Learning Sciences of Change

Learning Change Project: 8 Blogs, 6960 Readings

Human Language reveals a Universal Positivity Bias

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The most commonly used words of 24 corpora across 10 diverse human languages exhibit a clear positive bias, a big data confirmation of the Pollyanna hypothesis. The study’s findings are based on 5 million individual human scores and pave the way for the development of powerful language-based tools for measuring emotion.

Using human evaluation of 100,000 words spread across 24 corpora in 10 languages diverse in origin and culture, we present evidence of a deep imprint of human sociality in language, observing that (i) the words of natural human language possess a universal positivity bias, (ii) the estimated emotional content of words is consistent between languages under translation, and (iii) this positivity bias is strongly independent of frequency of word use. Alongside these general regularities, we describe interlanguage variations in the emotional spectrum of languages that allow us to rank corpora. We also show how our word evaluations can be used to construct physical-like instruments for both real-time and offline measurement of the emotional content of large-scale texts.

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Written by Giorgio Bertini

February 25, 2015 at 1:03 pm

Neural Mechanisms of Empathy in Humans

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How do we empathize with others? A mechanism according to which action representation modulates emotional activity may provide an essential functional architecture for empathy. The superior temporal and inferior frontal cortices are critical areas for action representation and are connected to the limbic system via the insula. Thus, the insula may be a critical relay from action representation to emotion. We used functional MRI while subjects were either imitating or simply observing emotional facial expressions. Imitation and observation of emotions activated a largely similar network of brain areas. Within this network, there was greater activity during imitation, compared with observation of emotions, in premotor areas including the inferior frontal cortex, as well as in the superior temporal cortex, insula, and amygdala. We understand what others feel by a mechanism of action representation that allows empathy and modulates our emotional content. The insula plays a fundamental role in this mechanism.

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Written by Giorgio Bertini

February 15, 2015 at 1:25 pm

Posted in Empathy, Neural

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Finding Ancient Seeds and bring them to Life before they are lost to History

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The drive to bring extinct animal species back from the dead, such as the wooly mammoth or saber-toothed tiger, is picking up speed as genetics and biotechnology science advances. But animals are not the only life in danger of disappearing forever. Botanists, historians, and plant genetics experts now work to restore and retain endangered plants and seeds which may be lost forever. According to Wiseman, now works to identify and preserve ancient seeds which were vital to the Abenaki Native Americans of northeastern North America. The history of the indigenous plants reveals a wealth of information which would otherwise have been lost in time. He has reportedly “traced 26 different varieties including corn, beans, squash, Jerusalem artichoke, ground cherries and tobacco.”

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Written by Giorgio Bertini

February 10, 2015 at 3:28 pm

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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