The Synapse, Issue 11

Welcome to the 11th issue of the Synapse!

Starting things off, Alpha Psy discusses evolutionary perspectives on the functions of shame (evoked by inappropriate behavior only if witnessed by others) and guilt (evoked by inappropriate behavior regardless of whether an audience witnesses it). Olivier then reviews a recent fMRI study demonstrating that ventrolateral and dorsomedial prefrontal cortex are sensitive to the presence of a witnessing audience after an inappropriate behavior, whereas other regions previously implicated in Theory of Mind tasks (such as the temporal-parietal junction and temporal poles) seem insensitive to audience.

So, what about the audience? The Neurocritic looks at the cognitive neuroscience of empathy, and its relationship with medial inferior frontal cortex, right anterior fusiform gyrus, and the right temporal pole.

Might an audience react differently to a speaker positioning on the left vs. the right of their visual fields? Episteme reviews a new manuscript focused on this question, turning up some pretty interesting results. What ever you might think of gross conclusions about laterality, this is worth a quick read.

According to simulation theorists, an audience may experience empathy by mentally simulating the situation - as though they are experiencing the situation directly. Another post from the Neurocritic bears on this question, in that patients with a congenital insensitivity to pain (yes, they can actually feel no pain) rate the perceived experience of pain the same as normal controls - but only if they are given access to visible or audible expressions of pain. Merely viewing the painful experiences themselves is apparently not enough, tentatively supporting simulation theory.

By the way, if you're interested in simulation theory, be sure to check out this post from Mind Hacks on the role of mirror neurons in autism.

Speaking of pain: HFXN discusses the cerebrospinal markers of axonal and glial damage found in amateur boxers one week after a rough match. Would we see similar indications of brain damage among other professionals who experience other instances of physical shock - for example, in soldiers using automatic weapons, or perhaps construction workers using jackhammers?

The Mouse Trap discusses how Bollywood and Hollywood have stigmatized mental illness, and one recent Bollywood film that that seems to reverse this stereotype: in "Lago Raho Munnabhai," vivid hallucinations actually help the protagonist leave behind a life of crime and live according to Gandhian values.

BPS Research Digest mentions a new study showing that some social outgroups do not elicit the neural responses that usually occur whenever we think about other people or ourselves. Is "dehumanization" now something we can voxelize and quantify?

Drawing from a book called "The Legal Imagination," idealawg asks how thinking like a lawyer might affect your brain. What areas of the brain would we expect to see hyperactive among lawyers - and which relatively quiet - in comparison to someone of equivalent intelligence?

And for people with aspirations to go to law school, Sharp Brains offers some very helpful advice on techniques that can be used to improve memory. Also check out this summary of some recent work on adult neurogenesis.

Starting with Descartes and ending with Marvin Minsky, The Mouse Trap argues that circadian oscillators may be a critical omission from connectionist models of conditioning. After adding this mechanism, connectionist networks can begin to resemble Minsky's critic/selector architecture (it is interesting to note similarities here with the actor/critic method of temporal difference learning).

If you're interested in computational modeling, be sure to check out this video from Channel N: 3D computer simulations of over a million neurons!

Thanks for submitting, and stay tuned for the next issue of The Synapse at Dr. Deborah Serani's blog on November 26th!


Blogger Prerona said...

very interesting post! thanks :)

11/12/2006 10:32:00 PM  

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