Tag Archive for Neuroscience and Behavior

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Wesleyan in the News

  1. The New Yorker: “The Shapeshifting Music of Tyshawn Sorey”

“There is something awesomely confounding about the music of Tyshawn Sorey [MA ’11], the thirty-eight-year-old Newark-born composer, percussionist, pianist, and trombonist,” begins this profile of Sorey, assistant professor of music. Sorey was recently featured in the Composer Portraits series at Columbia University’s Miller Theatre.

2. The Register-Mail: “Video Slots Take Heavy Toll on Some Players”

In this article exploring the expansion of video slot gaming in a region of Illinois, Assistant Professor of Psychology Mike Robinson shares what he has learned through his research about how gambling affects our brains through the pleasurable release of dopamine. “You hear gamblers talk about chasing losses,” Robinson said. “Basically, they are talking about how gambling and uncertainty can even change how you respond to losing. It sounds counterintuitive, but for gambling addicts losing money triggers the rewarding release of dopamine almost to the same degree that winning does.”

3. The St. Thomas Source: “V.I. Studies Collective Asks, ‘What Is a Virgin Islander?'”

Professor of English Tiphanie Yanique, a core member of the Virgin Islands Studies Collective, recently led a workshop on St. Thomas at the Virgin Islands Literary Festival. A poet, essayist, and fiction writer who teaches creative writing at Wesleyan, Yanique comes from St. Thomas and has written fiction about life in the Virgin Islands.

4. The Forward: “8 Practical Tips on How to Lead a Progressive Seder This Year”

Asked for advice on leading a “progressive seder” for Passover this year, Wesleyan’s Director of Religious and Spiritual Life and University Jewish Chaplain David Leipziger Teva suggested adding a shoelace to your seder plate to express solidarity with the migrants fleeing their homes to cross into the U.S. “In thinking about the 92,607 migrants and refugees who in March of 2019 alone were detained after crossing the US Mexico border, I was struck by the fact that one of the first things that our US Customs and Border Patrol (USCBP) does is force these tired and vulnerable people to remove their shoelaces,” he explained. “Apparently anything, even the shoelaces of young children, considered ‘nonessential and potentially lethal’ is confiscated.”

5. Reading Religion: “Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Bias”

“Through the medium of cartoons, Gottschalk and Greenberg examine complicated concepts such as Islamophobia and stereotypes in a manner that is both accessible and comprehensive,” according to this review of Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Sentiment: Picturing the Enemy, coauthored by Professor of Religion Peter Gottschalk and Gabriel Greenberg ’04 and recently re-released in an expanded and revised second edition. “This book is accessible enough to include on an undergraduate introductory syllabus, but also specialized enough for readers who are familiar with the concept of Islamophobia, or the study of the Muslims in the United States, to benefit from.”

Alumni in the News

  1. PeabodyAwards.com: Lorraine Hansberry: Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart (PBS/WNET TV)”

Randall MacLowry ’86 is the producer and editor; Tracy Heather Strain is the filmmaker for this documentary, which PBS notes as “the first in-depth presentation of Hansberry’s complex life, using her personal papers and archives, including home movies and rare photos, as source material.” The couple cofounded The Film Posse, Inc., to work together in creating documentaries of high quality, and according to a press release, “spent more than 14 years raising money to develop the independently-produced film, which the couple produced with Strain serving as director and writer, and MacLowry and Chad Ervin as editors. Sighted Eyes/Feeling Heart had its world premiere at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival and its television premiere on the PBS biography series American Masters in January 2018.”

2. Women and Hollywood: “Tribeca 2019 Women Directors: Meet Bridget Savage Cole [’05] and Danielle Krudy [’07]Blow the Man Down” 

“Wesleyan University graduates Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy met on a film set in Coney Island. They immediately bonded over a shared love of character-driven stories and juicy filmmaking styles. They have collaborated on numerous music videos, shorts, and writing projects. Blow the Man Down is their first feature-length film,” writes Gabriela Rico, who follows with the directors’ candid Q&A. Blow the Man Down premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival on April 26.

3. Vanity Fair: Fosse/Verdon: 5 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets from the Cast and Creators”

Vanity Fair editor Radhika Jones, who moderated a panel that included Lin-Manuel Miranda ’02, Hon. ’15, provided excerpts of the conversation: “‘I picked up a book off the shelf, and my job was to read the book and put it in Tommy Kail’s [’99] hand,’ said Miranda. The Hamilton creator had gone to Wesleyan University with Sam Wasson [’03], author of the 2013 biography Fosse—on which the FX series is closely based. In June 2016, Hamilton director Kail and Miranda began planning a way to bring Fosse back to the screen.”

4. Broadway World: “MCC Launches Season with Ross Golan’s The Wrong Man Directed by Thomas Kail [’99]”

The Wrong Man (“the wrong man meets the wrong women in the wrong place at the wrong time”) is a new stage musical, written by multi-platinum songwriter Ross Golan (book, music, lyrics), Tony Award–winning director Thomas Kail and three-time Tony and four-time Grammy Award–winning orchestrator Alex Lacamoire. Performances begin on Wednesday, September 18, 2019.

5. Boston Globe: “Cape Air on Course for Seaplane Takeoff in Boston”

Jon Chesto ’93 writes: “Dan Wolf [’79] needed to get his hands on an amphibious aircraft before he could fulfill his yearslong quest to bring seaplane service back to Boston Harbor.

“Now, the chief executive of Cape Air has an entire squadron.”

In this tale of Wolf’s acquisition of the seaplanes, Chesto notes some Wes-related history: “Wolf first learned to fly a seaplane at the Goodspeed Airport along the Connecticut River, while going to school at nearby Wesleyan University. That was nearly 40 years ago, but there’s a connection to this latest deal. Shoreline Aviation was run by John Kelly [MALS ’70], who taught Wolf during his college years. They obviously stayed in touch: Cape Air has used Shoreline planes during its Boston Harbor test runs.”

 6. MIT News: “Candid Conversation about Race: In MIT Talk, Beverly Daniel Tatum [’75, P’04, Hon. ’15] Urges Direct Discussion about Racial Issues at a ‘Polarized’ Moment in U.S. History”

Peter Dizikes, of the MIT News Office, writes: “Candid discussions about race relations are vital at a time of ‘pushback’ against social diversity in the U.S., said Beverly Daniel Tatum, the former president of Spelman College, in a talk at MIT on Thursday.

“‘It seems to me pretty clear we’re living in a pushback moment,’ Tatum said, referring to resistance against both political progress by blacks and a diversifying population. She added: ‘I think that today, most people would agree, we are more polarized than ever.’”

Tatum’s talk at MIT’s Wong Auditorium covered topics including the difference between race and racism, what is possible in the political arena, and the “long-running conditions of material inequality in the U.S.”

7. WBUR.org— “WBUR Announces Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize Winner”

From the website: “WBUR announced today that Hannah Dreier [’08] is the winner of the 2019 Daniel Schorr Journalism Prize. The winning segment was produced at This American Life in partnership with ProPublica, where Dreier serves as an immigration reporter.

“Dreier’s winning entry, ‘The Runaways’ is an hour-long investigative report that documents how the Suffolk County Police Department in New York failed to investigate a series of gang murders when the victims were immigrant teenagers. Days after the story aired on This American Life, the Suffolk County legislature forced the police department to conduct an internal investigation into how it had handled the MS-13 murder cases. ‘The Runaways’ proves that investigative reporting continues to effect change.”

Wesleyan in the News

In this recurring feature in The Wesleyan Connection, we highlight some of the latest news stories about Wesleyan and our alumni.

Recent Wesleyan News

1. Inside Higher Ed: “Voting Is Good, but Higher Ed Must Do More”

In this op-ed, President Michael S. Roth writes: “In a year when inducements to political violence have become normalized at the highest level, colleges and universities must do more than just encourage our students to vote.” It is crucial that colleges actively work to protect free expression, free inquiry, and fact-based discussion, Roth argues.

Robinson in The Conversation: How Gambling Distorts Reality and Hooks Your Brain

Mike Robinson

Mike Robinson

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” In a new article, Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology, writes that brain science explains how gambling games hook players, including casual ones. Robinson also is assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, assistant professor of integrative sciences.

Designed to deceive: How gambling distorts reality and hooks your brain

To call gambling a “game of chance” evokes fun, random luck, and a sense of collective engagement. These playful connotations may be part of why almost 80 percent of American adults gamble at some point in their lifetime. When I ask my psychology students why they think people gamble, the most frequent suggestions are for pleasure, money, or the thrill.

While these might be reasons why people gamble initially, psychologists don’t definitely know why, for some, gambling stops being an enjoyable diversion and becomes compulsive. What keeps people playing even when it stops being fun? Why stick with games people know are designed for them to lose? Are some people just more unlucky than the rest of us, or simply worse at calculating the odds?

As an addiction researcher for the past 15 years, I look to the brain to understand the hooks that make gambling so compelling. I’ve found that many are intentionally hidden in how the games are designed. And these hooks work on casual casino-goers just as well as they do on problem gamblers.

Robinson Lab Coauthors Study on Compulsive, Drug Addiction Behaviors

Mike Robinson studies how individuals react differently when presented with a junk food diet.

Mike Robinson

Drug and behavioral addictions like gambling are characterized by an intense and focused pursuit of a single reward above other healthier endeavors. Pursuit of the addictive reward is often compulsively sought despite adverse consequences.

In a newly published study, Mike Robinson, assistant professor of psychology, neuroscience and behavior, and integrative sciences explored how our decisions can become narrowly focused onto one particular choice. He and his research team used laser light (optogenetics) to activate the central portion of the brain’s amygdala (CeA), an area normally known for its role in generating responses to drug-related and fearful stimuli.

The study, titled “Optogenetic Activation of the Central Amygdala Generates Addiction-like Preference for Reward,” appears in the May 2018 issue of the European Journal of Neuroscience. Robinson Lab members Rebecca Tom ’16, MA ’17, Aarit Ahuja ’16, Hannah Maniates ’16, and current graduate student Charlotte Freeland coauthored the article and participated in the study.

Naegele in The Conversation: Are Neurons Added to the Human Brain after Birth?

Jan Naegele is one of 19 women faculty in the country to receive a Drexel Fellowship.

Jan Naegele

Wesleyan faculty frequently publish articles based on their scholarship in The Conversation US, a nonprofit news organization with the tagline, “Academic rigor, journalistic flair.” Janice Naegele, the Alan M. Dachs Professor of Science, writes about the implications of a controversial new neuroscience study from the University of California, San Francisco. Naegele also is professor of biology and professor of neuroscience and behavior. Read her bio on The Conversation.

Scientists have known for about two decades that some neurons—the fundamental cells in the brain that transmit signals—are generated throughout life. But now a controversial new study from the University of California, San Francisco, casts doubt on whether many neurons are added to the human brain after birth.

Loui Co-Authors Article on Human Creativity and the Brain

Psyche Loui

Psyche Loui

Psyche Loui, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, assistant professor of integrative sciences, co-authored a new article published in the December 2017 issue of Brain and Cognition.

The paper is titled, “Jazz Musicians Reveal Role of Expectancy in Human Creativity.” Loui and her colleagues found that within one second of hearing an unexpected chord, there is a world of differences in brain responses between classical and jazz musicians.

Robinson Writes About the Real Reason Some People Become Addicted to Drugs

Mike Robinson

Mike Robinson

Writing in The ConversationAssistant Professor of Psychology Mike Robinson looks to the brain to explain the real reason that some people become addicted to drugs.

Robinson, who also is assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, assistant professor of integrative sciences, begins by debunking two popular explanations for drug addiction: that compulsive drug use is simply a “bad habit,” and that overcoming the unpleasant withdrawal symptoms is too hard for some addicts.

While pleasure, habits and withdrawal can play a role in drug use, Robinson says, the true reason for addiction can be explained by the psychological differences between “wanting” and “liking.”

Loui Co-Authors Article on Lack of Pleasure from Music

Psyche Loui

Psyche Loui

Psyche Loui, assistant professor of psychology, assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, assistant professor of integrative sciences, is the author of a new publication on musical anhedonia—the lack of pleasure from music. Together with others in her lab, Loui studied an individual with musical anhedonia and compared his brain against a group of controls. They found that his auditory cortex was differently connected to his reward system, a finding which gives further support for the role of brain connectivity in the musical experience.

The article, titled, “White Matter Correlates of Musical Anhedonia: Implications for Evolution of Music,” was published Sept. 25 in Frontiers in Psychology.  It was coauthored by Sean Patterson, BA ’17, MA ’18; Tima Zeng ’17; and Emily Przysinka, former lab manager in Loui’s lab.

Loui, Guetta ’17 Author Paper on Brain Connections Between Sound, Taste

Psyche Loui

Psyche Loui

Assistant Professor of Psychology Psyche Loui and Rachel Guetta ’17 are the authors of a new paper exploring how people form associations between sound and taste. The article, titled, “When Music is Salty: The Crossmodal Associations Between Sound and Taste,” was published March 29 in the journal PLoS One.

Scientists know that music can be evaluated as sweet, sour, salty or bitter, depending on features in its composition such as pitch, articulation, or brightness. For example, higher pitches are often thought of as sweet or sour, and lower pitches associated with bitterness.

While previous research has studied this general area, Loui and Guetta implemented four experiments to explore if, and to what extent, humans form associations between complex sounds and complex tastes, and what mechanisms might underlie these associations. One experiment, conducted with 50 Wesleyan undergraduates, involved making matches between recordings of an original violin composition and four different flavors of custom-made chocolate ganache. Whereas past studies have used simpler auditory and gustatory stimuli (such as isolated pitches, or basic taste samples of flavored beverage solutions), “both violin music and chocolate ganache are categories of complex stimuli that enable fine-grained perceptual discrimination,” the researchers explain.

Loui and Guetta write, “Our findings suggest that perhaps everyone, to some extent, has the capacity to form mappings between auditory and gustatory modalities.” They found that individuals with musical training were no more accurate in their sound-taste associations.

The findings also support the idea that the pleasantness associated with each auditory and gustatory stimulus is a mediating factor in creating these sound-taste associations. That is, individual participants were likely to associate those music clips they found most pleasant with those chocolate samples that they enjoyed the most.

These findings may have applications for “food businesses and restaurant entrepreneurs in marketing products and optimizing consumer experience, capitalizing on emotional congruency between sound and taste.” For example, cafes might choose certain music to enhance their coffee flavors, and the taste of beer might be affected by music being played at the bar.

Loui also is assistant professor of neuroscience and behavior, assistant professor of integrative sciences.

 

 

Bodznick Co-Authors Book on Cerebellar Sense of Self

bodznickIn human beings, the cerebellum occupies only 10 percent of the brain volume, yet has approximately 69 billion neurons; that is 80 percent of the nerve cells in the brain.

In the book Evolution of the Cerebellar Sense of Self, published by Oxford University Press in January, co-authors David Bodznick and John Montgomery use an evolutionary perspective to explain cerebellar research to a wide audience. Bodznick is professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and behavior at Wesleyan, and Montgomery is professor of biology and marine science at the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

The cerebellum first arose in jawed vertebrates such as sharks, and early vertebrates also have an additional cerebellum-like structure in the hindbrain. Shark cerebellum-like structures function as so-called adaptive filters to discriminate ‘self’ from ‘other’ in sensory inputs.

According to Bodznick, “it is likely that the true cerebellum evolved from these cerebellum-like precursors, and that their adaptive filter functionality was adopted for motor control; paving the way for the athleticism and movement finesse that we see in all swimming, running, climbing and flying vertebrates,” he said.

This book will be of interest to neuroscientists, neurologists and psychologists, in addition to computer scientists, and engineers concerned with machine/human interactions and robotics.

Sanislow’s Research on Psychiatric Diagnosis Published in 2 Journals

Charles Sanislow

Charles Sanislow

Charles Sanislow, associate professor of psychology, associate professor of neuroscience and behavior, is the author of two papers in leading journals for psychiatry and psychology on his work with the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Research Domain Criteria (RDoC). The RDoC is a framework to drive translational research to improve psychiatric diagnosis and develop new and better treatments.

In the October issue of World Psychiatry, Sanislow reports on ongoing RDoC work, including the consideration of adding the domain “Motor Systems” to the RDoC. Early this month, Sanislow participated in a workshop at NIMH to review the evidence for research constructs having to do with disruptions of movement related to psychopathology.

In the November issue of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Sanislow argues for the need to research connections between internal mechanisms and core dimensions of human suffering and dysfunction. In Sanislow’s lab at Wesleyan, students learn methods to study alterations in cognitive and neural processes, and ways to clarify how such alterations relate to clinical symptoms. Sanislow began work on the RDoC when it started in 2009, and he continues to serve as member of the NIMH Internal Working Group for the project.

Naegele Co-Authors New Paper in Nature Communications

Jan Naegele is one of 19 women faculty in the country to receive a Drexel Fellowship.

Jan Naegele

Janice Naegele, professor of biology, professor of neuroscience and development, is the co-author of a new paper titled, “Convulsive seizures from experimental focal cortical dysplasia occur independently of cell misplacement.” It was published in Nature Communications on June 1.

Brain malformations called focal cortical dysplasia are typically formed during human embryonic cortical development and are a common cause of drug-resistant epilepsy and cognitive impairments. One of the causes of cortical dysplasia is improper migration of developing cortical neurons. Failure to reach their correct destinations in the cerebral cortex and dysregulated growth leads to the formation of growths or tubers in regions of cerebral cortex. These abnormal growths don’t wire up properly with other cortical neurons and exhibit seizure activity. In this multi-lab collaborative study, the researchers show in mice with experimentally-generated cortical malformations that there is an increase in growth-associated signaling molecules in experimentally-generated cortical tubers associated with seizures. Blocking this signaling cascade with the molecule rapacycin from early stages can prevent the neuronal misplacement, tuber-like growths, and seizures, but once rapamycin is discontinued, the seizures return. Despite the adverse side-effects of taking rapamycin, these findings suggest that life-long treatment with rapamycin may be required in individuals with focal cortical dysplasia, in order to prevent the re-occurrence of seizures and tubers.

The paper is co-authored with Felicia Harrsch, Naegele’s former lab manager, and researchers at the Yale University School of Medicine.