Neuroscience

Understanding how and why we evolved such large brains is one of the most puzzling issues in the study of human evolution. It is widely accepted that brain size increase is partly linked to changes in diet over the last 3 million years, and increases in meat consumption and the development of cooking have received particular attention from the scientific community.

In a new study, Dr. Karen Hardy and her team bring together archaeological, anthropological, genetic, physiological and anatomical data to argue that carbohydrate consumption, particularly in the form of starch, was critical for the accelerated expansion of the human brain over the last million years, and co-evolved both with copy number variation of the salivary amylase genes and controlled fire use for cooking.

New research suggests concussion may not significantly impair symptoms or cognitive skills for one gender over another, however, women may still experience greater symptoms and poorer cognitive performance at preseason testing. The study released today will be presented at the Sports Concussion Conference in Denver, July 24 to 26, hosted by the American Academy of Neurology, the world's leading authority on diagnosing and managing sports concussion. The conference will feature the latest scientific advances in diagnosing and treating sports concussion from leading experts in the field.

My attention was recently drawn to a link to the Science Codex, which begins:

With the results of a new study, neuroscientists have a firmer grasp on the way the brain formulates commands for the hand to grip an object. The advance could lead to improvements in future brain-computer interfaces that provide people with severe paralysis a means to control robotic arms and hands using their thoughts.

The key finding of a research team based at Brown University is that neurons in the area of the brain responsible for planning grasping motions retain information about the object to be gripped as they make their movement plan. The collective neural activity therefore looks different when executing the same grip on one object versus another. This may help the brain design unique patterns when similar actions are performed in different environments.

Sleeping not only protects memories from being forgotten, it also makes them easier to access, according to new research which suggest that after sleep we are more likely to recall facts which we could not remember while still awake.

In two situations where subjects forgot information over the course of 12 hours of wakefulness, a night's sleep was shown to promote access to memory traces that had initially been too weak to be retrieved.

The research tracked memories for novel, made-up words learned either prior to a night's sleep, or an equivalent period of wakefulness. Subjects were asked to recall words immediately after exposure, and then again after the period of sleep or wakefulness. 

Could it be that genetic differences can affect how well children perform in exams? Our research suggests that this may well be the case and that individual differences between children are, to a large extent, due to the inherited genetic differences between them that predisposes them to do well academically, whatever the subject.

We also found that there is shared genetic influence across a range of subjects, even after controlling the exam results for general intelligence.

Challenging the idea that addiction is hardwired in the brain, a new study suggests that even a short time spent in a stimulating learning environment can rewire the brain’s reward system and buffer it against drug dependence.

Scientists tracked cocaine cravings in more than 70 adult male mice and found that those rodents whose daily drill included exploration, learning and finding hidden tasty morsels were less likely than their enrichment-deprived counterparts to seek solace in a chamber where they had been given cocaine.

Music training, begun as late as high school, may help improve the teenage brain's responses to sound and sharpen hearing and language skills, suggests a new study. The research indicates that music instruction helps enhance skills that are critical for academic success. 

The gains were seen during group music classes included in the schools' curriculum, suggesting in-school training accelerates neurodevelopment.

It may seem like infants just sleep, eat and cry, but newborn brains are full of activity and they are already gathering and processing important information from the world around them. At just two days after birth, babies are already able to process language using processes similar to those of adults.

Researchers have demonstrated that they are sensitive to the most important parts of words, the edges, a cognitive mechanism which has been repeatedly observed in older children and adults.

A new study has found that long-term stimulant abuse had more significant effects on brain volume in women compared with men.

The researchers sought to determine how the brains of people previously dependent on stimulants were different from the brains of healthy people. 

The researchers analyzed structural brain magnetic resonance imaging exams in 127 men and women, including 59 people (28 women and 31 men) who were previously dependent on cocaine, amphetamines and/or methamphetamine for an average of 15.7 years, and 68 people (28 women and 40 men) who were similar in age and were not previously dependent on those drugs.