At www.dana.org, we have a deep archive of great stories about the brain and the people who study it, and thanks to the internet, none of it is further than a quick search away. When I checked the list of top stories from last year, I was pleased to see that you-all seem to like to read long stories—nearly all the top-read stories are in the longest format we post. But I was surprised that many of the stories are “classic” (i.e. way more than a few years old). This year we’ll be trying to figure out how to make our more-current stories on the same topics just as popular, but for now here are a few suggestions.
Here are the stories folks found most popular on www.dana.org last year.
1. Wounds That Time Won’t Heal: The Neurobiology of Child Abuse (Cerebrum, 2000)
Developmental neuropsychiatrist Martin H. Teicher describes how scientists are discovering startling connections between abuse of all kinds and both permanent debilitating changes in the brain and psychiatric problems ranging from panic attacks to post-traumatic stress. In these surprising physical consequences of psychological trauma, Teicher sees not only a wake-up call for our society but hope for new treatments.
From December 2018: New Report Finds Current Strategies Insufficient for Preventing the Most Preventable Cause of Mental Illness (blog post)
From October 2018: The Abused Brain: Neural Adaptation, Resilience, and Compensation in Childhood Maltreatment – As the No. 1 preventable risk factor for mental illness and substance abuse, childhood maltreatment in all its forms, insidious or obvious, is a significant public health problem. (Dana Briefing Paper)
2. The Cognitive Benefits of Being Bilingual (Cerebrum, 2012)
More of the world’s population is bilingual or multilingual than monolingual. In addition to facilitating cross-cultural communication, this trend also positively affects cognitive abilities. Researchers have shown that the bilingual brain can have better attention and task-switching capacities than the monolingual brain, thanks to its developed ability to inhibit one language while using another. In addition, bilingualism has positive effects at both ends of the age spectrum: Bilingual children as young as seven months can better adjust to environmental changes, while bilingual seniors can experience less cognitive decline.
Also see, from July 2018: Do Complex Tasks Train Your Brain to be More Efficient? (News story)
From June 2018: Cerebrum Podcast (mainly on brain tumors) with Roddy Roediger, where he says “As we now know, if they [children] grew up in a bilingual or trilingual household they can just as easily learn two to three languages than they can one language. And so, at that age, we seem to have very plastic brains for picking up language.”
3. Video Games Affect the Brain—for Better and Worse (Cerebrum, 2009)
Headlines about how video games affect the brain range from upbeat to dire. Psychologist Douglas A. Gentile asserts that although violent games in particular can have negative consequences, well-designed games can teach positive skills. He proposes five attributes of video game design that can help explain findings and guide future research.
Also see, new this month: Brain Training for Kids: Adding a Human Touch, another Cerebrum story, in which researchers Brenna Hassinger-Das and Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek examine the market and give us an inside look at some of the research behind this billion-dollar industry.
From November 2017: The Truth About Research on Screen Time – Many articles warn of negative effects of screen time on kids’ development. This Briefing Paper looks at what the research (so far) actually says.
4. Waking Up from Coma: New Treatments, New Hope (Report on Progress, 2013)
The movie Men in Black ends with a sequence where Tommy Lee Jones’ character is reported in the popular press to have awakened miraculously after 20 years in a coma. Although clinicians traditionally have scoffed at such reports, such cases do make the news now and again, and raise the question of whether and how that can happen. Clifford B. Saper describes how recent advances provide some answers, and suggests some treatments that might promote such an outcome.
5. Disorders of Consciousness: Brain Death, Coma, and the Vegetative and Minimally Conscious States (Report on Progress, 2015)
Another look at definitions of coma and consciousness, by Thomas I. Cochrane and Michael A. Williams, focusing a sample case study showing how changing definitions affect treatment choices.
Also see, from 2017, a Cerebrum Book Review of Joseph J. Fins’s Rights Come to Mind: Brain Injury, Ethics and the Struggle for Consciousness, reflecting Fins’ role as co-director of the Consortium for the Advanced Study of Brain Injury at Weill Cornell Medicine and the Rockefeller University and his struggle to answer the kinds of questions that stand to shape how society treats people with brain injuries. What is the capacity of brains to recover? What are the mechanisms of that recovery? How do we know that our assessments are accurately describing what’s going on in a patient’s mind? And what does society morally owe these patients and families?
– Nicky Penttila