A large study shows changes in the brain scans of lonely people in the area involved in imagination, memory, and daydreaming.
- A study of 40,000 participants shows specific signatures in the brain scans of lonely people.
- Loneliness is linked to variations in grey matter volume and connections in the brain default network.
- This area of the brain is connected to the use of imagination, memory, future planning, and daydreaming.
COVID-19 has exacerbated the worldwide spread of loneliness that had been alarming researchers prior to the pandemic. A new study pinpoints a distinct signature that can be observed in the brains of lonely people and makes the case that social isolation leads to changes in the areas of the brain using memory and imagination.
The scientists defined loneliness as "the subjective perception of social isolation, or the discrepancy between one's desired and perceived levels of social connection." They based their findings on a large trove of information from about 40,000 participants aged 40 to 69. This was culled from UK's Biobank, an open-access to database for international health scientists. The researchers had access to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data, as well as genetics and psychological self-assessments.
The scientists compared the MRI data of the study participants who said they often felt lonely versus those who didn't and discovered key differences. These revolved around the default network, an area of the brain responsible for memories, as well as social cognition and imagination. It is employed when we focus on the past or think about the future or daydream about a different present.
Lonely people's default networks were wired together stronger and unexpectedly had more grey matter volume. Lonely people also seemed to show more preservation in the structure of the fornix—the nerve fiber bundle that transmits signals from the hippocampus to the default network.
What is responsible for the brain differences between people who feel lonely and those who don't? The scientists think the answer lies in the function of the default network. Lonely people tend to use their imagination, memories, and hopes more, contend the researchers, in an effort to manage their isolation.
Scientists show what loneliness looks like in the brain
The study's lead author, Nathan Spreng from The Neuro (Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital) of McGill University in Canada, linked the use of the inner world by lonely people to their unexpected findings:
"In the absence of desired social experiences, lonely individuals may be biased towards internally-directed thoughts such as reminiscing or imagining social experiences," stated Spreng in a press release. "We know these cognitive abilities are mediated by the default network brain regions. So this heightened focus on self-reflection, and possibly imagined social experiences, would naturally engage the memory-based functions of the default network."
The scientists think their research can help paint a fuller picture of loneliness and how to treat it, as the amount of people experiencing such feelings grows, affecting their health. Studies on older people showed loneliness was linked to a stronger risk of dementia and cognitive issues.
"Human evolution has been shaped by selection pressures towards enhanced inter-individual cooperation, write the scientists in their study. "Social interactions are crucial for survival, and fulfillment. Our species' extraordinary reliance on other individuals has led to the characterization of humans as the "ultra-social animal". Consequently, the absence of sufficient social engagement can impose substantial physical and psychological costs."
Check out the study, published in the journal Nature Communications.
A U.S. government intelligence agency develops cutting-edge tech to predict future events.
- The Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), a research arm of the U.S. government intelligence community, is focused on predicting the future.
- The organization uses teams of human non-experts and AI machine learning to forecast future events.
- IARPA also conducts advanced research in numerous other fields, funding rotating programs.
As far as secretive government projects go, the objectives of IARPA may be the riskiest and most far-reaching. With its mission to foster "high-risk, high-payoff" programs, this research arm of the U.S. intelligence community literally tries to predict the future. Staffed by spies and Ph.D.s, this organization aims to provide decision makers with real, accurate predictions of geopolitical events, using artificial intelligence and human "forecasters."
IARPA, which stands for Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity, was founded in 2006 as part of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Some of the projects that it has funded focused on advancements in quantum computing, cryogenic computing, face recognition, universal language translators, and other initiatives that would fit well in a Hollywood action movie plot. But perhaps its main goal is to produce "anticipatory intelligence." It's a spy agency, after all.
"Minority report" pre-cog
Dreamworks/20th Century Fox
In the interest of national security, IARPA wants to identify major world events before they happen, looking for terrorists, hackers or any perceived enemies of the United States. Wouldn't you rather stop a crime before it happens?
Of course, that's when we get into tricky political and sci-fi territory. Much of the research done by IARPA is actually out in the open, utilizing the public and experts in advancing technologies. It is available for "open solicitations," forecasting tournaments, and has prize challenges for the public. You can pretty much send your idea in right now. But what happens to the R&D once it leaves the lab is, of course, often for only the NSA and the CIA to know.
The National Security Agency expert James Bamford wrote that the agency is ultimately looking to create a system where huge amounts of data about people's lives would be mined in real-time, for the purpose of preventing actions detrimental to the nation. In his article for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Bamford wrote that IARPA's goal is to create very powerful automated computer systems, managed through artificial intelligence, which would be "capable of cataloging the lives of everyone everywhere, 24/ 7." Such programs would be able to instantaneously access data streams belonging to citizens, whether from social media or anywhere else. As Bamford writes, being able to analyze "every Facebook post, tweet and YouTube video; every tollbooth tag number; every GPS download, web search and news feed; every street camera video; every restaurant reservation on Open Table — largely eliminates surprise from the intelligence equation."
Of course, one would suspect much of this is going on already. IARPA's Mercury program, for example, concentrates on data mining millions of private overseas communications that are gathered by the National Security Agency. While it can certainly be argued that such a program is a national security necessity, working to spot terrorists and elements that can lead to social unrest, the potential for misuse and infringement on privacy rights has alerted observers.
A fascinating recent project funded by IARPA is called SAGE, which stands for Synergistic Anticipation of Geopolitical Events. As you may expect from such a lofty title, the researchers involved in this endeavor are looking to predict the future. This project is aimed at utilizing non-experts – humans who would use AI machine learning to make qualified statements about what would happen.
Led by Aram Galstyan, director of the Artificial Intelligence Division at the USC Viterbi Information Sciences Institute (ISI), the project has been successful in making concrete predictions, like knowing when North Korea would launch its missile tests. SAGE works by utilizing large sets of human non-expert predictors, pooling their powers by working together, making them "more accurate and faster than a single human subject expert," as explains a USC press release. However, the information these humans or "forecasters" use to make predictions is gathered through a variety of machine learning technologies.
The topics looked at by the predictors include such questions as "Will any G7 nation engage in an acknowledged national military attack against Syria [by a given date]?" They may also want to figure out exactly how much oil Venezuela might produce in a specific month.
Leaders among the forecasters, or those who make the most accurate predictions, are ranked and highlighted with badges.
This AI-assisted crowd-sourced Nostradamus has worked out quite well, according to Fred Morstatter, a USC computer scientist. "We believe that's the case because the numbers we're seeing indicate we are outpacing a system that uses only humans," he remarked.
SAGE's hybrid model functions by offering humans information derived by the machines in charts that show trends, along with specific predictions by the AI. "SAGE works because humans have one side of the coin, and machines have the other side," said Morstatter. And on yet another side you would have the National Intelligence apparatus.
Do you have a good idea for future-oriented national security research? You can actually apply to be a IARPA program manager. Current managers, who rotate every 3 to 5 years, are working on a vast variety of fields, including forecasting, linguistics, underwater technology, aerospace propulsion, atomic physics, artificial intelligence, biometrics, neuroscience, and optics. Check out the list of existing programs.
The Space Force will soon launch its X-37B spacecraft on a classified mission.
- The U.S. Air Force is preparing to launch its X-37B space drone made by Boeing.
- The spacecraft is like a mini-space shuttle and is used to test technologies.
- X-37B's missions are highly classified, leading to speculation about their purpose.
The U.S. Space Force is about to launch the sixth mission of the secretive X-37B space plane. Where will the plane go and what will it do? Specific details about the robotic spacecraft and its missions are highly classified by the United States government, fueling speculation and conspiracies. The new mission is expected to see the plane away from Earth for at least two years.
The last mission of the X-37B had the plane away from our planet for a total of 780 days, from Sept. 7, 2017 until October 27, 2019. That flight broke the record for the longest amount of time in space by a spacecraft.
The reusable plane shares some similarities with the Space Shuttle, although being much smaller at 29 feet long, and is also made by Boeing. Its new flight, dubbed mission OTV-6 (with "OTV" standing in for "Orbital Test Vehicle") will supposedly have the mini-shuttle testing out new technologies, as reports The National Interest. In reality, its purpose is likely geared more specifically towards space weaponry. Much like its global counterparts Russia and China, the United States is working on a new generation of military technology for space. The Air Force tends to not disclose the X37B's payloads, leading experts to conjecture that it may be carrying sensors, spy satellites or even munitions. The Air Force certainly denies such allegations, saying the X-37B never carries weapons, which would be a violation of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty.
The unmanned X-37B is scheduled to launch into low-Earth orbit on May 16, 2020. It will ride atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The last time the space drone was launched it was carried by the Falcon 9 made by Elon Musk's SpaceX. The official goal of that mission was test "experimental electronics and oscillating heat pipes in the long duration space environment."
Boeing X-37B Space Plane - What You Need To Know
The space plane's first mission took place in 2010. Subsequent missions have seen seen it stay out longer and longer. Once in orbit, it gets the power from solar panels for its on-board systems. The vehicle's thrusters for maneuvering run on liquid fuel. Whenever the landing of the X-37B takes place, it will do so on its own, like an airplane.
The Air Force actually has two such spacecraft. They take turns going to space and getting refurbished.
First U.S. Space Force mission started with the launch of Atlas 5 rocket - 3/26/2020
Research shows how "aha moments" affect the brain and cause the evolution of creativity.
- New psychology study shows that some people have increased brain sensitivity for "aha moments."
- The researchers scanned brains of participants and noticed orgasm-like signals during insights.
- The scientists think this evolutionary adaptation drives creation of science and culture.
Coming up with a great insight can cause pleasure similar to an orgasm, according to researchers. The eureka moment triggers neural reward signals that can flood some people with pleasure, suggesting it's an evolutionary adaptation that fuels the growth of creativity.
A recent neuroimaging study from Drexel University discovered that the brain rewards systems of people with higher "reward sensitivity" ratings showed bursts of "gamma" EEG activity when they had creative insights. This signal is similar to those caused by pleasure-inducing experiences like orgasms, great food, or drinks that quench thirst.
In carrying out the study, the scientists employed high-density electroencephalograms (EEGs) to track the brain activity of participants who were solving anagram puzzles. The subjects were required to unscramble letters in order to figure out a hidden word. When they had an aha moment of insight, figuring out the solution, the people would press a button, as EEG captured a snapshot of their brain activity.
Another part of the study included filling out a questionnaire intended to gauge a person's "reward sensitivity," defined by the researchers as "a basic personality trait that reflects the degree to which an individual is generally motivated to gain rewards rather than avoid losing them."
The scientists found that people scoring high on this rubric had very powerful aha moments. Their brain scans showed an extra burst of high-frequency gamma waves in the reward systems' orbitofrontal cortex.
People who scored low on reward sensitivity didn't exhibit such bursts. The researchers wrote that the eureka moments were noticed by them but were "lacking in hedonic content."
"The fact that some people find insight experiences to be highly pleasurable reinforces the notion that insight can be an intrinsic reward for problem solving and comprehension that makes use of the same reward circuitry in the brain that processes rewards from addictive drugs, sugary foods, or love," wrote the psychologists.
While the researchers think that creativity is not necessarily critical to human survival considering that other species managed to survive without it, they see its evolutionary connection.
"The fact that evolution has linked the generation of new ideas and perspectives to the human brain's reward system may explain the proliferation of creativity and the advancement of science and culture," Kounios stated.
You can read the recently published study in journal NeuroImage.
Researchers make breakthrough in studying traumatic long-term memory in flies.
- Scientists in Japan find that light can affect long-term traumatic memories in flies.
- Keeping male flies in the dark helped them overcome negative mating memories.
- The researchers hope to use the finding to develop new treatments for PTSD and similar disorders.
Can light be a factor in eliminating traumatic memories? Japanese scientists found that the long-term memory of flies can be affected if they are kept in the dark. This is the first discovery of the role of environmental light on such memories. The scientists hope to extend this approach to human victims of life-affecting traumas.
Events that are shocking can become a part of our long-term memory (LTM), with new proteins synthesized and the neuronal circuits in our brain becoming altered, explains the press release from researchers at the Tokyo Metropolitan University, who made the breakthrough. These memories can be hard to erase and may lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Through their research, the team led by Professor Takaomi Sakai from Tokyo Metropolitan University discovered a particular molecular mechanism in Drosophilia flies that affects LTM. To find this, they set up a trauma for male flies by placing them with females who already mated. According to the courtship conditioning paradigm, in such situations mated females stress the unmated males to such an extent that they remember the experience, unwilling to ever mate with any more females – even if they were to be exposed to those that are unmated.
To see if they could reverse this traumatized behavior, the scientists placed male flies in the dark for days. They discovered that male flies who were in the dark for two or more days, were again willing to mate with females. In contrast, the flies who were kept on a normal day-night light cycle were still not interested in any mating. The researchers concluded that light had an affect on LTM.
Scientists found that flies kept in the dark did not keep long-term traumatic memories because the Protein-dispersing factor (Pdf) was not released. This resulted in the lack of production of the cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB) in the fly brain's memory center.
Credit: Tokyo Metropolitan University
Furthermore, they pinpointed the brain protein called the Pigment-dispersing factor (Pdf), which responds to light. They also saw that Pdf, in turn, impacts the protein known as the cAMP response element-binding protein (CREB) in the area of the insect brains that is linked to memory and learning, thus figuring out the molecular mechanism involved in the LTM process. If the fly was kept in the dark, the Pdf was not released and, in its turn, the cAMP protein was not produced.
This research shows that environmental factors can affect long-term memories and may lead to new treatments for trauma victims.
Check out the new study "Environmental Light Is Required for Maintenance of Long-Term Memory in Drosophila" in the Journal of Neuroscience.