Archive for the ‘Neuroscience’ Category
I’ve suggested that traditional ethical convictions in our culture have been grounded in a belief (often tacit) in an immaterial soul that somehow uses the brain, but reserves for itself the powers of moral reasoning, decision making, and an appreciation of meaning and purpose. The cognitive neuroscience revolution challenges that belief, and increasingly forces us to recognize that all mental life is a product of the evolved, genetically influenced structure of the brain. This challenge has also been seen to threaten sacred moral values, but I would argue (and like to think that Gazzaniga agrees) that in fact that is not a logical consequence. On the contrary, I think a better understanding of what makes us tick, and of our place in nature, can clarify those values. This understanding shows that political equality does not require sameness, but rather policies that treat people as individuals with rights; that moral progress does not require that the mind is free of selfish motives, only that it has other motives to counteract them; that responsibility does not require that behavior is uncaused, only that it responds to contingencies of credit and blame; and that finding meaning in life does not require that the process that shaped the brain have a purpose, only that the brain itself have a purpose.
Adolescence is a time of transformation that is characterized by discrete changes in behavior, cognition and the brain – some of which are likely pubertal dependent, and others which are not. Although set within cultural contexts, these transformations appear to have biological roots that are deeply embedded in our evolutionary past. Starting from an evolutionary perspective, this paper provides an overview of the neurobiological and hormonal changes of adolescence and the implications of this biology for adolescent risk-taking and other behaviors. So, what impact does consideration of the biology of adolescence have for understanding adolescent risk-taking? Basic neurobehavioral characteristics of adolescents have biological roots that are deeply imbedded in our evolutionary past. Adolescents view rewarding and aversive stimuli differently than do adults. The adolescent brain does not seem to merely reflect a series of regions attaining maturity at different times, but in some sense can be characterized as a brain that reacts differently to stimuli than does the mature brain.
Thanks to Carnegie Mellon University advances in brain imaging technology, we now know how specific concrete objects are coded in the brain, to the point where we can identify which object, such as a house or a banana, someone is thinking about from its brain activation signature. Now, CMU scientists are applying this knowledge about the neural representations of familiar concepts by teaching people new concepts and watching the new neural representations develop. ‘Each time we learn something, we permanently change our brains in a systematic way,’ said Bauer, the study’s lead author. The results from this study also indicate that it may be possible to use a similar approach to understand the ‘loss’ of knowledge in various brain disorders, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, or due to brain injuries. The loss of a concept in the brain may be the reverse of the process that the study observed.
People find it easier to learn about topics that interest them, but little is known about the mechanisms by which intrinsic motivational states affect learning. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate how curiosity (intrinsic motivation to learn) influences memory. In both immediate and one-day-delayed memory tests, participants showed improved memory for information that they were curious about and for incidental material learned during states of high curiosity. Functional magnetic resonance imaging results revealed that activity in the midbrain and the nucleus accumbens was enhanced during states of high curiosity. Importantly, individual variability in curiosity-driven memory benefits for incidental material was supported by anticipatory activity in the midbrain and hippocampus and by functional connectivity between these regions. These findings suggest a link between the mechanisms supporting extrinsic reward motivation and intrinsic curiosity and highlight the importance of stimulating curiosity to create more effective learning experiences.
Racism and in-group favoritism is prevalent in our society and has been studied in Social Psychology for a long time. Recently it has become possible to investigate the neural mechanisms that underlie these in-group biases, and hence this review will give an overview of recent developments on the topic. Rather than relying on a single brain region or network, it seems that subtle changes in neural activation across the brain, depending on the modalities involved, underlie how we divide the world into ‘us’ versus ‘them’. These insights have important implications for our understanding of how in-group biases develop and could potentially lead to new insights on how to reduce them.
These insights also have implications for cultural and developmental differences between individuals. For example, people in cultures that score high on vertical collectivism see themselves as part of the collective but accept inequalities within the group while people in cultures that score high on horizontal collectivism also see themselves as part of the collective but see all members of the collective the same. Therefore it is likely that explicit and implicit neural correlates involved in perceiving others will be influenced by the cultural environment. In some cultures negative attitudes toward some individuals or out-groups might be more socially acceptable than in others, which would in turn modulate the individual’s executive control over his or hers in-group biases.
In Mind Change, Susan Greenfield discusses the all-pervading technologies that now surround us, and from which we derive instant information, connected identity, diminished privacy and exceptionally vivid here-and-now experiences. In her view they are creating a new environment, with vast implications, because our minds are physically adapting: being rewired. What could this mean, and how can we harness, rather than be harnessed by, our new technological milieu to create better alternatives and more meaningful lives? Using the very latest research, Mind Change is intended to incite debate as well as yield the way forward. There is no better person to explain the situation in a way we can understand, and to offer new insights on how to improve our mental capacities and well being. Baroness Susan Greenfield CBE is a Senior Research Fellow at Lincoln College, Oxford University. A scientist, writer, broadcaster and Cross-Bench member in the House of Lords, she specialises in applying neuroscience to fundamental issues such as the impact of 21st-century technologies on the mind, how the brain generates consciousness, and the development of innovative approaches to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.