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Web addicts have brain changes, research suggests

Web addicts have brain changes similar to those hooked on drugs or alcohol, preliminary research suggests.

Experts in China scanned the brains of 17 young web addicts and found disruption in the way their brains were wired up.

They say the discovery, published in Plos One, could lead to new treatments for addictive behaviour.

Internet addiction is a clinical disorder marked by out-of-control internet use.

A research team led by Hao Lei of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Wuhan carried out brain scans of 35 men and women aged between 14 and 21.

Seventeen of them were classed as having internet addiction disorder (IAD) on the basis of answering yes to questions such as, “Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back or stop Internet use?”

Specialised MRI brain scans showed changes in the white matter of the brain - the part that contains nerve fibres - in those classed as being web addicts, compared with non-addicts.

There was evidence of disruption to connections in nerve fibres linking brain areas involved in emotions, decision making, and self-control.

Dr Hao Lei and colleagues write in Plos One: “Overall, our findings indicate that IAD has abnormal white matter integrity in brain regions involving emotional generation and processing, executive attention, decision making and cognitive control.

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How does our brain see Jesus’ face on a tortilla?

Objects that resemble faces are everywhere. Whether it’s New Hampshire’s erstwhile granite “Old Man of the Mountain,” or a face on Mars, our brains are adept at locating images that look like faces.

However, the normal human brain is almost never fooled into thinking such objects actually are human faces.

“You can tell that it has some ‘faceness’ to it, but on the other hand, you’re not misled into believing that it is a genuine face,” says Pawan Sinha, professor of brain and cognitive sciences at MIT. But how?

A new study from Sinha and his colleagues has found two brain regions that make the analysis. The fusiform gyrus — an area long associated with face recognition — on the left side of the brain carefully calculates how “facelike” an image is.

The right fusiform gyrus then appears to use that information to make a quick, categorical decision of whether the object is, indeed, a face.

This distribution of labor is one of the first known examples of the left and right sides of the brain taking on different roles in high-level visual-processing tasks, Sinha says, although hemispheric differences have been seen in other brain functions, most notably language and spatial perception.

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Brain ‘hears’ voices when reading direct speech

When reading direct quotations, the brain “hears” the voice of the speaker, researchers at the University of Glasgow have found, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

This shows that readers are likely to engage in perceptual simulations, or spontaneous imagery, of the reported speaker’s voice when reading direct speech, the researchers said.

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Sharper, deeper, faster optical imaging of live biological samples

Researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) have developed a novel approach that could redefine optical imaging of live biological samples, simultaneously achieving high resolution, high penetration depth (for seeing deep inside 3D samples), and high imaging speed.

The research team employed an unconventional imaging method called light-sheet microscopy: a thin, flat sheet of light is used to illuminate a biological sample from the side, creating a single illuminated optical section through the sample.

The light given off by the sample is then captured with a camera oriented perpendicularly to the light sheet, harvesting data from the entire illuminated plane at once. This allows millions of image pixels to be captured simultaneously, reducing the light intensity that needs to be used for each pixel.

To achieve sharper image resolution with light-sheet microscopy deep inside biological samples, the team used a process called two-photon excitation for the illumination.

“The goal is to create ‘digital embryos,’ providing insights into how embryos are built, which is critical not only for basic understanding of how biology works but also for future medical applications such as robotic surgery, tissue engineering, or stem-cell therapy,” said biologist Scott Fraser, director of the Biological Imaging Center at Caltech’s Beckman Institute.

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Brain function can start declining ‘as early as age 45’

The brain’s ability to function can start to deteriorate as early as 45, suggests a study in the British Medical Journal.

University College London researchers found a 3.6% decline in mental reasoning in women and men aged 45-49.

They assessed the memory, vocabulary and comprehension skills of 7,000 men and women aged 45 to 70 over 10 years.

The Alzheimer’s Society said research was needed into how changes in the brain could help dementia diagnoses.

Previous research had suggested that cognitive decline does not begin much before the age of 60.

But the results of this study show that it could in fact begin in middle age.

This is important, the researchers say, because dementia treatments are more likely to work at the time when individuals start to experience mental impairment.

The UCL researchers tested the cognitive functions of 5,198 men and 2,192 women aged 45 to 70, who were all UK civil servants, from 1997 to 2007.

Individuals were tested for memory, vocabulary and aural and visual comprehension skills.

Differences in education level were taken into account.

Mid-life crisis

The results of the tests show that cognitive scores declined in all categories except vocabulary - and there was a faster decline in older people.

The study found a 9.6% decline in mental reasoning in men aged 65-70 and a 7.4% decline for women of the same age.

For men and women aged 45-49, there was a 3.6% decline.

Professor Archana Singh-Manoux from the Centre for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health in France, who led the research team at University College London, said the evidence from the study showed that dementia involved cognitive decline over two to three decades.

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