Neuroscience

The research group of Dr. Frédéric Charron, a researcher at the Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal (IRCM), has made a discovery which could help treat spinal cord injuries and neurodegenerative diseases. This new finding has been published in the current issue of Neuron.
Have you ever thought about what's going on in your brain when you look at a painting that you like a lot?  While Neuroscientist Dr. Edward Vessel has and he's done brain imaging experiments to figure it out.

What happens in your brain when you have a pleasurable experience -- for example, when you see at a painting that you like very much.  Scientists describe this as an aesthetically pleasing experience.  They want to know if simply seeing a painting that you enjoy engages an emotional response and triggers the emotion circuits in your brain.
As if you need another reason for parental guilt, a new article in Bioscience Hypotheses speculates that our feelings could impact our reproduction and affect our children.

Dr Alberto Halabe Bucay of Research Center Halabe and Darwich, Mexico, suggests that a wide range of chemicals that our brain generates when we are in different moods could affect 'germ cells' (eggs and sperm), the cells that ultimately produce the next generation. Such natural chemicals could affect the way that specific genes are expressed in the germ cells, and hence how a child develops.
Monkeys playing a game similar to "Let's Make A Deal" have revealed that their brains register missed opportunities and learn from their mistakes. 

The researchers watched individual neurons in a region of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) that monitors the consequences of actions and mediates resulting changes in behavior. The monkeys were making choices that resulted in different amounts of juice as a reward. 

Their task was like the TV show "Let's Make a Deal" with the experimenters offering monkeys choices from an array of hidden rewards. During each trial, the monkeys chose from one of eight identical white squares arranged in a circle. A color beneath the white square was revealed and the monkey received the corresponding reward. 
This blog entry is about one of the most interesting discoveries of the 90's in Neuroscience -- Mirror Neurons -- and a recent research paper that adds to their intrigue.

Mirror neurons are found in the premotor cortex, and what has made them so interesting is that they fire both when the individual performs a goal-directed action and when they watch someone else perform the same action. It is as if the mirror neurons encode an understanding about the intentions of someone else. For example, when my husband reaches for his coffee cup I understand that he intends to take a drink before he even raises the cup to his lips. Neuroscientists think it is the mirror neurons that encode the "understanding" when we watch what others are doing.
When you're on a diet, deciding to skip your favorite calorie-laden foods and eat something healthier takes a whole lot of self-control--an ability that seems to come easier to some of us than others. Now, scientists from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have uncovered differences in the brains of people who are able to exercise self-control versus those who find it almost impossible.

The key? While everyone uses the same single area of the brain to make these sorts of value-laden decisions, a second brain region modulates the activity of the first region in people with good self-control, allowing them to weigh more abstract factors--healthiness, for example--in addition to basic desires such as taste to make a better overall choice.

Research presented Thursday at the European Congress on Obesity says scheduling more physical education time in schools does not mean children will increase their activity levels; those who got lots of timetabled exercise at school compensated by doing less at home while those who got little at school made up for it by being more active at home.

They propose it's not the environment that drives physical activity levels in children, but some form of central control in the brain similar to appetite – an 'activitystat.'

Except appetite is learned by practice too.   People who eat a lot get more hungry than people who don't.
A new study from Northwestern University shows what many mothers already know: their babies are a lot smarter than others may realize.

Though only five months old, the study's cuties indicated through their curious stares that they could differentiate water in a glass from solid blue material that looked very much like water in a similar glass. 

The finding that infants can distinguish between solids and liquids at such an early age builds upon a growing body of research that strongly suggests that babies are not blank slates who primarily depend on others for acquiring knowledge. That's a common assumption of researchers in the not too distant past.
Toddlers with autism appear more likely to have an enlarged amygdala, a brain area associated with numerous functions, including the processing of faces and emotion, according to a report in the May issue of Archives of General Psychiatry. In addition, this brain abnormality appears to be associated with the ability to share attention with others, a fundamental ability thought to predict later social and language function in children with autism.