Dana Newsletter: October

Below is the content that appeared in the latest Dana email newsletter. You can sign up to receive this (and other Dana email alerts and/or print publications) by going here.

With a Little Help from Our Friends: How the Brain Processes Empathy

by Peggy Mason, Ph.D.

Why are certain individuals born with a brain that is wired to help others? What daily habits or life experiences reinforce compassion but also selfishness, narcissism, and psychopathy? A better understanding of the neurobiological underpinnings for how the brain processes empathy could lead to more social cohesion and less antisocial harm in society. From Cerebrum, our online magazine of ideas.

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The Mysteries of Creativity

Guest post by science writer Carl Sherman

The relationship between creativity and mental illness has fascinated thinkers from the ancient Greeks onward. Van Gogh, Dostoevsky, Jackson Pollock, Hemingway, Tchaikovsky, and Schumann are among the artists, writers, and composers whose great achievements are said to have coexisted with significant psychopathology.

This apparent paradox is particularly striking in untrained “outsider artists” like Willem van Genk, who created estimable work despite a lifelong struggle with schizophrenia and autism. An exhibition devoted to van Genk was the occasion for a discussion, “Unraveling the Mysteries of Creativity: Connections to Genetics, Mental Health, and the Brain,” at the American Folk Art Museum in New York City last Thursday evening.

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New Report on Progress: Neuroscience in the Court

Craig Stark, Ph.D., a professor at the University of California, Irvine, and a Dana Alliance member, urges caution about how neuroscience advances may influence the courts in the October Report on Progress. In the report, Dr. Stark discusses the neuroimaging of brain scans and the limitation of memory:

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Alliance Member Pasko Rakic Honored by Child Mind Institute

Last week, long-time Dana Alliance member Pasko Rakic, M.D., Ph.D., was honored as the 2014 Child Mind Institute Distinguished Scientist at the organization’s annual On the Shoulders of Giants symposium. Held at Hunter University’s Roosevelt House (Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt called it home for many years), the symposium gave us the opportunity to hear from Rakic, as well as from one of his protégée’s, Nenad Sestan, M.D., Ph.D., and his colleague Matthew State, M.D., Ph.D.Rakic photo

Rakic began his scientific career in Belgrade, where he studied neurosurgery with plans to be a clinician. During his training he became fascinated with brain mapping and how different areas of the brain affected different body functions. This fascination lured him into research—and additional years of school—as he went for and completed his doctorate.

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Better Support Needed for Parents of Autistic Adults

Dana Alliance member Barry Gordon, M.D., is familiar with autism on both a personal and professional level. Gordon, a behavioral neurologist and cognitive neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins with interests in disorders of speech, language, and memory, is also father to a severely autistic 22-year old son who cannot speak.Gordon_Barry

“It was beyond irony when our son proved to be unable to speak and unable to learn,” he said at a July Capitol Hill briefing, hosted by AAAS through the support of the Dana Foundation in conjunction with Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-Pa.). [See also our interview with him in 2012.]

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