my serendipities

Oct 21

A new study, which may have implications for approaches to education, finds that brain mechanisms engaged when people allow their minds to rest and reflect on things they’ve learned before, may boost later learning.

Margaret Schlichting, a graduate student researcher, and Alison Preston, an associate professor of psychology and neuroscience, gave participants in the study two learning tasks in which participants were asked to memorize different series of associated photo pairs. Between the tasks, participants rested and could think about anything they chose, but brain scans found that the ones who used that time to reflect on what they had learned earlier in the day fared better on tests pertaining to what they learned later, especially where small threads of information between the two tasks overlapped. Participants seemed to be making connections that helped them absorb information later on, even if it was only loosely related to something they learned before.

"We’ve shown for the first time that how the brain processes information during rest can improve future learning," says Preston. "We think replaying memories during rest makes those earlier memories stronger, not just impacting the original content, but impacting the memories to come.

Until now, many scientists assumed that prior memories are more likely to interfere with new learning. This new study shows that at least in some situations, the opposite is true.

"Nothing happens in isolation," says Preston. "When you are learning something new, you bring to mind all of the things you know that are related to that new information. In doing so, you embed the new information into your existing knowledge."

” — Mental rest and reflection boost learning, study suggests — ScienceDaily

“A man who was completely paralysed from the waist down can walk again after a British-funded surgical breakthrough which offers hope to millions of people who are disabled by spinal cord injuries. Polish surgeons used nerve-supporting cells from the nose of Darek Fidyka, a Bulgarian man who was injured four years ago, to provide pathways along which the broken tissue was able to grow. The 38-year-old, who is believed to be the first person in the world to recover from complete severing of the spinal nerves, can now walk with a frame and has been able to resume an independent life, even to the extent of driving a car, while sensation has returned to his lower limbs. Professor Geoffrey Raisman, whose team at University College London’s institute of neurology discovered the technique, said: “We believe that this procedure is the breakthrough which, as it is further developed, will result in a historic change in the currently hopeless outlook for people disabled by spinal cord injury.” The surgery was performed by a Polish team led by one of the world’s top spinal repair experts, Dr Pawel Tabakow, from Wroclaw Medical University, and involved transplanting olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) from the nose to the spinal cord. OECs assist the repair of damaged nerves that transmit smell messages by opening up pathways for them to the olfactory bulbs in the forebrain. Relocated to the spinal cord, they appear to enable the ends of severed nerve fibres to grow and join together – something that was previously thought to be impossible.” — Paralysed man Darek Fidyka walks again after pioneering surgery | Science | The Guardian

What if a brain wave test could prove whether you’d walked down the street carrying a yellow umbrella?

New research suggests it could: Scientists have pinpointed a specific brain wave that responds to details it has encountered. That could have big implications for courtrooms (if a criminal had been carrying a pink umbrella, for example, a brain scan could help exonerate the suspect carrying the yellow umbrella).

Electroencephalography (EEG) recordings show that the brain wave, known as P300, lights up when a person recognizes something meaningful among a list of random items.

“Perhaps the most surprising finding was the extent to which we could detect very trivial details from a subject’s day, such as the color of umbrella that the participant had used,” lead researcher John B. Meixner of Northwestern University said in a press release.

“This precision is exciting for the future because it indicates that relatively peripheral crime details, such as physical features of the crime scene, might be usable in a real-world [investigation.]”

” — Brain Wave Could Prove What People Have Seen : Discovery News

Oct 17

Consumption of sugary soda drinks such as cola and lemonade may be linked to accelerated DNA ageing, say researchers who have studied the impact of the drinks in more than 5,000 people. High-sugar fizzy drinks have been under fire from campaigners for contributing to obesity and type-2 diabetes, but this is the first study to suggest a link with ageing. The researchers found that people who reported drinking a 350ml bottle of fizzy drink per day had DNA changes typical of cells 4.6 years older.

Telomeres are repetitive sections at the end of chromosomes that get shorter each time cells divide. They act as a kind of genetic ticking clock and in the past have been associated with human lifespan as well as the development of some forms of cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Other studies have suggested a link between telomere length and lifestyle factors such as smoking and psychological stress.

“It’s really been in the last four years or so that people have started asking if this is something that can start in early age,” said Epel. “This soda study really raises the question: if we’re seeing this apparent soda-induced telomere shortening in a diverse adult sample, what does that mean for our kids? It may be a large part of why we have such a vast epidemic of not only obesity as adults, but early disease onset. Soda may be one of the invisible culprits.”

She stressed that the study only showed an association and did not prove that sugary drink consumption caused cell ageing. If high soda consumption was to blame, it may be due to the huge rush of sugars into the blood after a drink, leading to oxidative stress and inflammation – “the perfect storm for degrading telomeres,” said Epel.

” — Sugary soft drinks may be linked to accelerated DNA ageing – study | Life and style | The Guardian

Oct 16

How do you decide if you can trust someone? Is it based on their handshake, the way they look you in the eye, or perhaps their body language? We know that what someone wears has an effect on our trust in them. If you happen to be a doctor, 76% of us will favour you if you wear the white coat, compared to only 10% if you happen to just pop out in your surgical scrubs. Labels matter too. In one test, four times as many people were willing to stop and answer a survey on one day compared to another. The difference? Whether or not the interviewer had a designer label on their sweatshirt. But what if you had to decide whether or not to trust someone without knowing the gear they were togged up in? Without knowing anything about them at all?

As player one, how much would you give away to a complete stranger? Well if you happen to have an electroencephalograph (EEG) handy, you can find out without ever needing to play. An EEG records your brain activity by measuring the electrical pulses generated by the brain’s cells through a series of electrodes placed on your scalp. In this study, the researchers found that they could predict the amount of money the initial player would trust to the stranger purely based on the activity recorded by the EEG.

But what makes this finding even more interesting is that the EEG recording was taken several minutes before the trust game began. At this point, the staff running the experiment had not asked the participants to think about the game of trust. What the EEG recorded was the resting state of the participants’ brains when not involved in tasks – relatively calm – rather than the heightened activity associated with performing mental or physical tasks.

Resting state brain activity is thought to be relatively stable over time. So the fact that the experimenters were able to predict the investment that player one would make to the stranger, player two, was purely based on this resting state activity. And it shows that initial levels of trust may be determined by an underlying pattern of brain activity.

Not only are some of us physically more inclined to trust strangers than others, but that susceptibility can be determined by any unscrupulous character who happens to have an EEG scanner to hand.

” — Brain scans show who’s likely to trust strangers – something conmen can only dream about