Welcome to the latest instalment of the psychology and neuroscience writing digest The Synapse, hosted this week on Mind Hacks.
The web’s mind and brain bloggers have submitted the best of their recent writing, so follow the link below for the latest in online insight.
Erick Fejta has been inspired by Ramachandran’s book Phantoms in the Brain to question the link between perceived reality and how the outside world is interpreted by the mind and brain. He follows this up with a try-it-yourself demonstration of how the brain ‘fills in’ reality to conceal the fact that no visual information is being received by the eye’s blindspot.
Dr. Deborah Serani wonders about how our understanding of the world relies on memory, particularly in light of a recent experiment that suggests that memories can be ‘erased’, at least in rats, by injection of a protein kinase Mzeta inhibitor into the hippocampus. The protein is thought to be essential for long-term potentiation, a crucial process for memory formation.
Michael Anes has been thinking about altered reality of a different kind. In one article he considers the recent paper in Nature by Shahar Arzy and colleagues that reported on the induction of a ‘shadow self’ by stimulating the brain with an implanted electrode. Michael picks up on a detail I missed first time round, that different experiences were generated by slightly increasing the electrical current to the electrode. In a further article, Michael tackles the way recognition of the self can break down after brain injury, leading to a number of unusual, and scientifically fascinating, syndromes.
The Neurocritic looks at pathology of a different kind by examining the role of perfectionism in anorexia. Perfectionism is a pathological desire to reach excessively high standards and has been linked to a number of cognitive biases. Neurocritic’s article looks into the growing number of studies investigating the link between brain function, perfectionism and eating disorders.
Pure Pedantry has picked up on neuroscience research that perhaps gives some explanation for the sort of non-pathological cognitive biases found in teenagers. A recent paper in Nature mapped how the structure of the brain changes from adolescence into adulthood. Jake has embedded the research videos, so you can see the changes for yourself.
OmniBrain takes a critical look at another recently published study on development, but this time on the link between finger length ratios and adult characteristics. The difference in length between the index (pointing) finger and ring finger is a measure of amount of testosterone you were exposed to as a fetus and a recent study suggests that this ratio predicts athletic success in women.
The Mouse Trap tackles another developmental topic, language acquisition, by analysing the strengths and weaknesses of the major theories and then puts forward his own angle on how we learn to communicate with others.
Once we’ve developed all these astounding cognitive skills we would ideally like to maintain them in as good a working order as possible. Developing Intelligence investigates the “Brain Fitness” movement, which has become popular owing to older people becoming interested in products to help them stay mentally sharp. A subsequent post tackles recent research on task interference in attentional control – the ability to coordinate mental resources. This is something that can show significant decline in old age, and may be boosted by ‘brain fitness’ programmes.
The Neurophilosopher takes a wander through the animal kingdom and looks at recent research that uncovers the remarkable talents of our animal cousins. Sperm whales seem to be able to use echolocation to forage for food and one of the McArthur ‘genius’ awards was presented to Kenneth Catania for his work on the neurodevelopment of the star-nosed mole.
Finally, one from the Neurofuture archives. Some beautiful artwork of notional nanobots working away in the brain.
That’s it for this edition, but you can submit your blog article to the next edition of the synapse using the carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on the carnival index page.