Tag Archives: brain

Jason Bourne didn’t really have amnesia – it was more of a writer’s trick

It turns out Jason Bourne didn’t really have amnesia. That would require a hit on the head or something similar. He would then lose all of his past memories and kind up wake up clueless, maybe even unable to make new memories.

No, Jason Bourne had selective amnesia where he was able to forget all the bad things in his life, but remember how to speak several languages, fight 16 bad guys at once, and generally act like a superhero. This is called ‘dissociative amnesia’ which usually occurs after a traumatic event.

So, it is a form of amnesia just not one that requires you to be bonked on the head. It’s sort of the brains way of dealing with something to hard to handle. You forget that incident but remember pretty much everything else and function normally.

It is the perfect writer’s device. Start your character with nothing but an awesome set of skills and bad guys to foil…fill in the personality later.

***

More on this from an engaging post on neuroscience, The Weird History of Amnesia:

The major fascination with amnesia is that it’s so specific. When an amnesiac wakes in a hospital, they may not know who they are or where they are, but they do know that they are in a hospital. They know what hospitals are and what they look like. They retain the ability to talk, to count, to recognize certain aspects of the world they live in, while blanking out personal memories entirely.

 

 

Continue reading

Crows are basically flying monkeys, their brains are so large

Here’s the deal with crows. They are basically flying monkeys. Their brains are as large as a monkey’s brain of their size would be; much larger than other birds. Remember the Wizard of Oz? That pack of flying primates that hunted Dorothy and her companions had nothing (stylish hats and coats aside) on the crows that roam your backyard. The monkeys seemed only to express the emotion of fear or anger, and were fully under the control of the Wicked Witch of the West. Heck in the movie they couldn’t even speak! Crows, on the other hand, always seem to express their free will. They can imitate human voice and often do so! In Montana, one crow was so adept at mimicking a master’s “Here Boy, Come Boy” that it could call dogs, and did so on many occasions. This talking crow even assembled a pack of mutts by flying from house to house and fooling dogs into thinking they were following their owner! With his pack in tow, the crow headed to the University of Montana campus, kept them at attention beneath a tree, and ran them through students as they walked between classrooms! For fun or to possibly dislodge a sandwich remains unknown, but certainly Oz’s monkeys couldn’t do that!

 

Book - Gifts of the Crow: How Perception, Emotion, and Thought Allow Smart Birds to Behave Like Humans

 

Keep reading: Amazon Blogs - Are Crows Smarter Than Us? John Marzluff Explains

 

 

Continue reading

The Center for Human Imagination – new research institution from the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation

Imagination — one of the least understood but most cherished products of the mind and brain — will become the focus of wide-ranging study at a new center jointly founded by UC San Diego and the Arthur C. Clarke Foundation.

The two institutions have created the UCSD-based Center for Human Imagination, which will involve thinkers from fields as different as technology, sociology, politics, medicine and literature, especially science fiction.

“We are changing the world so fast right now and the level of transformation is profound,” said Sheldon Brown, the UCSD media arts professor who was named director of the center. “This is the outcome of imagination. We need a more thoughtful, deliberative approach to understanding how it works.”

The perils and positives of imagination were a defining theme for Clarke, the British futurist and science fiction author who wrote such acclaimed books as “2001: A Space Odyssey” and “Rendezvous with Rama.”

“Every couple of years, we are literally doubling our understanding of how the brain functions,” Brown said. “We can ask specific questions about how imagination works.

 

Keep readingUCSD creates Center for Human Imagination

Continue reading

Our brains can brake a car faster than our feet

If you’ve ever had to slam on the brakes to prevent an accident, you know that the time it takes to get your foot to that pedal can seem like an eternity. Now, German researchers aim to cut that reaction time by getting drivers’ brain waves to help stop the car. Their findings appear in the Journal of Neural Engineering.

When you’re behind the wheel, or doing anything physical, your brain knows what it wants you to do before your body swings into action. Most times, this minor delay between thinking and doing is no big deal. But when you’re moving at 60 miles an hour and the car in front of you stops short, every fraction of a second counts.

Researchers recorded how quickly volunteers reacted when the lead vehicle in a driving simulator suddenly hit the brakes. Sensors monitored the subjects’ brain activity. Turns out drivers knew they needed to slow down more than a tenth of a second before they tap the brakes.

That might not seem like much, but if cars could read minds, they could stop 12 feet sooner at highway speeds. Which could mean the difference between a scare and a smash.

Listen to the podcast version of this storyBrain Brakes Car Faster Than Foot

Continue reading

Americans’ heads are getting bigger

It’s not clear why—medicine? cars? supermarkets?—but the skulls of white Americans, and perhaps of other races and nationalities, have become slightly taller and roomier, according to new forensic research.

New measurements of hundreds of skulls of white Americans born between 1825 and 1985 suggest that their typical noggin height has grown by about a third of an inch (eight millimeters).

It may not sound like much, but the growth translates to roughly a tennis ball’s worth of new brain room.

Beginning with the dawn of the first Homo species, human skulls evolved to be increasingly bigger until about 30,000 years ago, when head size plateaued.

And about 5,000 or 6,000 years ago, when agriculture took off in earnest, skulls began shrinking. The cause of the shrinkage is a mystery…

keep readingNational Geographic – Americans’ Heads Getting Bigger

Continue reading

MIT scientists prove that individual neurons store memories

MIT researchers have shown, for the first time ever, that memories are stored in specific brain cells. By triggering a small cluster of neurons, the researchers were able to force the subject to recall a specific memory. By removing these neurons, the subject would lose that memory.

As you can imagine, the trick here is activating individual neurons, which are incredibly small and not really the kind of thing you can attach electrodes to. To do this, the researchers used optogenetics, a bleeding edge sphere of science that involves the genetic manipulation of cells so that they’re sensitive to light. These modified cells are then triggered using lasers; you drill a hole through the subject’s skull and point the laser at a small cluster of neurons.

…we should note that MIT’s subjects in this case are mice

The main significance here is that we finally have proof that memories are physical rather than conceptual.

Keep reading – Extreme Tech

Genetic evidence: the Amygdala determines if you're gay or hetero

In my recent study of the Amygdala, a brain structure that accounts for much of the in-fighting in couples, I found something possibly more interesting. Brain scans of this region have found that gay males have similar patterns as hetero females, and vice versa, gay females exhibit a patterns similar to hetero males.

This is interesting because it not only provides genetic evidence for human sexual orientation (both homosexual and heterosexual), but also provides a new avenue of study. Indeed, it is possible that sexual orientation develops before sexual organs do.

Here is the excerpt from Wikipedia:

Recent studies have suggested possible correlations between brain structure, including differences in hemispheric ratios and connection patterns in the amygdala, and sexual orientation. Homosexual men tend to exhibit more female-like patterns in the amygdala than do heterosexual males, just as homosexual females tend to show more male-like patterns in the amygdala than do heterosexual women.

It is evident in humans that gender identity is programmed during fetal and neonatal development; however an individual’s sexual orientation development in these early stages has not yet been determined. It was observed that amygdala connections were more widespread from the left amygdala in homosexual males, as is also found in heterosexual females. Amygdala connections were more widespread from the right amygdala in homosexual females, as in heterosexual males.

The source material from the National Academy of the Sciences, Sexual orientation and its basis in brain structure and function.

Genetic evidence: the Amygdala determines if you’re gay or hetero

In my recent study of the Amygdala, a brain structure that accounts for much of the in-fighting in couples, I found something possibly more interesting. Brain scans of this region have found that gay males have similar patterns as hetero females, and vice versa, gay females exhibit a patterns similar to hetero males.

This is interesting because it not only provides genetic evidence for human sexual orientation (both homosexual and heterosexual), but also provides a new avenue of study. Indeed, it is possible that sexual orientation develops before sexual organs do.

Here is the excerpt from Wikipedia:

Recent studies have suggested possible correlations between brain structure, including differences in hemispheric ratios and connection patterns in the amygdala, and sexual orientation. Homosexual men tend to exhibit more female-like patterns in the amygdala than do heterosexual males, just as homosexual females tend to show more male-like patterns in the amygdala than do heterosexual women.

It is evident in humans that gender identity is programmed during fetal and neonatal development; however an individual’s sexual orientation development in these early stages has not yet been determined. It was observed that amygdala connections were more widespread from the left amygdala in homosexual males, as is also found in heterosexual females. Amygdala connections were more widespread from the right amygdala in homosexual females, as in heterosexual males.

The source material from the National Academy of the Sciences, Sexual orientation and its basis in brain structure and function.

Amy’s Amygdala: the emotional brain that controls fight-or-flight

The brain evolved from the bottom up and one of its first structures was the Amygdala. An almond-shaped set of neurons located deep in the brain’s medial temporal lobe.

It plays a key role in the processing of emotions and is linked to both fear responses and pleasure. For this reason it is often known as the “emotional brain”.

While a lot of research concentrates on the rational brain in the frontal cortex, not much is said about the Amygdala even though it plays a central role in so many current problems, including alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, and anxiety disorders.

Here is an in-depth look at the Amygdala.

Emotional learning

The Amygdalae perform the primary roles in the brain of the formation and storage of memories associated with emotional events. The most important of which are the memories that elicit fear behavior.

For dangerous situations this behavior can save our life but in today’s modern world it often acts in a role of paralysis, where the central nuclei is the genesis of many fear responses, including freezing (immobility), tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), increased respiration, and stress-hormone release.

Memory modulation

The Amygdala is also involved in the modulation of memory consolidation. Following any learning event, the long-term memory for the event is not formed instantaneously. Rather, information regarding the event is slowly assimilated into long-term (potentially life-long) storage over time, possibly forming permanent neural pathways.

The formation of those permanent pathways, called long-term potentiation, can become vital for behavior. Creating pathways for anxiety, fear conditioning, can be hard to overcome. Whereas, starting with pathways for positive behavior can improve behavior and help during stressful events.

This kind of positive conditioning can be done as an adult. A study performed on Buddhist monks who do compassion meditation have shown that they can modulate their Amygdala during their practice. When tested they showed a calmer reaction to stress than other people.

The Amygdala is most active when emotional. Greater emotional arousal following an event can enhance a person’s retention of that event. Which makes it interesting because it controls both emotion and memory. The full extent of this “bias” is not fully understood.

The obvious studies on fear and anger show positive correlations, where increased fear (emotion) then increase memory of that fear. Not much study has been completed on the opposite, for example, do positive emotions stimulate the Amygdala to create memory as much as negative ones do.

In nature there is certainly a desire to learn quickly from bad experiences, but is there a similarly strong desire to learn from positive outcomes?

Neuropsychological correlates (behavior and disorders)

As early as 1888, rhesus monkeys with a lesioned temporal cortex (including the amygdala) were observed to have significant social and emotional deficits. Heinrich Klüver and Paul Bucy later expanded upon this same observation by showing that large lesions to the anterior temporal lobe produced noticeable changes, including overreaction to all objects, hypoemotionality, loss of fear, hypersexuality, and hyperorality, a condition in which inappropriate objects are placed in the mouth.

These studies and many more discussed below show that the Amygdala plays a substantial role in mental states, and is related to many psychological disorders.

Of particular focus is the left Amygdala and it’s size.

Some studies have shown that children with anxiety disorders tend to have a smaller left Amygdala which increased in size with the use of antidepressant medication.

The Amygdala exists on both sides of the brain.

Other studies found the left side to be linked to social anxiety, obsessive and compulsive disorders, and post traumatic stress, as well as more broadly to separation and general anxiety.

Similarly, depressed patients showed exaggerated left side activity when interpreting emotions for all faces, and especially for fearful faces. This hyperactivity was normalized when patients went on antidepressants. 

Alcoholism and binge drinking also affects the Amygdala by dampening its activation, reducing its ability for emotional processing. This is thought to happen by inhibiting the protein kinase C-epsilon which is important in regulating drug addiction, drinking, and anxiety.

Amygdala Hijack

In 1996, Daniel Goleman wrote the book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. In it he described a biological response we sometimes exhibit, naming it the Amygdala Hijack:

“Some emotional reactions and emotional responses can be formed without any conscious, cognitive participation…because the shortcut from thalamus to Amygdala completely bypasses the neocortex (the rational brain)”.

In scientific terms, the Thalamus bypasses the Cortex and routes the signal directly to the Amygdala, which is the trigger point for the primitive fight-or-flight response, and in our modern settings can often result in irrational or destructive behavior.

“Emotions make us pay attention right now – this is urgent – and give us an immediate action plan without having to think twice. The emotional component evolved very early: Do I eat it, or does it eat me?”.

Here is Mr. Goleman explaining it himself:

The emotional response “can take over the rest of the brain in a millisecond if threatened” and exhibits three signs: strong emotional reaction, sudden onset, and post-episode realization that the reaction was inappropriate.

In these cases self-control is crucial so as to avoid a complementary hijacking. For example ‘one key marital competence is for partners to learn to soothe their own distressed feelings…nothing gets resolved positively when husband or wife is in the midst of an emotional hijacking’. 

The danger is that ‘when our partner becomes, in effect, our enemy, we are in the grip of an “Amygdala hijack” in which our emotional memory, lodged in the limbic center of our brain, rules our reactions without the benefit of logic or reason…which causes our bodies to go into a “flight or fight” response’.

On the Upside

Finding ways to enlarge your Amygdala can have multiple obvious benefits beyond emotional stability. One study “suggests that Amygdalar enlargement in the normal population might be related to creative mental activity”. Another found positive correlations with both the size (the number of contacts a person has) and the complexity (the number of different groups to which a person belongs) of social networks.

What was left unsaid was how to increase the size of your Amygdala without the use of antidepressants, or maintain the size after terminating use.

One can infer that for those experiencing anxiety or overcome by fear or other emotions, the size of the Amygdala is small. That smaller size leads one to destructive behaviors, flight-or-flight responses, and limited growth.

The recommendations by nearly every study may provide an insight into how one can increase the size of there Amygdala. The reoccurring suggestion was practice, or regular repetition that allows the neurons in the brain to form new pathways and then strengthen those until they form the dominant behavior.

A method I often practice, although I recommend doing it with a trusted friend or therapist involved. Remember, improvement can always be had and nothing about you is set in stone.

Sources

Wikipedia, Scholarpedia, Science DailyMemory Loss Online (photo)

 

Amy's Amygdala: the emotional brain that controls fight-or-flight

The brain evolved from the bottom up and one of its first structures was the Amygdala. An almond-shaped set of neurons located deep in the brain’s medial temporal lobe.

It plays a key role in the processing of emotions and is linked to both fear responses and pleasure. For this reason it is often known as the “emotional brain”.

While a lot of research concentrates on the rational brain in the frontal cortex, not much is said about the Amygdala even though it plays a central role in so many current problems, including alcoholism, drug addiction, depression, and anxiety disorders.

Here is an in-depth look at the Amygdala.

Emotional learning

The Amygdalae perform the primary roles in the brain of the formation and storage of memories associated with emotional events. The most important of which are the memories that elicit fear behavior.

For dangerous situations this behavior can save our life but in today’s modern world it often acts in a role of paralysis, where the central nuclei is the genesis of many fear responses, including freezing (immobility), tachycardia (rapid heartbeat), increased respiration, and stress-hormone release.

Memory modulation

The Amygdala is also involved in the modulation of memory consolidation. Following any learning event, the long-term memory for the event is not formed instantaneously. Rather, information regarding the event is slowly assimilated into long-term (potentially life-long) storage over time, possibly forming permanent neural pathways.

Continue reading