Having trouble paying attention? MIT neuroscientists may have a solution for you: Turn down your alpha brain waves. In a new study, the researchers found that people can enhance their attention by controlling their own alpha brain waves based on neurofeedback they receive as they perform a particular task.
Anne Trafton of the MIT New Service writes, the study found that when subjects learned to suppress alpha waves in one hemisphere of their parietal cortex, they were able to pay better attention to objects that appeared on the opposite side of their visual field. This is the first time that this cause-and-effect relationship has been seen, and it suggests that it may be possible for people to learn to improve their attention through neurofeedback.
“There’s a lot of interest in using neurofeedback to try to help people with various brain disorders and behavioral problems,” says Robert Desimone, director of MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research. “It’s a completely noninvasive way of controlling and testing the role of different types of brain activity.”
It’s unknown how long these effects might last and whether this kind of control could be achieved with other types of brain waves, such as beta waves, which are linked to Parkinson’s disease. The researchers are now planning additional studies of whether this type of neurofeedback training might help people suffering from attentional or other neurological disorders.
As regular readers know, I am very sensitive to cognitive impairment, having lost three close family members to Alzheimer’s and dementia. So I was very happy to come across this list of recommendations for building up our mental muscles and reducing our chances of contracting Alzheimer’s from the Alzheimer’s Association.
“Research on cognitive decline is still evolving,” said Theresa Hocker, president and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association – North Central Texas Chapter. “But there are actions people can take. Certain healthy behaviors known to combat cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes also may reduce the risk of cognitive decline. These include staying mentally active, engaging in regular physical activity, and eating a heart-healthy diet that benefits your body and your brain.”
1. Break a sweat. Engage in regular cardiovascular exercise that elevates your heart rate and increases blood flow to the brain and body. Several studies have found an association between physical activity and reduced risk of cognitive decline.
2. Hit the books. Formal education in any stage of life will help reduce your risk of cognitive decline and dementia. For example, take a class at a local college, community center or online.
3. Butt out. Evidence shows that smoking increases risk of cognitive decline. Quitting smoking can reduce that risk to levels comparable to those who have not smoked. Continue reading
When we train the reaching for and grasping of objects, we also train our brain. In other words, this action brings about changes in the connections of a certain neuronal population in the red nucleus, a region of the midbrain. Researchers at the University of Basel’s Biozentrum have discovered this group of nerve cells in the red nucleus. They have also shown how fine motor tasks promote plastic reorganization of this brain region. The results of the study have been published recently in Nature Communications.
Simply grasping a coffee cup needs fine motor coordination with the highest precision. This required performance of the brain is an ability that can also be learned and trained. Prof. Kelly Tan’s research group at the Biozentrum, University of Basel, has investigated the red nucleus, a region of the midbrain that controls fine motor movement, and identified a new population of nerve cells which changes when fine motor coordination is trained. The more that grasping is practiced, the more the connections between the neurons of this group of nerve cells are strengthened. Continue reading
I really wanted to reproduce this just because the illusion seemed so cool to me. I don’t know that you can benefit from in any way, but to enjoy it. Follow the directions in the caption – and enjoy.
Summary: Researchers report the same subset of neurons encode actual and illusory flow motion, supporting the concept Jan Purkinje proposed 150 years ago, that “illusions contain visual truth”.Source: SfN.
A study of humans and monkeys published in Journal of Neuroscience has found the same subset of neurons encode actual and illusory complex flow motion. This finding supports, at the level of single neurons, what the Czech scientist Jan Purkinje surmised 150 years ago: “Illusions contain visual truth.”
Fixate the black dot and move your head towards and away from the image and you should perceive the rings rotating. NeuroscienceNews.com image is credited to Junxiang Luo.
The Pinna-Brelstaff figure is a static image of rings that appear to rotate clockwise as one moves toward and counterclockwise as one moves away from the figure. Having previously identified particular parts of the human brain that represent the Pinna illusion, Junxiang Luo and colleagues at the Institute of Neuroscience, Chinese Academy of Sciences first confirmed that male rhesus macaques likely perceive the illusion similarly to people.
The researchers then recorded activity from individual neurons in the previously identified brain regions, and discovered cells that signal the illusory motion similarly to actual motion. A delay of about 15 milliseconds enables the brain to register the illusory motion as if it was real.
This study provides new insights into how the brain grapples with the continual mismatch between perception and reality.
I just ran across this infographic and was touched by its simplicity. Basic as it is, I hope you have these going for you on a daily basis. I think they are the keys to a long and healthy life.
They say you can’t teach old dogs new tricks, but new research shows you can teach an old rat new sounds, even if the lesson doesn’t stick very long.
For the record I wrote a post on that damaging cliche about teaching old dogs new tricks. You can read it here – Of cats and dogs and cliches ….
Researchers at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital (The Neuro) of McGill University examined the effects of aging on neuroplasticity in the primary auditory cortex, the part of the brain that processes auditory information. Neuroplasticity refers to the brain’s ability to modify its connections and function in response to environmental demands, an important process in learning.
Plasticity in the young brain is very strong as we learn to map our surroundings using the senses. NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Plasticity in the young brain is very strong as we learn to map our surroundings using the senses. As we grow older, plasticity decreases to stabilize what we have already learned. This stabilization is partly controlled by a neurotransmitter called gamma-Aminobutyric acid (GABA), which inhibits neuronal activity. This role of GABA was discovered by K.A.C. Elliot and Ernst Florey at The Neuro in 1956. Continue reading
Music is one of the great joys of my life. I have a bluetooth speaker on my bike and I listen to music on my daily rides. My iPhone has about 15 gigabytes of jazz, classics and classic rock so I have the entire spectrum available. Consuming music, however, is not the same as producing it.
Different processes occur in the brains of jazz and classical pianists while playing the same piece of music, researchers report in Neuroscience News.
Keith Jarret, world-famous jazz pianist, once answered in an interview when asked if he would ever be interested in doing a concert where he would play both jazz and classical music: “No, that’s hilarious. […] It’s like a chosen practically impossible thing […] It’s [because of] the circuitry. Your system demands different circuitry for either of those two things.” Where non-specialists tend to think that it should not be too challenging for a professional musician to switch between styles of music, such as jazz and classical, it is actually not as easy as one would assume, even for people with decades of experience.
Herewith more good news on the connection between exercise and mental capacity. Eat less; move more; live longer – and maybe think better.
A 10-minute, one-time burst of exercise can measurably boost your brain power, at least temporarily, researchers at Western University in London, Canada, have found.
While other studies have showed brain-health benefits after 20-minutes of a single-bout of exercise, or following commitment to a long-term (24-week) exercise program, this research suggests even 10 minutes of aerobic activity can prime the parts of the brain that help us problem-solve and focus.
“Some people can’t commit to a long-term exercise regime because of time or physical capacity,” said Kinesiology Prof. Matthew Heath, who is also a supervisor in the Graduate Program in Neuroscience and, with master’s student Ashna Samani, conducted the study. “This shows that people can cycle or walk briskly for a short duration, even once, and find immediate benefits.” Continue reading
As regular readers know, I think we should all exercise regularly to keep our bodies and brains functioning at their best levels. It’s nice to see that the phrase use it or lose it has value on more than one level.
Mount Sinai researchers have found a positive relationship between the brain network associated with working memory—the ability to store and process information relevant to the task at hand—and healthy traits such as higher physical endurance and better cognitive function.
These traits were associated with greater cohesiveness of the working memory brain network while traits indicating sub-optimal cardiovascular and metabolic health, and sub-optimal health habits including binge drinking and regular smoking, were associated with less cohesive working memory networks.
This is the first study to establish the link between working memory and physical health and lifestyle choices.
The results of the study were published online in Molecular Psychiatry on Tuesday, December 5, 2017.
The research team took brain scans of 823 participants in the Human Connectome Project (HCP), a large brain imaging study funded by the National Institutes of Health, while they performed a task involving working memory, and extracted measures of brain activity and connectivity to create a brain map of working memory. The team then used a statistical method called sparse canonical correlation to discover the relationships between the working memory brain map and 116 measures of cognitive ability, physical and mental health, personality, and lifestyle choices. They found that cohesiveness in the working memory brain map was positively associated with higher physical endurance and better cognitive function. Physical traits such as high body mass index, and suboptimal lifestyle choices including binge alcohol drinking and regular smoking, had the opposite association.
“Working memory accounts for individual differences in personal, educational, and professional attainment,” said Sophia Frangou, MD, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Working memory is also one of the brain functions that is severely affected by physical and mental illnesses. Our study identified factors that can either support or undermine the working memory brain network. Our findings can empower people to make informed choices about how best to promote and preserve brain health.”
There is something universal about what occurs in the brain when it processes stories, regardless of a person’s origin or language, according to a study at the University of Southern California.
New brain research by USC scientists shows that reading stories is a universal experience that may result in people feeling greater empathy for each other, regardless of cultural origins and differences.
And in what appears to be a first for neuroscience, USC researchers have found patterns of brain activation when people find meaning in stories, regardless of their language. Using functional MRI, the scientists mapped brain responses to narratives in three different languages — English, Farsi and Mandarin Chinese.
The USC study opens up the possibility that exposure to narrative storytelling can have a widespread effect on triggering better self-awareness and empathy for others, regardless of the language or origin of the person being exposed to it.
“Even given these fundamental differences in language, which can be read in a different direction or contain a completely different alphabet altogether, there is something universal about what occurs in the brain at the point when we are processing narratives,” said Morteza Dehghani, the study’s lead author and a researcher at the Brain and Creativity Institute at USC. Continue reading
Eat less; move more; live longer remains the mantra of this blog. So, it is always useful to learn more about how various inputs like food and exercise impact the brain. Here is some fresh info on walnuts from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
- Double-blind test bolsters observational data that walnuts promote feelings of fullness.
- Results provide a quantitative measure for testing other compounds’ ability to control appetite, including potential medications for the treatment of obesity.
Fascinating how walnuts also suggest the shape of the brain.
Packed with nutrients linked to better health, walnuts are also thought to discourage overeating by promoting feelings of fullness. Now, in a new brain imaging study, researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) have demonstrated that consuming walnuts activates an area in the brain associated with regulating hunger and cravings. The findings, published online in the journal Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism, reveal for the first time the neurocognitive impact these nuts have on the brain. Continue reading
Moderate-intensity exercise can help improve your thinking and memory in just six months.
Happy days! More positive information on the benefits to the brain garnered from physical exercise! This time from Harvard Medical School.
You probably already know that exercising is necessary to preserve muscle strength, keep your heart strong, maintain a healthy body weight, and stave off chronic diseases such as diabetes. But exercise can also help boost your thinking skills. “There’s a lot of science behind this,” says Dr. Scott McGinnis, an instructor in neurology at Harvard Medical School. Continue reading
With both Alzheimer’s and dementia in my family, I am interested in all research on the subject.
Tufts reported the following in its Health and Nutrition Letter.
Could a trimmer waistline in middle age help you avoid Alzheimer’s later in life? That’s the suggestion of a study, published in Molecular Psychiatry, from the National Institute on Aging. Researchers analyzed data on 1,394 participants in a long-running study of aging, followed for an average of 14 years, who regularly underwent cognitive testing. A total of 142 participants developed Alzheimer’s disease during the study.
After adjusting for other factors, each additional point of body-mass index (BMI) at age 50 was associated with an earlier onset of Alzheimer’s of 6.7 months. “Our findings clearly indicate that higher adiposity at midlife is associated with a long-lasting effect on accelerating the clinical course of Alzheimer’s disease,” Madhav Thambisetty, MD, PhD, and colleagues concluded.
The study was not designed to prove cause and effect, however, and it’s not clear whether the association between obesity and Alzheimer’s risk might begin even earlier. It’s also true that newly diagnosed Alzheimer’s patients tend to weigh less than normal, not more.
To read further on the subject, please check out my Page – Important facts about your brain – (and exercise benefits).
Video games which involve physical activity significantly boost our brain health as we get older, according to new research led by University of Manchester experts.
Study authors Dr Emma Stanmore and Joseph Firth say systems that use physical activity for gaming such as Wii, and Xbox Kinect can boost brain functioning in people with neurological impairment, as well as keeping our minds healthy and active as we age.
In the first ever analysis of all published evidence, the researchers aggregated data from 17 clinical trials examining the effects of active gaming on cognitive functioning across 926 people. Continue reading
Suppressing production of the protein myostatin enhances muscle mass and leads to significant improvements in markers of heart and kidney health, according to a study conducted in mice. Joshua T. Butcher, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the Vascular Biology Center at Augusta University, will present the work at the American Physiological Society’s annual meeting during the Experimental Biology 2017 meeting, held April 22–26 in Chicago.
The researchers zeroed in on myostatin because it is known as a powerful inhibitor of skeletal muscle growth, meaning that people with more myostatin have less muscle mass and people with less myostatin have more muscle mass. Studies suggest obese people produce more myostatin, which makes it harder to exercise and harder to build muscle mass.
“Given that exercise is one of the most effective interventions for obesity, this creates a cycle by which a person becomes trapped in obesity,” Butcher said. Continue reading
Eat less; move more; live longer is the mantra of this blog. Of course the most important element in living longer is having a fully functioning brain. The BBC just filed a wonderful story supporting that outcome.
Doing moderate exercise several times a week is the best way to keep the mind sharp if you’re over 50, research suggests.
Thinking and memory skills were most improved when people exercised the heart and muscles on a regular basis, a review of 39 studies found.
This remained true in those who already showed signs of cognitive decline.
Taking up exercise at any age was worthwhile for the mind and body, the Australian researchers said.
Exercises such as T’ai Chi were recommended for people over the age of 50 who couldn’t manage other more challenging forms of exercise, the study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine said.