The Anxious Brain

“Since the 1960s, billions of dollars and probably millions of animals have gone into the search for new and better anti-anxiety medications,” said researcher Joseph LeDoux at an event this week on anxiety at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. But drug makers, who have spent years targeting points along a brain pathway described as the “fear circuit” in animals, haven’t had the success they sought; they have stopped funding many studies. Why?

LeDoux, a Dana Alliance member at New York University who has studied this circuit for the past three decades, argues that the term we use may have blinded us to what the circuit actually does. Instead of labeling it with a human feeling, it would better to call it an unconscious “defensive survival circuit.” Other inputs lead to the conscious feelings of fear and anxiety. For example, while hiking, we have already recoiled from the snake on the trail before our conscious minds have hit the danger signal. The two things happen so fast, though, it’s easy to think the feeling led to the action—but we’re committing the first sin of science: confusing correlation and causation, LeDoux said.


From left: moderator Mark Frankel, Joseph LeDoux, and Daniel Pine field questions from the audience.

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October 22: International Stuttering Awareness Day

More than three million people in the United States share the common experience of stuttering, a condition that disrupts the production of speech sounds (also known as “disfluencies”), according to the National Stuttering Association (NSA). Oftentimes developed during childhood, stuttering now affects more than 70 million people worldwide. Since 1998, October 22 has been regarded as “International Stuttering Awareness Day,” an opportunity for organizations such as NSA and the Stuttering Foundation to advocate for greater awareness around the stigmas and scientific progress that surround the fluency disorder.

In August, we published a news story, “Seeking Clues to Stuttering Deep Within the Brain,” which highlights the latest breakthroughs scientists have made with the help of neuroimaging technology. In the article, neuroscientist Soo-Eun Chang says:

Because very little was known about this complex disorder, there were wild theories…[Nowadays] there’s consensus among many researchers that stuttering is a neurodevelopmental disorder, not a psychiatric or emotional issue. With neuroimaging, we’ve just begun to find subtle differences in brain structure and function in those who stutter.

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Ways to Participate in Brain Awareness Week

Organizing and promoting events is a wonderful way to promote Brain Awareness Week (BAW) in your community, but did you know that you can also submit a request for a BAW proclamation? Your local city and state official(s) may be receptive to issuing one in honor and in celebration of BAW. A proclamation is a “time-honored vehicle for securing government recognition of your program and further promotes BAW’s core mission: to increase public awareness of the progress and benefits of brain research.”

On the BAW website, you can find instructions for how to request a proclamation, as well as see sample proclamations awarded to select cities–and one signed by the United States President in 2002!

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Kathleen Roina, BAW Campaign Director, and Laura Reynolds, Director of the Cognitive Fitness Initiative, hold a proclamation issued by Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer in celebration of BAW 2016. 

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Free Successful Aging & Your Brain Program in Maine!

For people in the Greater Portland, Maine area who are interested in learning about the aging brain and living a brain-healthy lifestyle, a Successful Aging & Your Brain program will be held next Thursday, October 27th from 3 to 5 p.m. at the University of New England’s (UNE) Ludke Audirorium at 716 Stevens Ave., Portland.


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Discussing the Mystery of Consciousness

What is consciousness? How can we use language to define it? Is there a way to measure it scientifically? Is it something only humans have, or do animals and plants have consciousness too? Does it require awareness of the self? What does it mean to have consciousness?

These questions inspired “The Mystery of Consciousness,” a recent discussion between neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, M.D., Ph.D., and philosopher David Chalmers, Ph.D., at the 92nd Street Y in Manhattan. The conversation was the first public event hosted by the newly formed Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Engagement (ICE) at Dartmouth University, an organization that seeks to create dialogue between the sciences and humanities.

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