The origins of empathy?

Neuroscience is uniquely suited to investigate the biological underpinnings of the features and traits that make us human. These include morality, complex emotions and higher-order cognition. However, as we continually learn more about our behaviour and its origins, one unavoidable and startling possibility is frequently made clear; many quintessentially ‘human’ characteristics may not be unique to ourselves. One recent example is empathy, the experience of feeling and understanding the state of another agent. Empathy may cause one to respond altruistically; for example, to relieve the...

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The root of human progress

(or, “Where your iPod really came from”)

There’s this odd thought I get on a semi-regular basis; let’s say a few times per month. Here’s the gist: I’m walking down a busy street, such as Montreal’s Ste. Catherine Street, on a busy afternoon. I abruptly become aware that there are roughly a hundred thousand or so visible objects in my immediate surroundings; gold watches, sweater zippers, cell phones, noserings, Toyotas, handbags, bricks, iPods, and the like. That’s not the weird part, though. Immediately following this otherwise mundane bit of cognition is always the idea that all of these...

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Concussion repercussions

I went to a Montreal Canadiens game last week, with the Bruins as the visiting team. The atmosphere in the Bell Center was festive, as the Habs went up 4-0 in the first two periods. The mood shifted drastically, however, as a Canadiens forward was checked into the stanchion between the benches and fell to the ice, unconscious.

The now-infamous hit by Zdeno Chara on Max Pacioretty resulted in a serious concussion, as well as a fractured C4 vertebra. Amid the controversy regarding the hit and whether further disciplinary action should be brought against Chara, the incident brings the...

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Brains need love too

I recently saw the Douglas’ new ad campaign, ‘Brains need love too’ (check out the video here). The video is extremely open-ended, with the actual message of the campaign open to the interpretation of the viewer, at least until they visit the campaign’s web site. Here are the interpretations I took away from it (I initially tried to stay away from Cam’s blog entry and the campaign’s site until I got my preliminary impressions down, so as not to influence how I perceived it).

-          Psychiatric conditions are neurobiologically based, as implied with the opening shots of brains labelled...

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Certiorari emptor; on informal routes of public education

A recent editorial by Dr. Royce Murray, editor of the journal Analytical Chemistry, has garnered significant attention in its attacks on informal dissemination of scientific information to the general public. Given the topics I’ve written about previously, I thought it merited a response here.

The basic premise is that the only trustworthy sources of scientific information that can be given to the general public are peer-reviewed journal articles and a small number of established news sources, the latter of which Dr. Murray correctly admits are faltering. To distill his point further, he...

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New neurons and a new therapeutic target

The recent discovery that the human brain produces new neurons throughout life has led us to re-evaluate how we think about our brains and their plasticity, as well as examine potential new targets for psychiatric treatment.

In the narrow space between your ears, a roughly three-pound lump of tissue (composed mostly of water) contains everything that makes you who you are. Your brain is responsible for all of your memories, emotions, actions and aspirations. The human brain is also the source of all of our joy and misery, and understanding its workings offers hope for the amelioration of...

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Why effective scientific communication is crucial, and sometimes lacking

A few weeks ago, I attended a graduate student conference on current life science research in general. The format included presentations both by Canadian graduate students presenting their research, and distinguished scientists as guest lecturers. Although the scientific content in both sets of presentations was usually impressive, one thing immediately stuck out as a discriminating factor between some members of the former group and the latter; the ability to properly communicate science, especially to a general audience.

As I’ve said before in these articles, communicating scientific...

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Brain Awareness Week

This week is Brain Awareness Week, which includes a series of events undertaken by personnel at the Douglas and elsewhere to educate the public about the brain, and in honor of the occasion I thought I’d try to bring a modicum of brain awareness to my articles by dispelling some of the more common or insidious myths about the brain and its workings.

- We only use 10% of our brains
This one is a classic. There have been a number of proposed origins for this myth, including the idea that only 1/10th of your neurons are in a firing state at any point. I always assumed that the reason behind...

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Why blog? (‘Holiday’ edition)

[Note: I put together a second version of my first post, after someone let me know I’d written about popularizing science education close to a recent related ‘holiday’ without mentioning someone relevant. If you've read the first one and just want to skip to the edits, I’ve put them in italics.]

Why blog?

When I first mentioned writing for the Douglas Blogs, a few friends of mine asked me why. I’ve always believed the popularization of science for the benefit of the general public is one of the highest obligations of anyone who works in a scientific field. Although making complex concepts...

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Why blog?

When I first mentioned writing for the Douglas Blogs, a few friends of mine asked me why, so I thought I’d explain in my first post. I’ve always believed the popularization of science for the benefit of the general public is one of the highest obligations of anyone who works in a scientific field. Although making complex concepts digestible by the public isn’t always easy, it’s absolutely essential to fully realizing the benefits of these discoveries. Here are seven reasons why I believe that educating the public about scientific research is important, with a particular focus on the fields...

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