The-Brains

Every time you listen to music, you're actually giving yourself a deep, full-brain workout .

It starts with the auditory cortex, which is mainly responsible for taking the music you hear and parsing the most rudimentary features, such as pitch and volume. It works with the cerebellum to break down a stream of musical information into its component parts: pitch, timbre, spatial location and duration. It’s then processed by the mesolimbic system and things get really interesting.

How your eyes betray your thoughts

According to the old saying, the eyes are windows into the soul, revealing deep emotions that we might otherwise want to hide. Although modern science precludes the existence of the soul, it does suggest that there is a kernel of truth in this saying: it turns out the eyes not only reflect what is happening in the brain but may also influence how we remember things and make decisions.

Our eyes are constantly moving, and while some of those movements are under conscious control, many of them occur subconsciously. When we read, for instance, we make a series of very quick eye movements called saccades that fixate rapidly on one word after another. When we enter a room, we make larger sweeping saccades as we gaze around. Then there are the small, involuntary eye movements we make as we walk, to compensate for the movement of our head and stabilise our view of the world. And, of course, our eyes dart around during the ‘rapid eye movement’ (REM) phase of sleep.

What is now becoming clear is that some of our eye movements may actually reveal our thought process.

Research published last year shows that pupil dilation is linked to the degree of uncertainty during decision-making: if somebody is less sure about their decision, they feel heightened arousal, which causes the pupils to dilate. This change in the eye may also reveal what a decision-maker is about to say: one group of researchers, for example, found that watching for dilation made it possible to predict when a cautious person used to saying ‘no’ was about to make the tricky decision to say ‘yes’.

Watching the eyes can even help predict what number a person has in mind. Tobias Loetscher and his colleagues at the University of Zurich recruited 12 volunteers and tracked their eye movements while they reeled off a list of 40 numbers.

They found that the direction and size of the participants’ eye movements accurately predicted whether the number they were about to say was bigger or smaller than the previous one – and by how much. Each volunteer’s gaze shifted up and to the right just before they said a bigger number, and down and to the left before a smaller one. The bigger the shift from one side to the other, the bigger the difference between the numbers.

This suggests that we somehow link abstract number representations in the brain with movement in space. But the study does not tell us which comes first: whether thinking of a particular number causes changes in eye position, or whether the eye position influences our mental activity. In 2013, researchers in Sweden published evidence that it’s the latter that may be at work: eye movements may actually facilitate memory retrieval.

They recruited 24 students and asked each one to carefully examine a series of objects displayed to them in one corner of a computer screen. The participants were then told to listen to a series of statements about some of the objects they had seen, such as “The car was facing to the left” and asked to indicate as quickly as possible if each was true or false. Some participants were allowed to let their eyes roam about freely; others were asked to fix their gaze on a cross at the centre of the screen, or the corner where the object had appeared, for example.

The researchers found that those who were allowed to move their eyes spontaneously during recall performed significantly better than those who fixed on the cross. Interestingly, though, participants who were told to fix their gaze in the corner of the screen in which objects had appeared earlier performed better than those told to fix their gaze in another corner. This suggests that the more closely the participants’ eye movements during information encoding corresponded with those that occurred during retrieval of the information, the better they were at remembering the objects. Perhaps that’s because eye movements help us to recall the spatial relationships between objects in the environment at the time of encoding.

These eye movements can occur unconsciously. “When people are looking at scenes they have encountered before, their eyes are frequently drawn to information they have already seen, even when they have no conscious memory of it,” says Roger Johansson, a psychologist at Lund University who led the study.

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Clinical trial shows intuitive control of robotic arm using thought

Paralyzed from the neck down after suffering a gunshot wound when he was 21, Erik G. Sorto now can move a robotic arm just by thinking about it and using his imagination.

Through a clinical collaboration between Caltech, Keck Medicine of USC and Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, the now 34-year-old Sorto is the first person in the world to have a neural prosthetic device implanted in a region of the brain where intentions are made, giving him the ability to perform a fluid hand-shaking gesture, drink a beverage, and even play “rock, paper, scissors,” using a robotic arm.

Neural prosthetic devices implanted in the brain’s movement center, the motor cortex, can allow patients with paralysis to control the movement of a robotic limb. However, current neuroprosthetics produce motion that is delayed and jerky–not the smooth and seemingly automatic gestures associated with natural movement. Now, by implanting neuroprosthetics in a part of the brain that controls not the movement directly but rather our intent to move, Caltech researchers have developed a way to produce more natural and fluid motions.

Designed to test the safety and effectiveness of this new approach, the clinical trial was led by principal investigator Richard Andersen, the James G. Boswell Professor of Neuroscience at Caltech, neurosurgeon Charles Y. Liu, professor of neurological surgery, neurology, and biomedical engineering at USC, and neurologist Mindy Aisen, chief medical officer at Rancho Los Amigos.

Andersen and his colleagues wanted to improve the versatility of movement that a neuroprosthetic can offer to patients by recording signals from a different brain region other than the motor cortex, i.e., the posterior parietal cortex (PPC), a high-level cognitive area. In earlier animal studies, the Andersen lab found that it is here, in the PPC, that the initial intent to make a movement is formed. These intentions are then transmitted to the motor cortex, through the spinal cord, and on to the arms and legs where the movement is executed.

“The PPC is earlier in the pathway, so signals there are more related to movement planning–what you actually intend to do–rather than the details of the movement execution,” Andersen says. “When you move your arm, you really don’t think about which muscles to activate and the details of the movement–such as lift the arm, extend the arm, grasp the cup, close the hand around the cup, and so on. Instead, you think about the goal of the movement, for example, ‘I want to pick up that cup of water.’ So in this trial, we were successfully able to decode these actual intents, by asking the subject to simply imagine the movement as a whole, rather than breaking it down into a myriad of components. We expected that the signals from the PPC would be easier for patients to use, ultimately making the movement process more fluid.”

The device was surgically implanted in Sorto’s brain at Keck Hospital of USC in April 2013, and he since has been training with Caltech researchers and staff at Rancho Los Amigos to control a computer cursor and a robotic arm with his mind. The researchers saw just what they were hoping for: intuitive movement of the robotic arm.

Sorto, a single father of two who has been paralyzed for over 10 years, was thrilled with the quick results: “I was surprised at how easy it was [to control the robotic arm],” he says. “I remember just having this out-of-body experience, and I wanted to just run around and high-five everybody.”

THE SURGERY

The surgical team at Keck Medicine of USC performed the unprecedented neuroprosthetic implant in a five-hour surgery on April 17, 2013. Liu and his team implanted a pair of small electrode arrays in two parts of the posterior parietal cortex, one that controls reach and another that controls grasp. Each 4-by-4 millimeter array contains 96 active electrodes that, in turn, each record the activity of single neurons in the PPC. The arrays are connected by a cable to a system of computers that process the signals, to decode the brain’s intent and control output devices, such as a computer cursor and a robotic arm.

“These arrays are very small so their placement has to be exceptionally precise, and it took a tremendous amount of planning, working with the Caltech team to make sure we got it right,” says Liu, who also is director of the USC Neurorestoration Center and associate chief medical officer at Rancho Los Amigos. “Because it was the first time anyone had implanted this part of the human brain, everything about the surgery was different: the location, the positioning and how you manage the hardware. Keep in mind that what we’re able to do–the ability to record the brain’s signals and decode them to eventually move the robotic arm–is critically dependent on the functionality of these arrays, which is determined largely at the time of surgery.”

The USC Neurorestoration Center’s primary mission is to leverage partnerships to create unique opportunities to translate scientific discoveries into effective therapies.

“We are at a point in human research where we are making huge strides in overcoming a lot of neurologic disease,” says neurologist Christianne Heck, associate professor of neurology at USC and co-director of the USC Neurorestoration Center. “These very important early clinical trials could provide hope for patients with all sorts of neurologic problems that involve paralysis such as stroke, brain injury, ALS and even multiple sclerosis.”

THE REHABILITATION

Sixteen days after his implant surgery, Sorto began his training sessions at Rancho Los Amigos National Rehabilitation Center, where a computer was attached directly to the ports extending from his skull, to communicate with his brain. The rehabilitation team of occupational therapists who specialize in helping patients adapt to loss of function in their upper limbs and “redesign” the way patients do tasks with the function they have left, worked with Sorto and the Caltech team daily to help Sorto visualize what it would be like to move his arm again.

“It was a big surprise that the patient was able to control the limb on day one–the very first day he tried,” Andersen says. “This attests to how intuitive the control is when using PPC activity.”

Although he was able to immediately move the robot arm with his thoughts, after weeks of imagining, Sorto refined his control of the arm. Now, Sorto is able to execute advanced tasks with his mind, such as controlling a computer cursor; drinking a beverage; making a hand-shaking gesture; and performing various tasks with the robotic arm.

Aisen, the chief medical officer at Rancho Los Amigos who led the study’s rehabilitation team, says that advancements in prosthetics like these hold promise for the future of patient rehabilitation.

“We at Rancho are dedicated to advancing rehabilitation and to restoration of neurologic function through new technologies, which can be assistive or can promote recovery by capitalizing on the innate plasticity of the human nervous system,” says Aisen, also a clinical professor of neurology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “This research is relevant to the role of robotics and brain-machine interfaces as assistive devices, but also speaks to the ability of the brain to learn to function in new ways. We have created a unique environment that can seamlessly bring together rehabilitation, medicine, and science as exemplified in this study.”

Sorto has signed on to continue working on the project for a third year. He says the study has inspired him to continue his education and pursue a master’s degree in social work.

“This study has been very meaningful to me,” says Sorto. “As much as the project needed me, I needed the project. It gives me great pleasure to be part of the solution for improving paralyzed patients’ lives. I joke around with the guys that I want to be able to drink my own beer–to be able to take a drink at my own pace, when I want to take a sip out of my beer and to not have to ask somebody to give it to me. I really miss that independence. I think that if it were safe enough, I would really enjoy grooming myself–shaving, brushing my own teeth. That would be fantastic.”

“The better understanding of the PPC will help the researchers improve the neuroprosthetic devices of the future,” Andersen says. “What we have here is a unique window into the workings of a complex high-level brain area, as we work collaboratively with our subjects to perfect their skill in controlling external devices.”

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The Brain Scoop:
Bullet Ant Venom

Science is all about trial and error. When Dr. Corrie Moreau was trying to figure out what makes the sting of a bullet ant (Paraponera clavata) so incredibly painful, the first order of business was deciphering the chemistry of the ant’s venom. And to answer that question one needs to experiment with methods. Milking venomous animals is a common practice for things like spiders and snakes - but would it work the same way with ants? 

This is a follow-up to our most recent episode with Corrie, Dissecting Ants -  we got some really fantastic up-close shots of the process! 

My redbubble is up!

Hey guys! Amy here. History is going down tonight as my redbubble is open for the first time! I got a bit excited and made a little promo image heh. It looks bare right now, I admit, but after my exams are over june 18, I will be making more art to sell! For now, help put me through uni next year by going over to the alphas account and getting your share of dragons goodies! Reblogs are much appreciated too. Thank you!

[Fic] Epilogue for the Unwanted

I loved Fury Road and I am weak.

Hawke/Fenris, Fury Road AU,  2500 words. Soundtrack.

He comes back six months later with a knife that’s not his, in a car that’s not his, with a veritable armament in his backseat. The Citadel is not as he remembers it—greener, already, grass spilling down over the mountain’s sides, a soft moss creeping along the edges of the earth—but the shouts and whistles as he approaches are the same even if the paint is different. No white ghosts for them now, not anymore; blood instead, and red paint, vivid violent slashes across every nose he sees.

He cocks the shotgun in his lap. Fair enough.

They’re not violent, though, even as they pound fists on his hood and bellow meaningless phrases as he draws closer to the Citadel’s heart. The chained platform hangs at half-mast now, spikes relocated to the outer walls, and he can’t help rolling his head on his shoulders as he throws the beaten DeVille into park and cuts the engine. The tattoos pull a bit, as always, and the newer cut on his shoulder blade twinges as he straightens, but that’s an easy thing to ignore when the crowd is parting around his car like sand opening at the edge of a pit.

He stretches again, steps out of the car, slams the door closed behind him. The shotgun’s in easy view, as is the semi-auto pistol at his hip and his hair too white to be anyone else. The half-lives haven’t lived long enough to go grey in decades.

“Hey,” she says.

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Reasons why I've given up on  fandoms #39482093
  • Me:Oh, there's this character in this show that I really don't like. She's really horrible for various amounts of reasons in relation to other characters and with certain plot points in the story. But I won't post too much about it because it's just my opinion and I know there's quite a few people who actually like her.
  • Fandom://Takes another character that I like// THIS B**** WE WILL POST EXTENSIVELY ABOUT HOW MUCH SHE SUCKS WITH THOUGHTLESS CLAIMS AND IGNORE VERY IMPORTANT PLOT POINTS LIKE THEY DON'T EXIST. WE'LL IGNORE HER CHARACTER DEPTH AND JUST HAAAAAAAATE AND TAG IT. WHO CARES IF OTHER PEOPLE LIKE HER? WE WILL SHOOT THEM DOWN.
  • .......I'm looking at you, Aldnoah.Zero fandom.