The Inner Life of Animals: Love, Grief, and Compassion — Surprising Observations of a Hidden World

Through vivid stories of devoted pigs, two-timing magpies, and scheming roosters, The Inner Life of Animals weaves the latest scientific research into how animals interact with the world with Peter Wohlleben’s personal experiences in forests and fields.Horses feel shame, deer grieve, and goats discipline their kids. Ravens call their friends by name, rats regret bad choices, and butterflies choose the very best places for their children to grow up.In this, his latest book, Peter Wohlleben follows the hugely successful The Hidden Life of Trees with insightful stories into the emotions, feelings, and intelligence of animals around us. Animals are different from us in ways that amaze us-and they are also much closer to us than we ever would have thought.

Dr. Allan N. Schore – Modern attachment theory; the enduring impact of early right-brain development

Dr. Schore is on the clinical faculty of the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, and at the UCLA Center for Culture, Brain, and Development. In this talk at our 2012 Research Symposium, he talks about the importance in a newborn’s life of a secure, primary attachment to a psychobiologically-attuned empathic caregiver. The empathic caregiver can soothe and calm as well as as enhance joy, interest and excitement. This shapes the child’s ability to communicate emotions. This plays an important role in infant brain development, and ultimately, the caregiver influences the critical wiring of infant brain circuits. The self-organization of an infant’s developing brain occurs in the context of a relationship with another self, another brain. There is now consensus, he says, “that current advances in our understanding of how social forces shape early brain development is ‘one of the most important discoveries in all of science that have major implications for our field.'”

Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma

Waking the Tiger offers a new and hopeful vision of trauma. It views the human animal as a unique being, endowed with an instinctual capacity. It asks and answers an intriguing question: why are animals in the wild, though threatened routinely, rarely traumatized? By understanding the dynamics that make wild animals virtually immune to traumatic symptoms, the mystery of human trauma is revealed.

Waking the Tiger normalizes the symptoms of trauma and the steps needed to heal them. People are often traumatized by seemingly ordinary experiences. The reader is taken on a guided tour of the subtle, yet powerful impulses that govern our responses to overwhelming life events. To do this, it employs a series of exercises that help us focus on bodily sensations. Through heightened awareness of these sensations trauma can be healed.

Against the Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States

Against The Grain: A Deep History of the Earliest States is a 2017 book by James C. Scott that sets out to undermine what he calls the “standard civilizational narrative” that suggests humans chose to live settled lives based on intensive agriculture because this made people safer and more prosperous. Instead, he argues, people had to be forced to live in the early states, which were hierarchical, beset by malnutrition and disease, and often based on slavery. The book has been praised for re-opening some of the biggest questions in human history. A review in Science concludes that the book’s thesis “is fascinating and represents an alternative, nuanced, if somewhat speculative, scenario on how civilized society came into being.”

The Strange Order of Things: Life, Feeling, and the Making of Cultures

From one of our preeminent neuroscientists: a landmark reflection that spans the biological and social sciences, offering a new way of understanding the origins of life, feeling, and culture.

The Strange Order of Things is a pathbreaking investigation into homeostasis, the condition of that regulates human physiology within the range that makes possible not only the survival but also the flourishing of life. Antonio Damasio makes clear that we descend biologically, psychologically, and even socially from a long lineage that begins with single living cells; that our minds and cultures are linked by an invisible thread to the ways and means of ancient unicellular life and other primitive life-forms; and that inherent in our very chemistry is a powerful force, a striving toward life maintenance that governs life in all its guises, including the development of genes that help regulate and transmit life. In The Strange Order of Things, Damasio gives us a new way of comprehending the world and our place in it.

Leading Neuroscientist Reveals The Truth About The Female Brain | Dr Lisa Mosconi

Women’s brain health remains one of the most under-researched, under-diagnosed and undertreated fields of medicine. Women are twice as likely as men to develop Alzheimer’s and twice as likely to become anxious or depressed. They are four times more likely to suffer with headaches and migraines and they are more prone to brain tumours and strokes than men. Today’s guest says this is a clear indication of functional differences between female and male brains. And she’s made it her life’s work to learn more about it. Neuroscientist Dr Lisa Mosconi is director of the Women’s Brain Initiative and works at the Alzheimer’s Prevention Clinic at Weill Cornell Medical College, US, where she studies how genetics, lifestyle and nutrition shape brain health, particularly in women. Lisa describes her frustration at constantly being told by peers that the reason Alzheimer’s was more prevalent in women was simply because they live longer, and it’s a disease of ageing. We discuss her ground-breaking research that has exposed this bias, finding dementia brain changes can actually begin in midlife, triggered by declining oestrogen during perimenopause. Worrying as that might sound, this discovery will enable women to take control of their risk at a much earlier age. Lisa goes on to share plenty of practical, evidence-based advice to help you do that. I was really moved to hear Lisa talk about the beautiful changes that happen in the female brain during pregnancy and post-partum. It’s a new take on the idea of ‘Mummy brain’ and will be validating for all mothers out there to hear. She also gives a clear and candid explanation of how perimenopause alters brain function. So many of my patients in their 40s and 50s are scared by changes like forgetfulness, brain fog and anxiety. If that’s you or someone you know, Lisa’s insights and advice will be really empowering. I’m a passionate advocate for women’s health equality. Yet chatting with Lisa made me realise how much more work we all have to do to get topics like these out there and understood. This conversation is relevant to all of us, women and men alike. I hope it gets you thinking and talking more.

fMRI reveals reciprocal inhibition between social and physical cognitive domains

Two lines of evidence indicate that there exists a reciprocal inhibitory relationship between opposed brain networks. First, most attention-demanding cognitive tasks activate a stereotypical set of brain areas, known as the task-positive network and simultaneously deactivate a different set of brain regions, commonly referred to as the task negative or default mode network. Second, functional connectivity analyses show that these same opposed networks are anti-correlated in the resting state. We hypothesize that these reciprocally inhibitory effects reflect two incompatible cognitive modes, each of which is directed towards understanding the external world. Thus, engaging one mode activates one set of regions and suppresses activity in the other. We test this hypothesis by identifying two types of problem-solving task which, on the basis of prior work, have been consistently associated with the task positive and task negative regions: tasks requiring social cognition, i.e., reasoning about the mental states of other persons, and tasks requiring physical cognition, i.e., reasoning about the causal/mechanical properties of inanimate objects. Social and mechanical reasoning tasks were presented to neurologically normal participants during fMRI. Each task type was presented using both text and video clips. Regardless of presentation modality, we observed clear evidence of reciprocal suppression: social tasks deactivated regions associated with mechanical reasoning and mechanical tasks deactivated regions associated with social reasoning. These findings are not explained by self-referential processes, task engagement, mental simulation, mental time travel or external vs. internal attention, all factors previously hypothesized to explain default mode network activity. Analyses of resting state data revealed a close match between the regions our tasks identified as reciprocally inhibitory and regions of maximal anti-correlation in the resting state. These results indicate the reciprocal inhibition is not attributable to constraints inherent in the tasks, but is neural in origin. Hence, there is a physiological constraint on our ability to simultaneously engage two distinct cognitive modes. Further work is needed to more precisely characterize these opposing cognitive domains.

Understanding dopamine and reinforcement learning: The dopamine reward prediction error hypothesis | PNAS

A number of recent advances have been achieved in the study of midbrain dopaminergic neurons. Understanding these advances and how they relate to one another requires a deep understanding of the computational models that serve as an explanatory framework and guide ongoing experimental inquiry. This intertwining of theory and experiment now suggests very clearly that the phasic activity of the midbrain dopamine neurons provides a global mechanism for synaptic modification. These synaptic modifications, in turn, provide the mechanistic underpinning for a specific class of reinforcement learning mechanisms that now seem to underlie much of human and animal behavior. This review describes both the critical empirical findings that are at the root of this conclusion and the fantastic theoretical advances from which this conclusion is drawn.

The theory and data available today indicate that the phasic activity of midbrain dopamine neurons encodes a reward prediction error used to guide learning throughout the frontal cortex and the basal ganglia. Activity in these dopaminergic neurons is now believed to signal that a subject’s estimate of the value of current and future events is in error and indicate the magnitude of this error. This is a kind of combined signal that most scholars active in dopamine studies believe adjusts synaptic strengths in a quantitative manner until the subject’s estimate of the value of current and future events is accurately encoded in the frontal cortex and basal ganglia. Although some confusion remains within the larger neuroscience community, very little data exist that are incompatible with this hypothesis. This review provides a brief overview of the explanatory synergy between behavioral, anatomical, physiological, and biophysical data that has been forged by recent computational advances. For a more detailed treatment of this hypothesis, refer to Niv and Montague (1) or Dayan and Abbot (2).

Dopamine and temporal difference learning: A fruitful relationship between neuroscience and AI

Learning and motivation are driven by internal and external rewards. Many of our day-to-day behaviours are guided by predicting, or anticipating, whether a given action will result in a positive (that is, rewarding) outcome. The study of how organisms learn from experience to correctly anticipate rewards has been a productive research field for well over a century, since Ivan Pavlov’s seminal psychological work. In his most famous experiment, dogs were trained to expect food some time after a buzzer sounded. These dogs began salivating as soon as they heard the sound, before the food had arrived, indicating they’d learned to predict the reward. In the original experiment, Pavlov estimated the dogs’ anticipation by measuring the volume of saliva they produced. But in recent decades, scientists have begun to decipher the inner workings of how the brain learns these expectations. Meanwhile, in close contact with this study of reward learning in animals, computer scientists have developed algorithms for reinforcement learning in artificial systems. These algorithms enable AI systems to learn complex strategies without external instruction, guided instead by reward predictions.

The contribution of our new work, published in Nature (PDF), is finding that a recent development in computer science – which yields significant improvements in performance on reinforcement learning problems – may provide a deep, parsimonious explanation for several previously unexplained features of reward learning in the brain, and opens up new avenues of research into the brain’s dopamine system, with potential implications for learning and motivation disorders.