Pop(ular) Media Get’s Brain Research DEAD Wrong, of Course

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The Brain as Capital

Many articles evinced a representation of the brain as a resource: as the repository of the self and the source of all ability and achievement. This was most evident within the brain optimization category. The brain was something to be acted on, with readers advised to take action to optimize brain performance.

Discussion of optimizing brain activity manifested within two principal frames: description of strategies to enhance the brain above normal or baseline function and identification of potential brain threats. For enhancement, the most common feature was recommendation of foods that purportedly improved neural function, and also mental activities (e.g., “brain-training” software), artificial methods (e.g., “smart pills”), and physical activity. Media articles rarely conveyed that evidence for the efficacy of such measures was equivocal (e.g., Kirby et al., 2010 and Owen et al., 2010). Articles within the threat frame highlighted risks posed by drugs and alcohol, mobile phones, environmental toxins, and computers. Both frames exhorted action on the part of the reader, whether in uptake of brain-enhancing activities or avoidance of hazards.

The media advocated a regime of self-discipline in the service of “boosting” brain function, portraying brain health as a resource that demanded constant promotion. There was no end point at which optimal brain function could be deemed achieved: brain function could be improved limitlessly. Articles were permeated with the vocabulary of physical fitness, entreating the reader to “exercise” or “train” their brain to keep it “active” and “flexible.”

“Research has shown that keeping the mind agile is just as important as keeping fit in the battle to stay young. In fact, by stretching the brain with regular crossword and sudoku puzzles, you can make your brain appear up to 14 years younger.” (Daily Mail, September 13, 2005)

Brain optimization was also interlinked with discussion of parenting. Parents were advised to take action to promote their children’s neurocognitive performance. The brain was positioned as an important reference point in child-rearing decisions, recruited to indicate the “correctness” of parenting practices.

Pronouncements on parenting practice acquired scientific authority through claims that these practices had specific effects on children’s brains. This veneer of science, however, sometimes concealed clear value judgments about what constitutes “good” parenting.

In summary, prescribing actions for optimizing brain performance was a salient theme around which media coverage of neuroscience assembled. It communicated a view of brain health as a resource that required constant attention and calculated effort and was drawn into discussion about childrearing practices.

The Brain as an Index of Difference
The second theme captured the use of neuroscientific findings to underline differences between categories of people in ways that were symbolically layered and socially loaded. This theme was most evident in articles within the categories psychopathology, sexuality, morality (particularly antisocial behavior), and bodily conditions (particularly obesity).

Articles devoted considerable space to demonstrating male-female neurobiological differences and also to evidence that substance abusers, criminals, homosexuals, obese people, and people with mental health conditions had distinctive brain types. The content of media coverage of such groups tended to correspond with the content of existing stereotypes: for example, articles regularly linked obesity to low intelligence, adolescence to disagreeableness, and women to irrationality

There was little room for ambiguity in media portrayal of group-related brain differences. It was common to encounter the phrase “the [adjective] brain,” with the brackets filled by categories like “male,” “teenage,” “criminal,” “addicted,” or “gay.” This implied the existence of a single brain type common across all members of the category and distinctly different from the brains of the categorical alternatives. Social groups were essentialized and portrayed as wholly internally homogeneous.

Human Exceptionalism Claims, from Yale and Kavli Inst. – of course

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These claims seem contradicted by other experiments in motor control but here it is below.  Yale Seems firmly in the human exceptionalism camp as an institution and Kavli Institute funding the same.  The money would seem better spent understanding how human brain > behavior processes are similar to other animals and thus much easier to study, duh…

“While we often think of the human brain as a highly innovative structure, it’s been surprising that so many of these regulatory elements seem to play a role in ancient processes important for building the cortex in all mammals…”

Yale Maps Evolutionary Changes of the Human Brain

New research from Yale University reveals a detailed catalog of human-specific changes in gene regulation and pinpoints several biological processes potentially guided by these regulatory elements that are crucial to human brain development.

Thousands of genetic “dimmer” switches, regions of DNA known as regulatory elements, were turned up high during human evolution in the developing cerebral cortex, according to new research from the Yale School of Medicine.

Unlike in rhesus monkeys and mice, these switches show increased activity in humans, where they may drive the expression of genes in the cerebral cortex, the region of the brain that is involved in conscious thought and language. This difference may explain why the structure and function of that part of the brain is so unique in humans compared to other mammals.

In addition to creating a rich and detailed catalog of human-specific changes in gene regulation, Noonan and his colleagues pinpointed several biological processes potentially guided by these regulatory elements that are crucial to human brain development.

“Building a more complex cortex likely involves several things: making more cells, modifying the functions of cortical areas, and changing the connections neurons make with each other. And the regulatory changes we found in humans are associated with those processes.  This likely involves evolutionary modifications to cellular proliferation, cortical patterning, and other developmental processes that are generally well conserved across many species.”.

While we often think of the human brain as a highly innovative structure, it’s been surprising that so many of these regulatory elements seem to play a role in ancient processes important for building the cortex in all mammals.  However, this is often a hallmark of evolution, tinkering with the tools available to produce new features and functions.”

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“Since 2002, a series of ten such studies have reported that individuals who used cannabis at the baseline evaluation had a greater risk of subsequently developing psychotic symptoms and indeed full-blown schizophrenia than non-users. “

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  • …”Since 2002, a series of ten such studies have reported that individuals who used cannabis at the baseline evaluation had a greater risk of subsequently developing psychotic symptoms and indeed full-blown schizophrenia than non-users. Other studies of cannabis users who had sought medical care showed that they had a marked increased risk of subsequent schizophrenia. Such unanimity is rare in psychiatric epidemiology.”
  • “Cannabis is now generally accepted as a cause of schizophrenia (though less so in North America, where this topic has received little attention). Argument does continue over just how significant cannabis-associated psychosis is. In different countries, the proportion of schizophrenia attributed to cannabis use ranges from 8 to 24 percent, depending, in part, on the prevalence of cannabis use.”
  • “Nevertheless, the vast majority of users won’t become psychotic.…It appears that some people are especially vulnerable. Not surprisingly, people with a paranoid or “psychosis-prone” personality are at greatest risk, alongside people with a family history of psychosis. Research also suggests that inheriting certain variants of genes that influence the dopamine system, which is implicated in psychosis, may make some users especially susceptible…”
  • “the increasing availability of high-potency types of cannabis explains why psychiatrists should be more concerned about cannabis now than they were in the 1960s and 1970s.”
  • “In picking their way through the conflicting views, politicians and regulators need to recognize that “medicinal marijuana” has become largely a cover for introducing recreational use by the marijuana industry”

Appraising the Risks of Reefer Madness
By: Sir Robin Murray, M.D.

Editor’s Note: Studies that have tied cannabis use to schizophrenia in the developing brain are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to marijuana. Continue reading

Best Model of Brain Causing Behavior: Instant and Completely Unconscious, of Course

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I predict Paul Cisek will be seen as the “Einstein” of behavioral theory.  His findings contradict all of our cultural-cognitive and current academic myths and models, so the findings are pretty much ignored.  He is also in Montreal so well outside of the industrial-neuroeconomics complex.  Lucky for him!  More to come….much more…

I will be working on polishing this post and many posts and articles from it……grrrrrrr

On the Challenges and Mechanisms of Embodied Decisions

Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 369: 20130479.  Primary author: Paul Cisek e-mail: paul.cisek@umontreal.ca

Neurophysiological studies of decision-making have focused primarily on elucidating the mechanisms of classic economic decisions, for which the relevant variables are the values of expected outcomes and action is simply the means of reporting the selected choice.

By contrast, here we focus on the particular challenges of embodied decision-making faced by animals interacting with their environment in real time.  In such scenarios, the choices themselves as well as their relative costs and benefits are defined by the momentary geometry of the immediate environment and change continuously during ongoing activity.  To deal with the demands of embodied activity, animals require an architecture in which the sensorimotor specification of potential actions, their valuation, selection and even execution can all take place in parallel. Continue reading

Philosophy is Just More Magical Thinking, Like Voodoo

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The core (false) promise of all magical beliefs is everyday language-based “Mind over matter.”  and “Action at a difference.”  Praying, to some god, is just subjective reports of individual experience.  So is voodoo, belief in the tooth fairy, belief in free will, philosophy, etc.

Well, philosophy is just more of the same.  It presumes that words and everyday language matter to human behavior and explain the world.  Well, it doesn’t and never really has.  But, it is a very popular marketing/sales promise – look at religion!  VERY profitable.   Economists make the same false promise.

Jerry Coyne Gets It Wrong Again and Again…#1: The Atheist’s Fatal Dilemma

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Disclosure:  My comments have been blocked from the Why Evolution Is True Site from the beginnings pretty much.  Also, banned on many other sites and censored on Maestro Pigliucci’s site Scientia Salon, the master himself moderates my comments and requests for me to stop posting occasionally.  All in good humor.

Although I did make a dry ironic comment about JC’s shirt once, I just post on the latest brain science research I read.  That’s it.  I also ask probing questions of other statements.  I am direct and professional at all times, never an ad hominem or intemperate comment – wastes of time.

My experience is that website folks simply cannot tolerate the challenges to cultural and personal myths that just reporting brain research triggers.  Continue reading

How Brain Science is Destroying Economics, Marketing, Biz and Just About Everything Else We Believe/Think

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The total reset and tearing down of all accepted wisdom, including in the hallowed halls of government and academe is now mandatory based on brain research findings including there is no free will, consciousness and subjective experience likely being trivial and the continuity of basic biological processes of brain > behavior across all animals, of course.  Also, it looks like all behavior is “decided” (not really decided though, switches just flip) in 140 ms.  No time for any feelings or thoughts to do anything but be “post-play commentary.”

That will not happen for decades however.  “Progress happens one funeral at a time.” – and everyone is living a whole lot longer.  Likely progress has already slowed a lot.  Too bad.

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