How Neurons Talk to Each Other

A new paper offers an overview as to how neurons ‘communicate’ with one another. Neurons are connected to each other through synapses, sites where signals are transmitted in the form of chemical messengers. Max Planck Institute has investigated precisely how the process works. Our nervous system consists of about 100 billion interlinked neurons that are capable of carrying out complex computations. Each neuron has an antenna zone comprising the cell body and its extensions (dendrites). It is here that it receives signals from other neurons. One cell talks, the other listens. The signals are then computed and forwarded by a “cable”, the axon, in the form of electrical impulses. In the emitter region, the axon branches to form contact sites, known as synapses, where the signals are transmitted to other neurons. At the synapse, electrical impulses arriving from the axon are converted into chemical signals. The information then flows in only one direction: one cell talks, the other listens. The number of synapses that a single neuron can develop varies considerably. Depending on its type, a neuron can have anything from just one to more than 100,000 synapses. On average, each neuron has around 1,000 synapses.

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Posted in Neuroscience, Neurons, Synapse | Tagged , ,

Understanding Overconfidence: Intelligence, Attention, and Distorted Self-assessment

Knowing what we don’t yet know is critical for learning. Nonetheless, people typically overestimate their prowess—but is this true of everyone? Three studies examined who shows overconfidence and why. Study 1 demonstrated that participants with an entity (fixed) theory of intelligence, those known to avoid negative information, showed significantly more overconfidence than those with more incremental (malleable) theories. In Study 2, participants who were taught an entity theory of intelligence allocated less attention to difficult problems than those taught an incremental theory. Participants in this entity condition also displayed more overconfidence than those in the incremental condition, and this difference in overconfidence was mediated by the observed bias in attention to difficult problems. Finally, in Study 3, directing participants’ attention to difficult aspects of the task reduced the overconfidence of those with more entity views of intelligence. Implications for reducing biased self-assessments that can interfere with learning were discussed.

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Posted in Attention, Intelligence, Overconfidence, Self-assessment | Tagged , , ,

Large Human Brain Evolved as a Result of ‘Sizing Each Other Up’ in large Cooperative Social Groups

Researchers propose the human brain is disproportionately large as a result of sizing one another up in large cooperative social groups. Experts suggest that complex decisions of whether to help someone or not could have led to the disproportionately large human brain. Humans have evolved a disproportionately large brain as a result of sizing each other up in large cooperative social groups, researchers have proposed. A team led by computer scientists at Cardiff University suggest that the challenge of judging a person’s relative standing and deciding whether or not to cooperate with them has promoted the rapid expansion of human brain size over the last 2 million years. In a study published in Scientific Reports today, the team, which also includes leading evolutionary psychologist Professor Robin Dunbar from the University of Oxford, specifically found that evolution favours those who prefer to help out others who are at least as successful as themselves. Lead author of the study Professor Roger Whitaker, from Cardiff University’s School of Computer Science and Informatics, said: “Our results suggest that the evolution of cooperation, which is key to a prosperous society, is intrinsically linked to the idea of social comparison – constantly sizing each up and making decisions as to whether we want to help them or not.

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Read also: A Dominant Social Comparison Heuristic Unites Alternative Mechanisms for the Evolution of Indirect Reciprocity

Posted in Brain development, Brains, Human brains, Human evolution, Human sociality | Tagged , , , ,

The Human Advantage: A New Understanding of How Our Brain Became Remarkable

Humans are awesome. Our brains are gigantic, seven times larger than they should be for the size of our bodies. The human brain uses 25% of all the energy the body requires each day. And it became enormous in a very short amount of time in evolution, allowing us to leave our cousins, the great apes, behind. So the human brain is special, right? Wrong, according to Suzana Herculano-Houzel. Humans have developed cognitive abilities that outstrip those of all other animals, but not because we are evolutionary outliers. The human brain was not singled out to become amazing in its own exclusive way, and it never stopped being a primate brain. If we are not an exception to the rules of evolution, then what is the source of the human advantage? Herculano-Houzel shows that it is not the size of our brain that matters but the fact that we have more neurons in the cerebral cortex than any other animal, thanks to our ancestors’ invention, some 1.5 million years ago, of a more efficient way to obtain calories: cooking. Because we are primates, ingesting more calories in less time made possible the rapid acquisition of a huge number of neurons in the still fairly small cerebral cortex — the part of the brain responsible for finding patterns, reasoning, developing technology, and passing it on through culture. Herculano-Houzel shows us how she came to these conclusions — making “brain soup” to determine the number of neurons in the brain, for example, and bringing animal brains in a suitcase through customs. The Human Advantage is an engaging and original look at how we became remarkable without ever being special.

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Read also: The Transformational Technology that made Humans Smarter than Other Primates

No relative expansion of the number of prefrontal neurons in primate and human evolution

Total number of Neurons — not enlarged prefrontal region — hallmark of Human Brain

Posted in Brain development, Brains, Human brains, Human evolution, Neuroscience | Tagged , , , ,

The Astonishing Creativity of Your Genes

The code that makes cells is more complex than it once seemed.

The millimeter-long roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans has about 20,000 genes—and so do you. Of course, only the human in this comparison is capable of creating either a circulatory system or a sonnet, a state of affairs that made this genetic equivalence one of the most confusing insights to come out of the Human Genome Project. But there are ways of accounting for some of our complexity beyond the level of genes, and as one new study shows, they may matter far more than people have assumed.

For a long time, one thing seemed fairly solid in biologists’ minds: Each gene in the genome made one protein. The gene’s code was the recipe for one molecule that would go forth into the cell and do the work that needed doing, whether that was generating energy, disposing of waste, or any other necessary task. The idea, which dates to a 1941 paper by two geneticists who later won the Nobel Prize in medicine for their work, even has a pithy name: “one gene, one protein.”

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Posted in Creativity, Genes, Genetics | Tagged , ,

Seeing as Understanding: The Importance of Visual Mathematics for our Brain and Learning

There is a common belief in education – that visual mathematics is for lower level work, and for struggling or younger students, and that students should only work visually as a prelude to more advanced or abstract mathematics. As Thomas West, author, states, there is a centuries-old belief that words and mathematical symbols are “for serious professionals – whereas pictures and diagrams” are “for the lay public and children”. This idea is an example of a damaging myth in education, and this paper will present compelling brain evidence to help dispel the myth. We will also provide examples of ways that visual mathematics may be integrated into curriculum materials and teaching ideas across grades K-16. The provision of ways to see, understand and extend mathematical ideas has been under developed or missed in most curriculum and standards, that continue to present mathematics as an almost entirely numerical and abstract subject. Yet when students learn through visual approaches, mathematics changes for them, and they are given access to deep and new understandings. The brain evidence we will share, helps us understand the impact of visualizing and seeing, to all levels of mathematics, and suggests an urgent need for change in the ways mathematics is offered to learners.

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Read also: Perceiving fingers in single-digit arithmetic problems

Why Kids Should Use Their Fingers in Math Class

Does finger training increase young children’s numerical performance?

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Posted in Brains, Education, Learning, Maths, Student, Visual | Tagged , , , , ,

Beyond Einstein’s brain: The Anatomy of Genius

When Albert Einstein died in 1955, his brain was removed, weighed and measured, preserved in formalin, photographed, and sectioned for microscopic study. Although we often think of technologic breakthroughs as coming from corporations or industry sectors, ideas come from individual brains. Human brain tissue is the source of the invention, conceptualization, and implementation of new technologies. Einstein was the preeminent genius of his era and one of the greatest scientists of all time, on par with Leonardo Da Vinci and Isaac Newton (whose brains were not preserved). What can we learn from the anatomy of Einstein’s brain that might lead to the creation of more new ideas and advanced technologies? In 1955, the neurosciences were in their infancy. In 1949 Moniz was awarded the Nobel Prize for the frontal lobotomy in which white matter connections of the brain are severed with an “ice pick” instrument, a procedure now considered barbaric by modern medicine.

Neuroscience has advanced by leaps and bounds since then, and recent insights have been made on the uniqueness of Albert Einstein’s brain.

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Posted in Brains, Einstein, Neuroscience | Tagged , ,

Quantum-like Modeling of Cognition

This paper begins with a historical review of the mutual influence of physics and psychology, from Freud’s invention of psychic energy inspired by von Boltzmann’ thermodynamics to the enrichment quantum physics gained from the side of psychology by the notion of complementarity (the invention of Niels Bohr who was inspired by William James), besides we consider the resonance of the correspondence between Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung in both physics and psychology. Then we turn to the problem of development of mathematical models for laws of thought starting with Boolean logic and progressing toward foundations of classical probability theory. Interestingly, the laws of classical logic and probability are routinely violated not only by quantum statistical phenomena but by cognitive phenomena as well. This is yet another common feature between quantum physics and psychology. In particular, cognitive data can exhibit a kind of the probabilistic interference effect. This similarity with quantum physics convinced a multi-disciplinary group of scientists (physicists, psychologists, economists, sociologists) to apply the mathematical apparatus of quantum mechanics to modeling of cognition. We illustrate this activity by considering a few concrete phenomena: the order and disjunction effects, recognition of ambiguous figures, categorization-decision making.

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Posted in Cognition, Physics, Psychology, Quantum physics | Tagged , , ,

Challenges in Evolutionary Sociology and Biosociology

Scholars in the area of Evolutionary Sociology and Biosociology explicitly seek to examine the interplay of social and environmental factors with evolved biological factors and its implications for social behavior. It is a broad area covering a wide array of research topics and methodologies. Neuro sociologists in the area describe the neural circuitry underlying social processes, such as empathy, understanding, and the social creation of the self and self-identity. Other researchers examine the effects of our evolutionary history on emotional processes that influence social behaviors and the implications for humans of comparative primatology. There are researchers examining the role of stress hormones on life course events and the effects of other hormonal levels (e.g., testosterone) on social behaviors as well as the reciprocal effect of social situations on hormonal states. Other researchers examine the correlation between genes and social behaviors and how environments influence gene expression (epigenetics). Researchers using the techniques of behavioral genetics apportion the percentage of variation in social behaviors that can be attributed to genetic factors. Some bio sociologists examine how aspects of human appearance including voice, body, and face influence social interactions. Others test hypotheses drawn from evolutionary biology on aggregate social outcomes.

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Posted in Biosociology, Evolution, Evolutionary sociology, Genes, Hormones, Sociobiology, Sociology | Tagged , , , , , ,

How to Publish your First Scientific Paper

I get a lot of email asking me for advice on paper publishing. There’s no way I can make time to read all these drafts, let alone comment on them. But simple silence leaves me feeling guilty for contributing to the exclusivity myth of academia, the fable of the privileged elitists who smugly grin behind the locked doors of the ivory tower. It’s a myth I don’t want to contribute to. And so, as a sequel to my earlier post on “How to write your first scientific paper”, here is how to avoid roadblocks on the highway to publication.

There are many types of scientific articles: comments, notes, proceedings, reviews, books and book chapters, for just to mention the most common ones. They all have their place and use, but in most of the sciences it is the research article that matters most. It’s what we all want, to get our work out there in a respected journal, and it’s what I will focus on.

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Posted in Publishing, Research, Science, Scientists | Tagged , , ,