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What are the neurobiological mechanisms behind clumsiness

What are the neurobiological mechanisms behind clumsiness


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Some people are inherently clumsy (including your's truly). Everything from frequently stubbing their toes to, as in my case 2 days ago, falling down a single step and managing to crack a rib and strain my back when I landing over the letterbox, are quite bizarre.

The question is, what are the neurobiological mechanisms behind clumsiness? I would imagine that it is somehow connected to coordination (of which I have almost none) and perhaps depth perception - but I would like refereed articles to clarify the reasons.


The brain in control

The winner of the $25,000 F.J. McGuigan Early Career Investigator Research Grant explores the neural mechanisms of cognitive control.

The ability to control our thoughts and behavior is a fundamental human faculty. However, researchers have yet to pinpoint how the soft tissues and electronic currents that make up the brain dictate our thoughts and influence our actions. Indeed, even neuroscientists still resort to metaphysical theories to explain the connection.

"This is a fundamental 'holy grail' problem in neuroscience and psychology," says cognitive neuroscientist Todd Braver, PhD, "We feel that we are in control of our own behavior, but yet when we try to understand how that control emerges out of the neural components of the brain, the physical tissue, we end up reverting to the idea of a homunculus-that there's this little man in the head who's making the key decisions and doing the most important control operations."

Braver, associate professor and co-director of the cognitive control and psychopathology laboratory at Washington University in St. Louis, has devoted his career to banishing the notion of a homunculus in psychological and neuroscience theories. He aims to discover the neural mechanisms behind cognitive control-the ability to form, maintain and realize internal goals. Braver uses a combination of brain imaging, computational modeling and behavioral studies to investigate how people self-regulate their thoughts and behaviors across a range of tasks involving memory, attention and decision-making.

In recognition of his accumulated research accomplishments, as well as his application of his findings to clinical populations such as aging adults or people with schizophrenia or Alzheimer's disease, in August, the American Psychological Foundation (APF) awarded him the $25,000 APF F.J. McGuigan Young Investigator Research Prize. APF gives the biennial prize to a psychologist less than nine years postdoctorate who conducts psychophysiological research.

It's in the blood

Braver credits his interest in psychology in part to his family heritage: His father, Sanford Braver, PhD, is a social psychology professor at Arizona State University his mother was a clinical psychologist and social worker and his grandfather was a psychiatrist. Even with such a strong legacy, though, Braver wasn't initially attracted to psychology as an undergraduate.

"I was somewhat resistant to the idea of being in psychology," he says. "I wanted to be in hard science because I naively thought that psychology was too mushy. I thought I wanted to be a physicist."

Braver began school at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and after realizing he wasn't cut out to be a physicist, he was drawn to the field of cognitive science by his interest in quantitative precision and the use of physical principles to understand the mind. UCSD was, he says, an institution doing cutting-edge work in cognitive neuroscience, and biologically based computational modeling of cognition.

Braver went on to receive both his MS and PhD degrees in cognitive neuroscience from Carnegie Mellon University, where he also studied at the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC) before beginning his current post at Washington University in St. Louis in 1998.

Braver was attracted to the CNBC, a joint project between the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, because of its interdisciplinary approach to cognitive neuroscience. The program combines psychology, neuroscience, computer science and mathematics.

"The CNBC was a wonderful place to learn how to link the mind and the brain from many different perspectives," Braver says, noting that this approach influences his work to this day.

Proactive and reactive control

Much of Braver's current research focuses on his new theory of cognitive control strategy, which he calls the dual mechanisms of control (DMC) model. Braver has found that cognitive control is either proactive or reactive. For example, a person can proactively control a plan to stop at the grocery store during a drive home by keeping in mind the goal of getting to the store before approaching a turnoff that leads to it. Keeping the goal actively in mind could make driving behavior more effective by ensuring that the car is in the correct turning lane before the intersection is reached. However, even if the person forgets the grocery store stop, reactive control can still kick in when the intersection is reached if, for example, the left turn light triggers a reminder of the goal.

Both forms of cognitive control have their benefits, says Braver. Proactive control is generally more effective, but also demands more energy and is more vulnerable to interruptions. Reactive control, though, is more susceptible to interference effects, but is also less demanding than proactive control.

People use both proactive or reactive control, adds Braver, but may have a tendency to favor one form or another depending on the specific situation, or through more trait-like biases.

"We've done a number of experiments that show you can manipulate the tendency of one of these mechanisms or another to be used, and they are not only related to properties of the task, but may also be impacted by stable individual differences that people have," says Braver. "We've been looking at cognitive-related individual differences, as well as personality-related individual differences. Both of these factors may have an important influence on the type of control strategies people use in cognitive situations."

In addition to teasing out different control strategies in healthy populations, Braver is also interested in the clinical applications of his findings in populations such as people with schizophrenia or Alzheimer's disease. He runs a joint Washington University lab with his wife, Deanna Barch, PhD, associate psychology professor and assistant psychiatry professor, who studies the neurobiological mechanisms that contribute to language and cognitive deficits in people with schizophrenia, and other clinical populations.

"Through my interactions with Deanna and her group, I continually get informed and influenced by issues that arise in clinical populations, such as schizophrenia. These issues have enormous implications for our understanding of the normal functioning brain and mind," says Braver. "It's important not only to do basic research, but also to apply what we learn in clinical domains. For example, I'm excited by the prospect that we can use the DMC model to do better cognitive training in groups that have well-known problems with cognitive control, such as older adults and patients with schizophrenia."

Braver says his future plans will perpetuate the multidimensional approach to understanding the brain that he learned at UCSD and CNBC: In collaboration with colleagues domestically and internationally, he aims not only to elaborate on his DMC model and his cognitive training research in older adults and people with schizophrenia, but will also focus more closely on decision-making tasks as another way of understanding cognitive control.

"There is so much good work going on outside of America," notes Braver. "One of the things the McGuigan money is allowing me to do is visit other labs more regularly and start to form collaborations with international colleagues."


The neurobiological mechanisms behind schizophrenia may depend on gender

The neurobiological pathophysiology of schizophrenia differs significantly between males and females, according to a new study. The findings suggest a possible need for more sex-specific treatments for schizophrenia. The study was the first to identify a number of sex-specific genes related to schizophrenia using neurons derived from induced pluripotent stem cells. The results were published in Nature Communications.

Co-ordinated by the University of Eastern Finland, the University of Helsinki and Karolinska Institutet, the study investigated the differences in gene and protein expression in neurons from identical twins discordant for schizophrenia and healthy controls, as well as between males and females. The researchers used induced pluripotent stem cell technology, where neurons were generated from pluripotent stem cells induced from study participants' skin cells.

Schizophrenia typically manifests after adolescence. Hundreds of genes are known to contribute to the risk of schizophrenia, but the neurobiological mechanisms leading to the onset of the illness are poorly known. In the present study, researchers were able to identify disease-specific changes in neurons by comparing cells from monozygotic, genetically identical twin pairs, one of which suffered from schizophrenia and the other healthy.

Schizophrenia was associated with alterations in several pathways, such as those related to glycosaminoglycan and neurotransmitter metabolism and GABAergic synapse. However, a large proportion of genes related to schizophrenia were expressed differentially in the cells of males and females.

According to the researchers, the results imply that the mechanisms involved in the development of schizophrenia differ at least partially between males and females, and these differences may matter in the choice of treatment. The fact that many genes related to schizophrenia are sex-specific may explain why symptoms appear after adolescence, when the expression of many sex-specific genes changes.

Neurons derived from induced pluripotent stem cells correspond to the developmental stage of the second trimester of pregnancy. Thus, the results of the present study indicate that schizophrenia-related brain changes may be present early in utero, and differences between monozygotic twins can also be observed already at this point.


The neurobiological basis of gender dysphoria

A new theory of gender dysphoria argues the symptoms of the condition are due to changes in network activity, rather than incorrect brain sex, according to work recently published in eNeuro.

Gender dysphoria is a state of extreme distress caused by the feeling that a person's true gender does not match the gender assigned at birth. The leading theory of the mechanism behind gender dysphoria attributes the condition to people possessing brains regions with the size and shape of the opposite sex, instead of their biological sex. However, recent brain imaging studies don't support that theory.

Stephen Gliske reviewed previous research and has developed a new multisense theory of gender dysphoria focused on function of brain regions, rather than only size and shape. He proposes gender dysphoria is caused by altered activity in three networks -- the distress, social behavior, and body-ownership networks -- affecting distress and one's sense of their own gender. Previous studies support the premise that activity changes in these networks are associated with anatomical changes and feelings of gender dysphoria.

If supported by further research, this theory could offer ways to treat the distress of gender dysphoria patients without relying on invasive and irreversible gender reassignment surgery.


What are the neurobiological mechanisms behind clumsiness - Psychology

Neuroscience techniques paint a picture of pro-social connection in the brain.

A recently published study (2020) in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience details the neurobiological mechanisms behind spontaneous conversations between socioeconomically diverse individuals. The experimenters utilized a novel neuroimaging technique, functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), to uncover the live neural dynamics of face-to-face communication.

The results of the study, Neural processes for live pro-social dialogue between dyads with socioeconomic disparity, “Document that the neurobiological underpinnings of our socialness include functions that endow us with the ability to embrace diversity and assure positive and pro-social outcomes,” says Professor Hirsch. “I think this is an important message for our time.”

Until recently, our understanding of diversity in social settings remained unclear in terms of what mechanisms of our neurobiology are involved during a live conversation. In 2018, the late Judith E. Glaser interviewed Yale Neuroscientist Joy Hirsch, PhD on WE-IQ TV to discuss how the brain behaves when two people engage in conversation.

We learned that as we share information during social interactions our brains evoke responses unique to dyadic, or paired, communication. This Interactive Brain Hypothesis explores the very nature of our social selves. Judith and Joy discussed the preliminary details of this recently published study, which was proposed by one of Professor Hirsch’s students, Olivia Descorbeth. This research on the neuroscience of conversations has direct ties to the real world by uncovering the neural substrates that underly a pro-social conversation between two people of high and low socioeconomic disparity.

As explained by Professor Hirsch, what's thought to occur during conversations between high-disparity pairs, is that the regulatory systems of the frontal lobe are called upon to monitor, detect, and regulate the exchange in order to reach a successful, egalitarian conversation (Hirsch & Glaser 2018).

The variable of socioeconomic disparity was solely determined by education and income, all others factors, like race and ethnicity, average age, and gender were normalized. Participants were recruited from Yale’s ‘on-campus’ population as well as the metropolitan ‘off-campus’ population of New Haven, CT. The results of the study indicated that spontaneous conversations between socioeconomically diverse individuals reflect an up-regulation of activity in the frontal lobe. So what exactly does this mean?

Driven to Connect

“The key to better health is to better understand our brain. By understanding how the brain functions, communicates, and responds to our environment, we can reach our full potentials. The brain does not speak French or English, it speaks neuroscience.” (Glaser 2019).

Our differences are what make us human, however the key to healthy communication is the synchronization of our brains. We are intended to be connected with another brain. Whether faced with a similar or different conversational partner such as that described in the paper, the brain has evolved mechanisms that enable us to synchronize at a neural level, and these synchronizations represent our ability to try find mutual understanding, which can pave the way towards successful, pro-social connections.

However, finding a connection is not always easy, it takes work and consumes our energy. Conflict and disconnection are also inherent parts of our diverse world. Often times when we find it difficult to bridge our own reality gaps, we fall into our more I-centric habits that serve to protect the ego and trigger defensive behaviors.

Ensuring Pro-social Outcomes

In order to overcome these compounding factors, and reach a successful conversation, it is necessary to stop making assumptions and to promote sensitivity towards others’ points of view. You may ask yourself:

  • What am I hung up on?
  • What can I do differently?
  • How can I adjust my thinking to better understand their point of view?

These types of discovery questions appeal to the readily adaptable parts of our brain, which in turn can help manage our individual biases and stereotypes that stand in the way of successful conversations. We must strive to listen to others without judgement and listen to connect. These exercises in Conversational Intelligence can pave the way towards a society that prioritizes connection and bonding over conflict.

Joy Hirsch, PhD, is the Elizabeth Mears and House Jameson Professor of Psychiatry, Comparative Medicine, and Neuroscience Director, Brain Function Laboratory at the Yale School of Medicine, and is a member of The CreatingWE® Institute's Scientific Advisory Board.

Nicklas Balboa is a researcher in Conversational Intelligence at The CreatingWE® Institute

Richard D. Glaser, PhD, is the Chairman of The CreatingWE® Institute and a biochemist.


HYPOTHESIS AND THEORY article

This paper sets out the neurobiological underpinnings of the core theoretical claims of psychoanalysis. These claims concern (1) innate emotional needs, (2) learning from experience, and (3) unconscious mental processing. The paper also considers the neurobiological underpinnings of the mechanisms of psychoanalytic treatment𠅊 treatment which is based on the aforementioned claims. Lastly, it reviews the available empirical evidence concerning the therapeutic efficacy of this form of treatment.

I recently published a short article in the British Journal of Psychiatry (international edition Solms, 2018a) concerning the scientific standing of psychoanalysis. Implicit in that article were numerous neurobiological assumptions and hypotheses, which I would like to unpack here. This article also builds upon two other partial attempts to explicate these hypotheses (Solms, 2017b Smith and Solms, 2018), in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences and Neuropsychoanalysis, respectively. There is some overlap between the present article and these previous articles, but the present effort attempts to go further and reveal an overarching picture.

My aim in the first article mentioned above was to set out what psychoanalysts may consider to be the core scientific claims of their discipline. Such scientific stock-taking is necessary at this stage in the history of psychoanalysis, due to widespread misconceptions among the public and neighboring disciplines, and disagreements among psychoanalysts themselves regarding specialist details, which obscure a bigger picture upon which most of us can agree.

I addressed three questions in the first article cited above (Solms, 2018a), namely: (A) How does the emotional mind work, in health and disease? (B) On this basis, what does psychoanalytic treatment aim to achieve? (C) How effective is it? My arguments in relation to these questions were:

(A) Psychoanalysis rests upon three core claims about the emotional mind that were once considered controversial but which are now widely accepted in neighboring disciplines (here, I am referring principally to neurobiology).

(B) The clinical methods that psychoanalysts use to relieve mental suffering flow directly from these core claims, and are consistent with current scientific understanding of how the brain changes.

(C) It is therefore not surprising that psychoanalytic therapy achieves good outcomes𠅊t least as good as, and in some important respects better than, other evidence-based treatments in psychiatry today.

Now I will unpack these arguments, spelling out the neurobiological underpinnings which were partially explicated in the other two articles cited above (Solms, 2017b Smith and Solms, 2018). These underpinnings pertain especially to the first argument, much less so to the second, and least to the third. This is because questions about how and whether psychoanalytic therapy works are necessarily predicated upon claims about how the emotional mind works. The three sections of this article will, accordingly, be of unequal length.

I submit that the core claims of psychoanalysis regarding the emotional mind are the following:

(1) The human infant is not a blank slate like all other species, we are born with a set of innate needs.

(2) The main task of mental development is to learn how to meet these needs in the world, which implies that mental disorder arises from failures to achieve this task.

(3) Most of our methods of meeting our emotional needs are executed unconsciously, which requires us to return them to consciousness in order to change them.

These core claims could also be described as foundational premises, but it is important to recognize that they are scientific premises, because they are testable and falsifiable. As I proceed, I will elaborate the core claims, adding details, but I want to distinguish between the core claims themselves and the specifying details. The details are empirical. Whether they are ultimately upheld or not does not affect the premises. Detailed knowledge develops over time, but premises are foundational.

For example, by analogy: a core claim of evolutionary biology is that species evolve by means of natural selection (Darwin, 1859). If this claim were disproven, then the whole theory of evolution would be rejected. With the early twentieth century integration into evolutionary theory of Mendel's laws of inheritance�out which Darwin knew nothing—the modern science of genetics was established. The same applied to the mid twentieth century discovery of DNA—the actual medium of inheritance, about which Darwin likewise had no inkling. This established the modern science of molecular biology. Molecular biology in turn led to the discovery in the late twentieth century of epigenetic regulatory programmes, revealing a whole new domain called evolutionary developmental biology—some of the findings of which directly contradict aspects of Darwin's thinking. All of these developments have elaborated the empirical contents of evolutionary theory—they have not shaken its foundations.

The same applies to psychoanalysis. Everything psychoanalysts do is predicated upon the above three claims. If they are disproven, the core scientific presuppositions upon which psychoanalysis (as we know it) rests will have been rejected. But as things stand currently, they are eminently defensible, supported by accumulating and converging lines of evidence in neurobiology. This justifies the assertion that “Psychoanalysis still represents the most coherent and intellectually satisfying view of the mind (Kandel, 1999).” However, in this article, I will also draw attention to some crucial errors in the contents (as opposed to foundations) of Freud's classical conception of the mind.

I turn now to the three identified core claims.


Neurobiochemical and psychological factors influencing the eating behaviors and attitudes in anorexia nervosa

The aim of this study was to determine the characteristic features which contribute to inappropriate eating attitudes in people suffering from anorexia nervosa, based on an analysis of recent data. Factors influencing these attitudes have a genetic, neurobiological, biochemical, affective-motivational, cognitive, and behavioral background. Another important issue addressed in the paper is a description of the mechanism leading to continuous dietary restrictions. The altered activity of neurotransmitters modulating patients' moods after the consumption of food and a disturbed responsiveness to enterohormones enhance affective-motivational and cognitive aspects which, in turn, impede the improvement of eating behaviors. An understanding of the mechanisms behind the factors affecting the maintenance of inappropriate eating attitudes may contribute to greater effectiveness in the treatment of anorexia nervosa.

Keywords: Anorexia nervosa Eating disorders Nutritional attitudes Nutritional behaviors.

Conflict of interest statement

Funding

This study was funded in part by Poznan University of Medical Sciences, grant number: 502–01–02228371-04458.


People

I completed my PhD in clinical and experimental psychology at Laval University in 2015. During my PhD, my main research interests focused on the behavioural and cerebral responses to the pain of others and how these responses can be modified by experience. I am currently interested in using predictive coding models of sensory perception to study interoception in autism spectrum conditions. I am also interested in investigating the validity of the use of cortical rhythms measured with EEG as indices of the activity of the putative human mirror neuron system.

Marie de Guzman - PhD Student deguzmanms at gmail.com

Recognised by leaders and organisations for her work in making strategic problem-solving and decision-making easier and better, Marie is an applied neuroscientist - actively implementing the links between brain physiology, human performance and corporate systems as they relate to strategic decision-making and planning.

Mirta Stantic - D.Phil Student

I have previously conducted research in representational geometries of prosopagnosics and neurotypical populations, investigating individual differences in within-category perception. I am interested in investigating differences in visual perception of faces and objects in autistic populations. My work is funded by an ESRC studentship and a Wilfrid Knapp Science Scholarship.

Hélio Clemente Cuve - D.Phil Student

Email I am interested in understanding the neurobiological mechanisms underlying social cognition in Autism and Alexithymia as well as in the general population. In particular, I combine psychophysiological and eye-tracking measures coupled with experimental designs to study typical and atypical processing of emotional faces. Before starting my Ph.D. at Oxford, I was a Fulbright Scholar at The City University of New York. My Ph.D. research is funded by a Clarendon Scholar Award and a Medical Sciences Division Studentship.

Dr David Plans - D.Phil Student

My early research focused on computational intelligence approaches to understand and classify emotion in music making, which forced me to examine the psychophysiology of play, flow and stress. Having built technology (apps+sensors) that attempts to measure stress and interoception in neurotypical adults, I am now investigating the influence of interoceptive awareness on stress, as well as aspects of organisational behaviour surrounding empathy and vulnerability. I'm most interested in whether training interoceptive awareness through digital forms of biofeedback could contribute to better stress resilience and foster empathy, currently building pilot studies to test the feasibility of these ideas in large populations.

Eri Ichijo - D.Phil Student Email

I am interested in understanding the link between autism spectrum disorder (ASD), alexithymia, and sensory perception. In particular, I plan to explore typical and atypical pain perception using computational modelling, with a special focus on predictive coding.

I aim to analyse how these processes are influenced by individual and group differences in autism, alexithymia, and interoceptive abilities.

Kenneth Ka Shu Lee - D.Phil Student

Email I am especially interested in the psychological/neurobiological mechanisms that potentially hinder mind-reading and emotion regulation in various forms of developmental psychopathology, such as autism. My proposed research focuses on testing interoceptive inference (breathing) as a mechanism that contributes to distress dysregulation in autistic and alexithymic individuals. Prior to joining Oxford, I conducted fMRI and epidemiological research on childhood irritability, and coordinated projects on COVID-19 mental health inequity in the U.S. Academic work aside, I advocate for children’s rights and welfare.

My D.Phil research is funded by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust Graduate Scholarship.

Leora Sevi - D.Phil Student

I am interested in how we understand other people's characteristics and their emotional states. In particular, I study how the two relate and why abilities might differ across people and depending on the person being interpreted. I also consider how we integrate other sources of information (e.g., the situation) during emotional inference, and how this process might be conceptualised within a predictive coding framework. My previous work investigated hypotheses within this framework regarding the role of interoception in emotion perception. My research is funded by a Medical Sciences Division Studentship.

Emily Long - D.Phil Student

I am primarily interested in the processes behind making mental state inferences, known as theory of mind. Across the course of my MSc and DPhil, I hope to find out how we represent the minds of others and use that information to infer what they are thinking.

I take an additional interest in the ways that these processes might go wrong in disorders which affect social cognition. I hope to explore the ways in which different conditions affect theory of mind and empathy, with a view to elucidating the differential impacts of autism and alexithymia.

My work is funded by an ESRC studentship.

Cody Kommers - D.Phil Student

I am interested how we understand the minds of other people. The standard way of talking about this problem is the idea of the "intuitive psychologist" -- that when normal people attempt to make sense of the behavior of others, they are doing an informal version of what we professional psychologists do. While much interesting work has been done in this vein, I believe that it is insufficient for describing how people understand others from a social background that's dramatically different than their own. A more apt metaphor for this situation might be the "intuitive anthropologist." By using the basic methods and assumptions of anthropological fieldwork as a conceptual starting point, I study how we understand the minds of others: what we do well, what we do poorly, and how we can improve.


Dr. Stephen Sammut

A nimal models of disease remain crucial as a tool in science, helping us understand the mechanisms behind various human diseases by attempting to imitate to the best of our ability the pathologies of interest. In psychology (and related sciences), such models of disease are utilized to investigate the physiological mechanisms involved in psychiatric disorders. It is our goal to utilize such behavioral modeling of psychiatric disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and drug abuse to investigate the neurobiological mechanisms that contribute to dysfunctional behavior.

Abortion Study

A n objective investigation into the potential biological, behavioral and physiological consequences of induced abortion

Approximately 20% of all pregnancies in the U.S. end in abortion. The health implications of abortion on women continues to be a source of heated debate at the social, moral, ethical, scientific and political levels. Various health concerns have been reported, short- and long-term. These include both physiological (e.g. increased risk of cancer) and psychological effects (e.g. increased risk of mood disorders (including depression), anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide) on women who have undergone an abortion.

Given the seriousness of the potential mental health and physical consequences, and the difficulty of treating them if they occur, it is necessary to appropriately investigate these potential links to the abortion procedure, even if it is simply out of an ethical obligation to truthfully inform those opting to undergo an abortion. Unlike many other situations in medicine, there has not been any objective pre-clinical investigation of the potential serious physiological consequences of the termination of a viable pregnancy. Given the complex changes in the body associated with pregnancy, it is impossible to expect that terminating a viable pregnancy is without its consequences.

The goal of our study is to provide an objective investigation into the potential biological, physiological, neurological and behavioral consequences of an induced abortion in an animal model (a laboratory rat), providing information that is purely objective and without influence of social and moral norms. While animals and humans are different, there are many similarities in the physiology, the way the brain works, and the resulting behaviors (e.g. in stress). The findings of the study should provide further insight into the potential consequences of abortion.

In summary, it is our hope that the findings from our study will reveal urgently needed information that is currently not available, related to the physiological and neurological consequences of abortion and how they affect behavior.

What we have found so far:

Our first study focused on mid-term chemically-induced abortion (also known as medical abortion). This involves the administration of drugs to terminate the life of the baby and expel it from the womb.

The findings of this first phase have been presented at the 2018 Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego (See more here), in addition to other smaller conferences. We are currently preparing the manuscript for submission to a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

In general, our results appear to indicate negative behavioral effects of pregnancy termination and also possible protective effects of pregnancy.

Ectopic Pregnancy Study

Ectopic pregnancy (the implantation of the embryo outside of the uterus) affects approximately 1 in 40 pregnancies. Unfortunately, there are currently no treatments that can be utilized to save the life of the baby, meaning that such cases of ectopic pregnancy end with the termination of the baby’s life.

The goal of our study is to investigate the potential for developing a surgical technique that could be used to transfer an embryo/fetus in the case of an ectopic pregnancy. As it is not ethical to conduct this experimentation in humans, the goal of our work is to develop this technique in an animal (the laboratory rat) in the hope that the information can benefit humans.

While the reproductive anatomy of the rat is different from that of the human, its design gives us an opportunity to investigate a scenario that would allow us to understand the potential factors that would be involved in such a transfer.
In summary, it is our hope that the findings from our study will provide the medical community with a foundation for the further investigation of such a surgical procedure in the human, preserving both the life of the mother and the baby.

The proposal discussed above has been reviewed scientifically and an initial start-up grant of $50,000 was awarded by the Watson Bowes Research Institute. These funds have been utilized to purchase some of the necessary equipment, as well as to pay a part-time salary for a research assistant who works full-time, volunteering for the other half of the time.


Immune System Errors

Sometimes, the immune system will function erroneously. For example, sometimes it can go awry by mistaking your body’s own healthy cells for invaders and repeatedly attacking them. When this happens, the person is said to have an autoimmune disease, which can affect almost any part of the body. How an autoimmune disease affects a person depends on what part of the body is targeted. For instance, rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that affects the joints, results in joint pain, stiffness, and loss of function. Systemic lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune disease that affects the skin, can result in rashes and swelling of the skin. Grave’s disease, an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid gland, can result in fatigue, weight gain, and muscle aches (National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases [NIAMS], 2012).

In addition, the immune system may sometimes break down and be unable to do its job. This situation is referred to as immunosuppression, the decreased effectiveness of the immune system. When people experience immunosuppression, they become susceptible to any number of infections, illness, and diseases. For example, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a serious and lethal disease that is caused by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which greatly weakens the immune system by infecting and destroying antibody-producing cells, thus rendering a person vulnerable to any of a number of opportunistic infections (Powell, 1996).


HYPOTHESIS AND THEORY article

This paper sets out the neurobiological underpinnings of the core theoretical claims of psychoanalysis. These claims concern (1) innate emotional needs, (2) learning from experience, and (3) unconscious mental processing. The paper also considers the neurobiological underpinnings of the mechanisms of psychoanalytic treatment𠅊 treatment which is based on the aforementioned claims. Lastly, it reviews the available empirical evidence concerning the therapeutic efficacy of this form of treatment.

I recently published a short article in the British Journal of Psychiatry (international edition Solms, 2018a) concerning the scientific standing of psychoanalysis. Implicit in that article were numerous neurobiological assumptions and hypotheses, which I would like to unpack here. This article also builds upon two other partial attempts to explicate these hypotheses (Solms, 2017b Smith and Solms, 2018), in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences and Neuropsychoanalysis, respectively. There is some overlap between the present article and these previous articles, but the present effort attempts to go further and reveal an overarching picture.

My aim in the first article mentioned above was to set out what psychoanalysts may consider to be the core scientific claims of their discipline. Such scientific stock-taking is necessary at this stage in the history of psychoanalysis, due to widespread misconceptions among the public and neighboring disciplines, and disagreements among psychoanalysts themselves regarding specialist details, which obscure a bigger picture upon which most of us can agree.

I addressed three questions in the first article cited above (Solms, 2018a), namely: (A) How does the emotional mind work, in health and disease? (B) On this basis, what does psychoanalytic treatment aim to achieve? (C) How effective is it? My arguments in relation to these questions were:

(A) Psychoanalysis rests upon three core claims about the emotional mind that were once considered controversial but which are now widely accepted in neighboring disciplines (here, I am referring principally to neurobiology).

(B) The clinical methods that psychoanalysts use to relieve mental suffering flow directly from these core claims, and are consistent with current scientific understanding of how the brain changes.

(C) It is therefore not surprising that psychoanalytic therapy achieves good outcomes𠅊t least as good as, and in some important respects better than, other evidence-based treatments in psychiatry today.

Now I will unpack these arguments, spelling out the neurobiological underpinnings which were partially explicated in the other two articles cited above (Solms, 2017b Smith and Solms, 2018). These underpinnings pertain especially to the first argument, much less so to the second, and least to the third. This is because questions about how and whether psychoanalytic therapy works are necessarily predicated upon claims about how the emotional mind works. The three sections of this article will, accordingly, be of unequal length.

I submit that the core claims of psychoanalysis regarding the emotional mind are the following:

(1) The human infant is not a blank slate like all other species, we are born with a set of innate needs.

(2) The main task of mental development is to learn how to meet these needs in the world, which implies that mental disorder arises from failures to achieve this task.

(3) Most of our methods of meeting our emotional needs are executed unconsciously, which requires us to return them to consciousness in order to change them.

These core claims could also be described as foundational premises, but it is important to recognize that they are scientific premises, because they are testable and falsifiable. As I proceed, I will elaborate the core claims, adding details, but I want to distinguish between the core claims themselves and the specifying details. The details are empirical. Whether they are ultimately upheld or not does not affect the premises. Detailed knowledge develops over time, but premises are foundational.

For example, by analogy: a core claim of evolutionary biology is that species evolve by means of natural selection (Darwin, 1859). If this claim were disproven, then the whole theory of evolution would be rejected. With the early twentieth century integration into evolutionary theory of Mendel's laws of inheritance�out which Darwin knew nothing—the modern science of genetics was established. The same applied to the mid twentieth century discovery of DNA—the actual medium of inheritance, about which Darwin likewise had no inkling. This established the modern science of molecular biology. Molecular biology in turn led to the discovery in the late twentieth century of epigenetic regulatory programmes, revealing a whole new domain called evolutionary developmental biology—some of the findings of which directly contradict aspects of Darwin's thinking. All of these developments have elaborated the empirical contents of evolutionary theory—they have not shaken its foundations.

The same applies to psychoanalysis. Everything psychoanalysts do is predicated upon the above three claims. If they are disproven, the core scientific presuppositions upon which psychoanalysis (as we know it) rests will have been rejected. But as things stand currently, they are eminently defensible, supported by accumulating and converging lines of evidence in neurobiology. This justifies the assertion that “Psychoanalysis still represents the most coherent and intellectually satisfying view of the mind (Kandel, 1999).” However, in this article, I will also draw attention to some crucial errors in the contents (as opposed to foundations) of Freud's classical conception of the mind.

I turn now to the three identified core claims.


People

I completed my PhD in clinical and experimental psychology at Laval University in 2015. During my PhD, my main research interests focused on the behavioural and cerebral responses to the pain of others and how these responses can be modified by experience. I am currently interested in using predictive coding models of sensory perception to study interoception in autism spectrum conditions. I am also interested in investigating the validity of the use of cortical rhythms measured with EEG as indices of the activity of the putative human mirror neuron system.

Marie de Guzman - PhD Student deguzmanms at gmail.com

Recognised by leaders and organisations for her work in making strategic problem-solving and decision-making easier and better, Marie is an applied neuroscientist - actively implementing the links between brain physiology, human performance and corporate systems as they relate to strategic decision-making and planning.

Mirta Stantic - D.Phil Student

I have previously conducted research in representational geometries of prosopagnosics and neurotypical populations, investigating individual differences in within-category perception. I am interested in investigating differences in visual perception of faces and objects in autistic populations. My work is funded by an ESRC studentship and a Wilfrid Knapp Science Scholarship.

Hélio Clemente Cuve - D.Phil Student

Email I am interested in understanding the neurobiological mechanisms underlying social cognition in Autism and Alexithymia as well as in the general population. In particular, I combine psychophysiological and eye-tracking measures coupled with experimental designs to study typical and atypical processing of emotional faces. Before starting my Ph.D. at Oxford, I was a Fulbright Scholar at The City University of New York. My Ph.D. research is funded by a Clarendon Scholar Award and a Medical Sciences Division Studentship.

Dr David Plans - D.Phil Student

My early research focused on computational intelligence approaches to understand and classify emotion in music making, which forced me to examine the psychophysiology of play, flow and stress. Having built technology (apps+sensors) that attempts to measure stress and interoception in neurotypical adults, I am now investigating the influence of interoceptive awareness on stress, as well as aspects of organisational behaviour surrounding empathy and vulnerability. I'm most interested in whether training interoceptive awareness through digital forms of biofeedback could contribute to better stress resilience and foster empathy, currently building pilot studies to test the feasibility of these ideas in large populations.

Eri Ichijo - D.Phil Student Email

I am interested in understanding the link between autism spectrum disorder (ASD), alexithymia, and sensory perception. In particular, I plan to explore typical and atypical pain perception using computational modelling, with a special focus on predictive coding.

I aim to analyse how these processes are influenced by individual and group differences in autism, alexithymia, and interoceptive abilities.

Kenneth Ka Shu Lee - D.Phil Student

Email I am especially interested in the psychological/neurobiological mechanisms that potentially hinder mind-reading and emotion regulation in various forms of developmental psychopathology, such as autism. My proposed research focuses on testing interoceptive inference (breathing) as a mechanism that contributes to distress dysregulation in autistic and alexithymic individuals. Prior to joining Oxford, I conducted fMRI and epidemiological research on childhood irritability, and coordinated projects on COVID-19 mental health inequity in the U.S. Academic work aside, I advocate for children’s rights and welfare.

My D.Phil research is funded by the Hong Kong Jockey Club Charities Trust Graduate Scholarship.

Leora Sevi - D.Phil Student

I am interested in how we understand other people's characteristics and their emotional states. In particular, I study how the two relate and why abilities might differ across people and depending on the person being interpreted. I also consider how we integrate other sources of information (e.g., the situation) during emotional inference, and how this process might be conceptualised within a predictive coding framework. My previous work investigated hypotheses within this framework regarding the role of interoception in emotion perception. My research is funded by a Medical Sciences Division Studentship.

Emily Long - D.Phil Student

I am primarily interested in the processes behind making mental state inferences, known as theory of mind. Across the course of my MSc and DPhil, I hope to find out how we represent the minds of others and use that information to infer what they are thinking.

I take an additional interest in the ways that these processes might go wrong in disorders which affect social cognition. I hope to explore the ways in which different conditions affect theory of mind and empathy, with a view to elucidating the differential impacts of autism and alexithymia.

My work is funded by an ESRC studentship.

Cody Kommers - D.Phil Student

I am interested how we understand the minds of other people. The standard way of talking about this problem is the idea of the "intuitive psychologist" -- that when normal people attempt to make sense of the behavior of others, they are doing an informal version of what we professional psychologists do. While much interesting work has been done in this vein, I believe that it is insufficient for describing how people understand others from a social background that's dramatically different than their own. A more apt metaphor for this situation might be the "intuitive anthropologist." By using the basic methods and assumptions of anthropological fieldwork as a conceptual starting point, I study how we understand the minds of others: what we do well, what we do poorly, and how we can improve.


Dr. Stephen Sammut

A nimal models of disease remain crucial as a tool in science, helping us understand the mechanisms behind various human diseases by attempting to imitate to the best of our ability the pathologies of interest. In psychology (and related sciences), such models of disease are utilized to investigate the physiological mechanisms involved in psychiatric disorders. It is our goal to utilize such behavioral modeling of psychiatric disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and drug abuse to investigate the neurobiological mechanisms that contribute to dysfunctional behavior.

Abortion Study

A n objective investigation into the potential biological, behavioral and physiological consequences of induced abortion

Approximately 20% of all pregnancies in the U.S. end in abortion. The health implications of abortion on women continues to be a source of heated debate at the social, moral, ethical, scientific and political levels. Various health concerns have been reported, short- and long-term. These include both physiological (e.g. increased risk of cancer) and psychological effects (e.g. increased risk of mood disorders (including depression), anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide) on women who have undergone an abortion.

Given the seriousness of the potential mental health and physical consequences, and the difficulty of treating them if they occur, it is necessary to appropriately investigate these potential links to the abortion procedure, even if it is simply out of an ethical obligation to truthfully inform those opting to undergo an abortion. Unlike many other situations in medicine, there has not been any objective pre-clinical investigation of the potential serious physiological consequences of the termination of a viable pregnancy. Given the complex changes in the body associated with pregnancy, it is impossible to expect that terminating a viable pregnancy is without its consequences.

The goal of our study is to provide an objective investigation into the potential biological, physiological, neurological and behavioral consequences of an induced abortion in an animal model (a laboratory rat), providing information that is purely objective and without influence of social and moral norms. While animals and humans are different, there are many similarities in the physiology, the way the brain works, and the resulting behaviors (e.g. in stress). The findings of the study should provide further insight into the potential consequences of abortion.

In summary, it is our hope that the findings from our study will reveal urgently needed information that is currently not available, related to the physiological and neurological consequences of abortion and how they affect behavior.

What we have found so far:

Our first study focused on mid-term chemically-induced abortion (also known as medical abortion). This involves the administration of drugs to terminate the life of the baby and expel it from the womb.

The findings of this first phase have been presented at the 2018 Society for Neuroscience conference in San Diego (See more here), in addition to other smaller conferences. We are currently preparing the manuscript for submission to a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

In general, our results appear to indicate negative behavioral effects of pregnancy termination and also possible protective effects of pregnancy.

Ectopic Pregnancy Study

Ectopic pregnancy (the implantation of the embryo outside of the uterus) affects approximately 1 in 40 pregnancies. Unfortunately, there are currently no treatments that can be utilized to save the life of the baby, meaning that such cases of ectopic pregnancy end with the termination of the baby’s life.

The goal of our study is to investigate the potential for developing a surgical technique that could be used to transfer an embryo/fetus in the case of an ectopic pregnancy. As it is not ethical to conduct this experimentation in humans, the goal of our work is to develop this technique in an animal (the laboratory rat) in the hope that the information can benefit humans.

While the reproductive anatomy of the rat is different from that of the human, its design gives us an opportunity to investigate a scenario that would allow us to understand the potential factors that would be involved in such a transfer.
In summary, it is our hope that the findings from our study will provide the medical community with a foundation for the further investigation of such a surgical procedure in the human, preserving both the life of the mother and the baby.

The proposal discussed above has been reviewed scientifically and an initial start-up grant of $50,000 was awarded by the Watson Bowes Research Institute. These funds have been utilized to purchase some of the necessary equipment, as well as to pay a part-time salary for a research assistant who works full-time, volunteering for the other half of the time.


Neurobiochemical and psychological factors influencing the eating behaviors and attitudes in anorexia nervosa

The aim of this study was to determine the characteristic features which contribute to inappropriate eating attitudes in people suffering from anorexia nervosa, based on an analysis of recent data. Factors influencing these attitudes have a genetic, neurobiological, biochemical, affective-motivational, cognitive, and behavioral background. Another important issue addressed in the paper is a description of the mechanism leading to continuous dietary restrictions. The altered activity of neurotransmitters modulating patients' moods after the consumption of food and a disturbed responsiveness to enterohormones enhance affective-motivational and cognitive aspects which, in turn, impede the improvement of eating behaviors. An understanding of the mechanisms behind the factors affecting the maintenance of inappropriate eating attitudes may contribute to greater effectiveness in the treatment of anorexia nervosa.

Keywords: Anorexia nervosa Eating disorders Nutritional attitudes Nutritional behaviors.

Conflict of interest statement

Funding

This study was funded in part by Poznan University of Medical Sciences, grant number: 502–01–02228371-04458.


Immune System Errors

Sometimes, the immune system will function erroneously. For example, sometimes it can go awry by mistaking your body’s own healthy cells for invaders and repeatedly attacking them. When this happens, the person is said to have an autoimmune disease, which can affect almost any part of the body. How an autoimmune disease affects a person depends on what part of the body is targeted. For instance, rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease that affects the joints, results in joint pain, stiffness, and loss of function. Systemic lupus erythematosus, an autoimmune disease that affects the skin, can result in rashes and swelling of the skin. Grave’s disease, an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid gland, can result in fatigue, weight gain, and muscle aches (National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases [NIAMS], 2012).

In addition, the immune system may sometimes break down and be unable to do its job. This situation is referred to as immunosuppression, the decreased effectiveness of the immune system. When people experience immunosuppression, they become susceptible to any number of infections, illness, and diseases. For example, acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) is a serious and lethal disease that is caused by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which greatly weakens the immune system by infecting and destroying antibody-producing cells, thus rendering a person vulnerable to any of a number of opportunistic infections (Powell, 1996).


What are the neurobiological mechanisms behind clumsiness - Psychology

Neuroscience techniques paint a picture of pro-social connection in the brain.

A recently published study (2020) in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience details the neurobiological mechanisms behind spontaneous conversations between socioeconomically diverse individuals. The experimenters utilized a novel neuroimaging technique, functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), to uncover the live neural dynamics of face-to-face communication.

The results of the study, Neural processes for live pro-social dialogue between dyads with socioeconomic disparity, “Document that the neurobiological underpinnings of our socialness include functions that endow us with the ability to embrace diversity and assure positive and pro-social outcomes,” says Professor Hirsch. “I think this is an important message for our time.”

Until recently, our understanding of diversity in social settings remained unclear in terms of what mechanisms of our neurobiology are involved during a live conversation. In 2018, the late Judith E. Glaser interviewed Yale Neuroscientist Joy Hirsch, PhD on WE-IQ TV to discuss how the brain behaves when two people engage in conversation.

We learned that as we share information during social interactions our brains evoke responses unique to dyadic, or paired, communication. This Interactive Brain Hypothesis explores the very nature of our social selves. Judith and Joy discussed the preliminary details of this recently published study, which was proposed by one of Professor Hirsch’s students, Olivia Descorbeth. This research on the neuroscience of conversations has direct ties to the real world by uncovering the neural substrates that underly a pro-social conversation between two people of high and low socioeconomic disparity.

As explained by Professor Hirsch, what's thought to occur during conversations between high-disparity pairs, is that the regulatory systems of the frontal lobe are called upon to monitor, detect, and regulate the exchange in order to reach a successful, egalitarian conversation (Hirsch & Glaser 2018).

The variable of socioeconomic disparity was solely determined by education and income, all others factors, like race and ethnicity, average age, and gender were normalized. Participants were recruited from Yale’s ‘on-campus’ population as well as the metropolitan ‘off-campus’ population of New Haven, CT. The results of the study indicated that spontaneous conversations between socioeconomically diverse individuals reflect an up-regulation of activity in the frontal lobe. So what exactly does this mean?

Driven to Connect

“The key to better health is to better understand our brain. By understanding how the brain functions, communicates, and responds to our environment, we can reach our full potentials. The brain does not speak French or English, it speaks neuroscience.” (Glaser 2019).

Our differences are what make us human, however the key to healthy communication is the synchronization of our brains. We are intended to be connected with another brain. Whether faced with a similar or different conversational partner such as that described in the paper, the brain has evolved mechanisms that enable us to synchronize at a neural level, and these synchronizations represent our ability to try find mutual understanding, which can pave the way towards successful, pro-social connections.

However, finding a connection is not always easy, it takes work and consumes our energy. Conflict and disconnection are also inherent parts of our diverse world. Often times when we find it difficult to bridge our own reality gaps, we fall into our more I-centric habits that serve to protect the ego and trigger defensive behaviors.

Ensuring Pro-social Outcomes

In order to overcome these compounding factors, and reach a successful conversation, it is necessary to stop making assumptions and to promote sensitivity towards others’ points of view. You may ask yourself:

  • What am I hung up on?
  • What can I do differently?
  • How can I adjust my thinking to better understand their point of view?

These types of discovery questions appeal to the readily adaptable parts of our brain, which in turn can help manage our individual biases and stereotypes that stand in the way of successful conversations. We must strive to listen to others without judgement and listen to connect. These exercises in Conversational Intelligence can pave the way towards a society that prioritizes connection and bonding over conflict.

Joy Hirsch, PhD, is the Elizabeth Mears and House Jameson Professor of Psychiatry, Comparative Medicine, and Neuroscience Director, Brain Function Laboratory at the Yale School of Medicine, and is a member of The CreatingWE® Institute's Scientific Advisory Board.

Nicklas Balboa is a researcher in Conversational Intelligence at The CreatingWE® Institute

Richard D. Glaser, PhD, is the Chairman of The CreatingWE® Institute and a biochemist.


The neurobiological basis of gender dysphoria

A new theory of gender dysphoria argues the symptoms of the condition are due to changes in network activity, rather than incorrect brain sex, according to work recently published in eNeuro.

Gender dysphoria is a state of extreme distress caused by the feeling that a person's true gender does not match the gender assigned at birth. The leading theory of the mechanism behind gender dysphoria attributes the condition to people possessing brains regions with the size and shape of the opposite sex, instead of their biological sex. However, recent brain imaging studies don't support that theory.

Stephen Gliske reviewed previous research and has developed a new multisense theory of gender dysphoria focused on function of brain regions, rather than only size and shape. He proposes gender dysphoria is caused by altered activity in three networks -- the distress, social behavior, and body-ownership networks -- affecting distress and one's sense of their own gender. Previous studies support the premise that activity changes in these networks are associated with anatomical changes and feelings of gender dysphoria.

If supported by further research, this theory could offer ways to treat the distress of gender dysphoria patients without relying on invasive and irreversible gender reassignment surgery.


The neurobiological mechanisms behind schizophrenia may depend on gender

The neurobiological pathophysiology of schizophrenia differs significantly between males and females, according to a new study. The findings suggest a possible need for more sex-specific treatments for schizophrenia. The study was the first to identify a number of sex-specific genes related to schizophrenia using neurons derived from induced pluripotent stem cells. The results were published in Nature Communications.

Co-ordinated by the University of Eastern Finland, the University of Helsinki and Karolinska Institutet, the study investigated the differences in gene and protein expression in neurons from identical twins discordant for schizophrenia and healthy controls, as well as between males and females. The researchers used induced pluripotent stem cell technology, where neurons were generated from pluripotent stem cells induced from study participants' skin cells.

Schizophrenia typically manifests after adolescence. Hundreds of genes are known to contribute to the risk of schizophrenia, but the neurobiological mechanisms leading to the onset of the illness are poorly known. In the present study, researchers were able to identify disease-specific changes in neurons by comparing cells from monozygotic, genetically identical twin pairs, one of which suffered from schizophrenia and the other healthy.

Schizophrenia was associated with alterations in several pathways, such as those related to glycosaminoglycan and neurotransmitter metabolism and GABAergic synapse. However, a large proportion of genes related to schizophrenia were expressed differentially in the cells of males and females.

According to the researchers, the results imply that the mechanisms involved in the development of schizophrenia differ at least partially between males and females, and these differences may matter in the choice of treatment. The fact that many genes related to schizophrenia are sex-specific may explain why symptoms appear after adolescence, when the expression of many sex-specific genes changes.

Neurons derived from induced pluripotent stem cells correspond to the developmental stage of the second trimester of pregnancy. Thus, the results of the present study indicate that schizophrenia-related brain changes may be present early in utero, and differences between monozygotic twins can also be observed already at this point.


The brain in control

The winner of the $25,000 F.J. McGuigan Early Career Investigator Research Grant explores the neural mechanisms of cognitive control.

The ability to control our thoughts and behavior is a fundamental human faculty. However, researchers have yet to pinpoint how the soft tissues and electronic currents that make up the brain dictate our thoughts and influence our actions. Indeed, even neuroscientists still resort to metaphysical theories to explain the connection.

"This is a fundamental 'holy grail' problem in neuroscience and psychology," says cognitive neuroscientist Todd Braver, PhD, "We feel that we are in control of our own behavior, but yet when we try to understand how that control emerges out of the neural components of the brain, the physical tissue, we end up reverting to the idea of a homunculus-that there's this little man in the head who's making the key decisions and doing the most important control operations."

Braver, associate professor and co-director of the cognitive control and psychopathology laboratory at Washington University in St. Louis, has devoted his career to banishing the notion of a homunculus in psychological and neuroscience theories. He aims to discover the neural mechanisms behind cognitive control-the ability to form, maintain and realize internal goals. Braver uses a combination of brain imaging, computational modeling and behavioral studies to investigate how people self-regulate their thoughts and behaviors across a range of tasks involving memory, attention and decision-making.

In recognition of his accumulated research accomplishments, as well as his application of his findings to clinical populations such as aging adults or people with schizophrenia or Alzheimer's disease, in August, the American Psychological Foundation (APF) awarded him the $25,000 APF F.J. McGuigan Young Investigator Research Prize. APF gives the biennial prize to a psychologist less than nine years postdoctorate who conducts psychophysiological research.

It's in the blood

Braver credits his interest in psychology in part to his family heritage: His father, Sanford Braver, PhD, is a social psychology professor at Arizona State University his mother was a clinical psychologist and social worker and his grandfather was a psychiatrist. Even with such a strong legacy, though, Braver wasn't initially attracted to psychology as an undergraduate.

"I was somewhat resistant to the idea of being in psychology," he says. "I wanted to be in hard science because I naively thought that psychology was too mushy. I thought I wanted to be a physicist."

Braver began school at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), and after realizing he wasn't cut out to be a physicist, he was drawn to the field of cognitive science by his interest in quantitative precision and the use of physical principles to understand the mind. UCSD was, he says, an institution doing cutting-edge work in cognitive neuroscience, and biologically based computational modeling of cognition.

Braver went on to receive both his MS and PhD degrees in cognitive neuroscience from Carnegie Mellon University, where he also studied at the Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition (CNBC) before beginning his current post at Washington University in St. Louis in 1998.

Braver was attracted to the CNBC, a joint project between the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, because of its interdisciplinary approach to cognitive neuroscience. The program combines psychology, neuroscience, computer science and mathematics.

"The CNBC was a wonderful place to learn how to link the mind and the brain from many different perspectives," Braver says, noting that this approach influences his work to this day.

Proactive and reactive control

Much of Braver's current research focuses on his new theory of cognitive control strategy, which he calls the dual mechanisms of control (DMC) model. Braver has found that cognitive control is either proactive or reactive. For example, a person can proactively control a plan to stop at the grocery store during a drive home by keeping in mind the goal of getting to the store before approaching a turnoff that leads to it. Keeping the goal actively in mind could make driving behavior more effective by ensuring that the car is in the correct turning lane before the intersection is reached. However, even if the person forgets the grocery store stop, reactive control can still kick in when the intersection is reached if, for example, the left turn light triggers a reminder of the goal.

Both forms of cognitive control have their benefits, says Braver. Proactive control is generally more effective, but also demands more energy and is more vulnerable to interruptions. Reactive control, though, is more susceptible to interference effects, but is also less demanding than proactive control.

People use both proactive or reactive control, adds Braver, but may have a tendency to favor one form or another depending on the specific situation, or through more trait-like biases.

"We've done a number of experiments that show you can manipulate the tendency of one of these mechanisms or another to be used, and they are not only related to properties of the task, but may also be impacted by stable individual differences that people have," says Braver. "We've been looking at cognitive-related individual differences, as well as personality-related individual differences. Both of these factors may have an important influence on the type of control strategies people use in cognitive situations."

In addition to teasing out different control strategies in healthy populations, Braver is also interested in the clinical applications of his findings in populations such as people with schizophrenia or Alzheimer's disease. He runs a joint Washington University lab with his wife, Deanna Barch, PhD, associate psychology professor and assistant psychiatry professor, who studies the neurobiological mechanisms that contribute to language and cognitive deficits in people with schizophrenia, and other clinical populations.

"Through my interactions with Deanna and her group, I continually get informed and influenced by issues that arise in clinical populations, such as schizophrenia. These issues have enormous implications for our understanding of the normal functioning brain and mind," says Braver. "It's important not only to do basic research, but also to apply what we learn in clinical domains. For example, I'm excited by the prospect that we can use the DMC model to do better cognitive training in groups that have well-known problems with cognitive control, such as older adults and patients with schizophrenia."

Braver says his future plans will perpetuate the multidimensional approach to understanding the brain that he learned at UCSD and CNBC: In collaboration with colleagues domestically and internationally, he aims not only to elaborate on his DMC model and his cognitive training research in older adults and people with schizophrenia, but will also focus more closely on decision-making tasks as another way of understanding cognitive control.

"There is so much good work going on outside of America," notes Braver. "One of the things the McGuigan money is allowing me to do is visit other labs more regularly and start to form collaborations with international colleagues."


Watch the video: Hva skjer med helsa til psykisk syke når de får jobbe? (July 2022).


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