Musical Learning

A new study throws some light on how musical aptitude can offset one very specific aspect of the aging process. In research comparing older patients with musical training to those without, older people who’d spent time regularly practicing or teaching music consistently displayed much faster neural reaction times to certain kinds of sounds. The idea that the human brain has a deep relationship with music is obviously nothing new – but lately, research has been demonstrating more and more ways in which music is a major ingredient in mental health. For example, a 2007 study found that the brain reacts to music…

Autism & Reputation

People with autism process the concept of their social reputation in a fundamentally different way from non-autistic people, a new study finds. Suppose I give you $100, and tell you you can donate some or all of it to the no-kill animal shelter across the street – or you can just pocket the whole wad and walk away. My guess is that a) you’d donate at least some of the money whether or not you really care about adorable puppies – and that b) the amount you donate would be higher if I’m standing right there watching you. That, of course, is because whether or not I tell…

Autistic Development

Certain regions of the brains of autistic children develop much more slowly than in non-autistic brains, a new study reports. As most of our brains mature throughout our adolescent years, our white matter – the tissue that connects separate brain regions and allows them to communicate with one another – undergoes vast amounts of growth, as areas like the parietal, temporal, and occipital lobes learn to work together more closely. In the brains of autistic adolescents, though, this white matter grows much more slowly. Meanwhile, their gray matter – the tissue composed mostly of neurons’ cell bodies, where most intensive processing takes place – shows overgrowth in…

Autistic Genetics

Some forms of autism seem to be linked with variations in certain genes, a new study says. The deletion of a certain cluster of 27 genes on the mammalian chromosome 16 – specifically a region known as 16p11.2 – causes autism-like features to develop in mouse brains. These mice exhibited hyperactivity, repetitive behaviors, and difficulty adjusting to new environments, much like human children with autism. (As I mention a lot on this blog, mouse brains provide pretty reliable models of certain human brain functions, which is why neuroscientists experiment on them.) The idea that chromosome 16 might be linked to autism dates back to…

Autism From the Inside

Have you ever wondered how reality feels to a mathematical savant? One person in particular would like to help you with that. Daniel Tammet is an unusual guy for several reasons: he’s a “high-functioning” autistic savant who can recite pi to more than 22,000 digits, he’s got a talent for translating his subjective experiences into words, and he’s dedicated to explaining his synethesic perception of numbers to lucky listeners and readers. In this fascinating TED talk, he shares some insight on how his mind works: In my books, I explore the nature of perception and how different kinds of perceiving create different kinds of knowing and understanding. … I…