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One reason for the association between poverty and poorer cognition in children may lie in how poverty affects attention, with poor children tending to use more cognitive resources in monitoring the environment.

There have been a number of studies in the past few years showing how poverty affects brain development and function. One of these showed specifically that children of high and low socioeconomic status showed differences in brain wave patterns associated with an auditory selective attention task. This was thought to indicate that the groups were using different mechanisms to carry out the task,...
December, 2012

A new study provides more evidence that meditation changes the brain, and different types of meditation produce different effects.

More evidence that even an 8-week meditation training program can have measurable effects on the brain comes from an imaging study. Moreover, the type of meditation makes a difference to how the brain changes. The study involved 36 participants from three different 8-week courses: mindful meditation, compassion meditation, and health education (control group). The courses involved only two hours...
December, 2012

A study of deaf toddlers suggests that we can support children’s acquisition of language by providing physical links to words, through the use of gestures, facial expressions, and tone.

The relative ease with which children acquire language has produced much debate and theory, mirroring the similar quantity of debate and theory over how we evolved language. One theory of language evolution is that it began with gesture. A recent study looking at how deaf children learn sign language might perhaps be taken as partial support for this theory, and may also have wider implications...
December, 2012

A review has concluded that there is no evidence that sensory integration therapy helps autistic children.

A review of 25 major studies investigating the value of sensory integration therapy (SIT) for autistic children has concluded that this most popular of therapies has no scientific support. Only three of the 25 studies found benefits from SIT, and these three all had serious methodological flaws. Eight of the studies found mixed results, while 14 studies reported no benefits. Many of the reviewed...
December, 2012

Findings supporting dopamine’s role in long-term episodic memory point to a decline in dopamine levels as part of the reason for cognitive decline in old age, and perhaps in Alzheimer’s.

The neurotransmitter dopamine is found throughout the brain and has been implicated in a number of cognitive processes, including memory. It is well-known, of course, that Parkinson's disease is characterized by low levels of dopamine, and is treated by raising dopamine levels. A new study of older adults has now demonstrated the effect of dopamine on episodic memory. In the study, participants (...
December, 2012

The most popular format of the most common type of diagram in biology textbooks is more difficult to understand than formats that use different orientations.

A study into how well students understand specific diagrams reminds us that, while pictures may be worth 1000 words, even small details can make a significant difference to how informative they are. The study focused on variously formatted cladograms (also known as phylogenetic trees) that are commonly used in high school and college biology textbooks. Such diagrams are hierarchically...
November, 2012

A large long-running study adds to evidence that the timing of hormone therapy is critical in deciding whether it reduces or increases the risk of developing Alzheimer’s.

It’s been unclear whether hormone therapy helps older women reduce their risk of Alzheimer’s or in fact increases the risk. To date, the research has been inconsistent, with observational studies showing a reduced risk, and a large randomized controlled trial showed an increased risk. As mentioned before, the answer to the inconsistency may lie in the timing of the therapy. A new...
November, 2012

A large study reveals that a diet with high levels of carbohydrate and sugar greatly increases the chance of developing MCI or dementia, while high levels of fat and protein reduce the risk.

In a large Mayo Clinic study, self-reported diet was found to be significantly associated with the risk of seniors developing mild cognitive impairment or dementia over a four-year period. The study involved 1,230 older adults (70-89) who completed a 128-item food-frequency questionnaire about their diet during the previous year. Of these, around three-quarters (937) showed no signs of cognitive...
November, 2012

A large study of older adults shows that physical exercise is associated with less brain atrophy and fewer white matter lesions. A small study shows that frail seniors benefit equally from exercise.

A study using data from the Lothian Birth Cohort (people born in Scotland in 1936) has analyzed brain scans of 638 participants when they were 73 years old. Comparing this data with participants’ earlier reports of their exercise and leisure activities at age 70, it was found that those who reported higher levels of regular physical activity showed significantly less brain atrophy than...
November, 2012

A mouse study indicates that caffeine can help prevent inflammation occurring in the brain, by blocking an early response to cell damage.

Caffeine has been associated with a lower of developing Alzheimer's disease in some recent studies. A recent human study suggested that the reason lies in its effect on proteins involved in inflammation. A new mouse study provides more support for this idea. In the study, two groups of mice, one of which had been given caffeine, were exposed to hypoxia, simulating what happens in the brain during...
November, 2012
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