SciAmMind on ‘Halle Berry’ neurons and neurofeedback

sci_am_mind_2006-02.jpgA new edition of Scientific American Mind has been released and includes two web-published articles: one on recent research on grandmother cells (or ‘Halle Berry neurons’ as they’re becoming known) and another on the use of neurofeedback as a therapy and cognitive enhancer.

‘Halle Berry neurons’ are brain cells that supposedly activate in response to a single face, and are so named because a photo of Ms Berry was used in a recent experiment experiment that seemed to support this “one neuron – one face idea”, that was previously derided as being unrealistic.

The jury is still out on whether they exist or not, but the article considers evidence for and against the hypothesis.

Neurofeedback is a technique where brain activity is measured and shown to the subject, who can then attempt to control it by altering their mental state.

The brain activity can be measured from areas that could be linked to problems a person has (such as poor attention or concentration) and so the technique can be supposedly used to ‘train the brain’ to work more efficiently.

The article considers the evidence that it can be effective, although it is still not a mainstream treatment, partly because there are no widely agreed standards for how it should be administered.

Link to artice ‘One Person, One Neuron?’.
Link to article ‘Train Your Brain’.

2 thoughts on “SciAmMind on ‘Halle Berry’ neurons and neurofeedback”

  1. I see an obvious weakness in the intepretation of the research described in the Scientific American article. Using such a small number of probes (10 in one case, 40 in another) it is impossible to conclude from the fact that a single neuron fires every time a certain face is recognized, that other single neurons isolated in other regions of the brain might not also be firing in response to the same face.
    To draw such a conclusion it would be necessary to simultaneously monitor all or at least a very substantial fraction of the neurons in the brain.
    Furthermore, unless one exposes the subject to the her entire portfolio of recognizable faces one cannot be sure that there may not be other faces to which this particular neuron would also repond.
    These are clear possibilities which cannot be eliminated on the basis of the experiment as described. Can anyone address this issue?
    Perhaps someone can address it?

  2. The whole issue of face recognition is an
    interesting one to me, because I have a slight
    problem recognizing faces. Sometimes I will have
    a split-second delay in realizing who someone is.
    This is rather like a toned-down version of the
    effect where you meet a familiar face in an
    unfamiliar setting, and it takes a second to
    register. Maybe you’ve never had that experience.
    An example is when my parents and I were on
    vacation when I was a kid — 900 miles away in
    Washington, DC. Unknown to us (and them), our
    neighbors from 5 miles away were on vacation
    at the same time. We ran into each other on the
    sidewalk, and there was a moment of stunned
    semi-recognition before we were able to process
    what we were seeing.
    Another related issue I have is that when I meet
    a new person, I very frequently think that he/she
    looks very similar to some person I already know.
    But as I get to know that person, I realize there
    really is no resemblance.
    I’ve noticed that the whole effect of not
    accurately recognizing someone is much greater
    when I am in intense thought or distracted. This
    has led me to the very crude theory that my
    brain is taking over its face-recognition portion
    temporarily for other tasks.
    Comments welcome.
    (Um, why are my paragraph breaks disappearing?
    I also tried lessthan P greaterthan.)

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