How our understanding of the Brain could be wrong

Understanding the human brain is arguably the greatest challenge of modern science. The leading approach for most of the past 200 years has been to link its functions to different brain regions or even individual neurons (brain cells). But recent research increasingly suggests that we may be taking completely the wrong path if we are to ever understand the human mind.

The idea that the brain is made up of numerous regions that perform specific tasks is known as “modularity”. And, at first glance, it has been successful. For example, it can provide an explanation for how we recognise faces by activating a chain of specific brain regions in the occipital and temporal lobes. Bodies, however, are processed by a different set of brain regions. And scientists believe that yet other areas – memory regions – help combine these perceptual stimuli to create holistic representations of people. The activity of certain brain areas has also been linked to specific conditions and diseases.


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Human Brain Networks Developing in Adolescence Related to Evolutionary Expansion

According to a new study, adolescence may be a crucial period for remodeling of the human brain. Penn study uses data from study of brain development to offer new opportunities for research into prevention of psychiatric illness. Adolescence marks not only the period of physical maturation bridging childhood and adulthood, but also a crucial period for remodeling of the human brain. A Penn study reveals new patterns of coordinated development in the outer layer of the cerebrum of the human brain and describes how these structural patterns relate to functional networks. The team found the convergence between structural and functional networks was inversely related to functional complexity. Motor, sensory, visual and functional networks aligned to distinct structural networks. This unique representation of brain maturation may open new opportunities for future studies into many psychiatric disorders that might begin during this age. A team from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania publishes the findings this week in PNAS.



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During Learning, Neurons Deep in Brain Engage in a High Level of Activity

A new study could shed light on how the cerebellum encodes information. It’s the part of the brain that makes sure you cannot tickle yourself. The cerebellum, an apple-sized region near the base of the skull, senses that your own fingers are the ones trying to tickle, and cancels your usual response. Now an international team of researchers has learned something surprising about this region, which despite its small size contains roughly half of all the neurons in the brain. These neurons, which were thought to fire only rarely as they take in information from the senses, are in fact far more active than previously suspected. The finding, published March 20 in the journal Nature Neuroscience, may signal a major shift in our understanding of how the cerebellum encodes information..l “People used to think that the cerebellum’s input layer of neurons was only sparsely active, and encoded only information collected from the external world,” said Sam Wang, professor of molecular biology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, and a senior co-author on the study. “It turns out that they light up like a Christmas tree, and they convey information both from outside the body and from other areas within the brain.”



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Older Mothers Are Better Mothers

Children of older mothers tend to experience fewer behavioral, emotional and social problems at the ages of 7 and 11, a new study reports. Children of older mothers have fewer behavioral, social and emotional difficulties. The result should be seen in conjunction with the widespread recommendation not to have children too late. This recommendation is based on knowledge about e.g. declining fertility and the health risks during pregnancy and while giving birth which are associated with advanced maternal age.



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Insulin Resistance and Faster Cognitive Decline

A new study reports insulin resistance is linked to accelerated cognitive decline. A new Tel Aviv University study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease finds that insulin resistance, caused in part by obesity and physical inactivity, is also linked to a more rapid decline in cognitive performance. According to the research, both diabetic and non-diabetic subjects with insulin resistance experienced accelerated cognitive decline in executive function and memory.

“These are exciting findings because they may help to identify a group of individuals at increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia in older age,” says Prof. Tanne. “We know that insulin resistance can be prevented and treated by lifestyle changes and certain insulin-sensitizing drugs. Exercising, maintaining a balanced and healthy diet, and watching your weight will help you prevent insulin resistance and, as a result, protect your brain as you get older.”


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Brain and Music Program

Music Education and Brain Development

Over the past two decades, music training has been associated with better than average language and mathematical skills and higher IQ, while differences between musicians and nonmusicians have been found in brain areas related to hearing and movement, among others. What is the mechanism behind such differences? One important goal of our program is to understand the effects of music training on brain development, investigated in terms of psychological (emotional, cognitive, social) and actual neural functions.


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What Happens in the Brain when Children Learn?

Researchers looking at child development often use search-and-find tasks to look at the ways in which children apply what they are learning about the physical world. Tests carried out on toddlers reveal that something quite remarkable happens in child development between the ages of two and five – a stage identified by both educationalists and neuroscientists as critical to the capacity for learning.

Dr Sara Baker is a researcher into early childhood at the Faculty of Education. She is interested in the role of the brain’s prefrontal lobe in how young children learn to adapt their understanding to an ever-shifting environment. Many of her studies chart changes in children’s ways of thinking about the world. She uses longitudinal designs to examine the shape of individual children’s learning curves month by month.


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How the Brain Builds Memory Chains

Recollections of successive events physically entangle each other when brain cells store them.

Think about the first time you met your college roommate. You were probably nervous, talking a little too loudly and laughing a little too heartily. What else does that memory bring to mind? The lunch you shared later? The dorm mates you met that night? Memories beget memories, and as soon as you think of one, you think of more. Now neuroscientists are starting to figure out why.

When two events happen in short succession, they feel somehow linked to each other. It turns out that apparent link has a physical manifestation in our brains, as researchers from the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto (SickKids), the University of Toronto and Stanford University describe in this week’s Science. “Intuitively we know that there’s a structure to our memory,” says neuroscientist Paul Frankland, affiliated with both the University of Toronto and SickKids. “These experiments are starting to scratch the surface of how memories are linked in the brain.”


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This Is your Brain on Poverty

Data visualizations highlight the surprising connections between income and brain structure skills.

First, it is essential to define the problem: in what specific ways does poverty impact brain function? To address this question, Noble recruited some 150 children from various socioeconomic backgrounds and used standard psychological testing methods to evaluate their abilities in several cognitive areas associated with particular parts of the brain. As outlined in the graphs below, the relationships are clear, especially in terms of language

While the data represented above are fairly convincing, they are also incomplete. To demonstrate the physical effects of poverty on the brain, we must examine the organ itself. To this end, Noble’s lab scanned the brains of about 1,100 children and adolescents, and found clear structural differences based on family income. And remarkably, their results showed that those children falling on the poorer end of the lowest income bracket suffer exponentially severe losses in brain development.


Read also:  This Is Your Brain On Poverty

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What your Brain does when it hears a Question

Questions hijack the brain. The moment you hear one, you literally can’t think of anything else. And that can be a powerful tool.

What color is your house?

After reading that question, what were you thinking about? The obvious answer is the color of your house. Though this exercise may seem ordinary, it has profound implications. The question momentarily hijacked your thought process and focused it entirely on your house or apartment. You didn’t consciously tell your brain to think about that; it just did so automatically.


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