Learning Sciences of Change

Learning Change Project: 8 Blogs, 6910 Readings

Collective Action and the Collaborative Brain

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Humans are unique both in their cognitive abilities and in the extent of cooperation in large groups of unrelated individuals. How our species evolved high intelligence in spite of various costs of having a large brain is perplexing. Equally puzzling is how our ancestors managed to overcome the collective action problem and evolve strong innate preferences for cooperative behaviour. Here, I theoretically study the evolution of social-cognitive competencies as driven by selection emerging from the need to produce public goods in games against nature or in direct competition with other groups. I use collaborative ability in collective actions as a proxy for social-cognitive competencies. My results suggest that collaborative ability is more likely to evolve first by between-group conflicts and then later be utilized and improved in games against nature. If collaborative abilities remain low, the species is predicted to become genetically dimorphic with a small proportion of individuals contributing to public goods and the rest free-riding. Evolution of collaborative ability creates conditions for the subsequent evolution of collaborative communication and cultural learning.

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Written by Giorgio Bertini

December 15, 2014 at 11:51 am

Digital Einstein Papers

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Princeton University Press proudly presents The Digital Einstein Papers, an open-access site for The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, the ongoing publication of Einstein’s massive written legacy comprising more than 30,000 unique documents. The site presents all 13 volumes published to date by the editors of the Einstein Papers Project, covering the writings and correspondence of Albert Einstein. The volumes are presented in the original language version with in-depth English language annotation and other scholarly apparatus. In addition, the reader can toggle to an English language translation of most documents. By clicking on the unique archival identifier number below each text, readers can access the archival record of each published document at the Einstein Archives Online and in some cases, the digitized manuscript. Approximately 7,000 pages representing 2,900 unique documents have been digitized thus far.The site will present subsequent volumes in the series roughly two years after original book publication.

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Written by Giorgio Bertini

December 9, 2014 at 7:05 pm

Posted in Einstein

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Decision-making and Social Neurocognition during Adolescence

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Adolescents show a tendency to engage in risky activities, such as dangerous driving and unsafe sex. This has led to the suggestion that adolescents are poor decisionmakers, and are risk-seeking in general. The first two chapters of this thesis describe studies investigating adolescent decision-making using probabilistic decision-making tasks. In Chapter 2, the tendency to seek risk, and the ability to integrate probability and reward information to make an optimal decision, is investigated in child, adolescent and adult participants. The emotional response to outcomes was also investigated. In Chapter 3, a computational approach is adopted to investigate the role of positive and negative performance feedback (wins and losses) in a probabilistic decision-making task in adolescents and in adults. The role of social emotional factors in decision-making was also investigated. Adolescence is characterised by social and emotional development, as well as development in the functional brain correlates of social-emotional processing. Therefore, Chapters 4 to 6 focus on adolescent social-emotional processing using behavioural and functional neuroimaging methods. In Chapter 4, results are presented from a study of self-reported social and basic emotions across adolescence, where social emotions (e.g. embarrassment) are defined as emotions that require an awareness of others’ mental states (e.g. emotions, opinions, desires). In Chapter 5, the neural correlates of social and basic emotion processing are investigated in adolescents and in adults. Finally, in Chapter 6, these fMRI data are reanalysed using a technique known as psycho-physiological interaction (PPI) analysis, to look at age-associated changes in effective connectivity. Results are discussed in the context of social cognition and neuroanatomical development.

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Decision-making in the Adolescent Brain

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Adolescence is characterized by making risky decisions. Early lesion and neuroimaging studies in adults pointed to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and related structures as having a key role in decision-making. More recent studies have fractionated decision-making processes into its various components, including the representation of value, response selection (including inter-temporal choice and cognitive control), associative learning, and affective and social aspects. These different aspects of decision-making have been the focus of investigation in recent studies of the adolescent brain. Evidence points to a dissociation between the relatively slow, linear development of impulse control and response inhibition during adolescence versus the nonlinear development of the reward system, which is often hyper-responsive to rewards in adolescence. This suggests that decision-making in adolescence may be particularly modulated by emotion and social factors, for example, when adolescents are with peers or in other affective (‘hot’) contexts.

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Written by Giorgio Bertini

November 24, 2014 at 4:39 pm

The Cognitive-Emotional Brain

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The idea that a specific brain circuit constitutes the emotional brain and its corollary, that cognition resides elsewhere, has shaped thinking about emotion and the brain for many years. Recent behavioral, neuropsychological, neuroanatomy, and neuroimaging research, however, suggests that emotion is integrated with cognition in the brain. In The Cognitive-Emotional Brain, I describe the many ways that emotion and cognition are fundamentally integrated throughout the brain. The book summarizes five areas of research that support this integrative view and makes four arguments to organize each area. (1) Based on rodent and human data, it is proposed that the amygdala’s functions go beyond emotion as traditionally conceived. Furthermore, the processing of emotion-laden information is capacity limited, thus not independent of attention and awareness. (2) Cognitive-emotional interactions in the human prefrontal cortex assume diverse forms and are not limited to mutual suppression. Particularly, the lateral prefrontal cortex is a focal point for cognitive-emotional interactions. (3) Interactions between motivation and cognition can be seen across a range of perceptual and cognitive tasks. Motivation shapes behavior in specific ways – for example, by reducing response conflict or via selective effects on working memory. Traditional accounts, by contrast, typically describe motivation as a global activation independent of particular control demands. (4) Perception and cognition are directly influenced by information with affective or motivational content in powerful ways. A dual competition model outlines a framework for such interactions at the perceptual and executive levels. A specific neural architecture is proposed that embeds emotional and motivational signals into perception and cognition through multiple channels. (5) A network perspective should supplant the strategy of understanding the brain in terms of individual regions. More broadly, in a network view of brain architecture, “emotion” and “cognition” may be used as labels of certain behaviors, but will not map cleanly into compartmentalized pieces of the brain.

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Read also: The Cognitive-Emotional Brain: From Interactions to Integration

Written by Giorgio Bertini

November 20, 2014 at 8:06 am

Posted in Brains, Cognition, Emotions

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The Cognitive Neuroscience of Social Behaviour

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The potential for cognitive neuroscience to shed light on social behaviour is increasingly being acknowledged and is set to become an important new approach in the field of psychology. Standing at the vanguard of this development, The Cognitive Neuroscience of Social Behaviour provides a state-of-the-art contribution to a subject still in its infancy. Divided into three parts, the book presents an overview of research into neural substrates of social interactions, the cognitive neuroscience of social cognition and human disorders of social behaviour and cognition.

Social Cognitive Neuroscience is the study of the neural mechanisms of social cognition and social interactions in humans and animals. It is also concerned with deficits of socio-cognitive processes in humans, particularly those which have a dedicated neural basis, such as autism, schizophrenia, sociopathy, and depression. This branch of cognitive neuroscience is directed towards understanding complex aspects of social behaviour, such as mentalizing (understanding another’s mental states), empathy, attractiveness, self-awareness, moral reasoning, intentionality, and imitation.

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Written by Giorgio Bertini

November 19, 2014 at 11:40 am

Cognitive Neuroscience 2.0 – building a Cumulative Science of Human Brain Function

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Cognitive neuroscientists increasingly recognize that continued progress in understanding human brain function will require not only the acquisition of new data, but also the synthesis and integration of data across studies and laboratories. Here we review ongoing efforts to develop a more cumulative science of human brain function. We discuss the rationale for an increased focus on formal synthesis of the cognitive neuroscience literature, provide an overview of recently developed tools and platforms designed to facilitate the sharing and integration of neuroimaging data, and conclude with a discussion of several emerging developments that hold even greater promise in advancing the study of human brain function.

The explosive growth of human brain mapping over the past two decades has raised important challenges for the field. As the primary literature expands, the need for powerful tools capable of synthesizing and distilling the findings of many different studies grow commensurately. The present article highlighted the benefits of a synthesis oriented research strategy and reviewed several ongoing efforts to facilitate greater integration of the published literature. Going forward, such integration will undoubtedly accelerate progress in elucidating the neural mechanisms that support the full range of human thought, feeling, and action in health and disease. There is every reason to push forward energetically on efforts to develop a cumulative science of human brain function.

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Written by Giorgio Bertini

November 19, 2014 at 11:15 am

Shift Work link to Brain power decline

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People who work shifts for 10 years or more may suffer loss of memory and brain power, said a study Tuesday that also warned of safety concerns in high-risk jobs. The effects on brain function can be reversed, the team wrote in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine, but this may take at least five years. The research is the latest to highlight the dangers of shift work, which disrupts the body’s internal clock and has previously been linked to health problems like ulcers, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Yet, little has been known about its potential impact on brain function.

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Written by Giorgio Bertini

November 5, 2014 at 2:23 pm

Posted in Brains, Shift work

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