Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Praise and Cash Reward

Here is a news headline in Reuters "Praise as good as cash to brain: study"

Here are some sections from that article


Both kinds of rewards triggered activity in a reward-related area of the brain. Sadato said the finding represents an important first step toward explaining complex human social behaviors such as altruism."

The article acknowledges the existence of biologically coded reward system in brain.

"The fact that the social reward is biologically coded suggests that "the need to belong ... is essential for humans," said Sadato, whose study appears in the journal Neuron."

The following pssage shows that human brain uses same parts of brain to process and react to different social and environmental inputs and stimuli.

"A similar study in the same journal by Caroline Zink of the National Institute of Mental Health and colleagues found the same brain region was active when people were processing information about social status."

The complete Reuters news article is at.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Brain's reward System and Addiction

Computer tomography of brain, from w:base of t...Image via WikipediaNueroscience is discovering the relationship between addiction and brain's reward system. In general human's are very susceptible to the anticipation of rewards. There is lot more in common between gambling,sex, good food, chocolate and other pleasurable activities then we thought originally. They all stimulate the pleasure center of the human brain. Excessive indulgence into pleasurable activities is the leading cause of addiction.

Here is a complete article on Behavioral' Addictions:Do They Exist?

A small excerpts from the article:

Aided by brain imaging advances, scientists are looking for evidence that compulsive nondrug behaviors lead to long-term changes in reward circuitry

People toss around the term "addiction" to describe someone's relationship to a job, a boyfriend, or a computer. But scientists have traditionally confined their use of the term to substances--namely alcohol and other drugs--that clearly foster physical dependence in the user.

That's changing, however. New knowledge about the brain's reward system, much gained by superrefined brain scan technology, suggests that as far as the brain is concerned, a reward's a reward, regardless of whether it comes from a chemical or an experience. And where there's a reward, there's the risk of the vulnerable brain getting trapped in a compulsion.

"Over the past 6 months, more and more people have been thinking that, contrary to earlier views,there is commonality between substance addictions and other compulsions," says Alan Leshner, head of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and incoming executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, publisher of Science.

Just where to draw the line is not yet clear. The unsettled state of definitions is reflected in psychiatry's bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV. Addictions, obsessions, and compulsions--all related to loss of voluntary control and getting trapped in repetitious, self- defeating behavior--are scattered around under "substance-related disorders," "eating disorders," "sexual and gender identity disorders," "anxiety disorders," and "impulse- control disorders not elsewhere classified." In that last grab-bag are compulsive gambling, kleptomania, fire-setting, hair-pulling, and "intermittent explosive disorder."

Addiction used to be defined as dependence on a drug as evidenced by craving, increased tolerance, and withdrawal. But even some seemingly classical addictions don't follow that pattern. Cocaine, for example, is highly addictive but causes little withdrawal. And a person who gets hooked on morphine while in the hospital may stop taking the drug without developing an obsession with it.

Now many researchers are moving toward a definition of addiction based more on behavior, and they are starting to look at whether brain activity and biochemistry are affected the same way in "behavioral" addictions as they are by substance abuse. One who endorses this perspective is psychologist Howard Shaffer, who heads the Division on Addictions at Harvard. "I had great difficulty with my own colleagues when I suggested that a lot of addiction is the result of experience ... repetitive, high-emotion, high-frequency experience," he says. But it's become clear that neuroadaptation--that is, changes in neural circuitry that help perpetuate the behavior--occurs even in the absence of drug-taking, he says.

The experts are fond of saying that addiction occurs when a habit "hijacks" brain circuits that evolved to reward survival- enhancing behavior such as eating and sex. "It stands to reason if you can derange these circuits with pharmacology, you can do it with natural rewards too," observes Stanford University psychologist Brian Knutson. Thus, drugs are no longer at the heart of the matter. "What is coming up fast as being the central core issue ... is continued engagement in self-destructive behavior despite adverse consequences," says Steven Grant of NIDA.

Not everybody is on board with this open-ended definition. For one thing, says longtime addiction researcher Roy Wise of NIDA, drugs are far more powerful than any "natural" pleasure when it comes to the amounts of dopamine released. Nonetheless, behavioral resemblances to addiction are getting increasing notice.

The complete articel is at


Finally the part of the brain that is most active in this is called hypothalamus that sits right below neocortex within the brain. Here is a short movie that describes the role of Hypothalamus and its realtionship with the brains'reward center.

What about learning? It has its own rewards that means it also affects the brain's reward system. It could be addictive.

Does that mean teachers are encouraging an addictive activity??

Eric Kandel on Human Memories

Visualization of the various routes through a ...Image via WikipediaWe all use our memories to remember the old times and perform daily routine tasks. We consider our memories as trusted friends but there are times when our memories fail us. They are not always reliable. Older memories fade with time. The process of memory formation and recall are separate processes. Also, emotional arousal plays important role in formation of memories.

Eric Kandel is a renowned Nobel Prize winning Neuroscientist who specializes in the area of memory functions. He did pioneering research work in identifying short term and long term memories. Here is a twenty minute long interview from Dr. Kandel where he outlines his work about memory functions.

Link: sevenload.com

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Derren Brown British Mentalist Paying with Paper

Derren Brown is a British mentalist. He has performed many mental tricks for British TV programs. This video clip shows how he uses distraction to pay with paper.

More video clips of Derren Brown show.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Persuaders

Dr. Paul Maclean has proposed a triune theory of Brain. According to this theory brain structure can be divided into three parts

Click on image for a clear view

  • reptilian brain
  • limbic sytem
  • neocortex
"MacLean, now the director of the Laboratory of Brain Evolution and Behaviour in Poolesville, Maryland, says that three brains operate like "three interconnected biological computers, [each] with its own special intelligence, its own subjectivity, its own sense of time and space and its own memory". He refers to these three brains as the neocortex or neo-mammalian brain, the limbic or paleo-mammalian system, and the reptilian brain, the brainstem and cerebellum (see above diagram). Each of the three brains is connected by nerves to the other two, but each seems to operate as its own brain system with distinct capacities."

This knowledge of brain functions is essential for designing effective teaching methods. In fact most of the teachers are intuitively aware of this. They know that there is short term learning and there is deep learning that involves the whole brain or at least involve the limbic system and the neocortex.

The marketers are already using this knowledge . The PBS did an entire show called "The Persuaders" that included the interviews of some of the best Marketers like Dr. Clotaire Rapaille a child Psychiatrist turned Marketer.

You can watch his video interview by clicking at the menu item "Watch Online" as shown in the clip below on Dr. Clotaire Rapaille interview page on the PBS website and choosing the fourth video titled "The Science of Selling" within the popped up window.

clipped from www.pbs.org
homewatch onlineanalysisforumdiscussion

blog it

Our primal nature is the boss of the self. It overrides all the thoughtful and deliberate decision making by neocortex if there is a conflict between the limbic system and the cortex. The limbic system make us do things that satisfy our base nature. It is also responsible for our physical survival.

We are not rational beings as logical positivists would make us believe but closer to rationalizing beings who use reason to justify our actions that really are instigated and controlled by the limbic and reptilian parts of our brain.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Do We Have Freewill?

Robert Fludd, Utriusque cosmi maioris scilicet...Image via Wikipedia

Recently the existence of freewill has been questioned by Neuroscientists. Benjamin Libet's experiments showed that people's brain started preparing to take actions before they actually became aware of the action they were going to perform.

Implications of Libet's experiments

Libet's experiments suggest unconscious processes in the brain are the true initiator of volitional acts, therefore, little room remains for the operations of free will. If the brain has already taken steps to initiate an action before we are aware of any desire to perform it, the causal role of consciousness in volition is all but eliminated.

Libet finds room for free will in the interpretation of his results only in the form of 'the power of veto'; conscious acquiescence is required to allow the unconscious buildup of the readiness potential to be actualized as a movement. While consciousness plays no part in the instigationspinal motor neurones by the primary motor cortex, and the margin of error indicated by tests utilizing the oscillator must also be considered). of volitional acts, it retains a part to play in the form of suppressing or withholding from certain acts instigated by the unconscious. Libet noted that everyone has experienced the withholding from performing an unconscious urge. Since the subjective experience of the conscious will to act preceded the action by only 200 milliseconds, this leaves consciousness only 100-150 milliseconds to veto an action (this is because the final 50 milliseconds prior to an act are occupied by the activation of the

Source: Wikipedia

Wired magazine is reporting a recent study confirming Libet's findings in this article

Brain Scanners Can See Your Decisions Before You Make Them

An interesting quote from the article:

"Your decisions are strongly prepared by brain activity. By the time consciousness kicks in, most of the work has already been done," said study co-author John-Dylan Haynes, a Max Planck Institute neuroscientist.

Figure showing the start of readiness potential

The entire wired article.

What are the implication of this research to our most cherished notion of human beings as an independent autonomous agents who act out of their free will?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

LECTURES: Mind, Education, and the Brain

How the Brain Processes Emotion - Presentation on Dr. Immordino Yang's research on the relationship between emotions and learning. Dr. Immordino Yang is a postdoctoral researcher in the department of Neurosciences and the Rossier School of Education.

Lectures: Social and Affective Neuroscience in Education

Rossier School of Education brown bag series: Dr. Mary Helen Immordino Yang presents "The Relevance of Social and Affective Neuroscience to Education.

Persuaders, Opinion Makers and Public Relations

The Century of Self

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Part 6

More information here on PBS program "The Persuaders" http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/persuaders/etc/synopsis.html

One of the original book on Public Relations by Edward Bernays

Wendell Potter author of book "Deadly Spin" describes the practices of public relations here

Public relations is a communication tool. It is like technology that can be put to good use to help people or it can be used to manipulate them for self serving purposes.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Brain and Learning

Here is an entire web site devoted to the issues of Brain and Learning funded by European Union.

Welcome to www.brainandlearning.eu

The website www.brainandlearning.eu has been designed to offer information about the relationship between the mind, the brain, learning capacity and education. The website has been established by the Centre for Brain & Learning at Maastricht University in the Netherlands. This centre, recently founded by the Brain & Behaviour Institute at Maastricht University, is a research, knowledge and expertise centre on this specific domain. The centre’s aim is to make scientific information about mind, brain and learning available to those who are interested. Therefore, this site has been created for not only professionals, such as scientists and educators, but also for policy makers, administrators, students, parents and essentially anyone who is interested in the link between brain and behaviour and the field of education. Clearly, the intention of this website is to inform both professionals and laymen alike.

This website is currently under construction and will be expanded in the near future. We endeavour to provide, on this website, up-to-date information on recent findings from the scientific literature, evidence-based as well as practice-based educational interventions, developments in educational policy and other news which might be relevant for those who are interested in the topic. The feature “Latest News” will cover relevant developments in the scientific literature as well as the possible implications of these developments for educational settings.

On behalf of the Centre for Brain & Learning and the Brain & Behaviour Institute,

Prof. Jelle Jolles,
Cognitive Neuroscientist

21st century Learning Theories will be based upon the findings in cognitive and behavioral Neuroscience

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Chimpanzee AI beat human on short memory Task

We think that we are bestowed with superior intelligence when compared with of the animal kingdom. Recently, the experimenters at the Primate Research institute in Kyoto University in Japan were able to train a chimpanzee named AI who performs better than humans on short term memory tasks.

Here is an article published in Guardian on the actual experiment.

This web page at Primate Research Institute Kyoto University, Japan provides the details of this novel experiment. Also a web page that provides videos of actual experiments.

Chimpanzee AI from Javed on Vimeo.

This experiment confirms that chimpanzees do have photographic memories and we do not that is why we invented media to augment our biological memories of past experiences.


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