New Cerebrum Podcast: The Human Connectome Project

In our September Cerebrum article, “The Human Connectome Project: Progress and Prospects,” David Van Essen, Ph.D., and Matthew Glasser, Ph.D., write about an ambitious six-year collaboration between neuroscientists at various institutions to map the brain with the help of 1,200 volunteers and ever evolving magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology. In this new podcast, the pair discuss their role, some of the unexpected surprises, and what they hope to discover in the project’s next phase.

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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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.

 

The Power of Positive Thinking

While exercise has been widely accepted for its cognitive benefits, practices such as yoga and meditation are gaining attention for their specific contributions to brain health. “Meditation can change certain anatomical structures of the brain, and attention function can be improved, just as it can be with exercise,” neuroscientist and Dana Alliance member Wendy Suzuki said in a podcast called Ariana Yoga, which focuses on her exercise-based brain research. The technique of meditating allows for the ability to focus attention without distraction, as well as a better capacity to control emotional impulses, she explains.

As a new type of workout, Suzuki has taken the concept of applying positive thoughts to physical exercise for a practice she describes as “intentional exercise.” The combination of a favorite aerobic activity paired with a positive affirmation or mantra “adds another element,” she says. “Exercise is changing all sorts of neurochemicals and growth factors in your brain,” Suzuki explains in the podcast. Her fascination with the cognitive effects of consistent exercise, and consequential shift in lab research from brain plasticity and memory, was sparked through her own positive experience.

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Think Like an Olympian

rio2016For the last two weeks, the world has been watching athletes perform with superhuman-like ability at the Summer Olympics in Rio. From the television screen, the extraordinary feats of these competitors seem purely physical; but science tells us that much of their talents rely on what’s going on in their brains. In a past interview with the Dana Foundation, seven-time Olympic medalist Shannon Miller said:

The physical aspect of the sport can only take you so far. The mental aspect has to kick in, especially when you’re talking about the best of the best. In the Olympic Games, everyone is talented. Everyone trains hard. Everyone does the work. What separates the gold medalists from the silver medalists is simply the mental game.

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