Archive for June 2011
Advances in brain science are calling into question the volition behind many criminal acts. A leading neuroscientist describes how the foundations of our criminal-justice system are beginning to crumble, and proposes a new way forward for law and order.
Despite a growing interest in the ways spiritual beliefs and practices are reflected in brain activity, there have been relatively few studies using neuroimaging data to assess potential relationships between religious factors and structural neuroanatomy. This study examined prospective relationships between religious factors and hippocampal volume change using high-resolution MRI data of a sample of 268 older adults. Religious factors assessed included life-changing religious experiences, spiritual practices, and religious group membership. Hippocampal volumes were analyzed using the GRID program, which is based on a manual point-counting method and allows for semi-automated determination of region of interest volumes. Significantly greater hippocampal atrophy was observed for participants reporting a life-changing religious experience. Significantly greater hippocampal atrophy was also observed from baseline to final assessment among born-again Protestants, Catholics, and those with no religious affiliation, compared with Protestants not identifying as born-again. These associations were not explained by psychosocial or demographic factors, or baseline cerebral volume. Hippocampal volume has been linked to clinical outcomes, such as depression, dementia, and Alzheimer’s Disease. The findings of this study indicate that hippocampal atrophy in late life may be uniquely influenced by certain types of religious factors.
After much reflection, I’ve decided that I like argumentative theory, too, for a couple of reasons: First, my objections to it stem in part from my own bias—which I admit may not be entirely rational—against evolutionary psychology and other genetically oriented approaches to human behavior. Second, and more importantly, argumentative theory—if it becomes widely discussed—may help us recognize our own biases as well as those of others. History demonstrates that certainty on the political left or right, among scientists as well as religious fundamentalists, can lead to trouble. Anything that promotes self-doubt, as argumentative theory should, can’t be all bad.
A small number of blind people are adept at echolocating silent objects simply by producing mouth clicks and listening to the returning echoes. Yet the neural architecture underlying this type of aid-free human echolocation has not been investigated. To tackle this question, we recruited echolocation experts, one early- and one late-blind, and measured functional brain activity in each of them while they listened to their own echolocation sounds.
When we compared brain activity for sounds that contained both clicks and the returning echoes with brain activity for control sounds that did not contain the echoes, but were otherwise acoustically matched, we found activity in calcarine cortex in both individuals. Importantly, for the same comparison, we did not observe a difference in activity in auditory cortex. In the early-blind, but not the late-blind participant, we also found that the calcarine activity was greater for echoes reflected from surfaces located in contralateral space. Finally, in both individuals, we found activation in middle temporal and nearby cortical regions when they listened to echoes reflected from moving targets.ese findings suggest that processing of click-echoes recruits brain regions typically devoted to vision rather than audition in both early and late blind echolocation experts.
CitSci.org (short for ‘Citizen Science’) provides the training and tools to allow anyone to participate in research on species distributions. For starters, we are focusing on engaging citizen scientists to help map invasive species. We are funded by National Science Foundation. The web site is based on the Global Organism Detection and Monitoring system, a joint effort by Colorado State University’s Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the United States Geological Survey under the supervision of the National institute of Invasive Species Science. Technical assistance and map images have been provided by Information Integration and Imaging.
“Understanding the neurological and psychological consequences of stress on learning and personal growth, good and bad, is critical as we work to optimize physician education,” said Richard Schwartzstein, director of the Academy, which works to advance medical education throughout the HMS community. Schwartzstein is the Ellen and Melvin Gordon Professor of Medical Education at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.