Neuroscience

If you are apathetic, it would be a surprise to know your brain is making more effort, but a new study finds that some people traditionally perceived as lazy have a biology problem and not an attitude one.

Forty healthy volunteers completed a questionnaire that scored them on how motivated they were. They were then asked to play a game in which they were made offers, each with a different level of reward and physical effort required to win the reward. Unsurprisingly, offers with high rewards requiring low effort were usually accepted, while low rewards requiring high effort were less popular.

Because light travels far faster than sound, we see distant events before we hear them. Perhaps as a child you learned to count the seconds between a lightning flash and the sound of thunder to estimate its distance. 

A new paper says that our brains can also detect and process sound delays that are too short to be noticed consciously. And they found that we use even that unconscious information to fine tune what our eyes see when estimating distances to nearby events. 

In a new study, infants remained calm twice as long when listening to a song as when listening to speech. The study involved thirty healthy infants aged between six and nine months.

Humans like music biologically, according to one hypothesis. In adults and older children, this "entrainment" may be displayed by behaviors such as foot-tapping, head-nodding, or drumming. 

"Emotional self-control is obviously not developed in infants, and we believe singing helps babies and children develop this capacity," says Professor Isabelle Peretz of the  University of Montreal. 

Early life stress is a major risk factor for later episodes of depression. In fact, adults who are abused or neglected as children are almost twice as likely to experience depression. 

Scientific research into this link has revealed that the increased risk following such childhood adversity is associated with sensitization of the brain circuits involved with processing threat and driving the stress response. More recently, research has begun to demonstrate that in parallel to this stress sensitization, there may also be diminished processing of reward in the brain and associated reductions in a person's ability to experience positive emotions.

Autism is a group of complex brain developmental disorders characterized by impairments in social interaction, communication, and stereotypical and repetitive behaviors. The diagnosed incidence is estimated to be one in 68 children and effective interventions remain limited.

Behavioral therapies can improve social, emotional and behavioral impairments but these are typically time consuming (40 hours per week), remain costly and show mixed outcomes. There is currently no medical treatment for these problems.

A five week treatment with the synthetic hormone oxytocin significantly improved social, emotional and behavioral issues among young children with autism, according to a recent study. 

The hormone oxytocin, which has been associated with interpersonal bonding, may enhance the pleasure of social interactions by stimulating production of marijuana-like neurotransmitters in the brain, according to a new study.

The research is the first to link oxytocin - dubbed the "love hormone" by psychologists - and anandamide, which has similarly been called the "bliss molecule" for its role in activating cannabinoid receptors in brain cells, to heighten motivation and happiness. 

Our ability to learn, move, and sense our world comes from the neurons in our brain. The information moves through our brain between neurons that are linked together by tens of trillions of tiny structures called synapses.

Although tiny, synapses are not simple and must be precisely organized to function properly. Indeed, diseases like autism and Alzheimer's are increasingly linked to defects in the organization and number of these tiny structures. Now researchers at Thomas Jefferson University have found a new way in which synapses organization is controlled, which could eventually lead to better treatments for neurological diseases.

Researchers say they have added to evidence that a shell-shaped region in the center of the mammalian brain, known as the thalamic reticular nucleus or TRN, is likely responsible for the ability to routinely and seamlessly multitask. 

The process, they suggest, is done by individual TRN neurons that act like a "switchboard," continuously filtering sensory information and shifting more or less attention onto one sense -- like sight -- while relatively blocking out distracting information from other senses, including sound.

At the flip of a switch, neuroscientists can send a sleeping mouse into dreamland.

The researchers did it by inserting an optogenetic switch into a group of nerve cells located in the ancient part of the brain called the medulla, allowing them to activate or inactivate the neurons with laser light. 

When the neurons were activated, sleeping mice entered REM sleep within seconds. REM sleep, characterized by rapid eye movements, is the dream state in mammals accompanied by activation of the cortex and total paralysis of the skeletal muscles, presumably so that we don't act out the dreams flashing through our mind.

A new study of newborns treated with hypothermia for hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) - a condition that occurs when the brain is deprived of an adequate oxygen supply - confirms its neuroprotective effects on the brain.

Therapeutic hypothermia or targeted cooling of the brain is the first therapy for neuroprotection in neonates with HIE. Without treatment, these babies often develop cerebral palsy or other severe complications. World-wide, nearly one million babies will die and another million will be left with disabilities.