Posts tagged ‘neuroscience’

Run like a rat

Researchers at Princeton University recently made a remarkable discovery about the brains of rats that exercise…

The “cells born from running,” the researchers concluded, appeared to have been “specifically buffered from exposure to a stressful experience.” The rats had created, through running, a brain that seemed biochemically, molecularly, calm.

From a great NYT story on “Why Exercise Makes You Less Anxious.”


November 20, 2009 at 5:49 am Leave a comment

Paul Bloom: First Person Plural

“An evolving appraoch to the science of pleasure suggests that each of us contains multiple selves — all with different desires, and all fighting for control. If this is right, the pursuit of happiness becomes even tricker. Can one self ‘bind’ another self if the two want different things? Are you always better off when a Good Self wins? And should outsiders, such as employers and policy makers, get into the fray?”

By Paul Bloom, from The Atlantic, November 2008:

August 22, 2009 at 5:31 pm Leave a comment

Attention Surfeit Hypoactivity Disorder and mindful Twittering: The paradoxical, Zenlike state of focused distraction

New York magazine recently published a fantastic piece by Sam Anderson titled, “In Defense of Distraction.”

Anderson plays the role of philosopher, historian, pop social scientist, and futurist as he ruminates about the influence of technology on the wiring of our brains, and on our abilities to engage in meaningful personal relationships. In the article, he imagines the personal computer as the perfect B.F. Skinner box, because of “the variable ratio schedule” of the Internet; shapes the morality debate among scientists about  use of neuroenhancers, and explains why some are worried about “species-typical upper bound limits” of cognition;  outlines the weaknesses of lifehacking; and, ultimately, explains how to “embrace the poverty of attention.” The science of neuroplasticity and meditation are also explored:

The most promising solution to our attention problem [may also be] the most ancient: meditation. Neuroscientists have become obsessed, in recent years, with Buddhists, whose attentional discipline can apparently confer all kinds of benefits even on non-Buddhists. (Some psychologists predict that, in the same way we go out for a jog now, in the future we’ll all do daily 20-to-30-minute “secular attentional workouts.”) Meditation can make your attention less “sticky,” able to notice images flashing by in such quick succession that regular brains would miss them. It has also been shown to elevate your mood, which can then recursively stoke your attention: Research shows that positive emotions cause your visual field to expand. The brains of Buddhist monks asked to meditate on “unconditional loving-kindness and compassion” show instant and remarkable changes: Their left prefrontal cortices (responsible for positive emotions) go into overdrive, they produce gamma waves 30 times more powerful than novice meditators, and their wave activity is coordinated in a way often seen in patients under anesthesia.

Click here to read the article.

play, think…
J.R. Atwood

June 4, 2009 at 1:11 am Leave a comment

Registration Open: U.C. Berkeley School Psychology Annual Conference, Mindset and the Mechanisms Beneath Social and Emotional Intelligence

Registration is open for what promises to be a provocative conference. See below for details…

UC Berkeley School Psychology 42nd Annual Conference

Mindsight and the Mechanisms Beneath Social and Emotional Intelligence: What Neuroscience Teaches About the Interconnectedness of Development, Environment, and Happiness

Monday, April 20th, 2009
7:45am – 3:15pm
Clark Kerr Conference Center
UC Berkeley – Berkeley CA

Space is limited
More Information and Online Registration:

Dr. Dan Siegel
Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine

Dr. Dacher Keltner
Professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of California,

Panel: Decreasing Anxiety and Improving Student Behavior and with Simple
Mindfulness Techniques: Community Partnership for Mindfulness in Education
(CPME) of Park Day School – Laurie Grossman, Megan Cowan, Richard Shankman

Early Registration till March 15, 2009
Non-student Rate $85
Student Rate $35

This conference brought to you by the second year students of the UCB School
Psychology Program
Conference Mailing Address:
UC Berkeley Graduate School of Education
School Psychology Program
4511 Tolman Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-1670

February 7, 2009 at 10:52 am Leave a comment

Minding the News

Some of the more interesting general news items and articles related to psychology and the brain sciences…

** SharpBrains, which continues to publish a wide range of fascinating news and research related to brain fitness, has a provocative interview with chess champion Joshua Waitzkin. In the interview, Waitzkin reflects on his retirement from the game, his struggle to rekindle his passion for chess, what he learned about philosophy and psychology from Tai Chi, and his book The Art of Learning: An Inner Journey to Optimal Performance.

** “First Person Plural” by Paul Bloom of the Atlantic:

An evoloving approach to the science of pleasure suggests that each of us contains multiple selves — all with different desires, and all fighting for control. If this is right, the pursuit of happiness becomes even trickier. Can one “bind” another self if the two want different things? Are you always better off when a Good Self wins? And should outsiders, such as employers and policy makers, get into the fray?

** One of the reasons why I continue to subscribe to Newsweek is to read Sharon Begley’s “On Science” column, which distills and makes accessible some of the more interesting and important research in science. “When DNA is Not Destiny” explains how psychology, cognitive science, and genetics studies show that otherwise assumed inhereted aspects of our personhood, including intelligence and personality, are not immutable: “Experiences can silence genes or activitate them. Even shyness is like Silly Putty once life gets a hold of it.”

** Best Life magazine has a good general article about “Your Brain at 40,” seeking to explain the “recent breakthroughs in neuroscience that provide answers to questions on how the brain ages and how men can maintain a sharp cognitive edge.” Especially with the recent explosion of the brain-fitness market, I found the related post “Lobes of Steel” to be a handy cheat-sheet that evaluates the theories behind and evidence for some of the more popular computer-based mental-training programs, including Posit Science‘s Brain Fitness Program, Cogmed’s Working Memory Training, CogniFit’s Mindfit, and Lumos Labs’ Lumosity.

Play, think…
J.R. Atwood

February 3, 2009 at 3:06 am 1 comment

How money shapes the brain; weighty issues in America; and more

Roundup of news and such…

** Income affects brain development: In a soon-to-be-published article in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, researchers have shown that brain physiology patterns of kids from low-income backgrounds are similar to adults with brain damage. Kids from high-income backgrounds, on the other hand, have normal frontal lobe activity. 

“This is a wake-up call,” says Berkeley psychology professor Robert Knight. “It’s not just that these kids are poor and more likely to have health problems, but they might actually not be getting full brain development from the stressful and relatively impoverished environment associated with low socioeconomic status: fewer books, less reading, fewer games, fewer visits to museums.”

Adds Silvia Bunge, a colleague of Knight’s at Berkeley who is leading the intervention studies on prefrontal cortex development in youth using fMRI, “The study is suggestive and a little bit frightening that environmental conditions have such a strong impact on brain development.”

More information about this research can be found here.

**  Obese Americans now outweigh the merely overweight: 34 percent of American adults — more than 72 million people over the age of 18 —  are obese, another 33 percent are overweight, and 6 percent are morbidly obese. 

Earlier this year, it was reported that 32 percent of American children were overweight, 16 percent were obese, and 11 percent were morbidly obese.

Obesity and overweight are calculated using a formula called body mass index. BMI is equal to weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared. Someone with a BMI of 25 to 29 is classified as overweight, 30 to 40 counts as obese and people with BMIs of 40 or more are morbidly obese.

A person 5 feet 5 inches tall becomes overweight at 150 pounds (68 kg) and obese at 180 pounds (82 kg). The U.S. National Institutes of Health has an online BMI calculator at

** Sudoku over Seinfeld. Feeling antsy, restless, or overcome with anxiety? Don’t zone-out. Instead, actively engage the mind.

New research has found that “brain-sharpening activities – rather than mind-numbing ones – can rein in a restless psyche by activating the region of the brain that commands logical reasoning and concentration.” 

“If anything, hard tasks can keep anxious people from being sidetracked and can help them stay on task,” said Sonia Bishop, a UC Berkeley psychologist and lead author of the brain imaging study, published online by Nature Neuroscience yesterday on Dec. 14.

Bishop’s study shows that people who are overly anxious have a hard time concentrating on mundane tasks such as ironing and filing paperwork, even when they are not imagining worst-case scenarios. This is because, when distracted, anxious people struggle to activate the prefrontal region of the brain needed to focus on the task at hand.

These findings break new ground in understanding the brain circuitry of anxiety because previous anxiety investigations have focused on an overactive amygdala, or fight-or-flight reflex, which alerts the body to protect itself in times of danger. The new findings suggest that poor concentration in anxious people is as much due to a slow response in the prefrontal cortex when they are engaged in undemanding pastimes or chores. More info here.

** In Defense of Teasing.

Play, think…
J.R. Atwood 

January 14, 2009 at 3:37 am Leave a comment

Conference on Neurocognitive Development

An intriguing conference…

U.C. Berkeley Conference on Neurocognitive Development

On July 12-14, 2009, UC Berkeley will host a conference on the developing mind and brain, with a focus on research in humans. Registration is open to all interested parties.

The field of developmental cognitive neuroscience focuses on the changes in brain function and behavior over the lifespan. This field has exploded over the last 10 years. It draws on the fields of 
developmental, cognitive, affective/social, and clinical psychology, as well as neuroscience, computer science, and physics. Increasingly, as we learn more about the developing brain, research in this area has implications for medicine, education, the law, public health and social welfare.As such, good research in developmental cognitive neuroscience requires extensive training and collaboration. 
The UC Berkeley Conference on Neurocognitive Development will provide researchers from UC Berkeley with the opportunity to learn from and interact with many of the top developmental cognitive neuroscientists from around the country. These speakers will present data on the changes in brain function and behavior from infancy through adolescence. This conference will provide the opportunity for communication and collaboration between scientists at various stages in their careers.

 A special issue of Frontiers in Human Neuroscience will be assembled based on research presented at the conference. Each of the speakers will be asked to contribute a review paper summarizing work covered in their talk. Other participants will be encouraged to submit manuscripts. Dr. Robert Knight is the Editor-in-Chief of this journal, and Dr. Silvia Bunge is the Associate Editor who will coordinate this issue of the journal.

To register online or to learn more, please visit:

For more information about the cutting-edge Frontiers journal series, including Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, please visit:

Play, think…
J.R. Atwood 

January 12, 2009 at 2:18 am Leave a comment

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Jason R. Atwood

I'm an avid trail runner and doctoral student at U.C. Berkeley who studies motivation and the relationship between the mind and body. This blog is a forum to share research, news, and musings about these topics of interest. More

Play is the beginning of knowledge.

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