Saturday, April 29, 2006

Cognitive Science News Roundup

Four interesting pieces from the world of cognitive science caught my attention this week, two of which deal with the always controversial intersection of cognition and genetics and evolution. I found the first three at CogNews and heard the last on NPR's Science Friday.

Evidence of genetic influence over cognitive abilities:
A robust body of evidence suggests that cognitive abilities, particularly intelligence, are significantly influenced by genetic factors. Existing data already suggests that dysbindin may influence cognition," said Katherine Burdick, PhD, the study’s primary author. "We looked at several DNA sequence variations within the dysbindin gene and found one of them to be significantly associated with lower general cognitive ability in carriers of the risk variant compared with non-carriers in two independent groups. [Read more.]

Weak electrical currents can improve brain function:
A growing body of evidence suggests that passing a small electric current through your head can have a profound effect on the way your brain works. Called transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), the technique has already been shown to boost verbal and motor skills and to improve learning and memory in healthy people - making fully-functioning brains work even better. It is also showing promise as a therapy to cure migraine and speed recovery after a stroke, and may extract more from the withering brains of people with dementia. Some researchers think the technique will eventually yield a commercial device that healthy people could use to boost their brain function at the flick of a switch. [Read more.]

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign finds supports smart mob theory when it comes to complex problem solving:
Groups of three, four, or five perform better on complex problem solving than the best of an equivalent number of individuals, says a new study appearing in the April issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association (APA). This finding may transfer to scientific research teams and classroom problem solving and offer new ways for students to study and improve academic performance, according to the study authors. [Read more.

Science Friday's interview with Before the Dawn: Recovering The Lost History of Our Ancestors author, Nicholas Wade. New York Times' science reporter Nicholas Wade and NPR's Ira Flatow discuss Wade's new book Before the Dawn, which explains discoveries in recent human evolution. Of particular interest to me was the discussion of the intersections between cognitive development and evolution.

I know that racism, both current and past, is always a concern when we wade into the intersections of evolution/genetics and cognition, but it's interesting and important work nonetheless. It's part of the story of human development.

And, finally, the implications of improving brain function via applying weak electrical currents are fascinating.


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