New chip mimics human brain

The neuromorphic chip – so called due to its brain-like processing abilities – has been created on a production-scale in a joint project by IBM and Cornell University.

The new chip acts like a brain, of sorts. Each chip is made up of 5.4 billion transistors with 1 million electronic neurons that talk to each other via 256 synapses.

Today’s world

Today’s computing is based on the computer chip created by John von Neumannover 70 years ago. The humble chip performs two tasks; processing data and holding memory. Just the job for many simple data processing tasks, however, yet not able to perform advanced tasks, such as language or vision.  Continue reading

Brain hardwired to link images and sounds, baby study finds

baby

creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by I_am_Allan

A study of the electrical brain activity of baby infants suggests that we are biologically predisposed to link images and sounds to create language.

An international team, including researchers at the University of Warwick, examined the electrical activity of the brains of 11 month-olds in the initial stages of word learning.

Using fictitious words, for example ‘kipi’ to refer to pictures of spiky shapes or ‘moma’ to refer to rounded shapes, the researchers were able to study the affect of unknown words with images or without images on the human brain. The babies were seen to very quickly begin to match the word to the image. The electical brain activity backed up this observation with brain activity increasing when images and words matched. Continue reading

Obsession, compulsion and the misfiring mind

brainspagThe compulsions and rituals typical of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are the result of misfiring within the brain and not by excessive worry or distorted beliefs, according to the results of a new study by the University of Cambridge.

The latest research challenges what has been previously understood of OCD, pointing away from emotional disorder and instead to an overactive habit system.

Research

In the study, 70 participants; half of those diagnosed with OCD and half with no history of OCD, had their brains scanned for activity during the performance of repetitive tasks.  Continue reading

Preference for male or female traits is urban only, study finds

urban male

Sexual preference for traits commonly associated with ‘feminine’ women or ‘manly’ men is a product of living in an urban environment, not of evolution, according to findings by Brunel University and the University of Bristol.

In a joint study, researchers gathered evidence which indicated that the preference for masculine traits in male faces, such as wide chins and large eyebrows, and femininity in female faces, for example, large lips and small noses, was ‘strongly linked’ to living in a developed society, and was not seen outside of it. Continue reading

Fatal Strokes Misdiagnosed in Women, Minorities and Young People

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Thousands of patients with early signs of potentially disabling strokes, such as dizziness and headaches, are dismissed by doctors each year, according to new research by Johns Hopkins University.

Women, minorities and young people under 45 years were seen to be significantly more likely to be misdiagnosed in the week before experiencing a debilitating stroke.

Statistics 

Findings were taken from a review of medical records and reported in the journal Diagnosis. Younger people were found to be seven times more likely to be given an incorrect diagnosis and sent home without treatment after visiting ER complaining of dizziness or headache, according to the research. Continue reading

Temporary Simulated Blindess Can Help Restore Hearing, Study Finds

connection

Minimizing sight for as little as a week can improve the brain’s ability to processs hearing, say neuroscientists at John Hopkins University. The findings, published in the journal the Neuron, could help patients with hearing loss to regain a level of hearing.

According to researchers, sensory systems do not work in isolation: instead, they show interactions that are specifically uncovered during sensory loss.

Using mice, the research team analysed the neural connections in the brain that manage vision and hearing to explore how the connections worked together to support each sense. Continue reading

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings: Testosterone, Desire and the Pull of a Canary

Canary and mating songTestosterone increases the urge to sing yet decreases the quality of birdsong, according to research at John Hopkins University.

Increasing testosterone levels in the brain demonstrated an increase in the desire to sing and volume of song, yet reduced the size of a separate area in the brain that regulates song quality.

The findings on testosterone and its affect on the brain are hoped to further understanding of how the hormone testosterone acts in the human brain to regulate speech, and how anabolic steroids (prescription drugs used to increase testosterone levels) affect human behaviour.

The ability of a male canary to sing a pitch-perfect song is essential in wooing a female canary. The quality and frequency of song changes through the seasons and it is the hormone testosterone which plays a major role in changing song behaviour.

To determine how testosterone influences birdsong, researchers divided 20 canaries into two groups to receive a hormone implant:

  • group one received testosterone in the medial preoptic nucleus, or POM (an area in the hypothalamus responsible for sexual motivation in animals and humans)
  • group two received testosterone that acted throughout the whole of the brain
  • group three was a control group and received no hormone treatment at all

Both of the groups that received testosterone treatment (group one and two) sang. However researchers noticed that in some cases in group two the canaries’ songs were sung poorly. The birds that only received testosterone to the POM area (group two) sang at high rates, but could not produce high quality song that is most attractive to females. Lead researcher, Dr. Alward, commented:

Our data suggests that testosterone needs to act in different areas of the brain to regulate the specific components of this complex social phenomenon. It appears that, like in so many other species, testosterone in the POM can regulate an animal’s motivation, in this case, the motivation to sing.

However, singing and courting a female is more than just motivation. There is the quality of the song that is required to successfully attract a mate and then the process of attending to the female, or singing to her, when she is there which requires the coordination of multiple brain regions.”

The canaries that received testosterone throughout the brain displayed high-quality typical canary vocalization behaviour –  consistent with the idea that testosterone acts on several different brain areas to regulate how much as well as how well the birds can sing.

The researchers say these results have broad implications for research concerning how steroid use in humans affects sexual behaviours and how hormones regulate the difference components of speech in humans. Dr Alward added:

The hormones in these birds are identical to those in humans and they can regulate brain changes in a similar manner.”

Notes:

John Hopkins University Press Release: Testosterone in male songbirds may enhance desire to sing but not song quality

PNAS: Differential effects of global versus local testosterone on singing behaviour and its underlying neural substrate

Image: thanks to Flickr