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Everything about Neuroscience, Brain Research and Cognition.


Greg Batmarx

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For everyone, there are times when a dark cloud just seems to be following you around. You may not even even know why. While we don’t mean to minimize the value of medication for those who experience this on a daily basis, UCLA neuroscientist Alex Korb, author of The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time, has some insights that might just get you back on the sunny side. It’s all got to do with neuroscience.

Getting Your Brain’s Attention
Your brain has some unhelpful ideas of its own on how to feel good. If you’re experiencing guilt or shame, it may be because your brain’s trying, ineffectively, to activate its reward center. Wait, what?
According to Korb Despite their differences, pride, shame, and guilt all activate similar neural circuits, including the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, amygdala, insula, and the nucleus accumbens. This explains why it can be so appealing to heap guilt and shame on ourselves, they're activating the brain's reward center.
A similar thing may be going if you just can’t seem to stop worrying. Korb says worrying stimulates the medial prefrontal cortex and lowers activity in the amygdala, thus helping your limbic system, your emotions, remain copascetic. His theory is that, even though worry is widely recognized as a pointless thing to do from a tactical point of view, apparently the brain considers it better than doing nothing at all when you’re anxious.
So the obvious question is how you can take positive control of this destructive little dance? Korb suggests asking yourself: What am I grateful for? His reasoning is chemical: One powerful effect of gratitude is that it can boost serotonin. Trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex.
Even more intriguingly, actually coming up with something you’re thankful for, not always an easy thing to do in a dark mood, isn’t even required. Just the acts of remembering to be thankful is the flexing of a type of emotional intelligence: One study found that it actually affected neuron density in both the ventromedial and lateral prefrontal cortex. These density changes suggest that as emotional intelligence increases, the neurons in these areas become more efficient. With higher emotional intelligence, it simply takes less effort to be grateful.

So, okay, you’re still down. Try and get more specific. What, exactly, is the bad feeling you have? Anger? Stress? Sadness? Loneliness? Neuroscience says that just giving your darkness a name defuses it.
Author David Rock’s book Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long explains:
To reduce arousal, you need to use just a few words to describe an emotion, and ideally use symbolic language, which means using indirect metaphors, metrics, and simplifications of your experience. This requires you to activate your prefrontal cortex, which reduces the arousal in the limbic system. Here's the bottom line: describe an emotion in just a word or two, and it helps reduce the emotion.
Korb notes that fMRI studies support this idea, like one in which “participants viewed pictures of people with emotional facial expressions. Predictably, each participant's amygdala activated to the emotions in the picture. But when they were asked to name the emotion, the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex activated and reduced the emotional amygdala reactivity. In other words, consciously recognizing the emotions reduced their impact.”
FBI negotiators use labeling to try and calm hostage negotiators, and it’s also an important tool in mindfulness.

You’re the Decider
Worried and anxious? One thing to try is making a decision about what’s got you worked up. It doesn’t even have to be the perfect decision; just a good one will do. As Korb notes: Trying for the best, instead of good enough, brings too much emotional ventromedial prefrontal activity into the decision-making process. In contrast, recognizing that good enough is good enough activates more dorsolateral prefrontal areas, which helps you feel more in control
Korb: Actively choosing caused changes in attention circuits and in how the participants felt about the action, and it increased rewarding dopamine activity. Making decisions includes creating intentions and setting goals, all three are part of the same neural circuitry and engage the prefrontal cortex in a positive way, reducing worry and anxiety. Making decisions also helps overcome striatum activity, which usually pulls you toward negative impulses and routines. Finally, making decisions changes your perception of the world, finding solutions to your problems and calming the limbic system.
A key thing here is that you’re making a conscious decision, or choice, and not just being dragged to a resolution. Your brain gets no reward for that.
If you’re still reluctant to make a choice between one option or another, the science suggest don’t worry, you’re likely to gain a positive bias toward the decision you make anyway. As Korb notes, We don't just choose the things we like; we also like the things we choose.

The Power of Touch
Okay, so let’s be clear right up front: You should only be touching others who want to be touched. All right, then…
Got someone to hug? Go for it. Korb says A hug, especially a long one, releases a neurotransmitter and hormone oxytocin, which reduces the reactivity of the amygdala.
Hand holding, pats on the back, and handshakes work, too. Korb cites a study in which subjects whose hands were held by their partners experienced a reduced level of anxiety while waiting for an expected electrical shock from researchers. “The brain showed reduced activation in both the anterior cingulate cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex — that is, less activity in the pain and worrying circuits.”
And if you have no one handy to touch, guess what? Massage has also been shown to be an effective way to get your oxytocin flowing, and it reduces stress hormones and increases your dopamine levels. Win win.
*The value of touching shouldn’t be overlooked when you’re down." According to Korb:
In fact, as demonstrated in an fMRI experiment, social exclusion activates the same circuitry as physical pain … at one point they stopped sharing, only throwing back and forth to each other, ignoring the participant. This small change was enough to elicit feelings of social exclusion, and it activated the anterior cingulate and insula, just like physical pain would.
Nobody’s in a good mood all the time, so hopefully these insights will be of use to if there comes some dark and stormy day.
A neuroscientific approach to maintaining emotional well-being.
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Greg Batmarx

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Observing Fear in Others Can Physically Change Your Brain
Observing fear in others may change how information flows in the brain, scientists at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute have discovered.
Lead author of the study Alexei Morozov an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, said:
Negative emotional experience leaves a trace in the brain, which makes us more vulnerable. Traumatic experiences, even those without physical pain, are a risk factor for mental disorders.
Post-traumatic stress disorder, also called PTSD is an anxiety disorder that can develop in some people after they experience a shocking, scary, or dangerous event, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Most people who live through dangerous events do not develop the disorder, but about 7 or 8 out of every 100 people will experience post-traumatic stress disorder at some point in their lives, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ National Center for PTSD.

According to a 2008 RAND Corp. assessment of multiple studies of post-traumatic stress and depression in previously deployed service members, people who heard about a serious incident, such as a gunfire exchange, were just as likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder as the people who actually lived through the incident.
PTSD doesn’t stop at direct victims of illness, injury, or a terrorist attack; it can also affect their loved ones, caregivers, even bystanders, the people who witness or learn about others’ suffering said Morozov. He also noted that while a traumatic event may not immediately lead to the disorder, it increases odds of developing the disorder:
There’s evidence that children who watched media coverage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are more likely to develop PTSD later in life when subjected to another adverse event.
In previous studies, Morozov with Wataru Ito, a research assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute, found that rodents who witnessed stress in their counterparts but did not experience it firsthand formed stronger than normal memories of their own fear experiences, a behavioral trait relevant to some humans who experience traumatic stress.
Based on these findings, the researchers investigated whether the part of the brain responsible for empathizing and understanding the mental state of others, called the prefrontal cortex, physically changes after witnessing fear in another.

Lei Liu, a postdoctoral researcher in the lab, measured transmission through inhibitory synapses that regulate strength of the signals arriving in the prefrontal cortex from other parts of the brain in mice who had witnessed a stressful event in another mouse.
Liu’s measures suggest that observational fear physically redistributes the flow of information Morozov said. And this redistribution is achieved by stress, not just observed, but communicated through social cues, such as body language, sound, and smell.
According to Morozov, this shift may potentially enable more communications via the synapses in the deep cellular layers of the cerebral cortex, but less so in the superficial ones. It’s not yet clear exactly how the circuits have altered, only that they have indeed changed.
Morozov added:
Once we understand the mechanism of this change in the brain in the person who has these experiences, we could potentially know how something like post-traumatic stress disorder is caused.
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The picture of the colors are pretty, even so. Lol
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Greg Batmarx

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Brain region that recognizes faces keeps growing in adulthood

Neurologists thought that your brain was basically set once you hit early childhood, but researchers from Stanford have discovered one part that keeps growing.
Using new MRI imaging techniques, they found that the fusiform gyrus which is mostly responsible for recognizing human faces, keeps expanding well after other regions have stopped. The research could lead to more sophisticated cellular analysis of the brain and help patients with a disorder called "facial blindness."
Normally, our brain actually loses neurons between early childhood and puberty in a process called "pruning." That applies to visual parts of the brain that identify things like cityscape or hallways, but not faces.

The researchers used two different MRI machines to scan both brain activity and density in two different parts of the brain: the region responsible for identifying faces, and an area used for other types of visual recognition. They then compared those structures in the brains of children (aged five to 12) to adults between 22 to 28. It turned out that adults had thicker fusiform gyrus regions than kids, different levels of proteins and cells and more activity. By contrast, the other visual regions showed lower levels of development.

We actually saw that tissue is proliferating said grad student Jesse Gomez.
Many people assume ... that tissue is lost slowly as you get older. We saw the opposite, that whatever is left after pruning in infancy can be used to grow.
The researchers figure that the region expands because humans start with very poor facial recognition skills in infancy, but as we hit adolescence and meet more people, the region has to grow to keep pace.
The technique is the first to directly see such cell changes in living subjects, and could easily be adapted for other types of research and diagnoses. The next step, the team says, is to see if other regions of the brain also grow.
The study could have a more immediate benefit, too, helping the two percent of the adult population that suffers from facial blindness, a disorder that makes it difficult to identify faces.
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Greg Batmarx

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Habits seem synonymous with the New Year. A fresh start gives us the opportunity to slough the holiday chaos, see another year in a new light and pledge to do better again this time. It’s a great way to set a lofty goal or simply remind yourself to start flossing again. Our brains are plastic, moldable and easy to please—despite sayings to the contrary, you can, in fact, teach an old dog new tricks. But you have to give your brain a reason to get started.
Studies Say
In the past year, neuroscientists and psychologists have teamed up to study habit learning and how the brain reacts to new behaviors. They’ve found that some neurons, the cells that fire information across our brain and tell us what to do, are linked to motivation, reward association and habit learning. Importantly, this could help us change our behaviors and figure out neuropsychiatric disorders such as addiction and obsessive compulsive disorder, University of California at San Francisco researchers said in March.
Overall, recent brain scans show that certain areas of the brain light up when a new behavior is started, and the most effective way to keep the areas lit and happy is through rewards. Otherwise, we’re programmed to be lazy and efficient. When we like a new action, our brain pumps out feel-good chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin, and we’re more likely to repeat the action to get the same pleasurable response.
Just like Pavlov’s dog, if we can motivate ourselves to repeat an action with a reward several times, we can potentially make it stick. And if we lump two or three of those habits together, they can cascade in the brain and lead to the likelihood of sticking with several good habits at once. Hey, even monkeys can learn how to build habits through repetition without much instruction, Brown University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers reported.

Key Takeaways
Although new brain scans in 2017 will show us more about brain pathways and how the mind works, the practical aspects remain largely unchanged. Build a new habit in January by following this common sense advice:

Make a Plan
Look for and write down cues such as location, time, emotional state, other people, and preceding actions that may help you make or break a new habit. Do you get that snacky feeling around 3 p.m. at work every day? Maybe you’re actually bored or tired. Try standing up and walking around the building instead.
Create a plan that will get your new habit started. Put running shoes and clothes by the door so you can’t ignore them, or set your floss next to your contacts and a glass of water so you can tackle all three as soon as you wake up in the morning.
Most importantly, figure out what works for you, and don’t get discouraged by what seems to be common knowledge. Pop culture has promulgated the idea that it only takes 21 days, or 3 weeks, to form a new habit, but research shows that, depending on the person and habit, changes can take two months or longer.
To figure out which cravings are driving particular habits, it’s useful to experiment with different rewards which may take days or weeks, Charles Duhigg writes in The Power of Habit. During that period, you shouldn’t feel any pressure to make a real change … think of yourself as a scientist in the data collection stage.

Be Realistic
You know yourself better than any hip 30-day program. Are you a morning person, and do you want to create a morning routine, or do you struggle to get ready in the morning, no matter what? Don’t set yourself up for failure or place your expectations too high.
Don’t decide you’re going to work out for an hour each day at the gym across town if you already only have a small amount of time for life outside of work blogger Colin Wright recently wrote in a post about habits. This isn’t to say you couldn’t accomplish this, but it’s common for people to set their sights cripplingly high in a moment of ambition, only to feel crushed when they fail to live up to those unrealistic goals.
That crushed feeling sends negative pulses rushing through your neurons, which destroys good associations with the habits you’re building. Try the smallest steps possible, such as one push-up on Monday, two push-ups on Tuesday, and three push-ups on Wednesday, to feel happy about the smallest success you can accomplish. Before you know it, you’ll be at 10. Apps such as Couch to 5K or Ease into 5K can guide you slowly toward a goal.

Reward Yourself
Our brains like treats, MRI scans are clear about that. The reward pathway involves several parts of the brain, including areas such as the prefrontal cortex. Food, water, sex and pleasurable activity light up these areas and travel around the brain. If you want to build a habit, make it fun. Play doesn’t only apply to children. Want more exercise? Set a play date with a friend to toss a Frisbee outside. Want to cook more at home? Add a small treat to your basket along with the healthy items while you buy groceries.
Exercise programs designed for adults often aren’t interesting, and we wonder why adults don’t hold to them said Bryan McCullick, a physical education professor at the University of Georgia who studies motivation and after-school programs at elementary schools. He teaches kids how to get exercise by playing tag, catch and dodgeball. His research tracks how an hour of physical activity games, followed by an hour of math or reading homework, can improve other areas of kids’ lives, such as test scores, social skills and confidence.
They’re learning how to play and exercise in ways that help their brains McCullick said. If you want to be motivated, you have to do something you enjoy and feel comfortable doing.
Our brains are plastic, moldable and easy to please — despite sayings to the contrary, you can, in fact, teach an old dog new tricks. But you have to give your brain a reason to get started.
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Jade X
+Blossem /mosthated Burciaga Not offended by your statement, just wondering the relevance to anything in this post. Have a good one. 
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Greg Batmarx

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A group of researchers has constructed an experiment to examine how emotional experiences affect the formation of memories. It’s already well-documented that emotional experiences are not only more likely to be recorded in memory.
But emotional events also affect unrelated memories, strengthening the recall of unassociated events that happened just before the emotional surge.
The new study looks at the flipside of that, how long an emotional event affects memory after the stimulation ends. This is a relatively unexplored area of research.
To find out, the researchers constructed a test using an fMRI. One group of participants was exposed to emotional stimuli for about 23 minutes, followed by a nine-minute rest, followed by a 23-minute period with emotionally neutral stimuli. The second group had these experiences reversed a neutral period followed by a rest and then some emotionally charged experiences. The final group simply had two emotionally neutral periods with the same gap between them.
The researchers hypothesized that the emotional period's influence on memory would last into the neutral period. If this is correct, the first setup, emotional then neutral, should trigger improved memory during the neutral period. The other two arrangements, however, shouldn’t have this effect if the researchers’ hypothesis is accurate.

The researchers started by measuring the skin conductance levels during the trials as an extra way to track the participants' emotional arousal. They expected it would be higher during the neutral period due to the carry-over of earlier emotional experiences. This turned out to be correct.
Depending on how long the effect of emotion on memory lasts, the subjects' memory of the events experienced during the following neutral period might also be increased. This was tested by a surprise quiz about what happened during the neutral period period, taken six hours later. The results of the quizzes generally agreed with those of the skin conductance tests. Participants’ memories of what happened during the neutral period was somewhat greater when it was preceded by an emotional period. This match isn’t as consistent as the skin conductance results, but there was a clear trend nonetheless.
Additionally, the authors predicted there should be greater coordinated activity among the brain regions that support emotional memory, such as the amygdala and the anterior hippocampus.
The fMRI results showed that there is greater connectivity between these brain regions during emotional stimuli, and it carries over to the neutral period.

Taken together, these results provide evidence that emotional brain states […] can carry-over and become reinstated tens of minutes later when participants encountered unrelated, neutral information the researchers write in their paper.
The researchers note that it’s not clear which aspects of their experiment are necessary to see the same results. For example, their use of 23-minute blocks of time is arbitrary. Based on the experiment design, it's impossible to tell how long emotions' effects on memory carry over.
Another unknown is whether the participants were consciously using strategies to help them remember events, and whether that played into the results. Future work may address these questions.
fMRI study shows clear link between emotions, remembering events soon after.
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Greg Batmarx

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Bilinguals Have Cognitive Advantages As They Age
Bilingual people are better at saving brain power, new research findings show. The team of Ana Inés Ansaldo, PhD, a professor at Université de Montréal, compared what are known as functional brain connections between seniors who are monolingual and seniors who are bilingual.
The researchers found that years of bilingualism change how the brain carries out tasks that require concentrating on one piece of information without becoming distracted by other information. This makes the brain more efficient and economical with its resources.
Dr. Ansaldo’s team asked two groups of seniors, one of monolinguals and one of bilinguals, to perform a task that involved focusing on visual information while ignoring spatial information. The researchers compared the networks between different brain areas as people did the task.
They found that monolinguals recruited a larger circuit with multiple connections, whereas bilinguals recruited a smaller circuit that was more appropriate for the required information.

The participants did a task that required them to focus on visual information (the color of an object) while ignoring spatial information (the position of the object).
The research team observed that the monolingual brain allocates a number of regions linked to visual and motor function and interference control, which are located in the frontal lobes. This means that the monolingual brain needs to recruit multiple brain regions to do the task.
After years of daily practice managing interference between two languages, bilinguals become experts at selecting relevant information and ignoring information that can distract from a task. In this case, bilinguals showed higher connectivity between visual processing areas located at the back of the brain.
This area is specialized in detecting the visual characteristics of objects and therefore is specialized in the task used in this study. These data indicate that the bilingual brain is more efficient and economical, as it recruits fewer regions and only specialized regions explained Dr. Ansaldo.

Bilinguals therefore have two cognitive benefits.
First, having more centralized and specialized functional connections saves resources compared to the multiple and more diverse brain areas allocated by monolinguals to accomplish the same task.
Second, bilinguals achieve the same result by not using the brain’s frontal regions, which are vulnerable to aging. This may explain why the brains of bilinguals are better equipped at staving off the signs of cognitive aging or dementia.
We have observed that bilingualism has a concrete impact on brain function and that this may have a positive impact on cognitive aging. We now need to study how this function translates to daily life, for example, when concentrating on one source of information instead of another, which is something we have to do every day. And we have yet to discover all the benefits of bilingualism concluded Dr. Ansaldo.
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I never knew about - speaking/reading - 2 languages; now days I read/listen to talking books & if something makes me stopp, I could not att the moment 'say which language I'm listening to - of course it comes to me. It's so natural for me to - think,talk in U.S. English & in Swedish+
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Greg Batmarx

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A study published today in the Journal of Anatomy has made an important breakthrough in the examination of blood vessels in the brain giving scientists a clearer understanding of how dementia, brain cancer and stroke can affect veins and capillaries in this organ.
Working collaboratively researchers from the the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Surrey and the Federal University of Sao Paulo developed an innovative technique to examine and quantify blood vessels in the brain using 3D Image Analysis (Stereology) procedures.
Using experimental animal models, this technique will allow scientists to study how such diseases develop in the brain and help them identify, through examination of blood vessels, potential warning signs of illnesses before symptoms appear. These learnings can potentially be translated into humans and help reduce the number of deaths from these illnesses.
The procedure can also be used in post mortems and biopsies examinations of animal and human tissue making it easier for pathologists to determine causes of death and quickly identify alterations in the brain circulation (such as clots) or tumors.

The inexpensive technique of dissolving China Ink with gelatin creates a solution making blood vessels more visible with the use of a confocal microscope. This enables scientists and pathologists to make an accurate reading of their number, length, surface area and create 3D images which can help identify changes in their shape and size, key indicators of a number of circulation-related diseases of the brain.
This innovative method will also facilitate a greater understanding of how exercise affects the brain. Scientists will now be able to examine circulatory effects of increased or decreased heart rate, arterial pressure on the brain and the creation of new vessels (angiogenesis).

Co-author of the study Dr Augusto Coppi from the University of Surrey said: The brain is a fascinating organ but our full understanding of its circulation is lacking. Previously we have been unable to fully sample and perform a quantification of the circulation of the brain in 3D as we simply could not see all vessels due to their minute size and sometimes due to their irregular spatial distribution.
This new technique will allow us to sample, image and count blood vessels in 3D giving us a greater mechanistic comprehension of how the circulation of the brain works and how brain diseases such as dementia and stroke affect this organ. With an estimated 850,000 people diagnosed with dementia in England, this technique marks a significant breakthrough in the fight against this disease.
Summary: A new technology that allows researchers to examine circulation in the brain could help to identify early signs of neurological problems.Source: University of Surrey.A study published
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Greg Batmarx

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Maternal depression across the first years of life impacts children’s neural basis of empathy
Exposure to early and chronic maternal depression markedly increases a child's susceptibility to psychopathology and social-emotional problems, including social withdrawal, poor emotion regulation, and reduced empathy to others. Since 15-18% of women in industrial societies and up to 30% in developing countries suffer from maternal depression, it is of clinical and public health concern to understand the effects of maternal depression on children's development.
A study published in the January 2017 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP) followed children of mothers with depression from birth to preadolescence and tested depression's impact on children's neural empathic response to others' distress.

While previous studies have demonstrated the effects of maternal depression on children's limited response to other's pain, this new study is the first to examine this topic in a longitudinal sample of mother-child pairs followed from birth to age 11.
This carefully selected sample of women with no comorbid contextual risk, who were repeatedly assessed for maternal depression across the first years of life, was utilized in order to compare children of mothers who were chronically depressed and children who were never exposed to any maternal psychopathology. 27 children of mothers with depression took part in the study, as well as 45 controls. They were home-visited at 9 months and 6 years to examine mother-child interaction patterns and were invited to a magnetoencephalography (MEG) session at age 11 in order to evaluate their neural reaction to pain in others.
We were amazed to see that maternal depression in and of itself was related to differential neural processing of others' pain in 11-year-old children. We found that the neural reaction to pain in children of depressed mothers stops earlier than in controls, in an area related to socio-cognitive processing, so that children of depressed mothers seem to reduce mentalizing-related processing of others' pain, perhaps because of difficulty in regulating the high arousal associated with observing distress in others said Prof. Ruth Feldman, director of the Developmental Social Neuroscience Lab and the Irving B. Harris Early Childhood Community Clinic at Bar-Ilan University and lead author of the study.

The researchers also found that mother-child interaction patterns had a crucial role on this effect. When mother-child interactions were more synchronous, that is, mother and child were better attuned to one another, and when mothers were less intrusive, children showed higher mentalizing-related processing in this crucial brain area.
It is encouraging to see the role of mother-child interactions in our findings. Depressed mothers are repeatedly found to show less synchronous and more intrusive interactions with their children, and so it might explain some of the differences found between children of depressed mothers and their peer controls in our study added Prof. Feldman.
If so, our findings highlight a point of entry, where future interventions can focus their attention to help reduce the effects of maternal depression on children's psychosocial development.

Asked what next steps should be taken, Feldman responded: The main clinical question now becomes: what strategies are most effective to improve mother-child interaction patterns for depressed mothers and their offspring. Moreover, if we are able to help these mothers be more attuned and less intrusive, will it be enough in order to enable resilience in the offspring? In addition, there are further scientific questions about the manner in which patterns of maternal care implement in the development of children's brain, endocrine systems, behavior, and relationships.
To that end, Feldman and her team are studying how maternal depression and mother-child interactions are associated with children's stress hormones, behavioral empathy, hormones related to bond formation, and their neural reaction to affiliative cues.
Feldman is planning to study intervention strategies that focus on the mother-child interaction pattern, and is hopeful that if successful, these strategies will improve mental health and social adjustment in children of mothers with depression.
Wouldn't it be interesting and promising if an intervention focused on synchronous mother-child interactions could also reduce the prevalence of psychopathology in the children of depressed mothers? she concluded.
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No we should not +Katherine Phelps 
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Greg Batmarx

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Inverse has selected research from the Beckley/Imperial Research Programme — co-directed by the Beckley Foundation’s executive director Amanda Feilding and noted psychedelic science proponent David Nutt — on imaging the human brain on LSD as the 2016 “Experiment of the Year.” We singled out this particular study from countless other worthy efforts and 10 groundbreaking finalists because it will fundamentally alter the future of research into the function of the human brain and because it answers questions that have lingered for decades due to anti-scientific government regulation.
To understand the importance of this experiment, it is important to grapple with the results within the context of LSD’s unique history.

Lysergic acid diethylamide was discovered by Swiss chemist Albert Hofmann in 1938. Hofmann was working for Sandoz Pharmaceutical isolating chemicals excreted by a leek-like Mediterranean plant called squill. Squill was known for producing analeptics capable of easing central nervous system issues like depression and breathlessness. Uncertain of LSD’s relevance to his work, Hofmann forgot about it until 1943 when he decided to revisit that work and accidentally absorbed some of the TK through his skin. He took the first acid trip right there in the lab.
I lay down and sank into a not unpleasant intoxicated-like condition, characterized by an extremely stimulated imagination he later wrote. In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed (I found the daylight to be unpleasantly glaring), I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors.
Hofmann’s experience made him, as well as the psychedelic advocates who popularized the drug in the late 1960s and early 1970s, famous. But LSD’s proliferation did not lead to knowledge or research, only the specific familiarity of consumption.
Though LSD was initially welcomed as a potential cure for a long list of mental illnesses, its potential as a miracle treatment became a casualty of the culture wars. In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared it a Schedule 1 drug, arguing through regulation that it was dangerous, addictive, and without medical application. For the next 40-plus years, it remained difficult to counter Johnson’s baseless assertion about LSD because federal funding restriction and laws stood in the way of laboratory testing.

This is why the work of David Nutt and his group of colleagues at Imperial College London is groundbreaking. By scanning the brains of tripping subjects, he managed to paint a portrait of a chemical’s effects. Will this work immediately lead to domestication of LSD and its use as a prescription wonder drug? Probably not, but it will banish the myth of LSD supposedly lacking medical application and, in so doing, facilitate further research into the effects of psychedelics, which neuropharmacologists have been suggesting have non-recreational uses for years.
Nutt’s experiment is also notable for yielding surprising results.
First, an adult brain on LSD processes surroundings like an infant’ brain. The right brain is a creative warehouse; the left brain is a logical machine. The amygdala is our emotional hub, the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus store our memories, the cerebellum directs our movements. But, under the influence of LSD, the brain’s borders break down. People do not become delusional, they become more optimistic.
Neuroscience is stuck at a crossroads, many of today’s explorers of the brain cannot viably do so without the aid of psychedelics and hallucinogens that are barred from federal funding for research. Nutt’s study makes it clear that America will likely fall behind on brain research for the first time in modern history if current regulations are not altered.
This experiment is simple. The results of it are mindblowing. It highlights not only how we fundamentally operate as human beings but also the tired legislation that prevents progressive science research from taking place. And without more research into how LSD, and other drugs, affect our brain, we will continue to remain clueless as to how our brain works, what therapeutic benefits might help mental illness, and more.
Research into LSD isn’t just about figuring out what exactly makes us high; it’s about what makes us human.
Inverse has singled out one study from countless worthy efforts and 10 groundbreaking finalists.
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Greg Batmarx

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Philosophers have been arguing about the nature of will for at least 2,000 years. It’s at the core of blockbuster social-psychology findings, from delayed gratification to ego depletion to grit. But it’s only recently, thanks to the tools of brain imaging, that the act of willing is starting to be captured at a mechanistic level.
A primary example is “cognitive control,” or how the brain selects goal-serving behavior from competing processes like so many unruly third-graders with their hands in the air. It’s the rare neuroscience finding that’s immediately applicable to everyday life: By knowing the way the brain is disposed to behaving or misbehaving in accordance to your goals, it’s easier to get the results you’re looking for, whether it’s avoiding the temptation of chocolate cookies or the pull of darkly ruminative thoughts.

Jonathan Cohen who runs a neuroscience lab dedicated to cognitive control at Princeton, says that it underlies just about every other flavor of cognition that’s thought to “make us human,” whether it’s language, problem solving, planning, or reasoning.
If I ask you not to scratch the mosquito bite that you have, you could comply with my request, and that’s remarkable he says. Every other species, ape, dog, cat, lizard, will automatically indulge in the scratching of the itch. (Why else would a pup need a post-surgery cone?) It’s plausible that a rat or monkey could be taught not to scratch an itch, he says, but that would probably take thousands of trials. But any psychologically and physically able human has the capacity to do so. It’s a hardwired reflex that is almost certainly coded genetically he says. But with three words, don’t scratch it, you can override those millions of years of evolution. That’s cognitive control.
As Cohen detailed in a 2014 review in Cognitive Science, the key structure in the brain responsible for cognitive control is the prefrontal cortex (PFC).
It’s a matter of maintaining a pattern of brain activity, technically, a “representation”, that allows you to pursue a conscious goal rather than an automatic behavior. He’s careful to note that the PFC doesn’t suppress activity elsewhere in the brain (“It’s not playing Whac-A-Mole”), but rather it’s somewhere between air-traffic controller, conductor, and DJ.

Back to that mosquito bite that begs to be scratched. There’s a quiet storm of electrical signals in your brain crying out for sweet relief. But you have the uniquely human capacity to not scratch it. The PFC does this in the same way an orchestra conductor might bring up the string section over the woodwinds or a DJ might turn up the volume of one track over another.
You can almost intuit on what it would feel like he says. I’ll put my hand over here, and actively engage the counter muscles to the ones that would do the scratching. Not coincidentally, this is precisely the sort of behavior kids displayed in Walter Mischel’s famous marshmallow experiments, where children would mime being asleep or start talking to themselves like Charlie Chaplin to avoid sticky-sweet temptations.
The Stroop Task is another canonical cognitive-control example: In this case, reading the letters R-E-D is the itch, while naming the color is the not itching. In order to successfully say that the top entry is blue, your PFC plays up the process of recognizing the color. That oh-so-responsible part of your brain coaches up the brain processes that support your goal, so that it wins out over the more habitual, in this case, linguistic, pathway.
To Cohen, the riddle of cognitive control underscores how hard it is not to do something. This is a point evidenced in clinical psychology, most famously in Daniel Wegner’s finding that if you tell someone to not think of a white bear, they’re going to be imagining polar bears in no time.
If you want to “get rid” of unwanted thoughts, absorb yourself in something else. It’s built into the architecture of the brain.
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