Entries in Neuroscience (4)


The Dark Side of Military-Funded Neuroscience

US Army(NEW YORK) -- By unlocking the mysteries of the mind, neuroscientists have opened the door to revolutionary technology -- technology that the American military hopes to harness.

From keeping troops more alert during exhausting missions to engineering intelligent drones, some experts argue that brain research has changed the battlefield.

"There's a tremendous amount of research going on around almost every aspect of the brain you can think of," said Jonathan Moreno, professor of bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Mind Wars.  "How much of this is related to national security and counterintelligence?  It turns out to be quite a lot."

In an essay published Tuesday in the journal PLoS Biology, Moreno said neuroscientists may not consider how their work contributes to warfare.

"Technology doesn't care what it's used for," he said, explaining how the same research that could help a paralyzed person move a robotic exoskeleton could also help coordinate an attack by an unmanned weapon.  "It's our ingenuity and the way we apply the technology, which does raise an interesting problem for scientists."

"Now it's the life scientists having a hard time with this," said Moreno, adding that researchers studying infectious diseases like bird flu might not consider the dark side of their discoveries.  "Even Einstein didn't recognize the possibility of nuclear fission.  He had to be convinced by a colleague to sign a letter to [Franklin Delano Roosevelt] about the Manhattan project."

Einstein later wrote that signing the letter, which led to the development of the first atomic bomb, was the "one great mistake" in his life.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Pentagon's science agency better known as DARPA, received roughly $240 million to fund neuroscience research in 2011.  Much of that research is "dual use," meaning it will benefit American civilians as well as military forces -- a reminder that many medical gains often originate in the trenches.

"Much of what's known about helping people with terrible burns came out of Vietnam," said Moreno.  "Amputation came largely out of the civil war.  Blood banks came out of Korea.  Every war, sadly enough, has created opportunities for advances in medicine."

Beyond supporting the development of military devices like drones, brain research is helping troops learn the art of enemy deception and interrogation.  It has also led to drugs designed to keep troops awake and alert -- a feat once achieved with coffee and cigarettes.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


New Study Provides Hope for Patients in 'Vegetative State'

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(PHILADELPHIA)-- New research using a portable electrode test suggests nearly 20 percent of those previously determined to be in a vegetative state may be consciously aware of their surroundings and even able to communicate through easily detectable brain signals.

The results, published Wednesday in Lancet, could offer some hope for many caregivers who face the complex decision to keep their loved ones in a vegetative state alive when they're awake but seemingly unaware.

"The assumption that they lack awareness is based on the assumption that there are no outward signs they are aware," said Adrian Owen, co-author of the study and Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and Imaging at the University of Western Ontario.

Owen and his colleagues hooked 16 patients in a vegetative state to electroencephalography (EEG) machines and asked the patients to move their right hands and their toes, and repeated the test with 12 healthy patients.

The EEG showed brain activity in front part of the brain in three of the 16 patients -- the same area that showed activity in the healthy group -- which suggested they understood and responded to those commands.

The patients who responded varied so widely in their conditions that researchers said it's difficult to know what type of person may be more likely to display signs of consciousness. One of the patients who responded to the command had been in a vegetative state for nearly two years.

The test could potentially offer those who have been unresponsive but aware for many years a chance to express themselves, the researchers said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Humans Are Hardwired to Gossip: Expert

George S. Zimbel/Getty Images(LONDON) -- You may feel like showering after reading about Casey Anthony’s newest post-trial drama or Lindsay Logan’s latest legal  issues, but if you find gossip hard to resist, you are not alone.

While seemingly tied to our 24-hour news cycle and countless celebrity magazines, one expert says out love of gossip is much older. The need to know everybody's dirty laundry is evolutionary, part of our earliest mechanisms for finding the best mate in order to survive and keep our species going says John Hardy, professor of neuroscience at University College London.

"Stripped down, gossip is largely about who is sleeping with who, who would like to sleep with who, and what the local pecking order is in terms of power and influence -- which, of course, influences who is sleeping with who," wrote Hardy in New Scientist magazine.

But, Hardy said, there's more to it than just sex. It also has to do with social survival, with being able to maneuver through the complexities of life in a village filled with differing personalities. In primitive times, those who were best at social maneuvering were the ones with the larger brains.

"Skillfulness in interpreting limited and inaccurate information is important," said "Part of gossiping is also embellishment and subtle inaccuracy. The whole point is for you to have a clearer view of what is happening than everyone else."

So according to Hardy, checking out TMZ or picking up the latest showbiz magazine is only doing precisely what our very distant ancestors did -- picking the most attractive members of our now-global village, and trying to find out more about them.

"We might be ashamed of it," he wrote, "but our brains were designed to lap it up."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Will Your Love Last? Your Brain Might Hold the Answer

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- When you sit down to an intimate dinner with your loved one, you may perhaps take a moment to ponder whether your love will last. The answer, according to a recent study published in the online journal Social Cognitive and Effective Neuroscience, lies more in the neural patterns of your brain than in the poetry of your words.

Researchers at Stony Brook University used functional magnetic resonance imaging to scan the brains of 10 women and seven men who claimed they were still "madly" in love with their spouse, even after 21 years of marriage. Each viewed a picture of his or her beloved, and control pictures, including a close friend and lesser-known acquaintances. Brain activity was measured as participants looked at the facial images.

The researchers then compared these brain scans with those of people from an earlier experiment who said they'd fallen in love within the past year. They found the scans looked a lot alike.

There were differences -- long-term romantic love lit up many more brain regions than early-stage love -- but both groups showed significant activity in the dopamine-rich ventral tegmental area. The VTA -- which is a crucial part of the brain's motivation and reward circuit -- also illuminates in response to food, money, alcohol and cocaine.

The dopamine-laden VTA had already shown activity in six previous studies of those in early-stage love -- in relationships ranging from three weeks to 17 months -- but the Stony Brook study was the first to ever associate the VTA with long-term love. Researchers take this as evidence that romantic love can endure.

"A lot of times all we hear is our relationships are painful, and we suffer," said researcher Bianca Acevedo. "But it's exciting to see there's a pattern in our brain that is associated with intense love," and that it appears in the long-in-love and the newly-in-love. "Love can last," said Acevedo." It doesn't wane. It doesn't disappear."

The researchers also believe their study offers clues as to what may be essential brain activity for couples to stay in love.

"It's a nice finding, because it shows in a way our brain is still a simple thing," said Dr. Marco Iacoboni, a neuroscientist at UCLA medical school who was not involved in the study. "Humans are so good at using sophisticated language to dissect emotions. But if we look at the way big systems in the brain respond, they seem to be much simpler than our behavior. The responses of the brain can be quite predictable."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio