Brain Imaging: Recorded LIVE at Dragon*Con 2008 (BSP 46)

Dragon*Con 2008

Dr. Campbell at Dragon*Con 2008

Brain Science Podcast #46 is a discussion of brain imaging with Dr. Shella Keilholz and Dr. Jason Schneiderman.  The focus of our discussion is functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which is revolutionizing neuroscience.  We talked about both the strengths and weaknesses of this technique.  Both of my guests agree that mainstream coverage of this technique tends to exaggerate what we can actually tell from this kind of brain scan.  An important principle is that the scan of any single individual can vary greatly from day to day, which means that valid conclusions require data from a large number of people.

Since this episode was recorded LIVE in the Podcasting Track at Dragon*Con 2008, it includes audience questions at the end, which helped bring out additional ideas.  I have posted an edited version (but there is still some noise from the room next door).  If you are interested in hearing the raw unedited version, click here.  I also want to thank Swoopy from Skepticality for all the work she did to make the podcasting track a great success.

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More about my guests:

Shella Keilholz, PhD, is an assistant professor of Biomedical Engineeering at Georgia Tech and the Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta, GA.  She is doing studies that involve correlating fMRI scans with the reading from electrodes placed in rat brains.  This work is fundamental to improving the correlation between fMRI scans, which reflect brain activity only indirectly, and what is actually happening in the neurons of the brain.

Jason Schneiderman, PhD studied psychology before earning his PhD in neuroscience.  His dissertation involved the use of diffusion tensor imaging, which is a new method of scanning that is being used to track the axonal connections in the brain.  He is currently doing a post-doctoral fellowship at Harvard Medical School, where his team is trying to determine if the connections in the brains of young schizophrenics are different from normal.  The goal is to improve early diagnosis because early intervention makes a big difference.

Some recent discussions of fMRI:

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John Ratey, MD Discusses ADD (BSP 45)

John J. Ratey, M.D.

Have you ever wondered why a child with ADD can play videos games for hours, but can't concentrate on his homework for a few minutes?  This is one of the paradoxes of attention-deficit disorder that John J Ratey, MD, co-author of, Driven To Distraction : Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood Through Adulthood, explains in Episode 45 of the Brain Science Podcast.

During this interview, Dr. Ratey discusses the latest findings about the biological basis of what he calls "attention variability disorder."  He also offers practical advice for patients and parents dealing with ADD/ADHD.  One very important, and somewhat surprising, fact that he shares is that patients who are treated with medications during adolescence have a significantly lower risk of developing problems with addiction and drug abuse later on compared to those who are not treated.  Also, successful "ADD-ers" like Michael Phelps show that "having a mission" makes a huge difference.

Dr. Ratey's most recent book is Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, which he discussed with me (Dr. Campbell) in Episode 33.

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Detailed Show Notes

Topics discussed:

  • Why our current cyber-culture  exacerbates symptoms.
  • The genetic component.
  • The role of dopamine and epinephrine.
  • The relationship between ADD and addiction.
  • Why ADD effects all the brain systems including memory.
  • The importance of strengthening executive (frontal lobe) function.

Successful people with ADD:

  • Michael Phelps-winner of 8 Gold Medals for Swimming in 2008 Olympics.
  • Rick Warren-founder of The Purpose Driven Church.

Practical Advice:

  • the need for a mission.
  • environmental changes.
  • the role of meditation and exercise.
  • why stimulant medication helps.
  • training the cerebellum.
  • Omega 3 Fatty Acids (Dr. Ratey recommends OmegaBrite™).

Links:

Send email feedback to Ginger Campbell, MD at brainsciencepodcast@gmail.com

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Meditation and the Brain with Daniel Siegel, MD (BSP 44)

Daniel Siegel, M.D.

In Episode 44 of the Brain Science Podcast I talk with Daniel Siegel, MD about meditation and the brain.  Dr. Siegel is the author of several books including The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being.  In this interview, we review the scientific evidence about how mindfulness meditation changes the brain, both in terms of short term activity and in terms of long-term structural changes.  The evidence is convincing that a regular mindfulness practice can be an important element of brain health.

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Show Notes and Links

Daniel J. Siegel, M.D.:

Scientists and writers mentioned in Episode 44:

More information about meditation:

Note: Insight Meditation is based of vipassana meditation, the mindfulness practices of Theravada, the oldest branch of Buddhism.  Insight Meditation is easily adapted to secular purposes because it not based on beliefs or dogmas.  The most well-known secular form is called mindfulness meditation, which begins with a focus on breath awareness and then advances to developing compassion for oneself and others.

Researchers are studying people who practice other types of mediation also. Richard Davidson has focused his work on the study of Tibetan Buddhist monks.  Their practice emphasizes the development of compassion.

*I discussed the therapeutic use of mediation with Delany Dean, PhD, in Episode 20 of Books and Ideas.

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"On Being Certain": Interview with Robert Burton, MD (BSP 43)

BSP 43 is an interview with Robert A Burton, MD, author of On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're NotThis is a follow up to BSP 42.

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Other scientists/writers mentioned in this episode:

Other terms mentioned in the interview:

  • Cotard's Syndrome: when the patient believes they do not exist or that they are dead
  • Cognitive dissonance: a mismatch between what one believes and what the evidence supports

Previous Episodes of the Brain Science Podcast:

  • Episode 42: Part 1 of our discussion of On Being Certain.
  • Episode 13: Unconscious Decisions-featuring Blink, by Malcom Gladwel.l
  • Episode 15: Interview with Read Montague about unconscious decisions.

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"The Psych Files" Explores the "Mozart Effect"

Dr. Michael Britt of The Psych Files podcast has just completed an excellent two-part discussion of the so-called Mozart Effect.  With his guest, Dr. Kenneth Steele, he examines the origins of this popular idea, as well as the fact that no one has replicated the original research that suggested such an effect might exist.  If you have ever wondered whether listening to classic music could make you (or your baby) smarter, you will want to listen to this podcast.  Also, check out his blog for a full list of references.

I recently started listening to The Psych Files , and  I think the style and content of The Psych Files compliments the Brain Science Podcast.  For that reason, I have just added the feed from Dr. Britt's blog to our new Brain Science Podcast room in FriendFeed.

"Predictably Irrational" with Dan Ariely

Dan Ariely is a professor of behavioral economics at MIT and author of the bestseller, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions.  He was my guest for Episode 19 of Books and Ideas.

During the interview, he explains how his came to study human behavior.  He uses examples from his book to explore the question, "What makes a good experiment?"  He also discusses how he hope that his findings can help strengthen our society, despite our human tendency to make "irrational" choices.

Rachel Herz Talks About Smell (BSP 34)

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Rachel Herz, PhD

Episode 34 of the Brain Science Podcast is an interview with Rachel Herz, author of The Scent of Desire: Discovering Our Enigmatic Sense of Smell (2007).  Dr. Herz teaches at Brown University, and she is a leading authority on the psychology of smell.  We talk about the how smell works, its role in emotion and memory, why it is so vulnerable, and why smell is much more important than most of us realize.  We also consider some of the questions that remain unanswered.

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Links and References:

Rachel Herz:

The 2004 Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology was awarded to Richard Axel and Linda B. Buck for their discoveries of "odorant receptors and the organization of the olfactory system."

BuckL, Axel R.: "A novel multigene family may encode odorant receptors: a molecular basis for odor recognition."

Cell. 1991 Apr 5;65(1):175-87.

"The (Shocked) Nose Knows" by Gisela Telis Science NOW Daily News 27 March 2008.

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The Scent of Desire: Discovering Our Enigmatic Sense of Smell (2007), by Rachel Herz

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Some Recent Research About Embodied Cognition

There is an ongoing debate on the Brain Science Podcast Discussion Forum about whether the importance of embodiment is an essential obstacle to trying to simulate human cognition with computers.  Meanwhile, the role of embodiment in cognition continues to be a growing area of research.  I enjoyed a recent post on the Scientific American Community website entitled, Thinking with the Body, by Art Glenberg from Arizona State University.  He reviews recent research by Holt and Bellock.  The bottom line is that even when people are involved in verbal tasks, like reading sentences, their comprehension is influenced by their body knowledge of what is being described.

You can read more at Mind Matters: Neuroscience, Psychology, Psychiatry, and More.

Edward Taub's Revolutionary Approach to Stroke Rehabilitation (BSP 28)

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Edward Taub, PhD, pioneer of Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy

Episode 28 of the Brain Science Podcast is an interview with Dr. Edward Taub, who for the last 20+ years has been pioneering the use of Constraint-Induced Movement Therapy in the rehabilitation of stroke and other neurological disabilities.  I have talked about his work in previous episodes (including Episode 10 and Episode 26) as an important example of the practical implications of brain plasticity. 

In this interview,  Dr. Taub shares his personal experiences in the front lines of clinical research, including both its rewards and frustrations.  He also explains the basics of how constraint-induced therapy (CI Therapy) works and how his work is being expanded to help patients with a wide variety of problems including cerebral palsy, head trauma, multiple sclerosis, and focal hand dystonia.

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Links and References:

Dr. Taub recommends that interested listeners do their own Google search under "constraint-induced movement therapy" or CI Therapy, but I have included a few links below:

About Dr. Taub:

Other Links:

References:

Review of "Gut Feelings" (BSP 19)

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Show Notes forBrain Science Podcast #19: Gut Feelings

This episode is a discussion of Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious (2007), by Gerd Gigerenzer.

Dr. Gigerenzer argues that unconscious decision-making or intuition is actually based on the use of heuristics(rules of thumb) that can be explored, and even brought into awareness.  In this episode, I discuss his basic arguments with an emphasis on the differences between intuitive reasoning and formal logic.  Then we explore some examples including the application of these ideas to more controversial areas like morality and social instincts.

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References

Links of Interest:

Interview with Elkhonon Goldberg, PhD (BSP 18)

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Episode 18 of the Brain Science Podcast is an interview with Dr. Elkhonon Goldberg, PhD.

Show Notes:

  • I apologize for the uneven sound quality of this episode.  If any one out there has any suggestions, please drop me an email.
  • Dr. Goldberg shared a little bit about the breadth of his work as a neuropsychologist.
  • We talked about his rather unique perspective on the difference between the right and left brain hemispheres.  He explained why he feels that as we get older we move from reliance on the right hemisphere, which he feels is the novelty hemisphere, to a reliance on the left hemisphere, where our lifetime store of patterns enables us to use pattern recognition as a short cut in problem solving.
  • We talked about the importance of constant mental challenge, and Dr. Goldberg gives his advice about how we can keep our brains healthy through out our lives.

Links:

The following are two companies that Dr. Goldberg is working with to provide information to the public and also tools for cognitive enhancement:

  • SharpBrains:  This is a clearing house for information, and they evaluate many of the products currently being offered.
  • HeadStrong Cognitive Fitness:  This Australian company offers a net-based program for cognitive enhancement based on Dr. Goldberg's research.  I am hoping to test their products in the near future.

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A review of "The Executive Brain" (BSP 16)

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Brain Science Podcast #16 is a discussion of The Executive Brain: Frontal Lobes and the Civilized Mind (2002), by Elkhonon Goldberg.

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Show Notes

This episode is an introduction to the role of the pre-frontal lobes in decision-making, and the other "executive" functions of our brain.  The functions of the pre-frontal lobes are not only the keys to what makes us human, but also the keys to our individual personality.

In this episode, using Dr. Goldberg's book, we discuss how the frontal lobes relate to the other structures of the brain.  We also, discuss some ideas about why the left and right sides of the brain differ, as well as several important ways in which the cortex, and especially the pre-frontal lobes differ from some of the older parts of the brain.

We discuss briefly the vulnerability of the frontal lobes to damage and disease, and we consider the implications of frontal lobe dysfunction.  Questions are introduced that will be considered in more detail in future podcasts.

Links:

Emotion (BSP 11)

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Emotion: The Science of Sentiment, by Dylan Evans, is the featured book for this episode of the Brain Science Podcast.  Thanks to Kate from the UK for suggesting this book.

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  • Transcripts: BSP 1-14
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Show Notes

This episode is a short introduction to the idea that our emotions are an essential part of our intelligence.

  • We discuss the basic emotions, based on the work of anthropologist Paul Eckman.
  • We learn about culturally-learned emotions, such as "being a wild pig," which is observed among the Gurumba people of New Guinea.
  • Paul Griffiths introduced the idea of "higher cognitive emotions."
  • Emotions seem to exist on a continuum from the highly innate basic emotions to the culturally specific emotions.
  • The work of Joseph Ledoux and Antonio Damasio reveal that our emotions are an important element of normal intelligence.
  • We consider how fear actually follows two pathways in the brain.
  • We consider the role of the limbic system including the amygdala.
  • We consider the relationship between emotions and mood.
  • We consider how mood affects memory and decision making.
    • This includes Robert Zajonc's discovery of the "mere exposure" effect.
      • We briefly consider the question of whether computers could ever display emotions.

    Further Reading:

    The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness (2000)by Antonio Damasio.

     

    Neuroplasticity: A Review of its Discovery (BSP 10)

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    In this episode of the Brain Science Podcast we explore the recent research that has established, contrary to long-standing dogma, that our brains our able to change throughout our lives, based on our experience.

    How to get this episode:

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    • Buy BSP 1-10 (zip file of mp3 files)
    • Transcripts: BSP 1-14
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    Show Notes

    The reference for this episode is Train Your Mind, Change Your Brain: How a New Science Reveals Our Extraordinary Potential to Transform Ourselves, by Sharon Begley.  This book describes the 2004 meeting between the Dalai Llama and several leading neuroscientists.  To learn more about these meetings, go to the Mind and Life Institute website.  All the studies that I mention in the podcast are referenced in the back of the book.

    Here is a list of the some of the scientists and their work:

    • Michael Meany- McGill University: He has shown that the way that a mother rat treats her babies determine which genes in the baby's brain are turned on and which are turned off.
    • Fred Gage- the Salk Institute:  His work with lab animals showed that adult brains do change.  (more from Google)
    • Helen Neville-University of Oregon: She has shown that the auditory and visual cortices are rewired in people who are born blind or deaf.
    • Phillip Shaver-UC-Davis: He is a pioneer in attachment theory: how people's sense of emotional security, acquired in childhood, affects their adult behavior, including their response to other ethnic groups and their willingness to help others.
    • Richard Davidson-Wisconsin:  He has done studies showing how the brain is changed by meditation.
    • Edward Taub- University of Alabama in Birmingham:  He helped develop a revolutionary treatment for stroke victims.
    • Jeffery Schwartz-UCLA:  He has used mindfulness meditation to treat obsessive compulsive disorder, showing that meditation can change the brain in beneficial ways.
    • Jon Kabat-Zinn- University of Massachusetts:  He has done many years of work using mindfulness meditation to treat stress related diseases.
    • Michael Merzenich:  Pioneer researcher who also founded FastForward™ and Posit Science™.

    More Links of Interest:

    I am sure this list is incomplete.  If you have a question or comment about a topic mentioned on the show, leave a comment below, or send me email at brainsciencepodcast@gmail.com.

    Review of "The First Idea" by Shanker & Greenspan (BSP 6)

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    Episode 6 of the Brain Science Podcast is a discussion of The First Idea: How Symbols, Language, And Intelligence Evolved from Our Primate Ancestors to Modern Humans, by Stanley I. Greenspan, MD and Stuart G. Shanker, DPhil.

    I wanted to talk about emotion, but I generally base the Brain Science Podcast on my current reading; which is why I chose this rather difficult book that touches on psychology, child development, evolution, and theories about the emergence of language and intelligence.

    The basic premise which is discussed in the podcast is that emotional signaling is the basis for the emergence of language and intelligence.  Evidence supporting this hypothesis is discussed, as is how the theory challenges long-standing theories about language and intelligence.

    How to get this episode:

    • Premium Subscribers now have unlimited access to all old episodes and transcripts.
    • Buy BSP 1-10 (zip file of mp3 files)
    • Transcripts: BSP 1-14
    • New episodes of the Brain Science Podcast are always FREE.  All episodes posted after January 1, 2013, are free.  See the individual show notes for links the audio files.