After providing all the funding for The Brain from Top to Bottom for over 10 years, the CIHR Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction informed us that because of budget cuts, they were going to be forced to stop sponsoring us as of March 31st, 2013.

We have approached a number of organizations, all of which have recognized the value of our work. But we have not managed to find the funding we need. We must therefore ask our readers for donations so that we can continue updating and adding new content to The Brain from Top to Bottom web site and blog.

Please, rest assured that we are doing our utmost to continue our mission of providing the general public with the best possible information about the brain and neuroscience in the original spirit of the Internet: the desire to share information free of charge and with no adverstising.

Whether your support is moral, financial, or both, thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

Bruno Dubuc, Patrick Robert, Denis Paquet, and Al Daigen




Wednesday, 14 November 2018
Political Allegiance and Brain Biology

How hard it is to get someone to shift their allegiance from one political party to another is something that many of us know from personal experience, but it has also been demonstrated experimentally. For example, in subjects who were exposed to political ideas opposed to their own, researchers have recorded brain activity similar to that associated with the processing of pain or negative emotions. Conversely, when subjects were asked to justify their own political positions, their ventral striatum became more active, the typical sign of a pleasant, positive experience—in short, a reward.

So does this mean that all of us are stuck in a self-referential loop that would significantly compromise the possibility of any genuine political debate? Perhaps not entirely. For example, researchers have shown that they can make people react more like conservatives (at least temporarily) by first exposing them to things that represent threats.

But in a U.S. study that John Bargh and his team have published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, they describe the first experiment showing that it is also possible to do the opposite: make conservatives temporarily more liberal. How did they do it? Before asking their subjects a set of questions about social change, the researchers had them close their eyes and imagine that they were being visited by a genie who could grant them a certain superpower. For some of the subjects, it was the ability to fly through the air (regarded as neutral for the purpose of this study). For others, it was being invulnerable to any physical attack.

The subjects who had imagined that they could fly then answered the questions about social change in a manner consistent with their party loyalties: those who were Republicans (and hence more conservative) gave answers less favourable to social change, while those who were Democrats gave answers that were more favourable. But the Republicans who had imagined that they were invulnerable gave significantly more liberal answers to some of the same questions, indistinguishable from the answers given by the Democrats in the “invulnerable” group.

In short, the researchers had succeeded in temporarily transforming conservatives into liberals, simply by manipulating something that was deeper and unconsciously connected to their political choices: their relationship to their own security and survival. In other words, something that was ancient and hence closely related to their bodies, as is often the case with ancestral motivations of this kind. The same pattern applies to our instinctive aversion to germs and other microbes, which Bargh also cites. So it’s no surprise that Trump and other Republicans have tried to play on their citizens’ fears by comparing immigrants to viruses who want to invade them!

Emotions and the Brain | No comments


Thursday, 1 November 2018
How the Concept of Affordances Has Evolved

Recently, I had the chance to realize how quickly a concept can change—in this case, the concept of affordances, In its original form, this concept first appeared in studies by James J. Gibson on the sense of sight, in the 1970s. In short, Gibson observed that when we see an object, what interests us the most is not so much its physical properties as the opportunities that it affords us to take action—to intervene more effectively in the world and thus better resist the ravages of time, or, in the elegant language of physics, to temporarily overcome the second law of thermodynamics, that entropy always increases.

For some years, this concept of affordances received little attention in cognitive science, because the prevailing highly computationalist paradigm, emphasizing inputs, manipulation of symbols, and outputs, militated against its full development. This is a common phenomenon in the history of ideas: a conceptual innovation that is just a bit ahead of its time does not fit into any existing, broader paradigm that would let the scientific community understand and embrace its full implications. (more…)

Body Movement and the Brain | No comments