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SUBJECTIVE experience poses a major problem for neuroscientists and philosphers alike, and the relationship between them and brain function is particularly puzzling. How can I know that my perception of the colour red is the same as yours, when my experience of the colour occupies a private mental world to which nobody else has access? How is the sensory information from an object transformed into an experience that enters conscious awareness? The neural mechanisms involved are like a black box,........ Read more »
Rouw, R., & Scholte, H. (2010) Neural Basis of Individual Differences in Synesthetic Experiences. Journal of Neuroscience, 30(18), 6205-6213. DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3444-09.2010
MIRROR movements are involuntary movements that mimic, and occur simultaneously with, voluntary movements on the opposite side of the body. The movements are known to occur because of a failure in communication between the two sides of the nervous system. They are thought to be normal during infancy and early childhood, but usually diminish with age and disappear altogether by the age of 10, following maturation of the corpus callosum, the massive bundle of nerve fibres connecting the left and r........ Read more »
Srour, M., Riviere, J., Pham, J., Dube, M., Girard, S., Morin, S., Dion, P., Asselin, G., Rochefort, D., Hince, P.... (2010) Mutations in DCC Cause Congenital Mirror Movements. Science, 328(5978), 592-592. DOI: 10.1126/science.1186463
WHEN talking about our feelings, we often use expressions that link emotions with movements or positions in space. If, for example, one receives good news, they might say that their "spirit soared", or that they are feeling "on top of the world". Conversely, negative emotions are associated with downward movements and positions - somebody who is sad is often said to be "down in the dumps", or feeling "low".
According to a new study published in this month's issue the journal Cognition, expressi........ Read more »
WILLIAMS Syndrome (WS) is a rare neurodevelopmental disorder caused by the deletion of about 28 genes from the long arm of chromosome 7. It is characterized by mild to moderate mental retardation and "elfin" facial features. Most strikingly, individuals with WS exhibit highly gregarious social behaviour: they approach strangers readily and indiscriminately, behaving as if everybody were their friend. And, according to a study published today in the journal Current Biology, they are the only know........ Read more »
Santos, A., Meyer-Lindenberg, A., & Deruelle, C. (2010) Absence of racial, but not gender, stereotyping in Williams syndrome children. Current Biology, 20(7). DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2010.02.009
WHEN making moral judgements, we rely on our ability to make inferences about the beliefs and intentions of others. With this so-called "theory of mind", we can meaningfully interpret their behaviour, and decide whether it is right or wrong. The legal system also places great emphasis on one's intentions: a "guilty act" only produces criminal liability when it is proven to have been performed in combination with a "guilty mind", and this, too, depends on the ability to make reasoned moral judgem........ Read more »
Young, L., Camprodon, J., Hauser, M., Pascual-Leone, A., & Saxe, R. (2010) Disruption of the right temporoparietal junction with transcranial magnetic stimulation reduces the role of beliefs in moral judgments. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0914826107
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ARTISTS employ a number of different techniques to represent implied motion in two-dimensional works. One of these, commonly used in posters, comics and animation, is the affine shear effect, whereby a moving object is depicted as leaning into the direction of movement. Cartoonists also use action lines to depict movement and speed, with straight lines conveying fast movements and wavy lines conveying slower ones. Motion can also be conveyed by superimposing several imag........ Read more »
Osaka, N., Matsuyoshi, D., Ikeda, T., & Osaka, M. (2010) Implied motion because of instability in Hokusai Manga activates the human motion-sensitive extrastriate visual cortex: an fMRI study of the impact of visual art. NeuroReport, 21(4), 264-267. DOI: 10.1097/WNR.0b013e328335b371
THIS is the left cerebral hemisphere of an 18-month-old infant who lived some 800 years ago. Such finds are extremely rare, because nervous tissue is soft and normally begins to decompose soon after death, so this specimen is unique in that it has been far better preserved than any other. Although reduced by about 80% of its original weight, many of its anatomical features have remained intact. The frontal, temporal and occipital lobes have retained their original shape; the gyri and sulci (the ........ Read more »
Papageorgopoulou, C., Rentsch, K., Raghavan, M., Hofmann, M., Colacicco, G., Gallien, V., Bianucci, R., & Rühli, F. (2010) Preservation of cell structures in a medieval infant brain: A paleohistological, paleogenetic, radiological and physico-chemical study. NeuroImage, 50(3), 893-901. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.01.029
SNAKES have a unique sensory system for detecting infrared radiation, with which they can visualize temperature changes within their immediate environment. Using this special sense, they can image the body heat radiating from warm-blooded animals nearby. This enables them to track their prey quickly and with great accuracy, even in the dark, and to target the most vulnerable parts of the prey's body when they strike. It warns them of the presence of predators, and may also be used to find approp........ Read more »
FORMATION of a memory is widely believed to leave a 'trace' in the brain - a fleeting pattern of electrical activity which strengthens the connections within a widely distributed network of neurons, and which re-emerges when the memory is recalled. The concept of the memory trace was first proposed nearly a century ago, but the nature of the trace, its precise location in the brain and the underlying neural mechanisms all remain elusive. A new study by researchers from University College London ........ Read more »
Chadwick, M. J., et al. (2010) Decoding Individual Episodic Memory Traces in the Human Hippocampus. Curr. Biol. info:/
ALZHEIMER'S Disease is the most common form of dementia, affecting an estimated 30 million people worldwide. The cause of the condition is unknown, but the prime suspect is amyloid-beta (Aβ), a 42-amino acid peptide which accumulates within neurons to form insoluble structures called senile plaques that are thought to be toxic. Aβ is synthesized in all neurons; it is associated with the cell membrane, and is thought to be involved in cell-to-cell signalling, but its exact role has eluded resea........ Read more »
Soscia, S., Kirby, J., Washicosky, K., Tucker, S., Ingelsson, M., Hyman, B., Burton, M., Goldstein, L., Duong, S., Tanzi, R.... (2010) The Alzheimer's Disease-Associated Amyloid β-Protein Is an Antimicrobial Peptide. PLoS ONE, 5(3). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0009505
THE perception and recognition of faces is crucial for the social situations we encounter every day. From the moment we are born, we prefer looking at faces than at inanimate objects, because the brain is geared to perceive them, and has specialized mechanisms for doing so. Such is the importance of the face to everyday life, that we see faces everywhere, even when they are not there.We know that the ability to recognize faces varies among individuals. Some people are born with prosopagnosia, th........ Read more »
Wilmer, J., Germine, L., Chabris, C., Chatterjee, G., Williams, M., Loken, E., Nakayama, K., & Duchaine, B. (2010) Human face recognition ability is specific and highly heritable. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0913053107
Zhu, Q., Song, Y., Hu, S., Li, X., Tian, M., Zhen, Z., Dong, Q., Kanwisher, N., & Liu, J. (2010) Heritability of the Specific Cognitive Ability of Face Perception. Current Biology, 20(2), 137-142. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2009.11.067
REMOVAL of specific parts of the brain can induce increases in a trait which predisposes people to spirituality, according to a new clinical study by Italian reseachers. The new research, published earlier this month in the journal Neuron, provides evidence that some brain structures are associated with spiritual thinking and feelings, and hints at individual differences that might make some people more prone than others to spirituality.
Cosimo Urgesi of the University of Udine and his colleagu........ Read more »
Urgesi, C., Aglioti, S., Skrap, M., & Fabbro, F. (2010) The Spiritual Brain: Selective Cortical Lesions Modulate Human Self-Transcendence. Neuron, 65(3), 309-319. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2010.01.026
WHEN it comes to making decisions, timing can be everything, but it is often beneficial to conceal the decision that has been made. Take a game of poker, for instance: during each round, the player has to decide whether to bet, raise the stakes, or fold, based on the hand they have been dealt. A good player will have perfected his "poker face", the blank expression which conceals the emotions he feels and the decisions he makes from the other players sitting at the table.
Increasing numbers of ........ Read more »
Einhauser, W., et al. (2010) Pupil dilation betrays the timing of decisions. Front. Hum. Neurosci. info:/
IF a rapid series of taps are applied first to your wrist and then to your elbow, you will experience a perceptual illusion, in which phantom sensations are felt along the skin connecting the two points that were actually touched. This feels as if a tiny rabbit is hopping along your skin from the wrist to the elbow, and is therefore referred to as the "cutaneous rabbit". The illusion indicates that our perceptions of sensory inputs do not enter conscious awareness until after the integration of ........ Read more »
HOW does the brain encode the spatial representations which enable us to successfully navigate our environment? Four decades of research has identified four cell types in the brains of mice and rats which are known to be involved in these processes: place cells, grid cells, head direction cells and, most recently, border cells. Although the functions of most of these cell types are well characterized in rodents, it remains unclear whether they are also found in humans. A new functional neuroimag........ Read more »
"WHEN a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour," said Albert Einstein, "it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute, and it's longer than any hour." Einstein was describing one of the most profound insights of his Theory of General Relativity - that the perception of time is subjective. This is something we all know from experience: time flies when we are enjoying ourselves, but seems to drag on when we are doing something tedious.
The subjective experience of time can ........ Read more »
Wittmann, M., et al. (2010) The neural substrates of subjective time dilation . Front. Hum. Neurosci. info:/
OUR ability to use and manipulate numbers is integral to everyday life - we use them to label, rank, count and measure almost everything we encounter. It was long thought that numerical competence is dependent on language and, therefore, that numerosity is restricted to our species. Although the symbolic representation of numbers, using numerals and words, is indeed unique to humans, we now know that animals are also capable of manipulating numerical information.
One study published in 1998, f........ Read more »
Bongard, S., & Nieder, A. (2010) Basic mathematical rules are encoded by primate prefrontal cortex neurons. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0909180107
VIEWING a stimulus for a prolonged period of time results in a bias in the perception of a stimulus viewed afterwards. For example, after looking at a moving stimulus for some time, a stationary stimulus that is viewed subsequently appears to drift in the opposite direction. These after-effects reveal to us the properties of our perceptual system. They occur because the neurons which are sensitive to the initial stimulus re-calibrate their responses; they adapt to compensate for the earlier endu........ Read more »
WE tend to assume that we see our surroundings as they really are, and that our perception of reality is accurate. In fact, what we perceive is merely a neural representation of the world, the brain's best guess of its environment, based on a very limited amount of available information. This is perhaps best demonstrated by visual illusions, in which there is a mismatch between our perception of the stimulus and objective reality.
Even when looking at everyday objects, our perceptions can be de........ Read more »
Balcetis, E., & Dunning, D. (2009) Wishful Seeing: More Desired Objects Are Seen as Closer. Psychological Science. DOI: 10.1177/0956797609356283
HOW do you react when you see somebody else in pain? Most of us can empathize with someone who is sick or has been injuered - we can quite easily put ourselves "in their shoes" and understand, to some extent, what they are feeling. We can share their emotional experience, because observing their pain activates regions of the brain which are involved in processing the emotional aspects of pain.
But can seeing somebody else in pain actually cause pain in the observer? People with mirror-touch syna........ Read more »
Osborn, J., & Derbyshire, S. (2009) Pain sensation evoked by observing injury in others. Pain. DOI: 10.1016/j.pain.2009.11.007
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