New brain research shows two parents may be better than one
A team of researchers at the University of Calgary’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI) have discovered that adult brain cell production might be determined, in part, by the early parental environment. The study suggests that dual parenting may be more beneficial than single parenting.
Scientists studied mouse pups that were raised by either dual or single parents and found that adult cell production in the brain might be triggered by early life experiences. The scientists also found that the increased adult brain cell production varied based on gender. Specifically, female pups raised by two parents had enhanced white matter production as adults, increasing motor coordination and sociability. Male pups raised by dual parents displayed more grey matter production as an adult, which improves learning and memory.
“Our new work adds to a growing body of knowledge, which indicates that early, supportive experiences have long lasting, positive impact on adult brain function,” says Samuel Weiss, PhD, senior author of the study and director of the HBI.
Surprisingly, the advantages of dual parenting were also passed along when these two groups reproduced, even if their offspring were raised by one female. The advantages of dual parenting were thus passed along to the next generation.
To conduct the study, scientists divided mice into three groups i) pups raised to adulthood by one female ii) pups raised to adulthood by one female and one male and iii) pups raised to adulthood by two females. Researchers then waited for the offspring to reach adulthood to find out if there was any impact on brain cell production.
Scientists say that this research provides evidence that, in the mouse model, parenting and the environment directly impact adult brain cell production. While it’s not known at this point, it is possible that similar effects could be seen in other mammals, such as humans. The study is published in the May 1 edition of PLOS ONE.
Mathematicians help to unlock brain function
Mathematicians from Queen Mary, University of London will bring researchers one-step closer to understanding how the structure of the brain relates to its function in two recently published studies.
Publishing in Physical Review Letters the researchers from the Complex Networks group at Queen Mary’s School of Mathematical Sciences describe how different areas in the brain can have an association despite a lack of direct interaction.
The team, in collaboration with researchers in Barcelona, Pamplona and Paris, combined two different human brain networks - one that maps all the physical connections among brain areas known as the backbone network, and another that reports the activity of different regions as blood flow changes, known as the functional network. They showed that the presence of symmetrical neurons within the backbone network might be responsible for the synchronised activity of physically distant brain regions.
Lead author Vincenzo Nicosia, said “We don’t fully understand how the human brain works. So far the focus has been more on the analysis of the function of single, localised regions. However, there isn’t a complete model that brings the whole functionality of the brain together. Hopefully, our research will help neuroscientists to develop a more accurate map of the brain and investigate its functioning beyond single areas.”
The research adds to the recent findings published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in which the QM researchers along with the Department of Psychiatry at University of Cambridge analysed the development of the brain of a small worm called Caenorhabditis elegans. In this paper, the team examined the number of links formed in the brain during the worm’s lifespan, and observed an unexpected abrupt change in the pattern of growth, corresponding with the time of egg hatching.
“The research is important as it’s the first time that a sharp transition in the growth of a neural network has ever been observed,” added Dr Nicosia.
“Although we don’t know which biological factors are responsible for the change in the growth pattern, we were able to reproduce the pattern using a simple economical model of synaptic formation. This result can pave the way to a deeper understanding of how neural networks grow in more complex organisms.”
ADHD and the brain - how does it work?
I’ll explain what ADHD actually is, neurologically, through a case most people will be able to relate to.
Imagine sitting in a classroom where the teacher is explaining a hard, new subject that you happen to find quite interesting. So far so good, until you hear a bird make a chirping noise in its tree outside the window. At this moment, the brain releases dopamine to cut the impulse of getting distracted, and the attention gets pulled back to the teacher without much ado. Or thus is the case for people that don’t have ADHD.
ADHD basically is a problem with the dopamine and noradrenaline inside the brain. For about 3 out of 4 ADHD’ers, the brain does release the necessary chemicals, but they don’t remain in the synaps (where they’re supposed to do their job). For others the brain just doesn’t make or release enough dopamine and noradrenaline. In both cases though, there is a deficiency of those chemicals in the brain, and it won’t function like that of other people. If we take this back to our case, the bird chirps and the attention gets pulled to the bird and away from the teacher, but it won’t be pulled back automatically, so our subject is distracted and will miss some part of the explanation.
ADHD is not just a focusing problem, though. The same mechanism applies to other situations. Like, blurting out stuff while having a conversation - the brain doesn’t cut the impulse of blurting out stuff while it’s not your turn to speak, so you physically can’t stop it.
This is where meds come in:
For our first group of ADHD’ers, Ritalin keeps the necessary chemicals in the synaps for longer, so they can do their job.
For our second group Adderall stimulates the brain to release a normal of the chemicals, instead of the deficient amount the brain naturally does.
Now that I have your attention, I would like to add one last bit to this post. Most people tend to think of ADHD as a bad thing only, but I think it’s so much more. 24 years old right now, I was only 7 when I was diagnosed, so I’ve had a lot of time to learn to cope with the downsides and accept the upsides of ADHD. So here are some:
- having more energy than most people!
- because of your subject-jumpy brain, you’re quite creative
- knowing all kinds of tricks for life, that might not always work for you, but that are of a great help for your friends
- spontaneous personality, because of blurting out stuff
- do you feel like you tire people with your behaviour? They make it easier to recognise your real friends that love you for who you are :)
Hope this was of any help, and any questions, corrections or just comments are welcomed happily :)
Music Education and Brain Function
For decades, research has shown that a strong musical education significantly improves intelligence and the brain functions of children. When one of human history’s smartest individuals, Albert Einstein, was a child, his grade school teachers told his parents he should be taken out of school because he was “too stupid to learn” and that it would be a waste of the school’s time and resources to invest in his education. Instead of listening to the school, Einstein’s parent bought him a violin, and as a result, not only did he learn music, but became capable of learning subjects outside of the musical realm. Even Einstein himself says that the reason he became so smart is because he played the violin. Let’s take a look at exactly how music can play a role in shaping and developing specific functions within the human brain.
- A 1952 study reported that when examining 278 eighth and ninth graders, the use of background music in study halls resulted in greater improvement of reading comprehension than those who studied without music.
- A 1996 study by Ramey and Frances Campbell of the University of North Carolina showed that preschool children taught with games and songs showed an IQ advantage of 10 to 20 points over those without the songs, and at age 15 had higher reading and math scores.
- The Council on Basic Education conducted a study comparing time spent studying the arts by schools in Germany, Japan, England and the United States, and found that the U.S. trailed the other countries in time devoted and percentage of time devoted to arts instruction, and also in math and science scores.
- A 1996 study in Rhode Island reported that first-graders who participated in special music classes as part of an arts study had reading skills and math proficiency increase dramatically, scoring 46 points higher on the math portion of the SAT in 1995, and 39 points higher if they had music performance experiences, than those without music education.
- In 1993, Frances Rauscher (now at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh), Gordon Shaw and colleagues, at the Center for the Neurobiology of Learning and Memory at the University of California at Irvine began dealing with the causal relationship between music and spatial task performance, which resulted in the creation of the term “The Mozart Effect” and the proclamation that music can and does indeed make you smarter. The study found that listening to 10 minutes of Mozart’s piano Sonata K.448 over a period of time increased spatial IQ scores in college students. A further study on spatial performance and music found that the spatial reasoning skills of 19 preschool children who were given 8 months of music lessons far exceeded the spatial reasoning performance of 15 children who had no musical training. Whereas the effect of listening to Mozart lasted only a short time (about 15 minutes), the results of the study with preschool children suggested to the researchers that music can improve intelligence for long periods of time, maybe even permanently.
- In a 1996 report of the significance of singing cites improved effects on motor development and cognitive development of those participating in the music program.
- A report in The New York Times International May 1996 indicated that in Japan, Korea, Taiwan, and China music is a more significant part of education for children than in the U.S.A., and the children in those countries are far more likely to absolute pitch, and even more importantly, that early and ongoing musical training helps organize and develop children’s brains.
- A report by John Langstaff and Elizabeth Mayer in March 1996 found that by approximately age 11, neuron circuits that permit all kinds of perceptual and sensory discrimination, such as identifying pitch and rhythm, become closed off. Not using them leads the child tone deafness and an absense of rhythm.
- Research at the Harvard Project Zero suggests that arts activities for all students on Fridays and Mondays reduces the absentee rate on those days.
- Martha Mead Giles found in a study reported in the Journal of Music Therapy that music and art instruction may be an important link to children’s emotional well-being and found that in addition to an enhancement of self-concept as an outcome of music education, trust and cooperation, empathy, and social skills were also shown to be benefits of a music education.
If these findings aren’t enough to make you want to want to undertake a musical education and learn how to play an instrument or sing, then watch the outstanding lectured in the video below featuring Dr. Aniruddh Patel of the Neurosciences Institute, discussing what music can teach us about the brain, and what brain science, in turn, can reveal about music.
Music and the Mind
If you’re interested in learning music and how to play an instrument, get started by finding local music instructors and classes in your area on HeyKiki.