Romantic breakups can shake our sense of identity. After the dissolution of a relationship, people can feel as if a part of themselves has gone missing. New research published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships suggests that this experience is related to desires to rekindle a former relationship among anxiously attached individuals.
“Dr. Mauro Costa-Mattioli, professor and Cullen Foundation Endowed Chair in neuroscience and director of the Memory and Brain Research Center at Baylor, discovered with his team that different abnormal behaviors are interdependently regulated by the host’s genes and microbiome. Specifically, the team found that in mouse models for neurodevelopmental disorders, hyperactivity is controlled by the host’s genetics, whereas social behavior deficits are mediated by the gut microbiome.”
Source: Baylor College of Medicine. “Microbes may hold the key for treating neurological disorders.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 March 2021. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/03/210310122535.htm>.
Shelly A. Buffington, Sean W. Dooling, Martina Sgritta, Cecilia Noecker, Oscar D. Murillo, Daniela F. Felice, Peter J. Turnbaugh, Mauro Costa-Mattioli. Dissecting the contribution of host genetics and the microbiome in complex behaviors. Cell, 2021; DOI: 10.1016/j.cell.2021.02.009
Today’s social media has turned into a virtual life platform, on which modern humans can compete for appreciation and from which they can derive psychologically rewarding experiences. Often these psychological rewards arrive in the form of positive feedback to our online behaviour, such as “likes” of our posts, or increase of the number of our profile followers. Interestingly, our efforts to maximize such forms of positive feedback, seem to follow the same fundamental reward learning laws, that govern the behavior of lab animals, aiming to maximize food rewards.
In a recent study published in Nature Communications, a team of researchers at the University of Amsterdam analysed over one million posts from over 4000 individuals on multiple social media platforms, using computational models based on reinforcement learning theory. Their results consistently showed that “human behavior on social media conforms qualitatively and quantitatively to the principles of reward learning”. Furthermore, to test empirically this computational model, the researchers conducted an online experiment, in which they were able to influence the the latency of people’s response to posts by manipulating the rewards/”likes” rate.
“These results establish that social media engagement follows basic, cross-species principles of reward learning,” explains David Amodio, a professor at New York University and the University of Amsterdam and one of the paper’s authors. “These findings may help us understand why social media comes to dominate daily life for many people and provide clues, borrowed from research on reward learning and addiction, to how troubling online engagement may be addressed.”
Source: New York University. “Social media use driven by search for reward, akin to animals seeking food.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 February 2021.< www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/02/210226103811.htm >
Study Reference: Björn Lindström, Martin Bellander, David T. Schultner, Allen Chang, Philippe N. Tobler, David M. Amodio. A computational reward learning account of social media engagement. Nature Communications, 2021; 12 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-19607-x
New paper published in Neuron by research team of the Max-Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, draws attention to a somewhat neglected feature of resting state brain activity- the neural noise.
While the majority of scientific studies investigating perception and cognition have focused on identifying and interpreting “the signal in the noise” in physiological data, novel research, summarised in the paper, highlights the importance of neural noise. The German scientists provide an exciting overview of recent EEG and fMRI studies indicating that increased neural variability (noise) is a prerequisite for richer perception and for cognitive, emotional and behavioural flexibility. Furthermore, they suggest that the ability to increase and decrease the signal-to-noise ratio in the brain in a task-dependant manner, is critical for individual’s peak performance across multiple cognitive domains.
The brain is not the only organ, in which functional signal variability represents a feature of optimal performance. Likewise, the variance in the oscillations and the pace of the human heart, in relation to respiration and parasympathetic and sympathetic neural activation, has been established as an index of emotional and autonomic nervous system flexibility, and key to mental and physical resilience.
The variability of the spontaneous neural activity in biological systems and the ability to shift seamlessly between the states of low (rhythmic, organised, high signal-to-noise) and high (variability, noise) entropy states seems critical for the ability of a system to evolve and adapt.
Interestingly, this spontaneous variability seems to decrease with age. Fortunately, the availability of non-invasive brain stimulation (NIBS) techniques allows us to introduce noise in the system and potentially influence this process of decline.
Reference: Leonhard Waschke, Niels A. Kloosterman, Jonas Obleser, Douglas D. Garrett. Behavior needs neural variability. Neuron, 2021; DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2021.01.023
People empathise differently; while some connect in a deeply emotional manner (i.e. they cry when watching a sad movie, as they almost experience the pain of the characters), others empathise in a more cognitive way (they approach the distress in others in a more rational way, offering helpful strategies, such as counselling).
Do these different empathising styles correlate with exisitng differences in people’s brains? The results of a voxel-based-morphometry study from the Monash in which researchers were able to predict the empathising style of participants, based on the gray matter density of two brain regions- the insula and the midcingulate cortex, suggest that this is the case.
“We consider the brain the very center of who we are and what we do: ruler of our senses, master of our movements; generator of thought, keeper of memory. But the brain is also rooted in a body, and the connection between the two goes both ways…” read the full article by Jordana Cepelewicz published online in the Quanta magazine here.
Philosopher Susan Schneider weighs the pros and cons of radical technological enhancement in a recent interview published in Scientific American. In this fascinating short read, Susan shares her thoughts on cognitive and emotional enhancement, collective consciousness, super-intelligence and the future of personalised AI.