Monday, 19 October 2009

Discovering the Social Brain

Last week I attended The International Symposium on Applied Neuroscience and Neuropsychology at the University of Hong Kong. The theme was the "Social Brain", and included talks on mirror neurons (which I wrote about a couple of years ago here), Autism, and the loss-chasing behaviour in gambling.
The really striking thing about the conference was not only how much we now know about the chemical and neurological bases of psychology, it was how much more and fascinating work remains to be done. With current scanning technologies, scientists can identify specific areas of the brain in which neurons are firing in real time. They then say: Look! that bit's the bit of the brain that deals with risk analysis. And then, just to be sure they go out and look for some poor soul who has received some kind of horrifying but localised brain injury in that area. Usually that person will display bizarre quirks when it comes to risk analysis, and act in abnormal ways when presented with stimuli of this type.
But there's still so much more to be done. I'd love to put some children in a scanner and see what the neurological processes were for the acquisition of language, or the difference between their responses to vocal and multimedia presentations. The problem at this point is cost and portability. You have to think, though, that the technology will improve over the coming years, until units will be available to field investigators. It's an exciting time. Over the coming week, I'll delve a little more deeply into some of the subjects discussed, and the implications of the research. Watch this space!

PS: Bunny Boilers


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