From a neurophysiological standpoint, the more that is discovered about mirror neurons, the more we must realise that we are not independent, free-acting agents as we want to be- but we rather imitate others without consciously being aware of it.
The following written account is my personal ideas on the future of science dealing with the human psyche, it is important to keep in mind that such futurology is only speculation based on the little amount of knowledge I obtained in my lifetime.
Imagine, you are a neurologist, and one day, a music teacher visits your clinic to be examined because he could not recognize some of his students, their faces in particular. During this examination, the music teacher shows no trace of dementia and seems to you like 'a man of great charm who talks well and fluently, with imagination and humor' (1). However, after the examination, he looks around for his hat. He reaches out his hand and takes hold of his wife’s head and tries to lift it off.
During this year's 'Brain Lab' course, our task was to build a model that would allow us to predict the genre of a movie a person was watching from the pattern of brain activation (specifically, BOLD data obtained by functional MRI). A particular challenge was to use multivariate pattern analysis (MVPA), a method that has become the gold standard of statistical analysis in neuroscience over the last few years (see Norman et al., 2006, for an introduction).
I’d call myself a passionate movie watcher with a broad range of interests. Driven by my Cineville membership, at least one cinema visit per week is not unusual, whether it is to catch some vague art-house film, the latest James-Bond, or anything random at the sneek previews. Never did I ever ponder my seemingly flawless ability to categorize movies into their respective genres though. It seems to be one of those automatic, subconscious processes of which you can only guess what it is that actually drives them when you make an attempt to dissect them.
Twenty five PhD students gathered at Amsterdam University College to participate in CCCT and ASCoR organised summer school Reading Mediated Minds from mon July 11 to wed 13. See the programme here: http://ccct.uva.nl/content/ccct-summer-school-reading-mediated-minds Participants exchanged their research projects on forms of empathy in spectators of film, readers of literature, viewers of visuals and listeners of music. They also learned about new directions in neuroscience and text and image search engines that may be relevant for scaling up their analyses.
This is the golden age of neuroscience, an age in which the continuous development in the field of neuroscience and related technologies allow us to enhance and alter our own biology and psychology. Ever wondered if it is possible to control your own negative psychological tendencies such as concentration problems, aggressiveness or a lack of motivation? Through the utilization of electroencephalography (EEG) it is now possible to control the activity of your own nervous system!
The psychology and neuroscience of the stereotype threat
“Stereotype threat,” a term which originates from the work of Steele and Aronson, has become a widely explored topic in social psychology (Steele, 1999). The stereotype threat explains why certain minority groups at universities underperform in comparison to the majority (Steele, 1999). It opposes the idea that differences in performance of college students between several groups can be explained biologically and therefore avoids the “nature vs. nurture trap” (Derks, 2008). Instead, the stereotype threat theory claims that when a person is viewed through the lens of a negative stereotype, this leads to fear of doing something that confirms that negative stereotype (Steele, 1999). In Steele and Aronson’s article, it is stated that African American college students are well aware of the negative stereotype about their group. Looking at facts, it shows that the dropout rate of African American college students is 20 to 25 percent higher than white students. Moreover, the grade-point average of African-American students is two-thirds of a grade below that of white students. In order to support their hypothesis, they set up a test which reduced the stereotype threat. Most interestingly, this test resulted in a significantly higher performance of African American students; matching the performance of equally qualified white students.
“The 21st century is the century of biology and neuroscience”, a claim uttered many times by professionals and specialists in the natural sciences. An exponential growth of knowledge of especially neurology will throw light upon the phenomena that psychology, sociology and other social sciences have failed to explain. Does this mean that we can discard the social sciences altogether? Can we conclude that eventually the natural sciences will take over the social sciences? I beg to differ. Let me try to illustrate the importance of a social understanding of the world we live in by the concept of social pathology.
The Brain as Remote Control: The Neuroscience Revolution
New technologies and a better understanding of the human brain brings science fiction into reality. Imagine the potential to control a computer cursor, or access computer programs and control TV’s with your thoughts. This amazing technology is called brain-computer interface (BCI) and could be one of the finest technological breakthroughs in decades. A brain-computer interface transmits signals from the brain to an external device, and allows disabled people to see, hear or feel specific sensory inputs (Cheng, 2007). This article will discuss how BCIs function, its potential and application.