• Tweet Year in Review

    Each year I review 12 months-worth of articles I’ve tweeted about to get a handle on what’s been hot and what’s not in the world of brain science. My daily scouring of the latest brain news usually results in around 10 to 20 articles per week that I feel merit making a link and posting it on Twitter (@drjacklewis). For an article to be deemed tweet-worthy it has to be real science, usually brain-related and written in an accessible, compelling way so that anyone can get something out of it.

    This year the top three categories of brain-related articles I’ve been tweeting about were on the topics of strategies for improving brain health, brain scanning studies and experiments relevant to understanding how young brains differ from adult brains.

    I’ve pulled out 15 of my favourites from 2017 and beneath these you’ll find the whole year’s worth:

    1. The mere presence of your smartphone reduces brain power, study shows bit.ly/2u8Vxym
    2. Brain training to help people avoid the need for reading glasses in middle age nyti.ms/2nstfhN
    3. To help comprehend just how much complexity is contained within a single cubic millimetre of brain tissue bit.ly/DrJ1CubBrMm
    4. The pen is mightier than the keyboard bit.ly/DrJMightyPen
    5. Influential tech investor slams Silicon Valley for adopting techniques that encourage compulsive media consumption bit.ly/DrJscncmplsv
    6. Neuroscientist Molly Crockett explains Brexit debacle in terms of our aversion to disadvantageous inequality bit.ly/DrJCrockBrex
    7. Fantastic article by Tali Sharot explaining why brains continue to believe info even after it’s revealed to be false bit.ly/DrJFakeNews
    8. Read for 30mins every single day and you’ll (probably) live for two years longer than if you don’t bit.ly/drJReadDaily
    9. Firm body, firm brain: magnetic resonance elastography shows positive correlation between memory & hippocampal firmness! bit.ly/DrJFitBdFitBrn
    10. Two large studies find that heavy coffee consumption predicts reduced mortality ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28693038 & ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28693036
    11. Vagus nerve stimulation implant zaps man back into consciousness after 15 years in post-car crash vegetative state bit.ly/2wPJax6
    12. Using high frequency magnetic stimulation to zap the voices generated by schizophrenic brains: bit.ly/DrJzapthevoices
    13. Fresh human brain, anyone? [don’t watch this if you’re eating, if not -behold the wonderous mass betwixt thine ears] bit.ly/2giJZaL
    14. AI based on organisation of visual brain thwarts CAPCHA “Are you a robot?” security measures bit.ly/DrJCAPCHAbash
    15. An essay on a neuroscience-informed approach to improving the prison service bit.ly/DrJNformedPrisn

    Below is every brain-related article I posted between 1st Dec 2016 and 30th Nov 2017 with clickable links so you can navigate straight to anything you find interesting:

    November 2017

    Opt in or out of old-aged infirmity – the choice is yours bit.ly/DrJ70new50

    Dog ownership makes middle aged people less likely to die or suffer cardiovascular problems according to study of over 3 million swedes bit.ly/DrJDogLifeExt

    Dolphin and killer whale brains reflect their intensely social nature bit.ly/DrJSocialCet

    The man behind Kernel’s efforts to crack the Brain Computer Interface challenge bit.ly/2z7rqhQ

    Monkey amputees trained to use a robotic arm via electrodes implanted into their brains give new insight into the mechanisms of neuroplasticity bit.ly/DrJMnkRobArm

    From American football to football football – study sets out to discover whether all those headers cause long term brain trouble bit.ly/DrJFootyBran

    If you never got around to reading about how avatar therapy can reduce schizophrenic hallucinations bit.ly/DrJSchAvTher you’ll be happy to hear we cover it in the latest episode of our @GCweirdscience podcast! bit.ly/DrJGeekChicPod

    I cannot wait until the longitudinal data on the impacts of allowing technology to constantly interrupt whatever we’re doing is finally published. In the meantime we have articles like this (which at least make people stop and think) bit.ly/DrJCyberSlack

    The record company exec’s dream come true: how much people like a song can be influenced by applying magnetic fields to a listener’s brain (Zatorre lab) bit.ly/DrJMagMusLik

    Do your brain training at the gym, the benefits may well be multiplicative bit.ly/DrJBrTrGym

    Actually, New Scientist covers the story much better… bit.ly/DrJAdHiStakes Brain imaging study highlights difficulties younger adolescents have compared to older adolescents when making (relatively) high stakes decisions

    Neuroscience study compares impact of after-school music lessons versus sports on brain structure and cognitive flexibility in kids from disadvantaged communities bit.ly/DrJMusicBrain

    Brain imaging study highlights difficulties younger adolescents have compared to older adolescents when making (relatively) high stakes decisions bit.ly/DrJAdolStakes

    Being a loner not always associated with bad outcomes. When freely chosen rather than compelled by socially-induced anxiety it predicts superior creativity bit.ly/DrJIsolCreat

    Cognitive training improves innovative thinking, along with corresponding positive brain changes, in healthy adults over the age of 55 bit.ly/DrJCogTrn55pl

    Couples may..have more opportunities for social engagement than single people-a factor that has been linked to better health and lower dementia risk bit.ly/DrJMarryDem

    The Society for Neuroscience conference is always full of surprises – love the study where they taught rhesus monkeys to play chicken and cooperate to maximise their earnings bit.ly/DrJRhesChickn

    Head and/or face pain tends to induce more emotional suffering, new study suggests it’s because neurons from these body parts plug directly into the parabrachial nucleus – others are indirectly connected bit.ly/DrJHdFcPn

    60% of people are pro-socials, meaning they prefer resources to be distributed equally among everyone, but these pro-socials – according to a new study – are more prone to depression bit.ly/DrJProsocDep

    Stress experienced by fathers may alter gene expression in their sperm, potentially leading to less resilient offspring bit.ly/DrJStressSperm

    Where neuroscience meets Virtual Reality, beautiful things can happen bit.ly/DrJNeuroXvr

    Interested in building games in virtual reality? Here’s a great lesson in what NOT to do if you want to create a sense of satisfaction when the player finally cracks the puzzle bit.ly/DrJVRescFAIL [if you don’t like swearing, DO NOT click the link]

    Turns out that smartphone addiction might be a thing after all – Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy study suggests it leads to neurotransmitter imbalance (GABA/glutamate) bit.ly/DrJPhoneAdict

    Head and/or face pain tends to induce more emotional suffering, new study suggests it’s because neurons from these body parts plug directly into the parabrachial nucleus – others are indirectly connected bit.ly/DrJHdFcPn

    “Stress experienced by fathers may alter gene expression in their sperm, potentially leading to less resilient offspring” bit.ly/DrJStressSperm

    Neuroscience study compares impact of after-school music lessons versus sports on brain structure and cognitive flexibility in kids from disadvantaged communities bit.ly/DrJMusicBrain

    Taste of what’s being talked about at the Society for Neuroscience conference today bit.ly/DrJTasteSfN17

    Study tests whether people recall images they were briefly shown (but not asked to memorise) 10 years previously bit.ly/DrJ10yrsLater

    Going beyond opioids in pain management to avoid the potential for addiction brings us to… snail venom bit.ly/DrJByndOpio

    The more you exercise the less your telomeres shorten, helping you to stay (biologically) young: bit.ly/DrJ70new50

    New brain probe has 1,000 recording sites per millimetre and is likely to be a “game-changer” for neuroscience research bit.ly/DrJBrainProbe

    Tales of a brain detective nyti.ms/2zqhDTj

    Mind-typing is on the horizon bit.ly/DrJMindType

    How the presence of irrelevant alternatives on a menu affect decision-making Decoy effect examined in fMRI-TMS study bit.ly/DrJMktgTrx

    Sleep deprivation makes your brain cells sluggish – literally – according to measurements from human neurons bit.ly/DrJSlpDepSlug

    Don’t spank your kids. What did and didn’t happen in your own childhood is irrelevant, we know better now… bit.ly/DrJDontSpank

    Brains severely damaged by heart attack more likely to recover if brain scans show that core connectivity is intact bit.ly/DrJPostHAbrnscn

    If GABA (in hippo) can reduce neg thoughts & high fat diet reduces GABA,then do high fat diets promote neg thoughts? bit.ly/DrJHiFatHiAnx

    An essay on a neuroscience-informed approach to improving the prison service bit.ly/DrJNformedPrisn

    Re-defining the phrase “Spaced Out” – what happens to an astronaut’s brain over the course of a long trip bit.ly/DrJSpacedOut

    The trouble with clinical trials involving brain implants… bit.ly/2zoOrg7

    Sweet dreams… make those zzzzz’s count bbc.in/2lCppnF

    OCT 2017

    If you’ve heard people moaning about the clocks going back, you may wish to take them out with this bit.ly/DrJBrBenClkBk

    New study demonstrates 40% faster learning with tDCS in non-human primates bit.ly/DrJfstrlrng

    Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) therapy for depression and OCD may trigger transient episodes of rage bit.ly/DrJtDCSrage

    AI based on organisation of visual brain thwarts CAPCHA “Are you a robot?” security measures bit.ly/DrJCAPCHAbash

    All hail the king of brain training, Dual n-back, freely available from brainworkshop.sourceforge.net for almost a decade! bit.ly/DrJDualNking

    I love that dolphins gossip about each other when the subject of the gossip isn’t around bit.ly/2yOjvFA

    Science of the female orgasm revisited bit.ly/DrJFemOrgasm

    Resetting the Circadian Clock Might Boost Metabolic Health ja.ma/2xGe4Z6

    Psilocybin therapy described as feeling like reset button had been pressed for many depressed people in neuro study bbc.in/2ymbV24

    Fresh human brain, anyone? [don’t watch this if you’re eating, if not -behold the wonderous mass betwixt thine ears] bit.ly/2giJZaL

    Activity-dependent plasticity can re-establish voluntary control of movement..after complete paralysis in humans bit.ly/DrJRecovParal

    Plans are afoot to grow a little-known cannabinoid (cannabidivarin) in GM yeast as a therapy to treat epilepsy bit.ly/DrJCBDV

    Cybernetics in action: a robot that can swim… & fly bit.ly/DrJCybernetics

    Feeling connected to others is vital for health so audio brain training for hard-of-hearing could be a real boon bit.ly/DrJAudioTrng

    If the body has to choose between fuelling the brain or the skeletal muscles, brains win every time bit.ly/2yvZjIe

    Waste not want not – how offcuts from human surgery are helping to unravel the #SecretsOfTheBrain bit.ly/DrJHmnBrnRes

    More hope means less anxiety bit.ly/DrJHopeProtects

    A window into the brain’s autopilot mode bit.ly/DrJBrAutoplt

    How to do lucid dreaming more effectively bit.ly/DrJLucidDrms

    Feeling connected to others is vital for health so audio brain training for hard-of-hearing could be a real boon bit.ly/DrJAudioTrng

    If the body has to choose between fueling the brain or the skeletal muscles, brains win every time bit.ly/2yvZjIe

    New GDF15 drugs progressing through pre-clinical testing show good prospects in fight against the obesity pandemic bit.ly/DrJGDF15wtls

    New theory suggests migraines occur when brains sensitive to oxidative stress take steps to protect against damage bit.ly/DrJMigrProt

    Power of touch in soothing social pain bit.ly/DrJTouchSocPn

    Re: artificial retinas…it may actually take less work to enhance human vision than to restore normal vision: bit.ly/DrJEasya2Enh

    non-REM sleep is especially important in clearing plaques involved in Alzheimer’s disease from the brainî bit.ly/DrJNonREMdplq

    Great article to start trying to comprehend how much complexity is contained within1cubic millimetre of brain tissue bit.ly/DrJ1CubBrMm

    If you want to know how people are really feeling, close your eyes bit.ly/DrJHearEmot

    Neuroscientist Molly Crockett explains Brexit debacle in terms of our aversion to disadvantageous inequality bit.ly/DrJCrockBrex

    Phase II clinical trial of FDA-approved antihistamine restores function in patients with chronic multiple sclerosis bit.ly/DrJAntihstMS

    While perception tends to extract simple components and build up to complex features, recall appears to flip this bit.ly/DrJRecallBtoF

    Female brain’s attach more value to prosocial choices than men, whether due to nature or nurture uncertain bit.ly/DrJGendProS

    Who’d have thought there’s a genetic component to propensity to get divorced?!! bit.ly/DrJDivGenes

    Bad news for my high school which has a major A-road running between the 2playgrounds. Pollution & brain development bit.ly/DrJYngBrnPln

    Here’s a cracking (hyperbole-free) article describing where we’ve got to in the epic journey of merging mind&machine bit.ly/DrJBrnCmpInt

    Why do smart people do foolish things? Intelligence is not the same as critical thinking and the difference matters bit.ly/2y6vAUZ

    34,000 Norwegians followed over 11 years suggest exercise reduces incidence of depression -what are you waiting for? bit.ly/DrJExerBrain

    Experiencing traumatic brain injury – from the perspective of a science journalist knocked off her bike by a car bit.ly/DrJTrmBrnInj

    Mindfulness meditation influences different brain areas to compassion-based meditation bit.ly/DrJMedtnBrn

    Google’s DeepMind postulates that hippocampus doesn’t just contain memories of the past, but also visions of future bit.ly/DrJHipoFutr

    Geek Chic Weird Science podcast Ep81 is out now: this week we discuss living in lava tubes, the IgNobels & more… bit.ly/DrJGCWeirdSci

    Experimental transcranial Direct Current Stimulation significantly reduced fatigue in people with multiple sclerosis bit.ly/DrJtcDCS4MS

    Nobel prize for three researchers who unpicked the brain mechanisms of circadian rhythm bit.ly/DrJNobl17Circ

    Pregnancy fundamentally alters female brains, find a summary of the findings of this groundbreaking research here bit.ly/DrJPregBrain

    2,500 pickled human brains harvested from psychiatric patients in Essex now being studied in Belgium bit.ly/DrJBoxedBrains

     

    SEP 2017

    Being busy ruins creativity http://bigthink.com/21st-century-spirituality/creativity-and-distraction

    MRI study indicates that gamers deal better with uncertainty than those who don’t regularly play action video games bit.ly/DrJGmrsUncrt

    Vagus nerve stimulation implant zaps man back into consciousness after 15 years in post-car crash vegetative state bit.ly/2wPJax6

    A Beginner’s Guide to Machine Learning for Humans chw.ag/2fhexZW

    Fantastic article by Tali Sharot explaining why brains continue to believe info even after it’s revealed to be false bit.ly/DrJFakeNews

    Introducing… The International Brain Laboratory bit.ly/2xcEVZl

    Worrying takes up cognitive resources..get these worries out of your head through expressive writing..become more efficient bit.ly/2wu3BKP

    Researchers uncover mechanism behind calorie restriction and lengthened lifespan bit.ly/2jsCRJr

    Wow – the symptoms of anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis sound out of this world – imagine thinking you’re a T-Rex?! bit.ly/2h1rg3m

    I wrote a blog about the potential for deep brain stimulation without needing to put electrodes inside the brain… bit.ly/DrJFutureDBS

    Using high frequency magnetic stimulation to zap the voices generated by schizophrenic brains: bit.ly/DrJzapthevoices

    Move over stem cells, we can make motoneurons from people’s skin now… bit.ly/DrJmotoNfrmSKN

    MRI study reveals the vast majority of dogs love us “at least as much as food” nyti.ms/2gSbS9h

    Brains using photons for communication using neurons like optical fibres? Now i’ve heard it all… bit.ly/2wJ41ii

    Understand your child’s changing brain as the years go by ind.pn/2iW8pXQ

    All aboard who’s going aboard – wondering whether or not to get on the Brain Train? bit.ly/2x2kRf1

    Healthy glucose levels the key to a healthy ageing brain bit.ly/2x9vYCb

     

    AUG 2017

    Most of us alive today carry at least some DNA from a species that last lived tens of thousands of years ago bit.ly/2gc5Yzr

    Natural High? Finnish PET scanning study suggests High Intensity Interval Training boosts brain endorphins bit.ly/2ivpVlC

    Artificial Intelligence algorithm can predict dementia two years before onset on basis of single amyloid PET scan: bit.ly/2g5YWfC

    Here we go again: Aussie firm plans to target eSports gamers with their electrical brain stimulation headsets ab.co/2vWpDYk

    Scientists: There IS something you can do to save the world trib.al/n7zvDcl

    Struggle with insomnia? Try the Body Scan meditation shortly before bedtime bit.ly/2uIQ0i1

    In a nutshell: Walnuts activate brain region involved in appetite control bit.ly/2w61nVU

    Apparently cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can help procrastinators, personally i’d never get round to it.. bit.ly/2vP2pmO

    Eating walnuts makes brain area activated by unpleasant feelings(eg disgust) light up when people see junk food pics bit.ly/2wTMkfC

    Read for 30 mins every single day and you’ll (probably) live for two years longer than if you don’t bit.ly/drJReadDaily

    Firm body, firm brain: magnetic resonance elastography shows +’ve correlation between memory & hippocampal firmness! bit.ly/DrJFitBdFitBrn

    Thinking of a career change? Why not figure out how to accommodate extra 70k elderly who’ll need care by 2025 bit.ly/drJCare4Eld

    The robots are coming (and this are the places where you’ll see them first) bit.ly/2vwf53g

    Going on holiday soon? Lucky you. Please read this and then as soon as you get to your destination UNPLUG bit.ly/DrJUnplug

    Will the future involve supercomputers made out of networked “brain balls” in vast underground server rooms? bit.ly/DrJBrainBlls

    A brief glimpse into the future of the neurotechnology industry bit.ly/DrJNuroTech

    Memory like a sieve? Imagining the irritating consequences of an action sequence makes memories stickier bit.ly/DrJMemTrix1

    Just when you think you’re getting your head around how complicated brains are..turns out they’re more complex still bit.ly/DrJEvnMreCplx

    Calm down dear the mighty @Neuro_Skeptic provides much needed perspective on male/female brain difference headlines bit.ly/DrJGndBrnSPCT

    Learning in your sleep, very specific phases of sleep, mind bit.ly/DrJSlpLrn

    Are energy drinks the new gateway drug to the hard stuff? Probably not but this makes interesting reading bit.ly/DrJrBllGtwy

    Influential tech investor slams Silicon Valley for adopting techniques that encourage compulsive media consumption bit.ly/DrJscncmplsv

    Cash incentive-based neurofeedback goals enable control over functional connectivity. Could lead to brain therapies! bit.ly/DrJNfdbkConX

    Litmus test for the brain? bit.ly/DrJBrainpH

    Anyone for a brain-controlled Virtual Reality experience? The future will be here next year engt.co/2vfpGOA

    Coming Soon: sub-micron sized Nanoswimmer rockets to ferry drugs across the blood brain barrier bit.ly/2vblYXy

    Hot yoga reduces comfort eating in the mildly depressed bit.ly/DrJHotYog

    Finally someone’s figured out how to remove BPAs from drinking water safely, simply and, it seems, very thoroughly bit.ly/DrJBPAremov

    Specially engineered ceramic skull implant should improve future delivery of ultrasound/laser-based brain therapies bit.ly/DrJUSimplnt

    Who’d have thought: moderate alcohol intake is associated with lower rates of cognitive decline in elderly…cheers! bit.ly/DrJModBooz

    Slowly but surely we’re starting to uncover the biological mechanisms involved obesity bit.ly/DrJObesAdip

    Major breakthrough in our understanding of how brains perceive faces bit.ly/DrJFacePerc

    Neurofeedback can increase the incidence of alpha brainwave spindles but not their duration or amplitude bit.ly/DrJNeuroFdbk

    Aussies invest twice as much in bodily health than in their brain’s wellbeing. What would the figures be for you? bit.ly/2w0R42B

    Virus-restored plasticity – would you? bit.ly/DrJVrsRestPlst

     

    JUL 2017

    The pen is mightier than the keyboard bit.ly/DrJMightyPen

    Sugar linked to depression & memory problems in men @ERWatkins2 tinyurl.com/y7kvs27x

    A vital step closer to cheating death? Will we all be replenishing our hypothalamic stem cells come 2030? ind.pn/2eO8BqD

    In future schools will have to balance cognitive training with PE & brain stimulation, If this is anything to go by bit.ly/DrJCogXTrain

    Want to have your brain in a jar? And live to tell the tale? Believe it or not, this is now technically possible bit.ly/DrJBrainInJar

    Freeing up time by paying others to do your dirty work makes you happy bit.ly/DrJDechoreJoy

    I’d love to know what brain area this young lady’s therapists are pointing the TMS at – temporal pole? bit.ly/DrJ_TMStreat

    Here are some visual illusions to start the week and to remind you that your brain has no direct access to reality bit.ly/DrJIllusions

    How physical exercise prevents dementia bit.ly/2ukXISk

    I can’t quite believe how many of those born in the 21st century can reasonably expect to see their 100th birthday.. bit.ly/DrJ100isnew80

    Given heart delivers blood2brain 24/7 perhaps unsurprising that healthier heart in 20’s means healthy brain in 40’s bit.ly/DrJHeartHead

    Omega oils can be converted into cannabinoids that target the immune system to reduce inflammation bit.ly/DrJOm3Cann

    Human foetuses can tell the difference between spoken English and Japanese from inside the womb a month before birth bit.ly/DrJFoetLang

    These ravens have better planning skills than some people I know. ow.ly/qjyx30dJbE7

    Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never… oh wait, hang on, that’s not actually true nyti.ms/2u8b8Q0

    Let your kids play in the dirt. Immune systems, like brains, adapt to the local environment through exposure bit.ly/2u983km

    Composition of gut bacteria aged 1 seems to predict cognitive development aged 2. Whether or not this is causal is tbc bit.ly/2vxQ1pX

    WE NOW GO LIVE TO BREXIT pic.twitter.com/edf48mbqmj

    O2 and hyperbaric oxygen therapy reverses brain damage in drowned toddler bit.ly/2u1Bhjz

    Give us this day our daily crossword, forgive us our grammatic inaccuracies, deliver us from tongue-tiedness… bit.ly/2vwXV2I

    Fascinated by the brain? Here are some apps that explain how brains work. In sickness and in health bit.ly/2txqM5N

    A blast of light to spark dmPFC neurons and the previously subordinate mouse’s sumo skills went through the roof bit.ly/DrJSumoMice

    Flatcam: small enough to sit between skull/cortex to sense & deliver signals from ~millions of neurons to a computer bit.ly/DrJ_FlatCam

    Two large studies find that heavy coffee consumption predicts reduced mortality ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28693038 & ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28693036

    Immune cells pass dopamine molecules between them? (T cells -> B cells) Now I’ve heard it all bit.ly/DrJDopImmT2B

    Being generous to others makes us happy and brand new study published in Nature Comms helps to explain why bit.ly/DrJGive2BHap

    Video games and your brains bit.ly/DrJ_GameBrain

    Will we ever manage to simultaneously record activity from 1million neurons? $65M from DARPA says it CAN be done… bit.ly/DrJ_1MilNeur

    Look into my eyes, look into my eyes, your eyelids are starting to feel veeeeery heavy bit.ly/DrJ_Hypno

    I bought BEHAVE on a whim yesterday – now, having read this NYT review, I really can’t wait to get started nyti.ms/2uNCJVQ

    Psychopath brains overvalue immediate gratification over long term consequences even more than the rest of us bit.ly/2sHhuIA

    Brain wiring mapped in unprecedented detail using latest MRI technology bbc.in/2sHC7zC

    Brain training can work after all: 40% improvement in amnesic mild cognitive impairment after a bit of “Game Show” bit.ly/2t7SHfs

     

    JUN 2017

    Brain plasticity can occur in a “blastic” or a “clastic” direction. You have the power of controlling the switch -Dr. Merzenich In other words brain plasticity can have positive and negative consequences depending on what you do with your lifestyle choices

    Cockatoo drumming film bitly.com/gcwsDrumming

    High fat diet causes weight gain by increasing microglial cells and inflammation in the mouse hypothalamus bit.ly/2sNfVEj

    For those teaching pre-school kids to read, beware picture overload.. no more than one illustration per page is best bit.ly/2tLL7IT

    Higher IQ aged 11 predicts better chances of making it to 80 bit.ly/2tpqxxc

    Gambling on the Dark Side of Nudges: bit.ly/2tTpm72

    Why our brains need us to keep moving bit.ly/2scBind

    Regular moderately-intense exercise helps to delay onset of Alz, even in genetically-prone people ti.me/2sUbQ2O

    By many accounts, we’re experiencing an epidemic of anxiety, and several experts pin the blame on our smartphones bit.ly/2tku8tR

    The mere presence of your smartphone reduces brain power, study shows bit.ly/2u8Vxym

    Overstated evidence for short-term effects of violent games on aggression ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28639810

    What is cognitive reserve? How we can protect our brains from memory loss and dementia bit.ly/2tWLCvH

    PET study indicates 6 brain areas implicated in OCD exhibit signs of greater inflammation than in non-OCD brains bit.ly/DrJ_OCD_Inflam

    Multitasking reduces efficiency by 40% in the vast majority of humans.. now we know (part of) the reason why bit.ly/2sDPm66

    Now THIS is brain art bit.ly/2rRm9av

    Food for thought bit.ly/DrJFood4Thought

    Short blog on research studying how playing Tetris directly after traumatising experiences can reduce flashbacks bit.ly/DrJTetTerTher

    Brain circuitry of hunger regulation involves intimate relationship between hypothalamus & insula: bit.ly/DrJHungerHypIns

    Great article explaining why development of brain computer interfaces must proceed hand in hand with ethics, or else bit.ly/2sA8J2f

    Don’t Text While Parenting – It Will Make You Cranky dld.bz/eYRf7

    A nice, succinct explanation of the biological processes determining sex and gender bit.ly/DrJSexAndGender

    How to Stay Sharp in Later Life on.dana.org/2sUlOAE

    Blue Brain team discovers a multi-dimensional universe in brain networks bit.ly/2sf3GUx

    Could Einstein’s quirky habits be responsible for his genius? Maybe you have a few of them too…find out here! bbc.in/2rRABO1

    Implanting pig brain chemical manufacturing plant (choroid plexus) into Parkinson’s patients’ brains looks promising bit.ly/DrJPigPrksRmdy

    Temporal interference stimulation to target deep brain areas without opening the skull has HUUUGE potential bit.ly/2satP7D

    New study confirms performance boost in creative thinking task by reducing left frontal brain activation via tDCS bit.ly/DrJcreativeZap

    Seven beers per week increases chance of brain shrinkage and white matter degradation (over the course of decades) bit.ly/DrJ7beersPW

    Temporal interference seems like a much smarter form of brain stimulation than TMS or tDCS: nyti.ms/2rw4HqT

    This is an armadillo’s defense mechanism pic.twitter.com/gUUNaOmu4O

    Memory loss and other cognitive decline linked to blood vessel disease in the brain bit.ly/2rQzVcj

    Einstein’s first wife was a physicist too, who contributed to his work. ow.ly/3JBY30ck9TH

    New! Cassetteboy vs Theresa May – youtu.be/p7iUYWMD77w

    Typing by brain sounds great. Up to the point where,like Trump,every silly idle thought gets broadcast to the world bit.ly/DrJtypebybrain

    Human brain replays memories in fast-forward bit.ly/2rKrOho

    Human faces reconstructed from monkey brain data bit.ly/DrJBrainFaces

     

    No Tweets In May (Went into hiding to finish new book)

     

    APR 2017

    Tiny ancient skull has ridges suggesting possibility of Broca’s area therefore speech + self-evident burial instinct bit.ly/DrJ_Naledi

    The coconut octopus uses coconut shells as protection against predators! pic.twitter.com/wInVITqwaG

    Sugary drinks aren’t great for your brain health, neither are diet drinks, probably best to stick to juice and water bit.ly/DrJ_OneDietSoda

     

    Flying car costing more than $1 million goes on show in Monaco reut.rs/2p1FBPg

    Whether zapping brains improves or degrades memories depends on the timing and AI, it seems, can help with that.. nyti.ms/2pYpgbi

    A new study adds to the oft-controversial research on the apparent antiaging properties of “young blood”: scim.ag/2oW9Qab

    Contraceptive pill reduces quality of life bit.ly/2oraNU2

    ..arrest the progression–>change Alzheimer’s disease into something completely different so it becomes liveable.. bbc.in/2pF4v5h

    Relapse-prevention apps connect recovering addicts to support and use AI to predict when relapse is likely to occur bit.ly/DrJ_RelaPrevApp

    SuperAgers suggest that age-related cognitive decline is not inevitable bit.ly/DrJ_SuperAgers

    Aha! moments observed in eye tracking data bit.ly/DrJ_Aha

    Efficacy of ayahuasca – a hallucinogen usually used in shamanistic rituals – tested in clinical trial for depression bit.ly/DrJ_Ayahuasca

    A UK company is creating edible water blobs that it hopes will eradicate the world of plastic waste. pic.twitter.com/k2jHsYRNND

    Music-induced awakenings in Alzheimer’s patients… surely it’s worth a try?! bit.ly/2odwUxV

    Let your mind roam free bit.ly/DrJ_MindWander

    When people detect a moral conflict, zapping (tDCS) their brain (right dlPFC) helps to keep them honest bit.ly/2onTiaq

    An update on the differences between male and female brains on the basis of an even bigger brain imaging study bit.ly/2p28yIk

    Anti-Parkinson’s virus therapy bit.ly/2oj7b9R

    You can really identify a signature of the dreaming brain” bit.ly/2oj3bWU

    Born to love superheroes: Research into the roots of justice may contain hints for solving social ills bit.ly/2ofjVyb

    Are you a night owl? This could explain why bit.ly/DrJ_NightOwl

    Marmite – not just delicious – new study says a daily dose can significantly change how your brain works: bit.ly/2oB3T3d

    Nearly every disease killing us in later life has a causal link to lack of sleep bit.ly/DrJ_SleepDeep

     

    MAR 2017

    Science may have got multiple sclerosis all wrong, now they’ve figured out it’s caused by B-cells not T-cells we may be able to nip it in the bud bit.ly/2ola0Fo

    Maturation of white matter connecting front of brain to back key to understanding others around age of 4 years okd bit.ly/2nzk8vP

    Understanding the role of cannabinoids in stress relief, bit by bit bit.ly/2nNKtH9

    tetraplegic man can move his arm again just by thinking about it with device that reads brain –> stimulates muscles bit.ly/2obLKIQ

    I’ve said it once,I’ll say it again: if you want you brain to age gracefully -it’s time to get your dancing shoes on nyti.ms/2njb8Zc

    holotropic breathwork..uses hyperventilation-induced fainting to achieve..an expansion of awareness bit.ly/2nuQLsS

    Without an intact anterior temporal lobe you’d never be able to keep up with all the gossip sciof.us/2ov2HKG

    3min film of Ed Boyden sharing his vision of how the merger between brain&machine will unfold in the coming years bit.ly/DrJ_BoydnCoPro

    Brain training to help people avoid the need for reading glasses in middle age? Now that would be pretty cool… nyti.ms/2nstfhN

    There is a journal called Religion, Brain and Behaviour bit.ly/2nVqV1d

    New Alzheimer’s test can predict age when disease will appear buff.ly/2ne7ySy

    Older mums can often be better mums according to Danish study bit.ly/DrJ_Oldermums

    Ditch the GPS, use your noggin bit.ly/2n4uBhe

    What do smartphones do to our brains? We still don’t know bit.ly/2nNQrW1

    Extract of funnel web spider venom can protect against stroke damage even when given after the event bit.ly/2mngQNd

    Sexual afterglow – still benefits couples 48hrs later bit.ly/2mIrGso

    Imaging neurons in vivo with a needle thin probe… bit.ly/2n6MP3f

    Tea please… any colour will do bit.ly/2nDyqtp

    Humpback whales are organizing in huge numbers, and no one knows why pops.ci/DEYPA6

    Clever fMRI drug smuggling study investigates differences between recklessness & knowingly committing a crime bit.ly/DrJ_DrugSmug

    Cognitive enhancing drugs can improve chess play, scientists show bit.ly/2mGhsfG

    Metacognitive therapy addresses thinking processes 2 help people reduce depressive symptoms by lessening rumination bit.ly/DrJ_MCT4Deprsn

    amateur scientists who like to experiment with their own mixes..aren’t afraid to use their own brains as lab rats bit.ly/DrJ_StackTwats

    HIV can get into brain & interfere with cognitive process by disrupting white matter,MRI can detect this fairly well bit.ly/DrJ_HIV_MRI

    If all the Ice melted: National Geographic’s Interactive map on Rising Seas – Geoawesomeness buff.ly/2mYYkKE

    Blueberry Brain bit.ly/DrJBlubryBrain

    Bigger brains aren’t always better, when you’re a sociable bird or insect, that is bit.ly/DrJSmSocBr

    2017 Winners of The Brain Prize: Peter Dayan, Ray Dolan and Wolfram Schultz for research on brain’s reward system bit.ly/2maRX4b

    Just bought my 1st robot! Although I can control it with my smartphone, sadly I can’t control it with my brain alone bit.ly/DrJBrainRobot

    OCD: Brain fails to send safety signals (vmPFC) as experience demonstrates perceived danger is no longer a threat bit.ly/DrJ_SafetySig

    Uncertainty is in the eye of the beholder (literally) bit.ly/DrJ_UncertEye

    Artificial Intelligence goes ALL IN;but will it wipe out online poker altogether? Would that be a good or bad thing? bit.ly/DrJ_AI_All_In

    Here’s something @mocost wrote about the possible role of the cerebellum in cognition and emotion bit.ly/2mDaM2O

     

    FEB 2017

    Stem cell transplants for human multiple sclerosis patients. Controversial yet encouraging. But does it last? bit.ly/DrJStemXplant4MS

    Dad’s who take cocaine around time of conception may be damaging their kids’ memory capacities bit.ly/DrJ_CokeDads

    Why parents seem to be blind to their kids’ extra pounds bit.ly/DrJ_PorkyKids

    Novel study investigates brain areas critical to the process of dreaming up funny captions bit.ly/DrJ_HumourGen #creativity

    Newborns can recognize the voices they’ve been hearing for the last trimester in the womb nyti.ms/2m3sgFv

    Digital reconstruction of a giant neuron that encircles the entire mouse brain go.nature.com/2lClhBV by @Sara_Reardon via @kenanmalik

    Never underestimate the power of bee brains. It’s amazing what a million neurons can be trained to do nyti.ms/2lAajNq

    Hair fine electrodes that can send electrical, chemical and/or optical information to and from the brain bit.ly/2mbhM72

    The TRAPPIST-1 star & 7 Earth-sized planets orbiting it, are relatively close to us; located ~40 light-years away: go.nasa.gov/2lvVN7G

    Brains better at divergent thinking tasks (related to creativity) have denser connectivity between left & right side bit.ly/2lGeTKz

    Huge study of 3,242 brains aged 4-63 shows consistent structural differences of those with ADHD vs others without bit.ly/DrJ_ADHDbrains

    Build up of iron in the globus pallidus is positively correlated with duration of cocaine use bit.ly/DrJFeCokeHed

    Standord scientists enable paraplegic man to type,using brain computer interface,at speeds of up to 39characters/min bit.ly/2kIp1mJ

    Many different compartments and barriers in the brain create multiple unique immune environments bit.ly/2lbQr2M #brain

    Sleep is a powerful source of resilience in difficult times bit.ly/2lwV34K …so stop looking at screens late at night sleepyhead

    That dopamine is involved in human bonding is less surprising than dual scanners doing fMRI/PET at the same time!! bit.ly/2kYBlv8

    A computer to rival the human brain – what’s it gonna take? bit.ly/2lNRxmM

    Autism detected in “cerebral cortex” from age<2 (narrowing it down to virtually anywhere on brain’s outer surface!) bbc.in/2lLOdc5

    Neurons in the amygdala fired 120 milliseconds earlier than the hippocampus bit.ly/2laFY8p

    Laughter is important. This made me laugh: bit.ly/2kzOhHD

    Using genetics to personalize diet for effective weight loss & disease prevention @DrJackLewis @DrMichaelMosley tinyurl.com/hhm8d28

    New generation brain implants stimulate neurons with magnetism rather than electricity to get around sticky problem bit.ly/DrJMagBranImp

    If anyone needs me, I’ll be playing with this whale song synthesizer whalesynth.com

    Opioid release vital to process of deriving pleasure from your favourite songs (or any pleasure for that matter?!) bit.ly/DrJMuOpiMusic

    A retinal cell has been identified that might just explain why more and more kids are becoming short sighted bit.ly/DrJMyopiaCell

    Study confirms the assumption that E-Cigarettes are far less toxic than real cigarettes bit.ly/DrJeCigsSafe

    Studying the mysterious condition of mirror touch synaesthesia bit.ly/DrJMirrorTouch

    Sleeping patterns all over the place? Time to go camping! Couple of days in the wilderness resets melatonin cycle bit.ly/2jQ6lvL

    Mini brains spontaneously produce mini blood vessels. All they need now is a mini heart and some blood and we’re off bit.ly/2jZ4W6Y

    How time in space changes brains bit.ly/2jv9o1p

     

    JAN 2017

    Using psychedelics to treat addiction – how to get the reduction in cravings without the hallucinations? bit.ly/DrJ_Ibogaine

    Hanger – it’s the real deal bit.ly/DrJHanger

    Could problems with the brain’s blood flow gatekeepers be a key part of problems like Alzheimer’s, ALS etc? bit.ly/DrJGateKeep

    Wisdom of the crowd is not always on the money, MIT scientists have figured out how to extract it better bit.ly/DrJBetCwdWis

    Imagine a neuropeptide that can induce gut to burn fat without stimulating appetite (in C. elegans, not humans, yet) bit.ly/DrJFatBurnFLP7

    New angle for treating aggressive form of brain cancer (glioblastoma) suggests prior drug devel. = wild goose chase bit.ly/DrJGlioBlaster

    Metallic hydrogen – it could change the course of humanity across the cosmos if we could use it to fuel our space ships bit.ly/2jf0MeW

    Why an LSD trip lasts so much longer than a cannabis high or magic mushrooms bit.ly/2jei7Vf

    Dreaming (REM) sleep accelerates pruning of certain brain connections, a process vital to reshaping teenage brains bit.ly/2jZz2ul

    A study of 500 MRI scans reveals the links between personality traits and brain structure bit.ly/2khAZjj

    A cautionary tale about the promises of modern brain science econ.st/2jaKI9q

    I’ve often wondered why so many schizophrenic people smoke so fast and intensely; this suggests they might be self-medicating bit.ly/2knNHw8tv

    Peripheral neuropathy (a health complication seen in diabetes, chemo, HIV) could be helped by anti-muscarinic agents bit.ly/2jJ7Eho

    Resensitising brain cancer to chemotherapy using old school anti-malaria drug bit.ly/2k3sCeg

    No meaningful difference in amygdala sizes in male vs female brains across 30yrs of MRI studies bit.ly/2jxgmBC

    Antibody targeting protein in Blood Brain Barrier reduces signs of brain ageing bit.ly/2iDLtap

    ALL ROWS NOW COMPLETE. With 4 new elements discovered Asia enters the hall of fame and the USA jumps to 2nd place. pic.twitter.com/XE5X7un5e0

    Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for psychosis found to be associated with measurable changes in brain connectivity bit.ly/2jVE6fM

    Mixing up names of your nearest & dearest is probably due to them being stored in your “people I love” brain directory n.pr/2jvE417

    Facebook wants in on Brain Control Interfaces bit.ly/2iyPqgR

    Neuroscience in practice to enhance your star gazing experience bit.ly/2iDexCn

    Monkey metamemory bit.ly/2iyA4sD

    Genetically-speaking you are 10% retrovirus – deal with it! bit.ly/2jf5fgE

    Who better than Russ Poldrack to review a book about what MRI can and can’t do? go.nature.com/2jeuDn5

    Turning mice into killers at the flick of an (optogenetic) switch n.pr/2j53LTZ

    The orbits of the stars in the vicinity of the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy buff.ly/2jffcrX

    Increased amygdala activity related to more heart disease (prob via elevated white blood cell-induced inflammation) bbc.in/2jmd1mt

    You can tell how old a person is from their brain’s glial cell health (if you chop their brain out for post-mortem) bit.ly/2icNCPb

    Just how smart is an octopus? Smarter than you think wapo.st/2ifbbW8

    Will nose-witnesses soon play a role in our courts of law? (“Eyewitnesses” are so 20th century) bit.ly/2i9qjG0

    Earth and the moon – as seen from Mars nyti.ms/2jqwQs8

    Mini-brains grown from stem cells taken from kids’ milk teeth can tell you a thing or two about their actual brains bit.ly/2icfvBT

    The mess that is tcDCS therapy 4 depression/addiction/fibromyalgia (good news) tinnitus/stroke (bad news) untangled bit.ly/2ival59

    Believe it or not foetal fMRI has arrived! Yes, that’s right, brain imaging in the womb… bit.ly/2i5LBUQ

    If learn (or revive) a 2nd language is one of your New Year’s resolutions for 2017, this might be motivating for you bit.ly/2iUkPfn

    16 year old’s ovarian tumour found to contain brain tissue that resembles a cerebellum and brainstem bit.ly/2iYwtW6

    Memory and cognition improvements in 65+ year old people if they take a regular 1-hour long siesta after lunch bit.ly/2iPwsqm

    Fusiform gyrus – containing region (FFA) for recognising faces – is ~13% larger in adults than kids bit.ly/2hXxvA6

    Interfering with vagal nerve function can help various health conditions – now it can be done with greater precision bit.ly/2iUpYDZ

    Carbon nanotube electrodes much better than conventional electrodes, but how to jam a “wet noodle” into the brain? bit.ly/2ifDcdq

    “It takes considerable knowledge just to realize the extent of your own ignorance.” Thomas sowell

    Finally FDA restrictions on antibiotic use in livestock. Can’t use the medically important ones anymore, at least. ow.ly/e7Za307Gqr2

    Some people (3-5%) simply get no joy from listening to music – now we know why bit.ly/2idYGHO

    Gaming that can help depressed people to feel better by helping them to focus bit.ly/2i9ICH2

    Prof Van der Meer (Norwegian University of Science&Tech) offers science-based tips for optimal ways to raise infants bit.ly/2iaftvq

    Reduced blood flow to Broca’s area (key area in speech production) in stutterers bit.ly/2iHtFPP

    Brain + Nature = Health bit.ly/2iI7iXX (NB that’s coming from someone who just finished a 1hr cross-country run in Richmond Pk – practise what I preach!)

    Nice synopsis of a few of the more notable achievements in neuroscience to arise over the course of 2016 n.pr/2irU5oA

     

    DEC 2016

    Vera Rubin, Who Confirmed Existence Of Dark Matter, Dies At 88 n.pr/2iwYGq9

    Hacks often write obituaries before celebs have died for quick release. Turns out brains do a similar thing with DNA bit.ly/2i2ndmj

    How genes can influence music’s impact on mood bit.ly/2hjT6XK

    When does brain development reach completion? nyti.ms/2hjNvB2

    The true hidden home of Christmas is in China bbc.in/1sDLrOC

    Could stoned drivers be more cautious? Maybe.. bit.ly/DrJStndDrivr

    How many different types of neurons there in the brain (even just the hypothalamus) blows my mind bit.ly/DrJHypothalNs

    ..a lesion in exactly the right place..can disrupt the brain’s familiarity detector&reality monitor simultaneously bit.ly/DrJImpstrLsn

    How to grow your own brain bit.ly/DrJGrwURownBrn

    New drug improving longevity & memory in animal studies of prion disease brings hope for fight against Alz. dementia bit.ly/DrJMuscAlzHope

    Schizophrenics more likely to try cannabis, but WHY would delusional people crave yet greater distance from reality? bit.ly/DrJSchizWeed

    Brain-inspired intelligent robotics: The intersection of robotics and neuroscience – a special booklet in @scienmag buff.ly/2i0kni6

    The truth behind baby brain bit.ly/DrJBabyBrain

    Brain Books of 2016 bit.ly/DrJBrainBooks16

    Talk about getting the wrong end of the stick… bit.ly/DrJOMG

    Dear Santa, If I’ve been good enough this year, please may I have a robotic arm controllable via 64 electrode EEG? bit.ly/DrJEEGcntlRobt

    If you want to hang onto your crystalline intelligence in later life don’t forget to eat your greens bit.ly/DrJEatURgreens

    Could thinning of the grey matter really account for risk aversion in older adults? bit.ly/DrJRskAvrsn

    Time passes fast, time passes slow and now neuroscience may finally have pinpointed brain areas that influence this bit.ly/DrJStpFstSloMo

    Could the impact of oxytocin on human behaviour boil down purely to synchrony bit.ly/DrJOxytosync

    Deep brain stimulation soon to use tiny coils (magnetrodes?!) to influence neurons w magnetism rather than electrons bit.ly/DrJMagnetrode

    Could increasing gamma band activity in the brain really help eliminate the beta amyloid plaques of Alzheimer’s? bit.ly/DrJGammaAlz

    Incredible to think that switching one pair of nucleotides in an ancient ancestor’s DNA trebled our brain volume bbc.in/2gZ4lDM

    If the way we breathe influences what we remember,I wonder if there are breathing techniques 2 help students revise? bit.ly/DrJBreathingMem

    Small double-blind trial shows that single dose of psilocybin can give 6 months relief from cancer-related anxiety bit.ly/DrJ_MushCancAnx

    I am Groot: Plants can do associative learning bit.ly/DrJ_IAmGroot

    Finally!! Potential for MDMA (ecstasy) as a therapeutic agent for PTSD to be investigated in a proper clinical trial bit.ly/DrJ_MDMA4PTSD

    Added sugar in our diet is bad, we know that, but I didn’t realise range of negative impacts, like reduced oxytocin! bit.ly/DrJExcessSugar

    Africa’s sunshine could eventually make the continent a supplier of energy to the rest of the world bbc.in/2fMxtwX

    @PainConcern Irene Tracey neuroscience of pain interview is now back up on YouTube. Sorry for the protracted wait! bit.ly/DrJPainStem

    @hugospiers et al have been doing a fantastic job of getting the globe involved in science research through gaming.. bit.ly/SeaHeroQst

    TMS reawakens access to latent memory (link to orig Science paper at end of article) bit.ly/2guWFc1

    Parkinson’s disease may start in gut & nose (ie neurons most exposed to environment) 10yrs before it hits the brain! bit.ly/2glBbOL

    Quite possibly the strangest sex study i’ve ever read about.. and there is a LOT of competition for that accolade bit.ly/2gGJt4v

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

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  • Pregnancy Brain

    Over the past few years I’ve been working with ITV Global. It all started a couple of years back when I was invited to give my Sort Your Brain Out and Neuroscience of Negotiation talks for various members of their senior leadership team, both domestically and worldwide. This year and last the focus shifted to my Science of Creativity talk which I gave for their 100+ leaders across the full breadth of the organisation over the course of six live events. After one of these speaking engagements I was approached by an audience member who’d had a question on her mind since falling pregnant shortly after one of the talks I’d given previously (nothing to do with me!). She had noticed that her usually exceptional memory had gradually eroded as the pregnancy progressed. The burning question was: is the phenomenon of ‘pregnancy brain’ fact or fiction and, more to the point, was there any hope of her getting her previously brilliant memory back again? Had she asked me this question a year earlier I would have had to admit that science hadn’t yet addressed the question properly. As it happens her timing was excellent – a brain imaging study had just been published that might just provide the answer she was hoping for. I promised I’d write a blog about it, so here it is…

    The groundbreaking study by lead author Elseline Hoekzema and colleagues at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and Leiden University was published in the journal Nature Neuroscience. They used Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to measure the key changes that take place in the female brain as a result of pregnancy. They found that the grey matter consistently shrinks in brain areas commonly associated with social cognition and the greater the degree of volume reduction in these areas, the deeper the mother-child bond. The brain areas in question included in the Superior Temporal Sulcus (STS) and Inferior Frontal Gyrus (IFG) on the outward-facing surface of the left and right hemisphere, and the Precuneus and medial Prefrontal Cortex (mPFC) of the inward-facing surface where left and right hemispheres meet in the middle. Far from reflecting a withering away of brain areas under assault from the tsunami of hormones that regulate gestation (mothers are exposed to progesterone levels over ten times greater than the highest levels of the normal menstrual cycle and more oestrogen during pregnancy than the rest of their lives put together) the changes actually reflect adaptations specialising the brain for maternal attachment.

    Volume reductions were also observed in the hippocampus which could explain the degradation of memory that many women experience during and just after pregnancy. While memory wasn’t rigorously tested (they did a couple of tests but only found a trend towards memory loss) in this particular study, new mothers may take comfort from the observation that while the brain areas involved in social cognition remained two years after completion of the pregnancy, the volume of the left hippocampus had partially recovered (in 11 of the 25 mothers who had not fallen pregnant again). Assuming that the hippocampal volume continues to increase at the same rate, it would fall back into the normal range by around five years after the completion of pregnancy. Given the vital importance of the hippocampus for memory and navigation this seems to be a very promising result.

    This study used MRI to scan the brains of 50 women, of which 25 later fell pregnant for the first time. All were re-scanned after the babies were born, or after a similar period of time had elapsed for those who hadn’t fallen pregnant, so that brain structure could be compared before and after. Those women who did not fall pregnant served as the controls in which no significant structural changes were observed. Changes in brain tissue volume were only observed in those women who did fall pregnant confirming that pregnancy was the likely cause of the changes. They also performed an fMRI study looking for brain areas that were more strongly activated by pictures of each mother’s own baby compared to photos of other people’s babies. As there was considerable overlap between the brain areas more strongly activated by the mother’s own baby and those in which the brain volume reductions occurred, it seems likely that it reflects a process of specialisation for maternal attachment rather than collateral damage.  As these areas are commonly associated with the capacity for Theory of Mind, i.e. the ability to see the world from another’s perspective, these changes presumably reflect a tailoring of the mother’s brain to help them better anticipate the needs of their child.

    In addition to these monthly blogs I regularly tweet (@drjacklewis) interesting articles about recent breakthroughs in brain science and do a fortnightly Geek Chic’s Weird Science podcast on strange and wonderful stories from the world of science. Season 2 of my television series Secrets of the Brain starts on Insight TV later this month… so if you are in the UK or Ireland have Sky television you might consider setting your box to record the series on HD channel 564 and if you are elsewhere in Europe you will find it on other satellite/cable providers (check which channel it’s on in your country here). If it’s not available on your TV you can also stream it online via www.insight.tv

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  • 2016 in Review

    2016 has been quite a year:

    On the 3rd January I went for a dip in a freezing cold lake in the Dutch countryside with a man who has learned to control his immune system using breathing techniques in combination with cold water immersion.

    Between January and May I wrote a book Mice Who Sing For Sex with my Geek Chic podcast co-host Lliana Bird. That hit the shelves in October and flew off them in the run up to Christmas.

    I flew out to the USA to work with a pair of NFL superstars and a supercar test driver to talk about how high performance athlete‘s brains work compared to the rest of us.

    An unexpected opportunity to appear on the sofa with Rylan for Big Brother’s Bit on the Side gave me the opportunity to use five brightly coloured jelly brains as colour code for different brain functions and used them to explain the cause of various errant behaviours exhibited by some of this year’s contestants.

    Participating in a debate organised by the Wellcome Trust on the Latitude Festival’s Literature Stage opened my eyes to the Porn Perspective.

    My TV highlight has to be a very enjoyable weekend that I spent spy on some unsuspecting guinea pigs with the BBC’s Michael Mosley a TV presenter of considerable experience and acclaim. Meet The Humans (working title) will be broadcast at some point on BBC Earth throughout the world in 2017. I learned a huge amount about what being a TV presenter is really all about and felt truly privileged to work with him and a crack team of Science TV producers and directors from BBC Bristol. Seeing how they all handled what was a huge logistical undertaking, with so many moving parts that innumerable things could have gone wrong, was a real privilege. All hands on deck performed with tremendous competence, efficiency and good humour throughout; even when the pressure was on and Sod’s Law threatened to tip the apple cart.

    The most notable achievement of this year career-wise is that, for the very first time, a show I’ve presented has been deemed worthy of a second series; not to mention a runner’s up prize for Best Science Series of 2016 at the Association for International Broadcaster’s Awards. Not bad considering we were pipped to the post by a documentary about a near perfectly preserved 5,000 year old man thawed out from a melting glacier. That’s pretty steep competition and I was only too happy to concede defeat to a series documenting such an extraordinary scientific discovery.

    Looking forward to 2017 there’s already plenty of exciting projects in the pipeline. My third book Science of Sin, scheduled for publication next autumn, is coming on leaps and bounds. I’ve wanted to write a book about the light neuroscience might be able to cast on the topic of Why We Do The Things We Know We Shouldn’t for ages. I’m very grateful to Bloomsbury Sigma for the opportunity to immerse myself in such a fascinating and diverse body of science.

    Filming for Secrets of the Brain 2 is already underway and, after the intensive period of filming, editing and voiceover ahead in the next four months, that particular seires scheduled to be ready for broadcast on www.insight.tv (ch 279 on Sky) over the summer. Happily it seems we’ve been able to re-recruit most of the team from series one. It is fortuitous that we could get almost everyone back because there really is no substitute for prior experience with this kind of show.

    The speaking circuit this year has taken me all over London, to Cheltenham, the Midlands, Barcelona, twice to Cologne courtesy of ITV Global / Germany and as far East as Berlin. My Neuroscience of Creativity talk always seems to go down particularly well and the C-HR festival of Creativity and Innovation, which took place in a beautiful architectural space – an abandoned department store slap bang in the centre of Berlin – was no exception. I must have hit a new Personal Best by answering questions from the audience for longer than the actual duration of the talk itself (90min talk, 150min Q&A)!

    Of all the ways I communicate the fruits of neuroscience research to the world, it’s the face-to-face contact with live audiences that I get the most personal satisfaction from. People always seem to have burning questions about their own brains, their kids, their ageing relatives and it gives me great pleasure to share what I know with others. So if you have an event coming up for which you have need of a motivational speaker that brings something a little different to the event, why not get in touch? I’ve got five 60-90 min talks, I can take off the shelf: Boosting Performance, Neuroscience of Decisions, Neuroscience of Creativity, Dealing with Change and even one on Gender Neuroscience that has turned out to be pretty effective at encouraging greater equality in the workplace.

    That said I’m always happy to make something bespoke to fit the specific event. I’m always happy to stick around afterward if the crowd fancies making the Q&A a bit more informal.

    All that remains to be said is to wish you happy holidays and a fantastic 2017.

    If you’d like to follow me on Twitter (@drjacklewis) you’ll get my daily tweets that flag the best of the neuroscience news that hits the lay press. The Geek Chic Weird Science podcast is still going strong after nearly three years, which can be accessed through iTunes, Podbay, Libsyn and many other podcast providers so if you fancy taking a lighter look at the world of science, that’s your badger. And finally, you’re at a loose end over the holiday season and fancy a break from the usual TV fare, then why not catch up on the (nearly) award-winning Secrets of the Brain by pointing your internet towards www.insight.tv (my parents are actually doing that right now…)

    Happy Christmas

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  • Fighting Dementia with Sea Hero Quest

    shq-logoAs we move around in the world we develop a sense of how to get from A to B. This relies heavily on the hippocampus, a brain structure nestled deep within each of the temporal lobes, responsible for many functions vital to cognition such as memory and navigation. This is the brain structure famed for becoming physically larger as a result of all the practice driving around London that the drivers of London’s famous Black Cabs have to accrue before they can pass “The Knowledge.” Whilst their memory for the 25,000 roads and 20,000 major landmarks that enable them to instantly reel off the route they’d take to get from one place to another is extraordinary, for the 33% of those born in 2015 will live long enough to develop dementia at some point in their lives this situation is reversed. Difficulties with navigation, even familiar routes between places visited many times before, is one of the problems in daily life that can herald the approach of full-blown dementia. Understanding the normal trajectory of changes in navigational ability over the lifetime of a health brain is a vital first step. With or without dementia our abilities to memories complex routes becomes slowly but surely compromised by the normal processes of age-related cognitive decline. We need to know what is normal for each age group before we could be in a position to use a steeper than normal decline in navigational ability as an early warning signal, ideally before any memory deficits have had a chance to rear their ugly heads. As our understanding of the metabolic processes that lead to various forms of dementia improve, this early warning could prove to be a vital mechanism in triggering prophylactic treatments early enough to slow down disease progression.

    memoriseHugo Spiers, a memory researcher and neuroscientist at University College London, launched a smartphone game in 2016 called Sea Hero Quest, which aims to do just this. Over 2.5 million people have played this surprisingly fun, engaging and challenging game so far, generating the equivalent of an astonishing 9,400 years worth of lab data. The game involves memorising a map of waterways around which a series of numbered buoys have been distributed. Once you’ve planned the journey you’re going to make and tucked it away in your working memory, the map is then taken  away and your job is then to steer your little fishing boat (increasingly customisable as you progress through the game) by tapping the left or right side of the touch screen. The terrain varies from idyllic sandy paradises to rainy, foggy, bumpy rides across perpetually undulating swell. Thanks to the funding from Deutsche Telekom and Glitchers – the tech-gurus who actually created the game – the graphics are beautifully rendered, the gameplay is smooth and unlike most games designed to answer important scientific questions, every aspect of the user experience is highly polished. As was the delivery of the first results announced at SfN 2016 and summarised below by the man himself…

     

     

    buoyPersonally I was surprised by how hard some of the levels were. I play a lot of brain training games (e.g. PEAK Review, BRAIN AGE 2 Review ), just to keep myself up to date on the latest offerings, and am now accustomed to finding myself able to get maximal scores on most categories of games pretty quickly through daily play. Not Sea Hero Quest. Once I got past the easier earlier levels, I often found myself getting lost in the mist, or going round and round in circles having forgotten how to get from buoy 3 to buoy 4. As a consequence, not only did I help scientists like Hugo Spiers and colleagues from the University of East Anglia and Alzheimers Research UK to generate data (anonymously, you only have to give your age) but I also got an insight into what the future might have in store for me should I become one of the unfortunate 1 in 3 that get clobbered by dementia in my post-retirement years. As you progress from level to level you periodically get to chase down one of a large variety of sea monsters. Having dodged innumerable obstacles along the way the monster in question eventually leaps out of the water at you and your task, is to resist the temptation to hit the button on your camera to take a photo of the rare and exotic sea beast in question, until the very last second when the captured image is at its most aesthetically pleasing.

    Overall, I found playing this game great fun, very challenging at times and doubly satisfying knowing that it would, in some small but meaningful way, help science to get some much needed answers about how the human brain keeps track of where it is and where it’s going in health, so we can better understand when this system breaks down in disease.

    img_1517I would just like to take a moment to applaud @HugoSpiers and collaborators for finding a way to genuinely enable people to #gameforgood. Hats off to you all… your Cannes Lion was thoroughly well deserved!

    In addition to these monthly blogs you can get daily brain tweets about other amazing developments in the world of neuroscience by following me on Twitter (@DrJackLewis). And for a fortnightly appraisal of the latest quirkly stories from the wonderful world of science on general there’s always the totally free Geek Chic Weird Science podcast available from iTunes, Podbay, Libsyn and many others.

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  • Announcing the Birth of our Beautiful New Book

    On the 6th October 2016 the book of the podcast that is Geek Chic Weird Science hit the shelves of bookshops all over the UK. A couple of days prior to this my co-author (and co-presenter of the podcast) Lliana Bird and I threw a little party to celebrate this milestone with a few family and friends.

    micewhosing_twitpic3dd4078I’m quite literally just running out the door to record our 60th podcast tonight! For those who’ve never had a chance to listen, every couple of weeks we talk about the latest weird and wonderful science stories to hit the press in the past few days. We tend to favour the conversation starters: the whacky techy tales that people might pull out of the bag around the dinner table, at work/school or in the pub to spark a conversation around the latest strange/surprising scientific discoveries.

    By the time we got about episode 50 we had an archive of about 200 or so of these science stories. So we thought: why not write a book. Happily the publisher Little Brown were prepared to publish it under their Orbit imprint and with only four months to bash it out we just about managed to hit the deadline. It’s a bit ragged in places, a few errors and slight inaccuracies here and there, but given the incredibly limited time we had to get it done I think we did a pretty good job.

    We’ve had some tremendous reviews from the likes of Brian Cox and the Times Science editor. Some of our stories have already been picked up in the NME and the London Metro. And with Noel Fielding’s beautiful original artwork adorning the front cover we have high hopes for some good sales over Christmas.

    mumanddadWe dedicated the book, with love to our parents, but also to Richard Boffin who has been our “sound guy,” editing our podcast, adding the music and sound effects and getting it up on iTunes, libsyn, podbay (click any of these links if you want to have a listen) and various other podcast media month after month for over two years now. Thanks Boff – you’re a legend!

    A huge thanks must also go to our thousands of podcast listeners around the world – we’re really grateful for your continued support – and we really hope you enjoy the book, not to mention the quirky and amusing illustrations our talented artists conjured up for us.

    Mice Who Sing For Sex by Lliana Bird and Dr Jack is now available to buy online and in all good bookshops like, my personal favourite, Waterstones.

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  • Porn Brain

    Last summer I was invited by the lovely people at the Latitude Festival to participate in a debate at the Literature Tent on the impact of online pornography on society.

    pornperspectiveonstage

    It was chaired by Dr Suzi Gage (@soozaphone) of Bristol (and by now Liverpool) University, known for her popular Guardian science column and podcast Say Why to Drugs. The other panelists were Martin Daubney (@MartinDaubney), former editor of lad’s mag Loaded for eight years and theatre-maker Christopher Green (@Kit_Green) creator and player of comedy Country ‘n’ Western heroine Tina C.

    My role was to bring the neuroscience perspective, Martin the media perspective and Chris was taking the arts angle. I got prepared quite a few weeks in advance and was stunned by what I found lurking in the academic literature. So I thought I’d share my main findings with you here in this month’s blog.

    When people think of addictions, compulsive consumption of various psychoactive substance is usually the first thing to spring to mind. Much research has demonstrated a hyper-responsiveness of the reward pathway – the ventral tegmental area in the midbrain and nucleus accumbens in the ventral striatum in particular – to drug-related images in the brains of people addicted to recreational drugs like, for example, cocaine. This body of research also demonstrates that the activity generated in the reward pathways of drug addicts to pleasant images of scenes unrelated to drugs, is somewhat diminished compared to non-drug takers. In other words, excessive consumption of drugs seems to subtly rewire the reward pathway so that it becomes more sensitive to visual scenes relating to their preferred recreational drug and less so (than normal) to everything else. It seems this is not just limited to drugs, a similar impact on brain function is seen in people who over-consume porn too.

    img_0510It is important to bear in mind that the reward pathway is not only important for generating feelings of happiness when we participate in pleasurable activities, but it’s also instrumental in predicting what choices might bring us rewards in the future, which means it is critically involved in decision making. It’s role in helping us evaluate the benefits of one option over another extends to the point where this system, in combination with other nearby brain areas, can be thought of as providing the very drive that motivates us to pursue one course of action over another.

    In recent times, research into excessive consumption of various products accessed through the internet – online gaming, gambling and pornography, to name but a few – also leads to behaviours that have all the hallmarks of addiction, not to mention the altered neurological responses outlined above. There has been some resistance to this idea in various academic communities, but the movement to have these “arousal” addictions included in handbooks of psychiatric illness symptom classification, and in particular the DSM-5, is starting to gather momentum.

    On the basis of a huge survey investigating the pornographic consumption and sexual experiences of 28,000 Italian teenagers it seems that, for about one in ten boys who consume explicit online pornography on a daily basis, the habit is interfering with their ability to engage in real life sexual activities:

    It starts with lower reactions to porn sites. Then there is a general drop in libido, and in the end it becomes impossible to get an erection

    Carlos Forsta, President of the Italian Society for Andrology and Sexual Medicine.

    This may at first glance seem to fly directly in the face of the stereotype of the ultra-horny teenage boy, brimming full of the very sex hormones that would usually ensure a hair-trigger sexual response to any possibility of coitus. But in light of research conducted many years ago by joint winner of the 1973 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, Nikolaas Tinbergen, it starts to make a lot more sense. In experiments conducted with “supernormal” stimuli, he observed that birds preferred to sit on larger than normal and / or more colourful eggs constructed from plaster, rather than their own real eggs. Similarly, herring gull chicks would peck harder and more often at a fake adult herring gull beak with brighter or more numerous red spots than the real thing, in a vain effort to elicit a regurgitated dinner. The point is that the larger than real life stimuli seem to have short-circuited the birds’ primal instincts leading to a preference that would ultimately be deleterious to the survival of the bird’s progeny.

    It seems that the ubiquitous availability of explicit internet pornography is leading to a similar scenario in modern day internet addicted teenage boys. A subconscious preference for artificial, supernormal, explicit porn over actual sexual partners seems to be occurring with alarming regularity in adolescents who let their penchant for titillating pornographic films get out of control. In his TED talk entitled “Why I stopped watching porn” Ran Gavrieli gives an excellent and compelling account of some of the key differences between what pornographic films actually show and the relatively tame sensory stimuli involved in genuinely satisfying, intimate sexual behaviour between consenting adults.

    Essentially, he points out that themes typically conveyed on free online porn sites, such as female subordination and extreme close ups of penetration to name but a few, are the human sexual equivalent of the brightly coloured, super-sized eggs and beak markings from Prof Tinbergen’s experiments (just not in so many words!). Porn is a supernormal stimulus, dominated by explicit close ups of penetration that you simply can’t reproduce in reality (the penis and eyeballs will always be separated by a set distance, unless you are exceedingly flexible, of course). Inevitably the real thing pales into insignificance by comparison after sufficient daily use of explicit porn of virtually infinite variety. No wonder boys are struggling to get it up!

    img_0538This isn’t to say that there is no place for pornography in society. Regardless of your attitudes on this topic, it certainly isn’t going away any time soon. However it may be useful for porn fans to bear in mind the concept of everything in moderation. Once one genre of porn is no longer arousing there are many other categories to choose from. Once the relatively soft porn is no longer stimulating, casual browsing will always yield more explicit options. Eventually the kind of sexual activities we are likely to have access to in real life become insufficient to yield an erection for long enough to reach climax, which will inevitably lead to relationship problems. And nobody wants that.

    The good news is that abstinence from pornography is usually sufficient to enable normal biological sexual function to eventually return. Interestingly, in older men this takes two months, whilst in younger men it can take much longer: four to five months. Find out more in the Latitude Podcast of the Porn Perspective Debate.

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  • 2016 Showreel

    In my 8 years of presenting / contributing as an expert to TV shows I’ve appeared on every British terrestrial television channel and half a dozen or so international cable and satellite channels. My most recent series Secrets of the Brain is available to be streamed for free from anywhere in the world on the dedicated ultra high definition digital channel insight.tv (also on sky channel 279 in the UK). It’s without a shadow of a doubt the best presenting work I’ve done so far and it even got shortlisted for an AIB award.

    Here’s my brand new showreel dedicated entirely to SotB.

    Hope you like it…

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  • Brain Training Review of PEAK by Dr Jack

    As my regulars will know I like to keep abreast of movements in the brain training game market. I’ve reviewed Nintendo DS’s titles from the Dr Kawashima, Lumosity and even some that weren’t specifically designed to improve cognitive functions, yet arguably do. Christmas before last I subscribed my parents up to Lumosity on the iPad. 24 months later my dad still plays on a regular basis. He’s up to 99.9% for his age group in every category bar 1 (where he is up to 99.7%!). This year I’ll be subscribing them to PEAK instead, because having regularly used it on my phone to kill time whilst in transit (or on the throne) for the best part of a year I genuinely think the (relatively) new kid on the block wipes the floor with Lumosity.

    All the major players tend to include a core set of “classic” brain training games that are clearly inspired by neurological tests that have been around for many decades e.g. Go/NoGo, Stroop, N-back etc. Unlike their rivals who seem to be happy with the basic versions, PEAK seems to continually evolve each game by adding a twist or making each game a little bit tougher.

    IMG_7104Take for instance working memory training – the only games for which there is any half decent published data in the peer-reviewed science literature supporting claims that it can actually improve cognition (and even that evidence is hotly contested!). The spatial working memory training games like PERILOUS PATH (memorise the position of the mines whilst they’re briefly displayed and then trace a path around them from random start to finish points), MEMORY SWEEP (remember and reproduce the position of illuminated blocks in larger and larger grids) and BOUNCE (guess the finishing point of a laser beam sent bouncing across angled mirrors distributed across the grid after a brief glimpse of where they are) have all been done before, but these are all great versions.

     

    PEAK also takes simple versions of classic brain games and takes steps to improve them. For example, RUSH BACK involves simply answering whether each presented image is the same or different as the previous one. A 1-back task like this hardly challenges working memory because you can use iconic memory (the visual impression left in the mind’s eye for a few tens of milliseconds after any object disappears from view). They quite rightly class this as a test of “focus”, because if you lose concentration then it is easy to accidentally push the wrong button. Particularly when you’re trying to go as fast as possible to maximise points. Yet over the months they’ve introduced RUSH BACK PLUS – which is a 2-back task and two other aesthetically appealing variations on this game:

    TUNNEL TRANCE – progresses from the 1-back task to the 2-back (same as the image before last?) to the 3-back (same as the one before the one before last) – this really has the potential to genuinely help people hold more information in mind when they are performing a real life task. It probably goes up to 4-back and beyond… if so, I simply haven’t performed well enough at the 3-back task to get promoted to the next level.

    PARTIAL MATCH – the task is to rapidly decide whether the image is identical to the last image, completely different, or partially the same (i.e. same colour but different shape or same shape but different colour). This I have never seen anywhere before. I appreciate that PEAK are putting in the effort to innovate and that it took me a surprisingly long time to get the hang of. I’m always mindful that the harder something is to get the hang of, i.e. the more a brain finds it to be a challenge, the more resources are likely to be invested in reinforcing the relevant neural pathways in an effort to adapt the brain to improve that particular mental function. Speaking of which another game that was introduced very recently definitely deserves a special mention… HAPPY RIVER

    A common symptom of depression is the tendency to ruminate over negative thoughts or emotions. An effective but simply remedy is to develop the habit of dwelling instead on the positive whilst disregarding the negative. Bear this in mind as you read on because I’m convinced that HAPPY RIVER can only be a power for good, which suggests that PEAK really are keeping an eye on the latest developments in psychology and neuroscience to find inspiration for their new game pipeline.

    HAPPY RIVER involves reuniting a baby elephant with its mother. They are on opposite side of the banks of a river that have several rows of words streaming across it either from left to right or right to left. Each of the individual words acts as a raft. By tapping the screen the baby elephant hops forward. Your timing has to be accurate or else you’ll fall into the gaps between each word raft. You also have to be strategic because only those words with positive emotional overtones provide safe passage. Step onto a negative word and you’ll be tipped over into the rapids. So to successfully reunite the baby elephant with its mother you have to focus on the positive and avoid the negative – hence PEAK have created a game that could well encourage a habit that could ever so slightly nudge players towards a more positive outlook and greater mental health.

    IMG_7105FLIGHT PATH challenges many different cognitive capacities. You start with a bird’s eye view of some lush green fields at the middle of which are 4 landing spots for airships that fly into view from top, bottom, left or right of screen. Each airship has a different letter and moves at a different velocity. Your task is to plot the movement of each airship so that they line up on the ground in an order that spells a 4-letter word. The airspace can get pretty crowded so half the challenge is to do what all air traffic control professionals do so well – stop the aircraft from smashing into each other and showering the sky with debris. For this game you need to think strategically, flexibly, linguistically, constantly updating the flight paths for a steadily increasing number of craft whilst simultaneously keeping your eye on an icon in the top right corner to win extra points. Although there is no published data yet to prove it, my hunch is that having to divide your attention across so many competing concerns and continually re-evaluate your priorities, will tune up brain pathways that would surely come in useful for any high pressured professional.

    In addition to these monthly brain blogs, you can subscribe to my weekly science podcast (or get it on libsyn) and follow me on Twitter (@drjacklewis) for a daily dose of news articles describing the latest breakthroughs in brain science.

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  • Bionic Brain Adaptations by Dr Jack Lewis

    luke-skywalker-arm-chopFirst I met a bona fide bionic man in Cambridge – that got me thinking about an essay I wrote whilst in my undergraduate neuroscience days. It explained, in great molecular detail, the obstacles that would have to be overcome for a robotic limb to ever adequately replace the functional repertoire of a severed one. In other words I described what it would take to do a “Luke Skywalker” (for those who actively avoid Star Wars: Luke is the hero who get his arm chopped off in a light sabre battle only to have an operation that replaces the severed limb with a fully-functional robotic one that he controls as effortlessly as the original).

    luke skywalker armSecond I flew to Kyoto – to interview the Godfather of Androids, a man who has created some of the most sophisticated human-like robots in the world. Over ten days of filming I must have come face-to-face with over a dozen robots. Each time I thought back to something that happened, totally spontaneously, during a game of Jenga with Nigel Ackland – my real life Luke Skywalker.

    Finally, Nigel performed a manouevre with his robotic arm that no human could with a mortal one. This event brought to mind a classic series of Japanese neurophysiology experiments from the lab of Professor Iriki. These studies expanded our understanding of how brains keep track of the space around us. In particular, how brains distinguish between parts of the environment that can be influenced with a extended arm (plus any tool that provides an extension), and parts that cannot (NB see in particular the original observations from 1996).

    Consequently, this month’s brain blog is dedicated to a combination of…

    Robotic Technology, Human Determination & Neuroplasticity

    neglectThe parietal cortex of the primate brain (including the human primate) is responsible for, among several other important functions, our awareness of space. For example, damage to the patch of brain tissue that resides where the parietal lobe borders its temporal and occipital lobe neighbours can lead to neglect if it occurs on the right side of the head (See the images in this free classic paper on neglect if you want to see exactly where in the brain this is) – resulting in the person’s awareness of the left side of everything being highly compromised. Give someone with neglect a piece of paper with circles drawn all over it, asking them to place a mark at the centre of each, they only mark circles on the right side of the page. Ask them to draw a clock face and they will not draw the numbers on the left side (i.e. having successfully drawn a circle and the hours from 12 to 6 on the right hand side, they’ll typically omit the hours of 7 – 8 – 9 – 10 and 11 because they lack awareness of what should be on the left side of a clock face). They will only eat food from the right side of their plate. They will often even only shave the right side of their face, dress the right side of their body. Their awareness of “leftness” has been fundamentally compromised. Such is the importance of the parietal cortex to our awareness of space.

    iriki macaqueTowards the end of the 90’s and early 00’s researchers working with Japanese macaques trained to reach for food rewards observed that certain neurons would become activated if the treat was placed within arm’s reach. If the primates were provided with a croupier’s rake (usually used in casinos to collect up chips on gambling tables) then neurons representing nearby space that was previously out of reach would become activated once they gained experience using this simple tool to drag the food rewards towards them. The researchers even took it a step further by providing two rakes, one with a short handle and one with a long handle. Neurons representing space out of reach with the short handled rake became recruited into the “network of reachable space” when the macaques figured out they could use the short rake to pull the long rake closer and then use this to drag the treat from the opposite side of the table. Keep this in mind as you read the following account of bionic brain adaptation.

    Bionic Brain Adaptation?

    Version 2Nigel Ackland is a real life bionic man since a nasty industrial accident left his arm mangled and several subsequent botched surgeries led to his decision to have his right arm amputated from the elbow down. Shortly after this operation, he started to develop pain in his phantom limb. His NHS-issued “pincer” enabled him to gain some additional dexterity, but it did little to diminish the phantom sensation of his fingers and wrist locked into an extremely uncomfortable position. However once he started using a cutting-edge bionic arm, equipped with various pre-programmed five fingered hand movements operated via neuronal signals passing from his brain to the muscles at the end of his arm stump, not only did the phantom limb pain start getting better, but the phantom limb started extending gradually from his stump into the hand and fingers of his bionic arm.

    bebionicWhilst playing Jenga with him for my new series Nigel did something quite remarkable, triggering the memory of those Japanese macaques. Reaching with his bionic arm to grab an awkwardly positioned brick, from his side of the table he could only present the back of his hand to the block he was after. Unlike the rest of us mere mortals Nigel can rotate the hand of his bionic arm at the wrist by 360 degrees. To reach the brick in question he simply rotated his hand 180 degrees to face the other way, and then grabbed the block he was after with his bionic thumb, fore- and middle fingers in the usual way. It immediately occurred to me that people with bionic limbs – who can do things a normal human limb can not – may be awakening neurons in their parietal cortex that represent areas of space that have never before been recruited into the “network of reachable space” in the history of our species. Now that is very cool.

    In addition to these monthly brain blogs, you can subscribe to my weekly science podcast (via itunes, via libsyn) and follow me on Twitter (@drjacklewis) for a daily dose of news articles describing the latest breakthroughs in brain science.

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  • Brain Benefits of Mindfulness – PART 1

    Hippie-MeditationI used to think that the practice of “mindful meditation” was exclusively the preserve of yogis, Buddhists and New Age hippies fresh back from an extended voyage of self-discovery around Asia. If you’ve ever found yourself caught up in a conversation with an over-enthusiastic traveler fresh back from their adventures you’ll know what I mean. Such folk have usually undergone a wholesale transformation from fairly conventional individuals into barefoot, sandalwood-scented, Thai-dyed, hemp shirt and trousers wearing, bead bracelet bedecked eccentrics who preach the stupidity of capitalism and the supremacy of the compassionate mind-set at any and all available opportunities. My attitude has changed fundamentally in recent months.

    A recent review paper (in Nature Reviews Neuroscience, no less) evaluating the flurry of scientific investigations into the possible benefits of practicing mindfulness that have accumulated over the past ten years or so, has given me a fresh perspective. To my surprise it turns out that there is plenty of early evidence attesting to “beneficial effects on physical and mental health; and cognitive performance.”

    WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?

    Cluttered MindMindfulness is actually a very simple concept to grasp, if only we’d give it a half chance. From the moment we wake to the moment we go back to sleep our minds are cluttered with innumerable thoughts.

    These thoughts tend to focus on the past and the future: conversations, experiences and interactions that occurred in the past and hopes, ambitions, fears and other concerns regarding the future. Mindfulness encourages the development of attention directing and emotional regulating capacities that enable us to focus on the present moment. Ultimately, by getting in the habit of focusing on what we target with our conscious awareness, rather than just allowing ourselves to be buffeted by whatever stimuli, thoughts or feelings happen to flicker through our minds, we can achieve a greater self-awareness.

    GETTING STARTED

    Mindful-Happiness_Breath-Meditation-Practices-BreathingPaintingThere are many different ways of achieving a mindful brain state but typically the beginner is encouraged to start by focusing on their breath. They are asked to breath deeply, in and out, right into the belly to ensure their diaphragm is being used to full effect. Whilst performing these simple actions they are regularly reminded to bring their attention back to their breath whenever the mind wanders elsewhere, to notice the cool air passing in through the nostrils on the inhale and the warm air passing out again on the exhale. After a few minutes of this, you are usually instructed to re-direct the focus of your attention on different body parts, moving systematically around the body. Notice the feeling of clothing on skin, upward pressure of the floor (or the chair) on your buttocks – move your mind’s eye from your toes, gradually up through the legs, into hips, up your back, across your shoulders and down your arms to your finger tips.

    FOCUS AND RE-FOCUS YOUR MIND

    When thoughts pop into your head, as they invariably will, the idea is not to block them or force them out, but simply to acknowledge them without engaging too deeply; focusing attention back on your breath, or touch sensations in a certain body part.

    FocusIt sounds extremely simple (too straightforward to result in any meaningful benefits surely?!) but most of us are ingrained with deeply entrenched habits of thought such as worrying about events in the past or future or perpetually seeking some form of stimulation that it can take a while to achieve the goal of quiet contemplation of bodily sensations for more than 20 or 30 seconds at a time. But for those who stick at it – regularly, intensively and consistently over many weeks and months – and gradually build their ability to stay in this mindful state for 5, 15, 30, 60 mins at a time, a wide variety of benefits are achievable. And the latest neuroscience studies into mindfulness are homing in on what it going on inside the brain as a result of all this practice.

    To find out about how mindfulness changes the brain please click here.

    If you love science geekery then my weekly science podcast Geek Chic’s Weird Science may well be right up your alley. It’s available on iTunes, audioboom, libsyn and podbay, with the delectable Lliana Bird who presents every Fri and Sat nights on Radio X.

    I also regularly share the best of the day’s neuroscience breakthroughs on Twitter so if you’d like to follow me, please click here –> @drjacklewis

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