Babies can Learn that Hard Work pays off

MIT researchers report children as young as 15 months try harder to complete a task if they witness an adult struggling to succeed than those who witness a task completed effortlessly. Study finds infants try harder after seeing adults struggle to achieve a goal. If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again. A new study from MIT reveals that babies as young as 15 months can learn to follow this advice. The researchers found that babies who watched an adult struggle at two different tasks before succeeding tried harder at their own difficult task, compared to babies who saw an adult succeed effortlessly.


Posted in Baby, Learning, Work | Tagged , ,

This is your Brain on Art

Having a great time at the theater defies logic in many ways. We’re surrounded by strangers, bombarded with unusual images and often faced with a wordless language of symbols. Yet, on a good night, we generally laugh more, cry more and enjoy ourselves more at a live performance than when we’re watching TV at home. We may even lose ourselves and feel connected to something larger. How does this happen?

Some of the answers to art’s mysteries can be found in the realm of science. Art is considered the domain of the heart, but its transporting effects start in the brain, where intricate systems perceive and interpret it with dazzling speed. Using brain-imaging and other tools of neuroscience, the new field of neuroaesthetics is probing the relationship between art and the brain.


Posted in Arts, Brains | Tagged ,

Tool to Assess Individual’s Level of Wisdom

UCSD researchers have developed a new method to assess a person’s levels of wisdom. The test, SD-WISE, uses neurobiology, as well as a psychosocial basis to measure the individual level of wisdom.

Researchers at University of San Diego School of Medicine have developed a new tool called the San Diego Wisdom Scale (SD-WISE) to assess an individual’s level of wisdom, based upon a conceptualization of wisdom as a trait with a neurobiological as well as psychosocial basis. The findings are published in the September 2017 issue of the Journal of Psychiatric Research.


Posted in Neuroscience, Wisdom | Tagged ,

The Bilingual Brain Calculates Differently Depending on the Language Used

A new study reports mathematical processes in the brain are influenced by language. Studying bilingual people, researchers discovered cognitive ‘extra effort’ is required for solving math problems when presented in the second language.

People can intuitively recognize small numbers up to four; however, when calculating they depend on the assistance of language. In this respect, the fascinating research question ensues: how do multilingual people solve arithmetical tasks presented to them in different languages of which they have a very good command? The question will gain in importance in the future, as an increasingly globalised job market and accelerated migration will mean that ever more people seek work and study outside of the linguistic area of their home countries.


Posted in Bilingual, Brains | Tagged ,

Childhood Experiences Can Permanently Change DNA

An investigation into more than 500 children shows that upbringing can have dramatic effects on human health.

DNA is the genetic material that makes us who we are, determining our physical characteristics and even helping to shape our personality. There are many ailments that have a strong hereditary component—Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s Disease, cancers and diabetes among others—and the risk of suffering them is passed down from our parents through our DNA. But we’re finding out that our DNA isn’t always set in stone. Now, a team of researchers from Northwestern University led by anthropology professor Thom McDade have shown that DNA can also be modified by your environment during childhood. What’s more, the authors conclude in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, those modifications can affect how or when you develop certain illnesses during adulthood.


Posted in Childhood, DNA | Tagged ,

Neuroscience: Mum’s bacteria linked to baby’s behaviour

Infection during pregnancy increases the risk of neurodevelopmental isorders, such as autism, in offspring. Mouse studies now reveal a link between gut bacteria and typical brain-circuit connections.

Animal studies and epidemiological analysis in humans have shown that if a mother is infected by certain viruses during pregnancy, there is a risk that her offspring will develop autism or other neurodevelopmental disorders. This phenomenon is often studied using a mouse model in which viral infection is mimicked by exposing pregnant animals to a synthetic molecule called poly(I:C) that is structurally similar to doublestranded RNA, a common hallmark of viral infection. This exposure triggers an immune response in the mother that is termed maternal immune activation (MIA), which can lead to atypical social and repetitive behaviours in her offspring. However, the molecular and cellular basis for this phenomenon has remained poorly understood until now.


Posted in Baby, Bacteria, Mother | Tagged , ,

How Heat Kills Cells

The proteins that unravel as the temperature starts to rise turn out to be among the most vital.

Above a certain temperature, a cell will collapse and die. One of the most straightforward explanations for this lack of heat hardiness is that the proteins essential to life — the ones that extract energy from food or sunlight, fend off invaders, destroy waste products and so on — often have beautifully precise shapes. They start as long strands, then fold into helixes, hairpins and other configurations, as dictated by the sequence of their components. These shapes play a huge role in what they do. Yet when things start to heat up, the bonds that keep protein structures together break: first the weaker ones, and then, as the temperature mounts, the stronger ones. It makes sense that a pervasive loss of protein structure would be lethal, but until recently, the details of how, or if, this kills overheated cells were unknown.

Now, however, in a true tour de force, biophysicists at ETH Zurich in Switzerland have examined the behavior of every protein in cells from four different organisms as heat increases. This study and its rich deposit of data, published recently in Science, reveal that at the temperature at which a cell dies — whether it’s a human cell or one from Escherichia coli — only a handful of key proteins fall apart. Moreover, a protein’s abundance in a cell seems to show an intriguing relationship to the protein’s stability. The studies offer a glimpse into the fundamental rules that govern the order and disorder of proteins — rules that, researchers are realizing, have implications far beyond the question of why heat kills.


Posted in Cells | Tagged

Evolution Runs Faster on Short Timescales

Examine evolution over the course of years or centuries, and you’ll find that it progresses much more quickly than it does over geologic time. Now the oldest viruses on the planet are enabling scientists to calibrate this evolutionary clock.

In the 1950s, the Finnish biologist Björn Kurtén noticed something unusual in the fossilized horses he was studying. When he compared the shapes of the bones of species separated by only a few generations, he could detect lots of small but significant changes. Horse species separated by millions of years, however, showed far fewer differences in their morphology. Subsequent studies over the next half century found similar effects — organisms appeared to evolve more quickly when biologists tracked them over shorter timescales.


Posted in Evolution | Tagged

How Nature solves Problems through Computation

The evolutionary biologist Jessica Flack seeks the computational rules that groups of organisms use to solve problems. An evolutionary biologist at the Santa Fe Institute, studies how flocks of birds, networks of neurons, slime molds and other biological collectives jointly process information to arrive at group behaviors.

There are many patterns of collective behavior in biology that are easy to see because they occur along the familiar dimensions of space and time. Think of the murmuration of starlings. Or army ants that span gaps on the forest floor by linking their own bodies into bridges. Loose groups of shoaling fish that snap into tight schools when a predator shows up.


Posted in Computation, Nature | Tagged ,

Childhood Maltreatment May Change Brain’s Response to Threat

Researchers report people who experienced emotional abuse and neglect as children exhibited increased amygdala activity in anticipation of a mild electrical shock. The findings suggest early life stress could have an impact on the perception of distant threat.

Neural activity associated with defensive responses in humans shifts between two brain regions depending on the proximity of a threat, suggests neuroimaging data from two independent samples of adults in the Netherlands published in The Journal of Neuroscience. In one sample, the findings suggest that emotional abuse during childhood may shift the balance of activity between these regions.


Research: How human amygdala and bed nucleus of the stria terminalis may drive distinct defensive responses

Posted in Brains, Childhood, Maltreatment | Tagged , ,