A Symbiotic View of Life: We Have Never Been Individuals

The notion of the “biological individual” is crucial to studies of genetics, immunology, evolution,development, anatomy, and physiology. Each of these biological subdisciplines has a specific conception of individuality, which has historically provided conceptual contexts for integrating newly acquired data. During the past decade, nucleic acid analysis, especially genomic sequencing and high-throughput RNA techniques, has challenged each of these disciplinary definitions by finding significant interactions of animals and plants with symbiotic microorganisms that disrupt the boundaries that heretofore had characterized the biological individual. Animals cannot be considered individuals by anatomical or physiological criteria because a diversity of symbionts are both present and functional in completing metabolic pathways and serving other physiological functions. Similarly, these new studies have shown that animal development is incomplete without symbionts. Symbionts also constitute a second mode of genetic inheritance, providing selectable genetic variation for natural selection. The immune system also develops, in part, in dialogue with symbionts and thereby functions as a mechanism for integrating microbes into the animal-cell community. Recognizing the “holobiont”—the multicellular eukaryote plus its colonies of persistent symbionts—as a critically important unit of anatomy, development, physiology, immunology, and evolution opens up new investigative avenues and conceptually challenges the ways in which the biological subdisciplines have heretofore characterized living entities.

Human emotion and memory: interactions of the amygdala and hippocampal complex

The amygdala and hippocampal complex, two medial temporal lobe structures, are linked to two independent memory systems, each with unique characteristic functions. In emotional situations, these two systems interact in subtle but important ways. Specifically, the amygdala can modulate both the encoding and the storage of hippocampal-dependent memories. The hippocampal complex, by forming episodic representations of the emotional significance and interpretation of events, can influence the amygdala response when emotional stimuli are encountered. Although these are independent memory systems, they act in concert when emotion meets memory.

Amygdala-hippocampus dynamic interaction in relation to memory

Typically the term “memory” refers to the ability to consciously remember past experiences or previously learned information. This kind of memory is considered to be dependent upon the hippocampal system. However, our emotional state seems to considerably affect the way in which we retain information and the accuracy with which the retention occurs. The amygdala is the most notably involved brain structure in emotional responses and the formation of emotional memories. In this review we describe a system, composed of the amygdala and the hippocampus, that acts synergistically to form long-term memories of significantly emotional events. These brain structures are activated following an emotional event and cross-talk with each other in the process of consolidation. This dual activation of the amygdala and the hippocampus and the dynamics between them may be what gives emotionally based memories their uniqueness.

LEARNING 10,000 PICTURES

Four experiments are reported which examined memory capacity and retrieval speed for pictures and for words. Single-trial learning tasks were employed throughout, with memory performance assessed by forced-choice recognition, recall measures or choice reaction-time tasks. The main experimental findings were: (I) memory capacity, as a function of the amount of material presented, follows a general power law with a characteristic exponent for each task; (2) pictorial material obeys this power law and shows an overall superiority to verbal material. The capacity of recognition memory for pictures is almost limitless, when measured under appropriate conditions; (3) when the recognition task is made harder by using more alternatives, memory capacity stays constant and the superiority of pictures is maintained; (4) picture memory also exceeds verbal memory in terms of verbal recall; comparable recognition/recall ratios are obtained for pictures, words and nonsense syllables; (5) verbal memory shows a higher retrieval speed than picture memory, as inferred from reaction-time measures. Both types of material obey a power law, when reaction-time is measured for various sizes of learning set, and both show very rapid rates of memory search.

From a consideration of the experimental results and other data it is concluded that the superiority of the pictorial mode in recognition and free recall learning tasks is well established and cannot be attributed to methodological artifact.

Path Dependence, its critics, and the quest for ‘historical economics’

The concept of path dependence refers to a property of contingent, non-reversible dynamical processes, including a wide array of biological and social processes that can properly be described as ‘evolutionary’. To dispel existing confusions in the literature, and clarify the meaning and significance of path dependence for economists, the paper formulates definitions that relate the phenomenon to the property of non-ergodicity in stochastic processes; it examines the nature of the relationship between between path dependence and ‘market failure’, and discusses the meaning of ‘lock-in’. Unlike tests for the presence of non-ergodicity, assessments of the economic significance of path dependence are shown to involve difficult issues of counterfactual specification, and the welfare evaluation of alternative dynamic paths rather than terminal states. The policy implications of the existence of path dependence are shown to be more subtle and, as a rule, quite different from those which have been presumed by critics of the concept. A concluding section applies the notion of ‘lock-in’ reflexively to the evolution of economic analysis, suggesting that resistence to historical economics is a manifestation of ‘sunk cost hysteresis’ in the sphere of human cognitive development.

Making the World Safe for our Children: Down-regulating Defence and Up-regulating Social Engagement to ‘Optimise’ the Human Experience

The Polyvagal Theory helps us understand how cues of risk and safety, which are continuously monitored by our nervous system, influence our physiological and behavioral states. The theory emphasizes that humans are on a quest to calm neural defense systems by detecting features of safety. This quest is initiated at birth when the infant needs for being soothed are dependent on the caregiver. The quest continues throughout the lifespan with needs for trusting friendships and loving partnerships to effectively co-regulate each other. The Polyvagal Theory proposes that through the process of evolution, social connectedness evolved as the primary biological imperative for mammals in their quest for survival. Functionally, social connectedness enabled proximity and co-regulation of physiological state between conspecifics starting with the mother-infant relationship and extending through the lifespan with other significant partners. The theory explains why feeling safe requires a unique set of cues to the nervous system that are not equivalent to physical safety or the removal of threat. The theory emphasizes the importance of safety cues emanating through reciprocal social interactions that dampen defense and how these cues can be distorted or optimized by environmental and bodily cues.

IMPROVING VOCABULARY ACQUISITION WITH MULTISENSORY INSTRUCTION

The purpose of this action research project was to improve student vocabulary acquisition through a multisensory, direct instructional approach. The study involved three teachers and a target population of 73 students in second and seventh grade classrooms. The intervention was implemented from September through December of 2006 and analyzed in January of 2007. The goal was to gather evidence of a marked improvement in the number of vocabulary words that students recognize, understand, and use. Pre and posttests gathered data on student knowledge of fifty key content area vocabulary words. Three interventions based on brain research were implemented: specially designed graphic organizers, classical music, and Brain Gym® exercises. The gathered data indicates that students clearly understood and could define over five times as many words after this intervention (from 378 words to 1,941 words). The project results show that a multisensory, direct instructional approach improves student vocabulary acquisition. Educators need to increase their knowledge of brain research and implement direct instruction of vocabulary through the use of multisensory methods. (Contains 10 figures, 34 references, and 11 appendices)

Indelibility SubCortical Emotional Memories

Acquisition and extinction of fear responses conditioned to a visual stimulus were examined in rats with ablations of visual cortex. Visual cortex lesions did not interfere with acquisition, indicating that visual fear conditioning, like auditory fear conditioning, is mediated by sub-cortical, probably thalamo-amygdala, sensory pathways. In contrast to acquisition, extinction was greatly prolonged, if not prevented, by cortical ablation. This resistance to extinction of sub cortical emotional memories may explain certain aspects of emotional memory in man.

Army ants dynamically adjust living bridges in response to a cost–benefit trade-off

The ability of individual animals to create functional structures by joining together is rare and confined to the social insects. Army ants (Eciton) form collective assemblages out of their own bodies to perform a variety of functions that benefit the entire colony. Here we examine ‟bridges” of linked individuals that are constructed to span gaps in the colony’s foraging trail. How these living structures adjust themselves to varied and changing conditions remains poorly understood. Our field experiments show that the ants continuously modify their bridges, such that these structures lengthen, widen, and change position in response to traffic levels and environmental geometry. Ants initiate bridges where their path deviates from their incoming direction and move the bridges over time to create shortcuts over large gaps. The final position of the structure depended on the intensity of the traffic and the extent of path deviation and was influenced by a cost-benefit trade-off at the colony level, where the benefit of increased foraging trail efficiency was balanced by the cost of removing workers from the foraging pool to form the structure. To examine this trade-off, we quantified the geometric relationship between costs and benefits revealed by our experiments. We then constructed a model to determine the bridge location that maximized foraging rate, which qualitatively matched the observed movement of bridges. Our results highlight how animal self-assemblages can be dynamically modified in response to a group-level cost-benefit trade-off, without any individual unit’s having information on global benefits or costs.

Closed-loop brain training: The science of neurofeedback

Neurofeedback is a psychophysiological procedure in which online feedback of neural activation is provided to the participant for the purpose of self-regulation. Learning control over specific neural substrates has been shown to change specific behaviours. As a progenitor of brain–machine interfaces, neurofeedback has provided a novel way to investigate brain function and neuroplasticity. In this Review, we examine the mechanisms underlying neurofeedback, which have started to be uncovered. We also discuss how neurofeedback is being used in novel experimental and clinical paradigms from a multidisciplinary perspective, encompassing neuroscientific, neuroengineering and learning-science viewpoints.