June 3, 2011

Trends in Cognitive Sciences: Table of Contents June 2011

The June issue of Trends in Cognitive Sciences is available online.

Volume 15, Issue 6, pp. 241-288
Letters
Letters Response
Book Review
Opinion
Review

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May 5, 2011

Trends in Cognitive Sciences: Table of Contents May 2011

The May issue of Trends in Cognitive Sciences is available online.

Volume 15, Issue 5, pp. 185-240
Letters
Letters Response
Opinion
Review
Feature Review

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April 14, 2011

Mind vs. Machine

By Brian Christian of Atlantic Magazine:

In the race to build computers that can think like humans, the proving ground is the Turing Test—an annual battle between the world’s most advanced artificial-intelligence programs and ordinary people. The objective? To find out whether a computer can act “more human” than a person. In his own quest to beat the machines, the author discovers that the march of technology isn’t just changing how we live, it’s raising new questions about what it means to be human.

BRIGHTON, ENGLAND, SEPTEMBER 2009. I wake up in a hotel room 5,000 miles from my home in Seattle. After breakfast, I step out into the salty air and walk the coastline of the country that invented my language, though I find I can’t understand a good portion of the signs I pass on my way—LET AGREED, one says, prominently, in large print, and it means nothing to me.

I pause, and stare dumbly at the sea for a moment, parsing and reparsing the sign. Normally these kinds of linguistic curiosities and cultural gaps intrigue me; today, though, they are mostly a cause for concern. In two hours, I will sit down at a computer and have a series of five-minute instant-message chats with several strangers. At the other end of these chats will be a psychologist, a linguist, a computer scientist, and the host of a popular British technology show. Together they form a judging panel, evaluating my ability to do one of the strangest things I’ve ever been asked to do.

I must convince them that I’m human.

Fortunately, I am human; unfortunately, it’s not clear how much that will help.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

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April 4, 2011

Trends in Cognitive Sciences: Table of Contents April 2011

The April issue of Trends in Cognitive Sciences is available online.

Volume 15, Issue 4, pp. 141-184

Update – Forum: Science & Society

Opinion

Review

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January 13, 2011

“Erasing” Traumatic Memories Moving from Science Fiction to Scientific Reality

From: TheGlobeandMail.com

The brain has a remarkable capacity for keeping track of our past experiences. But detailed memories can sometimes seem more a curse than a blessing. This is especially true for those who’ve suffered significant losses or other traumas. Thus, while the holiday season is meant to be a joyous time, for many it merely provides salient reminders of these debilitating experiences.

Fortunately, researchers are discovering that memories may be far less durable than previously thought. Indeed research on “erasing” traumatic memories is quickly moving from the realm of science fiction to scientifically backed reality.

That each of us may be able to exert some control over what gets in and what then stays in long-term memory arises from our growing understanding of how the brain represents and stores information related to our conscious life experiences.

Read the entire article: “Erasing” Traumatic Memories Moving from Science Fiction to Scientific Reality

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January 7, 2011

Bobby McFerrin Hacks Your Brain with Music

Enjoy this short, amusing video on the power of our human brain with regard to music.

From: Ted.com

Interesting comments:

  • Jeff Weir

    Dec 4 2010: I think beyond the “predictive” nature of the human brain, there lies the simple physics of the harmonic series. Once Bobby McFerrin sings the starting pitch, all of the other pitches of the pentatonic are contained in its harmonic series. I believe that is the main reason why all humans “get” the pentatonic scale… it is “spelled out” inside the harmonic series of any starting pitch.

  • Mitchell Plamondon

    Nov 26 2010: That’s cool. I guess it’s an evolutionary result though. People have learned the ability of prediction. We can familiarize ourselves with sounds, whether this be scales, timbres, chords etc. They are all recognizable. He laid out one of the most simple scales, a 5 note pentatonic scale which by chance just so happens to be the most commonly used scale in popular music of the past nearly 100 years. And just like a driver is able to predict the actions of another driver, or just as we are able to walk down a busy sidewalk without colliding into others (not always true :P) we are able to create sonar expectations. Good video – much better than a lot of the pop-music videos that seem to be polluting the TED music related spectacles. (I’d expect to hear more intellectual music here. Perhaps Penderecki, Lutoslawski, Hétu… anything beyond lyric driven 3-4 chord garage-band tunes please :) )

Watch the video, and read more: Bobby McFerrin Hacks Your Brain with Music

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January 6, 2011

Consciousness and Cognition Journal: Table of Contents December 2010

The December issue of Consciousness and Cognition is available  online:

Volume 19, Issue 4, December 2010

Table of Contents:

REGULAR ARTICLES
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December 3, 2010

‘Consciousness signature’ discovered spanning the brain

From: Newscientist.com:   Electrodes implanted in the brains of people with epilepsy might have resolved an ancient question about consciousness.

Signals from the electrodes seem to show that consciousness arises from the coordinated activity of the entire brain. The signals also take us closer to finding an objective “consciousness signature” that could be used to probe the process in animals and people with brain damage without inserting electrodes.

Previously it wasn’t clear whether a dedicated brain area, or “seat of consciousness”, was responsible for guiding our subjective view of the world, or whether consciousness was the result of concerted activity across the whole brain.

Probing the process has been a challenge, as non-invasive techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging and EEG give either spatial or temporal information but not both. The best way to get both simultaneously is to implant electrodes deep inside the skull, but it is difficult to justify this in healthy people for ethical reasons.

Brainy opportunity

Now neuroscientist Raphaël Gaillard of INSERM in Gif sur Yvette, France, and colleagues have taken advantage of a unique opportunity. They have probed consciousness in 10 people who had intercranial electrodes implanted for treating drug-resistant epilepsy.

Click here for the entire article.

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November 11, 2010

What Makes You Uniquely You?

From: Discovermagazine.com

Feb 2009

Nobel laureate Gerald Edelman says your brain is one-of-a-kind in the history of the universe.

Some of the most profound questions in science are also the least tangible. What does it mean to be sentient? What is the self? When issues become imponderable, many researchers demur, but neuro­scientist Gerald Edelman dives right in.

A physician and cell biologist who won a 1972 Nobel Prize for his work describing the structure of antibodies, Edelman is now obsessed with the enigma of human consciousness—except that he does not see it as an enigma. In Edelman’s grand theory of the mind, consciousness is a biological phenomenon and the brain develops through a process similar to natural selection. Neurons proliferate and form connections in infancy; then experience weeds out the useless from the useful, molding the adult brain in sync with its environment.

Edelman first put this model on paper in the Zurich airport in 1977 as he was killing time waiting for a flight. Since then he has written eight books on the subject, the most recent being Second Nature: Brain Science and Human Knowledge. He is chairman of neurobiology at the Scripps Research Institute in San Diego and the founder and director of the Neurosciences Institute, a research center in La Jolla, California, dedicated to unconventional “high risk, high payoff” science.

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November 6, 2010

Long-term Memories The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

From The Dana Foundation

Editor’s note: Traumatic memories haunt the lives of people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, and other illnesses. Fortunately, recent research into the changeability of long-term memories may someday develop into treatments for such individuals. But before this can happen, writes Cristina Alberini, Ph.D., of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, researchers must determine just how effectively the fear associated with older memories—especially those involved in PTSD—can be reduced and for how long. Researchers must also address the ethical issues that go hand in hand with modifying memory.

For more than a century, clinicians, psychologists, and biologists have worked to understand the mechanisms underlying the formation and storage of long-term memories. Recently, scientists found that when a stored memory is recalled, it becomes sensitive to disruption for a limited time.1,2 This finding indicates that it might be possible to weaken or even erase memories of traumatic experiences that become uncontrollably intrusive in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This possibility has drawn great interest from scientific and clinical communities, as well as from nonscientists, who became interested in its potential clinical applications; furthermore, it raised ethical concerns.

Many ethical questions and debates about treatments designed to weaken memories may reflect the still poor understanding of how memory recall or reactivation results in memory fragility and the many unknowns surrounding its temporal boundaries. Whereas the study of animal models and healthy humans has provided some knowledge about post-recall memory disruption, data on the use of such disruption to treat PTSD symptoms are still conflicting. The strengthening of memory with the passage of time, the resilience of strong memories to disruption, and the specific aspects of memory that become sensitive to disruption raise questions about the limitations of this approach and warrant more research. Here, we will look at how we form memories of an emotional event and how these memories become fragile after recall. That will help us consider the potential, limitations, and ethics of disrupting memories of emotion.

Read the entire article

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November 3, 2010

Charlie Rose: The Brain Series

The Charlie Rose Brain Series consists of interviews with some of the most knowledgeable scientists and researchers studying the human brain, including Drs. Eric Kandel and Oliver Sacks. Each monthly episode examines different subjects of the brain, including perception, social interaction, aging and creativity.

For more information, please check the Charlie Rose Brain Series website.

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November 2, 2010

Fear in Love: Attachment, Abuse, and the Developing Brain

From: The Dana Foundation

Editor’s note: Why do abused children attach and remain attached to abusive parents? In this article, Dr. Regina Sullivan explains how her research with rat pups has led to greater understanding of the infant brain, and how negative early experiences can cause long-term genetic, brain, behavioral, and hormonal changes that can affect not only the abuse victim but also the victim’s descendants.

Many parents have absolute faith that, with the right kind of stimulation, they can give their child an educational advantage. Conscientious mothers play Mozart to the baby in the womb, take their toddlers to Mommy and Me dance classes, and work their way through preschool applications as daunting as those for medical school. Yet even with the wide range of advantages available for infants today, many people are still surprised when I tell them that the way they treat their children will actually change the structure and circuitry of the child’s brain.

Click here to read the entire article

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October 29, 2010

A Little Black Box to Jog Failing Memory

brain injury,cognitive science,memory — alice @ 1:14 pm

From: The New York Times

PITTSBURGH — On a cold, wet afternoon not long ago, Aron Reznick sat in the lounge of a home for the elderly here, his silver hair neatly combed, his memory a fog. He could not remember Thanksgiving dinner with his family, though when he was given a hint — “turkey” — it came back to him, vaguely, like a shadow in the moonlight.

Two years ago, Mr. Reznick, who has early-stage Alzheimer’s disease and is now 82, signed up for an experiment intended to help people with Alzheimer’s and other memory disorders. The concept was simple: using digital pictures and audio to archive an experience like a weekend visit from the grandchildren, creating a summary of the resulting content by picking crucial images, and reviewing them periodically to awaken and strengthen the memory of the event.

Click here for the complete article.

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October 28, 2010

The Vegetative State and the Science of Consciousness

Article in British Journal for the Philosophy of Science

N. Shea, T. Bayne

Abstract

Consciousness in experimental subjects is typically inferred from reports and other forms of voluntary behaviour. A wealth of everyday experience confirms that healthy subjects do not ordinarily behave in these ways unless they are conscious. Investigation of consciousness in vegetative state patients has been based on the search for neural evidence that such broad functional capacities are preserved in some vegetative state patients. We call this the standard approach. To date, the results of the standard approach have suggested that some vegetative state patients might indeed be conscious, although they fall short of being demonstrative. The fact that some vegetative state patients show evidence of consciousness according to the standard approach is remarkable, for the standard approach to consciousness is rather conservative, and leaves open the pressing question of how to ascertain whether patients who fail such tests are conscious or not. We argue for a cluster-based ‘natural kind’ methodology that is adequate to that task, both as a replacement for the approach that currently informs research into the presence or absence of consciousness in vegetative state patients and as a methodology for the science of consciousness more generally.

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October 26, 2010

The Default Network: Your Mind, on Its Own Time

From The Dana Foundation:

Studies about the brain usually focus on neural activity during the completion of a specific task—remembering a series of words, for example. But over the last 20 years, researchers have been interested in what the brain does during periods of supposed inactivity. They discovered that when someone appears to be doing nothing at all, a network of brain regions—named the default network—is hard at work, allowing for the rich inner lives inside our heads. Applying what is known about the default network to diseases like Alzheimer’s allows for new possibilities for diagnosis and evaluation of treatments.

You’re lying in a brain scanner in the dark, looking up at a small white crosshair, left alone with your thoughts for the next six minutes. What goes through your mind? Perhaps you think about why you volunteered for this, or what you’ll do with the money you earn from this experiment. Perhaps you plan out the rest of your day, or start replaying a conversation from yesterday. New techniques in neuroimaging are helping scientists understand how your brain represents such internally directed and spontaneous thoughts.

Read the entire article

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October 22, 2010

What research paradigms have cognitive psychologists used to study “False memory,” and what are the implications of these choices?

K. Pezdek, S. Lam
Article in Consciousness and Cognition

Abstract
This research examines the methodologies employed by cognitive psychologists to study “false memory“, and assesses if these methodologies are likely to facilitate scientific progress or perhaps constrain the conclusions reached. A PsycINFO search of the empirical publications in cognitive psychology was conducted through January, 2004, using the subject heading, “false memory.” The search produced 198 articles. Although there is an apparent false memory research bandwagon in cognitive psychology, with increasing numbers of studies published on this topic over the past decade, few researchers (only 13.1% of the articles) have studied false memory as the term was originally intended—to specifically refer to planting memory for an entirely new event that was never experienced in an individual’s lifetime. Cognitive psychologists interested in conducting research relevant to assessing the authenticity of memories for child sexual abuse should consider the generalizability of their research to the planting of entirely new events in memory.

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October 21, 2010

Could an Experimental Memory Drug Put an End to “Senior Moments”?

From: Discover Magazine Online:

A new drug seems to be able to reverse normal age-related memory decline in old mice–like a face-lift for neurons, bringing them back to their younger days. The results of the experimental treatment, which works by blocking certain stress hormones, were published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

“What’s most surprising is that even short-term inhibition was able to reverse memory loss in old mice,” says Jonathan Seckl, a professor of molecular medicine who was involved in the research. “I don’t think people had realized this was so reversible. It takes [the animals] back to being relatively young.” [Technology Review].

Research has shown that stress hormones called glucocorticoids play a role in memory loss, by damaging the brain over time. But targeting the glucocorticoids themselves is dangerous, because reducing their levels would leave the body without a stress response. The researchers therefore targeted an enzyme instead, which activates the hormone in neurons.

Click here for the complete article.

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October 9, 2009

1/f Scaling and Emergent Pattern Formation in Complex Systems

1/f scaling (or 1/f noise) refers to a scaling relation followed by fluctuations that have been widely observed in nature. 1/f fluctuations have been observed ubiquitously across different disciplines of science (e.g. chemistry, psychology, biology). In specific relation to cognitive neuroscience, 1/f scaling has been observed widely in fMRI measurement series and treated, generally, as noise to work around as opposed to an object of study. The challenge is that since 1/f fluctuations seem to be present throughout the brain, they do not help localize specific cognitive functions to specific areas of the brain. However, studies have shown that the appearance of 1/f fluctuations in fMRI measurements change as a function of cognitive variables.

Whereas some researchers argue that 1/f scaling is a byproduct of processes that are irrelevant to theories of cognition, others argue that 1/f fluctuations reflect a general and essential principle of emergent pattern formation in complex systems, including cognitive systems.

In a past study Kello, Beltz, Holden and Van Orden examined the relevance of 1/f scaling to cognitive function in four experiments using simple and choice response tasks. (For full access to the paper, click here.) The results of this study supported the emergent coordination argument and the researchers concluded that “the generality of 1/f scaling in cognitive performance is evidence that cognitive functions are universally formed as emergent patterns of physiological and behavioral activity”.

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May 19, 2009

Learning, Arts, and the Brain: the Dana Consortium Report on Arts and Cognition

From the Dana Foundation: The Dana Foundation released at a news conference on March 4, Learning, Arts, and the Brain, a three-year study at seven universities, which finds strong links between arts education and cognitive development. Speakers included Michael Gazzaniga, Ph.D., UC, Santa Barbara; Michael Posner, Ph.D., University of Oregon;  Elizabeth Spelke, Ph.D., Harvard University  and Brian Wandell, Ph.D., Stanford University.  Guy Mckhann, M.D., Johns Hopkins University gave a summary and Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts spoke of the study’s importance to the field of education.

Click here for the webcast archive.

Click here for the event transcript.

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January 25, 2009

‘Introspectionism’ and the Mythical Origins of Scientific Psychology

Alan Costall
Article in Consciousness and Cognition

Abstract
According to the majority of the textbooks, the history of modern, scientific psychology can be tidily encapsulated in the following three stages. Scientific psychology began with a commitment to the study of mind, but based on the method of introspection. Watson rejected introspectionism as both unreliable and effete, and redefined psychology, instead, as the science of behaviour. The cognitive revolution, in turn, replaced the mind as the subject of study, and rejected both behaviourism and a reliance on introspection. This paper argues that all three stages of this history are largely mythical. Introspectionism was never a dominant movement within modern psychology, and the method of introspection never went away. Furthermore, this version of psychology’s history obscures some deep conceptual problems, not least surrounding the modern conception of “behaviour,” that continues to make the scientific study of consciousness seem so weird.

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