Archive for the ‘Neuroscience’ Category
The neurosciences are the new cutting edge in biomedicine, and this is the first book to take a sociological imagination to this field. The neurosciences are more than a collection of scientific practices – they offer up new ways of thinking about mind, body and society. Up to now, debate about the ‘new brain sciences‘ has been limited within sociology. As the neurosciences gain ever more traction within professional arenas, policy processes and popular culture, it is time to go beyond the primarily speculative and theoretical analyses we have had to date, and bring our sociological imagination to bear. This collection addresses this need for sociological insight through empirically rich, theoretically innovative chapters that range across methods, traditions and foci in order to cast new light on the place, role and impact of neuroscience. At the same time, this volume reflects on the insights the neurosciences have to offer sociology. With cutting-edge contributions from leading scholars from Canada, Finland, France, Germany, Israel, the UK and the USA, “Sociological Reflections on the Neurosciences” will be a benchmark text in the new sociology of neuroscience.
Brain Culture investigates the American obsession with the health of the brain. The brain has become more than a bodily organ, acquiring a near-mystical status. The message that this organ is the key to everything is everywhere–in self-help books that tell us to work on our brains to achieve happiness and enlightenment, in drug advertisements that promise a few tweaks to our brain chemistry will cure us of our discontents, and in politicians’ speeches that tell us that our brains are national resources essential to our economic prosperity.
Davi Johnson Thornton looks at these familiar messages, tracing the ways that brain science and colorful brain images produced by novel scientific technologies are taken up and distributed in popular media. She tracks the impact of the message that, “you are your brain” across multiple contemporary contexts, analyzing its influence on child development, family life, education, and public policy. Brain Culture shows that our fixation on the brain is not simply a reaction to scientific progress, but a cultural phenomenon deeply tied to social and political values of individualism and limitless achievement.
Neuroscience is viewed by a range of actors and institutions as a powerful means of creating new knowledge about our selves and societies. This article documents the shifts in expertise and identities potentially being propelled by neuroscientific research. It details the framing and effects of neuroscience within several social domains, including education and mental health, discussing some of the intellectual and professional projects it has animated therein (such as neuroethics). The analysis attends to the cultural logic by which the brain is sometimes made salient in society; simultaneously, it points towards some of parameters of the territory within which the social life of the brain plays out. Instances of societal resistance and agnosticism are discussed, which may render problematic sociological research on neuroscience in society that assumes the universal import of neuroscientific knowledge (as either an object of celebration or critique). This article concludes with reflections on how sociotechnical novelty is produced and ascribed, and the implications of this.
James Zull’s book The Art of Changing the Brain contends that neuroscience can guide our teaching practice by revealing to us how our brains actually learn. I think his insight is reliable, and I’m particularly satisfied that he views the brain as a complex, multi-scale network and learning as changing, extending, and strengthening the connections within those networks. This fits quite nicely with connectivism, which defines learning in similar networking terms.
This definition of learning puts the student/learner at the center of the learning process, unlike traditional education, which puts the teacher/authority at the center of the learning process. Why? Because if learning is the development of new connections within existing neuronal networks, then learning depends overwhelmingly on the engagement of the student. No teacher can directly touch a student’s brain. Development of neuronal networks absolutely depends on the student exercising her own brain, and her teachers cannot do it for her, any more than a fitness trainer can exercise her muscles for her. The student must sweat and exert herself and must want to sweat and exert.
Read also: Rewiring the Classroom
Neuroscience tells us that the products of the mind — thought, emotions, artistic creation — are the result of the interactions of the biological brain with our senses and the physical world: in short, that thinking and learning are the products of a biological process. This realization, that learning actually alters the brain by changing the number and strength of synapses, offers a powerful foundation for rethinking teaching practice and one’s philosophy of teaching.
James Zull invites teachers in higher education or any other setting to accompany him in his exploration of what scientists can tell us about the brain and to discover how this knowledge can influence the practice of teaching. He describes the brain in clear non-technical language and an engaging conversational tone, highlighting its functions and parts and how they interact, and always relating them to the real world of the classroom and his own evolution as a teacher. “The Art of Changing the Brain” is grounded in the practicalities and challenges of creating effective opportunities for deep and lasting learning, and of dealing with students as unique learners.
The last decades of neuroscience research have produced immense progress in the methods available to understand brain structure and function. Social, cognitive, clinical, affective, economic, communication, and developmental neurosciences have begun to map the relationships between neuro-psychological processes and behavioral outcomes, yielding a new understanding of human behavior and promising interventions. However, a limitation of this fast moving research is that most findings are based on small samples of convenience. Furthermore, our understanding of individual differences may be distorted by unrepresentative samples, undermining findings regarding brain–behavior mechanisms. These limitations are issues that social demographers, epidemiologists, and other population scientists have tackled, with solutions that can be applied to neuroscience. By contrast, nearly all social science disciplines, including social demography, sociology, political science, economics, communication science, and psychology, make assumptions about processes that involve the brain, but have incorporated neural measures to differing, and often limited, degrees; many still treat the brain as a black box. In this article, we describe and promote a perspective — population neuroscience — that leverages interdisciplinary expertise to (i) emphasize the importance of sampling to more clearly define the relevant populations and sampling strategies needed when using neuroscience methods to address such questions; and (ii) deepen understanding of mechanisms within population science by providing insight regarding underlying neural mechanisms. Doing so will increase our confidence in the generalizability of the findings. We provide examples to illustrate the population neuroscience approach for specific types of research questions and discuss the potential for theoretical and applied advances from this approach across areas.
Learning, the foundation of adaptive and intelligent behavior, is based on plastic changes in neural assemblies, reflected by the modulation of electric brain responses. In infancy, auditory learning implicates the formation and strengthening of neural long-term memory traces, improving discrimination skills, in particular those forming the prerequisites for speech perception and understanding. Although previous behavioral observations show that newborns react differentially to unfamiliar sounds vs. familiar sound material that they were exposed to as fetuses, the neural basis of fetal learning has not thus far been investigated. Here we demonstrate direct neural correlates of human fetal learning of speech-like auditory stimuli. We presented variants of words to fetuses; unlike infants with no exposure to these stimuli, the exposed fetuses showed enhanced brain activity (mismatch responses) in response to pitch changes for the trained variants after birth. Furthermore, a significant correlation existed between the amount of prenatal exposure and brain activity, with greater activity being associated with a higher amount of prenatal speech exposure. Moreover, the learning effect was generalized to other types of similar speech sounds not included in the training material. Consequently, our results indicate neural commitment specifically tuned to the speech features heard before birth and their memory representations.
We investigated the neural correlates induced by prenatal exposure to melodies using brains’ event-related potentials (ERPs). During the last trimester of pregnancy, the mothers in the learning group played the ‘Twinkle twinkle little star’ – melody 5 times per week. After birth and again at the age of 4 months, we played the infants a modified melody in which some of the notes were changed while ERPs to unchanged and changed notes were recorded. The ERPs were also recorded from a control group, who received no prenatal stimulation. Both at birth and at the age of 4 months, infants in the learning group had stronger ERPs to the unchanged notes than the control group. Furthermore, the ERP amplitudes to the changed and unchanged notes at birth were correlated with the amount of prenatal exposure. Our results show that extensive prenatal exposure to a melody induces neural representations that last for several months.
The ability to learn a language is a human trait. In adults and children, brain imaging studies have shown that auditory language activates a bilateral fronto-temporal network with a left hemispheric dominance. It is an open question whether these activations represent the complete neural basis for language present at birth. Here we demonstrate that in 2-d-old infants, the language-related neural substrate is fully active in both hemispheres with a preponderance in the right auditory cortex. Functional and structural connectivities within this neural network, however, are immature, with strong connectivities only between the two hemispheres, contrasting with the adult pattern of prevalent intrahemispheric connectivities. Thus, although the brain responds to spoken language already at birth, thereby providing a strong biological basis to acquire language, progressive maturation of intrahemispheric functional connectivity is yet to be established with language exposure as the brain develops.
Anthropologists have become increasingly interested in embodiment—that is, the ways that socio-cultural factors influence the form, behavior and subjective experience of human bodies. At the same time, social cognitive neuroscience has begun to reveal the mechanisms of embodiment by investigating the neural underpinnings and consequences of social experience. Despite this overlap, the two fields have barely engaged one another. We suggest three interconnected domains of inquiry in which the intersection of neuroscience and anthropology can productively inform our understanding of the relationship between human brains and their socio-cultural contexts. These are: the social construction of emotion, cultural psychiatry, and the embodiment of ritual. We build on both current research findings in cultural neuroscience and ethnographic data on cultural differences in thought and behavior, to generate novel, ecologically informed hypotheses for future study. In addition, we lay out a specific suggestion for operationalizing insights from anthropology in the context of cultural neuroscience research. Specifically, we advocate the development of field studies that use portable measurement technologies to connect individual patterns of biological response with socio-cultural processes. We illustrate the potential of such an approach with data from a study of psychophysiology and religious devotion in Northeastern Brazil.