Neuroanthropology

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Archive for the ‘Brain imaging’ Category

Stealing Pears: We All Want To, But Why?

Posted by dlende on April 26, 2010

By JP Sullivan & Joe Ahmad

First, refresh your knowledge of Saint Augustine’s Confessions with this helpful rap video:

In the second book of Confessions, St. Augustine relates to us how he and his friends stole pears from a neighbor’s grove. What bothered Augustine was not the act of stealing, but the pleasure he derived from the act. In fact he and his companions had no practical use for the pears, for they were not hungry, and they threw most of them away. Frustrated, he writes,

But it was not the pears that my unhappy soul desired. I had plenty of my own, better than those, and I picked them so that I might steal. For no sooner had I picked them than I threw them away, and tasted nothing in them but my own sin, which I relished and enjoyed. (II.6)

For the rest of the second book, Augustine wrestles with the question of why he and his companions felt pleasure in stealing the pears. He makes two conjectures. The first is that he felt pride from the thrill of breaking the rules. He writes,

Since I had no real power to break [God’s] law, was it that I enjoyed at least the pretence of doing so, like a prisoner who creates for himself the illusion of liberty by doing something wrong, when he has no fear of punishment, under a feeble hallucination of power? (II.6)

By attempting to break God’s law, or more generally, the natural law, Augustine remarks that he was trying to imitate God, by showing that he was God’s equal and free from the jurisdiction of his law.

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Posted in Brain imaging, general, Psychological anthropology | 3 Comments »

One Hundred Years of Brain Images

Posted by dlende on October 22, 2009

Cajal Purkinje Drawing
Mo Costandi, who runs the excellent Neurophilosophy blog, has a wonderful piece over at MIT’s Technology Review, Time Travel through the Brain. The article gives us ten images that represent how our ability to see and visualize what our brains do, with accompanying commentary on each image. There is also a minute-long video on the right hand side which is also worthy viewing – so please look for that too.

I’ve included the first and tenth images here, but for more, go over to Time Travel through the Brain.

Schultz Thalamus Diffusion Tensor

Posted in Brain imaging, Links | 1 Comment »

How Bright Might A “Neuro Future” Be?

Posted by dlende on August 23, 2009

Neuro Revolution
By Stephan Schleim

Looking for a “Neuro Revolution”? Zack Lynch wants to offer you one in his new book.

With a title like Neuro Revolution: How Brain Science Is Changing Our World and the author celebrated as a leading technology consultant and market researcher in marketing blurbs, readers might expect the author’s opinion to be based on the state of the art of neuroscience. However, frequent mistakes and shortcomings in his presentation of the scientific findings and methodology seriously call into question whether Lynch is the right person to sketch a possible “neuro future” and to address the prospects and limitations of neurotechnology.

The first surprise comes on page 3, where Lynch describes his first experience with a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanner, one of the most frequently-used research tools in contemporary cognitive neuroscience. He explains that “the machine’s computer had recorded and analyzed data about how those loud thumping noises had bounced back from the structures under my skin.” To uninformed people, the noise of high-field MRI scanners will indeed be one of their most salient features. However, it is a mere epiphenomenon subject to the sophisticated technology necessary to change strong magnetic fields in short intervals. The technique itself is based on inaudible electromagnetic waves (like those emitted by a cellphone) to investigate brain structure and function.

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Posted in Brain imaging, Brain Mechanisms | 9 Comments »

Gambling and Compulsion: Neurobiology Meets Casinos

Posted by dlende on May 23, 2009

Slot MachinesBy Jarred Carter, Andrew Cavanagh, Elizabeth Olveda, and Meredith Ragany

Vegas baby, Vegas!

So you’ve finally made it out to Sin City, setting aside a few hundreds dollars to gamble. Maybe even a thousand. You’re hoping to get lucky and have some fun. A few hours and a half-dozen drinks into your weekend, you find yourself at the craps table, dice in hand. You’re feeling good, ready to turn your recent down streak into big bucks. Where does that leave you?
Right where the casino wants you.

The game is rigged. Everyone loses money eventually, if not immediately. But just like gamblers grab hold of that lever and pull, society has stepped up to the gambling craze. And now gambling is pulling people for all they’re worth: emotionally, mentally and, most notably, financially.

This post will look more closely at casino’s techniques to draw gamblers back to the slot chairs and the tables, focusing on both physiological aspects and engaged decision making. Ultimately, these observations will demonstrate that casinos create more than entertainment; they develop an entire compulsive experience.

The Gambler’s Rush

The casino’s greatest asset might be the very personal, very intense rush that gamblers experience as they step up to the blackjack table or slot machine, hoping to strike it rich. This characteristic “rush” or “high” stems from the series of steps and actions that are involved in addictive behavior. Stimulation from the surrounding atmosphere and the thrill of a big risk drives the “high”. Ultimately, the “rush” from gambling can be as intense as a drug fix.

Dealing Emotions

Excitement, making a quick buck, or even the possibility of financial independence is enticing. From experience, most people know that emotions are difficult to control. From a neurological standpoint, the amygdala is situated in the limbic system and is one main centers of emotion (pdf) in the human brain. Other parts of the brain, like the prefontal cortex, display less activity (pdf) during the act of gambling.

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Posted in Addiction, Brain imaging, Brain Mechanisms, Decision Making, Psychological anthropology | 3 Comments »

Escaping Orientalism in cultural psychology

Posted by gregdowney on April 30, 2009

eastwest1In a recent article in American Psychologist, Adam Cohen (2009) suggests that a number of fields in psychology have taken up the study of culture, but the results, although interesting, have been limited by what sorts of ‘culture’ have been investigated. As Cohen (2009:194) writes:

A person reading these literatures could be excused for concluding that there is a very small number of cultural identities (North American vs. East or Southeast Asian), that vary principally on the dimensions of individualism–collectivism or independent–interdependent self-construal—whether people are seen as inherently independent from others or whether social roles are most important in defining the self.

In this post, I want to provide a bit of a bibliography of some of the literature fast emerging on cultural difference in psychology, neuroimaging, and related fields, but also focus a bit on the consequences of this limited imagination in considering cultural difference, the almost exclusive focus on East-West contrasts. Just because I love a bit of controversy with my breakfast, I’ll suggest it’s a form of what Edward Said has called ‘Orientalism.’

Although Cohen brings up the issue and offers a few suggestions for how the problem might be addressed, I think his prescriptions would herald more of the same sickness, although perhaps spreading the infection to more hosts. That is, Cohen puts his finger on a serious problem in the psychological study of culture, but the prognosis won’t improve much unless we actually understand the root of the problem: it’s not studying Europeans (and European-Americans) and Asians (and Asian-Americans) that’s causing the whole problem. Part of it is misunderstanding what is being studied in the first place when cultural difference is under the lens.

This post is based on part of a talk I gave on Tuesday to the Centre for Cognitive Science (MACCS) here at Macquarie. When I got into the subject, I realized it was far more than I could possibly share in a 50-minute presentation, so I thought I’d post it here.

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Posted in Brain imaging, general, Human variation | 7 Comments »

Thinking to change your brain: Sharon Begley in the WSJ

Posted by gregdowney on March 15, 2009

In January, The Wall Street Journal carried a short excerpt from science writer
Sharon Begley’s excellent, but unfortunately titled book, Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain. The article, How Thinking Can Change the Brain, is excellent, as is the book, which I’d highly recommend, but both engage in a couple of pervasive rhetorics for talking about brain function that I believe make it harder to really theorize about issues like neuroplasticity.

That is, although I like Begley’s work, some of the ways that she writes about the brain puts her readers, if they’re not already neuroscience savvy, two steps backwards before moving toward greater understanding. It’s sad because I think her book is one of the best works for a general readership on recent research, and the brain imaging projects with Tibetan monks which forms the central narrative of the book are fascinating on so many levels. Begley has a brilliant eye for turning research into story-telling and with the meditation research, she’s picked an ideal subject on which to exercise her skills.

If only she would stop carrying on about ‘Mind’ and ‘Brain’ like they were the two primary characters…

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Posted in Brain imaging, Embodiment, general, Neural plasticity | 11 Comments »

The Beautiful Brain

Posted by dlende on December 14, 2008

beautiful-mind-exhibit
The Beautiful Mind is a spectacular online photo exhibition that features images of the brain taken by neuroscientists themselves. The enception.org site features a Flash display of the exhibit, with a useful roll-over feature where you can see the person who took the shot, where it was taken, and what anatomical feature is being displayed.

The online exhibit will become a traveling exhibition beginning in the new year, starting in London and then moving around Europe. The exhibition is being organized by CORTEX: Cooperation in Research and Training for European Excellence in the Neurosciences.

The hattip goes to Mind Hacks, who just featured the exhibit info in the post The Fire Within. Almost all The Beautiful Mind images use flourescence techniques, which we have shown before in Brainbows and More on Brainbow.

Below I feature some of the images. For more go for a visit to The Beautiful Mind.

Here are the photographers and their images:
-Carlos Barcia, Blood vessel, tumor, and infiltration of T cells
-Veronica Kurscha, Tranverse section of the spinal cord
-Matei Bolbora, Neural precursor cells from the embryonic striatum
-Jean-Marc Fritschy, Purkinje cell in the cerebellum

carlos-barcia-beautiful-mind

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Posted in Brain imaging, Brain Mechanisms | 2 Comments »

Our Blessed Lady of the Cerebellum

Posted by gregdowney on December 8, 2008

marymri_t6001Thank God for Vaughn at Mind Hacks. Or should I say, Graça à Nossa Senhora (that’s Thanks to Our Lady for those of you scratching your heads)… He brings to our attention this brain image which shows Our Lady of the Cerebellum in his posting Immaculate perception.

According to the original story, we learn that in 2002, Pamela Latrimore underwent an MRI that, in the eyes of some, imaged the Virgin Mary where most of us have a cerebellum (although, that would explain if she was having some motor control problems…). The original story, Do you see the Virgin Mary in this brain scan?, appeared in the TCPalm, Florida’s Treasure Coast and Palm Beaches’ news leader.

As the story reports:

Latrimore, a 42-year-old wife and mother without insurance, hadn’t ever really looked at the results of a 2002 MRI scan of her brain. So she didn’t know what her Catholic sister-in-law was talking about a few weeks ago when she said, “Oh my gosh, Pam, you have Mother Mary in your head.”

This story would be unmitigated fun, a chance to spin out all sorts of jokes about which parts of the brain ‘light up’ when we see a pattern of the Holy Mary in our brain images, except for the fact that, if you read a bit further in the TCPalm, you learn why Ms. Latrimore was getting brain scans in the first place, and perhaps why she and her relatives are searching for signs of any divine intervention.

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Posted in Brain imaging, Inequality | Tagged: , | 47 Comments »

Alesha Sivartha and the Phrenology of Culture

Posted by dlende on September 20, 2008

BibliOdyssey featured the Brain Maps of Alesha Sivartha two years ago, a fantastical collection of illustrations created by Sivartha as part of his 1912 “The Book of Life: The Spiritual and Physical Constitution of Man.” You can explore the book some through Google, but the better spot to go is Sivartha’s great-great-grandson’s website which covers the book in some detail.

Sivartha goes well beyond the typical phrenology of the nineteenth century, which generally focused on individual traits (i.e., the “mind”) as located in specific parts of the brain. History and culture and religion find their way into Sivartha’s work, and even the brain/body. He might even be called an early representative of cultural neuroscience!

Indeed, I see the illustrations as showing us how problematic it can be to force cultural and social phenomena onto the metaphor or image of the brain. Our enthusiasm must be tempered by critical neuroscience and by neurocriticism. Everyday life matters greatly, whether while camping without worrying about culture or brains, or dwelling more specifically on our “everyday brain” or the flavors of cultural brain we might enjoy.

Still, I find Sivartha’s illustrations quite wonderful. Just like early anthropologists trying to cover all the important domains of one culture in one book, so Sivartha tries to jam everything in, to create an impossible representation. It doesn’t work, but the images do provide much to reflect upon.

Posted in Brain imaging, Psychological anthropology | 3 Comments »

Women on tests update: response to stress

Posted by gregdowney on August 31, 2008

A while ago, I posted an overly-long discussion of recent research on the ‘math gap’ between boys and girls on standardized testing (Girls closing math gap?: Troubles with intelligence #1). That posting discussed several studies published in Science that have shown the gap in average math scores between boys and girls is not set in stone. In one paper, an increase in the test pool brought on by the No Child Left Behind program, with mandatory universal tests instead of exams only for those wishing to go to college, caused the gap in average scores to disappear; in the other paper, a decrease in the ‘math gap’ was found to correlate with other measures of greater gender equality in European states.

As I pointed out in the previous post, however, many commentators suggest that it is not the gap in average test scores that really matters; rather, these critics argue that the different variance in boys’ and girls’ scores explains the disproportionate number of boys who produce exceptional scores (as well as exceptionally bad scores), and thus the marked gap of men and women in PhD math programs, in prestigious prizes for physics and related subjects, and in related fields like engineering. In the earlier post, I argued that even if this greater variance showed up reliably across all testing populations, what exactly was being illuminated was still not clear; that is, many other explanations–other than that men had better ‘math modules’ in their brains, or greater ‘innate’ mathematics ability, or something like that–could explain even very stable differences in math performance. At the time I suggested a number of other possibilities, such as sex differences in stress response during testing, as other possible explanations for even a universal ‘math gap’ (which still had to contend with studies like the two in Science which severely undermined the assertion of universality).

As if on cue, I stumbled upon a video and accompanying article in Science Daily on differences in stress responses among men and women: Neuroscientists Find That Men And Women Respond Differently To Stress (but don’t click on that link — keep reading!). Stress is a good candidate to explain a test-taking gap because the observable physiological processes offer abundant evidence that men and women don’t respond to stress in exactly the same way (although there are underlying commonalities). For example, stress causes different diseases in men and women, and some long-term psychological disorders that demonstrate sex-linked disparities seem to emerge from stress.

Unlike the ‘black box’ explanation that boys and simply better at math or evidence greater variability in innate ability, with no observable neural correlate or plausible explanatory mechanism, in variation in stress response we have a clear candidate for male-female difference that plausibly affects their performance and even physiology (for example, in different stress-related diseases).
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Posted in Brain imaging, Education, Gender, Human variation, Inequality, Stress | Tagged: , , , , | 6 Comments »

 
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