One of my favourite subjects- the brain. Here are few articles showing the spectra of the brain activities. We have intelligence training that obviously has enhanced an unenhanceable intelligence, brain regions connected with hierarchy and praise and some experiments on placebo and hypnosis (or why more expensive placebos are better than the less expensive ones).
Enjoy! (as for my comment, after finding out the brain doesn't get damaged by frequent oxygen starvation-as in diving for example, I'm starting to think we know way too little about it.)
Memory Training Shown to Turn Up Brainpower
A new study has found that it may be possible to train people to be more intelligent, increasing the brainpower they had at birth.
Until now, it had been widely assumed that the kind of mental ability that allows us to solve new problems without having any relevant previous experience — what psychologists call fluid intelligence — is innate and cannot be taught (though people can raise their grades on tests of it by practicing).
But in the new study, researchers describe a method for improving this skill, along with experiments to prove it works.
The key, researchers found, was carefully structured training in working memory — the kind that allows memorization of a telephone number just long enough to dial it. This type of memory is closely related to fluid intelligence, according to background information in the article, and appears to rely on the same brain circuitry.
First they measured the fluid intelligence of four groups of volunteers using standard tests. Then they trained each in a complicated memory task, an elaborate variation on Concentration, the child’s card game, in which they memorized simultaneously presented auditory and visual stimuli that they had to recall later.
The game was set up so that as the participants succeeded, the tasks became harder, and as they failed, the tasks became easier. This assured a high level of difficulty, adjusted individually for each participant, but not so high as to destroy motivation to keep working. The four groups underwent a half-hour of training daily for 8, 12, 17 and 19 days, respectively. At the end of each training, researchers tested the participants’ fluid intelligence again. To make sure they were not just improving their test-taking skills, the researchers compared them with control groups that took the tests without the training.
The results, published Monday in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, were striking. Although the control groups also made gains, presumably because they had practice with the fluid intelligence tests, improvement in the trained groups was substantially greater. Moreover, the longer they trained, the higher their scores were. All performers, from the weakest to the strongest, showed significant improvement.
“Intelligence has always been considered principally an immutable inherited trait,” said Susanne M. Jaeggi, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at the University of Michigan and a co-author of the paper. “Our results show you can increase your intelligence with appropriate training.”
Why did the training work? The authors suggest several aspects of the exercise relevant to solving new problems: ignoring irrelevant items, monitoring ongoing performance, managing two tasks simultaneously and connecting related items to one another in space and time.
No one knows how long the gains will last after training stops, Dr. Jaeggi said, and the experiment’s design did not allow the researchers to determine whether more training would continue to produce further gains. source
Brain region lights up for power and profit
- 17:54 23 April 2008
Any hedge-fund manager will tell you that money and status go hand in hand. Now brain-scanning studies suggest that the link between profits and power takes place in the striatum – part of the brain involved in sensing rewards.
One of the studies was led by Norihiro Sadato, a neuroscientist at the National Institute for Physiological Sciences in Aichi, Japan.
Sadato's team scanned the brains of 19 volunteers while they gambled. Volunteers selected one of three cards that flashed onto a computer screen. After making a choice, the subjects learned of their winnings.
Volunteers also played the game with no winnings, allowing the researches to compare how the brain responded to profit.
After the game, the subjects took a personality quiz and introduced themselves in front of a video camera. Sadato's team told the volunteers they would be evaluated by others. In reality, the researchers faked the evaluations.
The next day, volunteers returned to the brain scanner. Instead of money, they received praise or scorn. Photos of each volunteer were flashed across a computer screen with personal judgments like "modest," "trustworthy," and "selfish" next to their picture.
When the scientists compared the two sets of brain scans, they found that the striatum showed bursts of activity as a result of both profit and praise.
Praise is just one aspect of social standing, says Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, a neuroscientist at the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, Germany.
Meyer-Lindenberg and colleagues at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland, US, set up the study to test how our brains encode social status.
"In monkeys and in humans it makes a big difference whether hierarchy is static or dynamic," he says. "If the hierarchy is fixed forever, then it's good to be the top monkey." If others can usurp the throne, high status and high stress might go hand and hand.
Part of the study involved playing a ruse on 24 volunteers – each told they would play a game against two others.
Players had to tap a button as soon as a dot appeared on a screen. Whoever pressed the button first won that round, the volunteers believed. A practice round established each player's rating, which could not change during the game, the players were told.
When volunteers played the same game while in the brain scanner, they saw photos of the other "players" and their status. "We were looking to see what happens in the brain when you see someone who has been ascribed a lower or higher status than you," Meyer-Lindenberg says.
He expected to see similar responses. Instead, the striatum of the volunteers lit up only when they saw pictures of their "betters". "The brain encodes social hierarchy by paying attention to superiors and not inferiors," Meyer-Lindenberg concludes.
When a new set of volunteers were told that doing well in a test would allow them to move up in status, the brain scans showed that a rise in rank tended to activate a region involved in planning actions, while a demotion lit up a brain area linked to emotional pain.
Sadato and Meyer-Lindenberg say the experiments are a first attempt to model reward and reputation in the lab, they say.
"It would be very interesting to see if we could observe hierarchies and reputations forming naturally, without direct experimental control," says Ben Seymour, a neuroscientist at University College London in the UK. "This would allow us to see if activity in these brain areas actually predicts people's behaviour, rather than just responds to it."
Journal references: Neuron (DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2008.03.020 and 10.1016/j.neuron.2008.01.025)source
Hypnotist Has Pain-Free Surgery Without AnaestheticBy Vanessa Allen
Source: Daily Mail
A hypnotherapist,Mr Lenkei, 61, had an 83-minute operation on his arm with no anaesthetic.
Because he had put himself into a hypnotic trance, however, he said he felt no pain as the doctors chiselled out a walnut- sized chunk of bone from his wrist.
The hypnotherapist amazed doctors by asking how things were going halfway through the surgery, at Worthing Hospital in West Sussex on Wednesday.
He said he could hear his surgeon talking as he made a four-inch-long cut into his right wrist and chiselled the bone to move a tendon.
He said: "It took me about 30 seconds to put myself under and I wasn't aware of any part of my body apart from my arm.I could feel the surgeon pulling and manipulating me - then I heard the cracking of bones. I heard everything he was saying to his assistants and anaesthetist."
Surgeon David Llewellyn-Clark said the operation went well and Mr Lenkei showed no reaction during the surgery.
He added: "his heart rate and breathing remained constant throughout. I wasn't aware he could hear us but halfway through he asked how things were going."
Mr Lenkei, who is a registered hypnotherapist, has been practising the technique since he was 16. In 1996 he was hypnotised by a colleague before a 30-minute hernia operation.
He was the one who asked to undergo the latest surgery without anaesthetic.
He said he had felt nothing, adding: "I would have certainly told them if I was in pain - I told them to zap me straight away if I cried out."
Anaesthetist Richard Venn said the surgery would usually be carried out under general anaesthetic.
Studies have suggested that using hypnosis instead of anaesthetic can reduce recovery time after surgery. But the technique's associations with stage hypnotism have kept it at the margins of medicine.
Hypnoanaesthesia, where the patient enters a deep trance state and is told they will not feel pain, has been used to ease fears over surgery and childbirth, and to help burn victims manage their pain.
Dr Leon Gevertz, of the British Society of Medical and Dental Hypnosis, said that heart operations had been carried out under hypnosis.
Studies found that the practice relaxes the patient and can alter the perception of pain or increase the pain threshold.
However, it works only on those susceptible to the technique. source
Expensive Placebos Work Better Than Cheap OnesBy Laura Brinn
Source: Duke University
A 10-cent pill doesn't kill pain as well as a $2.50 pill, even when they are identical placebos, according to a provocative study by Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke University.
Ariely and a team of collaborators at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology used a standard protocol for administering light electric shock to participants’ wrists to measure their subjective rating of pain. The 82 study subjects were tested before getting the placebo and after.
Half the participants were given a brochure describing the pill as a newly-approved pain-killer which cost $2.50 per dose and half were given a brochure describing it as marked down to 10 cents, without saying why.
In the full-price group, 85 percent of subjects experienced a reduction in pain after taking the placebo. In the low-price group, 61 percent said the pain was less.
The finding, from a relatively small and simplified experiment, points to a host of larger questions, Ariely said.
The results fit with existing data about how people perceive quality and how they anticipate therapeutic effects, he said. But what's interesting is the combination of the price-sensitive consumer expectation with the well-known placebo effect of being told a pill works. "
Ariely wonders if prescription medications should offer cues from packaging, rather than coming in indistinguishable brown bottles.