Senior Dana Alliance Couple Demystifies Dyslexia

It was not long ago that dyslexia was believed to be a sign of laziness, unintelligence, or even bad vision. However, thanks to breakthroughs in research by couple Sally Shaywitz, M.D., and Bennett Shaywitz, M.D., stereotypes around the learning disorder have begun to fade.

Affecting approximately one in five people, dyslexia is characterized by a difficulty reading due to problems identifying speech sounds and learning how they relate to letters and words, which is called decoding. Also known as a reading disability, dyslexia affects areas of the brain that process language. Dyslexia is not considered a disease, and its causes are neurobiological and genetic. Those affected by it can fall anywhere on a wide spectrum, and treatment involves adjusting teaching methods to meet the person’s needs.

While it has been studied before, the Shaywitzes are often credited with many of the breakthroughs regarding the disorder. Sally, 76, and Bennett, 79, are both Dana Alliance for Brain Initiative members who have been married for 55 years. Having met in 1963 at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the couple now run the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity and have recently updated a study they began in 1983, according to their recent profile in The New York Times.

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Explore “The Senses” Now at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian

A new art exhibit in New York City is taking an innovative approach to how our brains receive and experience sights, sounds, textures, scents, and even taste. The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in the city’s Upper East Side is open to the public now through October 28 and is definitely worth a visit, no matter your age or background in science.

At “The Senses: Design Beyond Vision,” visitors are encouraged to take an active role in the various installations that test—and play with—the human body’s five classical senses. From a faux fur-covered wall that responds to touch with orchestral sounds, to wooden chairs that use patterns of vibrations to evoke oddly specific sensations (such as “getting zipped up” or “the needle on a sewing machine”), the multi-sensory experiences achieved by artists reminds guests of the brain’s powerful ability to process information.

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Running your hand along the synthetic fur—or rolling along the wall with your whole body—creates melodies by stringed instruments. The Tactile Orchestra, created by Studio Roos Meerman and KunstLAB Arnhem. Photo: Scott Rudd

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Sleep Video Wins Top Honors in 2018 Brain Awareness Contest

It’s commonly known that sleep is important for people to function, but want to dig a little deeper and learn about how it may affect the inner workings of our brains? Cue the Society for Neuroscience’s winner for the 2018 Brain Awareness Video Contest! In Bradley Allf’s video, “I Think, Therefore I Sleep,” he talks about how sleep is believed to affect our memory, function, and health, using craftsy animations and simple explanations.

SfN holds this educational and entertaining video contest every year, asking contestants from around the world to submit a short video “exploring the wonders of the brain and nervous system.”

The top three winners and one honorable mention were announced this week. Joining Allf, a lab technician at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, are Catherine Bird with “Runners’ High,” Guillaume Riesen with “The Funny Bone: Butt Dialing Your Brain By,” and Anna Maralit with ”Dopey Dopamine.”

Watch these four videos now and take a moment to vote for the People’s Choice winner! You have until the end of the month to cast your vote.

If you’re interested in entering next year’s contest, you can read the guidelines on this page (just scroll down).

Congratulations to all of this year’s winners!

Testing Teenagers and Examining Stress

Headshot-BlakemoreExams can be nerve-wracking to even the most prepared. In England, a roller coaster of emotions has been on display as the nation’s series of grueling public exams, the General Certificate for Secondary Education (GCSE), were proctored earlier this summer. The highly anticipated test grades were finally made public last week, and while the unveiling of the results may have brought about much-needed relief for some, the pressure and preparation needed to do well for others branded the two-year journey with a relentless villain—stress.

The anxiety-inducing exam was the focus of a thought-provoking article in The Guardian that featured Dana Alliance member Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University College London and author of Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain. The self-described champion of teenagers touches on the rash timing and the dread of the exams endured by the 15- and 16-year-olds during a period that she says is critical in a developing brain. From the interview:

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From the Archives: Finding the Hurt in Pain

Pain has many varieties, and is notoriously difficult to describe, but in recent years researchers have made some progress in trying to measure it. A story in the New Yorker this summer by Nicola Twilley, “The Neuroscience of Pain,” describes the quest “to capture the experience in quantifiable, objective data,” especially imaging data.

Irene_TraceyTwilley details the research life of Irene Tracey at University of Oxford, including tools in her lab’s “pain room”: “All of them have been designed with the aim of reliably producing in laboratory conditions sensations that hurt enough to mirror real life but don’t cause lasting harm, which would be unethical. A scientist hoping to gather publishable data can’t just hit someone with a hammer and hope that each blow is as hard as the last one, even if an institutional ethics committee would permit such a thing.”

Tracey wrote a piece for us for Cerebrum in December 2016, “Finding the Hurt in Pain,” reviewing what we know so far about pain, including how mood affects it, the role of placebos, and potential neuroethical issues. One big change in recent decades is how we consider chronic pain, she writes:

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