Free Public Event: Buildings and the Brain


Building and the Brain.jpg

Image: Shutterstock

“We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us” – Winston Churchill

When he made this remark, the great orator was actually speaking about the reconstruction of the House of Commons, but the sentiment is equally true for the more modest buildings we see around us every day and the spaces we inhabit regularly. Using scientific methodology, architects and neuroscientists are increasingly collaborating to explore the variety of human experiences that can change with the design of buildings. Does it matter to our brains if a building has lots of curves or lots of sharp angles? As we walk the streets of our cities, what are the effects on our brains of façade design, greenspaces, and street geometry? Sophisticated neuroimaging technologies have made it possible to answer questions like these. Finally, the program will address the special challenges when designing buildings and rooms for individuals suffering from the extreme neurological deficits that are present in dementia, in general, and Alzheimer’s, in particular.

Thursday, March 15, 2018
5:30 – 8:00 pm (EST)

AAAS Headquarters
1200 New York Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20005

Margaret Calkins, Ph.D.
Board Chair
IDEAS Institute

Eve Edelstein, M.Arch., Ph.D.
Research Director, Human Experience and Gadget Labs

Justin Hollander, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Urban and Environmental Policy
Tufts University

Frederick Marks, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Six Sigma Green Belt
Visiting Scholar and Research Collaborator
Salk Institute for Biological Studies

Register by: March 13, 2018 11:59 PM Eastern Time

This event is hosted by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Dana Foundation.

Free Public Event: To Tell the Truth!

Truth and Lying.jpg

Image: Shutterstock

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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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.


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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The Science and Policy of Marijuana

Science and policy are often in tension with one another, but in the case of cannabis, as medicinal or recreational marijuana, science seems to be playing catch-up.

“Cannabis was scheduled [made illegal] in the absence of science,” and now is being legalized in some areas, still in the near-absence of science, said J. Michael Bostwick, a practicing psychiatrist and a senior associate dean at Mayo Medical School. In 1970, when Congress classified cannabis as Schedule 1 (“drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse”), scientists did not know which neuronal receptors it activated or what exactly in the substance was causing which effects.

aaas nida

NIDA’s Nora Volkow and DC council member David Grosso listen to psychiatrist J. Michael Bostwick answer a question from the audience at AAAS.

More than four decades later (and 5,000 years since people first started using it as pain reliever), we still don’t know much more of the botanical substance’s potential as a medicine, because its Schedule 1 status means US researchers have to jump through hoops at several different agencies to get access to the legal federal supply. That’s just the start, science-wise: As with any plant, cannabis varies widely in quality, strength, and in what other compounds are bound within the plant, so research—and comparing previous studies in the US and elsewhere—can be tricky.

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