Sleeping helps us to consolidate our procedural memories. This Canadian team managed to get people to go to sleep inside an fMRI scanner. They observed how the brain actually stores away memories.
This online paper also gives a great insight into the peer review process. If you scroll down, you can read the exchange between the editor of the journal and the author, which shows how peer review has improved the work prior to publication.
Network-wide reorganization of procedural memory during NREM sleep revealed by fMRI
This is a very readable account by someone with a brain tumour, about what it is like to be on the receiving end of various brain scanning techniques. Harry Stawson has a tumour in his right temporal lobe. He is left handed. The surgeons need to find out where the “eloquent” areas of his cortex – the parts responsible for language – reside in his slightly non-standard brain.
We tend to regard brain-scanning as a rather dry and academic topic, full of long biological words that are difficult to revise. This short article brings it down to earth in a very humane way.
You will have to go to a proper library to track down this issue of the London Review of Books.
London Review of Books Vol 39, No. 19, 5th October 2017, p. 42-3.
In biopsych we learn that speech production and speech recognition are highly localised. Neuropsychologist Jack Gallant has peered into the brains of volunteers while they listen to podcasts, and finds that speech comprehension is actually much more interesting than the textbook would lead you to believe.
“when you’re listening to someone tell an interesting story, an enormous swath of your brain is being activated.”
This is Your Brain on Podcasts.
Pregnancy causes loss of grey matter in specific regions of the brain, including the hippocampus. This is probably due to synaptic pruning. If you show new mothers pictures of their babies, the modified areas of the brain become highly active.
This pioneering work by Elseline Hoekzema, a neuroscientist at Leiden University the Netherlands who is also the pregnant mother of a 2-year-old, is the first to demonstrate widespread anatomical changes in the pregnant human brain.
It also shows that the changes last for at least 2 years. “It opens the door to the possibility that it might cause changes in parenting that might have implications in decision-making and behaviour later in life,” says Mel Rutherford, an evolutionary psychologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada.
Pregnancy resculpts women’s brains for at least 2 years.
Pregnancy Causes Lasting Changes in a Woman’s Brain.
Read. This. Book.
This one is in my top three psychology books for A level students to read this year. It is exciting because it sketches out some future directions that cognitive neuroscience is going to take in the coming years and decades.
When Galileo pointed his telescope at the night sky, he saw for the first time the machinery of planetary motion. This laid the foundations for our modern understanding of astronomy. The same is happening today in brain science. The ongoing improvement in brain scanning is driving new understanding of how the brain actually works. This book is a guide to the road ahead.
Not only that, but the first few chapters are a brilliant primer on the basics of neuroscience and biopsychology, and will be great revision for this part of the exam.
A really interesting read, and very accessible.
“A connectome is the totality of connections between the neurons in a nervous system.”
“In the nineteenth century, the American psychologist William James wrote eloquently of the stream of consciousness, the continuous flow of thoughts through the mind. But James failed to note that every stream has a bed. Without this groove in the earth, the water would not know in which direction to flow. Since the connectome defines the pathways along which neural activity can flow, we might regard it as the streambed of consciousness.
The metaphor is a powerful one. Over a long period of time, in the same way that the water of the stream slowly shapes the bed, neural activity changes the connectome. The two notions of the self – as both the fast-moving, ever-changing stream and the more stable but slowly transforming streambed – are thus inextricably linked. This book is about the self as the streambed, the self in the connectome – the self that has been neglected for too long.”
“The hard problem” – how does our experience of consciousness arise from brain activity – looks as intractable as ever. But here is scientific study which seems to chip away at that problem.
Aaron Schurger at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology has used fMRI scanners to peer inside the brains of people during conscious and unconscious experiences. It turns out that when people’s brains are conscious of something, that they are temporarily in a more stable neural state. It is as if consciousness reflects the uniting of stable activity across several brain areas simultaneously.
“Somehow, processes in the brain lead us to report that we have conscious experiences. What are these processes? How do they occur? This study is a beautiful example of pinning down the speculation with data.” – Michael Graziano, Princeton University.
New Scientist No. 3016, 11th April 2015, p.10.