February 24, 2011

Meditation alters your grey matter, studies show

From the Globe and Mail:

Move over cryptic crosswords and Sudoku, and make way for the ultimate mental workout. It’s called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR for short. Recent neuroscience research shows that novices using the method – developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in the 1970s – can get results in just eight weeks.

Brain-changing results, that is.

A 2010 study found that non-meditators who had eight weeks of MBSR training were more likely than a control group to access the brain region that provides a bodily sense of the “here and now” as opposed to the region associated with worry.

In other research published in January, brain scans of MBSR participants with no previous meditation experience showed increased grey-matter density in regions involved in learning and memory, emotion regulation, self-awareness and perspective taking.

Click here to read the rest of the article.

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January 18, 2011

Sizing Up Consciousness by Its Bits

From: NYTimes.com

One day in 2007, Dr. Giulio Tononi lay on a hospital stretcher as an anesthesiologist prepared him for surgery. For Dr. Tononi, it was a moment of intellectual exhilaration. He is a distinguished chair in consciousness science at the University of Wisconsin, and for much of his life he has been developing a theory of consciousness. Lying in the hospital, Dr. Tononi finally had a chance to become his own experiment.

The anesthesiologist was preparing to give Dr. Tononi one drug to render him unconscious, and another one to block muscle movements. Dr. Tononi suggested the anesthesiologist first tie a band around his arm to keep out the muscle-blocking drug. The anesthesiologist could then ask Dr. Tononi to lift his finger from time to time, so they could mark the moment he lost awareness.
The anesthesiologist did not share Dr. Tononi’s excitement. “He could not have been less interested,” Dr. Tononi recalled. “He just said, ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ and put me to sleep. He was thinking, ‘This guy must be out of his mind.’ ”

Dr. Tononi was not offended. Consciousness has long been the province of philosophers, and most doctors steer clear of their abstract speculations. After all, debating the finer points of what it is like to be a brain floating in a vat does not tell you how much anesthetic to give a patient.

But Dr. Tononi’s theory is, potentially, very different. He and his colleagues are translating the poetry of our conscious experiences into the precise language of mathematics.

To do so, they are adapting information theory, a branch of science originally applied to computers and telecommunications. If Dr. Tononi is right, he and his colleagues may be able to build a “consciousness meter” that doctors can use to measure consciousness as easily as they measure blood pressure and body temperature. Perhaps then his anesthesiologist will become interested.

“I love his ideas,” said Christof Koch, an expert on consciousness at Caltech. “It’s the only really promising fundamental theory of consciousness.”

Sizing Up Consciousness by its Bits: Read the entire article

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November 4, 2010

Why Animals Are Biologically Conscious. The conscious brain has a long evolutionary history.

From: The Blog of Dr. Bernard J. Baars inPsychology Today

To the best of our knowledge, consciousness depends upon brains, and brains are biological organs. In a boxing match, a blow to the jaw often leads to a loss of consciousness, but the same impact to the torso does not. More specifically, scientists have long thought that human consciousness depends upon two large brain structures, the cortex and the thalamus. The daily cycle of waking, dreaming and sleep depends on distinctive global rhythm generators in the thalamus and cortex. (www.baars-gage.com, Chapter 8)

While deep brain nuclei control the daily sleep-waking cycle, the specific contents of conscious vision, like the sight of a coffee cup, are directly supported by known regions of the cortex and corresponding nuclei in the thalamus. Cortex and its satellites underlie speech and hearing, vision, hearing and touch, the ability to make decisions and to control our voluntary muscles.

In contrast, medical students have long learned that the two large lobes of the cerebellum, hanging from the rear of the cortex, can be damaged in humans without impairing consciousness significantly. Since the cerebellum has nearly the same numbers of neurons as cortex, the question therefore becomes: How it is that cortex supports conscious contents? Why not the cerebellum? (Figure 1).

Read the entire article

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November 9, 2008

Self-awareness deficits following loss of inner speech: Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s case study

personal identity,self-awareness — alice @ 5:08 am

Alain Morin
Article in Consciousness and Cognition

In her 2006 book ‘‘My Stroke of Insight” Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor relates her experience of suffering from a left hemispheric stroke caused by a congenital arteriovenous malformation which led to a loss of inner speech. Her phenomenological account strongly suggests that this impairment produced a global self-awareness deficit as well as more specific dysfunctions related to corporeal awareness, sense of individuality, retrieval of autobiographical memories, and self-conscious emotions. These are examined in details and corroborated by numerous excerpts from Taylor’s book.

Click here for complete article.

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October 26, 2008

I move, therefore I am: A new theoretical framework to investigate agency and ownership

personal identity,self-awareness — alice @ 1:12 am

Matthis Synofzik, Gottfried Vosgerau and Albert Newen
Article in Consciousness and Cognition

The neurocognitive structure of the acting self has recently been widely studied, yet is still perplexing and remains an often confounded issue in cognitive neuroscience, psychopathology and philosophy. We provide a new systematic account of two of its main features, the sense of agency and the sense of ownership, demonstrating that although both features appear as phenomenally uniform, they each in fact are complex crossmodal phenomena of largely heterogeneous functional and (self-)representational levels. These levels can be arranged within a gradually evolving, onto- and phylogenetically plausible framework which proceeds from basic non-conceptual sensorimotor processes to more complex conceptual and meta-representational processes of agency and ownership, respectively. In particular, three fundamental levels of agency and ownership processing have to be distinguished: The level of feeling, thinking and social interaction. This naturalistic account will not only allow to “ground the self in action”, but also provide an empirically testable taxonomy for cognitive neuroscience and a new tool for disentangling agency and ownership disturbances in psychopathology (e.g. alien hand, anarchic hand, anosognosia for one’s own hemiparesis).

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October 18, 2008

Toward a Cultural Phenomenology of Personal Identity

Excerpt from Tafarodi, R. W. (2008). Toward a cultural phenomenology of personal identity. In F. Sani (Ed.), Self-continuity: Individual and collective perspectives (pp. 27-40). New York: Psychology Press.   

How does our inherited world of meaning relate to our fundamental experience of ourselves as persons? Is there a core of self-consciousness that is sequestered from the constitutive reach of culture and language? Can we speak of an unmediated basis for personal identity? These are the questions I will explore in this chapter. My method will be analytic, not comparative or ethnographic. Psychological anthropology and cross-cultural psychology have produced rich literatures showcasing the diversity of conceptions of the person in terms of its physical, mental, and spiritual properties (Csordas, 1994; Fogelson, 1982; Heelas & Lock, 1981; Marsella, DeVos, & Hsu, 1985; Morris, 1994). I will not review these ample literatures here. Rather, my purpose is to provide a warrant and direction for considering self-consciousness as a thoroughly cultured form of experience. My argument will involve reviewing and questioning the commitment to a phenomenological universalism, exemplified by Kant’s transcendental account of the I. From there, I will proceed to a sociocultural discussion of the temporality of subjectivity, as it manifests in both the synchronic and diachronic unity of personal identity. By taking subjective time as my focus, I will demonstrate how cultural forms are implicated in even the most immanent and fundamental aspects of self-consciousness.

Click here for to access the full chapter.

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March 5, 2008

New issue: Self & Identity

selfidentity.gifA new issue of Self & Identity is out, with articles including topics such as cultural differences in self-esteem, the self in change, and the self in life transitions.

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November 22, 2007

Morality starts young

The key to successful social interactions is the ability to assess others’ intentions — be they friend or foe. A new study in 6- and 10-month-old infants shows that humans engage in social evaluations even earlier than was thought, before they can use language. The infants could evaluate actors on the basis of their social acts — they were drawn towards an individual who helps an unrelated third party to achieve his or her goal, and they avoided an individual who hinders a third party’s efforts to achieve a goal. The findings support the claim that precursors to adult-like social evaluation are present even in babies. This skill could be a biological adaptation that may also serve as the foundation for moral thought and action later in life.

Editor summary in Nature

Nature article by Hamlin, Wynn & Bloom

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November 12, 2007

Contextualized Self-Representations in Adulthood

personality,self-awareness — thomasr @ 6:10 am

Theorizing has focused on individuals’ self-representations as a psychological resource for coping with life stress and developmental challenges in adulthood. Many of the prominent theories have conceptualized self-representations with regard to specific social contexts (e.g., role-specific self-representations) and have examined specific structural organizations of the self-concept with regard to psychological adjustment.

This article describes research on the associations between self-concept structures and psychological well-being in adulthood. Specific emphasis is given to the feature of self-concept differentiation (SCD). Most research suggests that a high level of SCD tends to indicate self-fragmentation and tends to be associated with poorer adjustment and psychological well-being.

Findings from a daily diary study with adults of all ages are reported showing that different levels of SCD were in a consistent and meaningful way related to the daily endorsement of positive and negative self-attributes. Daily self-representations, in turn, were significantly related to individuals’ level of daily negative affect and to intra-individual variation in negative affect.

These findings suggest that SCD may exert its effect on adjustment and psychological well-being through specific ways of processing self-related information.

Manfred Diehl & Elizabeth L. Hay in Journal of Personality
Volume 75 Issue 6 Page 1255-1284, December 2007

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October 29, 2007

Young minds — 3 papers

The journal Cognitive Development has released its latest issue, with a few interesting titles.

Among these, we here present three titles with direct impact on the study of consciousness. These cover topics as self-regulation in pre-schoolers, decision making in adolescence, and impulsivity and control in childhood.

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September 15, 2007

Brain stem may be key to consciousness:

From MindHacks
An article in this week’s Science News discusses whether the brain stem may play a more central role in consciousness than it’s usually given credit for.

It focuses on children with hydranencephaly, a where the cortex fails to develop in children and instead, the space is filled with cerebral spinal fluid.

Typically, affected children survive only a few months after birth, but those that do survive seem to remarkably more conscious than you would guess based on theories that suggest the cortex is where all the action happens to support consciousness.

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August 26, 2007

Manipulating Bodily Self-Consciousness

illusion,self-awareness — thomasr @ 9:32 am

virtualreality.jpegHumans normally experience the conscious self as localized within their bodily borders. This spatial unity may break down in certain neurological conditions such as out-of-body experiences, leading to a striking disturbance of bodily self-consciousness.

On the basis of these clinical data, we designed an experiment that uses conflicting visual-somatosensory input in virtual reality to disrupt the spatial unity between the self and the body. We found that during multisensory conflict, participants felt as if a virtual body seen in front of them was their own body and mislocalized themselves toward the virtual body, to a position outside their bodily borders.

Our results indicate that spatial unity and bodily self-consciousness can be studied experimentally and are based on multisensory and cognitive processing of bodily information.

Video Ergo Sum: Manipulating Bodily Self-Consciousness

Lenggenhager et al. in Science

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August 15, 2007

Toddlers are capable of introspection

toddlermirror1.jpgPreschoolers are more introspective than we give them credit for, according to new research by Simona Ghetti, assistant professor of psychology at UC Davis.

Ghetti and her co-investigator, Kristen Lyons, a graduate student in psychology at UC Davis, will present their findings Friday morning, Aug. 17, at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in San Francisco.

Scientists have demonstrated that dolphins, monkeys and even rats can engage in some form of “metacognition,” or an awareness of their own thought processes. But developmental psychologists have assumed that human children do not develop this capability before about age 5.

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August 2, 2007

Language and self-awareness


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June 18, 2007

The human mirror system: A motor resonance theory of mind-reading

janegoodall.jpgElectrophysiological data confirm the existence of neurons that respond to both motor and sensory events in the macaque brain. These mirror neurons respond to execution and observation of goal-orientated actions. It has been suggested that they comprise a neural basis for encoding an internal representation of action. In this paper the evidence for a parallel system in humans is reviewed and the implications for human theory of mind processing are discussed. Different components of theory of mind are discussed; the evidence for mirror activity within subtypes is addressed. While there is substantial evidence for a human mirror system, there are weaknesses in the attempts to localize such a system in the brain. Preliminary evidence indicates that mirror neurons may be involved in theory of mind; however, these data by their very nature are reliant on the presence, and precise characterization, of the human mirror system.


Agnew ZK, Bhakoo KK, Puri BK
Brain Res Rev. 2007 Jun ; 54(2): 286-293

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May 24, 2007

Narrative selves

From MindHacksPhilosophy Now has an article on how the self might be based on our ability to create narratives. The article looks at how the self has been related to our ability to make narratives out of the disconnected events in our lives, and particularly focuses on the theories of philosophers Alasdair MacIntyre and Paul Ricoeur.

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Does the brain show a lie?

noliemri.pngAmanda lies flat on her back, clad in a steel blue hospital gown and an air of anticipation, as she is rolled headfirst into a beeping, 10-ton functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) unit. Once inside, the 20-something blonde uses a handheld device to respond to questions about the playing cards appearing on the screen at the foot of the machine. With each click of the button, she is either lying or telling the truth about whether a card presented to her matches the one in her pocket, and the white-coated technician who watches her brain image morph into patterns on his computer screen seems to know the difference.

It’s unlikely anyone would shell out $10,000 to exonerate herself in a dispute over gin rummy. But Amanda, the model in a demo video for Tarzana, Calif.-based No Lie MRI, is helping to make a point: lie-detection is going high-tech. No Lie MRI claims it can identify lies with 90% accuracy. The service is meant for “anybody who wants to demonstrate that they are telling truth to others,” says founder and CEO Joel Huizenga. “Everyone should be allowed to use whatever method they can to defend themselves.

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March 25, 2007

Studying the wandering mind

absent_minded.jpgDo your thoughts stray from your work or studies? Do you catch yourself making to-do lists when your attention should be elsewhere? Welcome to the club.

College students reported mind-wandering almost one-third of the time in their daily lives, according to a new study led by faculty and graduate students at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The study will be published in the July issue of Psychological Science.

The study followed 124 undergraduates, who carried personal digital assistants for a week. The PDAs signaled the students eight times a day between noon and midnight to report whether their thoughts were wandering away from what they were doing and to answer multiple-choice questions about their current activity, surroundings and state of mind.

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March 24, 2007

Why We Give In To Temptation

executive functions,self-awareness — thomasr @ 8:18 pm

We’ve all had our moments of weakness when trying to control ourselves; eating that donut on your diet, losing your temper with your kids, becoming upset when you’re doing your best not to. It isn’t like we plan on these lapses in judgment. It’s more like they just sort of happen.

There is scientific evidence that explains this phenomenon of everyday life. Self regulation, our strength to inhibit impulses, make decisions, persist at difficult tasks, and control emotions can be spent just like a muscle that has been lifting heavy weights. When we spend our strength on one task (trying to control your emotion around a petulant boss), there is less to spend on others (avoiding the Ben & Jerry’s when we get home).

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Beliefs about the rigidity of personality

happyface.jpgHow do people reason about personality, and how people change or stay the same over time? In a study by Nick Haslam and colleagues lay theories of personality over time was explored. Among other things the researchers found that beliefs about normative personality change generally corresponded to research evidence on adult trajectories of the Big Five factors; and that recalled and anticipated personal change tended to be more positive than these norms

One potential shortcoming of the study is that it used only undergraduates. It would be interesting to see how the perception of personality continuity would also change according to ageing (as well as across different educational groups).

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