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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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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Public Event: The Anxious Brain

anxious brain AAAS.jpg

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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Science Meets Art in New Kandel Book

Creativity (2).jpgWe don’t typically think of science and art as rooted in similar methodologies or techniques. Science is considered a strict, fact-based study of the world around us, while art is a no-rules expression of creativity. By thinking of the two disciplines as distinctly different, there has not been much study of their similarities.

Dana Alliance member Eric R. Kandel, M.D., noticed the lack of interdisciplinary study of artistic and scientific methodologies and used it as the foundation for his new book, Reductionism in Art and Brain Science: Bridging the Two Cultures. The book examines modern neuroscience alongside modern art, focusing on how both disciplines use reductive techniques. In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal about his book, Kandel said:

This is reductionism—to take a complex problem and select a central, but limited, component that you can study in depth. Rothko—only color. And yet the power it conveys is fantastic. Jackson Pollock got rid of all form.

[In neuroscience] you have to look at how behavior is changed by environmental experience…I began to realize we’ve got to find a very simple learning situation…I looked around for an animal that had the kind of [simple] nervous system I would like. Aplysia [has] the largest nerve cells in the animal kingdom.

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