28 June 2010

Cognition News

Today: fMRIs track "mind reading"; a profile of Mo Constandi of Neurophilosophy; the dopaminergic system, creativity, and mental illness; Changizi on Sacks on Changizi on the origins and neuroscience of reading; problem solving in dreams; in memory of HM.

Deric Bownds' Mindblog reports on a new study that uses fMRI to investigate the mental processes of "mind reading"—that is, our ability to understand the minds of others. Based on their results, the authors suggest that the self serves as a kind of "anchor" for continual testing and adjustment of our inferences about the mental states of others.

"Well, duh," you may be saying.  (And isn't this just another way of talking about the hermeneutic circle?)  Well, sure.  But it's still interesting to see visual evidence of the physical instantiation of this process.

The study is:
Diana I. Tamir and Jason P. Mitchell (2010), "Neural correlates of anchoring-and-adjustment during mentalizing," in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (abstract here). The article is behind a paywall at PNAS, and costs $10.00.

BPS Research Digest has been running a series of short profiles of leading psychology and neuroscience bloggers. Today's subject is Mo Costandi, whose Neurophilosophy has been on my list of subscriptions as long as I've been following blogs. Mo explains that his career as a writer didn't really take off until he stopped doing "quick links" posts.  So perhaps I ought to give that some thought ....

The blog Science and Reason (a new one to me) has a post summarizing a new article on the role of the dopaminergic neural system in mental illness and creativity. As blogger Charles Daney explains in his "executive summary":
There is a correlation between performance on a part of a common psychological test for creativity and a certain property of neurons in a brain structure called the thalamus. The association with mental illness, specifically schizophrenia, is that the same neural abnormality in the same part of the brain has also been found to correlate with various symptoms of schizophrenia.
The open-access article is:
Örjan de Manzano et al. (2010), "Thinking Outside a Less Intact Box: Thalamic Dopamine D2 Receptor Densities are Negatively Related to Psychometric Creativity in Healthy Individuals," PLoS One.

Mark Changizi reports that Oliver Sacks writes in a new New Yorker article about Changizi's work on the origins and neuroscience of reading.  (An abstract of the Sacks article is here; a subscription is required to read the complete article online.)

The Sacks piece must be in the stack of unread New Yorkers surrounding my coffee table, so I'll need to dig it out and read it. Changizi gives additional links to his own writings on the topic; I'll also explore these as well (including his The Vision Revolution, which is also buried under one of the many stacks surrounding my coffee table....)

Rachael Rettner at LiveScience (my first visit to this site) writes on the research of Deirdre Barrett at Harvard, who investigates how human brains use dreaming to solve problems. Barrett recently gave a paper on this topic at the meeting of the Association for Psychological Science in Boston. So far as I can see, however, there is no link out from Rettner's article to any published or draft version of Barrett's work, and Rettner's description is lacking in detail.

So: this research may well turn out to be interesting, but when research is described in "press reports" ahead of any available written version of the work, it tends to smell to me like self-promotion and marketing.

Vaughan at MindHacks links to a program on (Australian) ABC Radio National's All in the Mind on the famous Patient HM (Henry Gustav Molaison), the most famous subject in the history of memory research.

HM suffered from severe epilepsy, and in 1953 had significant portions of his brain removed in an attempt to bring the epilepsy under control.  Among the portions of his brain that were removed were around 2/3 of his hippocampus. After the surgery (which did, indeed, control his epilepsy), he suffered from severe anterograde amnesia, the inability to form new long-term memories.

I'm looking forward to listening to the program at All in the Mind.

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