Spontaneous Rewiring seen in 4 hrs.

It seems Markram is again back to getting some interesting results. Recently a new discovery from the Brain Mind Institute of the EPFL shows that the brain adapts to new experience by unleashing a burst of new neuronal connections, and only the fittest survive. The research further shows that this process of creation, testing, and reconfiguring of brain circuits takes place on a scale of just hours, suggesting that the brain is evolving considerably even during the course of a single day.

The paper can be found Here.

Job opening at Royal Holloway University of London: fMRI learning postdoc

Postdoctoral Research Scientist in Cognitive Neuroscience Department of Psychology

Salary is in the range of =A322,779 to =A325,092 per annum inclusive of London Allowance depending on experience.

A three-year, full-time postdoctoral research position is available to investigate the neural basis of learning in the human brain using functional MRI. The project will study the dynamic changes in activity that accompany the acquisition of cognitive and motor skills, and will focus on information processing in the prefrontal cortex, the cortical motor system and interconnected areas of the cerebellum (see Ramnani (2006), Nature Reviews Neuroscience 7(7): 511-522). The project is funded by a BBSRC grant to Dr. Narender Ramnani. Facilities include an on-site, research-dedicated 3T Siemens Trio MRI scanner hosted by the Psychology Department at Royal Holloway (Surrey, 35 minutes to central London). Candidates should hold (or should expect to be awarded) a PhD in Behavioural or Cognitive Neuroscience by January 2007 (although candidates from other research backgrounds will also be considered if their skills are relevant to the project). A record of published research, some familiarity with functional neuroanatomy and good programming skills are essential. Familiarity with practical and statistical neuroimaging methods is desirable. Candidates should be willing to learn new research methods and to have a strong interest in pursuing a research career.

Planned (flexible) start date, 15th January. Further information can be found at http://www.pc.rhul.ac.uk/staff/n.ramnani. Informal inquiries should be addressed to Dr. Ramnani (tel. [deleted by editor]; email [deleted by editor]).

Further details and an application form are available from the Personnel Department, Royal Holloway, University of London, Egham, Surrey TW20 0EX;
Telephone: 01784 414241;
Fax: 01784 473527;
E-Mail: recruitment at rhul dot ac.uk

Please quote the reference number AC/4612. The closing date for the receipt of applications is midday on 6th October 2006.

We positively welcome applications from all sections of the communit

Job opening at Rutgers: programmer of neurocomputational models

Position Offered for Programmer or Postdoctoral Fellowship in Applied Neurocomputational Modeling of Learning and Memory

We seek to hire a full time Research Assistant/Programmer or Postdoctoral Fellow to work on computer programming projects developing and testing neurocomputational models of the brain circuits for learning and memory, especially the basal ganglia, frontal cortex, and hippocampal region.

[editor: this is an email fwd i received]

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A ubiquitous human parasite that shapes human culture?

In the provocative-hypothesis-of-the-week department:

Kevin Lafferty, a parasitologist, has put forth the idea that a fairly ubiquitous parasite (infecting O(10%) of Americans, and up to 2/3 of people in places like Brazil) is responsible for some of the diversity of human culures (1). The parasite uses common housecats to increase its transmission to the next host in the life cycle, and has a subtle effect on human personality, with some studies claiming that it even causes neuroticism, and even schizophrenia. (One clinical report (2) claims that “subjects with latent toxoplasmosis had higher intelligence [and] lower guilt proneness.” Hmm!)

Anyway, Lafferty noted that toxoplasmosis varies in prevalence from world region to world region, and then tries to draw correlates between these prevalences and local cultures:

“Drivers of the geographical variation in the prevalence of this parasite include the effects of climate on the persistence of infectious stages in soil, the cultural practices of food preparation and cats as pets. Some variation in culture, therefore, may ultimately be related to how climate affects the distribution of T. gondii, though the results only explain a fraction of the variation in two of the four cultural dimensions, suggesting that if T. gondii does influence human culture, it is only one among many factors.”

I wonder how one could test this hypothesis? Look for recent immigrants from one culture to another, who have lower Toxoplasmosis incidence? (Preferably finding populations that go in opposite directions, as a control.) Track culture change vs. migration vs. climate change?

Unlikely, perhaps. But nice that people are still thinking big 🙂


(1) Lafferty, K
Can the common brain parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, influence human culture?
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences

Picked up by the popular press here

(2) Flegr J, Havlicek J.
Changes in the personality profile of young women with latent toxoplasmosis.
Folia Parasitol (Praha). 1999;46(1):22-8.

nature vs. nurture

As a psychology instructor who often teaches a course on cognitive psychology, I am intrigued with the whole nature/nurture debate and how it relates to neuropsychology. It seems like we look to nature when we want to control the universe, when we want to follow the rules of:

words and music by Dr. BLT (c)2006

and we turn to the supernatural when we are comfortable with the idea of not having to predict and control everything.