Free Public Event: To Tell the Truth!

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Truth and lying are complicated neurological behaviors. Although the role of the visual cortex and other areas of the brain are being identified, and their functions clarified, it is not likely that there is a “truth” center in the brain or a “lying” center. Scientists try to identify neurological correlates of truth-telling and lying in the laboratory, but it is not known if any findings of this type are operative in real life. This program will examine three important real-life aspects of truth and lying.

First, are we born with the ability to understand the concept of truth and lying? Victoria Talwar will discuss the childhood development of a sense of lying and truth-telling. Second, do our “minds” know what is true and what is false? Elizabeth Loftus will describe the phenomenon of so-called repressed memories and how it is possible for someone to be convinced they are telling the truth when they are not. Finally, what do we know about people who are consistent liars? Charles Dike will explore the nature of pathological lying and why some people lie seemingly without purpose.

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Free Public Event: The Meditating Brain

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From contemplation to prayer, forms of meditation exist in every society. Now, using up-to-date technologies, these ancient practices are being increasingly studied by neurologists. Although learning to meditate—to turn off all distractions—is no easy task, the advertised benefits claim it to be worthwhile. Such alleged benefits include the “calming” of neurotransmitters, beating addiction, and even building a bigger brain.

Published studies argue that meditation can produce structural alterations in the brain and may even slow the progress of certain age-related atrophy. Similarly, some yoga advocates claim that the practice, which is explored as a treatment for major depressive disorders, expands mental faculties. Further, prayer, according to the Huffington Post, can help dissuade impulsive actions.

Neuroimaging technologies are revealing changes in blood flow to areas of the brain, indicating more activity. This program will explore the neurological bases of these claims, if any, by explaining how the mind and body talk with one another during the acts of meditation, yoga, and prayer.

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The Anxious Brain

“Since the 1960s, billions of dollars and probably millions of animals have gone into the search for new and better anti-anxiety medications,” said researcher Joseph LeDoux at an event this week on anxiety at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. But drug makers, who have spent years targeting points along a brain pathway described as the “fear circuit” in animals, haven’t had the success they sought; they have stopped funding many studies. Why?

LeDoux, a Dana Alliance member at New York University who has studied this circuit for the past three decades, argues that the term we use may have blinded us to what the circuit actually does. Instead of labeling it with a human feeling, it would better to call it an unconscious “defensive survival circuit.” Other inputs lead to the conscious feelings of fear and anxiety. For example, while hiking, we have already recoiled from the snake on the trail before our conscious minds have hit the danger signal. The two things happen so fast, though, it’s easy to think the feeling led to the action—but we’re committing the first sin of science: confusing correlation and causation, LeDoux said.

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From left: moderator Mark Frankel, Joseph LeDoux, and Daniel Pine field questions from the audience.

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Closing the Language Skills Gap Among Children

Here’s the full video from the latest #neuroseries forum, in September; it was so rich in data and ideas that I watched it twice before writing a story about the event for our website. One of my favorite parts is researcher Anne Fernald’s’s description and video showing how fast language-processing speed improves from when a child is 18 months old to when he is 30 months old. Not only is it an easy-to-follow example of how to test language ability in preverbal children, but I love the boy’s attitude when he knows he’s got it right.

I have the short clip with my story; in this video it starts at the 15:05 mark.

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Closing the Language Skills Gap Among Children

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Many children are at a disadvantage even before they walk into an early Head Start or pre-K program. Research indicates that children from families of low socioeconomic status (SES) have fallen more than six months behind their more advantaged cohorts in language processing and proficiency skills by the time they are two years old. And this deficiency continues to grow. It is apparent that this language gap has profound and lifelong outcomes, not only in “making the grade,” but in self-esteem and behavior. Brain research is helping scientists better understand the neural mechanisms underlying language processing in infants and young children, as well as the social interactions necessary for honing those skills. What do we know and what can be done to mitigate the long-term effects of this deficit? Learn more about the latest research, the emerging “home training for parents,” and the policy issues surrounding this disparity at the free Neuroscience and Society event, “Closing the Language Skills Gap Among Children: It’s Never Too Soon to Start.”

When:
September 28, 2016
5:30 PM – 8:00 PM Eastern Time

Where:
AAAS Headquarters
1200 New York Avenue NW
Washington, District of Columbia

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