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.

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

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Closing the Language Skills Gap Among Children

Here’s the full video from the latest #neuroseries forum, in September; it was so rich in data and ideas that I watched it twice before writing a story about the event for our website. One of my favorite parts is researcher Anne Fernald’s’s description and video showing how fast language-processing speed improves from when a child is 18 months old to when he is 30 months old. Not only is it an easy-to-follow example of how to test language ability in preverbal children, but I love the boy’s attitude when he knows he’s got it right.

I have the short clip with my story; in this video it starts at the 15:05 mark.

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Public Event: The Anxious Brain

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Phobias are the most common mental disorders in the United States, affecting about 10% of all adults, and many of them can be highly debilitating. They are a type of anxiety disorder, defined by a persistent fear of an object or situation, leaving some people unable to function in ordinary life. You have likely heard of acrophobia (fear of heights), arachnophobia (fear of spiders), and claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces). But have you heard of ephebiphobia (fear of teenagers), mageirocophobia (fear of cooking), or phobophobia (a fear of phobias)? The list goes on. Why do people develop phobias? Are some more susceptible than others? What mechanisms in the brain are in play when phobias strike and what does research reveal about effective treatments? Join us for this event and learn more about why phobias arise, the damage they can do, and how best to treat them, unless, of course, you are afflicted by sophophobia.

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Moving Toward a Healthy Brain

Last week, experts Arthur Kramer, Jim Koenig, and Sarah M. Ingersoll gathered in DC for a Capitol Hill briefing on physical exercise and its effects on brain health. You can now watch the video of the event to find out: Does a healthy body equal a healthy brain?

The Dana Foundation supports a grant to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) for a series of briefings designed to educate Congressional members and their staffs about topical issues in neuroscience.

 

Closing the Language Skills Gap Among Children

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Credit: Shutterstock

Many children are at a disadvantage even before they walk into an early Head Start or pre-K program. Research indicates that children from families of low socioeconomic status (SES) have fallen more than six months behind their more advantaged cohorts in language processing and proficiency skills by the time they are two years old. And this deficiency continues to grow. It is apparent that this language gap has profound and lifelong outcomes, not only in “making the grade,” but in self-esteem and behavior. Brain research is helping scientists better understand the neural mechanisms underlying language processing in infants and young children, as well as the social interactions necessary for honing those skills. What do we know and what can be done to mitigate the long-term effects of this deficit? Learn more about the latest research, the emerging “home training for parents,” and the policy issues surrounding this disparity at the free Neuroscience and Society event, “Closing the Language Skills Gap Among Children: It’s Never Too Soon to Start.”

When:
September 28, 2016
5:30 PM – 8:00 PM Eastern Time

Where:
AAAS Headquarters
1200 New York Avenue NW
Washington, District of Columbia

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