It’s a fine line between love and hate in the brain.

Researchers have found results that suggest that the areas in the brain involved in hatred are also activated by love. The researchers scanned human subjects while they viewed the face of a person they hated, and also faces of acquaintances for whom they had neutral feelings. 

They then calculated a “hate score” - this was to quantify how much the participant hated each individual. Their results showed that viewing a hated face revealed a basic pattern of activity in the brain, that seems unique to “hate”. This “hate network” has components that have been considered to be important in generating aggressive behaviour and translating this behaviour into action. Most intriguingly though, the network involved regions that are almost identical to the ones activated by passionate, romantic love. 

The researchers conclude that the link of these two brain areas may account for why love and hate are so closely linked to each other in life.

I think it is important to remember that there could be so many possible explanations for why these areas light up in both hate and love - a reaction to faces, threats (i.e. maybe you are super sensitive to threat when thinking about the person you love being taken away, etc.) but it’s an interesting study none the less. 

Read the original story

Read the original paper

Meditation helps pinpoint neurological differences between two types of love

These findings won’t appear on any Hallmark card, but romantic love tends to activate the same reward areas of the brain as cocaine, research has shown.

Now Yale School of Medicine researchers studying meditators have found that a more selfless variety of love — a deep and genuine wish for the happiness of others without expectation of reward — actually turns off the same reward areas that light up when lovers see each other.

“When we truly, selflessly wish for the well-being of others, we’re not getting that same rush of excitement that comes with, say, a tweet from our romantic love interest, because it’s not about us at all,” said Judson Brewer, adjunct professor of psychiatry at Yale now at the University of Massachusetts.

Brewer and Kathleen Garrison, postdoctoral researcher in Yale’s Department of Psychiatry, report their findings in a paper scheduled to be published online Feb. 12 in the journal Brain and Behavior.

The neurological boundaries between these two types of love become clear in fMRI scans of experienced meditators. The reward centers of the brain that are strongly activated by a lover’s face (or a picture of cocaine) are almost completely turned off when a meditator is instructed to silently repeat sayings such as “May all beings be happy.”

Such mindfulness meditations are a staple of Buddhism and are now commonly practiced in Western stress reduction programs, Brewer notes. The tranquility of this selfless love for others — exemplified in such religious figures such as Mother Theresa or the Dalai Llama — is diametrically opposed to the anxiety caused by a lovers’ quarrel or extended separation. And it carries its own rewards.

“The intent of this practice is to specifically foster selfless love — just putting it out there and not looking for or wanting anything in return,” Brewer said. “If you’re wondering where the reward is in being selfless, just reflect on how it feels when you see people out there helping others, or even when you hold the door for somebody the next time you are at Starbucks.”

 Scientists ‘See’ YouTube Videos in the Mind

What if what you saw with your eyes could be interpreted in a brain-scanner? Well, that just happened. Check it out:

Gallant’s coauthors acted as study subjects, watching YouTube videos inside a magnetic resonance imaging machine for several hours at a time. The team then used the brain imaging data to develop a computer model that matched features of the videos – like colors, shapes and movements – with patterns of brain activity.

“Once we had this model built, we could read brain activity for that subject and run it backwards through the model to try to uncover what the viewer saw,” said Gallant.

Subtle changes in blood flow to visual areas of the brain, measured by functional MRI, predicted what was on the screen at the time – whether it was Steve Martin as Inspector Clouseau or an airplane. The reconstructed videos are blurry because they layer all the YouTube clips that matched the subject’s brain activity pattern. The result is a haunting, almost dream-like version of the video as seen by the mind’s eye.

(via  ABC News)

Neuroscience Might Be Taking Over the World

Neuroscience might be taking over the world with data on brain connections and replica projects, as well as applying data onto digital software applications for use in clinical studies. Recent reports praise, dispute, and test how the study of neuroscience is claiming to ease addiction, build a computerized replica of the human brain, and even improve focus by 400 percent.

Scientists from the University of Massachusetts Medical School are applying neuroscience research to areas of the brain which concentrate on addiction. In an interview with Boston’s NPR news station, W.B.U.R., scientists explain how addiction effects areas of the brain that would “hard-wire” it into recognizing and supporting an addiction. Searching for the “neural roots of addiction,” these scientists apply techniques like meditation and technology to ward off symptoms of addiction.

Continue Reading

Reading Harry Potter: Carnegie Mellon Researchers Identify Brain Regions That Encode Words, Grammar, Character Development

Some people say that reading “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” taught them the importance of friends, or that easy decisions are seldom right. Carnegie Mellon University scientists used a chapter of that book to learn a different lesson: identifying what different regions of the brain are doing when people read.

Researchers from CMU’s Machine Learning Department performed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans of eight people as they read a chapter of that Potter book. They then analyzed the scans, cubic millimeter by cubic millimeter, for every four-word segment of that chapter. The result was the first integrated computational model of reading, identifying which parts of the brain are responsible for such subprocesses as parsing sentences, determining the meaning of words and understanding relationships between characters.

As Leila Wehbe, a Ph.D. student in the Machine Learning Department, and Tom Mitchell, the department head, report today in the online journal PLOS ONE, the model was able to predict fMRI activity for novel text passages with sufficient accuracy to tell which of two different passages a person was reading with 74 percent accuracy.

“At first, we were skeptical of whether this would work at all,” Mitchell said, noting that analyzing multiple subprocesses of the brain at the same time is unprecedented in cognitive neuroscience. “But it turned out amazingly well and now we have these wonderful brain maps that describe where in the brain you’re thinking about a wide variety of things.”

Wehbe and Mitchell said the model is still inexact, but might someday be useful in studying and diagnosing reading disorders, such as dyslexia, or to track the recovery of patients whose speech was impacted by a stroke. It also might be used by educators to identify what might be giving a student trouble when learning a foreign language.

“If I’m having trouble learning a new language, I may have a hard time figuring out exactly what I don’t get,” Mitchell said. “When I can’t understand a sentence, I can’t articulate what it is I don’t understand. But a brain scan might show that the region of my brain responsible for grammar isn’t activating properly, or perhaps instead I’m not understanding the individual words.”

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon and elsewhere have used fMRI scans to identify activation patterns associated with particular words or phrases or even emotions. But these have always been tightly controlled experiments, with only one variable analyzed at a time. The experiments were unnatural, usually involving only single words or phrases, but the slow pace of fMRI — one scan every two seconds — made other approaches seem unfeasible.

Wehbe nevertheless was convinced that multiple cognitive subprocesses could be studied simultaneously while people read a compelling story in a near-normal manner. She believed that using a real text passage as an experimental stimulus would provide a rich sample of the different word properties, which could help to reveal which brain regions are associated with these different properties.

“No one falls asleep in the scanner during Leila’s experiments,” Mitchell said.

They devised a technique in which people see one word of a passage every half second — or four words for every two-second fMRI scan. For each word, they identified 195 detailed features — everything from the number of letters in the word to its part of speech. They then used a machine learning algorithm to analyze the activation of each cubic centimeter of the brain for each four-word segment.

Bit by bit, the algorithm was able to associate certain features with certain regions of the brain, Wehbe said.

“The test subjects read Chapter 9 of Sorcerer’s Stone, which is about Harry’s first flying lesson,” she noted. “It turns out that movement of the characters — such as when they are flying their brooms — is associated with activation in the same brain region that we use to perceive other people’s motion. Similarly, the characters in the story are associated with activation in the same brain region we use to process other people’s intentions.”

Exactly how the brain creates these neural encodings is still a mystery, they said, but it is the beginning of understanding what the brain is doing when a person reads.

“It’s sort of like a DNA fingerprint — you may not understand all aspects of DNA’s function, but it guides you in understanding cell function or development,” Mitchell said. “This model of reading initially is that kind of a fingerprint.”

A complementary study by Wehbe and Mitchell, presented earlier this fall at the Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing, used magnetoencephalography (MEG) to record brain activity in subjects reading Harry Potter. MEG can record activity every millisecond, rather than every two seconds as in fMRI scanning, but can’t localize activity with the precision of fMRI. Those findings suggest how words are integrated into memory - how the brain first visually perceives a word and then begins accessing the properties of the word, and fitting it into the story context.

13 November 2013


When you daydream the pattern of activity in your brain, at least to a neuroscientist, is known as the default mode network. The recent discovery of this brain state came as something of a surprise since it occurs when you’re not actively thinking about or doing anything. Scientists can measure brain activity by looking at changes in the amount of oxygen carried by the blood to different parts of the brain. A technique called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) here highlights the ‘resting’ patterns of brain activity in 34 patients with schizophrenia. These data suggest that the default mode network may be altered in patients with schizophrenia, who still have symptoms despite taking medication. Now the challenge is to find out why.

Written by Brona McVittie

Image and research by Elias Mouchlianitis and Michael Bloomfield
Courtesy of the Psychiatric Imaging Group, MRC Clinical Sciences Centre

What Neuroscience Really Teaches Us, and What It Doesn’t

Everyone who has ever looked at a pretty fMRI scan or read a popular science article linking some sexy human behavior to a blob on a pretty brain scan (so, “nearly everyone”) needs to read this blog entry at The New Yorker:

…a lot of those reports are based on a false premise: that neural tissue that lights up most in the brain is the only tissue involved in some cognitive function. The brain, though, rarely works that way. Most of the interesting things that the brain does involve many different pieces of tissue working together. Saying that emotion is in the amygdala, or that decision-making is the prefrontal cortex, is at best a shorthand, and a misleading one at that. Different emotions, for example, rely on different combinations of neural substrates. The act of comprehending a sentence likely involves Broca’s area (the language-related spot on the left side of the brain that they may have told you about in college), but it also draws on the parts of the brain in the temporal lobe that analyze acoustic signals, and part of sensorimotor cortex and the basal ganglia become active as well. (In congenitally blind people, some of the visual cortex also plays a role.) It’s not one spot, it’s many, some of which may be less active but still vital, and what really matters is how vast networks of neural tissue work together.

Don’t lose faith. Techniques like fMRI have unlocked some amazing science about the workings of the brain, but they are still pretty low-resolution, and can only take snapshots. What about the actions of individual neurons that fMRI can’t see? What if some processes are explained better using dynamic observations instead of snapshots, like video instead of photos?

Considering that dead salmon can show brain activity on fMRI, we need to be pretty careful when saying that “Blob X” is linked to “Condition Y”. It doesn’t say that everything you’ve heard is false, just that…

…simple explanations of complex brain functions that often make for good headlines rarely turn out to be true. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t explanations to be had, it just means that evolution didn’t evolve our brains to be easily understood.

Considering it’s the most advanced biological computer ever created, that shouldn’t surprise anyone, right?

(via The New Yorker)
Can Computers Reconstruct Your Dreams?

I’ve never cared much for dream interpretation.  Most of our remembered dreams have always seemed like our minds filling gaps in dreams with our previous experiences and perceptions.  Sorry to the psychoanalytic/psychodynamic people out there, but I never bought into it.  

This is actually pretty amazing.  Scientists have begun to reconstruct images from dreams and hallucinations.

It sounds like science fiction: While volunteers watched movie clips, a scanner watched their brains. And from their brain activity, a computer made rough reconstructions of what they viewed.

The reconstructions are blends of the YouTube snippets, which makes them blurry. Some are better than others. If a human appeared in the original clip, a human form generally showed up in the reconstruction. But one clip that showed elephants walking left to right led to a reconstruction that looked like “a shambling mound,” Gallant said. The YouTube clips hadn’t shown elephants and so “we just had to make do with what we had.”

The quality could be improved by better techniques to blend human forms, as well as a bigger storehouse of moving images, he said.

Still, the overall results are “one of the most impressive demonstrations of the scientific knowledge of how the visual system works,” said Marcel Just, director of the Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging at Carnegie Mellon University.

 Think about the possibilities.  How much would you pay to have your dreams reconstructed?  What about visual representations of schizophrenic hallucinations?  Could we apply this technology to coma patients and see what they are experiencing?  This is a peek inside the human mind AND the human visual system. 

Absolutely fascinating.

External image

External image

Concern for equality linked to logic, not emotion.

By Lisa Wade, PhD

A new study finds that people with high “justice sensitivity” are using logic, not emotions.  Subjects were put in a fMRI machine, one that measures ongoing brain activity and shown videos of people acting kindly or cruelly toward a homeless person.

Some respondents reacted more strongly than others — hence the high versus low justice sensitivity — and an analysis of the high sensitivity individuals’ brain activity showed that they were processing the images in the parts of the brain where logic and rationality live.   “Individuals who are sensitive to justice and fairness do not seem to be emotionally driven,”explained one of the scientists, “Rather, they are cognitively driven.”

Activists aren’t angry, they reasonably object to unjust circumstances that they understand all too well.

Image borrowed from Jamie Keiles at Teenagerie, who is a high sensitivity individual.

Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

Study links hippocampus with unconscious bias

The hippocampus is an area of the brain known to be one in which links between memories are formed, but until now it was not known that this brain region is involved in steering the brain towards making particular choices over others when faced with new decisions for which we have no previous experiences to draw on.

In a paper published in the journal Science, research psychologists G. Elliott Wimmer and Daphna Shohamy of Columbia University in New York report on their study, which used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of regions of the brain. In the study, they asked 31 volunteers to complete a three-part task while in the machine. Throughout the task their brain activity was determined by the fMRI.

The results suggest that several areas of the brain are involved in evaluating new stimuli and associating them with previous memories, but the process is strongly associated with the hippocampus.

The findings could have application, for example, in the design of new products, which could incorporate aspects of earlier products (such as color, logo or font) to stimulate the association and produce an unconscious bias towards those products over other equally new products.

The findings also suggest that misguided biases such as racism could stem from unconscious associations. (Guilt by association is a commonly known bias.) These biases have long been known, but the current study clearly shows their association with the hippocampus.

Check it out: The first neurobiological model for third-party punishment

Here’s a a very recent update to my last post on the Neurobiology of Punishment by Joshua W Buckholtz and René Marois, breaking down the events that take place in the brain when asked to make decisions regarding punishment. Of the five processes you have the frontal cortex (higher mental functions) the amygdala (emotional responses) and the intraparietal sulcus and temporal-parietal junction (interpreting the intent of others, thoery of mind).

In the modern criminal justice system, judges and jury members – impartial third-party decision-makers – are tasked to evaluate the severity of a criminal act, the mental state of the accused and the amount of harm done, and then integrate these evaluations with the applicable legal codes and select the most appropriate punishment from available options. (…) 


  One of the key take aways is that:’s assumed legal decision-making is purely based on rational thinking, research suggests that much of the motivation for punishing is driven by negative emotional responses to the harm. This signal appears to be generated in the amygdala, causing people to factor in their emotional state when making decisions instead of making solely factual judgments.

Getting ahead of ourselves: glossy brain porn v. emotion  

What happens if the jury is presented with neuroscientific evidence suggesting what may have caused the accused to offend, e.g., a brain scan showing a tumor? This may challenge the negative emotional response since it’s been reported that this type of evidence is so seductive to juries. >law & order, donk donk<

Article here.

[ImgParts of the brain involved in third party punishment. (Rene Marois, Deborah Brewington/Vanderbilt University)]
Brain Differences in College-aged Occasional Drug Users

Findings point to potential biomarkers for early detection of at-risk youth

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have discovered impaired neuronal activity in the parts of the brain associated with anticipatory functioning among occasional 18- to 24-year-old users of stimulant drugs, such as cocaine, amphetamines and prescription drugs such as Adderall.

The brain differences, detected using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), are believed to represent an internal hard wiring that may make some people more prone to drug addiction later in life.

Among the study’s main implications is the possibility of being able to use brain activity patterns as a means of identifying at-risk youth long before they have any obvious outward signs of addictive behaviors.

The study is published in the March 26 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience.

“If you show me 100 college students and tell me which ones have taken stimulants a dozen times, I can tell you those students’ brains are different,” said Martin Paulus, MD, professor of psychiatry and a co-senior author with Angela Yu, PhD, professor of cognitive science at UC San Diego. “Our study is telling us, it’s not ‘this is your brain on drugs,’ it’s ‘this is the brain that does drugs.’”

In the study, 18- to 24-year-old college students were shown either an X or an O on a screen and instructed to press, as quickly as possible, a left button if an X appeared or a right button if an O appeared. If a tone was heard, they were instructed not to press a button.  Each participant’s reaction times and errors were measured for 288 trials, while their brain activity was recorded via fMRI.

Occasional users were characterized as having taken stimulants an average of 12 to 15 times. The “stimulant naïve” control group included students who had never taken stimulants. Both groups were screened for factors, such as alcohol dependency and mental health disorders, that might have confounded the study’s results.

The outcomes from the trials showed that occasional users have slightly faster reaction times, suggesting a tendency toward impulsivity. The most striking difference, however, occurred during the “stop” trials. Here, the occasional users made more mistakes, and their performance worsened, relative to the control group, as the task became harder (i.e., when the tone occurred later in the trial).

The brain images of the occasional users showed consistent patterns of diminished neuronal activity in the parts of the brain associated with anticipatory functioning and updating anticipation based on past trials.

“We used to think that drug addicts just did not hold themselves back but this work suggests that the root of this is an impaired ability to anticipate a situation and to detect trends in when they need to stop,” said Katia Harlé, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher in the Paulus laboratory and the study’s lead author.

The next step will be to examine the degree to which these brain activity patterns are permanent or can be re-calibrated. The researchers said it may be possible to “exercise” weak areas of the brain, where attenuated neuronal activity is associated with higher tendency to addiction.

“Right now there are no treatments for stimulant addiction and the relapse rate is upward of 50 percent,” Paulus said. “Early intervention is our best option.”

Brain activity is as unique as fingerprints, and correlates to intelligence, study finds

A person’s behaviour and way of doing things can often give them away to those who know them best, and now research says it’s not just our outward idiosyncrasies that can identify us – even our brain activity is unique.

Researchers at Yale University in the US have found that images of brain activity taken by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) can be used as a kind of ‘cognitive fingerprint’ to identify particular individuals – and can even correlate to how intelligent we are.

 - ScienceAlert

When Good People Do Bad Things

Read the full article When Good People Do Bad Things at

Being in a group makes some people lose touch with their personal moral beliefs, researchers find.

When people get together in groups, unusual things can happen — both good and bad. Groups create important social institutions that an individual could not achieve alone, but there can be a darker side to such alliances: Belonging to a group makes people more likely to harm others outside the group.

The research is in NeuroImage. (full access paywall)

Research: “Reduced self-referential neural response during intergroup competition predicts competitor harm” by M Cikara, AC Jenkins, N Dufour, and R Saxe in Neuroimage. Published online June 2014 doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2014.03.080

Image: When people are in a group, they feel more anonymous, and less likely to be caught doing something wrong. They may also feel a diminished sense of personal responsibility for collective actions. The image shows one of Banksy’s murals called ‘Riot’. The image is for illustrative purposes only. Credit Sal Taylor Kydd.

Psychopaths are not neurally equipped to have concern for others

Prisoners who are psychopaths lack the basic neurophysiological “hardwiring” that enables them to care for others, according to a new study by neuroscientists at the University of Chicago and the University of New Mexico.

“A marked lack of empathy is a hallmark characteristic of individuals with psychopathy,” said the lead author of the study, Jean Decety, the Irving B. Harris Professor in Psychology and Psychiatry at UChicago. Psychopathy affects approximately 1 percent of the United States general population and 20 percent to 30 percent of the male and female U.S. prison population. Relative to non-psychopathic criminals, psychopaths are responsible for a disproportionate amount of repetitive crime and violence in society.

“This is the first time that neural processes associated with empathic processing have been directly examined in individuals with psychopathy, especially in response to the perception of other people in pain or distress,” he added. 

The results of the study, which could help clinical psychologists design better treatment programs for psychopaths, are published in the article, “Brain Responses to Empathy-Eliciting Scenarios Involving Pain in Incarcerated Individuals with Psychopathy,” which appears online April 24 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

Joining Decety in the study were Laurie Skelly, a graduate student at UChicago; and Kent Kiehl, professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico.

For the study, the research team tested 80 prisoners between ages 18 and 50 at a correctional facility. The men volunteered for the test and were tested for levels of psychopathy using standard measures.

They were then studied with functional MRI technology, to determine their responses to a series of scenarios depicting people being intentionally hurt. They were also tested on their responses to seeing short videos of facial expressions showing pain.

The participants in the high psychopathy group exhibited significantly less activation in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, lateral orbitofrontal cortex, amygdala and periaqueductal gray parts of the brain, but more activity in the striatum and the insula when compared to control participants, the study found. 

The high response in the insula in psychopaths was an unexpected finding, as this region is critically involved in emotion and somatic resonance. Conversely, the diminished response in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and amygdala is consistent with the affective neuroscience literature on psychopathy. This latter region is important for monitoring ongoing behavior, estimating consequences and incorporating emotional learning into moral decision-making, and plays a fundamental role in empathic concern and valuing the well-being of others.

“The neural response to distress of others such as pain is thought to reflect an aversive response in the observer that may act as a trigger to inhibit aggression or prompt motivation to help,” the authors write in the paper.

“Hence, examining the neural response of individuals with psychopathy as they view others being harmed or expressing pain is an effective probe into the neural processes underlying affective and empathy deficits in psychopathy,” the authors wrote.

Decety is one of the world’s leading experts on the biological underpinnings of empathy. His work also focuses on the development of empathy and morality in children.