Autism is a mysterious and puzzling disorder. In 1943, American child psychiatrist Leo Kanner first published a paper describing 11 children who were highly intelligent but displayed “a powerful desire for aloneness” and “an obsessive insistence on persistent sameness.” He called this condition “early infantile autism.” Prior to that time, people with autism were simply called insane. Autism is now officially known as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and, while there is a wide variation in the nature and severity of its signs, people with ASD typically have difficulty with social communication and interaction, restricted interests, and repetitive behaviors. Continue reading
For the second year, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts spent a weekend exploring the connections between music, the brain, and humanity. A piece of their ongoing “Sound Health” partnership, the events at the Center this past weekend focused on how important the arts are to children’s development, both experiencing art and practicing and producing it. [See also our report and KC videos from last year’s event.]
The idea partnership came up in conversations between NIH director Francis Collins and renowned soprano and Kennedy Center artistic advisor Renée Fleming, and they led the chorus of brain experts and musical prodigies starting with a conversation and concert on Friday. Collins also announced a new program that will soon offer $5 million in research grants to study the effects of the arts on the brain, in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts.
All the Saturday events are available as webcasts—including a drumming circle led by Grateful Dead percussionist Mickey Hart! They are all worth a watch or two, with engaging scientists talking interspersed with great musicians performing. Together they add up to more than seven hours, so take your time. Many have small sections where the audience can participate; if you really want to get your rhythm on, jump down to the Interactive Drum Circle recording and have at it for a good 60 minutes.
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!
Guest post by Kayt Sukel
In the beloved children’s book, Happy Birthday to You!, Dr. Seuss writes, “Today you are YOU, that is TRUER than true. There is NO ONE alive who is YOUER than YOU.” Those who study the brain understand that the complex interplay of genetics and environment give rise to that “you-ness” of which Dr. Seuss spoke. And, as it turns out, it also makes for unique changes to brain anatomy—so much so that one can be uniquely identified by the brain, much like with fingerprints or the eye’s iris pattern.
Lutz Jäncke, a neuropsychologist at Switzerland’s University of Zurich, has spent his career studying individual differences. His work looking at brain differences in musicians, dancers, and chess players demonstrated that the human brain is profoundly shaped by experience.
“Thirty years ago, we didn’t anticipate that the human brain is so plastic,” he explains. “In learning that training and experience can have such a profound influence on the human brain, even in terms of anatomical and morphological aspects, we wondered if it was possible to identify individuals on the basis of anatomical features in the brain.”
The Dana Foundation promotes a lot of resources designed for young students in hopes of inspiring them to want to learn more about the brain as they move up the ranks of grade school. But what if you’ve already been inspired and are now looking for practical ways to prepare for a neuroscience career? While there is certainly no “one way” to achieve this, we want to share a few resources that can help point you in the right direction.
The Society for Neuroscience (SfN) recently published an article on BrainFacts.org (a great resource in itself) with tips for students on how to jumpstart a career in neuroscience. Here are just a few points mentioned: