Music and Language: The Work of Nina Kraus

Nina_Kraus_Dialogue.jpgThis week, we posted a Q&A with auditory neuroscientist Nina Kraus, who received a Dana Foundation grant to further her study of aspects of music and cognition. She and her colleagues at Northwestern University have discovered, among other things, that synchronization ability, like tapping your foot along to a beat, matches the rapid brain activity linked to reading, language, and phonological skills. Understanding children’s rhythmic strengths and bottlenecks could help teachers help them improve language skills.

It’s an interesting connection—and may not seem so obvious at first. Reading involves your eyes, right? So why would learning to read have anything to do with processing sound?

But we learn to speak before we learn to read. We make sound-to-meaning connections there. As we read the letters on the page, we are connecting those images with the letter sounds. That provides the foundation for later literacy. If there are not good sound-to-meaning connections, if language is not strong, it will be more difficult for a child to learn to read. If we could find a way to strengthen the sound-to-meaning connections in the brain—because, as we know, the brain is very malleable—we might be able to help children learn to read more easily.

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From the Archives: The Promise of Ketamine

promiseofketamine.jpgThis month, the FDA approved the use of esketamine, a nasal spray based on the old anesthetic and once-popular club drug ketamine, to treat people with severe depression that has not responded to other treatments. It’s costly and entails visiting the doctor for four hours a week for four weeks, but it’s the first treatment in decades that works in a new way in the brain. That means it might reach the large number of people with depression who are not helped by drugs that target other brain functions.

Last March, Ronald S. Duman, Ph.D., wrote for Cerebrum on “The Dazzling Promise of Ketamine,” exploring how the drug was validated as an antidepressant, how it works, and what it could mean for development of other drugs: Continue reading

From the Archives: A Debate on Religion and the Brain

artworks-000023945745-0femft-t500x500In 2009, Cerebrum’s editors invited three scientists to debate: Does evolution explain why the human brain supports religious belief? Each side wrote a position paper, which they exchanged, and then each wrote a response to the other’s statement.

Dimitrios Kapogiannis and Jordan Grafman, scientists at the National Institutes of Health, followed up on their then-recent research by stating that brain networks that evolved for other purposes have given rise to our capacity for religious belief and experience. Continue reading

From the Archives: Some Brain Science for #VideoGamesDay

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People are hungry for data about video games and the brain. One of our most popular stories, still consistently in the Top 10, is a longreads Cerebrum essay from back in 2009, “Video Games Affect the Brain—for Better and Worse.” Writer Douglas Gentile, Ph.D., concludes:

With the exception of educational games, most video games’ effects on brain and behavior are unintentional on the part of both the designers and the players. Nonetheless, research suggests that the effects are real. Video games are neither good nor bad. Rather, they are a powerful form of entertainment that does what good entertainment is supposed to do—it influences us.

In 2012, we followed up with a news story on research targeting more specific areas of cognition that might be affected by playing video games:

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From the Archives: Seeking to Stem Suicide

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Nearly 45,000 people in the US kill themselves each year (probably an underestimate, given the stigma still attaching to suicide), and there may be 25 attempts for each death, according to the US Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. A news story we published in January reported on a few of the many avenues of research trying to help doctors and caregivers predict who is at risk and how to better help them.

“Suicide is one of the few medical conditions in which the doctor and patient have different goals—the patient may be highly motivated not to reveal what he or she is thinking,” psychiatrist Maria Oquendo says in the story. “We need biological markers so we can identify those at risk.”

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