dimarts, 20 de març de 2012

Recognising Faces (1/3): Face Blindness

¿Sabías que hay personas que no pueden reconocer caras y que creen que es lo "normal"? Por la prosopagnosia -que puede ser de nacimiento- uno es incapaz de reconocer a las personas de la familia e incluso asustarse delante del espejo por no reconocerse a uno mismo // Imagine you couldn't recognize people's faces, and even your own family looked unfamiliar. Lesley Stahl reports on face blindness, a puzzling neurological disorder.

CBS // "Face Blindness" // March 18, 2012. Lesley Stahl is the correspondent. Shari Finkelstein, producer.

(CBS News) Imagine going to school to pick up your child and not being certain which kid is yours. Imagine brushing your teeth every morning and not wholly recognizing the face in the mirror. All of this is unimaginable for most of us, but a basic fact of life for people with the mysterious neurological condition called "face blindness" -- or prosopagnosia - which can make it almost impossible to recognize faces, even of one's nearest and dearest. Dr. Oliver Sacks knows something about the condition, and not only because he's a neurologist, but also because Dr. Sacks himself is face blind. Lesley Stahl reports.

diumenge, 18 de març de 2012

Magia y cerebro, Susana Martínez en 'Los engaños de la mente' (audio)

Los trucos de magia pueden dar pistas sobre cómo funciona nuestro cerebro. Lo sabe bien Susana Martínez-Conde.

Asuntos propios // Radio RTVE //08/03/12

La científica española dirige el Laboratorio de Neurociencia Visual del Barrow Neurological Institute de Phoenix, uno de los centros neurológicos punteros en el mundo. Susana Martínez-Conde nos presenta su último libro: Los engaños de la mente, el que analiza cómo los magos nos 'engañan' jugando con nuestras neuronas. La relación entre magia y cerebro permite avanzar en el estudio de enfermedades como el Alzheimer o el autismo (08/03/12).

Fuente: http://www.rtve.es/alacarta/audios/programa/asuntos-propios-susana-martinez-analiza-los-mecanismos-cerebrales-durante-magia/1344165/

dimarts, 13 de març de 2012

"Are You Evil? Profiling That Which Is Truly Wicked" Scientific American

A cognitive scientist employs malevolent logic to define the dark side of the human psyche

By Larry Greenemeier // October 27, 2008

INTRODUCING "E": a computer character
first created in 2005 to embody Bringsjord's
working definition of evil.

TROY, N.Y.—The hallowed halls of academia are not the place you would expect to find someone obsessed with evil (although some students might disagree). But it is indeed evil—or rather trying to get to the roots of evil—that fascinates Selmer Bringsjord, a logician, philosopher and chairman of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute's Department of Cognitive Science here. He's so intrigued, in fact, that he has developed a sort of checklist for determining whether someone is demonic, and is working with a team of graduate students to create a computerized representation of a purely sinister person.
"I've been working on what is evil and how to formally define it," says Bringsjord, who is also director of the Rensselaer AI & Reasoning Lab (RAIR). "It's creepy, I know it is."
To be truly evil, someone must have sought to do harm by planning to commit some morally wrong action with no prompting from others (whether this person successfully executes his or her plan is beside the point). The evil person must have tried to carry out this plan with the hope of "causing considerable harm to others," Bringsjord says. Finally, "and most importantly," he adds, if this evil person were willing to analyze his or her reasons for wanting to commit this morally wrong action, these reasons would either prove to be incoherent, or they would reveal that the evil person knew he or she was doing something wrong and regarded the harm caused as a good thing.
Bringsjord's research builds on earlier definitions put forth by San Diego State University philosophy professor J. Angelo Corlett as well as the late sociopolitical philosophers and psychologists, Joel Feinberg and Erich Fromm, but most significantly by psychiatrist and author M. Scott Peck in his 1983 book, People of the Lie, The Hope for Healing Human Evil. After reading Peck's tome about clinically evil people, "I thought it would be interesting to come up with formal structures that define evil," Bringsjord says, "and, ultimately, to create a purely evil character the way a creative writer would."
He and his research team began developing their computer representation of evil by posing a series of questions beginning with the basics—name, age, sex, etcetera—and progressing to inquiries about this fictional person's beliefs and motivations.
This exercise resulted in "E," a computer character first created in 2005 to meet the criteria of Bringsjord's working definition of evil. Whereas the original E was simply a program designed to respond to questions in a manner consistent with Bringsjord's definition, the researchers have since given E a physical identity: It's a relatively young, white man with short black hair and dark stubble on his face. Bringsjord calls E's appearance "a meaner version" of the character Mr. Perry in the 1989 movieDead Poets Society. "He is a great example of evil," Bringsjord says, adding, however, that he is not entirely satisfied with this personification and may make changes.
The researchers have placed E in his own virtual world and written a program depicting a scripted interview between one of the researcher's avatars and E. In this example, E is programmed to respond to questions based on a case study in Peck's book that involves a boy whose parents gave him a gun that his older brother had used to commit suicide.
The researchers programmed E with a degree of artificial intelligence to make "him" believe that he (and not the parents) had given the pistol to the distraught boy, and then asked E a series of questions designed to glean his logic for doing so. The result is a surreal simulation during which Bringsjord's diabolical incarnation attempts to produce a logical argument for its actions: The boy wanted a gun, E had a gun, so E gave the boy the gun.
Bringsjord and his team by the end of the year hope to have completed the fourth generation of E, which will be able to use artificial intelligence and a limited set of straightforward English (no slang, for example) to "speak" with computer users.
Following the path of a true logician, Bringsjord's interest in the portrayal of virtuousness and evil in literature led to his interest in software that helps writers develop ideas and create stories; this, in turn, spurred him to develop his own software for simulating human behavior, both good and odious, says Barry Smith, a distinguished professor of bioinformatics and ontology at the State University of New York at Buffalo who is familiar with Bringsjord's work. "He's known as someone on the fringe of philosophy and computer science."
Bringsjord and Smith both have an interest in finding ways to better understand human behavior, and their work has attracted the attention of the intelligence community, which is seeking ways to successfully analyze the information they gather on potential terrorists. "To solve problems in intelligence analysis, you need more accurate representations of people," Smith says. "Selmer is trying to build really good representations of human beings in all of their subtlety."
Bringsjord acknowledges that the endeavor to create pure evil, even in a software program, does raise ethical questions, such as, how researchers could control an artificially intelligent character like E if "he" was placed in a virtual world such asSecond Life, a Web-based program that allows people to create digital representations of themselves and have those avatars interact in a number of different ways.
"I wouldn't release E or anything like it, even in purely virtual environments, without engineered safeguards," Bringsjord says. These safeguards would be a set of ethics written into the software, something akin to author Isaac Asimov's "Three Laws of Robotics" that prevent a robot from harming humans, requires a robot to obey humans, and instructs a robot to protect itself—as long as that does not violate either or both of the first two laws.
"Because I have a lot of faith in this approach," he says, "E will be controlled."

divendres, 9 de març de 2012

Brain developement: the early years, pre- and post-natal

Baby brains don't actually have more neurons than adults, but way more (and way denser) synapses (the connections between neurons). But as they grow up, neurons and synapses tend to die out while, at the very same time, they remaining neurons tend to specialize and reinforce the kind of connections they've learnt to use.

In the ground breaking report of their Early Years Study, co-chairs Margaret Norrie McCain and J. Fraser Mustard stated that ". . . early child development is as important, if not more important . . . than the periods children spend in education or post-secondary education." Their study found that the development of the brain (at an early age) sets the base for competence and coping skills for the later stages of life.

The first three years, the study concluded, are especially crucial in the growth of a child's brain. A baby is born with billions of neurons in its brain. While brain cells grow throughout life, it is during the early years, the most sensitive period, when these neurons develop their function and key connections. Loving interactions between the child and other human beings provide the stimulation and nourishment that these neurons need "to connect" with one another. Conversely, if neurons are not stimulated early in life, they tend to wither and become more difficult to stimulate.

How well this web of connectedness is established in an individual child depends on two factors:

  • who the parents are, in other words, what genetic code is passed on to the child; and
  • the environment in which the child is raised - how the child is nurtured, protected and loved.

Source: http://www.take30.pe.ca/home.php?page=learn

Source : http://snarkmarket.com/blog/snarkives/science/

Alison Gopnik, Ph.D., an internationally recognized leader in the study of children's learning and development, served as the keynote speaker at this year's It's Good Business to Invest in Young Children Annual Luncheon, giving attendees insight into the sophisticated way that young children learn.

Graph developed by the Council for Early Child Development
(re: Nash, 1997; Early Years Study, 1999, Shonkoff, 2000).

There are a number of critical periods in the first three years of brain development. During these periods, specific brain functions go through fundamental growth and formation. The months after birth, for example, are critical periods for the development of vision and hearing. The years between three and four are a critical period for the development of social skills.

During critical periods, the brain is most sensitive, or able to be shaped, by a child’s environment and experiences, positive and negative. These sensitive periods present unique opportunities to affect healthy development. Providing appropriate experiences during critical periods of development helps children to reach their potential.

As with building a house, the brain is built in a particular order, from the “bottom up.” Brain circuits that process basic information are wired earlier than circuits that process more complex information. If lower-level circuits aren’t wired properly, then higher-level circuits will be faulty. Speech, for example, must be built on circuits for hearing that are developed very early in an infant’s life, long before a child starts talking.


diumenge, 4 de març de 2012

El cerebro depresivo es hiperactivo, forma conexiones pero es incapaz de "apagarlas"

Lo determinó un estudio de la Universidad de California en Los Ángeles que comprobó que los cerebros de gente depresiva tienen mayor número de conexiones

elcivico.com // Jueves 1 de Marzo de 2012

Estados Unidos.- Investigadores de la Universidad de California en Los Ángeles (UCLA) comprobaron que las personas con depresión tienen mayor número de conexiones en todo el cerebro. Lo más llamativo que detectaron es que la principal diferencia de un cerebro depresivo es que está hiperconectado.

Según revelan los autores en la revista PLoS One, el hallazgo explicaría por qué la depresión clínica suele cursar con ansiedad, falta de atención y concentración, problemas de memoria y trastornos del sueño.

De acuerdo con Muy Interesante, Andrew Leuchter, investigador del Instituto de Neurociencia y Comportamiento Humano de UCLA y coautor del estudio que implicó a 121 adultos con depresión severa, “el cerebro sano debe ser capaz de sincronizar, primero, y desincronizar, después, distintas áreas para reaccionar ante lo que nos sucede, regular el ánimo, aprender y resolver problemas”. El problema del cerebro depresivo, agrega Leuchter, es que conserva su habilidad para formar conexiones pero es incapaz de “apagarlas”.

En los pacientes, el área del cerebro que mostraba más conexiones anormales era la corteza prefrontal, implica en regular el estado de ánimo, tomar decisiones y resolver situaciones problemáticas. “Cuando el cerebro pierde su capacidad de controlar sus propias conexiones, es incapaz de adaptarse a los cambios”, resume el investigador.


Reading fiction improves the subjects' social skills

Fiction-reading activates neuronal pathways in the brain that measurably help the reader better understand real human emotion — improving his or her overall social skillfulness

Harvard Business Review // January 11, 2012 // by Anne Kreamer

Over the past decade, academic researchers such as Oatley and Raymond Mar from York University have gathered data indicating that fiction-reading activates neuronal pathways in the brain that measurably help the reader better understand real human emotion — improving his or her overall social skillfulness. For instance, in fMRI studies of people reading fiction, neuroscientists detect activity in the pre-frontal cortex — a part of the brain involved with setting goals — when the participants read about characters setting a new goal. It turns out that when Henry James, more than a century ago, defended the value of fiction by saying that "a novel is a direct impression of life," he was more right than he knew.

In one of Oatley and Mar's studies in 2006, 94 subjects were asked to guess the emotional state of a person from a photograph of their eyes. "The more fiction people [had] read," they discovered, "the better they were at perceiving emotion in the eyes, and...correctly interpreting social cues." In 2009, wondering, as Oatley put it, if "devouring novels might be a result, not a cause, of having a strong theory of mind," they expanded the scope of their research, testing 252 adults on the "Big Five" personality traits — extraversion, emotional stability, openness to experience, agreeableness and conscientiousness — and correlated those results with how much time the subjects generally spent reading fiction. Once again, they discovered "a significant relation between the amount of fiction people read and their empathic and theory-of-mind abilities" allowing them to conclude that it was reading fiction that improved the subjects' social skills, not that those with already high interpersonal skills tended to read more.
Theory of mind, the ability to interpret and respond to those different from us — colleagues, employees, bosses, customers and clients — is plainly critical to success, particularly in a globalized economy. The imperative to try to understand others' points of view — to be empathetic — is essential in any collaborative enterprise.
Emotions also have an impact on the bottom line. A 1996 study published in the journal Training and Development assessing the value of training workers at a manufacturing plant in emotional management skills — teaching employees to focus on how their work affects others rather than simply on getting the job done — found that union grievance filings were reduced by two-thirds while productivity increased substantially. And a study of a Fortune 400 health insurance company conducted by Peter Salovey, a psychology professor at Yale, looked at the correlations between emotional intelligence and salary and found that people rated highest by their peers in emotional intelligence received the biggest raises and were promoted most frequently. (...)