President Obama: “Now, it’s time to get to work.”
NYT article: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/02/science/obama-to-unveil-initiative-to-map-the-human-brain.html
Imagine there are two referees who have different opinions about where a ball landed, in particular whether it went over some line. How can they cooperate to make a better decision than either one could individually?
My dad brought this interesting book review to my attention: Peeling Away Theories on Gender and the Brain (NYT)
In her book Delusions of Gender (which I have not read though am intrigued to do so), cognitive neuroscientist Cordelia Fine places several modern studies of early differences in brain anatomy/function into a long line of sexist explanations for supposed differences in male and female behaviors.
The basic argument is that there has been no convincing connection made between any measured structural differences (which she argues might not exist) to behavioral differences. Just another case of correlation (maybe) and not causation.
Here’s a description of study that you might already be familiar with and Fine’s take on it:
Dr. Baron-Cohen’s lab conducted research on infants who averaged a day and a half old, before any unconscious parental gender priming. Jennifer Connellan, one of Dr. Baron-Cohen’s graduate students, who conducted the study, showed mobiles and then her own face to the infants. The results showed that among the newborns the boys tended to look longer at mobiles, the girls at faces.
Dr. Fine dismantles the study, citing, among other design flaws, the fact that Ms. Connellan knew the sex of some of the babies. Because it was her face they were looking at and she was holding up the mobile, Dr. Fine says, she may have “inadvertently moved the mobile more when she held it up for boys, or looked more directly, or with wider eyes, for the girls.”
Although I am unsure about the scientific merits, it is refreshing to see a new viewpoint in this debate. It provides some food for thought on this interesting topic:
Summarizing the research, she writes, “Nonexistent sex differences in language lateralization, mediated by nonexistent sex differences in corpus callosum structure, are widely believed to explain nonexistent sex differences in language skills.”
What all this adds up to, she says, is neurosexism. It’s all in the brain.
Nothing too shocking here for students of evolutionary psychology but it’s always interesting to see real world examples of how our shared behavior. There is a new book by Sebastian Junger called War, in which he recounts how men do not fight for larger ideological goals (eg. “a safer Iraq”, “finding Bin Laden”) but instead they can overcome fears because “they’re more concerned about their brothers than what happens to themselves individually”. Here’s Junger on Good Morning America:
After the jump some more from Junger and a nice talk from Robert Sapolsky about similar behaviors in chimps.
Paul Bloom talks about research on the morality of small children, and ways in which their morality is similar to and different from adults. Concise descriptions of supporting experiments is given throughout.
Basically, babies prefer nice people over mean people, but prefer people who punish mean people over people who reward mean people. But babies are not impartial; for example, they give favorable treatment to other babies who are wearing the same tee-shirt as themselves.
Also has some content about the cognition of babies in general. Experiments show that, at various young ages, “..babies think of objects largely as adults do, as connected masses that move as units, that are solid and subject to gravity and that move in continuous paths through space and time,” and “…expect people to move rationally in accordance with their beliefs and desires…”, and “…know that other people can have false beliefs”.
We had read that Dr. Henry Markram of the Blue Brain project had given a talk at TED (technology, entertainment, design), but the video wasn’t released until this month. This talk is geared towards a general audience, rather than getting into the specific details of the Blue Brain project, as he has before. It is engaging and includes many suggestions towards the future of neuroscience and AI.
The journal, Frontiers in Neuroscience, edited by Idan Segev, has made it Volume 3, issue 1. Launching last year at the Society for Neuroscience conference, its probably the newest Neuroscience-related journal.
I’m a fan of it because it is an open-access journal featuring a “tiered system” and more. From their website:
The Frontiers Journal Series is not just another journal. It is a new approach to scientific publishing. As service to scientists, it is driven by researchers for researchers but it also serves the interests of the general public. Frontiers disseminates research in a tiered system that begins with original articles submitted to Specialty Journals. It evaluates research truly democratically and objectively based on the reading activity of the scientific communities and the public. And it drives the most outstanding and relevant research up to the next tier journals, the Field Journals.
Neurodudes reader Jason M. sent me some information about a funding agency, IARPA, or Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, that is funding neuroscience-related research. I had never heard of IARPA before but it has existed since 2006 as something of an intelligence-focused DARPA. There upcoming funding deadline (Aug 21) is for projects on detecting trust signals between humans.
Just last night, I watched the tense but amazing film The Hurt Locker (don’t let the name disuade you, see the phenomenal Metacritic rating), which is about a bomb disposal squad during the recent Iraq War. There is one particularly stirring scene with a suicide bomber who claims that he was forced to wear a vest with explosives and doesn’t want to go through with it. The difficulty in the limited time before the bomb explosion revolves around whether to actually trust the man and the challenge of trusting someone when neither party speaks the other’s language. You can certainly at least understand (putting aside the ethics of war itself) why governments are interested in detecting nonverbal trust cues.
Details about the IARPA call for proposals are after the jump. Continue reading
Malcolm Gladwell provides an interesting take on how human psychology contributed to the demise of Bear Stearns. [New Yorker]