SfN18: Pat Metheny at Dialogues Lecture

Based on past experience at the Society for Neuroscience (SfN) annual meeting, I thought I could just stroll into the opening Dialogues lecture a few minutes before it began and park myself just about anywhere. After all, there are about 5,000 seats in the San Diego Convention Center’s massive ballroom, and there were always open seats in past years. But not this year.

That’s because Pat Metheny, one of the world’s best-known jazz composers, guitar players, and band leaders—someone who mostly lets his music do the talking—was the featured guest at “Dialogues Between Neuroscience and Society: Music and the Brain.”

After finally finding a seat all the way in the right corner, I watched on a screen as SfN President Richard Huganir and ear surgeon Charles Limb, former colleagues at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine (Limb has since moved to UCSF), moderated the program with passion and experience. Both spun personal, humorous anecdotes about the impact that Metheny’s music has had on their lives.

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The Neuroethics of Advertising

When you hear the term “neuromarketing,” do you envision corporate mind control directing you to purchase products? You are not alone. The good news is, no mind-controlling “buy button” exists. The bad news is, as neuroscience areas such as decision-making and reward processing advance, and our personal data accumulates online, there’s no guarantee it will never exist in the future. But this is exactly why it’s important to discuss topics such as this now in an ethical context.

High interest during INS annual meeting public lecture.

At the International Neuroethics Society (INS) annual meeting public program in San Diego Thursday night, neuroscientists employed by the marketplace and academia spoke about neuromarketing, or consumer neuroscience, as it stands, how it may evolve, and the ethical implications that need to be considered alongside this emerging field.

Panelist Carl Marci, chief neuroscientist of Nielsen Consumer Neuroscience at Nielsen Company, the largest market research company in the world, quickly dismissed the notion that market research can override free will through manipulation. What it does do, he said, is offer tools to help companies better understand how to engage consumers with marketing that emotionally affects them and sticks in their memory. Continue reading

Does DBS Cause Changes in Personality?

Since 2002, deep brain stimulation (DBS), the surgical implantation of a pacemaker-like device that sends electrical impulses to targeted parts of the brain, has been used as a treatment for motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (PD). But are patients trading part of their sense of self in exchange for improved mobility?

Packed house for INS annual meeting talk on DBS.

In the last decade, a growing number of published articles have raised the concern of personality changes in PD patients as a result of DBS, and tried to discern if the concern is real or overblown. At Thursday’s International Neuroethics Society (INS) meeting discussion “DBS: Continuity of Self,” panelists aimed to add clarity to the debate. “Speculation shouldn’t be divorced from clinical reality,” said panel moderator and ethicist Hannah Maslen, who introduced the session.

The speakers, philosopher and neuroethicist Frederic Gilbert, neuropsychologist Cynthia Kubu, behavioral neurologist Winston Chiong, and ethics researcher Jonathan Pugh, offered a range of perspectives. They largely focused on the state of the evidence and why it’s so difficult to assess personality changes in patients.

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The Science of Music: A Talk with Pascal Wallisch, Ph.D.

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Why do humans listen to music? Why do we create it? And what does our taste in music say about us as individuals? These were some of the questions that Pascal Wallisch, Ph.D, set out to address in his talk at a local New York City event titled, The Science of Music. “To be honest with you,” he said, “I don’t think we fully understand what music is.”

Wallisch, a clinical assistant professor of psychology at New York University, began his lecture by explaining that what differentiates music from sound in general is repetition. “If you ask people,” Wallisch said, “to judge when [a repeating sound] becomes music, there’s a certain repetition frequency in which a random environmental noise becomes music.” For example, as Wallisch explained, water droplets falling are just sounds, but at a certain point of repetition they would be considered musical. He continued by saying that while repetition over time is necessary for something to be considered music, it is not sufficient. “If rhythm is all that matters, then music would be palindromic,” he said, meaning that it would play the same backwards as forwards. Obviously, this is not the case for most, if not all, music.

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Halloween Can Bring Out Our Phobias

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It’s Halloween, which means many of us will be using haunted houses and horror-movie marathons to intentionally tap into our deepest fears. We all experience fear, but what happens when those fears become unbearable and turn into phobias? It’s important to remember that fear and phobias are different things – according to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, fear “is the emotional response to real or perceived imminent threat” whereas phobias are actually a form of anxiety disorder defined by “a persistent and excessive fear of an object or situation.”

Where do phobias come from, and why do only some people experience them? There are three different types: social phobia, also known as social anxiety; agoraphobia, the fear of being in places where you will be trapped and unable to escape; and specific phobias, characterized as phobias to either animals, natural environments, blood-injection-injury, situational, or other. Specific phobias are the most common form, affecting approximately 8.7 percent of the United States population, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Continue reading

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