Friday, January 01, 2016


Rather than tackle complex national and international issues and institutions that affect the entire U.S. of A,, we concentrate on place based trends that more directly affect our everyday experiences in our own neighborhoods, workplaces, and other closer connections.

Though these will overlap with certain global phenomena, we seek to grapple with ideas that stem from and have immediate implications for our personal ties.  We deal with those grassroots issues where we--rather than advocates or interest groups, think tankers, or politicians--can make a difference if armed with the kind of insights that emerge from our discussions.

Friday, October 23, 2015




Few things get music scholars more nervous than cross-cultural comparisons. The field of ethnomusicology, which was invented to inquire into this very subject, has grown increasingly uneasy with this part of its mission. The ethnomusicologist, in the words of Bruno Nettl, does not seek out such comparisons, but rather serves as “the debunker of generalizations.” Anthony Seeger has offered a similar perspective, expressing his resistance to “the privileging of similarities over differences.” In other words, if human beings from different cultures share certain musical proclivities and practices, academics in the field would rather not hear about it.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

This Magnet Can Change Your Faith in God

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a noninvasive procedure uses a metal coil to send pulses to the brain. By using TMS to deactivate and certain part of the prefrontal cortex and reduce a sense of threat, many of the the subjects dropped any belief in god, hell, heaven etc It also made them more tolerant compared to those who had the cap on but did not receive a sufficient dose of energy. That the brain's default wiring in the face of death pushes most people toward religion. Perceived threats of immigration result normally in more ethnocentrism. No free will there.

Said one of the neuroscientists from the University of York: “As expected, we found that when we experimentally turned down the posterior medial frontal cortex, people were less inclined to reach for comforting religious ideas, despite having been reminded of death,”

This tendency extends to all protective ideologies. Another author of the paper in an Oxford Unv. Press Journal: “These findings are very striking, and consistent with the idea that brain mechanisms that evolved for relatively basic threat-response functions are repurposed to also produce ideological reactions,”

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast
By Abby Haglove

When researchers used magnetic energy to shut down the brain’s threat perception, nearly a third of patients were more tolerant to immigrants. More said they didn’t believe in God.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Brains, Schools and a Vicious Cycle of Poverty

Research spotlights the grim effect of poverty on education

An ‘income achievement gap’ is widening: Low-income children do much worse in school than higher-income children.
A fifth or more of American children grow up in poverty, with the situation worsening since 2000, according to census data. At the same time, as education researcher Sean Reardon has pointed out, an “income achievement gap” is widening: Low-income children do much worse in school than higher-income children.
Since education plays an ever bigger role in how much we earn, a cycle of poverty is trapping more American children. It’s hard to think of a more important project than understanding how this cycle works and trying to end it.
Neuroscience can contribute to this project. In a new study in Psychological Science, John Gabrieli at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his colleagues used imaging techniques to measure the brains of 58 14-year-old public school students. Twenty-three of the children qualified for free or reduced-price lunch; the other 35 were middle-class.
The scientists found consistent brain differences between the two groups. The researchers measured the thickness of the cortex—the brain’s outer layer—in different brain areas. The low-income children had developed thinner cortices than the high-income children.

Aggression in Children Makes Sense—Sometimes

Does a strategy of opposing traits explain humanity’s success?

In studying aggression in children, researchers consider orchids and dandelions to describe types of children.

Walk into any preschool classroom and you’ll see that some 4-year-olds are always getting into fights—while others seldom do, no matter the provocation. Even siblings can differ dramatically—remember Cain and Abel. Is it nature or nurture that causes these deep differences in aggression?
The new techniques of genomics—mapping an organism’s DNA and analyzing how it works—initially led people to think that we might find a gene for undesirable individual traits like aggression. But from an evolutionary point of view, the very idea that a gene can explain traits that vary so dramatically is paradoxical: If aggression is advantageous, why didn’t the gene for aggression spread more widely? If it’s harmful, why would the gene have survived at all?

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Testosterone – the hormone of aggression?

testosterone and aggression

Testosterone deserves a special approach. Studies on the impact of this hormone on the aggressive behavior are being carried out for centuries. It is well known that, in animal world, for example in birds, the individuals who have a higher level of testosterone behave more aggressively and they can even attack their brothers; they are more combative, more sexually active and bolder in claiming or searching for food [Müller et al., 2014].

When it comes to human species, the important role of testosterone in forming the aggressive and dominating character, especially in men, has been proved [Mazur, Lamb, 1980; Mazur, Booth, 1998; Archer, 2006]. In one of the studies, it has been found that the level of testosterone in delinquents that have been convicted for crimes that implied unprovoked violence is higher than in those who have been convicted for nonviolent crimes, and this trait is characteristic both for men and women [Kreuz, Rose, 1972; Dabbs et al., 1988].

As regarding the impact of testosterone on the induction of a deviant behavior, the Evolutionary Neuroandrogenic Theory has been proposed, which states that the masculine sexual hormones (androgenes), testosterone in the first place, have a specific influence on neural processes, are responsible for a competitive behavior and create a predisposition towards criminality. These types of behavior have evolved especially in men, in order to boost their ability to obtain resources, social status and sexual partners [Ellis, 2003, 2004]. It is why the usage of medical or sportive drugs that contain testosterone (Anabolic Androgenic Steroids) could develop a higher aggressiveness among men, which leads to the fact that they get engaged more often in violent acts [Pope et al., 2000; Beaver et al., 2008].

Monday, May 18, 2015

A new milestone in non-pharmaceutical treatments for depression

woman brain scan
...TMS [transcranial magnetic stimulation] works by sending pulses of magnetic energy across the skull. These magnetic fields induce electric currents to flow in small patches of the brain of around one square centimetre, which in turn causes the neurons in that area to activate - these events take place over fractions of a second. For reasons that are not well understood, spacing out trains of these magnetic pulses leads to more durable effects, lasting for an hour or more after the stimulation - this is known as repetitive TMS, or rTMS. Repeated sessions of rTMS, given every day for several days, exploit the brain’s plasticity to change brain activity for many months. This gives neuroscientists a way to reorganise (never ‘rewire’) small brain circuits.

rTMS treatment for MDD [major depressive disorder] targets the prefrontal cortex, usually in a spot a few centimetres above the corner of the left eye, called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (or DLPFC). The cells in this area connect to networks that project throughout the brain, and rTMS has both enhancing and inhibiting effects on distant brain regions. The full extent of these hubs and networks are poorly understood, but it seems clear that modulating the activity of the prefrontal cortex releases neurotransmitters deep in the ancient structures of the midbrain, in particular the caudate nucleus. In turn, these structures regulate our basic motivations and emotions. So by indirectly stimulating these regions, rTMS seems to correct the low mood and listlessness of MDD in some people....

For a fuller description go to this Guardian article .

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Neuroscience and criminal culpability

"If brain scans are to play a scientifically legitimate role in determining criminal responsibility of a defendant or in reducing a defendant’s sentence, they need to be able to assist us in answering legal questions. That means, at bottom, that these scans must be amenable to being deciphered in such a way that they bear narrowly on potentially excusing or mitigating mental states, such as damaged capacity for reason or an impaired ability to form intent or exert self-control

Dr. Sally Satel and Prof. Scott O. Lilienfeld (guest-blogging)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Why the SAT Isn’t a ‘Student Affluence Test’


A lot of the apparent income effect on standardized tests is owed to parental IQ—a fact that needs addressing.

Spring is here, which means it’s time for elite colleges to send out acceptance letters. Some will go to athletes, the children of influential alumni and those who round out the school’s diversity profile. But most will go to the offspring of the upper middle class. We all know why, right? Affluent parents get their kids into the best colleges by sending them to private schools or spending lots of money on test preparation courses. Either way, it perpetuates privilege from generation to generation.

The College Board provides ammunition for this accusation every year when it shows average SAT scores by family income. The results are always the same: The richer the parents, the higher the children’s SAT scores. This has led some to view the SAT as merely another weapon in the inequality wars, and to suggest that SAT should actually stand for “Student Affluence Test.”

It’s a bum rap. All high-quality academic tests look as if they’re affluence tests. It’s inevitable. Parental IQ is correlated with children’s IQ everywhere. In all advanced societies, income is correlated with IQ. Scores on academic achievement tests are always correlated with the test-takers’ IQ. Those three correlations guarantee that every standardized academic-achievement test shows higher average test scores as parental income increases.