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Showing entries tagged emotion.  Show all entries

December 5, 2011

Why Keep A Promise?


It is interesting to see the importance humans place on a promise. A promise is not visible or tangible yet it still seems to have a strong, compulsory quality to it. Why is that? The truth of the matter is humans have the exceptional capacity to establish social norms and create understood cooperation among each other that is not seen elsewhere in the animal kingdom. Before society's infrastructure of rules and laws existed, promises were still made as a way to ensure trust, teamwork and partnership. Furthermore and perhaps the most intriguing aspect of a promise is that it is a verbal, nonbinding agreement. Yet despite the lack of concrete liability we still make promises every day.

Some research looking into the systems of the brain involved in nonbinding agreements has been done but there are still more questions than answers regarding of this topic. Using promises as a premise for research opens a unique door because promises can either be kept or broken. They can be made for many reasons but there are two justifications for keeping a promise. The first is to ensure future trust and cooperation and is referred to as an instrumental reason. The second rational is because it is the right thing to do and is called the intrinsic reason. The study in this paper focuses on the latter of these two explanations.

Each trial of the experiment had two subjects, a trustee and an investor. The trustee's brain activity was measured. First the trustee promises the investor to always, mostly, sometimes, or never keep their promise. In this study to be trustworthy means sharing the money made equally. The investor could choose to invest or not and then the trustee could choose to keep or break their promise to share the money. The trustee could choose both the strength of their promise and whether or not to keep their promise. These freedoms of choice led to two main groups of trustee subjects: both groups almost unanimously promised to "always" keep their promise but when it came to keeping the promise the subjects split into either the group who honored their promise or who was dishonest.

This study was the first to create a design looking at three different processes that play a role in promises. The first stage is the promise stage where the promise is made, then there is what is called the anticipation stage while they wait for the commitment of the investor, and finally the decision stage where the promise is either kept or broken. Researchers could differentiate subjects who will keep their promise and who will break it by brain activity during the promise stage, when the deceitful act is already planned.

This study found that all stages of the paradigm revealed different, highly specific activation patterns in the brain. The promise stage is where the dishonest act may be already planned but not yet implemented and researchers hypothesize if the subject already plans to break a promise, this misleading gesture will induce an emotional conflict. This emotional clash shows activity in parts of brain involved in conflict and negative emotional process such as the anterior cingulated cortex or amygdala. The anticipation stage showed parallels in brain activity to personality traits such as depression and neuroticism, both of which are associated with negative expectations of the future. When the subject had to decide to keep or break the promise, breaking the promise showed similar brain activity to the emotional process of telling a lie and the guilt that that involves. This study showed plausible evidence tying nonbinding agreements to emotional and logical processes of the brain. This evidence is critical in explaining why humans value and venerate the simple idea of a promise.



Baumgartner, Thomas, Urs Fischbacher, Anja Feierabend, Kai Lutz, and Ernsty Fehr. "Broken Promises." Neuron 64.5 (2009): 756+. Science Direct. Elsevier Inc, 10 Dec. 2009. Web. 5 Dec. 2011. .
Posted by      Bethany B. at 10:48 AM MST
  Sarah Bennet  says:
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Posted on Wed, 3 Jul 2019 3:34 AM MDT by Sarah B.

December 1, 2011

Of Mice and Men


Exploitation and the misuse of information is something that the media coincides with inexplicably. It should be no surprise that there is a great disconnect between scientific organizations and the general public for these very reasons. One organization in particular is trying to bridge this widening gap in order to prepare our society with implications of certain scientific methods in the future as our technological advances continue to advance. The UK's newly formed Academy of Medical Science is working to discuss the "scientific, ethical, and regulatory ramifications" of working with ACHM. ACHM's are animals containing human material. These animals are a result of scientists adding a small number of human genes into mice. This organization is working in order to create a set of limitations and rules for what types of experiments can be done in the future using this type of animal model. Although none of the procedures done so far reached outside of these limitations, they still felt it was important to lay the ground rules going into the future. They wanted these rules to be a reflection of the publics needs as well as the needs of the medical implications these studies lead to.

Perhaps more imperative to present day, is the other function of the group. The Academy of Medical Science feels that it is also necessary to openly discuss these processes and regulations with the public to stop the bad publicity that these ACHM models are creating. Due to constant speculation, the media and politicians are misinforming the public about what is really going on. Generally, scientists can be hesitant to go public with their procedures because it can often be misinterpreted. The creation of a negative perception can hurt the funding for these projects that really have good intentions that the public just cannot see.

The public seems rather obsessed with the idea of the 'mad scientists' who create animal-man hybrids in their laboratories just because they want to, and because they can. It is widely thought that these ACHM models are a used to create animal hybrids, and that stem cell research is done in order to create a cloned human race. While Hollywood may further push this idea from seemingly scientific movies and TV shows, people can interpret them as being based off of real evidence. In fact, these very viewpoints are the reason why this organization wants to openly discuss the benefits, as well as the setbacks, of performing such studies. They want to address not only the emotional and ethical rational behind their experiments, but also would like to argue the medical reasoning and justifications.

The article used the example of US Senate Candidate Christine O'Donnell speech against human-animal hybrids to show how misinformed or misjudged information can be misleading when it is not fully understood. O'Donnell was quoted saying that "scientists were cross breeding humans and animals". She further said that this led to functioning human brains within the mice. While there is obviously not factual evidence to support her claim, this publically stated accusation led to an increasingly negative viewpoint from animal rights activists and anti-genetic engineering supporters.

The main reason this type of animal model is used is to study different aspects of varying diseases in specific biological situations. They are not creating mice with the exact replica of the human form of the disease, and are really only altering a few genes, if that. Eventually there will technological advances that will allow new and improved studies to be done. It is very important that they let the public know now, ahead of time, what exactly they are planning to study and learn from present and future experiments. This will not only increase funding (because there will be more understanding and support towards their studies), but it will also reduce the bad publicity that emerging scientific field has to deal with.

http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v14/n12/full/nn1211-1489.html
Posted by      Amber S. at 1:47 PM MST
  Christina Uhlir  says:
Do you read the Wall Street Journal? There was a piece about "Citizen Scientists" that gets to your point about the misuse of information.

If not, here is the article:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204621904577014330551132036.html
Posted on Sun, 4 Dec 2011 4:39 PM MST by Christina U.
  Amber Spence  says:
I have not, sounds interesting! I'll check it out, thanks!
Posted on Sun, 4 Dec 2011 10:37 PM MST by Amber S.

October 23, 2011

Technology: Virtue or Vice to Our Brains?


It is undeniable that our daily lives are inundated with technology. Our society and this world work hand in hand with technology on a close, almost dependent level. It is only in the last few decades that we have become so co oriented with technology, and it is becoming a more pressing issue than ever that we question the effects of this change. As humans, who we are is shaped by our experiences, and knowing and acknowledging this fact means we have to question both the pros and cons of such a new and close relationship with technology. When looking at this relationship it is not a question of whether or not humans are being affected by technology but how technology is affecting us.

Technology includes a multitude of different things and cannot be considered one single entity. Because it is so multidimensional it is not necessarily a good or a bad thing; a greater breakdown is necessary to determine potentially harmful technology from proven positive facets of technology. It is verified that technology as a whole has the ability to manipulate mood and arousal. It has also been proven that attention, and vision and motor skills can be enhanced while using technology. These improvements are highly dependent based on the type of technology being used and whether or not there is active or passive interaction.

Television has been around for more than sixty years but it's relevance to everyday lives and learning has never been so great. There are learning benefits to technology but three reoccurring traits have surfaced in accordance with being wired. Studies have shown that people are more likely to be violent, exhibit addictive behavior, and get distracted easier. Once again the context of the technology must be taken in to consideration. Influences of technology are starting at earlier and earlier ages these days. In children the television show Telletubbies, research showed a decrease in language proficiency in children who watched this show. However, there was a language proficiency increase seen in children who watched Dora the Explorer.

These numerous concerns and detrimental findings in research also have a flip side. New research shows indications that playing video games is associated with a number of improvements in attention, cognition, vision, and motor control. Playing video games heightens ability to pinpoint small details in chaotic scenes. Playing video games and improving these skills has shown to help people in careers such as pilots or surgeons.
Part of making technology more beneficial than detrimental is learning how to use it and how to allow it to challenge and improve our brains as opposed to letting it become a route to mindlessness. We are seeing that the attractive features of video games such as emotional context, arousing experiences, and richly structured scenarios are what boost our intellectual brain and educational technology tends to exploit the repetitive nature of practice makes perfect. Making moves to shift educational technology toward the more interactive nature of technology could only improve our relationship with technology. It is difficult to study the ways that technology affects the human brain but considering the growing reliability and interaction humans have with it, research in this field is both necessary and critical to society.

Full article can be found at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0896627310006781
Posted by      Bethany B. at 9:41 PM MDT
  Joseph Crawford  says:
The post explores technology: virtue or vice to our brains. The article mentions that it is confirmed that technology as a whole has the capability to influence mood and arousal. It has also been verified that concentration, and vision and motor skills can be improved while using technology.

Thanks,
https://essayschief.com
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True or False: Emotions and Electrons Are Alike (Answer: true)


Remember that one time your girlfriend or boyfriend got ketchup on their nose while eating French fries and you thought it was hilarious, but immediately afterwards you felt guilty because they glared at you and growled for a napkin?

There is a word for that: ambivalence. The word ambivalence means that you feel two contradictory emotions (hilarity and guilty) simultaneously. Look a little more closely at the word ambivalence and you can probably guess what electrons and emotions have in common: valences. Emotional valences, like valence electrons, are shown outwardly on a persons face and they either attract (positive valence) or repel (negative valence) the person at which they are directed.

Many studies, since the advent of the fMRI, have examined the underlying circuitry involved in the expression and perception of emotion, especially negative valence emotions such as anger, sadness, and fear. The paper I analyzed is no exception to this rule: researchers from Kings College London, University College London, and the University of Zürich worked together to a) ascertain the circuitry that underlies the processing of emotionally negative facial expressions, and b) determine whether or not the amygdala is involved in the conscious processing of emotive faces. Basically, they wanted to know if our first response to facial expressions is to think or react.

In the study, a pool of 40 subjects (selected based on a range of nonspecific qualities) were shown a set of 60 faces and a corresponding number of fixation crosses (an image of a white screen on which a + is superimposed), while in an fMRI. Each of the 60 faces displayed either a neutral expression or a negative expression (anger, fear, or sadness) and the subjects used a clicker to indicate whether the face did or did not show an emotion. For each face, the response time and accuracy was recorded and was used in concert with the data provided by the fMRI images. In addition to the tests performed using the fMRI, a battery of statistical tests corrected for noise and anatomical dissimilarities among participants.

The findings are significant: the amygdala is not the only cranial structure that modulates facial processing. To be more specific, their results show that while the amygdala is involved in the processing of facial affect(Dima et al 1) there are also pathways to and from the fusiform gyrus, the inferior occipital gyrus, and the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, which do not involve the amygdala. Most notably, anger was mediated by the inferior occipital gyrus and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, not the amygdala.

What does all of that mean?

Basically, our brains have evolved for cognition for so long that we now respond to physical or emotional danger (anger in this case) in a cognitive fashion. We think before we react to a potentially harmful event.

Now think back for a second to your girlfriend or boyfriend with ketchup all over their nose. If this research holds, you will not immediately react and give them the napkin; you will, in fact, think about the potential harm that could come to you if you do not (minimal: they probably will not punch you), and the potential benefits you will reap if you do not (photographic evidence of the event). As far as I am concerned this decision is easy: memory is leaky; emotions are transient; but a picture lasts a lifetime.

What would you do?

Source: https://cuvpn.colorado.edu/content/31/40/,DanaInfo=www.jneurosci.org+14378.full.pdf+html?sid=20ba56d1-84f2-4fdb-b108-83aed6437270
Edited by      Christina U. at 2:03 PM MDT

October 19, 2011

Well that's Surprising...ly Negative


Have you ever been surprised to be let down? Or in other words, have you ever expected a certain outcome only to be surprisingly disappointed? Well if you have, ladies and gentlemen, then do not fear; for your dorsal anterior cingulate cortex is functioning properly! And what's that? There's unified model for the long disputed function of the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex? That's right! Both of these birds were hit by the same stone recently when Alexander and Brown produced a computational model "tour de force" to illustrate how negative surprise signals drive dACC (dorsal anterior cingulate cortex) and mPFC (medial prefrontal cortex) responses.
Many theories have been concocted as to what the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex may be responsible for, such as error detection, error likelihood prediction, and conflict monitoring primarily, and even more such as reinforcement-guided decision making, negative reinforcement learning signals, and action value prediction error. Could the dACC be responsible for all of this in the brain? Well, Alexander and Brown's model seems to narrow our spectrum a bit and put an end to this controversy.
While their model agrees with previous theories that the dACC and mPFC predict action-outcome situations, it is uniformly different in the sense that these regions are responsible for multiple predictions for action-outcome situations in parallel, and then these predictions are scaled to their probability of their occurrence. When the predicted outcome doesn't happen, learning rates are modified in order to update action-outcome predictions to the degree necessary to learn from mistakes and find a better solution.
Another important point of this model's representation of multiple predictions of action-outcomes is that different ongoing predictions could account for heterogeneity of neural responses usually observed in single-unit studies. So basically, the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex and medial prefrontal cortex can encode different outcomes simultaneously for the same situation that are being encoded in different groups of neurons! Pretty impressive eh?
So let's just recap. The dorsal anterior cingulate cortex analyzes a particular action, predicts an outcome for this action, and if the action-outcome prediction is negated, then the dACC modifies learning rates so that the brain can learn from its mistakes. And the dACC and mPFC can do this multiple times at once!
So while Alexander and Brown's model is reasonable and presents much more concise data, it is obviously provoking new questions and controversy. Seeing as how consequences of positive and negative surprises are the same according to this new model, what makes a negative surprise more significant or important than a positive surprise? If the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex is responsible for negative surprise predictions and reactions, what is responsible for positive surprise monitoring? As for these questions, we shall see what new models of these mysterious brain regions are presented and what will be discovered for the tasks we perform in daily life. Regardless of what is discovered in the future, we'll all be surprised!

main article:http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v14/n10/full/nn.2932.html
Posted by      Mark A. at 4:19 PM MDT
  Christina Uhlir  says:
Mr. Alsberg,

Could you kindly explain the mechanism by which the "tour de force" operates?
Posted on Sun, 23 Oct 2011 2:20 PM MDT by Christina U.

August 1, 2011

Making the Mind Spotless


In the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, the average person in the not-too-distant future has the option to erase unwanted memories with ease. The film takes a bizarre trip through Impenetrable Symbolism Lane after the initial setup, but the idea was ultimately painted as residing in an ethical gray area. In that story, a man was forgotten by an ex-girlfriend, but it was implied that the same technology was being used to treat PTSD and help people forget highly secretive information as well. A recent pilot study by University of Montreal researchers at the Centre for Studies on Human Stress has suggested that, while such specific deletion of memories is a pipe dream at best, the dream of removing painful memories with an accessible treatment may not be so far from our grasp.

The drug metyrapone, a drug that inhibits the production of the so-called "stress hormone" cortisol and is used in the treatment of hypercortisolism, was given to 22 men, with half receiving double the dose given to the other and another 11 men receiving a placebo. The men were administered the drug four days after being shown "a slide show having neutral and emotional segments," according to the paper published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, and asked to recall parts of the sequence. The study found a statistically significant decrease in the ability of those with the highest dose of the drug to recall those portions of the slide show which were most "emotional," while the more "neutral" parts were easily recalled by all three groups. This suggests a possible use for the drug in the treatment of PTSD.

Yes, sample size was tiny, and I would argue that the experimental design is rife with subjectivity, but the idea is founded on good science. It's fairly well established that cortisol has a significant effect on how our brains process and store memories. Typically, higher levels of cortisol impair accurate memory recall while also causing powerful emotional associations with memories being stored. The idea that we can specifically target and inhibit the recall of these emotional aspects of bad memories, without destroying memories of an event outright, is an intriguing and enticing one. While many may raise concerns over tampering with our memories in this way, the availability of such an option to those struggling with truly agonizing emotional memories would be almost entirely positive, and the effects may well be more permanent than with drugs many use to cope with negative emotions (like alcohol). The truly interesting issue to me is that it is this easy to mess with memories at all.

It's already well established that the ability to process and store memories can be removed by removing certain parts of the brain. It's also well established that certain drugs can inhibit memory recall. This preliminary study hints at the possibility of removing certain associations in the brain with pharmaceuticals. That memories are as beholden to peculiarities of biochemistry as any other biological process is not surprising, but it suggests that the scenario portrayed in Eternal Sunshine isn't very far fetched, or far-off. It's difficult to argue that such a world would be better or worse than the one we have now, but it would be radically different. Imagine being able to purchase this drug over the counter (it has relatively minor side effects) when you lose a loved one, and dramatically cutting down on grieving time. Such a world may well be a more efficient, more callous world, but perhaps callousness is worth having a "cure" for PTSD.

Science Daily article summarizing the paper:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/05/110526064802.htm
Original paper:
http://jcem.endojournals.org/content/early/2011/05/18/jc.2011-0226
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July 31, 2011

Trust Me. It'll Feel Good.


Trustworthiness has always been a revered personality trait. So much so that most of us are willing to look past any number of distasteful attributes if somebody proves to be 'trustworthy.' Ask the next person you see what they're looking for in a partner, plumber, or political candidate and they're guaranteed to put trust near the top of the list.

Trust is an emotion that's difficult for most people to define; like love. People just know when they feel it. No doubt, most of us would include words like 'truthful,' 'ethical, and 'dependable' in our definitions of what it means to be trustworthy. Such words, though, are themselves abstractions that don't define what it means to trust another person.

How is it, then, that we know when we can trust somebody? What do people do that earns them the distinction of being trustworthy? Why is it that some people are awash with trust, and others reserve the emotion for only a few, select people? And what is it about trust that makes it such an exalted trait?

Like so many other neuropsychological questions, the answers appear to lie within our good friend, dopamine: the ever-present, ever-pervasive, and always welcomed neurotransmitter that provides its host with a strong sense of reward and pleasure. It's the magic brain-gravy that's responsible for things like our desire to eat high-calorie foods and our motivation to perform self-benefiting tasks. According to some recent research, though, dopamine may also be responsible for the establishment of trust between two people.

A team of neuroscientists, Brooks King-Casas and Read Montague, et. al., designed an experiment that centered on a simple economic game in which receiving a reward required participants to trust one another with their money. If a player was feeling a bit greedy, he or she could steal from the pot at any time and, in doing so, erase the trust that had been established. By using a technique called 'hyper-scanning,' researchers were able to monitor subjects' brains as they interacted with other subjects in separate fMRI scanners. It wasn't long before the scientists were able to predict whether or not a player would steal from the pot several seconds before the theft actually took place. The secret to the researchers' clairvoyance was found in imaging of the caudate nucleus during gameplay.

The c-shaped caudate nuclei - found in both of the brain's hemispheres - play key roles in memory formation and the processing of external feedback. They are also heavily innervated by dopamine neurons. As each player participated in the game, it was the caudate nuclei that monitored the actions of the other players.

Initially, the caudate didn't activate until the subjects actually trusted one-another. It was then that each player received their dopamine reward and the caudate nuclei came alive. However, the caudate began to expect those rewards and started firing long before the player received any money from the other participants. The bonds of trust would then strengthen every time the player received their money; reassuring them that they weren't going to be let down.

These findings suggest that trust may not be such a noble trait after all. It appears that the highly regarded emotion may be little more than a gluttonous system designed to satisfy our primitive dopaminergic needs. When I say that someone is trustworthy, I'm really saying that they reliably satisfy some need I have. If you show that you are willing to satisfy that need - thereby flooding all the right parts of my brain with happy juice - I will trust you. And trust me, it feels good.

Main Article: http://www.hnl.bcm.tmc.edu/articles/Read/Getting_TO_Know_You2005.pdf
Posted by      Nicholas M. at 11:30 PM MDT

Is Altruism Really Selfless?


It has long been assumed that altruism is something that we humans posses that other animals don?t. That our capacity for empathy applies only to us because we have such an overdeveloped cortex capable of higher-level processing. However, what if this is not true? What if primates, our evolutionary predecessors also had this capacity? What does this mean about our sense of selflessness and morality? The ideas presented by Frans De Waal in his article Putting the Altruism Back into Altruism: The Evolution of Empathy could have larger societal implications than just an explanation for morality. The ideas in this article question religious ideas and bring us one step closer to primates by suggesting that empathy evolved from primates. Instead of thinking of our ideas of altruism and morality as being handed down to us from up above (like religious ideas claim) maybe we should think of them as being passed up from below.

Frans De Waal is the director of a primate research institute in Atlanta Georgia. He argues that his primates regularly display altruistic behavior and therefore there has to be some sort of mechanism in the brain that is already wired to create altruistic behavior or is in place to learn altruistic behavior. In a radio interview Dr. De Waal tells stories of chimpanzees sharing treats so that everyone in the pack gets a little. He also cites instances where children have fallen into gorilla enclosures and the female gorillas have comforted the children and brought them to areas where they could be rescued by zookeepers as empathetic behavior. In his article, De Waal introduces some cognitive models of empathy. He proposes the ?Perception Action Mechanism? where motor neurons in a subject mirror the state of an object. And the ?Russian Doll Model? where empathy is a result of our higher-level cognition that uses a hard-wired basis to create empathy. Frans De Waal argues that being altruistic could have had evolutionary advantages that caused the trait to be selected for. A simple explanation would be if a primate was part of a pack and they hurt other members they would be ostracized and die without reproducing. But those who were good and able to work as a unit as opposed to as an individual would be kept under the protection of the pack. The mechanisms suggested above are the biological mechanism by which these traits are passed on evolutionarily.

De Waals points are intriguing but what really intrigues me is the social implications this article has. First of all, it is one more example of how similar we are to primates. The larger implication is that not only are we more similar, but we are more similar in a behavioral aspect that we humans had previously thought was part of our higher-level cognition: we thought empathy and altruistic thoughts were too complex for primates. Along with this implication comes a fear. If in fact there is a specific mechanism in the brain that controls altruistic behaviors what could happen if we were able to identify it? People could be tested to see if this area was underdeveloped, or abnormal in some way that would make them a hazard to society. Could we start condemning people to horrible, immoral acts before they happen based on their brain makeup? And, if we could, would this be a moral thing to do?

De Waal, Frans B.M. "Putting the Altruism Back into Altruism: The Evolution of Empathy." Annual Review of Psychology 59.1 (2008): 279-300. PubMed. Web. 31 July 2011. .

http://www.radiolab.org/2007/aug/13/
Posted by      Eileen E. at 11:15 PM MDT

Synthetic Telepathy: The Army's Bold Plan


Many controversies on the table for neuroscience look at the emerging role of neuroscience, and how it will fit into our futures. This article by time magazine, '''The Army's Bold Plan to Turn Soldiers Into Telepaths''' hones in on the idea that the ways in which neuroscience could impact us are ever growing. Although at first neuroscience seems to find general roles in our emerging everyday lives, soon it will also fill in very specific corners and responsibilities; such as being used in the Army as a means of increasing our variability of weapons.

The article starts by bringing attention to the fact that the concepts associated with the future of neuroscience are just that- very futuristic. Many of the ways in which neuroscience and its findings could be applied to everyday life are concepts that have been talked about for generation but seem to be 'too far out' to be realistic and plausible. The foundations of these roles also need to be reestablished. For instance, the article points out that at first one might think a mind reading individual would be going through ones thoughts collecting memories and associations, when in fact the mind reader can be collecting information which will help protect him or help him protect a fellow solider. This idea is coined by the article as part of a U.S. Army project which is building "thought "helmets' (1).

The basis of synthetic telepathy is relying on research which is currently looking into which regions of the brain are responsible for the various processes of storing and processing thoughts. The overall goal of the US Army project would be to build a helmet which would be embedded with such technologies that can scan a brain similar to in the large scale fashion which are used for the research to identify these regions. The technology that would be embedded into the helmet would be able to carry out such functions as to be able to "target specific brain waves, translate them into words, and transmit those words wirelessly to a radio speaker or an ear piece worn by other soldiers" (1).

The idea and basis for the thought helmets and synthetic telepathy originated from the science fiction book Skylark of Space, a 1946 classic which was read by Elmar Schmeisser. The concepts and potential that neuroscience hold have been around forever, it is now taking the courage f individuals to speak up and realize that these ideas are plausible which is moving neuroscience both in a forward and controversial direction. Schmeisser began to progress with his idea of the thought helmet after a 2006 lecture when he realized the up and coming world of recording individual neurons and extracting signals from the surface of the brain. Although at first the army thought it to be hallucination that such an idea could work, they asked for evidence of its proof and Schmeisser and others are most definitely delivering results. After research results and new findings in the field, Schmeisser had won over many individuals and organizations and began working more in depth on the thought helmet for the Army.

Ultimately Schmeisser wanted to produce answers to big neuroscience questions which would in turn allow future researchers to capture complicate thoughts and ideas (1). He realized though that the rudimentary though helmet, capable of discerning commands, would be a valuable achievement and a step in the right direction to continue to gain supporters and funding for such a project. This point in the article paves way to where most neuroscience controversies come from- the ideas they are based on are as ever growing as the field. Many of the applications of neuroscience to real life open doors for more and more complex application to be found, and therein lies why the topics become so controversial.

Schmeisser himself points out that in actuality little is known about how the brain really functions, more so just about all the players that are present, contributing or not. "This project is attempting to make the scientific breakthrough that will have application for many things. If we can get at the black box we call the brain with the reduced dimensionality of speech, then we will have made a beginning to solving fundamental challenges in understanding how the brain works- and, with that, of understanding individuality" (1).

(1) http://discovermagazine.com/2011/apr/15-armys-bold-plan-turn-soldiers-into-telepaths
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Cosmetic Neuro-tinkering


Altering your body for aesthetic reasons has become social norm in society. What if you could alter your brain functions to improve motor skills, attention, learning, and mood, would you do it? Advances in neuropharmacology are beginning to progress to the point that they are able to use drugs to enhance these abilities. This emerging technology is becoming known as cosmetic neurology.

In an article entitled, "Cosmetic Neuorlogy: The Controversy Over Enhancing Movement, Mentation and Mood," Anjan Chatterjee MD outlines three general categories, motor systems, attention/learning/memory, and mood, that could have a prospect for better bodies and mind.

Chatterjee says that all three of these areas of improvement already have neuophamagological drugs that can improve them. For example, Insulin-like growth factors (IGF) can be given to men over 60 to increase muscle mass, decrease body fat, and improve skin. This in turn improves the quality of life of these people? In addition to IGFs, there are drugs that can improve plasticity, block receptors that cause depression, and decrease unpleasant memories.

Unfortunately, any time you wish to alter the brain there are several ethical dilemmas. In this case safety, individuality, distribution and coercion become the prominent issues.

Safety is a main concern with any form of drug treatment. In disease, a person weights the risks against the potential benefits. Which is why people with terminal cancer are willing to endure toxic chemotherapies to prolong life. Where as in a healthy state any risk is harder to accept because the alternative is "normal" health (Chatterjee 2004). This is where ethics plays in. Is it ethical to treat someone with something that does not save them for something else? Some people think it is, as long as that person is equipped with enough information about the potential side effect. But then again where did the information come from and did the person use it?

Another issue in this cause is individuality; Chatterjee says that a major concern is that chemically changing the brain threatens to eliminate personhood. This then leads into a more ethical issue of if tinkering with brain chemistry is going to threaten what it means to be human?

As in most discussions, who gets them becomes an important question to ask. Because these mind-altering drugs are expensive it is unlikely that the government or insurance companies are going to pay. Does that mean that the rich prevail again? Then we have to ask ourselves? what happens when the rich get stronger, smarter, and sweeter than "normal" people? A critical ethical issue when talking about new drugs is distribution.

Finally, we must look at how choices can evolve into forces of coercion (Chatterjee 2004). One form of this is the common feeling that you want to be better or at least maintain your position in society. As people become smarter, fast, and stronger, pressures increase and smaller groups of people will be competing for larger prizes. Imagine what you could do if you could work 100 hours a week without becoming tired! Another issue is demand for superior performance. Pilots taking donepezil preformed better in emergencies than those on a placebo. Should that then mean that all pilots should take it, or that people will pay more for flights where their pilot takes it?

It does not take much imagination to see how the media will advertise for "better brains." We must look follow these topics and developments. Up until now, I did not realize the extent of these mind-altering substances. Did you?
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July 30, 2011

Reading Your Mind


Have you ever wondered what the world will be like when someone can read your mind? If so, maybe you should pay attention to this paper. As you well know, technology is changing in such a rapid pace, you can?t buy a computer without a newer one coming out before you even get it home. The same goes for neuroscience.

There is a lot going on in the neuroscience community right now. One major area is the mapping of minds and memories. Henry T. Greely outlines these studies in a paper entitled Neuroethics: The Neuroscience Revolution, Ethics, and the Law. In the paper, Greely discusses the various ways in which mind mapping will affect the world. Though currently mapping is being used to advance the way in which doctors predict diseases in patients, mapping can lead to predicting behaviors in the future. This will be revolutionary to many areas. As Greely points out, the way criminals are convicted, businesses are run, and how students are tested will all be affected by mind mapping.

On a criminal level, the author does an outstanding job describing the history of predictive measures and the law; Lie detection being the most prominent. In comparison to future techniques, he makes the polygraph tests look primitive and crude. It would have strengthened the paper if more methods were introduced in mapping and imaging. Greely seems to focus on the history and the implications of these methods,. Additionally, he makes the material accessible to the average person without frightening them into thinking the future is the plot of the movie ?The Minority Report?. The article offers possible ways that crimes will be predicted in people, as well as how trials will be held regarding mind and memory mapping.

In schools, long gone will be major tests like the SAT and the MCAT. Brain imaging will go a long way into measuring the aptitude of a student?s mind without having to put a pencil to paper. These methods sound to be decades away, but Greely describes them in a realistic manner, making the author?s take on the future more believable.

Finally, Greely points out that with any new area of study, someone is going to try to make money off of it. These prediction methods are a dream for marketers who may be able to predict the exact reaction a product will get, or the best way to appeal to a specific market. Again, this future seems very possible in the way that Greely describes. I have no doubts that the in the creation of new prediction methods, new ways to buy and sell will emerge in the United States and the rest of the world.
After finishing reading this article, as a prospective neuroscientist I was amazed at all of the possibilities that I haven?t even considered that are covered. As a citizen I was just as amazed. With Greely?s prediction of the way that prediction will affect the world, I strongly believe that the world will change as long as neuroscience advances. I encourage everyone to follow these developments as they will certainly be a part of our world. Maybe sooner than we think.
Posted by      Anthony F. at 12:40 PM MDT

July 28, 2011

A Neurobiological View of Universal Moral Dilemmas


Imagine a small boat stranded in the middle of the ocean. There is no one around for miles and no one can even signal for help. There is a limited amount of food and water, but there is a more pressing matter. The boat is sinking. Slowly, but surely, the boat will fill completely with water unless one person jumps out. The boat is only made for 5 passengers, and there are six people on board: a priest, a young woman, her baby, a famous celebrity, an old man, and a person convicted of numerous crimes. Who should be sacrificed to save the rest?

According to Joshua Greene, Ph.D., an analytic philosopher, there are two different ways of viewing moral situations like the one of above. Some questions require people to logically assess the situation and come up with a reasonable solution. This might require sacrificing a few people to save many. This view supports a type of utilitarian morality, which would allow a few to die as long as some greater good is achieved. Other questions require a more emotional response. They, what we would call deontologists, would argue that killing, of course, is wrong, no matter what circumstances arise. They would protect every life, even the smallest, such as the baby, or the most undeserving, perhaps the criminal.

In an article entitled, "An fMRI investigation of emotional engagement in moral judgment," in the journal Science, Greene performed a study posing two very similar situations, each evoking a different response out of his subjects. He then took scans of their brains as the two questions were asked. He notes:
"A runaway trolley is hurtling down the tracks toward five people who will be killed if it proceeds on its present course. The only way to save them is to hit a switch that will turn the trolley onto an alternate set of tracks where it will kill one person instead of five. Ought you to turn the trolley in order to save five people at the expense of one? Most people say yes. Now consider a similar problem, the footbridge dilemma. As before, a trolley threatens to kill five people. You are standing next to a large stranger on a footbridge that spans the tracks in between the oncoming trolley and the five people. In this scenario, the only way to save the five people is to push this stranger off the bridge, onto the tracks below. He will die if you do this, but his body will stop the trolley from reaching the others. Ought you to save the five others by pushing this stranger to his death? Most people say no."(Greene, 2105-8)

Using the fMRI, Greene found that in the footbridge scenario, the regions of the brain associated with emotional processing were activated and therefore lit up. With the trolley scenario, those same areas were not activated. Some moral questions require a more logical approach. These become impersonal to us, so we can perhaps justify killing a few to save many. Therefore, we would choose to allow the one person to die to save the five on the tracks from the train. Others can be answered with a more emotional and personal touch. If we apply universal morality to the situation, such as respect for fellow human beings, then how could we ever allow one person to be killed?

Greene observed high activity in brain regions associated with emotion when they were asked about killing babies, even if such an action would save a small town from invading soldiers, for example. Where utilitarian thinking dominates, he observed high activity in regions associated with cognitive function. In one such area, the right anterior dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, activity increases for those who would consider more rational or utilitarian choices, in this case, chose to smother the baby. Greene stated that there are two opposing views in our brains. One, the ancient emotional brain, embodies the view of universal morality of the deontologists, who disapprove of killing. Two, the new brain, equipped with higher-power cognitive function, indicates the utilitarian's "for the greater good." He argues not for the dichotomy of reason and emotion, but an evolved view of "areas associated with cognitive control and working memory," vs. "areas associated with emotion," with obvious bias towards the prior.

There are some obvious flaws to using fMRI to study the neurology of thoughts and emotion. The fMRI signal correlates to a function in the brain. If a particular region lights up, it doesn't mean that the signal originated at that region. According to "Does Neuroscience refute ethics?" published by mises.org, "In fact, the fMRI signal does not even provide a direct measure of the spiking of neurons, so we do not know whether it reflects the inputs or outputs of the activated area." Even with hard data, like the fMRI scans, it is hard to decipher a moral meaning. We cannot find meaning where there isn't from data. For example, we cannot prove that candy is evil because dentists have proved that the sugar can cause cavities. On the flip side, human emotions, like love and hate, cannot be disregarded as less useful than hard facts, especially in matters such as relationships and family. Just because we have fancy scans to prove brain activity, we cannot prove that the outcome of cognitive functions in the brain leading to a more utilitarian decision is morally superior to emotionality, because reason always trumps emotion and feelings. Greene's thinking that a moral relativism is far more applicable than universal morality. We can each follow our own moral compass, so long as it leads to some sort of benefit in the end. We cannot be held accountable for things if every person's beliefs about murder and stealing vary. If you don't support this, then your brain must be more prone to emotional thought, or your "emotional brain is overdeveloped." The article sarcastically comments that though Greene uses fMRI scans to support his findings about opposing brain function with regards to thought and morality, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. He concludes that " 1) there are no moral facts, it's all a matter of opinion; and 2) we should all become utilitarians and donate to charity."
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