomenon. Researchers reportedly touched a single neuron inside a person’s brain and the patient reported seeing Jennifer Aniston’s face. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Recognizing Faces

Recognizing faces is one of the most difficult visual tasks humans perform, because faces are so similar in composition. Scientists have discovered some interesting things about how the brain recognizes faces. For example, the brain appears to have a specialized mental module dedicated to face processing. The fusiform gyrus in the temporal lobe appears to be involved and at least partly responsible for one’s ability to recognize faces. (Prosopagnosia is the term for damage to the temporal lobe that results in an inability to recognize and identify familiar faces, even one’s own face.) All faces have the same basic features and typically consist of: two eyes, one nose, one mouth, a forehead, cheeks, chin, and eyebrows, etc., but each person has some of its own distinguishing features. Naturally, the more similar two faces are (e.g., identical twins or mirror twins) the more difficult it is to tell the difference between the two. How many faces can your brain recognize? 10,000 or so on average. More tomorrow. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

“Bath Salts” and the Brain, 2

Synthetic cathinone products are often marketed as “bath salts.” They contain mind-altering ingredients that can cause a range of effects including: Synthetic cathinones can produce effects that include: paranoia, hallucinations, increased sex drive, panic attacks, excited delirium with extreme agitation and violent behavior, nosebleeds, sweating, nausea, dehydration, breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue, and kidney failure. Intoxication from synthetic cathinones has resulted in death. The worst outcomes are associated with snorting or needle injection. And, yes, they can be addictive. Animal studies show that rats will compulsively self-administer synthetic cathinones. Human users have reported that the drugs trigger intense cravings—uncontrollable urges to use the drug again. Taking synthetic cathinones often may cause strong withdrawal symptoms that include: depression, anxiety, tremors, problems sleeping paranoia. No medications are currently available to treat addiction to synthetic cathinones. Naturally, prevention is the best policy.


Monday, February 13, 2017

“Bath Salts” and the Brain

Epsom salts that people use during bathing have no mind-altering ingredients. Synthetic cathinone products marketed as "bath salts" do have mind-altering ingredients and can be downright dangerous. These human-made drugs are chemically related to cathinone, a stimulant found in Khat, a shrub grown in East Africa and southern Arabia. People sometimes chew leaves for their mild stimulant effects. One study found that 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV), a common synthetic cathinone, affects the brain in a manner similar to cocaine but is at least 10 times more powerful.( Molly—slang for "molecular," refers to the pure crystal powder form of MDMA). Usually purchased in capsules, Molly has become more popular in the past few years. MDPV is the most common synthetic cathinone found in the blood and urine of patients admitted to emergency departments. These “bath salts” often take the form of a white or brown crystal-like powder and are sold in small plastic or foil packages labeled "not for human consumption" or as "plant food," "jewelry cleaner," or "phone screen cleaner." They may be purchased via the internet and in some drug paraphernalia stores under a variety of brand names, including: Flakka, Bloom, Cloud Nine, Lunar Wave, Vanilla Sky, White Lightning, and Scarface. Typically “bath salts” are swallowed, snorted, smoked, or injected. So what’s the effect of these synthetic cathinones on the brain? More tomorrow.

Friday, February 10, 2017


Do you enjoy aphorisms? I certainly do and have quite a collection. Spoken or written, aphorism literally means “definition.” The term may have originated with Hippocrates, the Greek physician regarded as the father of modern medicine. He used aphorismos (a Greek ancestor of aphorism meaning "definition") as the title of his book outlining his principles on the diagnosis and treatment of disease. aphorisms can be defined as:

  • A pithy observation that contains a general truth
  • A statement of truth or opinion expressed in a concise and witty manner

From time to time I shall share some aphorisms with you from my collection. This is a favorite of mine:

  • Better to be silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt

Sayings #4

1.   There may be no excuse for laziness, but I'm still looking.
2.   Women spend more time wondering what men are thinking than men spend thinking.
3.   Give me ambiguity or give me something else.
4.   He who laughs last thinks slowest.
5.   Is it wrong that only one company makes the game Monopoly?
6.   Women sometimes make fools of men, but most guys are the do-it-yourself type.
7.   I was going to give him a nasty look, but he already had one.
8.   Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

9.   The grass may be greener on the other side of the fence but at least you don't have to mow it.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Water and Mental Clarity

Recently I was visiting friends in another part of the country. Also visiting were a pair of elderly twins, who were evidencing a great deal of confusion resembling symptoms of early dementia. In the process of observing them, they appeared to be drinking less than one glass of water a day (besides whatever they got from their food) and there was no known contraindication to their reducing fluid intake). We began encouraging them to drink more water. It was humorous (almost) to put a glass of water in front of each of them and hear them say they were not thirsty and did not need water. Knowing that thirst perception does tend to diminish with age, we eventually got them on board by just sitting down and drinking water with them. Within a day or two it was amazing to note their confusion disappearing. They had more physical and mental energy and their sense of humor was returning. Studies have shown that dehydration is lethal for brain function because the brain (nearly three-quarters fluid) uses water for its ‘thinking’ functions as well as for energy. Fortunately, becoming more hydrated through regular water intake appears able to reverse some symptoms of ‘senile dementia’ (as it was once called).

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Rat Brain – Human Brain

“How is it that rats are often used for studies and then someone thinks the conclusions can translate to humans?” Good question. First, studies have shown that rat brains are more like human brains than one might think. Neuroscientists face a multitude of challenges trying to better understand the human brain. Because of model organisms such as the rat, researchers are able to discover information that might not otherwise be known because some experiments would be impossible to do on humans. What are some of the similarities? For starters a recent paper published in the journal Frontiers in Neural Circuits by Jared Smith and Kevin Alloway indicated the discovery of a parallel between the motor cortices of rats and humans that signifies a greater relevance of the rat model to studies of the human brain than scientists had previously known. For another, rat and human brains have more than 30 identical peptides. Peptides are molecules consisting of two or more amino acids that impact mood; some are hormones, others are neurotransmitters, and some are a combination of both. Therefore, depending on the topic under research, what happens in the rat brain may be very similar to what goes on in the human brain. Maybe being called a “rat” isn’t so far off base after all . . .

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Plasticity or Not

Fortunately, the human brain generally is quite flexible. Learning new words and information, honing skills, or recognizing patterns, typically triggers your brain to grow new dendrites on your neurons and/or modify and strengthen those already there. Practicing the piano, or honing a sporting skill for example, helps pave these neuron pathways. The brain rewires itself to accommodate the learning. That’s called ‘plasticity.’ Researchers have discovered that the brain with dyslexia—the most common learning challenge worldwide—may have difficulty rewiring itself with learning, especially with reading as it is a very complex activity. Scans showed that non-dyslexic brains showed less activity to words they had seen or heard multiple times, the brain already adapting to process the information more efficiently. The dyslexic brain appears to fully reprocess the stimuli with each exposure rather than rewiring neural shortcuts. Now the question will be if researchers can figure out how to assist the dyslexic brain with increasing its plasticity. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Dyslexia and the Brain

Spoken language, recognizing faces, or identifying objects does not pose much of a problem for the average person, even those with dyslexia. Dyslexia does seem to impact reading, however. Researchers was once thought that dyslexia was primarily a problem of language processing. As you may know, plasticity is a term for the brain’s remarkable ability to rewire itself throughout a person's life—a valuable cognitive asset. A study reported in the journal Neurons, used MRI to study the brains of individuals with and without dyslexia. Their conclusion was that dyslexia may represent a problem with the brain rewiring itself. That is, those who exhibit struggles aligned with dyslexia appear to exhibit less brain plasticity as compared with individuals without dyslexia issues. It is estimated that dyslexia impacts one in ten persons worldwide, and up to seventeen percent of American schoolchildren. More tomorrow.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Enmeshed Parenting, Five

Make no mistake, enmeshed and unwise parenting can occur with mothers or fathers and with daughters as well as sons. If the child grows up mental and emotionally and tries to separate from the stifling parental relationship, although the child may like some of the perks enmeshment gives them, the parent may try some strategy to retain the enmeshed relationship. Either parent can ‘live vicariously’ through a child, especially if their child (even in adulthood) is doing something the parent would have liked to do. Once the parent clearly understands that his or her behaviors are designed to obtain personal rewards and have nothing to do with healthy functional parenting, there is a chance the parent may get some good counseling and decide to get on with their own life. If the parent learns new strategies and begins the process of disconnecting from the enmeshed relationships, suggesting strategies for the child to use to learn to become a more resilient and self-sufficient adult, the child may begin to act out: at age 25, or 35, or 45 or… Some adult children even threaten suicide if the parent begins to disentangle from the enmeshment or shows signs of wanting to develop close friendships with adults of their own age.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Enmeshed Parenting, Four

Parents often mistakenly believe that they are helping their child by rushing to meet their emotional, mental, social, and financial needs. Truth is in many cases, however, they are actually handicapping the child and preventing them from having a rewarding, interdependent, and fulfilling adult life. If it is a single parent who is enmeshed with a child, the parent may never marry or remarry because the child becomes upset at just the thought of losing his or her position as the adored offspring. If and when the child marries, the child may choose a child-parent type of relationship. There is rarely a husband, however, who wants to pamper his wife the way her father or mother does. The first time the spouse does something that the adult child doesn’t like, the boy will run home to Mommy so she can comfort him and solve his problem; the girl will run home to Daddy so he can comfort her and solve her problem. If the girl’s husband is happy to have a ‘child bride’ mentally and emotionally and willing to have his father-in-law do all the nurturing, being content for his wife to be’ arm candy,’ so be it. If not, the marriage will likely not last or the couple will live very separate lives. The wife may interact physically and sexually with her husband, emotionally she belongs to Daddy. More tomorrow.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Enmeshed Parenting, Three

The woman asked me, “What does my husband get out of it, this preoccupation with trying to meet his adult daughter's every request?” Likely he feels powerful, important, and needed, and perhaps even guilty for remarrying because he went against his daughter’s wishes. It’s a pretty dreadful state of affairs. Her counselor had suggested that she sit down and calmly explain what she perceives and tell her husband that this relationship is not working for her. It’s possible he may be willing to see a good counselor with her. However, if her husband gets his rewards from being an at-your-beck-and-call Daddy and almost a surrogate husband to his 25-year-old daughter (hopefully without any improper physical or emotional activity), basking in the child’s adoration, there’s not much the wife can do. In that case, she may need to work with a good counselor yourself to help you extract yourself from a very difficult situation. In a sense he is ‘addicted’ to his daughter. His brain may even be addicted to the adrenalin and dopamine that is produced in response to his daughter’s frequent problems. As adrenalin increases, so does dopamine, which gives Daddy two hits. He gets energy from the adrenalin and also feels better as she tells him that he is her hero and she doesn’t know how she would live without him. He needs to be ready for adult-level tantrums and manipulation, however, should he learn to back off and let her grow up. More tomorrow.