Posts tagged with "Brain Tomorrow"

Study: People raised in suburban or rural areas have a better sense of direction than city-dwellers

May 16, 2022

People who grew up in the countryside have a better sense of direction than city dwellers, according to a new study. European researchers have found that, on average, people raised in rural areas have stronger navigational skills than those who grew up in large towns or cities, reports Brain Tomorrow.

 

The pioneering international study used a video game called Sea Hero Quest developed to study Alzheimer’s disease. The game features a wayfinding task, requiring users to navigate a boat through a virtual environment to find checkpoints shown on a map.

 

Nearly 400,000 participants in 38 countries took part in the experiment. The research team—from University College London (UCL); the University of East Anglia (UEA), also in England; and the University of Lyon in France—says that people are better at navigating great distances if they come from rural areas.

 

  They also have found that people whose home city had a grid layout, such as New York or Chicago, are slightly better at navigating similarly organized street patterns, despite having poorer performance overallv. Authors say that early childhood environments influence not only navigation ability, but navigation styles as well.

 

“We found that growing up outside of cities appears to be good for the development of navigational abilities, and this seems to be influenced by the lack of complexity of many street networks in cities,” says lead researcher Hugo Spiers, a professor in Psychology & Language Sciences at UCL, in a statement.

 

“In our recent research, we have found that people’s spatial navigation skills decline with age, starting in early adulthood,” he continues. “Here, we found that people who grew up in areas with gridded streets can have comparable navigation skills to people five years their senior from rural areas—and in some areas the difference was even greater.”

 

Results show that where people grew up influenced their performance in Sea Hero Quest. That’s even after controlling for confounding effects of age, gender, and education levels. Their current place of residence did not affect their scores either.

 

The team compared the home cities of the study participants by analyzing the entropy—or disorder—of the street networks, to gauge the complexity and randomness of the layouts. To test if people from cities could more effectively navigate

environments comparable to where they grew up, the researchers developed a city-themed version of Sea Hero Quest. Called “City Hero Quest,” it requires participants to drive around city streets in a virtual environment that varied from simple grids to more winding street layouts.

 

People who grew up in cities with grid layouts were slightly better at navigating similar environments, although the difference was not as great as their inferior performance in Sea Hero Quest.

 

“Growing up somewhere with a more complex layout of roads or paths might help with navigational skills as it requires keeping track of direction when you’re more likely to be making multiple turns at different angles, while you might also need to remember more streets and landmarks for each journey,” says co-lead author Dr. Antoine Coutrot, of the University of Lyon.

 

The Sea Hero Quest project was designed to aid Alzheimer’s research, by shedding light on differences in spatial navigational abilities. More than 4 million people have played the game, contributing to numerous studies across the project as a whole.

 

“Spatial navigation deficits are a key Alzheimer’s symptom in the early stages of the disease,” explains joint senior author Michael Hornberger, a dementia researcher at UEA. “We are seeking to use the knowledge we have gained from Sea Hero Quest to develop better disease monitoring tools, such as for diagnostics or to track drug trial outcomes. Establishing how good you would expect someone’s navigational to be based on characteristics such as age, education, and where they grew up, is essential to test for signs of decline.”

 

The scientists are continuing their research into predictors of navigational ability, including how sleep impacts navigational skills in different countries.

 

The study has been published in the journal, Nature.

 

Research contact: @braintomorrow

Glimpses of afterlife? ‘Near-death’ experiences aren’t hallucinations, scientists conclude

April 12, 2022

What happens when we die? It’s a question people have been asking throughout time and the answer is still a mystery. Now, a review of research exploring what people experience when they’re close to death has led scientists to one important conclusion—“near-death experiences” are a real thing, even if we can’t explain them, reports Brain Tomorrow.

Countless people have claimed either that their life “flashed before their eyes,” or that they actually left their bodies and traveled somewhere else while close to death. Critics have called these experiences hallucinations or illusions, but researchers from NYU Grossman School of Medicine say something else is actually happening.

The team of scientists across several medical disciplines—including neurosciences, critical care, psychiatry, psychology, social sciences, and humanities—have come up with a number of scientific conclusions after reviewing unexplained lucid episodes that  involve a heightened state of consciousness.

What exactly is a near-death experience? The main finding is that these events don’t have much in common with the experiences someone has if they’re hallucinating or using a psychedelic drug.

Instead, people who have a near-death experience typically report five different events taking place:

  • A separation from the body with a heightened, vast sense of consciousness and recognition that he or she is dying;
  • “Travel” to a different location;
  • A meaningful and purposeful review of a person’s life, involving a critical analysis of all their past actions—basically, life flashes before their eyes;
  • Going to a place that feels like “home;” and
  • Returning back to life.

Researchers note that the near-death experience usually triggers a positive and long-term psychological transformation in the person. The team notes that people who had negative and distressing experiences while near-death did not experience these kinds of events.

 The team found that there’s more to a near-death experience than just the stories each person tells. It turns out scientists can actually see physical changes taking place in the brain when someone is close to death.

Researchers found the presence of gamma activity and electrical spikes when people are technically dying. This is typically a sign of a heightened state of consciousness when scientists measure it using an electroencephalography (EEG). The findings further back up the claims from people who say they “left their body” while dying.

Study authors note that advances in medicine over the last century have brought back countless people from the doorstep of death. For many of these patients, they come back with stories of unexplainable events, which until now, have not been studied in detail.

“Cardiac arrest is not a heart attack, but represents the final stage of a disease or event that causes a person to die,” says lead author Sam Parnia in a media release. “The advent of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) showed us that death is not an absolute state, rather, it’s a process that could potentially be reversed in some people even after it has started.”

“What has enabled the scientific study of death is that brain cells do not become irreversibly damaged within minutes of oxygen deprivation when the heart stops. Instead, they ‘die’ over hours of time. This is allowing scientists to objectively study the physiological and mental events that occur in relation to death,” Parnia continues.

Study authors conclude that neither physiological nor cognitive processes completely end at the moment of death. While prior reports haven’t been able to prove what people are saying about their near-death experiences, the new report finds it’s also impossible to disprove what they’re saying.

“Few studies have explored what happens when we die in an objective and scientific way, but these findings offer intriguing insights into how consciousness exists in humans and may pave the way for further research,” Parnia concludes.

The findings are published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

Research contact: braintomorrow