MRI scans show that hunger and loneliness cause cravings in the same area, which suggests socialization is a need.
- A new study demonstrates that our brains crave social interaction with the same areas used to crave food.
- Hungry test subjects also reported a lack of desire to socialize, proving the existence of "hanger."
- Other studies have suggested that failure to socialize can lead to stress eating in rodents.
People sometimes crave socialization, literally.<p> Forty participants underwent 10 hours of either social isolation or fasting before being placed in an MRI machine. Those who fasted had their brains imaged while viewing pictures of food; those emerging from isolation viewed photos of socializing people. <strong><br> <br> </strong>The areas of the brain related to hunger pains, reward, and movements, the substantia nigra pars compacta and ventral tegmental area (SN/VTA), are also associated with cravings for food or addictive substances. When those who fasted viewed images of food, these regions of their brains lit up. Most interestingly, the same brain regions lit up when those who had been isolated for 10 hours saw pictures of other people socializing. <br> <br> Test subjects also filled out questionnaires during and after the fasting and isolation periods. Not only did this confirm that people felt cravings for what they had missed, but that the effect was similar in both cases. </p><p>They also showed that very hungry people were less responsive to images of socializing, suggesting that "hanger," the state of being irritable as a result of hunger, is a demonstrable <a href="https://www.insider.com/loneliness-and-hunger-have-similar-effects-on-the-brain-study-2020-11" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">state</a>. </p>
How can I use this information? I’m asking for a friend.<p> The obvious takeaway is that it is perfectly normal to feel a need for interaction with others after an extended bout of isolation. Our brains treat some form of interaction as a basic need that must be met. While not shown as clearly in humans, not getting these needs often drives mice to <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29334694/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress ea</a><a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29334694/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">t</a>, a finding that makes a great deal of sense in light of these new findings. <br> </p><p>Exactly how we can meet the need for socialization outside of just meeting up with people (a tricky proposition at the time of writing) remains up for debate. Anybody who has tried a Zoom party during the pandemic can attest to it just not being as nice as seeing friends in person. <br> <br> The study's authors are aware of this issue and note that:<br> <br> "A vital question is how much, and what kinds of, positive social interaction is sufficient to fulfill our social needs and thus eliminate the neural craving response. Technological advances offer incessant opportunities to be virtually connected with others, despite physical separations. Yet, some have argued that using social media only exacerbates subjective feelings of isolation.<sup>"</sup><br> </p><p>Unfortunately, the study cannot offer us an answer to this question just yet. </p>
Like always, there are limitations to this study.<iframe width="730" height="430" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/sgxMsgDWnAU" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe><p> This study involved 40 participants. While its essential finding is likely to be generally applicable, exactly how applicable it is to the broader population cannot be known with certainty from such a small group. The participants were also healthy, well-connected young adults who might react to various problems differently than other demographic groups. </p><p>Their tendency to do so while being the focus of endless studies on psychology is a well-recorded problem. <br> <br> Likewise, the fact that the participants knew they would only be isolated for 10 hours may have impacted how they reacted to the isolation—it is often easier to endure something when you know precisely when it will end. </p><p>Getting around that in future experiments may prove impossible. From an ethical standpoint, it would be difficult to structure an experiment on humans predicated on the idea that they will be kept isolated from all social interaction indefinitely. <br> <br> Lastly, while all of the participants were quite hungry after 10 hours, there were enough variations in how lonely people felt after isolation to suggest a more significant variance in need for socialization than in demand for food. While this seems obvious, we all know both introverts and extroverts; it does make it more challenging to determine how much social interaction counts as a "need" that the brain craves just as it craves food. </p><p>As usual, more research is needed.</p><p> The idea that humans are social animals existed long before modern neuroscience was possible. Now, we can see exactly what happens in the brain when we can't socialize. While the final word on the subject is still to be said, it might be time to give a friend a call. </p>
These tiny fish are helping scientists understand how the human brain processes sound.
- Fragile X syndrome is a genetic disorder caused by changes in a gene that scientists call the "fragile X mental retardation 1 (FMR1)" gene. People who have FXS or autism often struggle with sensitivity to sound.
- According to the research team, FXS is caused by the disruption of a gene. By disrupting that same gene in zebrafish larvae, they can examine the effects and begin to understand more about this disrupted gene in the human brain.
- Using the zebrafish, Dr. Constantin and the team were able to gather insights into which parts of the brain are used to process sensory information.
By disrupting a specific gene in Zebrafish, we're able to better understand the same disruption of that gene in humans with FXS or autism.
Credit: slowmotiongli on Adobe Stock<p>"Loud noises often cause sensory overload and anxiety in people with autism and Fragile X syndrome -- sensitivity to sound is common to both conditions," <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/11/201110102527.htm" target="_blank">Dr. Constantin explained to Science Daily</a>.</p><p><strong>How do zebrafish relate to humans with autism? </strong></p><p>According to the research team, FXS is caused by the disruption of a gene. By disrupting that same gene in zebrafish larvae, they can examine the effects and begin to understand more about this disrupted gene in the human brain. </p><p>The thalamus, according to Dr. Constantin, works as a control center, relaying sensory information from around the body to different parts of the brain. The hindbrain then coordinates different behavioral responses. Using the different sound tests, the team was able to study the whole brain of the zebrafish larvae under microscopes and see the activity of each brain cell individually. </p><p>According to Dr. Constantin, the research team recorded the brain activity of zebrafish larvae while showing them movies or exposing them to bursts of sound. The movies stimulated movement, a reaction to the visual stimuli that was the same for fish with the Fragile X mutation and those without. However, when the fish were given a burst of white noise, there was a dramatic difference in the brain activity of the fish with the Fragile X mutation.<br></p><p>After seeing how the noise radically affected the fish brain, the team designed a range of 12 different volumes of sound and found the Fragile X model fish could hear much quieter volumes than the control fish. </p><p>"The fish with Fragile X mutations had more connections between different regions of their brain and their responses to the sounds were more plentiful in the hindbrain and thalamus," <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/11/201110102527.htm" target="_blank">said Dr. Constantin</a>.</p><p>Essentially, the fish with Fragile X mutation had more connections between the regions of their brain and so their responses to the sounds were more notable. </p><p><strong>Understanding how this gene disruption works in zebrafish will give us a better understanding of sound hypersensitivity in humans with FXS or autism.</strong> </p><p>"How our neural pathways develop and respond to the stimulation of our senses gives us insights into which parts of the brain are used and how sensory information is processed," Dr. Constantin said.</p><p>Using the zebrafish, Dr. Constantin and the team were able to gather insights into which parts of the brain are used to process sensory information. </p><p>"We hope that by discovering fundamental information about how the brain processes sound, we will gain further insights into the sensory challenges faced by people with Fragile X syndrome and autism."</p>
It's never too late to learn a new language. Just don't count on speaking French like a Parisian.
- Language processing has long been thought to occur primarily in the left hemisphere of the brain.
- A new study used fMRI on groups of adults to examine how the brain's left and right hemispheres contribute to learning a new language.
- The results showed that, as the participants progressed, they began to use more of their right hemisphere, but only for some aspects of language processing.
Learning a new language as an adult changes how the brain's hemispheres contribute to language processing, according to a new study.
The brain's left and right hemispheres are generally specialized to perform different tasks. The left hemisphere has long been thought to handle language processing, particularly in regions like Broca's area and Wernicke's area.
But the right hemisphere also plays a role. For example, stroke victims with damage to their left hemisphere have been able to (partially) recover language abilities after right-hemisphere regions reorganized themselves to compensate for the injury.
Illustration of left and right brain hemispheres
Credit: Chickensaresocute via Wikipedia Commons
So, is the left hemisphere indeed hard-wired for language? In terms of learning a new language later in life, what roles do the hemispheres play, and how does neuroplasticity factor in?
The new study, published in The Journal of Neuroscience, explored these questions by conducting fMRI on groups of adults as they read, listened to, and spoke both their native language and a new language. In the early stages, the fMRI results looked similar for the native and new languages.
As learning progressed, however, the participants increasingly employed regions from the brain's right hemisphere. But this was only true for reading comprehension and, to a lesser extent, speech comprehension of the new language. Speaking the new language remained a left-dominant (or left-lateralized) task.
The results suggest neuroplasticity for speech production is far more limited, which may explain why adults have a harder time speaking a new language, though they can learn to read and comprehend one relatively easy. It also suggests the brain's left hemisphere is hard-wired for speech production.
Benefits of learning a new language later in life
Neuroplasticity does gradually decrease with age, and if you're an adult picking up a new language you may never become a totally fluent speaker. Still, learning a new language later in life is totally possible. In addition to broadening your career options and opportunities to explore other cultures, studies suggest that learning a second (or third) language can help:
Learn a new language—super fast. Here’s how. | Steve Kaufmann | Big Think
A new study found similarities between the human brain and the cosmic network of galaxies.
- A new study finds similarities between the structures and processes of the human brain and the cosmic web.
- The research was carried out by an astrophysicist and a neurosurgeon.
- The two systems are vastly different in size but resemble each other in several key areas.
Section of the human brain (left) and a simulated section of the cosmos (right).
Credit: University of Bologna
Michio Kaku: Consciousness Can be Quantified | Big Think<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="cffa17161bfc4dd6dbee720749452fdc"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/0GS2rxROcPo?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p><em>"Believe it or not, sitting on our shoulders is the most complex object that Mother Nature has created in the known universe. </em><em>You have to go at least 24 trillion miles to the nearest star to find a planet that may have life and may have intelligence. And yet our brain only consumes about 20-30 watts of power and yet it performs calculations better than any large supercomputer." </em>- Michio Kaku</p>
A new theory suggests that dreams' illogical logic has an important purpose.
Overfitting<p>The goal of machine learning is to supply an algorithm with a data set, a "training set," in which patterns can be recognized and from which predictions that apply to other unseen data sets can be derived.</p><p>If machine learning learns its training set too well, it merely spits out a prediction that precisely — and uselessly — matches that data instead of underlying patterns within it that could serve as predictions likely to be true of other thus-far unseen data. In such a case, the algorithm describes what the data set <em>is</em> rather than what it <em>means</em>. This is called "overfitting."</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc4NTQ4Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2NDM4NDk1Mn0.bMHbBbt7Nz0vmmQ8fdBKaO-Ycpme5eOCxbjPLEHq9XQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="5049a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f9a6823125e01f4d69ce13d1eef84486" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
The value of noise<p>To keep machine learning from becoming too fixated on the specific data points in the set being analyzed, programmers may introduce extra, unrelated data as noise or corrupted inputs that are less self-similar than the real data being analyzed.</p><p>This noise typically has nothing to do with the project at hand. It's there, metaphorically speaking, to "distract" and even confuse the algorithm, forcing it to step back a bit to a vantage point at which patterns in the data may be more readily perceived and not drawn from the specific details within the data set.</p><p>Unfortunately, overfitting also occurs a lot in the real world as people race to draw conclusions from insufficient data points — xkcd has a fun example of how this can happen with <a href="https://xkcd.com/1122/" target="_blank">election "facts."</a></p><p>(In machine learning, there's also "underfitting," where an algorithm is too simple to track enough aspects of the data set to glean its patterns.)</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc4NTQ5My9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMDE5NjY1M30.iS2bq7WEQLeS34zNFPnXwzAZZn9blCyI-KVuXmcHI6o/img.jpg?width=980" id="cd486" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c49cfbbffceb00e3f37f00e0fef859d9" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Credit: agsandrew/Adobe Stock