Tag Archives: Neuroscience

Photographic Memory: What is this Interesting Phenomenon, How Does it Work, and is it Even Real?

Is having a photographic memory real? A photographic memory is usually used to describe when someone has the remarkable ability to recall visual information in great detail. Pop culture today portrays geniuses as those with photographic memories, but do our brains actually hold onto memories with inner photos or videos? Many times, television sitcoms, movies, and novels show a “genius” character as one who can look at a page in a book for two minutes and then repeat verbatim what was written. Are there actual people in the world today who can do this too? Read more to discover if a photographic memory is real!

Is photographic memory real?

Is Photographic Memory Real?

Photographic memory, also known as eidetic imagery in the neuroscience world, is the ability to remember an unlimited amount of visual information in great detail. Just like a camera can freeze a moment in time in the form of a photograph, someone with a photographic memory is supposed to be able to take mental snapshots and then later recall these snapshots without error.

However, according to the University of Chicago, San Diego Professor Larry Squire, who specializes in Psychiatry, Neuroscience, and Psychology, the brain simply does not work this way. In Professor Squire’s lab, he has asked people who think they have photographic memories to read two or three lines of text and then report the text in reverse order. The notion is that if memory works like a photograph, then these people should be able to accomplish the task with ease. However, none of the participants could do this successfully.

For Professor Squire, “Memory is more like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle than a photograph. To recollect a past event, we piece together various remembered elements and typically forget parts of what happened (examples: the color of the wall, the picture in the background, the exact words that were said)…We are good at remembering the gist of what happened and less good at remembering (photographically) all the elements of a past scene.” And this works to our advantage as our brains sift through what is important for us to remember and holds onto it while throwing away the superfluous, unneeded details.

To show that photographic memory is non-existent among most people, cognitive psychologist Adriaan de Groot did an experiment with expert chess players to test their memory functioning. The players were first shown a chessboard with pieces on it for a brief period (about 15 seconds) and then asked to reconstruct what they had seen on a new chessboard.

The expert chess players succeeded at this task with higher efficiency than novice players. De Groot hypothesized that the experts had developed an enhanced ability to memorize visual information. However, in another experiment, the expert chess players were asked to do the same thing, but this time, they were shown boards with pieces arranged in ways that would never occur in a game of chess. Not only did their ability to remember the positions go down, but it dropped to the level of the novice players. De Groot concluded from this experiment that the original, enhanced performance of the chess players at remembering the positions came from their ability to mentally organize the information they had observed, not from any ability to “photograph” the visual scene.

How to Explain Cases of Photographic Memory

Is photographic memory real?

There have been a few well-documented cases of such remarkable photographic recall, such as “S,” the subject of Alexander Luria’s book, The Mind of a Mnemonist, who could memorize anything from the books on Luria’s office shelves to complex math formulas. Luria also documents a woman named “Elizabeth,” who could mentally project images composed of thousands of tiny dots onto a black canvas. Both also had the ability to reproduce poetry in languages they could not understand years after seeing it written. This type of recall seems to be correlated with the phenomenon of flashbulb memory, where, in highly emotional situations, people tend to remember events so vividly that the memories take on a photographic quality. Until recently, such memories were thought to be permanent, always strong in quality. However, recent studies have indicated that over time, people’s memories of such events will inevitably fade away.

However, it should be kept in mind that people vary in their ability to remember the past. In the article How to Improve Your Short-Term Memory: Study Tips to Remember Everything, we go over how pieces of information go through series of stages before they are retained in your long-term memory: first, the information is sent as a sensory input to your visual system, then it is received by the visual cortex, then it is processed by your short-term memory, and finally, it is stored in your long-term memory.

How well we remember things largely depends on how well we pay attention when information is presented to us. Also, the extent to which we replay material in our minds and connect it to what we already know affects our memory as well.

Since there are only isolated examples of people with eidetic memory throughout the study of neuroscience, many have concluded that there isn’t any explanation for how this phenomenon works neurologically. It is thought that for the rare cases of people with photographic memories, visual information gets stored as an actual image in the sensory input/reception stage. Since photographic memory involves seeing visual images, it must be on the very basic sensory level that eidetic memory functions.

The Neuroscience Behind Photographic Memory

Neuroscience researchers hypothesize that photographic memory involves something in the brain being wired incorrectly in patients like “S” and “Elizabeth” that has caused sensory stimuli to last in the memory for longer durations than most people. Memory is thought to be facilitated by changes at the neuronal level due to long-term potentiation. This means that over time, the synapses that work to hold onto our memories are strengthened through repeated usage, producing long-term memories. Normally, this induction takes many rounds of stimulation to start working so our brain can hold onto memories for long periods of time (which could be a reason why we don’t remember many events of our childhood and why we have virtually no recollection of the first two years of our lives).

Neuroscientists assume that people with photographic memories have a genetic mutation that lowers their threshold for long-term potentiation to hold onto memories. This then results in more visual images being stored as sensory memories and then long-term memories in the brain. Multiple stimulations do not seem to be necessary to retain the visual images; rather, one brief presentation of a stimulus would be sufficient.

Future Research on Photographic Memory

So, is photographic memory real? Photographic memory may be so rare that it appears to be almost fictional because it could be the result of an uncommon genetic mutation or an unlikely combination of environmental and genetic factors. Advancing the study of photographic memory requires scientists to find more subjects with unusual memory abilities. One recent case is that of “AJ,” a woman who seems to remember every detail about even the most trivial events during her lifetime. Neurological testing may yield a greater understanding of the location of memory in the brain and what causes such clear and detailed memories to form. With neuroscience technology increasing and the hope that more people with exceptional memories will come forward, it is possible that more research can be done to answer interesting questions about photographic memory.

Do you have any questions or comments? Leave me a message below! 🙂

Brain Gym: 16 Activities That Will Help Your Brain Stay Younger

Brain Gym for a healthy mind. A few years ago, we started to learn about the importance of training our brains. Today we know that in order to enjoy life to the fullest, our brain needs to be in shape as well. Find out the 16 brain gym exercises that will help your brain health.

Life expectancy has risen, and as we age, our brain starts deteriorating. A few good habits can help slow down cognitive aging and help keep the human brain in shape. In this article, we’ll talk to you about different brain gym strategies that will help you build new neural connections and boost your cognitive reserve. Lifestyle and our habits play an important role in the physical changes that our brains undergo. The sooner you start training your brain, the longer it will stay in shape. Sign up for your brain gym!

CogniFit Cognitive Brain Training adapts to your specific cognitive needs. Train your cognitive skills with this popular tool.

Is it really possible to improve a specific cognitive skill by training with a brain gym routine? Sometimes you may find yourself wondering if a brain gym routine will actually make it possible to improve our memory, planning, spatial orientation, processing speed, reasoning, creativity, etc. While there isn’t any magic recipe to keep cognitive aging at bay, you can start some exercises to slow it down and improve cognitive reserve. Take your brain seriously and try some of the brain gym exercises that we have below.

Brain Gym can your brain plasticity. The brain has the amazing ability to adapt and change depending on our experiences. Brain plasticity is what makes this adaptation easy, and is what allows us to help mold and adapt our brains to different circumstances or surroundings.

There is one notable type of brain plasticity, called functional compensatory plasticity, that causes a small group of elderly people to achieve almost the same amount or higher cognitive activity than their younger counterparts, despite their age. If we think of the average aging individual, we can expect their cognition to slowly decline as they age. However, in the case of functional compensatory plasticity, the brain actually compensates for the lack of cognitive activity, ultimately activating more brain parts than others of their own age or supposed cognitive state.

Brain gyms help the brain adapt, which we have shown is an essential part to brain health, especially as we age. Changing some simple habits and practicing mentally stimulating activities can help keep the brain active which makes it easier for the brain to create neurons and connections. Take a look at our suggestions and put them into action.

Brain Gym: 10 ways to keep your brain sharp

Exercising these powerful cognitive skills helps regenerate neural connections. Brain gyms can help slow down cognitive decline, which can delay the effects of neurodegenerative effects.

1. Brain gym while you Travel

Travelling stimulates our brains, exposes to new cultures and languages, and helps us learn about the history of a new place. According to a study, having contact with different cultures gives us the ability to learn about different cultures, which helps improve creativity and has important cognitive benefits.

Brain Gym: If you have the resources to travel, do it! Visit new places, emerge yourself in the culture, and learn from the natives. If you can’t travel, make an effort to surround yourself with different cultures and people, and visit new places right in your own city.

2. Brain gym while you Listen to music

Listening to music can be a great activity because music is a powerful stimulus for our brains. Certain studies have shown how listening to music activates the transmission of information between neurons, our ability to learn, and our memory. Listening to music can also slow neurodegenerative processes (this effect was only present in those who were familiar with music).

Listening to music can also positively affect our mood and activate almost all of our brain, which makes it a great way to stimulate the brain.

Brain Gym: You can add music to so many parts of your day. Turn on the radio when you’re cooking or driving in the car. Play your favorite “cardio” or “pump-up” playlist when you’re at the gym… and remember, it’s never too late to learn how to play an instrument! There are tons of video tutorials on YouTube that can help you get started.

3. Brain gym while enjoying nature

The best gym is being in nature. It helps us disconnect from our daily routines and obligations, and reduces stress and anxiety. According to this study, being in nature, whether it be out at a park or seeing trees from the window, helps reduce attentional fatigue. Living in areas with gardens or trees improves attention and inhibits our impulses. Being in nature also gets us moving and helps us increase the amount of physical exercise we do.

Brain Gym: Being in nature is good for our health and well-being. You don’t need to go live in the countryside to get these benefits- talking away in green areas, or even hanging some pictures of nature, can give us some of these benefits. Try to get away on the weekend and go to the mountain or beach. Find a great hiking route and make it a weekend activity. You’ll get some exercise and it’s a great brain gym!

4. Write things by hand and train your brain

Take handwritten notes rather than typing on a computer or tablet. Writing by hand is a brain gym exercise because it helps boost memory and learning, according to this study. Writing also helps us process and integrate learned information.

Brain Gym: Leave your laptop at home and get yourself a notebook. You can also think about getting a tablet that allows you to write and later turns your words into text.

5. Brain gym: Physical exercise

According to many studies like this one, doing and enjoying exercise created new neurons within our brain, improves learning, cognitive performance, and boosts neuroplasticity. A recent study established that starting physical exercise when there are already signs of dementia might not be that a beneficiary as starting while being completely healthy. Therefore, you should start exercising as soon as possible.

Brain Gym: According to studies, aerobic exercise is the best for us. Get out and run, dance, swim, skate, or even just walk around. Getting started can be difficult, but just think about the pay-off!

Brain gym and exercise

6. Brain gym: Keep your work area clean and organized

A recent study has shown that doing work that doesn’t challenge your brain, as well as working in an untidy environment, can actually cause damage to your brain health in the long-run.

Brain Gym: A clean work environment makes us feel calm, which allows our brain to work better. Throw out papers and things that you don’t need. Clean up your desk and the space around you.

7. Learn a language and exercise your brain

According to a study, speaking two or more languages helps protect from cognitive deterioration. The study discovered that bilingual people had a higher IQ and received higher points in the cognitive tests compared to others in their age group. This can happen even after learning a language as an adult.

Brain Gym: Sign up for a class in French or Spanish or Portuguese or any other language you’ve ever thought about learning! Try to watch movies in their original languages (with or without subtitles), you’ll start to pick up the sounds and your brain will get a great workout. Today, we have access to great resources online, all it takes is a little searching!

8. Brain gym: Sleep

According to a study, sleeping too much or too little is associated with cognitive aging. As an adult, it has been shown that less than 6 or more than 8 hours of sleep leads to worse cognitive scores as a consequence of premature aging in the brain.

The right amount of sleep is vital for the proper function of our bodies, as well as our well-being. Both sleeping too little and sleeping too much can have negative effects on cognitive performance, response time, recognizing errors, and attention.

Brain Gym: Try to keep an adequate sleep schedule by creating a routine. Try to go to sleep and wake up everyday at the same time. If your one of those people who tends to sleep too little, try going to bed a little earlier over time. Put your phone, TV, computer, etc. away at least 30 minutes before bedtime to reduce any symptoms of technological insomnia. Make sure your room is a comfortable temperature, there’s not too much light or sound coming in, and that your room is clean and ready to be slept in. Doing this can even help you become a morning person!

9. Brain Gym: Read

People who don’t read a lot have been shown to have lower cognitive performance compared to avid readers, according to a study. Those who don’t read often receive lower scores in processing speed, attention, language, and abstract processing.

According to researchers, this low performance in subjects who read little affects their brain’s ability to adapt after suffering from brain damage. More highly educated people use their brain’s resources to compensate for the cognitive deterioration due to aging. In others words, they have a higher level of functional compensatory plasticity, as we mentioned before. This can be applied the same was for people who read often.

Brain Gym: If you like to read, you’ve got it pretty easy. If you don’t like reading and it doesn’t appeal to do, don’t worry! There are tons of different genres to try out. You’ll find that some things are easier to read, like graphic novels. You can read magazines, newspapers, etc. about anything you like, and you’ll still get all the benefits of reading. It’s just a matter of keeping your brain active.

10. Brain gym: Practice yoga and meditation

Meditation can have long-term changes in your brain, according to this study. People who have been meditating for years have more gyri in the (ridges in the brain that are used in quickly processing information). This is also another proof of neuroplasticity, as our brain can adapt and change depending on our experiences.

According to another study, practicing yoga for 20 minutes improves speed and precision in working memory and inhibitory control (the ability to inhibit behavior when it’s necessary) tests. These measurements are associated with the ability to pay attention, and hold on to and use new information.

Yoga and meditation help us use our mental resources more efficiently, and helps us reduce stress and anxiety, which improves our performance.

Brain Gym: Meditation and yoga are “in” right now, so it shouldn’t be hard to find classes and get started. If you don’t want to go to a class, there are tons of instructors on YouTube to show you how to meditate and do yoga, without having to leave the house.

11. Brain gym: Eat well and avoid drugs

What we eat affects our brains. Eating well helps keep our brains young and prevents cognitive decline. We already know that there are “superfoods” can work together to help keep our bodies healthy. However, a diet of varied fruits, vegetables, beans, grains, and few processed foods, can also greatly improve our overall health. A healthy diet doesn’t only help prevent a large number of diseases caused by diet, but it also helps slow down physical and cognitive aging. Brain Gym comes also from the consumption of different nutrients. Watch below to discover how food affects your brain.

Alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs all contribute to an increased risk of suffering from different types of diseases and contributes to premature aging.

Brain Gym: If you want to learn how to eat well, you should talk to a nutritionist or doctor who can best guide you to the best diet for you. Don’t trust “miracle diets”, they don’t work and can be dangerous for your health. Choose fruits and vegetables over sweets and whole grains over white bread. Keep an eye on how much sugar and fat your eating, and cut out as much alcohol as possible. It can be hard to get started, but ask for stop smoking tips if you need it!

12. Brain Gym: Control your stress levels!

Take care of your mental health! Mental health issues and constantly thinking negatively affects our overall well-being. However, this study has shown that it also affects our brain in the long-term. Having suffered from depression or anxiety disorders increases the risk of having dementia.

Brain Gym: Control your stress levels with some relaxation techniques. Listening to relaxing music helps relieve stress, and practicing yoga or meditation can also help keep stress at bay. If you’re not sure if you have a mental health issue, get in touch with a mental health specialist.

13. Brain Gym: Try new things

New studies have shown that immersing yourself in new hobbies that require some kind of mental challenge helps improve and maintain cognitive function and can help prevent cognitive deterioration.

Brain Gym: Take the time to try to learn new things. It doesn’t matter if you’re good at them or not! The important thing is that you have fun and you challenge your brain. Try learning how to play chess, how to sew, take on a DIY project, draw, write, learn how to play an instrument, etc.

14. Brain Gym: Spend time with your family and friends

Social relationships stimulate our brains, which helps keep it active and younger for longer. Socializing also helps reduce stress and improves our mood, which helps with our overall mental health.

Brain Gym: Spend more time with your loved ones (especially those who transmit positivity), meet new people, make new groups of friends, etc.

15. Brain Gym: Use your brain whenever you can

“Use it or lose it”, kind of. The best way to make sure your brain keeps working the best that it can is to constantly use and challenge it. We have access to new technology, which makes our lives easier, but it also makes our brain lazy. Before, we had to make an effort to learn and remember something. Now, many tasks have become computerized, which makes our brains go on autopilot. Try to give your brain the chance to work before reaching for the calculator or the GPS or Google.

Brain Gym: Try to solve math problems without a calculator, limit how often you use your GPS, and try to remember information on your own.

Memorize a list of words. For example, try to memorize your grocery list before leaving the house and time how long it takes you to remember it.

In the following video, you’ll see how you can help your brain work well and stay young. We can help our brains create new neurons, even as adults. Sandrine Thuret explains how we can help create new neurons.

This post was originally written in Spanish by CogniFit psychologist Andrea Garcia Cerdan

Neuroimaging: What is it and how can it map the brain?

One of the ways psychology has progressed came from the use of various neuroimaging methods. In terms of experimental psychology history, neuroimaging started with the cognitive revolution. Many scientists realized that understanding the brain plays an enormous role in the external behavior.  Scientists also use neuroimaging methods and technique prevention, diagnosis and treatment for different neurological diseases.

Today we still do not have a clear cut picture of the whole brain in itself. Not every network has been mapped, but we have moved forward a substantial amount. The development of non-invasive and invasive neuroimaging methods and their use for research and medical purposes was a definite breakthrough.

Neuroimaging

Neuroimaging-What can we map?

When one thinks about the brain and the nervous system, one can think of many things to map. Of course, we have the brain itself, its parts and the functions of the anatomical functions. We have neuroimaging techniques who deal exactly with that. Despite the anatomy, however, there are many neuroimaging methods that try to look at things on a more microscopic level.

We have methods that can view the cortical areas of the brain. Other techniques look at cortical columns and different layers. We have methods that can record a single cell by itself. Going even further, we can look at the soma of the neuron, the dendrite and, separately the axons. We can even look at the synaptic connections between the two neurons.

Neuroimaging- Method Classification

Neuroimaging methods also do not just encompass the spatial resolution. We try to look into proteins, organelles, bacteria, mammalian cells, the brain of various species and, finally, human brains. Many neuroimaging methods also differ by the temporal resolution. They differ by how quickly they are able to detect an event that happens in the brain. These neuroimaging methods differ by milliseconds, seconds, minutes, hours and days. They also differ by the spatial resolution. Some methods can show anatomical structures well, while others cannot. Apart from that, the variety of the neuroimaging methods differs by how non-invasive and invasive they are.

If one can imagine, scientists use a lot more non-invasive neuroimaging methods in research. Not many regular participants agree to something that can potentially alter their brain functions. Medical practitioners are a lot more likely to use invasive neuroimaging methods in an attempt to treat certain diseases. Various patients with neurological diseases benefit on a daily basis from the invasive neurological methods. In some cases, the patients themselves are able to control the stimulating method.

Electrophysiological techniques

For many years now we know that neurons are able to generate electric potentials. We also know that the synaptic activity of the nervous matter is similar to a battery. It acts as an electric generator.

If we recall the first class in physiology we took, we can roughly remember the structure of the neuron. Words like the cell body or the soma, dendrites and an axon come to mind. Dendrites seem to be able to receive electrical signals. Axon sends electrical signals to the dendrite of the next neuron. The cell body combines the signals from the previous neurons. Then it sends another signal along the axon for the next neuron.

Within the neurons themselves, we are able to distinguish two different types of electrical activity.

1-Action potentials

The action potential is a very common concept that many students learn in their first class on the nervous system. The entire process happens for about 1 ms and culminates with the release of neurotransmitters in the end of the axons.

  • The stimulus from a previous neuron activates the voltage gates on sodium channels which will cause the influx of positively charged sodium to the cell.
  • This depolarizes the membrane. Sometimes the depolarization of the membrane is able to reach the threshold.
  • If that happens, a series of events happen in order to send the signal along the axon to the next neuron. This is what we call an action potential.
  • The potassium channels are still closed and since we have an influx of sodium, the membrane becomes more positive on the inside then it does on the outside.
  • After that, the channels for sodium close and, therefore, the influx of sodium stops as well.
  • That’s when the potassium channels stay open and the potassium comes out of the cell and makes the inside of the cell negative one more time. This repolarization of the neuron can lead to the overall voltage to be below the original resting potential
  • This happens due to the fact that the potassium channels stay open a little longer. This ends in hyperpolarization. During this period a new action potential cannot happen and this is what we call a refractory period of the neuron.
    • Scientists cannot record action potentials via surface electrodes. As of today, we are not able to record potentials from a single neuron. What we can record is the second type of electrical activity. We can, however, use intracranial electroencephalography (EEG) to measure them which happens to be an invasive technique.

2- Post-synaptic potentials

They last for hundreds of milliseconds and it is the addition of the potential from various neurons that happen at the same time. We are able to record the potentials together. Researchers can easily record these potentials from surface electrodes. Electroencephalography (EEG) can measure these types of potentials.

So, in the end, we are able to distinguish two principal types of neuroimaging methods that measure the electrical activity of the neuron.

Two principal types of electrophysiological techniques

  • Single-cell recordings
    • These recordings are able to measure a number of different action potentials every second. The electrodes will be place inside a single cell or nearby a neuron which makes the technique invasive.
    • This technique can be useful for researchers who want to understand how single cells work.
    • Due to the fact that this technique allows measuring single neurons, we are able to see how specific these cells are.
    • A paper published saying that single neurons were firing to Jennifer’s Aniston’s face and nobody else’s. This level of object recognition falls under very high-level vision neurons and the paper gained a lot of attention due to such a strange working of a single neuron. (1)
  • Event-related potentials (ERP)
    • These recordings get the summation of different electrical potentials for a variety of neurons (millions of them). This technique places electrodes on the skull, therefore, they are surface electrodes.

Electroencephalography & Event-Related Potentials (ERP)

Since we now know that the brain produces electrical potentials, we are able to measure them. Electroencephalography helps us do that. Scientists can place various electrodes on the surface of the scalp and then measure the bio-electrical activity that the brain produces. Event-related potentials (ERP) are the potentials from various neurons that happen as a result of different stimuli given by the scientist to the participant. Stimuli and the tasks that the researchers assign can range from motor, to sensory and cognitive.

So the scientists are able to measure where and when the neurons will spike as a result of a certain assigned stimuli. Researchers have been able to find various ERP components or similarly distributed neurons that fire at the same time. They found various ERP components related to language, visual attention, auditory components (famous concepts like the mismatch negativity) and many others.

Other neuroimaging methods

Magnetoencephalography (MEG)

Neuroimaging methods don’t just stop at measuring the electrical activity of the neurons. Another famous brain imaging technique is MEG – it records magnetic fields. Electrical currents that already occur in the brain generate magnetic fields. MEG is able to directly measure the brain function which is a huge advantage when comparing it with other techniques. Apart from that, it has very high temporal resolution and high spatial resolution which is one of the rarest things when it comes to brain research. Usually, neuroimaging methods are either higher in spatial resolution or in temporal resolution, not both.

MEG is non-invasive. Scientists are able to use it with other neuroimaging methods at the same time – like EEG. One big disadvantage of MEG comes from the fact that in order to get the magnetic fields, a special room that gets rid of other types of magnetic interference needs to be built. Due to this, the machine is quite costly, but one of the best methods for measuring brain activity as of today.

Other famous types of brain imaging do not measure direct brain activity, however, they have quite good spatial resolution and are often used for clinical and diagnostic purposes.

Positron Emission Tomography (PET)

This technique gives an image of brain activity, however, in order to produce that image radioactive material needs to be either inhaled or injected by the participant. The image will then be produced due to this radioactive material going to the areas of the brain that are active.

Computed Tomography Scan (CT Scan)

This technique is able to produce brain images as well. It is able to show the anatomy of the brain, however, not the functions themselves which are a serious drawback especially if we consider the fact that X-ray lights need to go through the head to produce the image.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

MRI – Neuroimaging

One of the most common techniques nowadays. It gives an image of anatomical structures in the brain. It is non-invasive, but the patient must remain still in the MRI chamber which could prove to be quite painful for those suffering from claustrophobia. Apart from that, any type of metallic devices cannot be put in the chamber so many patients and subjects are not able to get a scan.

Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)

An upgrade from the MRI – this technique detects the blood-oxygen-level dependent contrast imaging (BOLD) levels in the brain which are the changes in the blood flow and it not only gives the anatomical structures but the functions as well. Various colors will change depending on which part of the brain is active. The big drawback with this technique is the fact that it does not directly measure brain activity, but BOLD signal so we cannot for sure say that the activity that we find via fMRI studies is fully accurate and is produced by neurons.

Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI)

A technique based on MRI and it measures the way the water can travel through the white matter in the brain. It can show the activity as the colored area on the image. It’s very good in detecting concussions so can be used in clinical applications which is a huge advantage. Again, it does not measure direct brain activity which is a huge disadvantage and sometimes it also distorts the images. DTI has a quite low spatial resolution.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

The electric field that TMS is able to generate is able to interfere with the action potentials that are happening in the brain. It’s a highly invasive technique and is able to be used in research applications for the workings of many diseases and pathologies. What we do know is that repetitive TMS is able to produce seizures so, obviously, it has some sort of side effects and needs to be used with caution.

Neuroimaging- New Developments in Neuroscience

New neuroimaging methods and brain imaging techniques are being developed nowadays and, perhaps, soon enough we will be able to not only map the entire anatomical structures of the brain but functions as well. As of right now, these are the majority of the neuroimaging methods that are used in cognitive neuroscience. Maybe, in a few years, we will be able to develop a low-cost neuroimaging technique that has both high spatial and temporal resolution and is non-invasive to the participants!

References

Quiroga RQ, Reddy L, Kreiman G, Koch C, Fried I. Invariant visual representation by single neurons in the human brain. Nature [Internet]. 2005;435(7045):1102–7. Available from: http://www.nature.com.zorac.aub.aau.dk/nature/journal/v435/n7045/abs/nature03687.html%5Cnhttp://www.nature.com.zorac.aub.aau.dk/nature/journal/v435/n7045/pdf/nature03687.pdf

Human Brain Project: What is it and how it’s a research innovation

Assembly of The Human Brain Project has a goal to unravel what lies within the intricately woven network that still remains a secret. Humans are always interested in discovering the unknown, solving puzzles and riddles and unraveling century-old questions. We have gone deep underwater in search for ancient civilizations and explored time-worn ruins from top to bottom in order to find the answers we so desperately seek. To this day, however, the biggest mystery that we have found is ourselves and what makes us human. The central core of the enigma that we are facing is the brain. The brain is the most puzzling, peculiar and unexplained creation that we have come so far managed to come across. Continue reading to find out more about the human brain project. 

Human Brain Project

What Is The Human Brain Project?

The Human Brain Project is a research initiative that started in 2013 and will continue for ten years. It hopes to uncover the challenge that is understanding the brain and all its functions, pathways and networks. The Human Brain Project will do so by combining and compiling the efforts from the leading scientists from the three major disciplines. By using the three disciplines it will attempt to encompass all that is the brain. It aims for a collaboration and integration between the fields of medicine related to the brain, neuroscience, and computing. This collaboration within the variety of different specialties is set to develop new insights into various neurological disorders and diseases. The initiative plans to come up with new solutions for treatment and to manufacture novel ingenious technologies. The researchers will use these new developments to study the brain.

The Human Brain Project: Neuroscience, Medicine, and Computing

Medicine and biomedical research initiative will look into neurological diseases and research into earlier diagnosis and prevention of the diseases. They will try to create individualized treatment and therapeutic techniques. All of this will allow for a faster and more efficient manufacturing of drugs. This will potentially lead to making drug discovery more cost-efficient.

Various neuroimaging techniques that scientists use in neuroscience are able to come with a vast pool of experimental data. Further research will use this data for future progress with the knowledge of the network. Both, invasive and non-invasive tools that differ in spatial and temporal resolutions attempt to provide a fuller picture of the brain both, anatomically and functionally. These tools include electroencephalography (EEG), intracranial EEG, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) etc.

Researchers will then process and analyze all of the neuroimaging obtained data. They will then be able to draw clear and concise conclusions that are statistically significant and relevant for further research. That’s where computing can come in with the variety of different programming languages. Programming languages will help guide the analysis of the data in a step-by-step way in an approachable fashion.

Computing also works in order to develop new ways of brain imaging and stimulation. It optimizes the ones that are already available on the market. It will also create computational and theoretical models that explain various time and spatial events in the brain. Computer specialists are also looking into possibilities of creating artificial intelligence programs. Intelligent programs could be able to mimic the functions of the brain.

The Human Brain Project – Goals and Objectives

Implementing clear and concise goals will help guarantee success. Collaboration between medicine, neuroscience, and computing will help to accomplish that. The Human Brain Project aims to create advanced information communication technologies that are able to lift the curtain to not only comprehend the human brain but to be able to stimulate it. This stimulation needs to be as painless, easy and side effect free, as possible.

Main Objectives

  1. Create and design a way to arrange, synthesize and analyze experimental brain data and learn to develop models based on this data. Comprehend both human and nonhuman brains at every level. Start from the genetic components and move on to cognitive makeup and resulting in conscious and unconscious behavior.
  2. Analyze the experimental data via the use of created technologies. Understand the mathematical and psychophysical assumptions and criteria that govern the connections amid various levels of brain organization. Try to understand the functions that these connections play in the brain’s ability to gather, express and collect information. Develop a technology that is able to visualize this data. Allow for creation of online models and reciprocate simulation.
  3. Develop information communication technologies that are useful for researchers in the field of biomedicine, computing, and neuroscience. Provide a platform for creating new technologies associated with artificial intelligence that is useful for understanding and stimulating the brain.
  4. Create new example bioinformatics tools. Immediately use them for pharmacological research and diagnostic criteria for various neurological diseases, online simulations of the disease action. Progress with understanding the newly created tools. Learn about protein on protein docking and interactions and subsequent drug effects to different brain disorders.

Models for brain research

Mice models

These objectives also contain mini-objectives for specific goals and guidelines for research projects and future collaborations. Neuroscience will look at projects in regarding with building a multi-layered model of the mouse brain structure. Various up-to-date scientific studies showed that mice models are some of the most useful models to apply to the rest of the mammal population, including humans.

Due to this, it is important to look at the structure and functional capabilities of mice in order to see how certain neurological diseases are able to develop and progress in their brain. This can help with knowing how certain drugs and protein interactions will work in combination with the disease. Drug interactions will then help to speculate and make an accurate prediction of how the disease will work in the human brain.

Creating a mice model will allow a prototype for the future study of the human brain and a guideline for further research. Using various tools can help with progress, including non-invasive and invasive neuroimaging techniques and in vitro and in vivo studies with neuronal mice cells.

Human models

Scientists also have to create a similar multi-layered model of the human brain. They will have to pool the information from the experimental data that they had gathered. Apart from that scientists will need to use the data they are working with at the moment. In the end, the researchers will be able to create a holistic model of the whole human brain. Again, they can do so by using various methods for this particular goal.

Apart from creating the model of the human brain, researchers have to look into understanding the link between the anatomical structures and the various functions that the brain displays. They need to start measuring spiking activities (action potentials) and relationships between different neurons. This will help with searching for some specific neurons with very specific functions (e.g. the grandmother cells) or networks of neurons responsible for similar functions.

Theoretical and computational tools

Researchers can then use various theoretical and computational models in order to hypothesize and speculate about the actions of these neurons. We need to be able to know exactly what happens on the neuronal level. That will allow us to understand the internal cognition and the external behavior that can happen as a result of this spiking activity.

In order to gain this insight into the brain scientists will implement these objectives. They will include the collaborative and ongoing use of all of the techniques available on-hand and feedback and forward communication between the various disciplines. Surprisingly enough, this mirrors the feedback and the feedforward way the brain sends and receives inputs and signals.

Human Brain Project Obstacles

Various different organizations have voiced questions regarding the ambitious initiative that is the Human Brain Project. These questions are valid on a scientific level, as well as a more cultural and an ethical level. Considering them is important before continuing along with the project.

Questions that were raised include ethical considerations.

  • Why do we need to know more about the brain?
  • If we do find out, what will we do with the knowledge that we have will gain?
  • Would there be any repercussions for the knowledge in regards to how we live on a daily basis?
  • Is intervening and stimulating such an important organ ethically reasonable and how would that affect our consciousness and cognition?

Obstacles like this need to be considered in every experiment and study that becomes a part of the whole Human Brain Project.

Human Brain Project Criticisms

There have been many concerns regarding the Human Brain Project. The attempt to model and build a simulation of the entire brain is quite ambitious. Sometimes, however, it is not as doable as one might hope. The amount of money spent on the project is very large and there is still no real advancement with building that holistic brain picture. A thorough experiment needs to be well thought out and planned out and the Human Brain Project seems to pursue a grand idea but with no clear steps to success.

In order for it to work, the brain simulation needs to working as soon as possible so that scientists can test it and make sure that it works, however, there is no such thing on the horizon just yet. If the researchers spend all the money now and then find out the errors, it can become quite catastrophic. Apart from that, how do you describe a brain? There are many different parts of the brain. It seems a bit too ambitious to encompass all that is the brain in one single model including the neurons and protein, DNA makes up etc. It’s impossible to know where the researchers should start.

We have a huge pool of data but it’s all so vast and different from one another, it can be virtually impossible to put it all together into one single brain simulation. Before we do that we need to formulate a theory and a hypothesis about how we think it works and builds from there, and not just throw all the data available to us in a computer and hope for the best. The thought of that, however, is mind-boggling and exciting.

The Impact of The Human Brain Project

Breakthroughs in neuroscience and medicine come as a result of the ongoing research. Different research groups look into different problems regarding the brain. Even with all of the ongoing research, there is still so much to learn and so little that we do know.

The questions are grand and they branch out in many different ways. Some scientists look at how babies are able to learn and speak their native language. Others connect language learning to bilingualism and its possible role in neurological diseases like dementia. Researchers look into reward systems and decision making. They try fully understanding object recognition, feature integration and biased competition of the visual neurons. The scope of the information that they need to study is endless and all of that encompasses The Human Brain Project.

The Human Brain Project Collaborative Initiative

With the advancements in all three of the fields, including research and advanced technology development, it will become possible to understand cognitive processes, advanced behavior, critical thinking, and reasoning. It will be easier to understand the genetic and environmental factors playing into the development and progression of various neurological diseases. Knowing about the diseases will help learn more about the cognitive consequences that show up as symptoms. After that, it will become possible to develop new treatment strategies in the form of drugs and therapy.

The Human Brain Project is, therefore, very ambitious. If it manages to succeed, it can become one of the greatest collaborative initiative in the world that can help us fully understand our species.

References

Markram, H. (2011). Introducing the Human Brain Project. SciVerse ScienceDirect (pp. 39-42). Lausanne: Procedia Computer Science.

Markram, H. (2012). The Human Brain Project – Preparatory Study. Lausanne: The HpB-PS Consortium.

Fight or Flight: All You Need to Know About This Response

Fight or Flight. The sympathetic nervous system is one of two subdivisions of the autonomic nervous system, which is part of the peripheral nervous system. All of these subdivisions may seem confusing, but all you need to know about the sympathetic nervous system starts with the peripheral nervous system.

Fight or Flight

CNS vs. PNS

For starters, the nervous system has two main divisions consisting of the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS). The central nervous system is arguably easy to wrap your head around because it consists of just the brain and the spinal cord. The peripheral nervous system is comprised of everything other than the brain and spinal cord.

Due to how vague the definition of the PNS is, it has to be broken down into multiple different subsets. The two main divisions of the PNS are the somatic and autonomic nervous systems.

The somatic nervous system is also considered the voluntary nervous system because it allows us to interact with our external environment. This is done through voluntary movement of skeletal muscles and our senses.

The autonomic nervous system regulates our internal environment or controls the body functions that we do not have conscious control over. This is a rather complex task as well, so the autonomic nervous system has two subdivisions known as the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.

The sympathetic nervous system controls our “fight or flight” response to a dangerous event, but it is also active at a baseline level in order to maintain our body’s homeostasis. The parasympathetic nervous system is the complimentary partner to the sympathetic nervous system. After experiencing a “fight or flight” response, the parasympathetic nervous system takes over in a “rest and digest” response. This allows the body to return to rest.

Fight or Flight: Functions

Fight or Flight

Now that we have a handle on where the sympathetic nervous system lies within the complex wiring of the complete nervous system, we can look at its specific functions.

Traditionally, we experience fight of flight when presented with harmful or life-threatening situations. Our body reacts in ways that can either help up flee the situation, or power through and fight the situation.

The fight or flight response is the primary process of the sympathetic nervous system. It allows us to handle stressful situations by suppressing non-vital bodily functions and enhancing survival functions. During a fight or flight response digestion is slowed or halted. This allows for the energy and resources normally used in digestion to be repurposed to increasing heart rate, getting more oxygen-rich blood to muscles, or dilating pupils.

Our bodies are able to make this response through two pathways. One pathway uses neurotransmitters, and other pathway uses hormones. The difference between a neurotransmitter and a hormone is a bit tricky to understand, especially when talking about the sympathetic nervous system. This is because the same chemical can be a neurotransmitter and a hormone.

What are the types of neurotransmitters

How is this possible? Well, a neurotransmitter is any chemical that is released from a neuron and travels across a synapse. A hormone is a chemical that is secreted from a gland.

Physiology of Fight or Flight

How does the sympathetic nervous system really impact your body? How do these messages get sent to the various parts of your body?

The First Basic Response Pathway

A two-neuron chain of signaling is required for almost every message that the autonomic nervous system relays. The first pathway is made up of the following: a preganglionic cell, a ganglion, a postganglionic axon, and an effector organ.

A preganglionic cell is a neuron that is rooted in the spinal cord. Its axon synapses onto a ganglion, which just a term for a cluster of neurons located in the PNS. From there the axon of the ganglion, referred to as the postganglionic axon, synapses onto the effector organ. An effector organ is any organ that can respond to stimulus from a nerve.

More on synapses 

What neurotransmitters are used in this pathway? The preganglionic axon releases acetylcholine, which binds to acetylcholine receptors on the ganglion. The postganglionic axon then releases norepinephrine onto the effector organ. The effector organ is then either stimulated or inhibited based on the receptors present. The receptors are what determine the action of the neurotransmitter.

The Second Basic Response Pathway

This pathway is referred to as the sympathoadrenal response. This pathway is made up of a preganglionic cell, the adrenal gland, blood vessels, and effector organs.

The preganglionic cell functions the same way as a preganglionic cell in the first response pathway functions. It is rooted in the spinal cord and has an axon that synapses, and releases acetylcholine, onto the next part of the pathway. However, in the sympathoadrenal response, the next part of the pathway is the adrenal gland.

The adrenal gland is made up of the adrenal medulla and the adrenal cortex. When acetylcholine is bound to receptors in the adrenal medulla, it signals hormones to be released into the bloodstream. These hormones are norepinephrine and epinephrine. These two hormones are also found in other parts of the body as neurotransmitters. Norepinephrine is even used as a neurotransmitter in the first pathway. However, as stated previously, the same chemical can be both a neurotransmitter and a hormone. It just depends on where it was released from!

When epinephrine and norepinephrine are released into the bloodstream, they have a wide spreading and fast impact on the effector organs. Just like the first pathway, the effector organ can either be stimulated or inhibited based on the receptors present.

Fight or Flight and Anxiety

Sympathetic Nervous System

In many cases, our bodies have not quite caught up with modern day events. The stress our ancestors experienced running away from predators is much different from the stress you feel before an exam. However, our bodies have a hard time differentiating types of stress.

These stresses that we face today are predominately psychological and unfortunately longer lasting than running from a predator. The danger with perceiving a modern situation as threatening and then subsequently activating your fight or flight response is that the response will be active as long as you feel threatened.

Anxiety has been linked to both the inappropriate triggering of the fight or flight response, as well as the length of time spent in the response state. Panic attack symptoms are very similar to the physiological changes that occur during fight or flight, and while the panic attack will eventually subside, this does not completely stop the fight or flight response.

You can still feel the emotional impact that an unwarranted fight or flight response has on you after the response has subsided. This can include worry and a heightened sense of danger. Unfortunately, this can have not only a psychological toll but a physiological toll as well.

The sympathetic nervous system is so good at redistributing energy to vital survival functions, but if this response stays on for too long, or is continually being stimulated, some health problems may arise.

Digestive problems can occur because the gastrointestinal tract is not getting enough oxygen-rich blood to do its job. Similar types of problems can arise with other parts of the body that are not getting enough blood flow.

It is important to engage in stress relieving activities, as well as relaxing in order to help your parasympathetic nervous system “rest and digest” to counteract “fight or flight”.

What is Neurogenesis: Regrowing Your Brain

“…I have experience recovering from a stroke. At the age of seven I underwent a stroke that almost took my life and paralyzed me on the left side of my body as well as from the waist down, leaving me in a wheelchair. But through years of therapy, working alongside neurologists, and my brain’s neurogenesis ability, my body and brain have recovered and I am in full health”

What is Neurogenesis?

“Can you grow new brain cells?”

You may have heard at some point in your life that you cannot grow new brain cells. You may have been taught that from the moment you are born to when you die you can only lose brain cells. It is believed that this is due to hits to the head, consuming alcohol and narcotics, and from lack of cognitive stimulation. Well do not despair because your brain is not in danger, you can in fact “grow” new brain cells in a process called neurogenesis.

Before I explain this process, I would like to get you up to speed to clear any confusion. As you may know or have learned, what people typically refer to as a “brain cell” is the more colloquial term for the neuron. These are the cells that make up the nervous system including the brain and through the communication of neurons, we achieve thought, actions, and everything that makes a brain a functioning organ.

It is typically believed that we develop billions of neurons during fetal development and that is it! After our brains develop, it is believed that the only changes that occur in our brains are the pruning and changing of synapses (the junction between neurons used for communication). So through this belief, it is believed that concussions, alcohol consumption, and stroke cause us to lose neurons and they can never be replaced. Unlike the rest of our body, our brains cannot heal. If you receive a cut on your hand, your blood will clot and form a scab until new skin cells repair the damage. As you grow, your bone cells develop and your bones elongate, being replaced by new cells. Our organs themselves have the ability to grow, change, and be replaced, however, it is believed that the brain is just a stagnant organ that can only lose its cells and never undergo repairs and growth.

Luckily for us, this is a FALSE belief!

Neurogenesis

The ability the brain has to develop new neurons is coined “neurogenesis” (“neuro” = relating to the nervous system; “genesis” = the formation of something new). The root of the word properly defines the term, but why is it that we have been taught otherwise about our brain’s ability to develop new cells?

A quick neuroscience history, Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the forefather of neurobiology incorrectly proposed the “harsh decree” of neuroscience.  Ramon y Cajal believed that no new neurons were generated in the adult mammalian central nervous system. You cannot blame him though, because before Ramon y Cajal, people thought the brain was just a reticulum. It was Ramon y Cajal who discovered that the brain is comprised of small units working together to form the neural net that is the brain. Ramon y Cajal was the first to work with advanced microscopy techniques during his time, in the year 1913. Ramon y Cajal discovered a lot for modern neuroscience so we will let this one error slide.

However, his “decree” was taken as a fact of neuroscience for years extending into the 1960’s when Joseph Altman and Gopal Das at MIT were finding evidence in rats, cats, and guinea pigs that these animals were able to develop new neurons. In their studies, the researchers found that these animals underwent neurogenesis in the hippocampus (a region of the brain responsible for developing new memories) and in the olfactory bulbs (a region of the brain involved in the sense of smell). Although Altman and Das had their research published in highly accredited academic journals, the dogma of Ramon y Cajal’s “harsh decree” was still taken as truth by neuroscientists at the time and their findings were silenced.

Fortunately, since the 60’s the neuroscience community has reduced their ignorance and it is now the topic of many researchers to discover new areas undergoing neurogenesis. It has been found that New York City taxi drivers have large hippocampi due to their spatial memories. Taxi drivers have an incredible ability to retain the vast network of streets and buildings which results in larger hippocampi due to the neurogenesis in this part of the brain.

High neurogenesis rates in hippocampus of taxi drivers

It is reassuring to learn that we are not constantly losing brain cells and losing cognitive ability. This is the whole premise behind CogniFit. Through brain training games and exercises we can learn how to improve your IQ, become sharper and faster in decision making, and overall improve our cognitive abilities thanks to neurogenesis and neuroplasticity. It has been found that we develop about 700-1000 new neurons in the hippocampus a day as adults (Spalding 2013). Although this number seems minuscule on the grand scheme of the billions of neurons that comprise the brain, over the years these 700 neurons add up to over 12 million neurons by the age of 50. These 12 million neurons are enough to completely replace the hippocampus alone.

Neurogenesis is such a new field of neuroscience that even experts in the field are still very uninformed on the subject. However, Dr. Sandrine Thuret is making efforts to introduce this new study of neurogenesis into the community and has sufficiently summed up the topic in her TEDTalk.

Do neurons die?

It is reassuring for those who experience head trauma, alcohol consumption, or stroke to hear that their brain cells are not lost forever. Although these can be difficult events to overcome (trust me, that hangover will eventually go away), head trauma and stroke are injuries that one can heal from.

Neurogenesis and Hangovers

Not only do I have experience with a hangover, I have experience recovering from a stroke. At the age of seven I underwent a stroke that almost took my life and paralyzed me on the left side of my body as well as from the waist down, leaving me in a wheelchair. But through years of therapy, working alongside neurologists, and my brain’s neurogenesis ability, my body and brain have recovered and I am in full health! I am not saying that I physically felt the neurons developing in my brain, but what I am saying is that there is hope.

In terms of head trauma such as concussion and alcohol consumption, your neurons are not literally dying. These types of brain damages are temporary, and they do not affect the cells directly, but more so effect the communication between cells, those synapses I was talking about earlier. Although you may not have to go through vigorous physical therapy to overcome a bump to the head or a night out with friends, there are other methods you can use to boost your brain’s neurogenesis. There are superfoods for your brain that you can consume that can truly boost your brain’s development and neurogenesis such as the intake of flavonoids, blueberries, or chocolate. Or you can try to pair these nutrition tips with specific exercise techniques such as intermittent fasting and calorie restriction to really increase your brain’s development. Using these techniques you can guarantee yourself a healthy brain that will continue growing through neurogenesis! 

 Test your knowledge-See how well you know your brain!

 

Altman, J., & Das, G. D. (1965). Autoradiographic and histological evidence of postnatal hippocampal neurogenesis in rats. Journal of Comparative Neurology, 124(3), 319-335. 

Ramón y Cajal, S. R. (1913). Estudios sobre la degeneracion del Sistema nervioso. Moya.

Spalding, K. L., Bergmann, O., Alkass, K., Bernard, S., Salehpour, M., Huttner, H. B., . . . Frisén, J. (2013). Dynamics of hippocampal neurogenesis in adult humans. Cell, 153, 1219-1227.

How Well Do You Know Your Brain: What Is It?

The brain is the most complex organ in the human body. It controls everything, from the way we walk to the way we speak. Its has captivated scientists for centuries, yet we know a lot less about the brain than we do about the heart, liver, or kidneys. Research on the brain has surged greatly in recent years, allowing us to understand more about being human. Though, many people don’t know the basics about how the brain works. How well do you know your brain?

How Well Do You Know Your Brain

What is the brain made of?

Each organ in our body is made of specialized cells that work together to make that organ work the way it does. In the brain, these cells are called nerve cells, or neurons.

Each neuron contains a bulb-like structure called the cell body. Protrusions off of the cell body are called dendrites, and these are the receivers of information from other neurons. The information from other cells travels down a long fiber called the axon, which is covered with fatty material called myelin that helps the electrical impulses travel faster. The axon ends by branching out into many nerve fibers (collectively called the axon terminal), which connect to other neurons to pass on information. But don’t be fooled- neurons don’t actually touch each other. Instead, they’re separated by a gap called the synapse. 

Information traveling through a neuron can be both electrical and chemical. Electrical impulses called action potentials travel down to the axon terminal and trigger these tiny packages called vesicles to open. These vesicles contain neurotransmitters that are released into the synapse to communicate with the next cell.

These neurotransmitters are key to everything about us. It coordinates so many things, from our happiness to the way we sleep. You may have heard of some them and their effects. For example, dopamine is known as the “pleasure neurotransmitter” because when released, it makes us feel pleasure and happiness. Many drugs actually cause the release of dopamine, which explains how people can get addicted to drugs, since we repeat behaviors that we find pleasure in. Another example is adrenaline, or the “fight or flight neurotransmitter.” In stressful situations, adrenaline increases heart rate and blood flow to allow you to physically deal with your stressor.

There you have it- the inner workings of the brain. But fear not! We’re far from over, there’s so much more to learn.

So, why is it important to know your brain?

As you can see, the brain is as complex as defining the word “the”. Scientists have been pouring themselves over understanding the brain, only to make discoveries that just barely scratch the surface. Understanding how the brain works helps us understand the things that make us human. Why do we feel a certain way when we’re in love? Why do some people have a harder time with depression than others? What causes happiness, pleasure, stress, and anxiety (understand your brain and stress)? Advancements in neuroscience bring us closer to these answers everyday.

Aren’t there different parts of the brain?

Yes! The idea that different areas of the brain have specific functions was gained in the late nineteenth century. Scientists were actually able to figure out what these functions were when they studied patients who had deficits. By the time that the twentieth century came around, they had detailed maps and functional descriptions of the brain’s areas.

It would take forever to go through all the areas of the brain and its functions, so let’s talk about the basics. Your brain is divided into 4 lobes that controls things like your thinking, movement, and your senses. Other structures below the cerebrum are responsible for life functions, such as breathing, heart rate, motor coordination and balance.

The Frontal Lobe

The frontal lobe is the frontmost part of your brain- hence the name! The frontal lobe actually has many functions, and damage to this area is known to cause some pretty diverse effects. The most famous story about damage to this area belongs to Phineas Gage, who’s damage to this lobe caused his personality to change. Besides personality, some of its functions include emotional control, concentration, planning, and problem solving. Towards the back of the lobe is the motor cortex, which controls the movement of everything in your body.

The Parietal Lobe

Located at the top of the head behind the frontal lobe, the parietal lobe deals with mainly sensory information. The somatosensory cortex, located towards the front of the lobe, is responsible for the perception of touch, pressure, and taste. The body’s sensory areas are actually organized along the cortex in a map called a homunculus, where different areas have different representations. For example, you have more sensation on your lips than your elbow because your lips have more representation in the cortex. The other parts of the lobe take in all the sensory information and integrate it to help us understand the world around us.

The Temporal Lobe

Located on the sides of the brain (behind the temples), this lobe is responsible for recognizing faces, monitoring emotions, and long-term memory. It’s biggest job is to make sense of all the auditory information that comes our way. More specifically, its important for the comprehension of meaningful speech. In fact, when damage to this area occurs, a person would have trouble understanding what is being said to them, or being able to speak properly.

The Occipital Lobe

Has your mother ever told you she had “eyes” in the back of her head? Well, she wasn’t completely lying. Located in the back, the occipital lobe integrates all the visual information coming in from the eyes. From the visual cortex, the information goes to different association areas that processes it. For example, when reading this article, the visual information is being sent to areas specialized for reading comprehension. Damage to this area can cause visual impairments, where you can’t process the visual information coming in from your eyes.

The Cerebellum

The cerebellum (Latin for “little brain”) is located on the brainstem where the spinal cord meets the brain. It takes in all the sensory information from other parts of the brain and uses it to coordinate our balance and movements. It also helps with motor learning, where its responsible for fine-tuning motor movements to make them smoother and more accurate. For example, if you were to learn how to hit a baseball, the cerebellum would act to find the best way to make your movements as smooth and coordinated as possible.

Neurologist undergoes brain surgery for research

Neurologist undergoes brain surgery for research

Neurologist takes self-experimentation to the extreme by installing implants in his own brain for data collection – MIT Technology Review

Phil Kennedy, a neurologist dedicated to finding a “speech decoder”, electrodes placed on the brain that connect to a computer making it possible for paralyzed patients to communicate without talking, took a step that few people would take. When he lost funding from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to continue his research, he had to look to alternative solutions in order to continue studying what he believed could give a “voice” back to those who are unable to talk.

Without funding from the FDA, Kennedy had few options left. He was making progress, but was not able to provide the proper safety data which left him without funding or credit. However, Kennedy refused to give up. After contemplating the risks and spending years mulling over the decision, he decided to “walk the walk”. Kennedy, the now 67 year-old neurologist decided to go to Belize, Central America to undergo the treatment himself.

After suffering mild complications, the surgery went well. Kennedy was able to take data and continue his research for almost one month, until he was forced to have the electrodes taken out. Having used a different electrode than he had used in the past (in order to make the procedure more simple), the brain was not able to heal fully.

In the MIT Technology Review article, Kennedy says “I had a few bumps and bruises after the surgery, but I did get four weeks of good data. I will be working on these data for a long time”.

How seeing changes your brain

How seeing changes your brain.

Your eyes aren’t just advanced visual systems capturing images of what’s around you. New research published in the Journal of Neuroscience shows that when our eyes perceive visual stimuli, it gets encoded in our brains in ways that change our emotional reactions.

Researchers found that even people who don’t have anxiety disorders respond visually at the sight of something scary while ignoring signs that indicate safety. This contradicts a common belief that only people with anxiety disorders have difficulty processing comforting visual stimuli, or “safety cues.”

The study results could help distinguish between normal and abnormal processes within the visual cortex and identify what parts of the brain are targets for the treatment of anxiety disorders.

Red brain, blue brain: republicans and democrats process risk differently

Red brain, blue brain: republicans and democrats process risk differently, research finds.

A team of political scientists and neuroscientists has shown that liberals and conservatives use different parts of the brain when they make risky decisions, and these regions can be used to predict which political party a person prefers.

The new study suggests that while genetics or parental influence may play a significant role, being a Republican or Democrat changes how the brain functions.

Democrats showed significantly greater activity in the left insula, a region associated with social and self-awareness. Meanwhile Republicans showed significantly greater activity in the right amygdala, a region involved in the body’s fight-or-flight system. These results suggest that liberals and conservatives engage different cognitive processes when they think about risk.

Neuroeconomics: how brain science matters to business

Neuroeconomics: how brain science matters to business.

At first glance, a neuroscientist and a business school might seem like an odd fit. But the fact is that the business world has been paying increasing attention to how the brain works. The field of neuroeconomics has gained ground in the past 10 years, with work exploring the brain processes that underlie decision-making.

There is the nascent but fast-growing field of neuromarketing, which uses brain-tracking tools to determine why consumers prefer some products over others. And there is neuroleadership, which applies neuroscience to management research.

Newfound brain cells linked to high blood pressure

Newfound brain cells linked to high blood pressure.

High blood pressure has just gotten a new culprit: a newly discovered brain cell. While the usual suspects of heart risk — weight problems, stress, smoking, those salty slices of bacon — do contribute to high blood pressure, researchers think they’ve discovered a new cluster of neurons that also play a role.

Researchers from Sweden spotted the previously unknown cluster of nerve cells in the brains of mice, finding the cells affected the animals’ blood pressure and other cardiovascular functions. If these neurons also exist in human brains, scientists and doctors may have a new avenue for tackling hypertension (chronically high blood pressure) and other heart problems.

Why your brain is a sensory smoothie

Why your brain is a sensory smoothie.

Neuroscientists used to think of the brain as a Swiss Army knife with different regions dedicated exclusively to different forms of sensory perception, such as sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch.

In the past three decades studies in psychology and neuroscience have revealed that the brain is an extensively multisensory organ that constantly melds information from the various senses.

The multisensory revolution has not only changed the way scientists understand the function of the brain, it has also suggested new ways to help the blind and deaf and has improved speech-recognition software.

Electrical impulses in the brain encode protocols for behaviors

Electrical impulses in the brain encode protocols for behaviors.

Neuroscientists have long been perplexed by how our brains encode thoughts, including memory loss and awareness, on the cellular level. Findings have revealed that groups of neurons symbolize every distinct segment of information, however, it is unknown what these groups of neurons look like or how they develop.

A 3-D light switch for the brain

A 3-D light switch for the brain.

A new tool for neuroscience delivers a thousand pinpricks of light to a chunk of gray matter smaller than a sugar cube. The new fiber-optic device, created by biologists and engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, is the first tool that can deliver precise points of light to a 3-D section of living brain tissue. The work is a step forward for a relatively new but promising technique that uses gene therapy to turn individual brain cells on and off with light.

CogniFit Launches Its New Brain Fitness iPad App

We have the pleasure to announce today the release of our newly developed brain fitness iPad app.

Specifically designed for the iPad, you will find that assessing and training your cognitive skills on your tablet device is truly a defining experience. It is a new way to continue your training wherever you are and enjoy the pleasure of using your fingers to do your brain training.

You can find more information on the new Brain Fitness iPad app or download it directly on the iTunes store by clicking here.

Another great review of our iPhone app

Another great review of our iPhone app

Great review of our Brain Fitness iPhone app

Great review of our Brain Fitness iPhone app

Memory could be the most malleable and trainable cognitive function

A new study presented today at the annual meeting of the Society of Neuroscience in New Orleans, Louisiana shows that improved working memory function, following the use of CogniFit online brain training platform, may not only be more malleable, but could also be even more trainable that other cognitive functions.

The research, conducted in collaboration with CogniFit, the Department of Psychology of Northwestern University (Dr. K.L. Gigler), the Department of Psychology of the University of Notre Dame (Dr. K. Blomeke) and the department of Psychiatry of Northwestern University (Dr. S. Weintraub & Dr. P.J. Reber) showed that older adults demonstrated improvements on tests of working memory and language, as well as on a composite measure of processing speed.

Participants to the study where older adults, both healthy and with MCI (mild cognitive impairment) and completed an online cognitive training protocol and memory exercise using the CogniFit brain fitness system. Participants, and especially those with memory impairments, further showed improvement on a battery of real world-like assessments.

Dr. Evelyn Shatil, Head of Cognitive Science at CogniFit explains “This new research demonstrates once again the capacity of the CogniFit’s computerized cognitive training to effectively train specific cognitive abilities. What is interesting in this case, is to see that memory, and working memory, more specifically, seems to be one of the best candidate for cognitive training and brain plasticity exercises.”

The most recent studies in neuroscience demonstrate that scientifically validated cognitive training (leveraging brain plasticity) is one of the very few proven ways to improve cognitive skills. These new results should encourage older adults to engage in brain fitness and improve their cognitive abilities and memory.