Sunday, March 21, 2010

Brain imaging technique to get inside consumers' heads developed

London, March 20 (ANI): Market researchers seem to have their prayers answered after experts' creation of a technology that will get inside the heads of consumers - literally.
Boffins have come up with neuromarketing, a brain-imaging technique that can allegedly read answers written in the brainwaves.

According to Thom Noble, managing director of Neurofocus Europe, the company running the demo, the technology addresses the biggest issue facing conventional market research.

"What people say and what they think is not always the same," New Scientist quoted Noble as saying.

A forthcoming paper by behavioural economist Gregory Berns of Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and cognitive neuroscientist Dan Ariely of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience argued neuromarketing techniques can really work in revealing information hidden to conventional methods.

But the authors also pointed out the ethical risks involved with neuromarketing, such as privacy concerns over "mind reading" and suspicion it will be used to "trick" people into buying things they don't want or need.

Investigating the Effectiveness of Deep Brain Stimulation
Using mild electrical signals to stimulate the brain has helped one musician overcome the neurological condition that prevented him from playing the violin, and experts say that the treatment -- known as Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) -- can be effective for many individuals suffering from essential tremor, Parkinson's disease, and epilepsy.
Roger Frisch, an associate concertmaster with the Minnesota Orchestra who was diagnosed with essential tumor in 2009, recently underwent the procedure at the Mayo Clinic, hoping to put an end to the abnormal cerebral signals that caused his bow-hand to shake as he played. His operation was the topic of an ABC News report, which showed video of Frisch playing the instrument while undergoing deep brain stimulation in an attempt to help doctors find the trouble area.

In Frisch's case, Dr. Kendall Lee, the director of the Mayo Clinic Neural Engineering Laboratory, and his team were able to find the affected area of his brain and fix the problem using a pair of electrodes and a pacemaker they had placed in the brain. According to ABC News reports, Frisch regained full use of his hands before the surgery was even complete, causing the operating room to break out in spontaneous applause.

The Deep Brain Stimulation procedure was developed in Europe and was first used in the U.S. by Mayo Clinic neurosurgeons in 1997. According to the medical center's official website, they have also started to use DBS to treat individuals suffering from OCD, cluster headaches, and chronic pain in cases where other methods of treatment prove unsuccessful.

Furthermore, reports, the procedure has "dramatically changed the lives of many patients with uncontrollable tremors. Patients often can resume normal activities, such as feeding and dressing themselves, and can have active and fulfilling lives. The need for anti-tremor medications is often reduced or eliminated."

A study published earlier this month in the journal Epilepsia found that, of 110 epilepsy patients who had been implanted with DBS devices, 54-percent reported that the frequency of their seizures had been reduced by half. Furthermore, 14 of the 110 individuals did not suffer a single seizure over a five month span. The Food and Drug Administration has not officially approved DBS for use in epilepsy patients, but an advisory committee recently recommended that they do so.

Brain receptor behind learning deficits post-puberty identified

A novel brain receptor, alpha4-beta-delta, has been labelled as the culprit behind learning deficits that come with puberty.
It is well known that the onset of puberty marks the end of the optimal period for learning language and certain spatial skills, such as computer/video game operation.
In the new study, Dr. Sheryl Smith, professor of physiology and pharmacology, and colleagues at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn showed that alpha4-beta-delta emerges at puberty in the hippocampus, part of the brain that controls learning and memory.
Before puberty, expression of this receptor is low and learning is optimal. However, at puberty, increases in this receptor reduce brain excitability and impair spatial learning.
Smith has shown that the learning deficit could be reversed with the help of a stress steroid that diminishes the harmful effects of the alpha4-beta-delta receptors, thereby facilitating learning.
"These findings suggest that intrinsic brain mechanisms alter learning during adolescence, but that mild stress may be one factor that can reverse this decline in learning proficiency during the teenage years.
They also suggest that different strategies for learning and motivation may be helpful in middle school.
And it is within the realm of possibility that a drug could be developed that would increase learning ability post-puberty, one that might be especially useful for adolescents with learning disabilities," said Smith.
In 2007, researchers demonstrated that a hormone normally released in response to stress, THP, actually reverses its effect at puberty, when it increases activity of the hippocampus.
While in adults this hormone acts like at tranquilizer, in adolescents it has the opposite effect, an action that may help to explain mood swings in teenagers.
The new report on learning deficits is published in the journal Science.