Neuroscience and Society: Autism

When we’re trying to help people who have troubles due to autism spectrum disorders, one of the first challenges is definition: What does “autism” mean?

“Autism was and is still currently defined by behaviors,” Dana Alliance member Barry Gordon said, as researchers haven’t yet found solid biomarkers or other internal signals to identify it. “Whenever you read about autism, you might want to dig into what definitions they go into,” he said during a recent discussion at the American Academy for the Advancement of Sciences (AAAS) in Washington, DC.

Autism -Dawson - Oct2018Even definitions by behavior vary. For example, fellow presenter Daniel Geschwind said, problems with language used to be part of the diagnosis, but now doctors and other caregivers usually only count differences in social behavior and the presence of “repetitive-restrictive” behavior (like hand-flapping or always needing to do activities in the same order).

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Free Public Event on Autism

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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

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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Closed Captioning and Transcripts Now Available for Videos and Podcasts!

At the Dana Foundation, we strive to make credible and current information about the brain available to as many people as possible. As part of that effort, we have recently taken steps to make our materials accessible to people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

The majority of our YouTube videos are now closed captioned, including our Neuroscience and Society Series, public talks organized by AAAS and the Dana Foundation covering exciting topics in brain science such as architecture and the brain, truth and lying, and meditation. Our Cerebrum podcasts, which feature our Cerebrum editor in conversation with neuroscientists on topics such as the challenge of overcoming glioblastoma, how the human neocortex sets us apart, and Ketamine’s potential to effectively treat depression, now have accompanying transcripts.

Looking for one of our closed caption videos to start with? Check out our brand new Successful Aging and Your Brain On Demand video below to learn about how the brain works, brain diseases and disorders, and tips for leading a brain healthy lifestyle!

– Ali Chunovic

Neuroscience and Society: Buildings and the Brain

Panelists Justin Hollander, Eve Edelstein, and Margaret Calkins listen to a question from the audience. About 1/3 of the people in the audience were architects.

“Design saves lives,” Eve Edelstein says. She and her two fellow panelists at a recent neuroseries event at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Washington, DC, described research and real-world examples of how changing aspects of our built environment can improve people’s mood, performance, and way-finding skills.

When Edelstein was at school studying clinical neuroscience, “neuroarchitecture” was defined as architecture of the brain; now the definition has changed, “and we’re asking how people—how brains—interact with buildings,” the influence of buildings on the brain, the mind, and the body. Now research director for the Human Experience Lab and Gadget Lab at Perkin+Will, she focused her talk on aspects of sound and hearing.

“We need to start changing acoustics for not just building performance but human performance,” Edelstein said. She described emergency rooms in which the sound level averages 80 decibels (equivalent to a jet flying overhead). Normal speech is 55 db and you need a 20 db difference to distinguish speech from noise, so “imagine trying to hear the difference between adrenaline and aspirin with the sound of an airplane engine going on around us,” she said. Citing the number of people suffering “preventable adverse events” in hospitals as around 8 million, she said if designers could alter just 1 percent, by making the areas quiet enough to hear better, “that would be in this country, each year, 80,000 people.” Continue reading

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