Brain\Mind

Musings, news, and research about neurology, brain physiology, psychology, and behavior. Particular focus on Autism, ADHD, and depression.

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I began meditating a few months back and it feels very positive, even a bit transformative. That feeling is backed up empirically.

There are a number of interesting published studies on the effects of meditation but these two are amazing! Both have high strength of evidence. Here’s the minimum nutshell summary:

  1. Long term meditation alters brain anatomy in positive ways, such as larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter
  2. Meditation and yoga can rewrite our DNA and alter the gene expression of enduring trauma and stress correlates
The underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation: Larger hippocampal and frontal volumes of gray matter

Although the systematic study of meditation is still in its infancy, research has provided evidence for meditation-induced improvements in psychological and physiological well-being. Moreover, meditation practice has been shown not only to benefit higher-order cognitive functions but also to alter brain activity. Nevertheless, little is known about possible links to brain structure. Using high-resolution MRI data of 44 subjects, we set out to examine the underlying anatomical correlates of long-term meditation with different regional specificity (i.e., global, regional, and local). For this purpose, we applied voxel-based morphometry in association with a recently validated automated parcellation approach.

We detected significantly larger gray matter volumes in meditators in the right orbito-frontal cortex (as well as in the right thalamus and left inferior temporal gyrus when co-varying for age and/or lowering applied statistical thresholds). In addition, meditators showed significantly larger volumes of the right hippocampus. Both orbito-frontal and hippocampal regions have been implicated in emotional regulation and response control. Thus, larger volumes in these regions might account for meditators’ singular abilities and habits to cultivate positive emotions, retain emotional stability, and engage in mindful behavior. We further suggest that these regional alterations in brain structures constitute part of the underlying neurological correlate of long-term meditation independent of a specific style and practice. Future longitudinal analyses are necessary to establish the presence and direction of a causal link between meditation practice and brain anatomy.


Meditation and yoga can ‘reverse’ DNA reactions which cause stress, new study suggests 

There is considerable evidence for the effectiveness of mind–body interventions (MBIs) in improving mental and physical health, but the molecular mechanisms of these benefits remain poorly understood. One hypothesis is that MBIs reverse expression of genes involved in inflammatory reactions that are induced by stress. This systematic review was conducted to examine changes in gene expression that occur after MBIs and to explore how these molecular changes are related to health. We searched PubMed throughout September 2016 to look for studies that have used gene expression analysis in MBIs (i.e., mindfulness, yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong, relaxation response, and breath regulation). Due to the limited quantity of studies, we included both clinical and non-clinical samples with any type of research design. Eighteen relevant studies were retrieved and analyzed. Overall, the studies indicate that these practices are associated with a downregulation of nuclear factor kappa B pathway; this is the opposite of the effects of chronic stress on gene expression and suggests that MBI practices may lead to a reduced risk of inflammation-related diseases. However, it is unclear how the effects of MBIs compare to other healthy interventions such as exercise or nutrition due to the small number of available studies. More research is required to be able to understand the effects of MBIs at the molecular level.

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“The Brain tunes itself to criticality, maximizing information processing”

Our brains are clearly amazing at processing the “blooming, buzzing1” world around us.  A recent experiment supports the theory that when neurons work together they actively cooperate to achieve their maximum processing capacity. They seek the urgent, intense edge of their ability. Picture them as the human runners in an Amazon “fulfillment center” except happy in their work.

The entire brain appears to seek this set point or default working state at the maximum of its abilities: “Where it is as excitable as it can be, without tipping into disorder, similar to a phase transition.” A phase transition is where matter transitions from one state, liquid, solid, or gaseous, to a different state.

In other words, our brains are balanced about one millimeter from chaos and disorder. That’s all of us, all the time. Returning from sleep or other off duty moments the brain tunes and retunes itself seeking this point.

While the study neither reveals nor claims anything else about our neurology, I think it points a bright red arrow at possible organic causes of ADHD (as well as ASD, schizophrenia, etc). If the default human phenome, the standard, mass-produced person has this edge-of-chaos set-point, then genetic variation (known to be the prime cause of ADHD) could easily generate a different set point. This variation might generate the quirky, out of step processing that makes us so valuable in the modern workforce, wait, strike that…

It also seems logical that anything that alters this point results in behavioral instability.

More and other interesting details in the reports:

Link to study results 

 

 

1 William James, writing about sensory processing. : “The baby, assailèd by eyes, ears, nose, skin, and entrails at once, feels it all as one great blooming, buzzing confusion; “

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I pray this is the beginning of reducing anxiety for real. Imagine the liberated potential and freedom from fear.

Study of nonhuman primates lays the groundwork for new strategies in treating anxiety
disorders

Boosting a single molecule in the brain can change ‘dispositional anxiety,’ the tendency to perceive
many situations as threatening, in nonhuman primates, researchers have found. The molecule,
neurotrophin-3, stimulates neurons to grow and make new connections.

Link to PDF, further links inside. 

 

 

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in European countries per 100.000 inhabitants (2016). (Phone users the info-graphic is at the bottom, in case it’s hard to see on your phone, the male numbers are to the left and females on the right.) I knew male suicide rates were higher but I had no idea the difference was this stark. The male suicide rate is at least double and often triple the female rate. In Russia, it’s 6X higher! We live in an absurd time where every opinion that could POSSIBLY have a political ax to grind is assumed to have one.

I want to turn that assumption around and ask questions:

  1. Why do I feel vaguely self-conscious and a need to clarify my motives when posting this? Is showing concern specifically for men seen as rejecting concerns about women? Has a discussion of male-female issues grow to resemble the charged atmosphere surrounding discussion of Israel? I refer to the fear of being called anti-semitic that comes with any criticism of Israeli policy or show of concern for Palestinians. If so, how have relations between the sexes sunk low enough to mirror the most vicious and entrenched argument in the world?
  2. In general, why isn’t the cause of this situation (male suicide numbers) a bigger, more pressing public health question? If the numbers were reversed do you think would there be a higher level of concern and more discussion about what is happening to girls and women?

But outside of politics or any kind of moralizing, just pondering the composition of the human race, I think one of the most revealing questions we could ask  to understand our species is simply:

Why is this so? 

 

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Where does this technique reside within this one spider? Where does it reside within the species?

What triggers the processing of this knowledge?

How does the spider understand (or at least experience) the need and the solution?

How does the spider brain process this knowledge without a sort of visualizing?

If spiders can visualize physics concepts

and the parts they’ll need… and collect them…

and assemble them properly…

How should we visualize the minds of spiders?

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A dye that glows brighter in the presence of calcium ions is loaded into the neurons. Neurotransmitters released by an upstream neuron in a network lead to rapid calcium influx in downstream neurons, seen here as a sudden burst of green. The influx triggers an electrochemical propagation of a signal down the length of the neuron, called the axon, and causes the subsequent release of more neurotransmitters, which signals the next neurons in the same network to fire.

 

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Winners interpret good luck as merit-based, even when the rules overtly favor them and no skill is involved. 

When I notice evidence-based research relating to my articles I am adding them.

“At the end of their game, people were asked if it had been fair. Regardless of the conditions, winners were more likely to say yes than losers. Even when the winners benefited from receiving either one or two strong cards from their opponent, they were twice as likely to judge it a fair game as the losers. What’s more, in most versions of the game winners were more likely than losers to attribute success in the game to talent – even though the game required very little.”

Link to the popular article 

Abstract
Growing disparities of income and wealth have prompted extensive survey research to measure the effects on public beliefs about the causes and fairness of economic inequality. However, observational data confound responses to unequal outcomes with highly correlated inequality of opportunity. This study uses a novel experiment to disentangle the effects of unequal outcomes and unequal opportunities on cognitive, normative, and affective responses. Participants were randomly assigned to positions with unequal opportunities for success. Results showed that both winners and losers were less likely to view the outcomes as fair or attributable to skill as the level of redistribution increased, but this effect of redistribution was stronger for winners. Moreover, winners were generally more likely to believe that the game was fair, even when the playing field was most heavily tilted in their favor. In short, it’s not just how the game is played, it’s also whether you win or lose.

Link to research journal 

 

 

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  • He has Parkinson’s
  • She has epilepsy
  • He’s schizophrenic
  • She’s autistic 

No, it’s not the setup for this year’s wackiest RomCom.

It seems one might possess Parkinson’s like a teacup chihuahua or a classic mustang whereas autism is who you are. You could make the case that autism or schizophrenia dramatically shape your personality in a way that defines you, while the other two do not…but you’d be wrong. The communities of caregivers surrounding them commonly describe what they know as Parkinsonian and epileptic personalities. What decides this automatic and unnoticed distinction between Being a disorder and Having a disorder?

How can you be a diagnosis? The taxonomies of neurological types used to label people aren’t real things that people can “be”. They are checklists where we matched the diagnostic criteria enough to call the result positive. “Enough” might be 4 out 7 matches, for example. Diagnostic criteria are simply a collection of behaviors and bio-metrics accepted by the medical community. It’s rather like asking hunters (the hunting community?) the 7 most distinct characteristics of deer. That might be kind of fun but the heuristic is: “I know one when I see one”.

Different neurologies are utterly real but named neurological types are descriptions, the names for vertices and ranges of behavioral parabolas distinct enough to contrast clearly against normal.

Normal is the smooth melted butter river of behaviors we mostly can’t even notice because of how overwhelmingly common they are. Normal isn’t a thing either, it is a thing that’s going on.  Normal is a strange state, only seen clearly when it is held next to things that are not… a bit like a black light held over a motel bed. Normal isn’t a cool matter-of-fact background to things. Normal is the thing we fear when we make a terrible impression. Normal is the cop we all feel oddly guilty in front of. Normal is being welcomed home or cast out in exile. In meat-and-potatoes reality, there is no break from normality that calls for a celebration.

Throughout human history, Normal functioned as an immorality finder. Where immorality was uncovered, normal was declared missing…even for commonplace behaviors that simply got on the wrong side of something socially cherished. The other side of Normal’s coin is perversion of course. So Normal is tainted and muddled by being a measuring device cum moral cudgel. If you trace it back far enough you’ll find Normal describing primate pro-social behaviors that maximize pregnancies and group survival.

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There is a rather famous story about moths that you might well have encountered as a student. The class would have been discussing evolutionary theory.

The common form of peppered moth had a pale coloration suited to hiding on the bark of light-colored tree trunks. This camouflage apparently enabled it to avoid being eaten by birds. Then, in 1848 a specimen with black wings turned up, in the industrial city of Manchester, England. By the end of the 19th century, the dark peppered moth was everywhere, and the paler, mottled version had vanished, becoming virtually extinct.

This was perhaps the first clear instance of human behavior increasing environmental pressure on local species and observers noting and following it. The industrial revolution roared up to speed and the universal use of coal for heating and industrial production had blackened skies and forests. An editorial in an issue of Nature quotes an 1851 railroad guide to the English industrial midlands: “The pleasant green of pastures is almost unknown, the streams, in which no fishes swim, are black and unwholesome…the few trees are stunted and blasted.” Continue reading

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“Unmotivated seeing of connections” accompanied by a “specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness”. — Klaus Conrad

In clearer words, Seeing connection and meaning in data because we want it to be there, not because it really is.
3 aspects of Apophenia
  • Confirmation bias – From a background of randomly distributed items; associating items that have no connection except that they fit the story you are already telling yourself.
  • Rejection bias – Ignoring or denying information that DOESN’T fit the story you are telling yourself.
  • Pareidolia – (less important, but related) A sensory stimulus which is interpreted by the mind as something else. For example being in the shower and the sound of the running water is interpreted as possibly your phone ringing. Or the faces seen in teapots, trucks and clouds. Or Jesus on a piece of toast.
 The classic example is the gambler, excitedly seeing meaningful patterns in random information. I recently had a painful encounter with this in myself, (in a social situation) and I’m a bit shocked at how powerful it can be. This is like “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” Except that all the fooling and all the shaming is me.  It’s all me. Damn it, brain.
 You could just call it cherry-picking but that sounds like an occasional, mild sort of problem one might easily correct. I’d describe it as a kind of spectrum disorder because it grows directly out of essential brain functions. About the most basic need for any organism is to recognize meaningful information and patterns. A little discrepancy in the shadows of a bush might mean a tiger. A twinkle of a certain color off in the distance could be fruit. If you can be scared by a sudden unexpected sound or movement, you are the descendent of people who made good use of that same function a long time ago. More subtly, there are patterns to be recognized in faces and voices and words: And in books and television and the internet. This function is a guardian and a navigator for us.

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