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November 15, 2019

Is Skype Helpful?


Nowadays technology has become an integral part of human life. The development of technology has affected many spheres of human activity, namely education and science, housekeeping, entertainment, the media, and communication. The increasing role of social media in human life is by all means an ambiguous issue. Globalization and dehumanization are the negative effects of the increasing role of social media in human life, while rapidness, covering the great distances, and user-friendly interface are the advantages of social and media networks. Skype is a computer program that offers its users a wide range of facilities, such as message and file exchange, video conferencing, and chat, which means that Skype enables the computer users to establish contacts in a fast and convenient way. However, the negative effects of social network and the media apply to Skype as well as a program providing the services for Internet communication, which is especially just when the issue concerns the excessive use of it. Without doubt, Skype is helpful in many spheres of human activities. It provides a wide range of facilities for immediate and effective communication, such as chat, message, voice message, file exchange, and video conferencing. Skype is beneficial for education and conducting business.
Considering the positive features of Skype as a social media networking tool for online communication, Tom Blanchard comments on the following ones: possibility, an option of smartphone, tablet PC adjustment to the number of applications and versions available, making and receiving phone calls. Skype is especially convenient when you travel abroad and have to stay in contact with someone. Skype program was invented in 2003 for the purposes of getting over the problems of online communication. ‚??Skype began as a free software program that could be used to connect people over the Internet, through text, voice, and/or video‚??. Skype is a free program, which means that the users do not have to pay for downloading Skype and running it; Skype is user-friendly, which means that it is easy to use; it is mobile, which means that it is possible to download Skype to smartphone or any other gadget equipped with front-facing camera, thus, a user can keep in touch wherever and whenever it is possible, necessary, and convenient. Moreover, Skype offers the possibility of direct communication. Mobility, simplicity, and multi-functionality are advantageous with regard to exchange of educational materials (tasks, exercises, electronic course books) and dealing with them.
Reflecting upon the issue of using Skype for educational purposes, Patricia Bruder informs of Skype in the Classroom service.
‚?¶targeted use of Skype can bring pedagogical benefits, whether it makes students
conduct research necessary for a video presentation more seriously, encourages
instructors to focus on broader concepts instead of individual problems because tracing
and fixing student work directly is more difficult, or exposes students and teachers to
real-time technology problem-solving.
Keith Ferrel from the Ed Tech Ideas admits the technocratic nature of modern society and states the fact that children should be prepared for integration into a modern technological world. Keith Ferrel admits the issue of technopanic, a groundless worry over the excessive use of technical tools and global networks. Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, in her turn, distinguishes between the following options of applying Skype to education: broadening the outlook and developing social consciousness, staying in touch, reporting live/streaming from events and places, getting or sharing information about the nature of courses and exchange of materials, training oneself to speak in front of the audience, keeping in touch with the best qualified specialists in a particular sphere of knowledge, and communicating with the witnesses of some important event and/or associating with outstanding people. Operating the Skype program, students learn how to behave in front of the camera, how to use web-camera and microphone (which raises the student‚??s technological awareness), how to be convincing, how to visualize the ideas and thoughts, how to prevent the background obstructions (an issue of obstacles and how to deal with them). Thus, the students develop their scope, technological competence, train their artistic abilities, and learn how to overcome fears and be prepared to speak in front of the audience. Skype is also used for the purposes of
- career education, which occurs when parents introduce their children and children‚??s classmates;
- after-school help, which occurs when a student requires extra attention and/or care;
- student inclusion, which occurs when a student cannot visit classes because of illness;
- volunteering, which consists in establishing contacts between different schools for their students‚?? educational and cultural benefit.
Application of Skype in business sphere has some specific features. The peculiar features of Skype and its advantages in business sphere rest upon the same characteristics that were already mentioned, namely mobility, simplicity, and multi-functionality. One of the main advantages of Skype for business sphere is covering the great distances; the Skype program allows one to arrange a meeting or a video conference for people who live in different regions across the globe. Considering the issue of the benefits of Skype for small business, Gabriela Warren enumerates the following advantages of this program: price, ease of use, it is where you are, reliability, and call quality.
The issue of price means the following. If a person is using the Skype program for personal purposes, namely for interpersonal communication by means of making a Skype call to another user, this option is free. In this regard, the only negative feature Gabriela Warren admits is that a person can have a free video conference with one user at a time. According to Tom Blanchard, a yearly fee is ‚??of around $60,‚?? which means that paying this sum, a user is guaranteed to get a phone number assigned, which enables one to get the phone calls directly using a computer or smartphone application. Ease of use means that the Skype program is not difficult to download, install, and operate. Creators and developers of Skype service have already provided a number of versions for personal and office computers, laptops, tablet computers, and smartphones. Having downloaded Skype on a gadget, the only thing a person should do afterwards to run the program is to connect to the Internet. Skype is the latest tool based on Voice over IP technology. It is a mechanism that allows phone calling through the Internet. Being the latest creation in VoIP technologies, Skype offers its users good quality, which, in its turn, indicates professionalism. Skype services are improving constantly, and the customer‚??s demands, needs, and remarks are taken into consideration. Quality and professionalism are important in terms of establishing business contacts and carrying on business. Therefore, one can emphasize the quality of services provided by the Skype program. This way, the author justifies the idea of reliability of Skype program. Reliability is another important feature for establishing business contacts and running business.
The negative effects of Skype program are most noticeable as far as the issue of interpersonal communication is concerned. The negative effect of Skype on interpersonal communication consists in dehumanizing it. Communication is by all means an art; it is an art of motivating, encouraging, comforting others, an art of persuasion and reasoning. Motivation, encouraging, comforting, persuasion, and reasoning are the five possible ways of influencing the others. In the process of face-to-face communication each of these influences is expressed more vividly if compared to a distant online conversation. Face-to-face communication is more natural. Modernization and technological approach have made communication a means of entertainment. Communication, in its turn, is something far more important. Another thing which is more common among young people is that they become addicted to the Internet in general and social networks and the media in particular. Briefly, the only conclusion that can be made in regard to the negative effects of social networks and the media in general and Skype program in particular is that people should benefit from the time they spend in front of computers. It means that people should explore the Internet in order to get some information, but not just for entertaining purposes. That is why people should control themselves while exploring social networks and the media. When one understands the usefulness and helpfulness of Skype program, the negative impact of social networks and the media is reduced to zero. The only fact that matters is what people use social networks and the media for.
Taking all the aforementioned facts into consideration, it is possible to assume that Skype has already affected people‚??s life and interactions. The issue has both positive and negative aspects. The negative effects of Skype, a tool for online communication, are especially just when the issue concerns the excessive use of it. Positive features of Skype as a social media networking tool mostly deal with education and business. Skype is beneficial for both business and education because it is easy to use, accessible (available for free), and reliable. It saves time and efforts while organizing a meeting or conference and makes distance communication possible and effective.
Taking all the effects of social network, the media and Skype program particularly into consideration, it is possible to claim that the Skype program is useful by all means. Skype is helpful due to the number of options, services, and functions available, namely text and voice messages exchange, video conferencing, and file exchange. Text and voice messages exchange as well as video conferencing are important for business, while file exchange is more important for educational purposes. It helps to deal with the course materials, such as readings, tasks, and exercises, course objectives, and many other issues connected with education.

Emily Rock, blogger and writter at https://top-papers.com
Posted by      Emily R. at 7:03 AM MST

December 5, 2011

Your Brain on Nirvana


Any student has experienced that moment in class when he cannot for the life of him recall what the professor has just said seconds before. Whether it was because he was distracted watching a gnat fly around the light overhead or because his furiously working writing hand wasn't taking notes quite quickly enough to keep up with the lecture, there are always a few intervals which we miss in our daily lives, because our brains lack adequate attentional resources - unless you happen to be an expert in Buddhist meditation, that is. Among its various purported benefits, which include changes in metabolism and blood pressure, meditation also has been shown to result in altered brain structure and function. In other words, meditation induces neuroplasticity. In much the same way that one can obtain expert proficiency in a foreign language, mental training via meditation can result in increased information processing capacity in the brain.

Meditation is used by an increasing percentage of people to promote relaxation and a heightened sense of well-being. In a study published by the IEEE Signal Processing Society, researchers showed that meditation also leads to increased levels of concentration and reduced attention blink, as well as resulting in enhanced cortical area, in a manner similar to other forms of skill acquisition. The study made the distinction between two types of meditation - Focused Attention (FA) meditation and Open Monitoring (OM) meditation. Utilizing fMRI to measure hemodynamic changes in various areas of the brain, FA meditation was shown to be correlated with activation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex; the visual cortex; and the superior frontal sulcus, supplementary motor area and intraparietal sulcus. These areas are associated with our ability for monitoring, engaging attention and attentional orienting, respectively. When an individual meditates regularly and becomes an "expert", the cortical area of these regions in the brain increases. This would seem to indicate that attention is a trainable skill.

In addition to being able to pay focused, long-term attention to a chosen object, meditation experts were also shown in the study to undergo less activation in their amygdalas in response to emotional stimuli. This would seem to imply that emotional behaviors are not compatible with a stable state of advanced level concentration, and also that our emotional state can be consciously controlled, to some extent.

The implications of attention as a trainable skill appear to be numerous. For example, let us consider Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). It would seem that individuals who suffer from a seeming lack of ability to focus for prolonged periods of time might benefit from practicing meditative techniques, where the mind is calm and focused for prolonged periods of time. In addition, the general population might also benefit from the ability to reduce "neural noise" and thus pick up more information from the environment more quickly, rather than becoming overwhelmed by the constant data input. For students, their ability to focus in class and process more information more efficiently could have considerable impact on their learning. Many aspects of the impact of meditation on the human brain are as yet still unknown, but it would appear that it has profound effects on attention learning through the creation of novel synaptic connections, in addition to its role in promoting cultivation of general mental and emotional health.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2944261/
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  Andreas Bachtold  says:
Through meditation, students can get a lot of benefits like mind peace, attentiveness, concentration, good health and sustainability. These are some of the key results of meditation. I was stuck with an essay on research paper on child abuse and can‚??t get any bright ideas on to finish it. Meditation helps me to finish my assignment by gaining me my full concentration.
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Optimism: Is too much a bad thing?


We've all been told at one point or another in our lives to look on the brighter side of a given situation. Most of the time we do because the brighter side brings some sort of happiness and therefore when look on the brighter side of a situation, it helps us by easing the negative feeling we have towards that situation. And so by looking on the brighter side, we keep ourselves positive and our stress levels down a bit. But how can you still be optimistic even though there is information that goes against what you believe? As I go through the article, How unrealistic optimism is maintained in the face of reality, I will hopefully answer this question.
In this article, Sharot et. al. tries to explain why it is that some of us are so optimistic and could it be a bad thing? The article focuses on the events in which people do not take the necessary precaution they need to in order to protect themselves, that being the underestimation of future negative events, and why they were adamant about not changing (Sharot et. al.). So the way the experiment was conducted was Sharot et. al. took participants and told them to estimate the probability that an event would happen to them and then measured their brain activity. There was a total of eighty events that were "tested" all of which were adverse life events such as house hold accident, adultery, owing a large amount of debt, etc. They then combined a learning task with fMRI. This allowed Sharot et. al. to identify how blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) signals track estimation error in response to whether the information given lead to optimism or pessimism (Sharot et. al). To determine estimation error, they used the equation: estimation error = estimation - probability presented. They also used questionnaires to see if people changed their beliefs of an event based off of some kind of emotional arousal, how bad an event is, if they were familiar with the event, or if they have encountered such an event before.
Their results were that there was this region of the brain, right inferior frontal gyrus, in which showed a reduction for neural coding of undesirable error regarding the future for people who were optimistic. They also found that the reason there was this asymmetry in people changing their beliefs was due to a reduced expression of an error signal in the region implicated in processing undesirable error regarding the future (Sharot et. al.). The questionnaire that was administered showed that people didn't change their beliefs due to the severity of the event, if it is familiar or not, or if they have encountered it or not. The BOLD signal tracking showed that people with the largest optimistic update bias failed to show any undesirable error meaning the relationship between undesirable error and BOLD signaling was close to zero, where as people who did not show a selective updating in belief showed a strong relationship between undesirable error and BOLD signaling.
So it didn't matter whether how bad the future event was going to be, whether it was familiar or not, or if it has been encountered before but due a lack of not being able to code and process this undesirable error regarding the future. So really being optimistic or being optimistic even after information has disproved your belief isn't in your absolute control because if your brain fails to code and process it you can't really do much about it. Though you possibly could in theory but that raises questions for another time.

Sharot, Tali, Christoph W. Korn, and Raymond J. Dolan. "How Unrealistic Optimism Is Maintained in the Face of Reality." Nature Neuroscience. Nature America, Inc., 9 Oct. 2011. Web. 3 Dec. 2011. .
Posted by      Kou X. at 4:15 PM MST
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December 4, 2011

Practice makes perfect- Training your brain for music


Were you ever forced to learn an instrument as a young child? Did you ever hear the dreadful words "have you practiced today" or did you have to have your parents sign papers indicating that you did indeed practice 1hr of flute each day, so that you may receive an A in music class. Or were you one of the fortunate children who actually enjoyed playing an instrument?
The common notion is that practicing music has beneficial effects. In addition we often say that musicians are wired differently, that they approach problems differently. But what does that mean in the neuroanatomical sense?
A study by Christian Gaser and Gottfried Schlaug compared brain regions of musicians and non-musicians with the voxel-by-voxel morphometirc technique to try and uncover anatomical differences amongst the two groups' brain structures.
Their approach was to say that musicians learn certain motor and auditory skills in their musical practice, and that such learning would evoke some difference in the brains of adult musicians compared to non-musicians. Their results provided grounds that there was indeed a difference in brain anatomy between the test subjects, a volumetric difference in the gray matter. Musicians had a larger gray matter in the motor, auditory and spatial-visual areas of the brain than non-musicians. However the researchers were unable to determine whether or not this difference was predisposed or acquired. The researchers suggest that the difference in gray matter volume is induced through practice rather than being predisposed, however they were unable to prove their hypothesis since their experiment did not specifically focus on the issue.
Several years later one of the researchers, Gottfried Schlaug, teamed up with several other researchers to focus on the brain development of young musicians. This experiment measured the regional brain plasticity of young children. One group received musical training for 15 months while the other didn't. Their results indicated that children with musical training did indeed have a greater voxel size expansion meaning it diverged from the typical brain development.
Even though the results indicated that musical training does result in increasing gray matter of certain anatomical regions in the brain, the researchers could not completely rule out the idea of a genetic predisposition. Meaning the question whether nature or nurture is responsible for the volumetric difference, still stands. Do we have to be born a musician or can we learn to be one. Either way, both papers seem to indicate that there are beneficial factors to learning an instrument at a young age. So for those of us who were forced to learn an instrument, it indicates that no harm was done at least not in the conventional sense. A fear from pianos (pianophobia)_or other instruments (instrumentophobia) due to horrid enslaving teachers is a different story, one that would take us more into the direction of psychology. But if your parents are still disappointed that you didn't turn out to be a great musician, just indicate that nature might still have a role and that maybe you just weren't meant to be the next Beethoven.



Original Sources:
Gaser, C., Schlaug, G; (2003). Brain Structures Differ Between Musicians and Non-Musicians. The Journal of Neuroscience. 23.27.

Hyde, K. L., Lerch, J., Norton, A., Forgeard, M., Winner, E., Evans, A. C., Schlaug, G., (2009). Musical Training Shapes Structural Brain development. The Journal of neuroscience. 29, 10.
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Reasons You Should (not) Text and Read


Tap tap tap tap tap Bam Bam Bam *moaning* TAP TAP TAP TAP BAM BAM BA-BAM BAM BAM!

Take a page out of the Dr. Chun and Johnson book: if your roommate is having wild and kinky sex just next door, find someplace else to write your Civil War research paper. Keep in mind, this advice does extend beyond sex as a distraction and a research paper as a task. In the November 17, 2011 issue of Neuron the review Memory: Enduring Traces of Perceptual and Reflective Attention made several assertions about the aggrandizing body of literature concerned with the networks involved in and interactions between attention and memory. Research concerned with the dynamic interplay of memory and attention, currently, is sparse; until very recently, neuroscience research has focused either on attention or memory. Lately, however, researchers have found that their results about attention or memory phenomena cannot be explained without more information about how they are conjoined. The purpose of this review was to assess advances that have been made, possible applications of the results, and hypotheses to be tested in future studies.

Looking back at the poor sap listening to his roommate get it on not five feet away, while he is attempting to concentrate on how Union soldiers mistreated Confederate women and children, made me wonder if he can pay any attention to the task he is supposed to at the moment (his paper). Thankfully, I do not have to conduct a research experiment myself to see if he will succeed: this question was already answered in A general mechanism for perceptual decision-making in the human brain. The answer is simple: if the task you are concentrating on is easily accomplished then the amount of attention you need to devote to it is low (low load), and, unfortunately, distractions will impact your efforts much more than if the task is not easily accomplished. If the task is difficult, the cognitive load will be high and distractions are not as likely to detract from your concentration. I think the paper he is writing has a high cognitive load, but I also am inclined to think that the amount of sensory input he is getting, from task-irrelevant sources, is not low on the cognitive load scale and, therefore, his reflective attention on the paper will suffer.

Beyond informing us how to respond to demanding situations, this review reflects on various findings that have been made, and steps to be taken, in the exploration of the pathways implicated in memory and attention. A major discovery that was made recently, (July 2011) by a conglomeration of researchers from the Netherlands, is that, not only do attention and memory interact, memories of images, (reflective representations specifically) when retrieved, activate the same pathways as though the image was seen twice. The implications are clear: that picture in your head of your long lost lover perfectly replicates what he or she looks like in real life, right? Not quite, all that Oliver et al. discovered is that the same pathways are activated in the perception and recall of a dot or shape, which cannot be extrapolated any further.

However, that is not to say that none of the studies in this review came to similar conclusions; a few even arrived at conclusions, and observed results, that are salient to the human condition. A few of the more scintillating results include, but are not limited to, the fact that when we are not distracted the amount of and detail in which we remember information is extraordinary (implications for people with ADD/ADHD); the harder a task actually is, the more likely we are to focus on it than on distracting stimuli (studying habits); and, the ability of older adults to enhance memory (learn new things), while simultaneously being unable to distinguish false memories from true memories, and remember salient information from the past (memory loss due to aging).

The study of memory and attention interactions is new and, because of the information already gleaned from studies focused solely on attention or memory, certain questions can already be answered about their interactions. I, like the Civil War historian listening to his obnoxious roommate slam his way to a TBI, am not satisfied to simply sit around and listen (in my case about studies that have been performed, in his case sex). I am interested to learn more about attention-memory interactions and, someday, contribute to this fascinating field of study.

Now, who is ready for a pop quiz on the interactions of memory and attention?

Source: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0896627311009615
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December 2, 2011

Online NRSC 2100- Is it a Good Idea?


Over the last semester we have all participated in a class with a very different learning format from that which we are used to. Whether we signed up for an online class or not, almost all of the educational content of this class has been presented online. Independent, online learning, presents a very different learning experience than the traditional university course. Rather than seeing and hearing a professor lecture and discussing our learning in a social, classroom setting we have obtained most of our information through online textbooks, tutorials and videos and have discussed it using Facebook, Hootcourse and this blog. The question is: Is this new form of education that does not revolve around the face-to-face social experience between a teacher and a classroom bring the same benefits? Is social interaction important for learning? Do the social capabilities of the internet (i.e. Facebook) sufficiently replace in-person communication?
In her article, "The Developing Social Brain: Implications for Education, (http://www.cell.com/neuron/fulltext/S0896-6273(10)00173-X )" Sarah-Jayne Blakemore explores the research that has been done on the role of social interaction in learning. Humans have a social brain; we are capable of intuitively knowing what certain facial expressions and body language mean. Babies developing language skills depend on social interaction for learning. Blakemore highlights a study (Kuhl et al., 2003 ) in which American babies are exposed to Chinese Mandarin through three different methods: 1) social interaction (reading and playing) with a native speaker, 2) videos of that same speaker or 3) audio recording of that same speaker. The only group that displayed the learned ability to distinguish between Chinese sounds was the group that experienced social interaction. The benefits of social interaction in learning are not yet understood. It could be that the infants are more motivated by social interaction or that the adult speaker is able to tailor their behavior to the child's needs in a social experience.
This doesn't necessarily point to the absolute necessity of social interaction for academic learning; language acquisition is different from the type of learning done in a university classroom and the age of the participants and their brain development is significantly different from that of the typical student enrolled in this class. Blakemore explores one of these issues by examining the difference in brain activity in adults and adolescents. The brain undergoes significant changes in Medial Prefrontal Activation during adolescence. This area is active in social cognition tasks. Research suggests that the development of social learning skills is still taking place late into adolescence and that continuing to learn and have real-life social interactions during this period is crucial for the development of the brain.
She concludes her exploration with more questions and an analysis of implications of this research for education. It is clear that some types of learning do require social interaction and that this is true even into late adolescence (and perhaps beyond?). For now, the question as to whether classes such as this one are as educationally valuable for the human brain is waiting on more research . For now, we get to be the judges of that.
Posted by      Megan M. at 5:36 PM MST
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October 23, 2011

Olfaction May Be Intimately Involved In Sexual Behavior


"They say I suffer from a lack of serotonin synapses, they happen too infrequently for me, to be functioning properly."

Neurotransmitters are a vital part of the brain, and even pop culture demonstrates a vague understanding of their importance in normal function. The scientific community embraced the importance of these chemicals decades ago, and to date, about sixty chemicals involved in neurotransmission have been identified. These range from serotonin and oxytocin to enkephalins and play integral roles in the most basic to the most complex behaviour in vertebrates and invertebrates alike. Even subtle learning mechanisms involving olfaction and sexual behavior are controlled by the same neurotransmitters, suggesting that memory is involved in sexual function. Recent evidence shows that Drosophila melanogaster may have a novel neurotransmitter controlling exactly these things, despite the fact that they seem unrelated.

Scientists at UCLA recently discovered a novel gene (which they termed prt for portabella ‚?? you'll understand why this is funny in a moment) that codes for a vesicular transporter and is expressed in Drosophila brain areas critical in learning and memory. This region, termed the mushroom bodies, is found only in insects and arthropods and has been compared to the cerebral cortex in mammals. Mushroom bodies are known the be active during olfactory classical conditioning, and prt has now been implicated in this learning process as well.

One important cell type in mushroom bodies are the Kenyon cells, but their neurotransmitter has remain unidentified. Various biochemical assays, including real-time PCR, velocity gradients, and density fractionation, show expression of prt's protein product, PRT, in a subset of Kenyon cells. PRT is expressed at the highest levels within larval stages, but is still present within the mature adult within axons. Interestingly, PRT is similar to both the vesicular monoamine transporter (VMAT) and the vesicular acetylcholine transport (VAChT). Dopamine and acetylcholine are found within the mushroom bodies, but neither transporter is expressed in the same patterns as PRT. In addition, although PRT is most similar to VMAT, there are subtle differences in the amino acid residues in PRT's transmembrane domains that suggest that it packages a novel substrate with some similarities to monoamines.

In order to more fully understand PRT's function in the Drosophila nervous system, mutants were created that lacked an 850 base pair portion of the prt gene. Mutant flies were then put through modified T test and exhibited impaired learning that perpetuated 30 minutes and 6 hours after training. Despite the severe loss of the prt gene, however, this learning deficit was not as drastic as expected compared to other mutants with impaired olfactory classical conditioning.

A more intriguing result of mutation in the prt gene was altered copulatory behavior. In wild-type Drosophila, males mount the female from behind, curling their abdomens to best facilitate a 20-minute copulation session. Mutants, however, failed to maintain the proper position and were even dragged around the observation chamber! The lack of proper orientation seemed to be detrimental, but only a 50% reduction in offspring was found. No genital differences were found between wild-type and mutants, so the cause of this awkward sexual behavior remains unknown. One hypothesis is that the deficit in olfactory learning impairs the male's ability to use sensory perception for proper mounting, but this has not been examined fully.

Despite controlling two seemingly unrelated behaviors, the prt gene offers a new area of intrigue within the Drosophila genome. Brooks et al. plan on continued study of the vesicular transporter in the hopes of uncovering what substrate it packages and how the mushroom bodies utilize neurotransmitters to integrate memory information and sexual behavior.

This article serves as a reminder that even some of the most understood organisms still have mysteries to uncover, as well as reminding us to continue the search for novel neurotransmitters. Even the most obscure and unrelated behaviors may be explainable by transmitters that have yet to be discovered, and hopefully Brooks et al.'s work will help nudge more of the neuroscience community towards a search for novel neurotransmitters.
Posted by      Sarah C. at 9:46 PM MDT
Tags: learning
  Sarah Cross  says:
Here's the link back to the article: http://www.cell.com/neuron/abstract/S0896-6273(11)00794-X


Also, fixing format on the blog was kind of a challenge with symbols for some reason...
Posted on Sun, 23 Oct 2011 9:51 PM MDT by Sarah C.
  Claire Overturf  says:
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Posted on Mon, 24 Oct 2011 2:26 AM MDT by Claire O.

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.

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https://essayschief.com
Posted on Thu, 2 May 2019 5:29 AM MDT by Joseph C.

Will this Blog Affect How you Read the Rest?


It's intuitive that memory and perception are linked, but the underlying neural mechanisms for this interaction are still unclear. The article "Biasing Perception by Spatial Long-Term Memory" (Summerfield et al.) from the Oct. 19th issue of The Journal of Neuroscience sheds some light on this problem. Their experiment links previous visual perception and subsequent long-term memory generation to increases in brain activity, improved behavioral performance and enhanced perceptual functioning in a recall type task.

This linkage was uncovered by putting subjects through visual identification tasks. The tasks involved finding a gold key, which was inserted into a complex picture after a random short period of time. The subjects were put through 160 trials in one day. These trials were setup in a precise manner that enabled the experimenters to strictly focus on the task and relevant results. EEG recordings, reaction time, accuracy, and optic focus were measured. The next day the subjects were put through the task again. With a number of the trials replicating the previous picture and key location exactly.

The experimenters analyzed the results prior to the experiment and eliminated the outliers and bad trials. The results demonstrate "anticipatory spatial biases were triggered by long-term memory" (5). Long-term memory affects the early stages of visual perceptual processing. The experimenters recorded increases in brain wave activity that mimicked the activity seen in trials where the subjects correctly identified the key on the first day. So when the same picture and key placement were used on the second day the brain wave activity of the first day was replicated before the stimulus was presented. This anticipatory affect is due to the long-term memory prepping the visual system for the expected target.

This study is helpful in generating a greater understanding of how powerful our long-term memory is. It inadvertently points to the possibility of problems that may arise when people find themselves in similar scenarios. The long-term memory bias was beneficial in the case of the study (faster reaction times), but these preconceived ideas may send some down the wrong path in a different scenario. The long-term memory's influence on perception may promote greater speed and fluidity in simple tasks, but what other assumptions and conclusions will it lead people to jump to. Is long-term memory bias causing people to make quick irrational decisions based on what worked last time? What other aspects of perception and action are being affected by long-term memory bias? To what extent do scenarios have to be similar to allow for this anticipation effect? Is this evolutionary adaption losing utility in a world that requires more imagination, understanding, critical thinking, and thoughtful interaction due to technological innovation and globalization?

All these questions and many more are on the cusp of discovery. This article uncovers a key building block to deciphering this neural pathway. Their use of EEG demonstrates the utility of this technique to answer questions about spatial and long-term memory. Applying this technique to novel scenarios will increase our knowledge of memory's role in biasing perception.

The Journal of Neuroscience October, 19th 2011
Link: http://www.jneurosci.org/content/31/42/14952.full.pdf+html
Posted by      Charlie S. at 9:31 PM MDT
Tags: eeg, learning, memory

Z is for Zinc


Zinc. Metal. Number 30 on the periodic table. Twenty-fourth most abundant element on Earth. Common oxidation state of 2+.

Did you take your multivitamin today? Did it have zinc in it? Zinc is used to treat a wide variety of ailments from acne to the common cold, but did you also know it's important in memory formation? A new study lead by James McNamara M.D. of Duke University Medical Center shows that zinc can enhance communication between cells, particularly in the hippocampus, a center of memory formation. This data leads to the hypothesis that excessive enhancement mediated by zinc might occur in epilepsy and play a part in the severity of seizures. These findings could lead to developing new drugs for epilepsy.

High concentrations of zinc in synaptic vesicles was discovered in the 1950s and has perplexed neurobiologist ever since. These vesicles are colocalized with glutamatergic neurons of the hippocampus suggesting that zinc might be released and play a role in the plasticity of excitatory synapses. Efforts to determine zinc's function in these synapses has been difficult to determine because of previously available zinc chelators which were not specific for zinc and did not bind fast enough to remove zinc in the time scale of synaptic transmission. In the September issue of Neuron, a collaboration between Steve Lippard from MIT's Department of Chemistry and Duke University Medical Center has synthesized a novel zinc chelator. By using the chelator in mice, they found that zinc promotes presynaptic and inhibits postsynaptic long-term potentiaion in the mossy fiber-CA3 synapse.

The group began by creating a new zinc chelator, called ZX1, that binds zinc fast and has a higher specificity for zinc versus calcium or magnesium than other chelators. By using ZX1 to remove zinc from the synapse as soon as it was released, they were able to look at what happens to long-term potentiation without zinc. Using ZX1 in the hippocampus of mice, the data found that ZX1 inhibited mossy fiber-LTP. Mossy fiber LTP is NMDA independent, working by other mechanisms based in the presynaptic cell. The group also did experiments on ZnT3 null mutant mice, which lack the transporter that packages zinc into vesicles. These experiments were surprising because they saw that, as previously seen in wild type mice, zinc enhanced the presynaptic mf-LTP, but zinc actually inhibited postsynaptic mf-LTP.

Overall, zinc seems to modify the circuits related to learning and memory, but don't start gobbling down zinc supplements just yet. Zinc is a trace metal in biology, and certainly too much can be toxic. Knowing the molecular mechanisms of synaptic plasticity and excitability is an important step in treating diseases such as epilepsy, but as of yet there is no established beneficial level of zinc. In fact, too much zinc might increase the enhancement of these synapses, leading to more severe seizures. A new drug might act like ZX1 to bind zinc and remove it from the synapse, in order to reduce the enhancement of the excitatory synapse.


Source:
Enhui Pan, Xiao-an Zhang, Zhen Huang, Artur Krezel, Min Zhao, Christine E. Tinberg, Stephen J. Lippard, James O. McNamara, Vesicular Zinc Promotes Presynaptic and Inhibits Postsynaptic Long-Term Potentiation of Mossy Fiber-CA3 Synapse, Neuron, Volume 71, Issue 6, 22 September 2011, Pages 1116-1126, ISSN 0896-6273, 10.1016/j.neuron.2011.07.019.
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0896627311006465

Less in depth summary of paper:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/09/110921132334.htm
Posted by      Amanda W. at 1:35 PM MDT
  Christina Uhlir  says:
Amanda,

Did the article actually get into how much zinc you should consume on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis? Or how much could kill a person?
Posted on Sun, 23 Oct 2011 8:37 PM MDT by Christina U.
  Amanda Weaver  says:
No, the study was focused on mouse hippocampal slices and was not advocating zinc supplements in humans, nor exploring the possible benefits or dangers inherent in changing zinc levels. In fact zinc can definitely be harmful. Here is a very interesting case study that was printed in the New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/06/magazine/06fob-diagnosis-t.html
Posted on Mon, 24 Oct 2011 12:37 PM MDT by Amanda W.
  Christina Uhlir  says:
That article was certainly illuminating. I guess I am glad that my vitamins do not contain even trace amounts of zinc.
Posted on Mon, 24 Oct 2011 3:27 PM MDT by Christina U.

October 21, 2011

A Mechanism of Auditory Processing


Ever wondered how you're able to distinguish between different sounds and words in conversation? In order to understand the world around you, you not only have to hear all of the sounds together, but you also have to be able to hear the silence between the sounds. But all of this has to occur very quickly, or else you would be stuck having people repeat themselves slowly every time they said something. So, how does it work? The answer is: rapid changes in concentration of ions from cells that are firing electrical signals and turning off.

Previous research has implicated two structures in the brain that are critical in recognizing sounds and silences, namely the superior paraolivary nucleus (SPN, sometimes spelled superior periolivary nucleus) and the medial nucleus of trapezoid body (MNTB), both of which are part of the superior olive in the brainstem. A more current research article ("The Sound of Silence: Ionic Mechanisms Encoding Sound Termination" by Kopp-Scheinpflug, et al.) looks at how these two structures connect to one another and what mechanisms they use for distinguishing sounds.

In general, when a neuron is not being activated, it sends electrical signals at a specific rate, called its basal firing rate. Stimulation can increase or decrease the neuron's firing, and when the stimulation is removed, the firing rate eventually returns to its basal level.

When a sound stimulus is presented, the MNTB neurons continuously fire for the entire stimulation, and then not only cease firing when the stimulation has ended, but also reduce firing to below their normal rate, and return back to normal after a short period of time. On the other hand, SPN neurons have little to no firing when a sound stimulus is presented, and when it stops, the neurons rapidly fire, corresponding to the intensity of the stimulus and then deplete the firing to their normal rate.

The signaling pathways for both SPN and MNTB also involve chloride ions (and possibly potassium ions). The flow of chloride ions into neurons inhibits firing, and is important for recognizing sound in the MNTB, but recognizing silence in the SPN.

The main idea here is that there are multiple mechanisms involved in how we process language and other sounds every day. Without these two brain regions and the chloride signaling between them, we wouldn't be able to communicate. It is necessary to have mechanisms in our brains not only for recognizing sound, but also for recognizing silence, both of which need to communicate with one another to be processed together. This is a very important finding for learning how we acquire language and learn to differentiate syllables and words so readily and easily in early childhood, and more research could possibly help with understanding different speech disorders.

Source: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0896627311005587
Posted by      Anna G. at 10:54 PM MDT
  Christina Uhlir  says:
Anna,

Thank you for spelling it out so simply, I understood that we process continuous sounds as discrete but I couldn't understand how that was accomplished, so thank you for elucidating that point for me.
Posted on Sun, 23 Oct 2011 7:44 PM MDT by Christina U.

October 20, 2011

Neuro-education... the Key to Education Reform?


Any American who has attended a public school has likely walked out of a classroom having no idea what that boring, Charlie Brown-esque (Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah), lecture they just listened to was about. But, just as many people likely have stories of those one or two miraculous teachers who inspired them to learn and to think in new, innovative and creative ways. What is it that makes some lessons incredibly ineffective and others amazingly stimulating?
The emerging field of Neuro-education is hoping to find the answer to this question and many others concerning the most effective ways to teach the world's kids. Neuroscientists and educators are working in collaboration to blend findings in both fields to better understand how humans learn in order to develop more effective educational methods and policies. New programs are opening up in the U.S., and throughout the world, that are hoping to develop connections between disciplines in order to create a better educational system for our kids. One such organization, the International, Mind, Brain and Education Society states its mission, to facilitate cross-cultural collaboration in biology, education and the cognitive and developmental sciences in order to bring science and practice together.(http://www.imbes.org/) Many graduate programs at universities ranging from Cambridge's science based "Centre for Neuroscience In Education" (http://www.cne.psychol.cam.ac.uk/) to Johns-Hopkins School of Education's "Neuro Education Initiative"( http://education.jhu.edu/nei/) have been formed with similar mission statements.
The ideas behind these programs and this field are innovative and logical. The goal of scientific research in Neuroscience is to better understand how the brain works. The goal of education is to help the brain work to its best potential. Combined, these fields can provide groundbreaking ideas to change and improve how kids learn. In the US, many people believe that the public education system is failing kids, thereby lowering the prospects for this country's future. Between budget cuts and outmoded and unsuccessful teaching methods, people are calling for reform. But one central question is: how should we reform and what direction should it take? Neuro-education has the potential to provide the evidence on the science end and the experience on the educators end to form and shape education reform.
So, what is necessary to make this happen? First of all, like everything involved in education, it needs more funding. From the university to the federal government level, funding must be provided in order to promote new research, to integrate findings from multiple fields, and to implement new ideas into the classroom. Currently, less than .5% of all educational funding goes to research. The prospects of this changing in the current economic climate, where schools are struggling just to buy books for the classroom and keep class sizes at a reasonable level, seems slim.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the lines of communication need to be opened between researchers in scientific fields and the people who are directly involved in the education of kids. This means that research findings must be presented in forms that are accessible to busy parents and teachers. Already, Neuroscience has developed an extensive body of knowledge about areas of high importance to education. The effects of sleep, stress, exercise and musical training on memory retrieval and learning consolidation are already well understood. Our country and public education system must find a way to get these finding to educators so that they may be translated into real practice.
In order to give kids the best prospects for their futures, and thereby, the best prospects for our country, the ultimate goal of education should be to inspire kids and imbue in them a sense of curiosity, creativity and competition. This combination between a scientific understanding of the brain and educational reform has a real and exciting potential to make a difference in the futures of our kids and our country.

Main Article: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0896627310006380
Posted by      Megan M. at 10:18 AM MDT
displaying most recent comments (3 ommitted) | Comments (6)
  Megan Morgenthaler  says:
So, are you suggesting rewriting textbooks, or not using them at all? If "overhauling" means reworking and rewriting, I don't see how this would inspire the kids who are already uninterested to read them.
Posted on Sun, 23 Oct 2011 4:48 PM MDT by Megan M.
  Christina Uhlir  says:
Reworking in light of recent research about the layout of textbooks. Apparently textbooks (and this can include college textbooks) are a little too distracting because of all the pictures incorporated in them that simply take away from the message the text is trying to convey. For instance, if you have a page with a ton of text with a couple pictures added in on the sides which are referred to by the text, the students are more likely to just fixate on the pictures and forget what they were learning from the text.
Posted on Sun, 23 Oct 2011 5:17 PM MDT by Christina U.
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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

Better learning based on animal learning!


How many of us have gone through at least 12 years of education if not more in order to get a basic understanding of our future and to be able to carry on to the next portion of our life? Education is a very important aspect of life and as society progresses so does the demand for better education.

In order to understand how neuroscience can help with education a basic understanding of the brain must be used as a foundation. It is important to know that scientists have already found the basic size of the brain (including the average amount of nerve cells that make up the brain) as well as the makeup of a nerve cell. These findings are clearly important in order to truly understand how the brain is functioning and therefore what is actually occurring in the brain while learning is taking place. For now I want to step away from such things because it isn't the main focus of this article. In the article Neuroscience and Education: What can brain science contribute to teaching and learning? By John Hall the idea of neuroscience is used in order to determine if education and learning can be studied in a new way allowing education to increase.

As Hall explains there are three different areas of study that are involved in Neuroscience as explained below.
1) Where scientists are concerned with the inner most mechanisms of the brain, in which they look at the structure organization and the development of the brain.
2) Known as the 'black box' level in which scientists will look at the behavioral impact of input that will be applied in specific contexts.
3) Scientists will look at the application of knowledge about human behavior, this is used in order to help with learning and teaching.

The hope is that scientists will be able to bridge the gap between all three levels in order to help make advances in teaching as well how kids are able to learn based on the findings in the first level of study (the development/organization of the brain).
Some methodological and practical difficulties that Hall expresses within his article come from a report from OECD in which the difficulty of forming these connections that scientists are seeking is examined.

Current research methods in cognitive neuroscience
necessarily limit the types of questions that are addressed.
For example, questions such as 'How do individuals learn to
recognise written words?' are more tractable than 'How do
individuals compare the themes of different stories?'. This is
because the first question leads to studies where the stimuli
and responses can be easily controlled and contrasted with
another task. As such, it becomes understandable in reference
to known cognitive models. The second question involves too
many factors that cannot be successfully separated during
experimental testing. For this reason, the type of educational
tasks favoured by society will remain more complex than the
ones that might suit cognitive neuroscience.
(OECD, 2002)

One of the mains concerns that arise with the use of neuroscience is the basic from of studying the brain. It seems like common sense that humans think, learn, behave and process things differently than say a rodent. So it therefore becomes a concern for most that time and money are being spent on the study of other animals when it is evident that humans are in a completely different league. A common problem in educations is seen in the distress of the 'children' (assuming we are speaking of education at a younger state), such as when a child experiences a loss in the immediate family, or if parents' divorce or even if the child undergoes some other form of traumatic experience. As most people know the child's learning does suffer due to the experience. I don't know about most people but I don't often seen cats undergoing intense education to even have it be impacted by the loss of family, or for that matter one doesn't often seen their cat learn at a slower pace because it no longer has its mother (since it is a common practice for animals to be separated from its parents). Now to bring this back to the main point, how much can be learned from neuroscience testing on animals when clearly they have a very different way or living as well as learning and don't often experience the same 'emotions' that humans do.

Another common issue in which Hall addresses is that it is difficult to make generalization's in order to form a concrete hypothesis in order to apply neuroscience to learning.
Now, making a jump to leaning it has be found that the brain will continue to change as a result of learning (due to environmental changes) which is known as Plasticity, is most commonly seen in early years however it is not localized to this time. Thus it goes back to an old saying "it's never too late to learn" and therefore rules out the idea that "old dogs can never learn new tricks". Hall does however explain that recent studies have concluded that there are certain times within one's life that make learning certain things easier (ie playing an instrument or learning a new language are easier to learn when under the age of 13). Another aspect to learning that has been developed not only in animals but also that human's experience every day that learning new things is a "use it or lose it" thing. Have you ever wondered why you never forget how to talk, walk, eat, write or do our basic day to day activities, well that's it right there we don't forget because we do it every day, however you may forget how to do calculus or historical facts because you never use it once you are finished with that class.

Although Hall explains all these findings very well it seems questionable to from a meaningful study in order to connect all the factors that lie within learning to how the brain functions for these ideas. How is it possible that a scientist can look at how one human learns certain things and compare it to another when all the outside factors are completely different. Although neuroscience is a great idea on paper and is helping to understand so many things about humans it doesn't seem like a realistic practice to cross over into education. Neuroscience is such a new area of science in relation to other areas and since the human brain is such a complex unit it doesn't seem like it can be used to help people with learning anytime soon. I believe that although neuroscience will make ground breaking discoveries it wont be able to truly change the way we learn or better the education system because it is such a complex field that has too many factors for scans and neuro-imaging to truly understand.




Main Article: http://www.pre-online.co.uk/feature_pdfs/spotlight92.pdf
Posted by      Cherie T. at 12:21 AM MDT

July 31, 2011

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
Posted by      Jamie S. at 9:37 PM MDT
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Look Ma, No Hands


Have you ever wondered what it would be like to actually control something, using just the power of thought? Of course you have! The best thing is, scientists are putting this awesome Sci-Fi superpower to the test. With the help of neroscientist Christof Koch of Caltech and neurosurgeon Itzhak Fried of UCLA one can start controlling a computer based on harnessing the power of a certain neuron in the human brain.

This neuron functions similarly to how a computer functions allowing it to "recognize people, landmarks, and objects." These scientists have been working with persons diagnosed with epilepsy and with the help of Moran Cerf (a postdoctoral fellow) they have found that individuals have been able to "consciously control the firing of these single neurons...and in doing so manipulate the behavior of an image on a computer screen."

It is already amazing what the brain can do, but the truly remarkable thing is that there is so much more to it that we don't know. This is truly the beginning of the brain era where we will start to unravel and discover more than we ever have about the human race. Unlocking the secrets of our full potential is on the horizon as we dig deeper for an understanding of how our brain functions.

These scientists were able to find one neuron amongst billions, and this neuron can be controlled by the patient and turned into a controller for a computer. In around 70 percent of the trials the subjects were successful in separating two images on a screen by focusing on the target image and fading out the "distractor" image. This breakthrough is so fascinating it is almost to good to be true, but the study stands and the patients felt the task to be "incredibly fun as they started to feel that they control things in the environment purely with their thought."

So surely these types of studies should be continued in a lab setting so that it can be tweaked and perfected. The discovery of this neuron can be used for a greater purpose than the sole entertainment of bringing out our childhood fantasies of controlling things with our minds; but how could it not be one of the coolest things ever? Yes, it can be used to play a new type of videogame, but it can also be expanded and used as a built-in controller for any electronic devise that can be synced to your brain. One may no longer need the use of a keyboard as they write an article, just by thinking. They are not at all shocked to see their thoughts written out on the screen in front of them with no more of an effort than to will it.

Though this is just the baby stage of what can one day be a great and dependent part of everyday life the questions of the consequences are always lingering. What the brain fully has to offer once mixed with technology is still unknown. The fact of the matter is, are we ready for this great responsibility as a race?


http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101027133158.htm
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The Google Effect - Why the Internet May Hurt Your Memory


Want to know how many movies Johnny Depp has been in throughout his career? How about the President's birthday? Or the perfect temperature to cook a turkey? Easy, just Google it!

The advent of the Internet has brought us an infinite amount of information, readily available at the click of a button. From dancing birds and obscure trivia to real-time updates on global affairs - you name it, you can find it online. Educators make use of the availability of online information frequently as learning tools for students, and the plethora of scholarly information accessible by students allows for the synthesis of a very rich body of knowledge. It is abundantly clear that the Internet has had incredibly positive effects on the exchange of information on both a local and global scale.

However, the availability of this massive body of information has also had some unexpected negative effects. Several studies by Sparrow, Liu, and Wegner on the effects of having all of this information so readily available reports that people do experience a deficit in recall when they know information will be available to them online. They show how subjects from four different studies are actually primed to think about computers when given difficult questions. Furthermore, when participants expected to be able to access the information later, they not only had lower rates of recall than for information they would not be able to access later, but (and most interestingly) they also showed enhanced recall for where to access this information in the future.

While the article does not directly site any cognitive deficits that arise from the availability of information on the Internet, it is easy to speculate on potential damages. One concern is that students of the "information age" may not be using their brains to encode information as fully as students of generations past. Does this lack of brain "exercise" have further negative consequences for its ability to process information? Little is known about the consequences of always being "plugged in". Or, does this external storage space allow our brains more processing capacity for other, perhaps more important tasks and allow us to store more useful information? More likely, as the authors of this study argue, we are simply evolving. Our brains are adapting to use the Internet as an extra storage space, which has given us the advantage of having a virtually limitless amount of information at our fingertips.

This adaptive phenomenon is also an eloquent demonstration of the social nature of human beings. The Internet is a social form of information storage - we share information with others, and depend on others sharing information with us. We have begun to integrate technology into every bit of our lives, and we feel disconnected from work and our peers without our cell phones and Internet.

As the authors state, "we are becoming symbiotic with our computers", and whether this is a good thing is still up for debate. It will be interesting to see how the use of the Internet and the continuing development of more and more ways to stay connected affect our brains' ability to process and learn new information, and change the way we deal with information in the years to come.

Reference: Sparrow, Betsy, Jenny Liu, and Daniel M. Wegner. "Google Effects on Memory: Cognitive Consequences of Having Information at Our Fingertips." Sciencemag.org. AAAS, 14 July 2011. www.sciencemag.org/lookup/doi/10.1126/science.1207745
Posted by      Sophie L. at 7:39 PM MDT
Tags: learning, memory

Neurotherapeutics: Helpful or Harmful?


Who wouldn't want to take a pill that would enhance their mental capabilities? Instead of studying for hours and hours, how much more enjoyable would it be if you took a pill, enhanced your memory making capabilities and thus only had to spend an hour or two studying for that big cumulative exam? These days research and scientific developments have allowed the range of pharmaceuticals to alter mood, cognition and other cognitive skills such as memory to go beyond what we previously would have believed to be to be impossible. Drugs that have been developed to treat some of the most heinous diseases now bring the promise of, not only treating illness, but enhancing performance. Today, the debate between treatment and enhancement has already begun to be a hot button topic in neuroscience.

According to an article by Paul Root Wolpe, there are two fundamental questions that we must address pertaining to this issue. First, "what do terms such as average or normal functioning or even disease and enhancement mean when we can improve functioning across the entire range of human capability?" Second, "should we encourage or discourage people to ingest pharmaceuticals to enhance behaviors, skills and traits? What are the social implications of using drugs or other neurotechnologies to micromanage mood, improve memory, to maintain attentiveness or improve sexuality?"

Enhancement has been defined by medicine and its implications. Medicine treats disease but what it does not treat is enhancement. So if we begin allowing or encouraging people to take pharmaceuticals in order to enhance their well-being, where do we draw the line? A good example used in this article is the use of Prozac and other anti-depressant drugs. If drugs like Prozac can increase a user's mood, what emotional state then becomes normal? If it becomes normal for everyone to take mood enhancing drugs, than does being in a sad state become taboo? Furthermore, if more people start taking drugs like Prozac, will insurance companies still cover these sorts of drugs? Insurance companies pay for treatments and injurious events, but if everyone is using a drug does this drug then become a commonality such as the use of Advil, which is not covered by insurance companies?

As humans, we have always been able to find techniques to enhance our performance and general functioning. We go to school, take vitamins, and go through training programs. But is it acceptable to bypass all of these "external" strategies and directly alter our brains? Sure, the drugs we have currently developed may help us increase cognitive function but what about the long term side effects? Take the use of drugs that are supposed to treat disabilities like ADD and ADHD. Drugs like Adderall and Ritalin prescribed for attention deficit disorder are becoming more and more popular among students. These drugs boost cognitive function and enable the user to study for hours with full concentration without getting tired or distracted. But at what cost? Long term use of cognitive enhancers like Ritalin cause serious side effects such as severe sleep deprivation and heart problems. More troubling, however, is that these drugs can be highly addictive. Users can get to the point where what we now define as "normal" cognitive function is unachievable without the use of cognitive enhancers. So if drugs like Adderall can have these results, can our pharmaceutical strategies backfire on us and destroy the delicate balance in our brains?

On the other hand, think about a world where we have not only found a cure for degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's, but where people in general have a higher standard of living because our brains are functioning at the fullest extent! It's a fine line between helpful and hurtful when it comes to our emerging neurotechnologies and pharmaceuticals.

For more information on this debate check out the article by Paul Root Wolpe at: http://www.chem.arizona.edu/courseweb/081/CHEM4361/reading_pdfs/guest_lecturers/treatment_enhancement.pdf
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July 30, 2011

Molding the Plastic Brain


The plasticity of the human brain can be directly related to the deteriorating effects of Alzheimer's disease. Recently conducted studies lead to the implication that one of the most successful approaches to a healthy aging human brain includes consistent prevention early in one?s lifetime. The power of developing Alzheimer?s disease and other forms of dementia lies in our hands every day as we mold our plastic brains to fulfill their final functions.

Alzheimer?s disease can be classified as the most prevalent form of dementia in the human population, affecting over 4.5 million Americans alone (Society for Neuroscience 2011). Alzheimer?s disease comes with memory loss and inability to properly learn and retain new information. As the disease progresses, certain discoveries reveal biochemical changes within the human brain including increased number of beta amyloid deposits, neurofibrillary tangles of hyper phosphorylated tau, and the presence of ApoE4 proteins. As these biochemical changes begin to increase, the strength of synapses between neurons in the brain begins to diminish.

Current research regarding Alzheimer?s disease indicates an explanation for these waning effects by the forever changing human brain. The decline in plasticity of the human brain can directly be correlated to the extreme loss of function these patients encounter. Neurogenesis, the process of developing new neurons, serves to be an extremely important scientific discovery about plasticity in the human brain. Research that involves taking advantage of our brain?s ability to mold into a healthy functioning organ has indications that it could possibly be the most effective and critical treatment in treating not only Alzheimer?s patients, but people with healthy brains just as well.

In order to sustain healthy brain function, one must make a conscious effort to prevent deterioration. Although it may seem taxing and unimportant in a healthily functioning brain, prevention at this point seems to be the best treatment in maintaining one?s dynamic brain. Unpretentious efforts in prevention include simple processes such as consistent social interaction, eating a healthy and well balanced diet, and regular stimulation of one?s cardiovascular system through physical exercise in efforts to promote the process of neurogenesis. With creation of an enriched environment, the plasticity of the human brain is constantly molding into its most healthful state and therefore preventing the loss of proper synaptic connections between neurons in the brain.

Research studies and discovered knowledge indicate some of the essential brain areas involved in learning and memory, and therefore, scientists can use this information as a treatment plan, alongside continuous prevention which seems to be critical in a developing brain. Specifically, the hippocampus is largely affected in Alzheimer?s patients. For example, if scientists can find a way to target the hippocampal region of the brain to reverse or stabilize the proper biochemical properties of its functional region, strides can be made to decrease and possibly eliminate deteriorating forms of dementia in the human population. The plasticity of the human brain is our biggest hope and progressing research sets a positive spotlight in developing a cure for such diseases.
Posted by      Kaci C. at 12:56 PM MDT
Tags: learning, memory

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 29, 2011

Excuse me. Are you a neuroscientist?


Please talk to me...
I am a parent. What can neuroscience tell me about multisensory learning? Can neuroscience tell me how to enrich my child's environment so their brain will develop properly?

Please talk to me...
I am a high school teacher. I'm having a hard time engaging the teens in my classroom. Can neuroscience help me to develop lessons that keep them engaged? Can neuroscience help me to expand their executive judgment capabilities so they realize why school is so important?

Please talk to me...
I am a school principal. The parents at my school think that our school day starts too early. The school board wants to make budget cuts that will eliminate gym class and music class. Can neuroscience provide evidence on how sleep, music and physical education affect learning?

A new discipline, Neuro-Education, is asking neuroscientists and educators to open up a dialogue and to initiate research aimed at finding the best ways to educate our children. This invitation stretches globally from the U.S. to Japan. Neuroscientists already have an abundance of information on the mechanisms of learning and memory that when shared with educators, may bring about more effective evidence-based education practices for children. For example, neuroscientists know testing helps to reinforce learning. Neuroscientists also know that a good night's sleep enhances memory and that too much stress compromises memory and learning. Teachers and neuroscientist can certainly find some common ground when it comes to the retrieval of memories and the consolidation of learning.

The September 9, 2010 edition of Neuron highlights a few of the aspects of this new and exciting avenue for the advocacy of neuroscience. (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0896627310006380) However, this new endeavor is not without barriers. You guessed it! MONEY! According to this article "Less than one-half of one percent of the federal education budget is spent on research." This is unsatisfactory!

Educators and parents are at risk of teaching and parenting based on miss information. Myths like the belief that people are either 'right-brained' or 'left-brained' is an oversimplification of the way brain hemispheres work and it needs to be debunked. 'Critical periods' in development also run the risk of being oversimplified leading parents to feel guilty if they feel they've missed a window of opportunity. Research and open communication is needed to ensure that information is not only correct but that the information is also correctly understood.

Money is not the only barrier to linking neuroscience and education. Developing a common language and consistency in terminology used also needs to be developed. It is not easy to translate what is learned in the lab into information that the mainstream population can use and understand. And, information gained in the lab is not always immediately ready for practical application.

I find Neuro-Education both fascinating and challenging. As I prepare for graduate school, where I will study Occupational Therapy (OT), I find myself trying to take what I am learning about neuroscience and figure out where the practical applications might be. Are you interested in a dialogue about practical applications to understanding the brain? It is my opinion those in multidisciplinary fields, such as OT or psychology, might be able to help bridge the gap and build a link between neuroscientists and educators.
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