Wednesday Round Up #35: Article Version

Doing something a bit different with this one – just straight-up research articles that I have found interesting and/or relevant.

Striatal activity topographically reflects cortical activity

The cortex projects to the dorsal striatum topographically1,2 to regulate behaviour3,4,5, but spiking activity in the two structures has previously been reported to have markedly different relations to sensorimotor events6,7,8,9. Here we show that the relationship between activity in the cortex and striatum is spatiotemporally precise, topographic, causal and invariant to behaviour. We simultaneously recorded activity across large regions of the cortex and across the width of the dorsal striatum in mice that performed a visually guided task. Striatal activity followed a mediolateral gradient in which behavioural correlates progressed from visual cue to response movement to reward licking. The summed activity in each part of the striatum closely and specifically mirrored activity in topographically associated cortical regions, regardless of task engagement. This relationship held for medium spiny neurons and fast-spiking interneurons, whereas the activity of tonically active neurons differed from cortical activity with stereotypical responses to sensory or reward events.

Distributed coding of choice, action and engagement across the mouse brain

Vision, choice, action and behavioural engagement arise from neuronal activity that may be distributed across brain regions. Here we delineate the spatial distribution of neurons underlying these processes. We used Neuropixels probes1,2 to record from approximately 30,000 neurons in 42 brain regions of mice performing a visual discrimination task3. Neurons in nearly all regions responded non-specifically when the mouse initiated an action. By contrast, neurons encoding visual stimuli and upcoming choices occupied restricted regions in the neocortex, basal ganglia and midbrain. Choice signals were rare and emerged with indistinguishable timing across regions. Midbrain neurons were activated before contralateral choices and were suppressed before ipsilateral choices, whereas forebrain neurons could prefer either side. Brain-wide pre-stimulus activity predicted engagement in individual trials and in the overall task, with enhanced subcortical but suppressed neocortical activity during engagement. These results reveal organizing principles for the distribution of neurons encoding behaviourally relevant variables across the mouse brain.

From Patterns in Language to Patterns in Thought: Relativity Realized Across the Americas

Among the many results Boas envisioned for the documentation of American indigenous languages was a clearer delineation of some fundamental facets of human psychology. This paper examines the subsequent realization of that particular vision, outlining some of the ways in which research with speakers of American languages has helped illuminate human cognition. The focus is on key findings that offer support for linguistic relativity, the influence of linguistic disparities on thought evident in non-linguistic behavior. These findings relate to spatial, temporal, and numerical cognition. The relevant data surveyed offer compelling evidence that some cross-linguistic differences impact cognitive habits. A pivotal point is underscored throughout the paper: Despite the crossfield nature of the findings on this topic, those findings are ultimately contingent on the research of linguistic fieldworkers who have meticulously described typologically distinct languages. Through their research, the Boasian vision for psychological insights via the description of American languages has been realized.

Reconciling emergences: An information-theoretic approach to identify causal emergence in multivariate data

The broad concept of emergence is instrumental in various of the most challenging open scientific questions—yet, few quantitative theories of what constitutes emergent phenomena have been proposed. This article introduces a formal theory of causal emergence in multivariate systems, which studies the relationship between the dynamics of parts of a system and macroscopic features of interest. Our theory provides a quantitative definition of downward causation, and introduces a complementary modality of emergent behaviour—which we refer to as causal decoupling. Moreover, the theory allows practical criteria that can be efficiently calculated in large systems, making our framework applicable in a range of scenarios of practical interest. We illustrate our findings in a number of case studies, including Conway’s Game of Life, Reynolds’ flocking model, and neural activity as measured by electrocorticography.

Uncertainty and stress: Why it causes diseases and how it is mastered by the brain

As all cognitive systems strive to reduce their uncertainty about future outcomes, they face a critical constraint: Reducing uncertainty requires cerebral energy. The characteristic of the vertebrate brain to prioritize its own high energy is captured by the notion of the ‘selfish brain’. Accordingly, in times of uncertainty, the selfish brain demands extra energy from the body. If, despite all this, the brain cannot reduce uncertainty, a persistent cerebral energy crisis may develop, burdening the individual by ‘allostatic load’ that contributes to systemic and brain malfunction (impaired memory, atherogenesis, diabetes and subsequent cardio- and cerebrovascular events). Based on the basic tenet that stress originates from uncertainty, we discuss the strategies our brain uses to avoid surprise and thereby resolve uncertainty.

The relationship between cultural tightness–looseness and COVID-19 cases and deaths: a global analysis

The COVID-19 pandemic is a global health crisis, yet certain countries have had far more success in limiting COVID-19 cases and deaths. We suggest that collective threats require a tremendous amount of coordination, and that strict adherence to social norms is a key mechanism that enables groups to do so. Here we examine how the strength of social norms—or cultural tightness–looseness—was associated with countries’ success in limiting cases and deaths by October, 2020. We expected that tight cultures, which have strict norms and punishments for deviance, would have fewer cases and deaths per million as compared with loose cultures, which have weaker norms and are more permissive.

Situating the Embodied Mind in a Landscape of Standing Affordances for Living Without Chairs: Materializing a Philosophical Worldview

Sitting too much is unhealthy, but a widespread habit in many societies. Realizing behavioral change in this area is hard. Our societies promote being seated via the way its places are structured: they are filled with chairs for example. How can we make healthier environments that invite people to move around more? This article shows how philosophical research in the area of embodied/enactive cognitive science let to a built vision for the office of the future, of 2025. Multidisciplinary studio RAAAF [Rietveld Architecture-Art-Affordances] and visual artist Barbara Visser built this world without chairs, titled The End of Sitting. This large rock-like landscape integrates many affordances for standing. Affordances are the possibilities for action provided by the environment. This landscape of standing affordances allows people to work standing while being supported by the material structure of the environment. This unorthodox working landscape is both an enactive art installation and the materialization of a philosophical worldview that understands people as embodied minds situated in a landscape of affordances. It stimulates reflection on the way built environments can naturally invite more active and healthy behavior.

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