February 2, 2011

Brain Waves and Meditation

From: ScienceDaily.com

Forget about crystals and candles, and about sitting and breathing in awkward ways. Meditation research explores how the brain works when we refrain from concentration, rumination and intentional thinking. Electrical brain waves suggest that mental activity during meditation is wakeful and relaxed.

“Given the popularity and effectiveness of meditation as a means of alleviating stress and maintaining good health, there is a pressing need for a rigorous investigation of how it affects brain function,” says Professor Jim Lagopoulos of Sydney University, Australia. Lagopoulos is the principal investigator of a joint study between his university and researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) on changes in electrical brain activity during nondirective meditation.

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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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December 23, 2010

A Prescription for Abdominal Pain: Due Diligence

From: NYTimes.com: “For some reason people respect headaches,” said Dr. Carlo Di Lorenzo, a leading pediatric gastroenterologist and a professor of clinical pediatrics at Ohio State. “I’ve never seen a parent or a pediatrician tell a child complaining of a headache, ‘You don’t have a headache — it’s not real.’ Bellyache is just as real as headache.”

Indeed it is. And recurrent abdominal pain in children is common, frustrating and often hard to explain.

Consider a girl who came to the clinic for her 10-year physical exam. She gets these bellyaches, she told me. Had a bad one that week, but her stomach wasn’t hurting right at the moment.

She’d been treated for constipation; she’d been tested for celiac disease and other problems. Every blood and stool test over the two years since the pain began was completely normal. One night the bellyache was so bad she went to the emergency room — and her abdominal X-rays were normal as well.

The diagnostic term for this common and perplexing condition is “functional abdominal pain”: recurrent stomachaches, as the American Academy of Pediatrics put it in 2005, with no “anatomic, metabolic, infectious, inflammatory or neoplastic disorder” to explain them.

When I was a resident, we often smirked when we spoke of functional abdominal pain, treating it as a code for a troublesome patient, dubious symptoms or an anxious family. But recent research suggests we were too biomedically narrow in our thinking.

Scientists are coming to understand that abdominal pain is transmitted by a specialized nervous system that may be hypersensitive or hyperactive in some children. Studies in which researchers inflated balloons in children’s intestines suggested that those with functional abdominal pain might be unusually sensitive to any distension on the inside.

Click here for the entire article

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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.

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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).

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October 27, 2010

Hypnosis Leads to Heightened Brain Waves and Levels of Consciousness

From: Natural News

Many people are wary of hypnosis because they are not educated on the topic. Hypnosis is a natural state and many people reach this state of consciousness every day without even realizing it. When you drive a car, you are in a light state of hypnosis. You are in control, you have an increased ability to concentrate, and you are operating on autopilot without really realizing it. A great deal of research has been conducted on the hypnotic state and various states of consciousness.

Your brain has four different brain wave states: beta, alpha, theta, and delta. While you are reading this article, you are in the state of beta. You are alert and able to concentrate on this article. The beta state is normal wakening state. Alpha state is a relaxed state. You are able to access creativity and visualization. Theta state is a deeper state of relaxation; this is a common state of hypnosis and meditation. Theta allows you to access memories. You experience theta as you fall asleep and wake up every day. Lastly is delta, which occurs while sleeping. Delta allows your body to heal. You are able to access your subconscious mind during alpha, theta, and delta states and can also reach various depths of hypnosis (Tools for Wellness).

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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.

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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

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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November 3, 2008

Human Brain is Capable of Subliminal Conditioning, Study Shows

From The Dana Foundation: Imagine you are playing a game of poker. Watching your opponent, you have a gut feeling that if you raise the bet, he will fold. You decide to go with your intuition and it works.

Were you just lucky?

According to neuroscientist Mathias Pessiglione, the gut feeling you experienced could be the result of your brain picking up subliminal cues from your opponent and associating them with a positive outcome. Pessiglione uses a poker game as a possible real-life example of the kind of subliminal instrumental conditioning that he and his colleagues at the Institut National de la santé et de la recherche médicale (INSERM), a public research institute in Paris, have demonstrated for the first time in the human brain.

They report the results of a carefully designed study using a system of masked cues matched to win or loss outcomes in the Aug. 28 issue of the journal Neuron.

Click here for complete article.

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December 18, 2007

Unconscious Perception: Adding a Dorsal Stream to IDA

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October 24, 2007

To determine election outcomes, study says snap judgments are sufficient

A split-second glance at two candidates’ faces is often enough to determine which one will win an election, according to a Princeton University study.

Princeton psychologist Alexander Todorov has demonstrated that quick facial judgments can accurately predict real-world election returns. Todorov has taken some of his previous research that showed that people unconsciously judge the competence of an unfamiliar face within a tenth of a second, and he has moved it to the political arena. His lab tests show that a rapid appraisal of the relative competence of two candidates’ faces was sufficient to predict the winner in about 70 percent of the races for U.S. senator and state governor in the 2006 elections.

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October 18, 2007

Dream content: Individual and generic aspects

Dream reports were collected from normal subjects in an effort to determine the degree to which dream reports can be used to identify individual dreamers. Judges were asked to group the reports by their authors. The judges scored the reports correctly at chance levels. This finding indicated that dreams may be at least as much like each other as they are the signature of individual dreamers. Our results suggest that dream reports cannot be used to identify the individuals who produced them when identifiers like names and gender of friends and family members are removed from the dream report. In addition to using dreams to learn about an individual, we must look at dreams as telling us about important common or generic aspects of human consciousness.next term

Allan Hobson and David Kahn in press article in Consciousness & Cognition

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August 31, 2007

Final proof of role of neural coherence in consciousness?

neuralsynchrony.jpgMelloni et al. have recently demonstrated, in the Journal of Neuroscience, that neural synchrony in the gamma range between distal rain regions is important for conscious perception. The authors say about their work that “the access to conscious perception is the early transient global increase of phase synchrony of oscillatory activity in the gamma frequency range”

Here we link to the article and some related works.

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May 22, 2007

The unconscious motivator

reward_basal.jpgA study (PDF) recently reported in Science shows how unconsciously processed information about monetary rewards influences behaviour.

Furthermore, the researchers identify a basal forebrain region that specifically underpin this effect, thus operating as a functional node that drives reward-related behaviour without the need for conscious processing.

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April 28, 2007

Multiple priming routes

unconscious processes — thomasr @ 2:25 pm

Is it possible to have more than one priming effect at a time? According to a German research team, it is possible to have at least two simultaneous priming effects.

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Sleep Protects Declarative Memories From Interference

cov_memory.gifDeclarative memories — memories for facts and events in time — become more resistant to interference during sleep, according to a study that will presented at the 59th Annual Meeting of the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) in Boston, Massachusetts.

“We know that sleep helps boost memory for procedural tasks, such as learning a new piano sequence. But we’re not sure, even though it’s been debated for over a hundred years, whether sleep impacts declarative memory,” said lead author Jeffrey Ellenbogen, MD, a clinical fellow in medicine at Harvard Medical School, in Boston.

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April 6, 2007

Can blindsight lead to superior sight?

blindsight2.jpgIn a most interesting paper by Ceri Trevethan, Arash Sahraie and Larry Weiskrantz, it is suggested that blindsight patients are actually superior on certain visual stimulus detection tasks. In this paper, published in Cognition, the authors also provide experimental evidence that this is indeed the case.

The study highlights the neural dynamics that take place in the case of brain damage. While the areas that are damaged have been responsible for a given task (i.e. vision) it is likely that such injury leads to unmasking of previously suppressed functions in adjacent or other connected areas. As such, brain damage might indeed not only lead to reduced functions, but unmasking — and enhancement — of other functions. As in this study,

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April 4, 2007

Startle reflex following subliminal images of fear and sex

emotions,unconscious processes — thomasr @ 2:21 pm

What happens if you are presented with subliminal stimuli that are normally associated with fear or sexual arousal? In a study published in Biological Psychiatry two Spanish researchers now document that both negative positive biologically relevant stimuli can be nonconsciously processed. Furthermore, it is thought that this mechanism is mediated by amygdala activation and that such stimuli can affect behavioral responding.

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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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February 8, 2007

The Medial Temporal Lobe Distinguishes Old from New Independently of Consciousness

There is an interesting paper, The Medial Temporal Lobe Distinguishes Old from New Independently of Consciousness in The Journal of Neuroscience. The novel part is that the MTL novelty distinction can operate at an unconscious level. From one perspective the MTL is traditionally thought to be part of a declarative memory system, suggesting that a majorityif not allof the processing here involves consciousness. This result thus suggests that at least for this function, consciousness does not need to be an issue. What seems amiss in this paper is the more detailed account of MTL regions. Several studies have documentedboth for humans and non-human primatesthat different parts of the MTL make different contributions to the novelty distinction. Specifically, the perirhinal cortex is thought to be the primary processor of old/new distinctions. Clickthrough for abstract.

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