Max Planck Florida Institute Study Shows: Persistent Sensory Experience Is Good For the Aging Brain

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Newness Factor Weighs in on Brain

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Perry’s Ice Cream changed its wrapping from the standard brick shape to the two-piece “square round” package, was the new look enough for you to make the purchase?

Humans may be wired to seek out new experiences, according to a study published Wednesday in the online edition of the journal Neuron.Or did Kraft’s addition of a flip-top cap to its salad dressings steer you away from your usual brand?

If so, you’re not alone.

Humans may be wired to seek out new experiences, according to a study published Wednesday in the online edition of the journal Neuron.

The allure of novelty may be enough to make us look beyond our old favorites, “even in a situation where we don’t have any good reason to expect something to be better than before,” says Bianca Wittmann, lead author of the study and postdoctoral researcher at University College London.

In the study, researchers allowed 15 adults to select from a series of four black-and-white pictures. Each image was assigned a probability that selecting it would result in a monetary reward — one British pound. The participants were familiar with some but not all of the images.

People took a gamble when picking the pictures. After seeing the pictures multiple times, though, they could figure out which ones gave them the highest probability of cashing in.

As a twist, researchers periodically swapped pictures out, often replacing them with an unfamiliar image.

“What we found is that people preferentially go for the ones they’ve never seen before,” Wittmann says. Rather than stick with the familiar — a picture for which they’ve already figured out the probability of getting money — they’d rather take their chance on a new picture.

“[This study] helps make sense of the fact that novel situations are not neutral to us. We tend to like them,” says Dr. David Spiegel, professor and associate chair of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine.

Scientists Will Replicate Human Brain In 10 Years

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Within 10 years, scientists will be able to create a model that replicates the functions of the human brain says a neuroscientist.

“I absolutely believe it is technically and biologically possible. The only uncertainty is financial. It is an extremely expensive project and not all is yet secured,” says Henry Markram, professor at the Brain Mind Institute in Switzerland.

“The brain is of course extremely complex because it has trillions of synapses, billions of neurons, millions of proteins, and thousands of genes. But they are still finite in number,” says Markram.

“Today’s technology is already highly sophisticated and it allows us to reverse engineer the brain rapidly.” An example of the capability already in place is that today’s robots can do screenings and mappings tens of thousands of times faster than humans.

Another hurdle on the path to a model human brain is that 100 years of neuroscience discovery has led to millions of fragments of data and knowledge that have never been brought together and exploited fully.

“The biggest challenge is to understand how electrical-magnetic-chemical patterns in the brain convert into our perception of reality. We think we see with our eyes, but in fact most of what we ’see’ is generated as a projection by your brain. So what are we actually looking at when we look at something ‘outside’ us?”

For Markram, the most exciting part of his research is putting together the hundreds of thousands of small pieces of data that his lab has collected over the past 15 years, and seeing what a microcircuit of the brain looks like.

“When we first switched it on it already started to display some interesting emergent properties. But this is just the beginning because we know now that it is possible to build it.

“As we progress we are learning about design secrets of our brains which were unimaginable before. In fact the brain uses some simple rules to solve highly complex problems and extracting each of these rules one by one is very exciting.”

“For example, we have been surprised at finding simple design principles that allow billions of neurons to connect to each other. I think we will understand how the brain is designed and works before we have finished building it,” Markram says.

The opportunities for this neuroscience research challenge are immense, explains Markram, according to an AlphaGalileo Foundation release.

“A brain model will sit on a massive supercomputer and serve as a kind of educational and diagnostic service to society. As the industrial revolution in science progresses we will generate more data than anyone can track or any computer can store, so models that can absorb it are simply unavoidable.”