29 November 2015


On the 26th of November 2015, I gave a keynote with title “Examining Brain Behavior in Games and Virtual Environments” at the 9th International Conference of Czech and Slovak Faculties of Medicine, Focused on E-Learning and Medical Informatics in the Education of Medical Disciplines (MEFANET 2015), 25-26 November 2015 at Brno, Czech Republic.

The presentation examined: (a) the effect that prior gaming experience has at the brain pattern modulation as an attempt to systematically identify the elements that contribute to high BCI control and (b) whether body ownership effects can be different in real, virtual and augmented reality environments.

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28 November 2015

Sensation of Taste Is Built into Brain

Scientists from Columbia University have figured out how to turn tastes on and off in the brain using optogenetics, a technique that uses penetrating light and genetic manipulation to turn brain cells on and off. They reported their findings in an article published last week in Nature. By manipulating brain cells in mice this way, the scientists were able to evoke different tastes without the food chemicals actually being present on the mice’s tongues. The experiments re-conceptualize what we consider the sensory experience.

Results further demonstrate that the sense of taste is hardwired in our brains unlike our sense of smell, which is strongly linked to taste but almost entirely dependent on experience. Typically when we eat, the raised bumps, or papillae, that cover our tongues, pick up chemicals in foods and transmit tastes to the brain. There are five main types of papillae corresponding to each of the five basic tastes—sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami. Contrary to popular belief, these aren’t clustered in particular places on the tongue, with bitter in the back and sweet at the front, but are spaced about evenly on the tongue.

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23 November 2015

MRI Locates Happiness

Researchers at Kyoto University have found an answer from a neurological perspective. Overall happiness, according to their study, is a combination of happy emotions and satisfaction of life coming together in the precuneus, a region in the medial parietal lobe that becomes active when experiencing consciousness. People feel emotions in different ways; for instance, some people feel happiness more intensely than others when they receive compliments. Psychologists have found that emotional factors like these and satisfaction of life together constitutes the subjective experience of being happy. The neural mechanism behind how happiness emerges, however, remained unclear. Understanding that mechanism, will be a huge asset for quantifying levels of happiness objectively.

Researchers scanned the brains of research participants with MRI. The participants then took a survey that asked how happy they are generally, how intensely they feel emotions, and how satisfied they are with their lives. Their analysis revealed that those who scored higher on the happiness surveys had more grey matter mass in the precuneus. In other words, people who feel happiness more intensely, feel sadness less intensely, and are more able to find meaning in life have a larger precuneus. Over history, many eminent scholars like Aristotle have contemplated what happiness is. Several studies have shown that meditation increases grey matter mass in the precuneus. This new insight on where happiness happens in the brain will be useful for developing happiness programs based on scientific research.

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22 November 2015

Brain Tastes Without Tongue

Back in ancient times, philosophers like Aristotle were already speculating about the origins of taste, and how the tongue sensed elemental tastes like sweet, bitter, salty and sour. What researchers discovered just a few years ago is that there are regions of the brain (regions of the cortex) where particular fields of neurons represent these different tastes again, so there's a sweet field, a bitter field, a salty field, etcetera. They found that you can actually taste without a tongue at all, simply by stimulating the taste part of the brain, the insular cortex.

They ran the experiment in mice with a special sort of brain implant, a fiber-optic cable that turns neurons on with a pulse of laser light. And by switching on the bitter sensing part of the brain, they were able to make mice pucker up, as if they tasted something bitter. In another experiment, the researchers fed the mice a bitter flavouring on their tongues—but then made it more palatable by switching on the "sweet" zone of the brain. The study suggests that a lot of our basic judgements about taste (sweet means good, bitter means bad) are actually hard-wired at the level of the brain.

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21 November 2015

Patients Improve Speech by Watching 3D Tongue Images

A new study done by University of Texas (UT) at Dallas researchers indicates that watching 3D images of tongue movements can help individuals learn speech sounds. The findings could be especially helpful for stroke patients seeking to improve their speech articulation. Results show that individuals can be taught consonant sounds in part by watching 3D tongue images. The study was small but showed that participants became more accurate in learning new sounds when they were exposed to visual feedback training.

Technology recently allowed researchers to switch from 2D technology to the Opti-Speech technology, which shows the 3D images of the tongue. A previous UT Dallas research project determined that the Opti-Speech visual feedback system can reliably provide real-time feedback for speech learning. Part of the new study looked at an effect called compensatory articulation—when acoustics are rapidly shifted and subjects think they are making a certain sound with their mouths, but hear feedback that indicates they are making a different sound.

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