Sunday, September 30, 2012

Sleep: Biologists uncover the dynamic between biological clock and neuronal activity

Biologists at New York University have uncovered one way that biological clocks control neuronal activity -- a discovery that sheds new light on sleep-wake cycles and offers potential new directions for research into therapies to address sleep disorders and jetlag.

"The findings answer a significant question -- how biological clocks drive the activity of clock neurons, which, in turn, regulate behavioural rhythms," explained Justin Blau, an associate professor in NYU's Department of Biology and the study's senior author.

Their findings appear in the Journal of Biological Rhythms.

Scientists have known that our biological clocks control neuronal activity but not previously understood is how this process occurs -- that is, how does information from biological clocks drive rhythms in the electrical activity of pacemaker neurons that, in turn, drives daily rhythms?

To understand this mechanism, the researchers examined the biological, or circadian, clocks of Drosophila fruit flies, which are commonly used for research in this area.

Earlier studies of "clock genes" in fruit flies allowed the identification of similarly functioning genes in humans.

In their study, the researchers focused on eight master pacemaker neurons located in the central brain -- these neurons set the timing of the daily transitions between sleep and wake in the fly.

Specifically, they were able to isolate these neurons from animals and identify sets of genes differentially expressed between dawn and dusk.

In a series of follow-up experiments, they concentrated on one gene, Ir, whose expression was found to be much higher at dusk than at dawn and much more highly expressed in pacemaker neurons than in the rest of the brain.

Ir encodes a potassium channel that helps set the resting state of neurons -- and so its rhythmic expression makes it an excellent candidate to help link the biological clock to pacemaker neuron activity.

High levels of Ir expression at dusk should make it much harder for pacemaker neurons to signal than the low levels seen at dawn, a finding that fits with earlier studies showing that pacemaker neurons fire more at dawn than at dusk.

The authors also found that genetic manipulations that either increase or decrease Ir levels affect behavioral rhythms. Perhaps more interestingly, these were also associated with changes in the timing and strength of oscillations in the core clock.

"Biology is never as simple as we imagine it will be," explained Blau. "We were looking for an output of the biological clock that would link the core clock to neuronal activity. Ir seems to do this, but it also, remarkably, feeds back to regulate the core clock itself. Feedback loops seem to be deeply engrained into the biological clock and presumably help these clocks work so well."

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Is Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) an unintended consequence of Modern Teaching?

Computer Vision Syndrome becomes an unintended consequence resized 600

Computer usage is on the rise in the classroom, and its giving rise to an unintended consequence:  An increased risk of computer vision syndrome.

Students now have instant access to endless streams of information in multiple formats – video, text, music, anything.

Computers are a fixture in the classroom, as indicated by these statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics:
  • In 2009, 97% of teachers had one or more computers located in the classroom every day.
  • Internet access was available for 93% of computers in the classroom.
  • The ratio of students to computers in the classroom was 5.3 to 1.
  • Teachers reported that they or their students used computers in the classroom during instructional time (40%) or sometimes (29%).
Technology in the classroom, and at home, is exciting but it’s also resulting in Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS).

What is Computer Vision Syndrome?
CVS is eyestrain resulting from near work on the computer.  It can cause headaches, sore eyes, blurry vision, fatigue, and potentially even myopia (near-sightedness) among students.

An article in the Wall Street Journal cited a study by the National Institute of Occupational Safety, which indicates that CVS affects some 90% of the people who spend three hours or more per day at the computer.

That unintended consequence is the bad news of extended computer usage.  The good news is that visual problems can be offset if you practice good visual health while at the computer workstation.

As we noted in a previous post, there are techniques to help you avoid CVS.  These include:
  • Sitting on a chair with feet flat on the floor and legs at a ninety-degree angle.
  • Avoiding viewing computers screens, iPads, or smart phones while lying down on couch.  You should be upright and the screen should be straight ahead, not viewed at an angle.
  • Using the Harmon Distance (the distance from the big knuckle on your middle finger to the tip of your elbow) when viewing a screen. Note that many people hold smart phones too close to their eyes - especially children. 
  • Adjusting the level of brightness of your monitor for comfort.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Children in Europe start learning foreign languages at an increasingly early age

Children are starting to learn foreign languages at an increasingly early age in Europe, with most pupils beginning when they are 6-9 years old, according to a report published by the European Commission. 

A majority of countries or regions have lowered the starting age for compulsory language learning in the past 15 years and some even offer it in pre-school - the German speaking community in Belgium, for instance, provides foreign language learning for children as young as 3. 

The Key Data on Teaching Languages at School in Europe 2012 report confirms that English is by far the most taught foreign language in nearly all European countries, with French, Spanish, German and Russian following far behind.

"Linguistic and cultural diversity is one of the European Union's major assets," says Androulla Vassiliou, Commissioner for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth

"Language learning facilitates communication between peoples and countries, as well as encouraging cross-border mobility and the integration of migrants.

I am happy to see that even our youngest citizens are being exposed to the joys of discovering foreign languages. 

I also encourage people to look beyond the most widely-used languages so they can appreciate Europe's incredible linguistic diversity."

The report highlights that an increasing number of pupils now learn two languages for at least one year during compulsory education. 

On average, in 2009/10, 60.8% of lower secondary education students were learning two or more foreign languages - an increase of 14.1% compared to 2004/05. 

During the same period, the proportion of primary education pupils not learning a foreign language fell from 32.5% to 21.8%.

English is the most taught foreign language in nearly all of the 32 countries covered in the survey (27 Member States, Croatia, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Turkey) – a trend that has significantly increased since 2004/05. 

In lower secondary and general upper secondary education, the percentage of students learning English exceeds 90%.

Only a very small percentage of pupils (0-5 %, according to the country) learn languages other than English, French, Spanish, German and Russian.

The report also confirms a rather surprising finding - few countries require their trainee language teachers to spend an immersion period abroad. Indeed, only 53.8 % of foreign language teachers who took part in the recently published European Survey on Language Competences (IP/12/679) stated they have spent more than a month studying in a country where the language they teach is spoken. 

But this average masks a wide variation of approaches: 79.7% of Spanish teachers have spent more than one month studying their chosen language in a country where it is spoken, while this applies to only 11% of Estonian teachers . 

These findings raise the question of whether exposing future teachers to on-the-ground experience of using the language should be considered as a quality criterion in teacher training.

The importance of language learning will be a focus of the 'Multilingualism in Europe' conference, which the Commission is organising in Limassol, Cyprus, on 26-28 September. 

Commissioner Vassiliou will deliver the keynote speech.

Click here for full press release

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Playground peers can predict adult personalities

Even on the playground, our friends know us better than we know ourselves.

New research has revealed that your childhood peers from grade school may be able to best predict your success as an adult.

Lisa Serbin of the Department of Psychology at Concordia University and Alexa Martin-Storey, a recent Concordia graduate and a current post-doctoral student at the University of Texas -- both members of the Concordia-based Centre for Research in Human Development -- recently published a study online, which reveals that childhood peer evaluation of classmate personalities can more accurately predict adulthood success than self-evaluation at that age.

"This study, known as the Concordia Longitudinal Risk Project, was started in 1976 by my colleagues in the Department of Psychology, Alex Schwartzman and Jane Ledingham, who is now at the University of Ottawa," says Serbin.

"Over two years, Montreal students in grades 1, 4 and 7 completed peer evaluations of their classmates and rated them in terms of aggression, likeability and social withdrawal. The students also did self-evaluations."

Over the next twenty years, these children were closely followed as researchers used the exhaustive longitudinal study to track their progress into adulthood.

A follow-up survey was conducted between 1999 and 2003 with nearly 700 of the participants from the initial study.

The survey included measurement of adult personality traits, such as levels of neuroticism, extroversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousness.

"We were able to compare peer and self-perceptions of the childhood behaviours to these adult personality factors," says Martin-Storey.

"We found the evaluations from the group of peers were much more closely associated with eventual adult outcomes than were their own personality perceptions from childhood.

This makes sense, since children are around their peers all day and behaviours like aggressiveness and likeability are extremely relevant in the school environment."

For example, children who perceived themselves as socially withdrawn exhibited less conscientiousness as adults.

On the other hand, kids whose peers perceived them as socially withdrawn grew up to exhibit lower levels of extraversion, the latter being a more accurate association.

Peer-perceived likeability also predicted a more accurate outcome, associating the personality trait with higher levels of agreeableness and conscientiousness, and lower levels of neuroticism than those who thought of themselves as likeable.

Overall, the findings supported the use of peer rather than self-ratings of childhood personalities in the prediction of adulthood success.

"Adult personality traits are associated with a lot of important life factors, such as health, mental health and occupational satisfaction," says Serbin.

"The information from our study could be used to promote better longitudinal outcomes for children by helping kids and parents develop effective mechanisms for addressing aggressive or socially withdrawn behaviours and promoting more pro-social behaviour."

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Human Alphabet - Pierrot

The Man of Letters or Pierrot’s Alphabet (1794), part of the essential history of graphic design

Children Exposed to Mercury, Lead at High Risk of ADHD - Canada study

Young children exposed to certain heavy metals are at higher risk for problems with attention and behaviour later in life, a new study shows.

The study followed nearly 300 Inuit children who were born in northern Quebec, Canada.

One of the main sources of protein in the Inuit diet is beluga whale meat, which can be high in mercury.

Inuit children are exposed to lead when they eat shot pellets that are used to kill geese and ducks.

Lead and mercury are potent toxins, and the developing brains of young children are vulnerable to their effects.

Mercury Poisoning
Studies of kids with mercury poisoning show they have trouble with language skills, attention, and coordination, as well as other problems.

Mercury poisoning can result in several diseases, including acrodynia (pink disease), Hunter-Russell syndrome, and Minamata disease.

Lead Poisoning
Lead poisoning also affects learning and memory.

Lead interferes with a variety of body processes and is toxic to many organs and tissues including the heart, bones, intestines, kidneys, and reproductive and nervous systems.

It interferes with the development of the nervous system and is therefore particularly toxic to children, causing potentially permanent learning and behaviour disorders, such as ADHD/ADD.

Researchers tested a sample of Inuit children's umbilical cord blood at birth for a range of environmental contaminants and nutrients.

Years later, when the children were between the ages of 8 and 14, researchers asked their teachers to complete questionnaires about their behaviour.

Roughly 14% of the children in the study had inattentive behaviours of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A similar percentage of the children had hyperactive-impulsive behaviours of ADHD.

Mercury and Lead Linked to More Symptoms of ADHD

Children with the highest concentrations of mercury in their cord blood had more trouble paying attention than those with lower levels.

They were also about three times more likely to be flagged by their teachers as having these symptoms of ADHD.

That was true even after researchers accounted for things linked to ADHD, like low birth weight and whether or not the mother used tobacco during pregnancy.

Researchers say the mercury levels seen in the study were extremely high. Most women of childbearing age in the U.S. have blood levels of mercury that are about one-third as high, according to the CDC.

Certain groups of people, like Asian-Americans born in China, who eat traditional diets rich in large fish like shark, tuna, and swordfish, have been found to have blood levels of mercury that are in the same extreme range as found in this study, says researcher Gina Muckle, PhD, of Laval University in Quebec, Canada.

In contrast, Inuit children with even low to moderate blood levels of lead -- closer to levels measured in some U.S. children -- were more than four times more likely to have problems with hyperactivity than kids with lower lead levels.

"The effects we are seeing are at very low levels of exposure. In [the] U.S. and Canada, for example, we estimate that 10% of children would be exposed to these blood lead levels," says Muckle.

U.S. children can be exposed to lead when they eat tiny chips of lead-based paint, which can be found in homes built prior to 1978.

The study (Prenatal Methylmercury, Postnatal Lead Exposure, and Evidence of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder among Inuit Children in Arctic Québec) is published in Environmental Health Perspectives. It was paid for by government grants from the U.S. and Canada.

Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Bullying Advice - Teresa Bliss, Educational Psychologist - YouTube

As an educational psychologist, Teresa works with children and adults who struggle to function in school or at work.

Particular areas of expertise include behaviour, dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism and how schools can combat bullying.

If you need advice on anything covered in this video, you can contact Teresa via Greatvine

It’s difficult socially when you have to live with dyslexia, dyspraxia, and bullying. It makes it more difficult to learn and to be around other people at times.

Friday, September 21, 2012

The Science of Procrastination - And How To Manage It - YouTube

From AsapSCIENCE — who have previously brought us the scientific cure for hangovers, the neurobiology of orgasms, and how music enchants the brain — comes this illustrated explication of the science of procrastination and how to manage it, a fine addition to these five perspectives on procrastination.

Among the proposed solutions is the Pomodoro technique, a time-management method similar to timeboxing that uses timed intervals of work and reward.

Human motivation is highly influenced by how imminent the reward is perceived to be — meaning, the further away the reward is, the more you discount its value. This is often referred to as Present bias, or Hyperbolic discounting.

David Byrne and neuroscientist Daniel Levitin Discuss Science and Music

David Byrne and neuroscientist Daniel Levitin, author of This Is Your Brain on Music, discuss the inner workings of music. Byrne’s new book, How Music Works, is an absolute must-read.

The conversation is part of SEED magazine’s Science Is Culture series, pairing artists and scientists to explore the intersection of science and society.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Stanford Study: Reading Jane Austen to examine attention and distraction

Researcher Natalie Phillips positions an eye-tracking device on Matt Langione

During a series of ongoing experiments, fMRI images track blood flow in the brains of subjects as they read excerpts of a Jane Austen novel.

Experiment participants are first asked to leisurely skim a passage as they might do in a bookstore, and then to read more closely, as they would while studying for an exam.

The researchers said the global increase in blood flow during close reading suggests that “paying attention to literary texts requires the coordination of multiple complex cognitive functions.”

Blood flow also increased during pleasure reading, but in different areas of the brain suggesting that each style of reading may create distinct patterns in the brain that are “far more complex than just work and play.”

The experiment focuses on literary attention, or more specifically, the cognitive dynamics of the different kinds of focus we bring to reading.

The researchers expected to see pleasure centers activating for the relaxed reading and hypothesized that close reading, as a form of heightened attention, would create more neural activity than pleasure reading.

If the ongoing analysis continues to support the initial theory…teaching close reading (i.e., attention to literary form) “could serve – quite literally – as a kind of cognitive training, teaching us to modulate our concentration and use new brain regions as we move flexibly between modes of focus.”

Pioneering Stanford study uses Jane Austen texts to examine attention and distraction during reading, suggesting different modes of reading may serve as valuable cognitive training for concentration.

Also see graphing Jane Austen.

Dyslexia: Cause may be different than previously known

Iris Berent
New research has argued that dyslexia may result from impairment of a different linguistic system than previously thought.

Speech perception engages at least two linguistic systems: the phonetic system, which extracts discrete sound units from acoustic input, and the phonological system, which combines these units to form individual words.

Previously, researchers generally believed that dyslexia was caused by phonological impairment, but results from the current study, led by Iris Berent of Northeastern University in Boston, suggest that the phonetic system may actually be the cause.

“Our findings confirm that dyslexia indeed compromises the language system, but the locus of the deficit is in the phonetic, not the phonological system, as had been previously assumed,” says Berent.

In the study, Hebrew-speaking college students had difficulty discriminating between similar speech sounds, but had no problem tracking abstract phonological patterns, even for novel words, suggesting that the phonological system is intact but the phonetic system is compromised.

“Our research demonstrates that a closer analysis of the language system can radically alter our understanding of the disorder, and ultimately, its treatment,” concluded Berent.

Read the full article here

The study has been published in the open access journal PLOS ONE. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0044875

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Autistic adults have unreliable neural responses

The top panel shows a map of the brain responses to the visual stimulation; they are similar across autism and control groups. 

The bottom left panel shows visual system responses of two individuals – one with autism and one control.

The average responses - across trials - are similar in terms of amplitude and shape, yet the trial-by-trial variability is much larger in the individual with autism (error bars are much larger). 

The bottom right panel shows that this is not a consequence of different head motion between the two individuals as both moved their head to a similar degree. 

Credit: Carnegie Mellon University 

Autism is a disorder well known for its complex changes in behavior—including repeating actions over and over and having difficulty with social interactions and language.

Current approaches to understanding what causes these atypical behaviours focus primarily on specific brain regions associated with these specific behaviours without necessarily linking back to fundamental properties of the brain's signaling abilities.

New research led by Carnegie Mellon University neuro-scientists takes the first step toward deciphering the connection between general brain function and the emergent behavioral patterns in autism.

Published in the journal Neuron, the study shows that autistic adults have unreliable neural sensory responses to visual, auditory and somatosensory, or touch, stimuli.

This poor response reliability appears to be a fundamental neural characteristic of autism. "Within the autism research community, most researchers are looking for the location in the brain where autism happens," said Ilan Dinstein, a postdoctoral researcher in Carnegie Mellon's Department of Psychology and lead author of the study.

"We're taking a different approach and thinking about how a general characteristic of the brain could be different in autism—and how that might lead to behavioural changes."

For the study, 14 adults with autism and 14 without—all between the ages of 19 and 39—completed sensory experiments while inside a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine located at CMU's Scientific Imaging and Brain Research center.

To test the visual system's neural response, participants were shown a pattern of moving dots. The auditory stimulation consisted of pure tones presented to both ears, and short air puffs were used to stimulate the somatosensory senses.

The fMRI measured each individual's brain activity during the experiments. In all of the primary cortices, visual, auditory and somatosensory, the within-individual response reliability was significantly lower—by 30-40 percent—in autism; meaning, there was not a typical, predictable response from trial to trial.

Thus, in the individuals with autism, there was significant intra-individual variability, with responses varying from strong to weak.

Non-autistic adults had replicable and consistent responses from trial to trial. "This suggests that there is something very fundamental that is altered in the cortical responses in individual's with autism," said Marlene Behrmann, professor of psychology at CMU and a leading expert on using brain imaging to understand autism.

"It also begins to build a bridge between the kind of genetic changes that might have given rise to autism in the first place—and the kind of changes in the brain that are responsible for autistic behavioral patterns.

More information: Dinstein et al.: "Unreliable evoked responses in autism." DOI:10.1016/j.neuron.2012.07.026

Instapaper 4.2.5: iPhone 5 support, Open-Dyslexic font option

Instapaper 4.2.5 was just approved with support for the iPhone 5, iOS 6 compatibility improvements, and bugfixes.

Visit their website by clicking on the picture or follow this link.

The Importance of Practice and Sleep for Musicians - Molly Gebrian

Musicians v. Non-Musicians - Molly Gebrian

Most of studies on changes in neuronal activity only last a week or two at the most. 

It’s not logistically feasible to have people coming into the lab for weeks or months on end to have their brains looked at, so, some neuro-scientists think musicians are an ideal population to find out what happens when you practice a motor task repeatedly for years and years.

One of the most obvious changes is that, especially in string players and keyboard players, the portion of the motor cortex devoted to the fingers is much bigger.

At the same time, the neurons in this cortical network are much more efficient.

These two things happen because, presumably, over time, lots and lots of neurons get connected by synapses that wouldn’t normally be connected, and the neuronal ensembles that result from these new connections get much better at what they do because they get to practice everyday.

A musician’s brain is so efficient at things like scales and other simple patterns that are automatic to us that entire brain areas don’t get engaged in a musician’s brain that are very active in a non-musician or amateur’s brain.

Two of these areas are the pre-motor cortex and the supplementary motor area.

These are involved in planning complex movements and coordinating timing, but when musicians play scales or simple rhythm patterns, these areas barely do anything at all.

The only other complex motor tasks that show this lack of activation are overlearned skills such as writing.

What this means is that our basic set of tools and skills as musicians are so automatic that our brain barely has to do anything to execute them.

But what this also means is that when you learn a new skill, especially something like the extended techniques used in contemporary music, there is a necessary period of days or weeks that your brain needs to rewire itself and for new neuronal ensembles and circuits to form.

The other amazing thing that happens in musicians’ brains, as new synapses form, is that our motor cortex gets connected to our auditory cortex.

Think about how strange that is. For most people, what they hear doesn’t cause them to have automatic associations with movement, and moving certainly doesn’t cause them to hear things in their heads.

But if a musician listens to a recording of a piece they know and play well, not only does their auditory cortex light up on a brain scan (fMRI), but the portion of their motor cortex devoted to their fingers does too.

Furthermore, neuroscientists have shown that the motor cortex isn’t just lighting up as a whole unit – the areas that control the individual fingers light up in the order and timing they would to execute the correct fingering (Bangert and Altenmuller, 2003).

NB: When these kinds of studies are done, measures are taken to make sure the musicians aren’t physically moving their fingers.

The opposite happens too: if you tell a pianist to play a piece silently on a tabletop, their auditory cortex lights up as it would if they were actually playing (and hearing) the piece.

These finding just serve to highlight how important it is to always keep singing in your head as you play and to be really clear about what you want to hear.

It affects what comes out of your fingers and arms and mouth, not in some strange metaphysical way, but because your auditory cortex is connected to your motor cortex.

If you aren’t clear on what you want to hear, the auditory cortex has a very limited message to send to your fingers.

The Role of Sleep in Learning

If all of these changes have to take place in your brain before you can play something fluidly and competently, is there anything you can do to speed up the process?

The answer depends on how much you want to speed it up, because it turns out that a very important component of motor (and auditory) learning is sleep.

Matthew Walker and his colleagues here in Boston have done a number of experiments on motor learning during sleep (Walker, et al, 2002, 2003, 2005).

Their basic experimental paradigm involves three groups of people. The first group gets taught a finger tapping task (4-1-2-3-4 where 4 is the pinky finger and 1 is the index finger) at 10am, which they then practice and are tested on multiple times throughout the day.

The second group gets taught and practices the same task at 10am, but they don’t get tested on it again until 10pm.

Then, they are sent home to sleep and tested the next morning at 10am. The final group is trained on the task at 10pm and has their first retest at 10am the next morning. What they found is astonishing.

The first group gets gradually better throughout the day at a rate that you can predict.

The second group shows the same linear increase during the day, but when you test them the next morning, there is a huge jump in their performance (measured by faster sequence execution without loss of accuracy).

The same goes for the group that was trained at 10pm and then retested for the first time the next day – they got much better overnight, even though all they were doing was sleeping!

NB: Everyone was instructed not to practice when they went home.

Even more surprising, there is absolutely no relationship between how much better a person got during daytime practicing and how much better they got after sleeping.

How is this possible and what does it mean? Researchers have concluded that the last result means that practice-dependent learning and sleep-dependent learning are independent processes.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that if you don’t practice, you’ll get better just by sleeping but it does mean that you shouldn’t underestimate the importance of sleep in learning, especially when it’s brand new.

Knowing this can help you use your practice time much more efficiently.

Say, for instance, you have a lot of music to learn for orchestra and not a lot of time to practice it.

You will be much better off practicing your orchestra music for 15 minutes a day until the concert, rather than “wood-shedding” the day before the concert.

Why? Because you’ll have all those nights of sleep for your brain to process the new music. So ultimately, you’ll be able to play the music better with fewer hours of actual practice.

When you’re learning a new piece that you have ample time to practice, keeping the role of sleep in mind can also help you practice more efficiently.

The primary thing that improved with sleep for the people in these studies was speed (at least that’s what the experimenters were measuring).

Since the amount of daytime improvement and learning after sleep aren’t related, spending hours and hours on a really tricky fast passage on the first few days of practicing isn’t as efficient as getting it fluent at a slower tempo and then just leaving it until the next day.

The next day, not only will you be able to play it faster, but you’ll spend much less time getting it to a faster tempo than you would’ve the day before.

No one probably would’ve guessed that just sleeping would make you better at playing your instrument, but researchers have shown that it does, over and over again.

The effects of sleep are really hard to study, but in this case, researchers think they know how it works.

Sleep is divided into two broad types: REM sleep and non-REM sleep (or NREM sleep). REM sleep is when you have dreams.

During what is called Stage 2 NREM sleep, however, electrical brain events occur that are called sleep spindles.

During a sleep spindle, there is a huge burst of electrical activity in a population of neurons that causes massive amounts of calcium to enter those cells.

Calcium is what causes all the changes discussed earlier, from strengthening and weakening synapses, to making new synapses, to synchronizing the firing of neuronal ensembles.

Sleep spindles reach peak intensity late in the night and have been shown to increase following motor learning during the day.

The study by Matthew Walker and his colleagues at Harvard Medical School also found that the percentage of improvement after sleeping strongly correlated with the amount of time the person spent in Stage 2 NREM sleep in the final quarter of the night, precisely when sleep spindle activity is at its peak.

This finding also highlights the importance of getting enough sleep while you’re learning something new.

A full night of sleep was defined as 8 hours in this study, and it was only the last two hours that were really important for learning.

Getting a full night’s sleep may be even more important that we realize.

Read the full article here:

Dyslexia: Music underlies language acquisition, theorists propose

Contrary to the prevailing theories that music and language are cognitively separate or that music is a byproduct of language, theorists at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) advocate that music underlies the ability to acquire language.

"Spoken language is a special type of music," said Anthony Brandt, co-author of a theory paper published online this month in the journal Frontiers in Cognitive Auditory Neuroscience.

"Language is typically viewed as fundamental to human intelligence, and music is often treated as being dependent on or derived from language. But from a developmental perspective, we argue that music comes first and language arises from music."

Brandt, associate professor of composition and theory at the Shepherd School, co-authored the paper with Shepherd School graduate student Molly Gebrian and L. Robert Slevc, UMCP assistant professor of psychology and director of the Language and Music Cognition Lab.

"Infants listen first to sounds of language and only later to its meaning," Brandt said. He noted that newborns' extensive abilities in different aspects of speech perception depend on the discrimination of the sounds of language -- "the most musical aspects of speech."

The paper cites various studies that show what the newborn brain is capable of, such as the ability to distinguish the phonemes, or basic distinctive units of speech sound, and such attributes as pitch, rhythm and timbre.

The authors define music as "creative play with sound." They said the term "music" implies an attention to the acoustic features of sound irrespective of any referential function.

As adults, people focus primarily on the meaning of speech but babies begin by hearing language as "an intentional and often repetitive vocal performance," Brandt said.

"They listen to it not only for its emotional content but also for its rhythmic and phonemic patterns and consistencies. The meaning of words comes later."

Brandt and his co-authors challenge the prevailing view that music cognition matures more slowly than language cognition and is more difficult. "We show that music and language develop along similar time lines," he said.

Infants initially don't distinguish well between their native language and all the languages of the world, Brandt said.

Throughout the first year of life, they gradually hone in on their native language. Similarly, infants initially don't distinguish well between their native musical traditions and those of other cultures; they start to hone in on their own musical culture at the same time that they hone in on their native language, he said.

The paper explores many connections between listening to speech and music. For example, recognizing the sound of different consonants requires rapid processing in the temporal lobe of the brain.

Similarly, recognizing the timbre of different instruments requires temporal processing at the same speed -- a feature of musical hearing that has often been overlooked, Brandt said.

Read the full article here

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Technology for Teachers: Three Tools for Creating infographics provides a canvas on which you can build your own infographic by dragging and dropping pre-made design elements.

You can use a blank canvas or build upon one of's themes. If doesn't have enough pre-made elements for you, you can upload your own graphics to include in your infographic.

Your completed infographic can be exported and saved as PNG, JPG, PDG, and SVG files. Watch the video for an overview of is an online tool for creating interactive charts and graphs. Soon you will be able to create interactive infographic posters on too.

There are four basic chart types that you can create on; bar, pie, line, and matrix.

Each chart type can be edited to use any spreadsheet information that you want to upload to your account.

The information in that spreadsheet will be displayed in your customized chart. When you place your cursor over your completed chart the spreadsheet information will appear in small pop-up window.

Your charts can be embedded into your blog, website, or wiki. makes it easy to make your own Infographics from Twitter hashtags.

To create an infographic with just sign-in with your Twitter ID, enter a hashtag that you want to see visualized, and select an infographic template.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Understanding the Co-morbidity Between Dyslexia and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Dyslexia and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are 2 of the most prevalent complex neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood, each affecting approximately 5% of the population in the United States.

These disorders are also each co-morbid with speech sound disorder and language impairment.

Understanding the nature of the comorbidity among these disorders could lead to advances in developmental theory, a deeper understanding of the genetic and brain mechanisms that cause disability, a more refined diagnostic classification scheme, and new treatments and interventions for children with these disorders.

As part of this special issue of Topics in Language Disorders, this review focuses on the comorbidity between dyslexia and ADHD.

It provides a review of the known etiological mechanisms that underlie each disorder. It describes the reconceptualization of these disorders using a multiple deficit model and provides a synopsis of recent studies that illustrate a cohesive approach to investigating the causes of comorbidity.

Future directions are discussed in the context of expanding these approaches to the co-morbidity among all 4 disorders.  

Read the full paper here

Assistive listening devices drive neuroplasticity in children with dyslexia

Children with dyslexia often exhibit increased variability in sensory and cognitive aspects of hearing relative to typically developing peers.

Assistive listening devices (classroom FM systems) may reduce auditory processing variability by enhancing acoustic clarity and attention.

We assessed the impact of classroom FM system use for 1 year on auditory neurophysiology and reading skills in children with dyslexia.

FM system use reduced the variability of subcortical responses to sound, and this improvement was linked to concomitant increases in reading and phonological awareness.

Moreover, response consistency before FM system use predicted gains in phonological awareness. A matched control group of children with dyslexia attending the same schools who did not use the FM system did not show these effects.

Assistive listening devices can improve the neural representation of speech and impact reading-related skills by enhancing acoustic clarity and attention, reducing variability in auditory processing.

Read the full article here

Saturday, September 8, 2012

An Open Font For Dyslexic Readers - Good or Neutral

Dyslectics have trouble with reading and not every dyslectic likes to read. 

The search for a way to make reading easier for dyslectics lead to the font “Dyslexie”, designed by Christian Boer of Studiostudio. 

The font “Dyslexie” is developed especially for dyslectics so that the differences between each character is bigger and easier to recognize.
Students read the reading tests EMT and Klepel twice. Once printed in the font Arial and once in the font “Dyslexie”. 

The order was randomly assigned and in-between the reading tests an auditory task was fulfilled.

The conclusion of the study was that reading with the font “Dyslexie” doesn’t lead to an increase in reading speed. 

There was however a decrease in the reading errors when dyslectics read words that where printed in the font “Dyslexie”. This is an indication that reading with the font “Dyslexie” decreases the reading errors.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The Developing Brain: There is no Final, Optimal state.

To reflect the ongoing structural changes in the adolescent and twenty-something brain, many journalists and scientists use words and phrases like “unfinished,” “work in progress,” “under construction” and “half-baked.”

Such language implies that the brain eventually reaches a kind of ideal state when it is “done.” But there is no final, optimal state.

The human brain is not a soufflé that gradually expands over time and finally finishes baking at age 30.

Yes, we can identify and label periods of dramatic development—or windows of heightened plasticity—but that should not eclipse the fact that brain changes throughout life.

Whether we can, at this moment in time, meaningfully link this life stage to neuroscience seems a tenuous proposition at best.

By itself, brain biology does not dictate who we are.

The members of any one age group are not reducible to a few distinguishing structural changes in the brain.

Ultimately, the fact that a twenty-something has weaker bridges between various brain regions than someone in their thirties is not hugely important—it’s just one aspect of a far more complex identity.