Brain Studies

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How Google & Technology is Changing Your Brain’s Rote Memory (The Google Effect Study)

Posted by on 23 Jul 2011 | Tagged as: Brain, Brain Studies, New Brain Information

A recent study has confirmed that the search engine Google is changing your brain and altering the way it works, seriously. But then again, this really shouldn’t come as a surprise since any new technology is going to change the way that our neurons fire and brain works. Anyways, a group of people got money for a study called “The Google Effect” led by Betsy Sparrow at Columbia University. Findings from the study led by Betsy were published in the popular journal, “Science.”

How is Google changing your brain? What did The Google Effect study find?

Contrary to popular myth that using the internet is making people dumber, that wasn’t what the researchers found. What they found was the fact that using the Google search engine causes the brain to reorganize its memories for information. Instead of relying on what is called “Rote memory,” people are using new technology such as their computers and Google to get the job done. In other words, instead of people using their brains directly to pull up information are basically saying, “I can just quick go Google it instead of try to test my memory.”

Are human brains evolving with technology?

The findings shouldn’t really come as a surprise because people’s brains change as they have new experiences. If you blindfold yourself for a few days and cannot rely on vision, your brain will naturally rewire itself so that your sense of sound becomes more enhanced; this is a proven phenomenon. Similarly if you lost your hearing for a few days, you would begin to have increased visual skills.

Anyways, it makes total sense that since new technology is always being introduced that our brains evolve as we learn how to use it. These days it makes way more sense to just Google something rather than sit for an hour and try to dig a memory out of our subconscious. With such easy access to Google (via phones, computers, iPads, etc.) when people don’t know the answer to something or need to look up information, they just Google it. The study basically says that we are outsourcing our rote memory search to Google and taking the job away from our brain.

We know where to go to find information: Google

Sparrow was quoted as saying, “We’re not thoughtless empty-headed people who don’t have memories anymore.” She continued stating, “But we are becoming particularly adept at remembering where to go find things. And that’s kind of amazing.” What else is crazy is that Sparrow et al. at Columbia found that people are more likely to remember trivial facts if they think it will get erased from their computer, but will forget it if they are sure that it will be there. I’m sure I would fall victim to this as well because I rely on my computer for a lot of information. Knowing what Sparrow has done though and found through her study makes a lot of sense to me.

Losing your internet connection feels like losing a friend?

The team of researchers noted that losing your internet connection will feel like losing a friend. It doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone, but people that use their computers and the internet a lot have become dependent on the technology. Seriously try going 30 days without the internet or computer and I bet that you’ll have a tough time. A lot of people spend more time on the internet than they do interacting with real people. Maybe that’s why people are more prone to developing things like Schizoid Personality Disorder. Basically what we have created is a dependency to instant access to information; we rely on Google to give us information that we cannot remember.

What are the implications for relying on Google for all of our information?

Basically it’s tough to get away from Google once we become so accustomed to using it. The scientific paper for this study states, “We must remain plugged in to what Google knows.” Now those are pretty strong words saying “we must remain plugged in.” There’s where I disagree. I think that we can remain plugged into what Google knows and it would be smart to do so because it’s convenient, quicker, and easier. However, I think that “must” shouldn’t have been used in that sentence because someone could shut themselves off from technology and their brain would likely rewire itself and the person would be able to adapt.

Is our reliance on Google to help with memory a bad thing?

What may confuse some people is that our reliance on Google for information isn’t a bad thing at all. Some people may initially get confused when they read this article and stop using the internet altogether; that wouldn’t be smart. Humans throughout history have been relying on other information reservoirs (e.g. other people) to help them out for years. Basically what Sparrow says is that before Google, humans were just asking other people that they knew to help recall information through what are referred to as “group memories” or memories that are passed on from human to human in groups. So if you forgot something about a certain place or event, you would just ask a person (family member, friend, etc.) with knowledge in that area. The nice thing about using Google is that you can quickly get awesome information without having to even pick up the phone and call someone that you know.

Nicolas Carr asks “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”

Nicolas Carr is a guy that wrote an article back in 2008 which shocked some people saying that digital devices and technology may be making us less intelligent. I will say that I think we’ve gotten mentally lazier because we can outsource so many tasks to other technological outlets. With that said, I think it makes sense to just use technology for what you can because it’s quicker. For example, instead of trying to multiply 10382732 x 28723792 in your head on a homework problem, it would make a lot more sense to just use a calculator or search engine. In other words, people are using technology when it makes sense to do so and could save them time and stress.

Final thoughts regarding The Google Effect study

It seems as though using Google actually may be freeing up parts of our brain to use for other, more creative pursuits. Most people in the field of psychology know that it is easier to learn and understand complex concepts when the brain doesn’t have to worry about remembering information. So Google may be helping people out in the fact that it frees up some mental RAM and increases their processing speed of other information. Roddy Roediger (a Washington University psychologist) was quoted as saying “Why remember something if I know I can look it up again? In some sense, with Google and other search engines, we can offload some of our memory demands onto machines.”

Why I don’t think the Google study is groundbreaking

For me, this study really isn’t as groundbreaking as the media hyped it up to be, but I think other people may think that it’s pretty cool to learn about. I think it’s good that there are passionate psychologists out there interested in learning about memory and its relationship to technology, but studies like this to me are temporary news hype. Your brain will continue to evolve over time in response to the environmental stimuli that it is presented with. So finding out that Google has changed the way people remember things makes so much intuitive sense that I don’t even think we needed a study like this to let us know.

Our brains will continue to change and adapt…

Although I found the study interesting, I don’t consider it groundbreaking by any means. It just shows that the brain can change and adapt depending on what technology you use or don’t use. I’ll leave the final words regarding this study for the lead researcher Betsy Sparrow: “We’re not thoughtless empty-headed people who don’t have memories anymore but we are becoming particularly adept at remembering where to go find things. And that’s kind of amazing.”

Infant Brain Development In Toddlers

Posted by on 28 Jan 2010 | Tagged as: Brain Development, Brain Studies, New Brain Information

An individual’s quality of life is very dependent on the development of their brain – particularly their infant brain development. Beginning as a fetus, a human’s brain starts to develop. Mom has the huge responsibility of making sure her pregnancy diet is nutritious enough to support the baby’s development.  How come? Specific essential oils need to be received by the fetus for the best possible infant brain development- most importantly omega 3 fatty acids with DHA. A fetus’s brain begins to develop very early, as soon as three to six weeks after being conceived. Before a woman even conceives she can begin the foundation for this. All women of child bearing age are highly encouraged to include an abundance of omega 3 fatty acids with DHA in their diets.

What To Know About An Infants Brain Development

DHA consumption is now recognized, by scientists, to be what separates modern humans from our early ancestors. Many years ago our primitive ancestors began adding DHA into their diets, and the developing of our human brains was the product. This can begin to give you an impression of how closely brain growth is linked to omega 3 oils with DHA.

A diet that contained an inadequate amount of DHA, has been shown in our early cro-magnon ancestors to lead to a remarkable decline in brain capacity. A prompt growth in brain capacity took place when they relocated from desert areas to coastal areas, where they had access to an abundance of fish.

Infant Brain Development Research

The addition of DHA from fish oil is believed, by scientists, to be the basis of human brain evolution. Our astonishing ability to reason, communicate, learn, and create the wonderful things around us are all because of our large brains. The brain of the embryo is where this all starts. A baby begins to use its brain and nervous system to control many bodily functions before week 30 of pregnancy when many quick changes take place. In order for a pregnancy to be full term and the baby to be fully grown it needs to last another 10 weeks.

Understanding Infant Toddler Brain Development

Vital to ensuring a pregnancy goes full term, and for the brain and nervous system to grow are omega 3 fatty acids. We really have come a long way all thanks to ocean fish. Having them included in our diets has literally transformed out brains and helped keep us healthy.  There is are a lot of studies that are currently being conducted in the area of brain development in infant and toddler children.  In order to stay up to date, you can check out various psychological journals; they will talk more in depth about the subject.  Mothers who are insufficiently nourished during pregnancy tend to have babies with low birth weights, according to researchers at the Institute of Brain Chemistry and Human Nutrition in London. An inadequate amount of DHA has been observed in these infants.

A good pregnancy nutrition plan should include a vast amount of omega 3 oils with DHA because brain development disorders can be ever-lasting. To do this it is important to eat enough fatty fish or take high quality, pure fish oil capsules, or both. A mother needs to consume omega 3 fish oil every day for the highest levels of brain development. We all wish for our future children to be healthy and intelligent.  If you want more information on brain supplements and brain vitamins that you can be taking, be sure to do some research to make sure that they are healthy.

Cell Phones And Brain Cancer Or Tumors

Posted by on 26 Jan 2010 | Tagged as: Brain Damage, Brain Studies, New Brain Information

Cell phones are utilized more and more each day by everyone on Earth. You can find people of any age who have cell phones. A lot of times, the presence of cell phones make a landline phone in a home obsolete. Due to the prevalence of cell phones in our culture, we start to rely on them more and more. Businesses such as record companies, Internet firms, and movie studios are using the cell phone as part of their new program.

Cell Phones and Brain Cancer

There are a lot of people who are concerned with how our health will be affected by cell phones. Since the cell phone is so convenient and easy to use, a lot of people have them. Sometimes, we use it to a fault, causing us to get into car accidents more and more often. This is an obvious health detriment that’s directly caused by cell phones. Most of us have seen people driving with cell phones in hand, and even been victim to it ourselves, and realize that once your attention is focused away from the road for whatever reason, it can be hard to avoid accidents.

There are frequent cases of people experiencing near-misses because one person wasn’t paying attention while on their cell phone. As a result, you should beware of cell phone-holding drivers. Whatever vehicle you drive, make sure that you have a functioning horn – you might need it when you least expect it. While there is a large threat from people not paying attention to the road as they talk on their cell phones, but that’s the only way in which cell phones can hurt you, right? On the contrary! The NCI, or National Cancer Institute, has a study that says otherwise.

Link Between Cell Phones and Brain Tumors

According to several scientists, cell phones can dramatically affect your health due to the RF radiation that it emits, which can cause cancer in a lot of people, making them quite dangerous. The amount of radiation that the human body can safely handle is a subject that’s still debatable. Wireless technology hasn’t been around for awhile, so there’s not a lot of research about the effect of cell phones on the body. In short, we haven’t had cell phones long enough to observe the long term effects on humans.

Studies Reporting Cell Phones and Brain Tumors Non-Conclusive

With that in mind, how is brain cancer connected to cell phones? You can find an explanation here. The NCI states that radio frequency radiation from Radio Frequency waves, are transmitted by cell phones, and that’s how they operate. When your RF exposure gets high enough, your body tissues can heat up – this is evidenced by the increase in heat that you experience when you talk on your phone for a long time. The NCI study claims, however, that a cell phone can’t produce enough RF radiation to damage your brain tissues sufficiently to cause cancer.

Brain Training Games For Adults and Seniors

Posted by on 22 Jan 2010 | Tagged as: Boost Brain Power, Brain Studies, New Brain Information

Memory is one of the most difficult issues of aging with which people have to deal as changes will generate feelings of both fear and worry; thanks to brain training games, you can avoid it completely. But there is no reason to be overly concerned about your brain’s aging as keeping it active and aware will solve the problem of this bothersome issue. As they age, people are more prone to degenerative issues such as Alzheimer’s disease, but exercising your mind with activities such as word puzzles, board games and strategy games will be very helpful in staying in control. Numerous brain training games may be found on the Internet and the benefits will be equally advantageous to adults and seniors.

Free Brain Training Games

Regularly being involved in board games and working on computer puzzles which require concentrated effort and analytical skills have been shown to result in great benefit for adults and seniors. In addition, such brain training is known to have positive ramifications for mental health overall. Working out crossword puzzles or Sudoku or playing Scrabble all have positive impact in maintaining the cognitive ability of people as they get older. It has been estimated that playing games which are mind-stimulating may decrease the risk of Alzheimer’s disease in adults and seniors by as much as forty percent. That is a statistic which should ease your mind a bit.

Online Brain Training Games

Brain training games for adults and seniors have been structured in such a way as to compel the mind to think and to provoke it to resolve the matter at hand, thereby enhancing cognitive capacity and enhancing memory prowess. In essence, this brain training by such games stimulate to activity sections of the mind which may not have had much recent use. Action computer games assist adults and seniors in enhancing their attentiveness and in stimulating their thinking about strategies they can use in the course of the game.

Studies have indicated that approximately two seniors out of three are seriously worried about memory issues and that the most effective manner of coping is to be involved in memory games on a regular basis. The traditional crossword puzzles are a perfect method of both increasing your vocabulary and of remaining mentally sharp. Another method of stimulating your mind is to play games with your grandchildren and such activity will also benefit you by reducing stress.

Nintendo Brain Training Games

There can even be fun ways to train your brain, such as by playing Nintendo DS brain training games like Brain Age and Brain Age 2.  While a brain training game may be advantageous for adults and seniors by aiding in maintaining a vivacious mind, they also are helpful in keeping them occupied in a positive endeavor which wards off loneliness. So, brain training is an effective manner by which diseases such as dementia and Alzheimer’s may be addressed and countered. An active brain can decrease the deterioration of mental acuity.

New Brain Training Studies

Research studies have concluded that seniors and adults who took part in mental games a minimum of one time per week over the course of twenty years decreased the risk of dementia by almost ten percent and those who regularly became involved in such games cut the susceptibility to the disease by an amazing sixty percent. So, why are you procrastinating? Stimulate your mind’s activity and make it function. Luckily, many people indeed do take the improvement of their mental acumen to heart.

Smoking Marijuana While Pregnant Damages Developing Brains

Posted by on 12 Jan 2010 | Tagged as: Brain Damage, Brain Studies

Research has proven that women who want to continue using recreational drugs while pregnant will lean towards marijuana because they believe that it won’t hurt the baby like harder drugs will. Just because marijuana hasn’t been proven to cause birth defects in comparison to alcohol causing fetal alcohol syndrome, doesn’t mean that it is safe to use during pregnancy.  Most people know that it is probably not a good idea to be smoking cannabis while pregnant with a baby because you put them at risk of developmental problems.

Effects of Smoking Marijuana While Pregnant

It is a well known fact that inhaling smoke of any kind keeps the unborn baby from receiving the oxygen that it needs. Smoking marijuana during pregnancy and smoking tobacco are both considered dangerous and discouraged during pregnancy. The baby can’t receive its proper amount of blood supply when the expectant mother inhales any kind of substance. Lack of oxygen before birth can lead to the baby coming into the world much smaller and weighing less. Low birth weight babies develop more difficulties after being born such as infections, jaundice, feeding problems, respiratory problems, low blood sugar, body temperature regulation problems, bleeding into the brain, and eye problems.

Mixing Marijuana With Other Drugs

It is common for some people to mix marijuana with other harmful substances. The mother may unknowingly subject her unborn baby to other dangerous chemicals that have been added to the marijuana. Marijuana can be ingested by the baby when drinking the mother’s breast milk. Tetrahydrocannabinol is the principal additive in marijuana and can be 8 times more potent in breast milk than it is in the mother’s blood. If a mother has used marijuana during her pregnancy or while breastfeeding, it can cause the baby to be jumpy, irritable, and fussy. The baby affected by the mother’s use of marijuana may experience a slower development of motor skills, although research has shown that this hindrance may correct itself later in life. It would be wise to exercise caution and stop smoking marijuana during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.

Drinking Alcohol While Pregnant

Since we have gotten your attention, we want to add that you should absolutely stop drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes during pregnancy or while nursing and put your baby’s needs before your own. If you feel you must have a drink or a cigarette, then it is recommended to put off breastfeeding for 2 to 3 hours after consuming the alcoholic beverage and to keep the second-hand smoke far away from the baby.

Pregnant Marijuana Studies

It is important to be aware that most of the studies done on the effects of marijuana to an unborn baby have been confusing and incomplete. Some of the factors that make it difficult to distinguish the effects of marijuana are from other various factors including alcohol consumption, drug use, living conditions, family relationships, and mother’s the temperament. The bottom line is that it is better to be safe than sorry by stopping the use of harmful chemicals, like marijuana, during pregnancy. Although it will require a drastic change to your habits, you will be proud to know that you stopped smoking cigarettes, using marijuana, and consuming alcohol in order to insure that your child will be born healthy.  Always try to avoid killing brain cells even if it means being more cautious than you normally would.

Time Perception: How The Brain Controls Time

Posted by on 23 Jul 2008 | Tagged as: Boost Brain Power, Brain Studies

Introduction

Ever wonder how you’re brain is able to control the perception of time? At times it seems as if life is flying by – especially when we are involved in a fun activity or event. At other times, though, when we are stressed out or witness a scary event, time seems to stop or even freeze in our brains. Our perception of time is different from person to person, and definitely has a deep biological-rooted influence from within our brains.

Though we have things like watches and clocks to help us keep track of time, our brain is involved in the perception of how fast time passes. Like I’ve already mentioned, some people feel that one hour of listening to country music may go by extremely quick, while for others [that maybe aren’t interested in this genre] feel as if one hour was actually 3 or 4 hours. Being able to keep track of time is a skill that our brains’ have that allows us to determine what is happening in our surroundings and when to respond to that event.

Simple functions that we take for granted such as: hearing speech are even involved in our brain’s perception of time. As an example: we need to tell where a voice is coming from, how long the sound of it takes to reach our ears, etc. Also, when we respond to voices through the act of “talking,” we need to be timely with our responses.

Animals and studies of “time perception”

Researchers have found that telling time is even widely utilized by animals. University of Edinburgh researchers were able to study hummingbirds to determine how they told time. Researchers used fake flowers with sugar inside. They found that after hummingbirds drank the sweet nectar contained within real flowers, it took time for the flowers to replenish their nectar supply. The fake flowers were refilled every 10 minutes , while the real flowers were filled every 20 minutes. The hummingbirds were able to catch on to the time period it took for the nectar came back into both the real and the fake flowers.

Many other animals are also great time-tellers. Research on rats at the University of Georgia showed that rats do a phenomenal job at telling time. Rats can be taught to wait over 2 days after a meal to poke their noses through a trough and be given fresh food. Psychologists have hypothesized [for over 40 years] that both animals and human beings kept track of time with a biological version of a “stopwatch.” They strongly believed that within our brains, we had a “series of pulses” that were being generated. They thought that when our brains needed to “time an event,” a gate opened and those electrical pulsations turned into a “counting device.

The flawed brain-clock model of “time perception”

There was definitely good reasoning behind the brain-clock model of time perception. You’re time perception always will speed up when you are caught up in a pleasurable or fun event, while your brain will naturally slow down time perception when you are in a place you dislike or feel stressed out. These good and bad experiences were believed by psychologists to trigger the “pulsation generator” within our brains – thus speeding or slowing time depending on the given situation.

With that said, the biological roots within the brain don’t work like “clocks” that we understand. Neurons in our brain are able to produce steady pulses, however, our brain doesn’t have what it takes to count accurate pulses for even a few seconds. How we tell time is definitely far from the way a clock tells time. This is why scientists had to dismiss the brain-clock theory mentioned above.

Had our brains been built to work like that, we’d definitely be able to do a great job at estimating long periods of time better than short ones. Any individual or single pulses from the hypothetical clock within would be either a bit too slow, or a bit too fast. In short periods of time, the brain would begin to retain just a few short pulses, leaving plenty of room for error. The extra pulses that our brain would naturally error, would cancel themselves out [i.e. errors of telling time would be canceled out by the brain]. Though it sounds like it could be true, it’s not. Whenever we estimate longer periods of time, our errors don’t cancel themselves out – they keep accumulating.

What does our brain use to tell time?

At this day in age, tons of new breakthroughs and experiments are surfacing to help scientists better understand time within the brain. Things such as: studying genetically engineered mice, computer simulations in combination with E.E.G.’s, are being used to help scientists. The results of their studies prove that our brain doesn’t use any form of a “stopwatch.”

Our brains do not work like clocks or stopwatches that come to mind when we think of elapsed time. Instead, our brains utilize several other methods in order to tell time. Neuroscientist Dean Buonomano from U.C.L.A. believes that our brains tell time like they were observing “ripples in a pond.” He continues to argue that they perceive time in “fractions of seconds.” Let’s say you are listening to the sound of a summer cricket. The criket’s chirps are split by just one-tenth of a second. The cricket’s very first chirp immediately perks up our auditory neurons.

Sound signals are sensed by the neurons for less than half a second – same time as it takes ripples from a skimming a rock across the river to disappear. When the second cricket chirp is heard, the auditory neurons are still perked up. Therefore, the second chirp creates a different signal pattern. Dean Buonomano believes that our brains are able to compare the first pattern to the second patter in order to determine how much time has elapsed. Basically, the brain doesn’t contain an internal clock, because the telling of time is fixed in our neuronal behavior.

Dean Buonomano Theory vs. Warren Meck Theory

Should the U.C.L.A. researcher’s [Dean Buonomano] theory turn out to be correct, he will have explained only the “fast time telling” within the brain. Why? Because after half-of-a-second, the ripples in our brain clear out. On a bigger scale, which would range from a few seconds to a few hours, there must be a different way to study the brain’s time control processing.

That’s where Duke University’s Warren Meck comes into play. He has a different theory stating that: the brain measures long periods of time by producing pulses. However, he also believes that the brain doesn’t count the pulses like the way a “clock does.” He strongly believes that the brain listens to the pulses in the same way that our ears listen to music.

Warren Meck started developing his first “musical model” of time processing when he was studying the time perception of rodents; more specifically, the time perception of rats. All that Meck needed to do in order to kill their time processing was to destroy certain neuronal clusters within their brains. After taking a closer look at the situation, Meck found that some of these neurons differed from the rest of the neurons in the brain.

Each neuron was linked to a at least 20,000 other neurons in the brain. The “linked neurons” were able to be seen throughout the cortex. Many even linked to the outer parts of the brain which handle “sophisticated information processing.” While other neurons were linked to “controlling vision,” and even others worked to bind other areas into our perception. Because these neurons received many signals from “all over the brain,” he believes that these medium spiny neurons provide us with an accurate perception of time.

Picture yourself listening to a 30 second constant sound. At the beginning of listening to the constant sound, your neurons [found within your cortex] will reset themselves in order to fire in synchronized fashion. Some of the neurons fire faster than others, while others remain inactive. In between one split second and the next, the medium spiny neurons are able to read a unique pattern of signals from the many [20,000 +] interconnected neurons.

The pattern changes similar to pitch changes in between various notes of music. When the 30 seconds of the beat are up, the medium spiny neurons are able to “listen” to the “pitch changes” to determine the amount of elapsed time. Warren Meck has been able to provide evidence supporting his theory. How? Warren has recorded neuronal electrical activity and analyzed them deeply and has studied individuals with a “skewed sense of time.”

Healthy brains vs. Drugged brains & time perception

There are also specific neurotransmitters like dopamine which control the pulsing of neurons. Crystal meth and cocaine are examples of drugs that control the pulsing rate of neuron groups. They do this by overpowering the brain with abnormally high levels of dopamine. Several studies have proven the increased dopamine to have a profound effect on changing the perception of time.

In 2007, U.C.L.A. also ran an experiment. In the experiment, scientists rang a bell after 53 seconds of pure silence. Healthy individuals were told to guess how much time had passed. Most guessed an average of 67 seconds of time had elapsed. People on stimulants [which boost the amount of dopamine in the brain] guessed that an average of 91 seconds had passed. Many other drugs have the exact opposite effect on the amount of dopamine in the brain – thus compressing the subjective experience of time.

In even the most healthy brains, the processing of time varies. Staring at a scary face for 5 seconds feels significantly longer than staring at a neutral or happy one. It may not even be coincidence that pulse-generating neurons are embedded within regions of the brain that process emotionally-charged sounds and sights. Recently, researcher Amelia Hunt from Harvard University addressed the idea that every time we move our eyes, we may in fact be “pushing back our mental time.”

Amelia Hunt’s research at Harvard University

Even more recently, Amelia Hunt conducted an experiment where she had individuals stare “straight ahead” with a ticking clock off to one side of their gazes. Hunt then asked the individuals to move their eyes in order to see the clock. She told them to attempt to remember the time each time they had looked at the clock. On average, participants reported seeing the clock about four one-hundreths of a second before their eyes actually arrived at the clock.

The act of “pushing back” time may actually be a good thing, believes Hunt. It may allow us to cope with our slightly imperfect nervous systems. Every person has a highly-dense patch of light-sensitive cells in our retinas. These cells have been dubbed the name: fovea. We must move and jerk our eyes around several times in order for our fovea to generate an accurate, detailed image of our environment and surroundings; this gives the fovea enough time for scaling the features of our surroundings. The stream of signals from our eyes creates a series of jumps or bumps on the road. The human brain naturally will then allude us to believe that we are experiencing one complete “flow of reality.” When our brain realizes that it is still editing the “signaling jumps,” we may have errors in time perception.

Embedding time in our memories

However, the most shocking reworking of time may be the way it gets embedded in our memories. We usually always recall memories that include both: what happened, and when it happened. We understand how much time has passed since a certain past event by drumming up an event of the old memory. People who have brain damage as a result from injury or surgery – which depleted a certain part of the brain – gives researchers clues as to the way the brain embeds time within memories.

In 2007, scientists from France studied a group of individuals that were suffering from left-temporal lobe brain damage. The study participants then watched a film in which a familiar object appeared on the screen and reappeared a few minutes later [8 minutes later]. The study participants were then told to guess how much time had passed since first seeing the familiar object and seeing it for a second time. On average, the brain-damaged participants thought 8 minutes was really around 13 minutes. Healthy brain subjects were only off in guessing by roughly only one minute.

These type of experiments are great progress for researchers and scientists. They are slowly bridging the gap and honing in more on the regions of the brain which store memories of time. What is still unknown, is how these brain regions are able to record and understand time. Listening in on the brain’s signaling for a few minutes is one thing, but it is completely different [and much more complex] to understand how the brain’s neural networks of memories are able to deposit and withdraw [for later recollection] elapsed time during certain events.

Compressing memories of time [Berlin research]

It is interesting though, because scientists have by no means given up on understanding time-control in the brain. Researchers in Berlin, Germany have been working to build an accurate model of how memories may embed time. When neurons produce a normal generation of signals, some signals are received sooner – while others, a little later. These Berlin researchers believe that as the neurons communicate with one another, they pass the signals. While they are passing the signals, they can create slight adjustments [“wobbles”] – some bigger, some smaller. With these tiny “wobbles,” the brain is able to embed memories of time by compressing them. The brain is able to compress memories of several seconds down to “several hundreths” of a second. This allows the brain to save it’s space and easily have enough room to store many memories.

When your brain stores time in its memories, the brain is able to alter it in another significant way. Your brain could record the time such that we recall the events in a “backwards order.” M.I.T. researchers found that the brain was able to form reverse memories. They ran an experiment which included rats running down a track and stopping to eat food at the end of the track. When rats become more familiar with their environment, individual neurons became more active when they reached familiar spots.

Researchers discovered what are called “place cells.” These “place cells” fired off signals when rats moved to different places along the track. When the rats took a break and stopped to eat, researchers checked their brain activity again. They realized that the “place cells” fired again – due to the fact that memories of the track became stronger within their brains. However, the “place neurons” at the end of the track signaled first. The ones at the beginning of the track fired last. It is definitely possible, though, that we can reverse time processing in our memories in order to focus on our brains’ on something rewarding or a goal. Though we are not free from time, we are able to maintain some control over it. Our brains can bend it and twist it to properly fit our needs and reality.

Effects Of Video Games On The Brain: Men More Likely To Get Addicted

Posted by on 08 Jul 2008 | Tagged as: Boost Brain Power, Brain Studies, New Brain Information

A groundbreaking study + video games on the brain + male brains vs. female brains

Allan Reiss and his fellow researchers have a good idea why your male counterpart can’t seem to put down his X-Box 360 controller. In a groundbreaking, imaging study, Stanford University School of Medicine scholars have found that part of the brain that generates rewarding feelings is more active in men than women while playing video games.

The differences between male and female brain-activity while playing video games may help us fully understand why males are actually much more likely to get addicted to Nintendo games than females. Over 100 million video games wer sold in 2005. According to a survey by Harris Interactive in 2007, younger males are at least 2 to 3 times more likely than females to feel addicted to playing video games!

Though video games are very popular, little research has been conducted in the area of neural processing and brain activity while people are actually playing the video games. And, to top things off, absolutely zero research has been conducted on gender-differences in the brain while playing video games. As you may have already eluded: this study is monumental.

This study was lead by Allan Reiss a Howard C. Robbins Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. Allan has been interested in studying gender differences throughout his entire career. In 2005, Reiss published a study that was able to show how mens’ and womens’ brains process comedy differently. He then directed his research towards exploring territoriality. His team thought that the best way to study territoriality would be by using a simple computer game.

How the research worked

Brain researchers devised a game which involved a vertical line, which was referred to as “the wall.” This “wall” was located in the middle of a computer screen. When each game began, 10 balls appeared to the right of the wall and moved left directly towards the wall. Each time a participant clicked on the ball, the ball disappeared from the screen. If the balls were kept a certain distance away from “the wall,” the wall moved further to the right and the player gained extra space (territory) on the screen. If the balls hit the wall before they were clicked by the players, “the wall” moved further to the left and the player lost space (territory) on the screen.

Who were the participants?

While playing the computer game, 11 men and 11 women (a total of 22 young adults) were hooked up to an fMRI machine which allowed researchers to understand what was going on in each of the brains. Each of the participants played several 24-second games while hooked up to the fMRI machine. The fMRI machines were able to produce dynamic images showing activity in specific areas of the brain during the game playing.

How the study worked + the results

While playing the games, participants were told to attempt to click on as many balls as possible. They were not told that they would gain or lose space (territory) on the screen depending on how successful they were with clicking. All participants learned quickly how to play the game and the purpose of it. All of the male and female participants wound up clicking on roughly the same number of balls. Though they were relatively even in ball clicks, the male participants gained a greater amount of territory than the women. This was due to the fact that men identified which balls – [the balls closest to the wall] – would help them acquire the most territory when clicked.

The females fully understood the concept of the game and they moved the wall in the right direction. The difference between the male and female territory at the end of the game was summed up by study leader Allan Reiss: “They (the females) appeared motivated to succeed at the game. The males were just a lot more motivated to succeed.”

After thoroughly analyzing the MRI imagery and data of the entire group of players (11 men and 11 women), the researchers learned that the participants’ brains showed activation in the mesocorticolimbic centera region commonly associated with addiction and reward. The difference between the male and female brains was in the amount of activation in the mesocorticolimbic center. The brains of the 11 male young adults showed much greater activity. And, to top things off, researchers discovered that the amount of activity closely correlated with how much space (territory) they gained during the game. (This correlation didn’t happen to occur in the women participants). Three more key brain structures involved in our reward circuitry: the amygdala, the orbitofrontal cortex, and the nucleus accumbens – were also shown to influence each other in men much more than women. The better connected this circuitry, the better the males performed at the computer game!

What these results suggest

The results of this study indicate that “acquiring territory” in a computer game is more rewarding for men than women. And researchers, especially lead researcher Allan Reiss, is of the least bit surprised. Reiss was quoted saying, “I think it’s fair to say that males tend to be more intrinsically territorial.” He later added the fact that, “It doesn’t take a genius to figure out who historically are the conquerors and tyrants of our species; they’re the males.”

Allan also thinks that this study suggests that men have neural circuitry in their brains that make them more liable than women to feel rewarded by playing computer or video games – especially those with territorial objectives. Reiss made the statement, “Based on this, it makes sense that males are more prone to getting hooked on video games than females.” Later, he added the fact that: “Most of the computer games that are really popular with males are territory and aggression-type games.” Researchers believe that the findings in this study may even apply to other types of video games. Though there are some questions that remain unanswered after this study, Reiss and his team are already working on further research in the area of the effects of video games on the brain niche; particularly in younger populations like children.

For more information note:
A report of this unique study has recently been published the Journal of Psychiatric Research online. http://med-www.stanford.edu

“Gay Brains” Similar To “Straight Brains” Of Opposite Sex

Posted by on 08 Jul 2008 | Tagged as: Brain Studies

Gay brains similar to straight brains of the opposite sex

Recently, brain scans have provided scientists with some of the best evidence that ‘being gay’ or ‘being straight’ is part of a biologically-fixed genetic trait. The brain scans revealed – that in homosexuals – key brain structures responsible for anxiety, mood, emotion, and aggressiveness are extremely similar to those in straight people of the opposite sex.

To put the findings in simpler terms:

  • homosexual (gay) male brains = heterosexual (straight) female brains
  • homosexual (gay) female brains = heterosexual (straight) male brains

Ivanka Savic, the leader of the study, said that, “Scientists figure that the differences between straight and gay brains of the same sex are likely already set early in the womb or during early infancy.” Ivanka held and carried out this groundbreaking study at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. Ivanka continues by stating, “This is the most robust measure so far of cerebral differences between homosexual and heterosexual subjects.”

Most previous studies have also discovered differences in brain structure and activity between gay and straight individuals. However, most of these studies relied on individuals’ responses to sexuality driven cues that may have been learned (i.e. rating the attractiveness of male / female faces).

How the study worked

To avoid relying on individuals’ responses to sexuality driven cues, researchers chose to measure brain parameters that were most likely ‘fixed’ at birth. Savic said that the whole point of this study was to show brain parameters that differ; parameters that couldn’t be changed via cognitive processes or learning.

First, the researchers utilized fMRI brain scans to determine the shape / structure of the brains and their overall volume. A group of 90 volunteers that consisted of 25 straight (heterosexual) individuals [of each gender] and 20 gay (homosexual) individuals [of each gender] were scanned.

The results of the “gay brain” study

The results of this “gay brain” vs. “straight brain” study show that straight men tended to have more asymmetric brains, with the right-hemisphere slightly larger than the left. On the other hand, gay men had symmetrical brains just like the brains of straight women.

The research team then used PET scans to determine and measure the amount of blood flow to the amygdalaa part of the brain that regulates aggression and fear. The PET scan images showed how the amygdala – which is connected to other parts of the brain – gave clues as to how it might influence behavior. Researchers learned that patterns of connectivity in the brains of gay men matched those of straight women. In straight women, the connections were mainly into regions of the brain that manifest the emotion “fear” as “intense anxiety.”

The brain connection to mood disorders

Savic, leader of this study added, “The regions involved in phobia, anxiety and depression overlap with the pattern we see from the amygdala.” This is very significant because it correlates with data showing that women are at least 3 times more likely than men to suffer from mood disorders and depression. Gay men tend to have much higher rates of depression too. It’s difficult to know whether the link to mood disorders is due to homophobia, biological traits, or a result of the stigma associated with being gay.

In lesbians and straight men, the amygdala feeds its signals mainly into the straitum and the sensorimotor cortex – 2 regions of the brain associated with generating a “flight or fight” response. Researchers say that it’s more of an “action-determined” response than it is in women.

What the experts had to say

One of the leading researchers in the field of “sexual orientation” at Queen Mary College, London, UK – Qazi Rahman – said, “This study demonstrates that homosexuals of both sexes show strong cross-sex shifts in brain symmetry.” Qazi later added, “The connectivity differences reported in the amygdala are striking.”

Simon LeVay, a prominent United States author who reported in 1991 about finding differences in the hypothalamus (part of the brain) between gay and straight men. After viewing this study, Simon said, “Paradoxically, it’s more informative to look at things that have no direct connection with sexual orientation, and that’s where this study scores.”

Ivanka Savic, the study leader, understands the fact that her study cannot determine whether the homosexual brain differences are inherited or a result from overexposure to certain sex-hormones in the womb (i.e. estrogen and testosterone).

Journal reference: The National Academy of Sciences Proceedings

The Evolution Of Brain Power: New Synaptic Molecular Evolution Theory

Posted by on 08 Jul 2008 | Tagged as: Boost Brain Power, Brain Studies

New synaptic molecular evolution theory

Human intelligence has little or nothing to do with brain size – scientists have known this for awhile. Having a bigger brain will not necessarily make you more intelligent than another person. A relatively recent report by the Daily Mail Newspaper discussed a study that compared human brains to the brains of other species. The research and its findings were very interesting.

Researchers found that mammals have a higher percentage of proteins in the synapses – brain regions of interconnected nerves. They also discovered that of the 600 proteins found within the synapses of mammalian brains, about half of those synapses are found in invertebrates. Only one-quarter were found in single-celled organisms – which are a species without nerves.

The Daily Mail Newspaper quoted one lead researcher who stated, “This work leads to a new and simple model for understanding the origins and diversity of brains and behavior in all species. We are one step closer to understanding the logic behind the complexity of human brains.”

This highly-complex brain study contributes knowledge about the differences in a highly-important group of brain proteins between species. This study did not produce a comparison between the relative contributions of differences in these proteins. Nor did the study fully determine the relation of brain size to intelligence in humans or any other species. Because of the inconclusiveness, it is virtually impossible to draw any conclusions about their importance. Our brains are highly-complex organs and many external and internal factors determine differences in behavior and learning in all types of species.

What were the results of this study?

Researchers discovered genes which encoded proteins similar to the mouse postsynaptic proteins in all of the species – even yeast! There were obvious differences in the numbers of types of the proteins between the yeast, vertebrates and invertebrates. Basically, as organisms became more complex, they were found to contain a wider variety of postsynaptic proteins. In yeast, a species without nerves, these proteins were utilized in a wide-variety of jobs including: decision making, breaking down proteins, moving substances around the cell, and responding to the environment.

When comparing the mice proteins with the fruit fly proteins, the mice showed a much more complex range of postsynaptic proteins. Also, different regions of the mice’s brain displayed different combinations and levels of proteins. This eludes to the fact that they may actually be responsible for some of the different functions in these areas of the brain… Pretty confusing stuff, but it makes sense.

What were researchers able to learn from these results?

Researchers in this study believe that basic proteins that make up synapses have evolved over time to become more complex. This evolution of proteins has created differences in cognitive abilities between different species and to the adaptation of different regions of the brain for different functions.

Basically, this study has contributed to knowledge about the differences in certain groups of brain-proteins between different groups of species. The brain is an extremely complex organ and there are many differences between different species which create differences in cognitive abilities and behavior. Humans have a significantly more complex set of synapse proteins than other species. This allows us to have cognitive differences in behavior, thinking, memory, etc.

Why was this study done?

They hoped to determine how the synapses have evolved and why different types of species behave in more complex ways. Researchers also make it a point to note that all existing discussions of how the brain and behavior evolved failed to take into account the possibility of “synaptic molecular evolution.” Researchers worked by looking at differences between synapses in different species. Species ranged from: single-celled species to humans.

To take into account “synaptic molecular evolution,” scientists looked at proteins that were located in a certain part of the synapse – called the postsynaptic region. For starters, scientists took sequences of certain genes which contained the blueprints for 651 proteins found in the postsynaptic regions of mice. They then used computers to match similar sequences in the genetic coding of 19 different species.

The species included: simple species that did not have nervous systems like yeast (a single-celled organism), and a range of organisms with nervous systems such as: invertebrates (i.e. insects or worms), non-mammalian vertebrates (i.e. fish), and mammalian vertebrates (rats, chimpanzees, and human beings).

The researchers looked into the function of these proteins in yeast. Next, they determined which proteins were found in the postsynaptic regions of fruit flies. They then compared the fruit flies postsynaptic regions with that of mice. Eventually, they were able to look into mice’s brains and discover where these different proteins were found.

In my opinion, this study can get a little bit confusing. There is still a lot of material that was left unexplained that is still being researched. Based on this study, scientists will have a solid foundation developed for researching new molecular evolution theories. This is one of the latest “evolution of brain power” theories that has surfaced, so I figured that I’d share it with the blog. I will keep you all updated if I discover a new one!

Where did the story come from?

Dr. Richard Emes and colleagues from Keele University, Edinburgh University, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, and the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology did the research. Their research study was funded by Wellcome Trust, the Medical Research Council, Edinburgh University, GlaxoSmithKline, the e-Science Institute, and the European Molecular Biology Organisation. The study was published in the Nature Neuroscience medical journal.

Sleepy Brains Are Prone To Automatic Shut Down

Posted by on 07 Jul 2008 | Tagged as: Boost Brain Power, Brain Studies, Sleep

Skipping sleep can shut down the brain

Being sleep-deprived for just one night will make your brain unstable and more prone to sudden “shutdowns.” These shutdowns are like lapses that don’t allow you to utilize the full power of your brain. The natural function of the brain is weaker and you may experience shifts between sleep and wakefulness throughout the day state researchers.

It’s as though it is both asleep and awake and they are switching between each other very rapidly,” says David Dinges from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. His “sleepy brains” study appears in the Journal of Neuroscience and has gained mainstream attention.

David Dinges, a lead researcher was quoted saying, “Imagine you are sitting in a room watching a movie with the lights on. In a stable brain, the lights stay on all the time. In a sleepy brain, the lights suddenly go off.” This quote explains the findings of his research in a nutshell. When you provide your brain with adequate sleep, your brain is fully operating. When you deprive your brain of sleep, your brain can shift between functioning and shutting down (malfunctioning). We already know that depriving yourself of sleep is one of the things that kill brain cells.

What the findings of this study suggest?

The findings of this study suggests that individuals who are sleep-deprived will shift between stages of near-normal brain functioning and significant lapses in cognition throughout the day. Two key areas that sleep-deprived brains are usually not able to perform well in are: visual processing and attention skills.

David Dinges and other researchers conducted brain imaging studies on 24 adults who performed simple tasks which involved visual attention when they were well rested and compared the results to those of when they had missed 1 night’s sleep. Researchers used fMRI imaging to analyze the results, allowing them to measure and observe the amount of blood flow in the brain.

The key findings: the sleep deprived vs. the well rested

  • Sleep Deprived: The fMRI imaging showed that when individuals were sleep-deprived, there were significant lapses in key areas of the brain.
  • Well Rested: When the individuals were well rested, fMRI imaging showed no lapses in functioning in the areas that faltered in the sleep-deprived brain. The brain power of well-rested individuals remained strong and healthy.

The lead researcher also stated, “These people are not lying in bed. They are sitting up doing a task they learned and they are working very hard at doing their best.” Lapses seemed to suggest that lack of sleep impairs the brain of fully warding off the involuntary drive to sleep. Dinges also says that this study makes it clear how dangerous sleep-deprivation can be while driving on the highway – when even a split second lapse could potentially get you into a major accident!

The obvious conclusion

I think it is obvious to say that we need a goodnight’s sleep for optimal brain functioning! So do yourself a favor and get to bed at a decent time. Too much lack of caring for yourself and your sleeping patterns can cause health problems, cognitive impairments, and is unhealthy. For optimal brain power, you already know that it is good to take a nap if necessary – or set aside some time to sleep in. Get to bed earlier, do whatever you need to to fulfill your necessary sleeping requirements. Sleeping replenishes the body and revitalizes the brain. Cutting it from your routine or trying to avoid it for productivity reasons will only impair your brain functioning. So do yourself a favor… get a good-night’s sleep!

Smoking Cannabis While Pregnant Harms Babies’ Brains And Fetal Brain Development

Posted by on 24 Jun 2008 | Tagged as: Brain Studies

As you may already know, there are many things that kill brain cells. I have always been wary of any statements made about marijuana affecting the brain in a positive way. Smoking marijuana has been known to do slight forms of (sometimes permanent) damage to the brain depending on the amount smoked or ingested. Anyways, recent research has shown that “smoking cannabis while pregnant” will harm the developing fetal brain of your baby.

Smoking cannabis has a detrimental affect on developing babies’ brains

A group of researchers at the University of Aberdeen (Scotland, UK) discovered that smoking marijuana while pregnant will likely do damage to the fetal brain. They also discovered that taking certain prescription drugs could also have an negative impact in the womb. Their research focused on the importance of healthy molecules and molecular structure in the brain. They studied how certain nerve cells connected and formed networks with each other. Any substance (cannabis, illicit drugs, and even prescription drugs) have potential to disrupt this “networking process” can do damage to the brain. Smoking marijuana while pregnant happens to be just one of many ways to disrupt this naturally occurring molecular-binding process.

Brain molecules given the title endocannabinoids, function in a similar way to T.H.C. (tetrahydrocannabinol) which is found in cannabis. When marijuana is smoked or ingested, its T.H.C. targets the same receptors as the endocannabinoids and disrupt the natural formation of key signaling systems in the fetal brain. Scientists and researchers say that the endocannabinoid signaling process should be “naturally occurring” in order for the brain structure to properly and healthily develop. These findings show that the signaling system in our brain’s should be properly maintained if we hope to develop healthy, powerful brains.

Complex neural-networking in the brain

Jan Mulder, first author of the study and head of the Alzheimer’s disease Research Trust at the University of Aberdeen’s Institute of Medical Sciences stated: “Our initial findings showed the importance of these naturally occurring molecules in guiding the growth and connections of nerve cells in the developing brain.” Based on these research findings, we can allude to the fact that the endocannabinoid signaling can aid in higher cognitive functions such as: thinking, problem-solving, and memorizing. When this signaling is disrupted by something like T.H.C., our the higher cognitive functions in our brain do not develop normally.

Unfortunately, marijuana is one of the most widely used drugs by women at reproductive ages. If you happen know anyone who is a frequent user of marijuana and is pregnant, tell them the facts about harming their fetal brain and get them psychological help. It will ultimately save the brain of their developing child!

On a side note: past research dealing with pregnant mothers has shown that: babies with mothers who ingested marijuana while pregnant, experienced problems with physical activity (showed a lack of exercise) early in life.