Friday, 27 November 2015

Computer Controlled By The Mind Research

A team of researchers led by Angelika Lingnau, from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway, University of London has been able to predict participants' movements just by analysing their brain activity.

The research, which is published in the Journal of Neuroscience, is the first human study to look at the neural signals of planned actions that are freely chosen by the participant and could be the first step in the development of brain-computer interfaces.

Dr. Lingnau and her team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while participants planned and performed simple hand movements inside the scanner. Crucially, participants freely chose which of three hand movements to select. Using machine learning algorithms, the researchers then determined whether they were able to predict which movement the participant was going to perform on the basis of the brain activity measured during the planning phase.

Dr Lingnau said: "We are very excited by our findings because it is the first time a human study of this kind has been carried out where the participants were able to choose a movement by themselves and were the only ones who knew what they had planned to do. We were successfully able to predict what action they were going to carry out just from analysing their brain signals."

"This opens up huge possibilities for the future including the development of technology you can control with your mind as well as enabling the development of methods for helping those with paralysis to have direct brain control to the affected areas."

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

VIDEO BBC How You Really Make Decisions

Friday, 20 November 2015

How to Develop Mental Endurance and Strength

By Remez Sasson

We all face various challenges each day, at home, at work, at the store and on the street. Many of them are just minor challenges, with which we deal automatically and easily, but some of them require strategy, thinking and mental endurance.

You need mental endurance if you work in a congenial environment, or have a demanding boss. You also need mental endurance when dealing with your teenagers, taking care of elderly parents, or when you do business with difficult people.

As we undergo changes in our life, we must learn to build mental endurance on a daily basis. Mental endurance does not mean passivity or suffering; it means mental strength. It is the ability to exercise inner strength, and the ability to deal effectively with all challenges. This requires a certain degree of willpower, self-discipline, and the ability to persevere with what you are doing.

We must learn to keep our mind focused upon what we are doing, and not let ourselves be mentally distracted. We should also not give in to unreasonable or unjust demands from the people we are dealing with. We must learn to stay on the road to our goals, no matter how tough the going is.

When we build mental endurance, we teach ourselves to never quit. Our mental endurance keeps us going, even when our body is tired or wants to quit. Our inner strength can keep us going, irrespective of the difficulties and challenges we face.
Tips on How to Develop Mental Endurance and Strength

You can improve your mental endurance, in much the same way that an athlete improves his physical endurance, through practice and exercises. Mental exercises challenge the brain, strengthen it, and build endurance. They also strengthen the concentration and the memory.

There are various ways in which you can exercise your brain and mind and develop mental endurance. One way is through solving puzzles and crosswords, since they require that you use your head, and remember facts, vocabulary and details.

Certain video games can also challenge your mind and brain, as well as games that require you to use your memory or plan ahead, such as Sudoku or chess.

Physical exercises are important not only for the body, but also for the brain, since they send more oxygen and blood to the brain.

Focusing on what you are doing, improves your concentration, self discipline and your mental endurance. Rather than dividing your attention between work and daydreaming, reading a book and watching TV, doing your homework and listening to music, focus on one thing. Don't try to do so all day long, because you will fail and get disappointed. Rather, focus on one thing for a few minutes at a time, and gradually extend the time.

Challenge yourself to do things you never did before, using common sense of course. Do things that you usually do, but in a different way. Learn new things, develop new skills, or start a new hobby. All these things make your mind work, and therefore, improve its strength and endurance, develop willpower and self discipline, and impart you with the inner strength and mental endurance necessary for dealing with the challenges of daily life.

By developing mental endurance and strength, in the way outlined above, you gain brain and mental strength, which you can use whenever you need, and for whatever purpose.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Are We Ex-Apes? A Story Of Human Evolution

"We are biocultural ex-apes trying to understand ourselves," declares biological anthropologist Jonathan Marks in his new book, Tales of the Ex-Apes:How We Think About Human Evolution.

That term — ex-apes — get emphasized in the book a lot by Marks, as does "human exceptionalism." Marks really doesn't want to be an ape — and he delivers his argument in a book that's fresh (in all senses of the word), funny and full of rigorous anthropological scholarship. His argument pushes back against my tendency — even while working within the same discipline as Marks — to emphasize not ape-human boundaries but ape-human continuities.

There are two central themes, as I see it, in Marks' Tales.

First, human meaning-making is centered on kinship. Unlike other animals, we decide to whom we're related based as much on our shared ideas as on the fact of our shared genes. Consider first cousins. In some societies, your mother's brother's offspring and your mother's sister's offspring, though equally genetically related to you, may be considered to be in two wildly different categories of kin, such that one is a perfectly acceptable mating partner and the other would be a scandalously incestuous choice.

Second, because science is everywhere and always a cultural enterprise, this meaning-making extends to the ways we make sense of human origins. It's notoriously hard to distinguish one extinct species from another, which means that species are units of cultural thought as much as of biological fact. The inevitable conclusion is that in studying human evolution, weimpose upon fossil finds more than discover from them trees of relatedness that attempt to draw connections among various ancestral species.

Marks concludes that ancestry "is an origin myth. It takes the world of biological data and emphasizes some things, invents others, and relates the present to the past in a meaningful way."

So far, so good.

But what about that next step, the one that carries us firmly into the territory of human exceptionalism? Sure, humans make meaning in ways that chimpanzees don't. But why push hard to wall us off as ex-apes from these smart, savvy primates who make meaning in their own ways?

And push hard Marks does. Making a cultural decision of his own, he portrays chimpanzees as a kind of dumb cousin.

Chimpanzees don't speak. Instead, Marks notes, "one ape goes 'oo-oo-oo,' and the others join in." Lacking graveside rituals for their dead, when a companion is unresponsive, chimpanzees are limited to understanding only that "once Boo-Boo has ceased to move, he is not going to start moving again." Chimpanzees, in fact, "have small, weak brains."

Marks doesn't, of course, deny that this way of framing chimpanzees is a cultural framing — that would go against all his conclusions. I asked him this week by email if scientists who study chimpanzees might find his language to be pretty obviously biased, an explicit attempt to stretch the ape-human divide. He replied in this way:

"Yes, absolutely! My point is precisely that nobody can say 'You're being political/ideological/biased and I'm not.' Given the subject, it is all bio-political, and that is what we need to acknowledge — this is not like fruit-fly genetics."

So, then, what is my bio-political take on our "dumb" cousins?

Even though chimpanzees neither speak nor bury their dead, they're not so dumb at all. In their dynamic fission-fusion communities, chimpanzees communicate with meaningful vocalizations and gestures, express both lethal violence and also empathy and grief, and show nifty levels of cognition by keeping track of complex social relationships, hunting collaboratively and making tools (used in precise sequence) that increase their foraging success.

Aren't we apes, in the same way that we are mammals? On this point, Marks holds firm. He told me:

"Let's differentiate between taxonomic terms and descriptive ones. We are mammals, because that is a classificatory term whose defining properties we possess. We are also hominoids; that is a classificatory term and we have the defining properties (no tail, Y-5 molars, rotating shoulder, etc.). Those are statements about what kinds of animals we are most similar to, and are taxonomic.

"Apes is not a taxonomic category, but a descriptive category. By exactly the same criteria that would lead you to say we are apes (i.e., phylogeny), you would also have to say that we are fish. But we don't say that we are fish (because it would be stupid). There are certainly thing we can learn about our biology by coming to grips with our fish ancestry, but we aren't fish. Rather, we say that our ancestors were fish, but they evolved into land-dwelling, air-breathing tetrapods. Likewise our ancestors were long-armed, small-brained, and hairy (i.e., 'apes'), but they evolved into short-armed, big-brained, glabrous creatures.

"If evolution is descent with modification, then to say that we are fish would be to invoke descent without modification — just descent. That is the same situation for apes."

Point to Marks: We don't want to invoke descent without modification. Biological anthropologist John Hawks stresses the value in invoking precise phylogeny when he says, too, that humans aren't apes.

Yet, seeing ourselves as apes (and mammals, and even as fish, too) invites us to acknowledge the trajectory by which humans evolved to be who we are. We carry — in a very nondeterministic fashion — parts of our ancestral past with us; today we aren't so far apart from other animals as people sometimes think.

Marks and I agree on the big things. Humans shared a common ancestor with today's apes. The human lineage evolved over the past 6 or 7 million years in unprecedentedly bio-cultural ways.

And in taking up different emphases when describing modern humans' relationships to the apes, we embody the very heart of Marks' book. The interpretation of our own origins is a profoundly cultural process.

Friday, 13 November 2015

VIDEO The Secrets of Sleep

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

How Sport is Learning From Special Forces

By Alec Fenn BBC Sport

Snipers and Navy Seals would appear to have little in common with Premier League footballers, but techniques used by the US Special Forces to perform better under pressure are helping world-class athletes gain a mental advantage over their rivals.

Technology used to train the elite military to stay calm as they pull the trigger has been adopted by an Olympic gold medal-winning Team GB athlete, while several clubs in English football's top flight have bought a brain-training device normally used to help improve the peripheral vision of marksmen in battle.

Scanning the brains of Navy Seals has also revealed the power of meditation in developing the mental muscle of both combatants and athletes, and a new piece of naval-funded research could help solve the mystery of unfulfilled talent in sport in the years ahead.

The battle for marginal gains has never been as fierce.

The brain war

For the past six years, sports psychologist and applied sports scientist Dr John Sullivan has assisted America's elite military and law enforcement to optimise the performance of the brain through advanced training to gain an advantage over the enemy.

One aspect of Sullivan's approach is aimed at helping a soldier to track several targets at the same time.

"It's the same on the pitch; we're processing multiple pieces of information at once," Sullivan told BBC Sport.

"Where is the ball going to end up? Where are my team-mates? Where is the opponent? Where am I going to play the ball? This is what Lionel Messi does incredibly well - he has a quicker processing speed than everyone else. But we can train it."

Sullivan, who has also worked for an unnamed NFL team for the past 15 years and as a consultant with the Football Association and several Premier League football clubs and Premiership rugby union sides, uses a tool called Neurotracker to enhance this skill with soldiers and athletes.

The training system requires the user to sit in front of a screen while wearing a pair of black 3D glasses and track four balls among a moving pack of eight for 30 seconds. The speed is then adjusted dependant on the individual's score, with a typical training session lasting eight minutes and performed a minimum of twice a week.

Manchester United bought the software towards the end of Sir Alex Ferguson's time in charge of the club, where Park Ji-sung recorded the single highest score, although Paul Scholes was consistently the best performer on the device. Southampton have also used Neurotracker as part of a wider assessment to evaluate the mental skills of their players.
Staying calm like a sniper

Much of Sullivan's work with the US Special Forces involves training snipers to stay calm after each round of fire. The techniques he uses have helped Team GB skeleton star Lizzy Yarnold to keep her nerves in check, and assess the temperament of some of Chelsea's biggest names.

"We start by teaching them to train their mind, because their mind is their biggest weapon," Sullivan added.

"Sensors are attached to a sniper's head to read brain activity in a training situation using live fire. The signals are then compared to the ideal patterns required during combat - a level of arousal that ensures an individual is alert without becoming anxious - with specific sounds indicating when a sniper is in this mental state."

In 2009, Frank Lampard, John Terry and the rest of Chelsea's first-team squad underwent a similar procedure inside a laboratory called the Mind Room at the club's training ground.

Each player took part in a number of tests, including solving a mathematical problem under time restrictions, to measure how they performed under stress, with the results detecting greater nervousness in youngsters compared to senior players.

With the military, Sullivan attaches sensors to a sniper's body to measure the length of time between each heart beat in real time. Stressful situations can result in erratic changes but can be controlled through a technique called tactical breathing.

"I teach snipers to drop their heart rate in two breaths," said Sullivan. "The recoil on a weapon hits back. If you're on that system for an hour, you'll be hit multiple times. It's just like taking a hit in rugby or American football, so the operator has to recover after every shot and drop their heart rate to conserve energy to improve decision making."

In the build-up to the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014, Yarnold integrated the same approach into her training regime. "I wanted complete control of my nerves and how my heart responded under pressure so we used it multiple times every training session," she told BBC Sport.

"In skeleton you have to be really aggressive like a sprinter to get your speed up. You need a high heart rate, but then you have to become a completely different person who thinks very carefully and makes quick decisions.

"My heart rate is about 140 beats per minute during the race, but I've learnt to control it even as I'm sprinting which allows me to think very clearly in stressful situations." Yarnold won gold in Sochi before becoming world and European champion.
Clive Woodward's war room

A key member of Yarnold's support team is sports psychologist Charlie Unwin. He served as a platoon commander in the Royal Horse Artillery in Iraq before becoming a Team GB pentathlete and now uses his experiences to help performers operate under pressure.

"One thing the Army do really well is teach you about mental rehearsal," he said. "They don't call it that - they call it priming - but you're constantly encouraged to play out possible scenarios in your head.

"The problem-solving doesn't necessarily happen in the moment - it happens in training because you have no idea when a roadside bomb might go off or what resources you'll have available."

Unwin passed on those lessons of war to Yarnold. "Visualisation was very powerful," she said. "You do a certain amount of practice runs, but I do hundreds of runs in my head prior to competing. It's true that when the mind leads the body follows."

Former England rugby union coach Sir Clive Woodward prepared his players for the 2003 World Cup by creating a 'war room' - a term borrowed from the military for a command centre where battles are planned.

The squad were gathered inside the dressing room with a map laid out detailing possible positions of both sets of players. A clock displayed how much time had elapsed in the fictional game, with the scoreboard also set to replicate a possible scoreline.

Woodward then selected a player at random to stand up and say exactly what they would do in that situation and what they would expect from their team-mates. The process was repeated multiple times a week over several years to ensure the players thought and solved problems quickly in the same way under pressure. England won the tournament with a dramatic 20-17 victory over Australia in the final.
Training athletes like Navy Seals

The US Special Forces are continuing to invest in identifying and improving areas of the brain that are vital for performance - and their findings have already made an impact on sport.

In 2009, the professor of psychiatry at the University of San Diego in California, Dr Martin Paulus, and his team began a piece of naval-funded research which involved scanning the brains of Navy Seals, elite adventure racers and normal civilians during a restricted breathing test.

Each participant lay down inside a brain scanner before being told their breathing would be interfered with through masks they were wearing. They were only told this between eight and 12 seconds before the interference.

Paulus said: "With the Seals and racers, there was a lot of activity in the area of the brain which is important for resilience and is essentially the link between the brain and the body.

"During and after the test, there was a lot less activity. They were able to anticipate the danger very well and then return to normal quickly. This is an elite response to difficult conditions."

However, a number of civilian participants panicked and had to be removed from the scanner. It prompted Paulus to question whether this part of the brain could be trained like other muscles in the body.

To test this, he prescribed a course of meditation - 20-minute sessions twice a week for 12 weeks - to trainee Royal Marines, who were also subjected to the same breathing test as the Navy Seals.

Paulus added: "We scanned their brains before and after the training and found they modified in the direction we'd seen with the Seals."

Paulus was contacted by the coach of the USA's Olympic BMX team, James Herrera, who wanted to see if meditation could have the same effect on his riders. After winning three medals at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, they won none at 2012, which Herrera thought might be attributed to a psychological issue.

"We did some scanning before and after the mindfulness training and the changes to their brains were pretty profound," said Paulus. Weeks afterwards, members of the team finished first, second and third at the 2014 USA Cycling Elite BMX National Championships - an annual competition contested by the nation's top 20 riders.

Paulus' vision for the future is an exciting one: "We want to use brain scanning to predict someone's future performance within the military and sport and we're beginning research and setting up experiments around that.

"We hope to be able to scan the brains of athletes and see how their brains react under various conditions and then follow them up to see how their performances relate back to what we see in the scanner.

"There are examples of brilliant junior athletes who don't do well as professionals. We want to solve that mystery."

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Harvard Hypnotists Help Regrow Brain Cells With Meditation


A group of Harvard University students spent eight weeks doing mindfulness mediation as test subjects for a Massachusetts General Hospital study in January of 2011.

The meditating test subjects were examined by Harvard neuroscientists who read MRI scans and found that mindfulness practices change the brain’s gray matter.

“Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day,” said Massachusetts General Hospital’s Sara Lazar, who wrote the study.

According to Feelguide magazine, the test subjects would mediate for about a half hour every day. The scientists found that the practice increased the “gray matter density in the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with self-awareness, compassion, and introspection.”

“This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing,” Lazar, who teaches psych at a Harvard Medical School and is part of MassGen’s Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program.

The study found that meditation effects how the brain functions even when someone is not actively meditating. Previous neuroimaging studies found that meditation appeared to decrease activation of the amygdala, which helps process memory and emotion. It had been believed that those changes only happened while people were meditating.

“Previous studies from Lazar’s group and others found structural differences between the brains of experienced meditation practitioners and individuals with no history of meditation, observing thickening of the cerebral cortex in areas associated with attention and emotional integration. But those investigations could not document that those differences were actually produced by meditation,” said study co-author Sue McGreevey.

“Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased gray-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress. None of these changes were seen in the control group, indicating that they had not resulted merely from the passage of time,” wrote McGreevey.

“It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life,” first author of the paper Britta Hölzel, said.

Hölzel is from the Giessen University in Germany and is a research fellow as Mass Gen.

Meditation and hypnosis use similar relaxation techniques. Meditation quiets the mind. Hypnosis reprograms the mind.

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Alternative Medicine Cartoon