Friday, April 15, 2011

Political Views Reflected in Brain Structure?

This is another interesting study I found. The main difference between liberals and conservatives may be brain structure. This is interesting for a number of reasons but mostly because of the inability for one side to convince the other. This confirms a lot I thought about politics. It isn't about debate or finding the best solutions - it is about whose team is winning.

Political views are reflected in brain structure

April 7th, 2011 in Medicine & Health / Psychology & Psychiatry
We all know that people at opposite ends of the political spectrum often really can't see eye to eye. Now, a new report published online on April 7th in Current Biology reveals that those differences in political orientation are tied to differences in the very structures of our brains.
Individuals who call themselves liberal tend to have larger anterior cingulate cortexes, while those who call themselves conservative have larger amygdalas. Based on what is known about the functions of those two brain regions, the structural differences are consistent with reports showing a greater ability of liberals to cope with conflicting information and a greater ability of conservatives to recognize a threat, the researchers say.
"Previously, some psychological traits were known to be predictive of an individual's political orientation," said Ryota Kanai of the University College London. "Our study now links such with specific brain structure."
Kanai said his study was prompted by reports from others showing greater response to conflicting information among liberals. "That was the first neuroscientific evidence for biological differences between liberals and conservatives," he explained.
There had also been many prior psychological reports showing that conservatives are more sensitive to threat or anxiety in the face of uncertainty, while liberals tend to be more open to new experiences. Kanai's team suspected that such fundamental differences in personality might show up in the brain.
And, indeed, that's exactly what they found. Kanai says they can't yet say for sure which came first. It's possible that brain structure isn't set in early life, but rather can be shaped over time by our experiences. And, of course, some people have been known to change their views over the course of a lifetime.
It's also true that our political persuasions can fall into many more categories than liberal and conservative. "In principle, our research method can be applied to find differences in political dimensions other than the simplistic left- versus right-wingers," Kanai said. Perhaps differences in the brain explain why some people really have no interest in politics at all or why some people line up for Macs while others stick with their PCs. All of these tendencies may be related in interesting ways to the peculiarities of our personalities and in turn to the way our brains are put together.
Still, Kanai cautioned against taking the findings too far, citing many uncertainties about how the correlations they see come about.
"It's very unlikely that actual political orientation is directly encoded in these ," he said. "More work is needed to determine how these brain structures mediate the formation of political attitude."
Provided by Cell Press
"Political views are reflected in brain structure." April 7th, 2011.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Alcohol helps the brain remember

This new study goes against everything I've learned in my years of drinking...but who am I to argue with science?

Alcohol helps the brain remember, says new study

April 12th, 2011 in Medicine & Health / Neuroscience
Drinking alcohol primes certain areas of our brain to learn and remember better, says a new study from the Waggoner Center for Alcohol and Addiction Research at The University of Texas at Austin.
The common view that drinking is bad for learning and memory isn't wrong, says neurobiologist Hitoshi Morikawa, but it highlights only one side of what ethanol consumption does to the brain.
"Usually, when we talk about learning and memory, we're talking about conscious memory," says Morikawa, whose results were published last month in The Journal of Neuroscience. "Alcohol diminishes our ability to hold on to pieces of information like your colleague's name, or the definition of a word, or where you parked your car this morning. But our subconscious is learning and remembering too, and alcohol may actually increase our capacity to learn, or 'conditionability,' at that level."
Morikawa's study, which found that repeated ethanol exposure enhances synaptic plasticity in a key area in the brain, is further evidence toward an emerging consensus in the neuroscience community that drug and alcohol addiction is fundamentally a learning and memory disorder. When we drink alcohol (or shoot up heroin, or snort cocaine, or take methamphetamines), our subconscious is learning to consume more. But it doesn't stop there. We become more receptive to forming subsconscious memories and habits with respect to food, music, even people and .
In an important sense, says Morikawa, alcoholics aren't addicted to the experience of pleasure or relief they get from . They're addicted to the constellation of environmental, behavioral and physiological cues that are reinforced when alcohol triggers the release of dopamine in the brain.
"People commonly think of dopamine as a happy transmitter, or a pleasure transmitter, but more accurately it's a transmitter," says Morikawa. "It strengthens those synapses that are active when dopamine is released."
Alcohol, in this model, is the enabler. It hijacks the dopaminergic system, and it tells our brain that what we're doing at that moment is rewarding (and thus worth repeating).
Among the things we learn is that drinking alcohol is rewarding. We also learn that going to the bar, chatting with friends, eating certain foods and listening to certain kinds of music are rewarding. The more often we do these things while drinking, and the more that gets released, the more "potentiated" the various synapses become and the more we crave the set of experiences and associations that orbit around the alcohol use.
Morikawa's long-term hope is that by understanding the neurobiological underpinnings of addiction better, he can develop anti-addiction drugs that would weaken, rather than strengthen, the key synapses. And if he can do that, he would be able to erase the subconscious of addiction.
"We're talking about de-wiring things," says Morikawa. "It's kind of scary because it has the potential to be a mind controlling substance. Our goal, though, is to reverse the mind controlling aspects of addictive drugs."
Provided by University of Texas at Austin
"Alcohol helps the brain remember, says new study." April 12th, 2011.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Who said MMOs are useless?

I haven't played much World of Warcraft, but I was a big EverQuest player back in the day. 

I haven't found the experience as useful as this kid.