22 January 2006

New Research on the Human Brain

Quote for the day:

Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are and what they ought to be.”
William Hazlitt
(1778 – 1830)

photo credit: University of Washington Education Faculty

Lots of interesting research coming out on our brain and what makes it tick. Magnetic resonance imaging has been one of the leading areas in supplying new information. There are other areas of research producing fascinating results. Here are some current study results and a bit more interesting trivia on the largest muscle in our body (brain) and how a little exercise is a good thing - no matter the muscle.

A USC study of pathological liars shows first evidence of structural differences in the area of the brain that enables most people to feel remorse.

The researchers used Magnetic Resonance Imaging and found that liars had significantly more “white matter” and slightly less “gray matter” than those they were measured against. They have more tools to lie coupled with fewer moral restraints than normal people and are less likely to care about moral issues..“They’ve got the equipment to lie, and they don’t have the inhibitions that the rest of us have in telling the big whoppers,” he said.

“Using MRI as a lie detector is expensive, but it may be worthwhile in some cases…” Scott Faro, director of the Functional Brain Imaging Center at Temple University School of Medicine in Philadelphia.

Generally people with happy temperaments exhibit a high ratio of activity in the left prefrontal cortex, an area associated with happiness, joy and enthusiasm. Those who are prone to anxiety, fear and depression exhibit a higher ratio of activity in the right prefrontal cortex.

The Dalai Lama hopes researchers can scientifically prove that meditation has medical and emotional benefits, and then divorce it from its spiritual Buddhist roots to offer the world a secular method for relieving suffering and finding happiness.

Professor Theodore W. Berger, director of the Center for Neural Engineering at the University of Southern California, is creating a silicon chip implant that mimics the hippocampus, an area of the brain known for creating memories. If successful, the artificial brain prosthesis could replace its biological counterpart, enabling people who suffer from memory disorders to regain the ability to store new memories.

And it's no longer a question of "if" but "when."

Molecule Gives Passionate Lovers One Year

Your heartbeat accelerates, you have butterflies in the stomach, you feel euphoric and a bit silly. It's all part of falling passionately in love -- and scientists now tell us the feeling won't last more than a year.

The powerful emotions that bowl over new lovers are triggered by a molecule known as nerve growth factor (NGF), according to Pavia University researchers. The Italian scientists found far higher levels of NGF in the blood of 58 people who had recently fallen madly in love.

Caffeine Perks up Brain's Memory Centers

The caffeine found in coffee, tea, soft drinks and chocolate stimulates areas of the brain governing short-term memory and attention, Austrian researchers said on Wednesday.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging scans performed on the brains of 15 subjects who had just consumed caffeine equal to that found in two cups of coffee showed increased activity in the frontal lobe where the working memory is located and in the anterior cingulum that controls attention.

14-Day Plan Improves Memory

Researchers have found a way to improve memory function in older people. After a two-week study that involved brainteasers, exercise and diet changes, study participants' memories worked more efficiently.

The Male Impulse for Retribution

“Men expressed more desire for revenge and seemed to feel satisfaction when unfair people were given what they perceived as deserved physical punishment," said Dr. Tania Singer, the lead researcher, of the Wellcome Department of Imaging Neuroscience at University College London.



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