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Communications

Paralyzed Man Uses Brain Implant To Type Eight Words Per Minute (ieee.org) 40

A study published in the journal eLife describes three participants that broke new ground in the use of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) by people with paralysis. One of the participants, a 64-year-old man paralyzed by a spinal cord injury, "set a new record for speed in a 'copy typing' task," reports IEEE Spectrum. "Copying sentences like 'The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog,' he typed at a relatively blistering rate of eight words per minute." From the report: This experimental gear is far from being ready for clinical use: To send data from their implanted brain chips, the participants wear head-mounted components with wires that connect to the computer. But Henderson's team, part of the multiuniversity BrainGate consortium, is contributing to the development of devices that can be used by people in their everyday lives, not just in the lab. "All our research is based on helping people with disabilities," Henderson tells IEEE Spectrum. Here's how the system works: The tiny implant, about the size of a baby aspirin, is inserted into the motor cortex, the part of the brain responsible for voluntary movement. The implant's array of electrodes record electrical signals from neurons that "fire" as the person thinks of making a motion like moving their right hand -- even if they're paralyzed and can't actually move it. The BrainGate decoding software interprets the signal and converts it into a command for the computer cursor. Interestingly, the system worked best when the researchers customized it for each participant. To train the decoder, each person would imagine a series of different movements (like moving their whole right arm or wiggling their left thumb) while the researchers looked at the data coming from the electrodes and tried to find the most obvious and reliable signal. Each participant ended up imagining a different movement to control the cursor. The woman with ALS imagined moving her index finger and thumb to control the cursor's left-right and up-down motions. Henderson says that after a while, she didn't have to think about moving the two digits independently. "When she became facile with this, she said it wasn't anything conscious; she felt like she was controlling a joystick," he says. The man with the spinal cord injury imagined moving his whole arm as if he were sliding a puck across a table. "Each participant settled on control modality that worked best," Henderson says. You can watch a video about the study here.
Medicine

Studies Show Testosterone Offers Little Benefits To Aging Men (arstechnica.com) 138

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Ars Technica: In decades of research, scientists have found only one medical condition that's clearly and effectively treated with testosterone supplements: pathological hypogonadism -- that's low testosterone levels due to disease of the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, or testes. In a series of placebo-controlled, randomized trials, researchers tracked the effect of testosterone on the cognition, bone health, anemia, and cardiovascular health of 788 men for a year. All the men were aged 65 or older and had low testosterone levels that couldn't be explained by anything other than age. The results, reported Tuesday in JAMA and JAMA Internal Medicine, offer mixed results. Among the 493 in the trial who also had age-related memory declines, testosterone didn't have any effect on memory or cognitive abilities. In the study, 247 got testosterone and 246 got a placebo. But for cardiovascular health, there was an effect -- a bad one. Over the year, plaque buildup in the coronary artery -- which is a risk factor for heart disease -- increased in 73 men on testosterone compared with 65 on placebo. However, other studies have found mixed results on this. Longer, bigger trials will be needed to sort out the risks. In the anemia study, testosterone did seem to improve iron levels in men with mild anemia. The bone health study also showed that testosterone could improve bone density. However, it's unclear if those benefits outweigh the possible cardiovascular risks. And other drugs may be more effective at treating anemia and improving bone mass than testosterone.
Medicine

Autism Starts Months Before Symptoms Appear, Study Shows (scientificamerican.com) 119

A new study published this week in the journal Nature suggests there is evidence of autism in the brain well before symptoms start to appear. Typically, the earliest that children are diagnosed with the disorder is at the age of two, although often times it is even later. Scientists may now be able to detect the disorder well before a child's first birthday via a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. Scientific American reports: Researchers conducted MRI scans on 150 children three times: at six months old, one year and two years. Just over 100 of the children were at high risk because they had an older sibling diagnosed with autism. The faster growth rate of the surface areas of their brains correctly predicted eight times out of 10 which of the high-risk children would go on to be diagnosed with the condition. Enlargement of the brain seemed to correlate with the arrival of symptoms, says Heather Hazlett, a psychologist at the University of North Carolina's Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities (CIDD), and the paper's lead author. Still, with only 100 at-risk children, the study is too small to be considered definitive -- nor should doctors rush to use MRIs to diagnose autism, Hazlett says. But if the study results are confirmed in future research, it could offer a new option for screening high-risk children before their symptoms become obvious -- and possibly at a time when treatment will be most effective.
Medicine

New Study In Mice Shows That Increasing Serotonin Affects Motivation, But Only In Certain Circumstances (neurosciencenews.com) 47

New submitter baalcat quotes a report from Neuroscience News: A new study in mice shows that increasing serotonin, one of the major mediators of brain communication, affects motivation -- but only in certain circumstances. Furthermore, the study revealed that the short and long term effects of increased serotonin levels are opposed -- a completely unforeseen property of this neurotransmitter's functional system. A surprising behavioral effect, discovered in mice by neuroscientists at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown (CCU), in Lisbon, Portugal, strongly suggests that serotonin is involved in a biological mechanism which affects the animals' motivation. The study has now been published in the online open access journal eLife. Serotonin, one of the chemical "messengers," or neurotransmitters, in the brain, is used by neurons to communicate with each other. It plays an important role in the regulation of sleep, movement and other behaviors which are essential for animal survival. But for motivation in particular, it was unclear whether serotonin was involved. Using optogenetics, the team stimulated the release of serotonin from neurons in the raphe nuclei. They first induced "peaks" of serotonin by stimulating these neurons with pulses of light, lasting three seconds every ten seconds, over three five-minute time periods. The mice, placed in a box, were left free to explore their environment. In these conditions, their most frequent spontaneous behaviors are walking around, rearing, grooming, digging holes or keeping relatively still, but nevertheless alert. The only difference the scientists saw was that stimulation caused the mice to reduce their locomotive speed by about 50%. In general, this stimulation of serotonin-producing neurons did not affect other behaviors. The effect of these serotonin "peaks" on locomotion was almost instantaneous (speed reduction manifested one second after stimulation) and transient, with things going back to normal after five seconds. But during this short period of time, "the animals acted as if they weren't motivated," says Zach Mainen, who led the study.
Robotics

Elon Musk: Humans Need To Merge With Machines Else They Will Become Irrelevant in AI Age (cnbc.com) 251

Billionaire Elon Musk is known for his futuristic ideas. So it didn't come as a surprise when on Monday at the World Government Summit in Dubai, he predicted that over time we will see a "closer merger of biological intelligence and digital intelligence." He added, via a CNBC report: "It's mostly about the bandwidth, the speed of the connection between your brain and the digital version of yourself, particularly output." Musk explained what he meant by saying that computers can communicate at "a trillion bits per second", while humans, whose main communication method is typing with their fingers via a mobile device, can do about 10 bits per second. In an age when AI threatens to become widespread, humans would be useless, so there's a need to merge with machines, according to Musk. "Some high bandwidth interface to the brain will be something that helps achieve a symbiosis between human and machine intelligence and maybe solves the control problem and the usefulness problem," Musk explained.
Medicine

Amputees Control Virtual Prosthetic Arm Using Nerve Signals (newscientist.com) 8

CanadianRealist writes: Current prosthetic arms are usually controlled by detecting signals from the user twitching muscles in the shoulder or arm. This allows only a limited number of possible movements, such as grasp and release. Researchers have developed a new technique that interprets signals from motor neurons in the spinal cord, allowing for a greater range of control of an arm. Signals from nerves associated with hand and arm movements were mapped to the corresponding movements. Test subjects were able to move a virtual prosthetic arm with greater freedom than has been achieved with muscle-controlled prosthetics. (Note: A virtual prosthetic arm was used rather than a real one as this work is still in the early stages.) The study has been published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.
AI

Google Brain Creates Technology That Can Zoom In, Enhance Pixelated Images (softpedia.com) 146

Google Brain has created new software that can create detailed images from tiny, pixelated images. If you've ever tried zooming in on an image, you know that it generally becomes more blurry. You'd just get larger pixels and not a clear image. Google's new software effectively extracts details from a few source pixels to enhance pixelated images. Softpedia reports: For instance, Google Brain presented some 8x8 pixel images which it then turned into some pretty clear photos where you can actually tell facial features apart. What is this sorcery, you ask? Well, it's Google combining two neural networks. The first one, the conditioning network, works to map the 8x8 pixel source image against other high-resolution images. Basically, it downsizes other high-res images to the same 8x8 size and tries to make a match on the features. Then, the second network comes into play, called the prior network. This one uses an implementation of PixelCNN to add realistic, high-res details to that 8x8 source image. If the networks know that one particular pixel could be an eye, when you zoom in, you'll see the shape of an eye there. Or an eyebrow, or a mouth, for instance. The technology was put to the test and it was quite successful against humans. Human observers were shown a high-resolution celebrity face vs. the upscaled image resulted from Google Brain. Ten percent of the time, they were fooled. When it comes to the bedroom images used by Google for the testing, 28 percent of humans were fooled by the computed image.
Medicine

Studies Link Some Stomach Drugs To Alzheimer's Disease and Kidney Problems (scientificamerican.com) 102

While the recommended dosage for Nexium, Prevacid and Prilose is just two weeks, doctors often advise patients to continue taking them for years. But now Scientific American reports that "Chronic use of popular heartburn medicines may be riskier than was thought," citing two papers linking the drugs to an increase risk of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, and a greater risk of kidney problems. schwit1 quotes their report: The papers did not prove that PPIs cause the problems. But some researchers have nonetheless suggested possible mechanisms by which long-term use of the drugs could trigger dementia or kidney problems. A reduction in vitamin B12, for example, might leave the brain more vulnerable to damage, says Britta Haenisch, an author of the JAMA Neurology study and a neuropharmacologist at the Bonn campus of the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases. Last spring clinicians at the Houston Methodist Research Institute reported another plausible explanation for how PPIs might lead to these unexpected health issues: they picked up signs that the drugs act not only in the stomach but elsewhere in the body, too.
The article ends on an ambiguous note. "Without conclusive data, physicians and patients have to balance the need to prevent the ill effects of excess stomach acid and reflux with the desire to avoid potentially serious -- if theoretical -- side effects from long-term use of PPIs."
Medicine

Misophonia: Scientists Crack Why Eating Sounds Can Make People Angry (bbc.com) 152

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: Why some people become enraged by sounds such as eating or breathing has been explained by brain scan studies. The condition, misophonia, is far more than simply disliking noises such as nails being scraped down a blackboard. UK scientists have shown some people's brains become hardwired to produce an "excessive" emotional response. Olana developed the condition when she was eight years old. Her trigger sounds include breathing, eating and rustling noises. Scientists, including Olana, at multiple centers in the UK scanned the brains of 20 misophonic people and 22 people without the condition. They were played a range of noises while they were in the MRI machine, including: neutral sounds such as rain; generally unpleasant sounds such as screaming; people's trigger sounds. The results, published in the journal Current Biology, revealed the part of the brain that joins our senses with our emotions -- the anterior insular cortex -- was overly active in misophonia. And it was wired up and connected to other parts of the brain differently in those with misophonia. Dr Sukhbinder Kumar, from Newcastle University, told BBC News: "They are going into overdrive when they hear these sounds, but the activity was specific to the trigger sounds not the other two sounds. The reaction is anger mostly, it's not disgust, the dominating emotion is the anger -- it looks like a normal response, but then it is going into overdrive." There are no treatments, but Olana has developed coping mechanisms such as using ear plugs. It is still not clear how common the disorder is, as there is no clear way of diagnosing it and it was only recently discovered. Ultimately, the researchers hope, understanding the difference in the misophonic brain will lead to new treatments. One idea is that low levels of targeted electricity passed through the skull, which is known to adjust brain function, could help.
Science

The Purpose of Sleep? To Forget, Scientists Say (nytimes.com) 145

Over the years, scientists have come up with a lot of ideas about why we sleep. From a report on NYTimes: Some have argued that it's a way to save energy. Others have suggested that slumber provides an opportunity to clear away the brain's cellular waste. A pair of papers published on Thursday in the journal Science offer evidence for another notion: We sleep to forget some of the things we learn each day (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternate source). In order to learn, we have to grow connections, or synapses, between the neurons in our brains. These connections enable neurons to send signals to one another quickly and efficiently. We store new memories in these networks.
Republicans

Reddit Bans Far-Right Groups Altright and Alternativeright (theguardian.com) 899

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Social media site Reddit has banned two of the largest far-right "subreddits" groups it hosts, altright and alternativeright. The subreddits have been used in the organization of America's resurgent neofascist movement but the final straw for Reddit was the two groups' participation in what is known as "doxing": sharing private personal information without permission as a form of online harassment. The subreddits were specifically banned for breaking Reddit's content policy, according to a message posted by the site admins, "specifically, the proliferation of personal and confidential information." Reddit did not make it explicit which content infringed its rules, but it is believed to be attempts to dox the protestor who punched a white nationalist during a TV interview at Donald Trump's inauguration. Speaking to the Daily Beast, one Reddit moderator claimed that the ban was instead a result of its "record monthly traffic" (Reddit moderators, like the creators of individual subreddits, are all volunteers with no official relationship to the site's staff). "It's clear that Reddit banned us because we were becoming very popular and spreading inconvenient truths about who's ruining our country and robbing our children of a future," the moderator said.
Science

Reached Via a Mind-Reading Device, Deeply Paralyzed Patients Say They Want to Live (technologyreview.com) 180

Neuroscientists have designed a brain-reading device to hold simple conversations with "locked-in" patients that promises to transform the lives of people who are too disabled to communicate. Details of four patients who were able to communicate using what is being touted as a groundbreaking system were made public this week. From a report on MIT Technology Review: Now researchers in Europe say they've found out the answer after using a brain-computer interface to communicate with four people completely locked in after losing all voluntary movement due to Lou Gehrig's disease, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. In response to the statement "I love to live" three of the four replied yes. They also said yes when asked "Are you happy?" Designed by neuroscientist Niels Birbaumer, now at the Wyss Center for Bio and Neuroengineering in Geneva, the brain-computer interface fits on a person's head like a swimming cap and measures changes in electrical waves emanating from the brain and also blood flow using a technique known as near-infrared spectroscopy. To verify the four could communicate, Birbaumer's team asked patients, over the course of about 10 days of testing, to respond yes or no to statements such as "You were born in Berlin" or "Paris is the capital of Germany" by modulating their thoughts and altering the blood-flow pattern. The answers relayed through the system were consistent about 70 percent of the time, substantially better than chance.
Medicine

Why An LSD High Lasts For So Long (pbs.org) 138

Lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) has been credited, in part, for the creation of the iPhone, the polymerase chain reaction, as well as some pretty abstract artwork. Since the drug is classified as a Schedule 1 substance in the U.S., it's been more difficult for scientists to legally study the drug and learn about how it affects the brain. Therefore, when a study (or two) is published it makes the findings all the more fascinating. Two studies were published last week (one in Current Biology, the other in Cell) that examine how LSD produces such diverse effects and why the drug takes so long to wear off. The Scientist reports the findings from for the first study: For the Current Biology study, 21 volunteers were given a placebo, a small dose of LSD alone, or the same dose of LSD but with kentaserin, a serotonin 2A antagonist. Study participants who took the kentaserin reported virtually the same experiences as those who took the placebo, and fMRI brain scans confirmed similar brain activities across participants in both groups. The serotonin 2A antagonist "blocked all the effects of LSD, so it was like if people didn't take any drugs," coauthor Katrin Preller, neuroscientist at the Zurich University Hospital in Switzerland told The Verge. "All the typical symptoms -- hallucinations, everything -- were gone." As for why an LSD high lasts for so long, Angus Chen has written an in-depth report on PBS Newshour about the findings from the study published in Cell: LSD and other psychoactive drugs work by binding to specialized proteins called receptors on the surfaces of neural cells. On the receptor protein is a sculpted "pocket," into which molecules with the right shape can fit and thus stick to the cell, where they initiate changes in the brain. But different substances can often fit into the same receptor. Many receptors that bind LSD and DMT, for example, also fit the natural chemical messenger serotonin -- which is produced in the body and helps regulate mood. Figuring out how each drug interacts with the same receptor in a different way is key to understanding why an LSD trip lasts all day whereas an experience with extracted DMT is often over in 15 minutes or less. By freezing an LSD molecule bound to a single brain cell receptor as a crystal in a lab, researchers were able to get a 3-D x-ray image of the drug and the protein locked together. The image showed Bryan Rother, a pharmacologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and senior author on the paper, and his co-authors something strange about the way LSD fit inside this receptor. Drugs typically come and go from receptor proteins like ships pulling in and out of a port. But when an LSD molecule lands on the receptor, the molecule snags onto a portion of the protein and folds it over itself as the molecule binds to the receptor. LSD seems to stimulate the receptor for the entire time it is trapped underneath the protein "lid," Roth says. Proteins are in constant motion, so he thinks the lid eventually flops open, allowing the drug to fly out and the effects to wear off. But the team ran computer models that suggest it could take hours for that to happen. Until then, the trip goes on.
Medicine

Medical Startup To Begin Testing At-Home Brain Zapping Devices (ieee.org) 59

"A doctor's prescription for clinical depression could one day sound like this: In the comfort of your own home, slip on a brain-zapping headband a few times per week," reports IEEE Spectrum. Slashdot reader the_newsbeagle writes: This isn't old-school brain zapping: It's not electroshock therapy... While "transcranial direct current stimulation" is being investigated as a treatment for all sorts of neuropsychiatric disorders, many researchers and doctors think depression may be the killer app. A South Korean company called Ybrain thinks its consumer-friendly headband for depression will be the product that makes this treatment mainstream...
Ybrain plans to test the device on thousands of depression patients in 70 hospitals in Korea, according to the article, then "use data from all those patients to build a case for approval in Europe...and then in the U.S." The company's founder and CEO believes that after the FDA approves the first brain-zapping device, "it will be seen as a mainstream treatment."
Earth

Personality Traits Are Linked To Differences In Brain Structure, Says Researchers (neurosciencenews.com) 212

New submitter baalcat quotes a report from Neuroscience News: Our personality may be shaped by how our brain works, but in fact the shape of our brain can itself provide surprising clues about how we behave -- and our risk of developing mental health disorders -- suggests a study published today. According to psychologists, the extraordinary variety of human personality can be broken down into the so-called 'Big Five' personality traits, namely neuroticism (how moody a person is), extraversion (how enthusiastic a person is), openness (how open-minded a person is), agreeableness (a measure of altruism), and conscientiousness (a measure of self-control). In a study published today in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, an international team of researchers from the UK, US, and Italy have analyzed a brain imaging dataset from over 500 individuals that has been made publicly available by the Human Connectome Project, a major US initiative funded by the National Institutes of Health. In particular, the researchers looked at differences in the brain cortical anatomy (the structure of the outer layer of the brain) as indexed by three measures -- the thickness, area, and amount of folding in the cortex -- and how these measures related to the Big Five personality traits. The study has been published in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.
Medicine

Nicotine Shown To Reduce Symptoms of Schizophrenia (newatlas.com) 205

New submitter future guy quotes a report from New Atlas: A meta-analysis of worldwide studies conducted in 2005 definitively showed what many doctors had been anecdotally noting for decades. Schizophrenia patients were much more likely to become heavy smokers than than those in the general population. In fact some studies found over 80 percent of those diagnosed with schizophrenia were smokers. There were many social and psychological hypotheses proposed to explain this strange anomaly, but none were ever sufficient. A new study published in Nature Medicine has not only revealed how smoking can normalize the impairments in brain activity associated with schizophrenia, but unlocks an entirely new field of drug research to combat the disease. The study expanded on the recent discovery of a genetic mutation, labelled CHRNA5, that was identified as being associated with the cognitive impairments seen in schizophrenic patients. The scientists took mice with the CHRNA5 gene variant and discovered they displayed similar characteristics to those suffering from schizophrenia, such as an inability to suppress a startle response and an aversion to social interaction. Using brain imaging technologies the research team discovered the mice with the CHRNA5 gene variant displayed symptoms of hypofrontality, a state of decreased blood flow in the prefrontal cortex of the brain. Hypofrontality is commonly thought to be a prominent cause of many symptoms of schizophrenia, as well as being associated with other psychiatric conditions including Bipolar Disorder and ADHD. As well as identifying the role this gene variant plays in causing hypofrontality, the study examined how nicotine acted to restore normal activity to the prefrontal cortex. The researchers found that within one week of daily nicotine dosing the impaired brain activity in mice with schizophrenic characteristics had normalized.
AI

Deep Learning Algorithm Diagnoses Skin Cancer As Well As Seasoned Dermatologists (extremetech.com) 44

An anonymous reader quotes a report from ExtremeTech: Remember how that Google neural net learned to tell the difference between dogs and cats? It's helping catch skin cancer now, thanks to some scientists at Stanford who trained it up and then loosed it on a huge set of high-quality diagnostic images. During recent tests, the algorithm performed just as well as almost two dozen veteran dermatologists in deciding whether a lesion needed further medical attention. The algorithm is called a deep convolutional neural net. It started out in development as Google Brain, using their prodigious computing capacity to power the algorithm's decision-making capabilities. When the Stanford collaboration began, the neural net was already able to identify 1.28 million images of things from about a thousand different categories. But the researchers needed it to know a malignant carcinoma from a benign seborrheic keratosis. Dermatologists often use an instrument called a dermoscope to closely examine a patient's skin. This provides a roughly consistent level of magnification and a pretty uniform perspective in images taken by medical professionals. Many of the images the researchers gathered from the Internet weren't taken in such a controlled setting, so they varied in terms of angle, zoom, and lighting. But in the end, the researchers amassed about 130,000 images of skin lesions representing over 2,000 different diseases. They used that dataset to create a library of images, which they fed to the algorithm as raw pixels, each pixel labeled with additional data about the disease depicted. Then they asked the algorithm to suss out the patterns: to find the rules that define the appearance of the disease as it spreads through tissue. The researchers tested the algorithm's performance against the diagnoses of 21 dermatologists from the Stanford medical school, on three critical diagnostic tasks: keratinocyte carcinoma classification, melanoma classification, and melanoma classification when viewed using dermoscopy. In their final tests, the team used only high-quality, biopsy-confirmed images of malignant melanomas and malignant carcinomas. When presented with the same image of a lesion and asked whether they would "proceed with biopsy or treatment, or reassure the patient," the algorithm scored 91% as well as the doctors, in terms of sensitivity (catching all the cancerous lesions) and sensitivity (not getting false positives).
The Almighty Buck

The Mind-Reading Gadget For Dogs That Got Funded, But Didn't Get Built (ieee.org) 66

the_newsbeagle writes: Crowdfunding campaigns that fail to deliver may be all too common, but some flameouts merit examination. Like this brain-scanning gadget for dogs, which promised to translate their barks into human language. It's not quite as goofy as it sounds: The campaigners planned to use standard EEG tech to record the dogs' brainwaves, and said they could correlate those electrical patterns with general states of mind like excitement, hunger, and curiosity. The campaign got a ton of attention in the press and raised twice the money it aimed for. But then the No More Woof team seemed to vanish, leaving backers furious. This article explains what went wrong with the campaign, and what it says about the state of neurotech gadgets for consumers.
Earth

Neuroscience Can't Explain How a Microprocessor Works (economist.com) 169

mspohr writes: The Economist has an interesting story about two neuroscientists/engineers -- Eric Jonas of the University of California, Berkeley, and Konrad Kording of Northwestern University, in Chicago -- who decided to test the methods of neuroscience using a 6502 processor. Their results are published in the PLOS Computational Biology journal. Neuroscientists explore how the brain works by looking at damaged brains and monitoring inputs and outputs to try to infer intermediate processing. They did the same with the 6502 processor which was used in early Atari, Apple and Commodore computers. What they discovered was that these methods were sorely lacking in that they often pointed in the wrong direction and missed important processing steps.
Earth

How the Human Brain Decides What Is Important and What's Not (neurosciencenews.com) 63

New submitter baalcat writes: A new study reported by Neuroscience News sheds light on how we learn to pay attention in order to make the most of our life experiences. From the report: "The Wizard of Oz told Dorothy to 'pay no attention to that man behind the curtain' in an effort to distract her, but a new Princeton University study sheds light on how people learn and make decisions in real-world situations. The findings could eventually contribute to improved teaching and learning and the treatment of mental and addiction disorders in which people's perspectives are dysfunctional or fractured. Participants in the study performed a multidimensional trial-and-error learning task, while researchers scanned their brains using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The researchers found that selective attention is used to determine the value of different options. The results also showed that selective attention shapes what we learn when something unexpected happens. For example, if your pizza is better or worse than expected, you attribute the learning to whatever your attention was focused on and not to features you decided to ignore. Finally, the researchers found that what we learn through this process teaches us what to pay attention to, creating a feedback cycle -- we learn about what we attend to, and we attend to what we learned high values for. 'If we want to understand learning, we can't ignore the fact that learning is almost always done in a multidimensional 'cluttered' environment,' says senior author Yael Niv, an associate professor in psychology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. 'We want kids to listen to the teacher, but a lot is going on in the classroom -- there is so much to look at inside it and out the window. So, it's important to understand how exactly attention and learning interact and how they shape each other.'" The study has been published in the journal Neuron.

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