Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Another reason to love music

Neuroscience of Music – How Music Enhances Learning Through Neuroplasticity

Neuroscience research into the neuroscience of music shows that musicians’ brains may be primed to distinguish meaningful sensory information from noise. This ability seems to enhance other cognitive abilities such as learning, language, memory and neuroplasticity of various brain areas.
The research strongly suggests that the neural connections made during musical training also prime the brain for other aspects of human communication.
An active engagement with musical sounds not only enhances neuroplasticity, she said, but also enables the nervous system to provide the stable scaffolding of meaningful patterns so important to learning.
“The brain is unable to process all of the available sensory information from second to second, and thus must selectively enhance what is relevant,” Kraus said. 
The Nature article reviews literature showing, for example, that musicians are more successful than non-musicians in learning to incorporate sound patterns for a new language into words. Children who are musically trained show stronger neural activation to pitch changes in speech and have a better vocabulary and reading ability than children who did not receive music training.
And musicians trained to hear sounds embedded in a rich network of melodies and harmonies are primed to understand speech in a noisy background. They exhibit both enhanced cognitive and sensory abilities that give them a distinct advantage for processing speech in challenging listening environments compared with non-musicians.
“The effect of music training suggests that, akin to physical exercise and its impact on body fitness, music is a resource that tones the brain for auditory fitness and thus requires society to re-examine the role of music in shaping individual development, ” the researchers conclude.
“Music training for the development of auditory skills,” by Nina Kraus and Bharath Chandrasekaran, will be published July 20 in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience.
Kraus, N., Chandrasekaran, B. (August 2010). Music training for the development of auditory skills. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 11, 599-605.

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Bettelheim on autism - why do people still support him?

Bruno Bettelheim was perhaps the most influential theorist promoting psychoanalytic interpretations of autism. Bettelheim rose to prominence as director of the University of Chicago’s Orthogenic School for disturbed children from 1944 to 1978. He rejected Kanner’s conclusions positing a biological role in the etiology in autism and was convinced that autism was caused by “refrigerator” mothers. According to Bettelheim, autistic symptoms are viewed as defensive reactions against cold and detached mothers. These unloving mothers were sometimes assumed to be harbouring “murderous impulses” toward their children. For example, in his book The Empty Fortress, Bettelheim (1967) wrote that one autistic girl’s obsession with the weather could be explained by dissecting the word to form “we/eat/her”, indicating that she was convinced that her mother, and later others, would “devour her”. *facepalm*

After his suicide (thank goodness) in 1990, stories began to emerge that tarnished Bettelheim’s reputation. Several individuals claimed abuse at the hands of the famous doctor when they were at the Orthogenic School. Darnton wrote that he was “sadistic and out of control [towards his patients]”. Furthermore, information emerged that Bettelheim often lied about his background and training. For example, although he frequently claimed to have studied under Freud in Vienna, Bettelheim possessed no formal training in psychoanalysis whatsoever, and instead held a degree in philosophy. Also, Bettelheim claimed that 85% of his patients at the Orthorgenic School were cured after treatment; however, most of the children were not autistic and the case reports he presented in his books were often fabrications.

What surprises me is that even today, despite a complete lack of evidence, there are still people who support Bettelheim. Psychoanalytic theories such as this still exist. Why? 

I’m definitely with Bernard Rimland’s when he insists: “Autism is a biological disorder, not an emotional illness. Refuse psychotherapy, psychoanalysis and intensive counselling. These approaches are useless” (1994). 

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Neuroscientists Boost Memory Using Genetics and Memory Enhancing Drug

When the activity of a molecule that is normally elevated during viral infections is inhibited in the brain, mice learn and remember better, researchers at Baylor College of Medicine reported in a recent article in the journal Cell.
“The molecule PKR (the double-stranded RNA-activated protein kinase) was originally described as a sensor of viral infections, but its function in the brain was totally unknown,” said Dr. Mauro Costa-Mattioli, assistant professor of neuroscience at BCM and senior author of the paper.
“We found that when we genetically inhibit PKR, we increased the excitability of brain cells and enhanced learning and memory, in a variety of behavioral tests,” he said. 
“These data are totally unexpected, and show that two molecules classically known to play a role in viral infection and the immune response regulate the kind of brain activity that leads to the formation of long-term memory in the adult brain,” said Costa-Mattioli. 
Another key finding made by Costa-Mattioli and his team of researchers was the fact that this process could be mimicked by a PKR inhibitor – a small molecule that blocks PKR activity and thus acts as a “memory-enhancing drug.”
“It is indeed quite amazing that we can also enhance both memory and brain activity with a drug that specifically targets PKR”. Definitely then, the next step is to use what we have learned in mice and to try to improve brain function in people suffering from memory loss, said Costa-Mattioli.
Although Costa-Mattioli’s memory pill may be years away from approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, its impact on society and medicine could be very profound. 

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Neurosteroidogenesis Is Required for the Physiological Response to Stress: Role of Neurosteroid-Sensitive GABA[A] Receptors

This looks like promising research for control of the stress response, with therapeutic potential for numerous disorders including Cushing's syndrome, epilepsy, and major depression. 

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