Two stories related to brain function. One did not come as much of a surprise - the other did.
The first one claims that how you solve math problems may depend on the language you speak. I wonder what Thomas Friedman will make of these findings. He will probably clamor for making Mandarin compulsory in America, starting at age 3!
"Things add up differently for native English speakers compared with people who learned Chinese as a first language. Simple arithmetic was easily done by both groups, but they used different parts of the brain, a new study shows.
Researchers used brain imaging to see which parts of the brain were active while people did simple addition problems, such as 3 plus 4 equals 7. All participants were working with Arabic numerals which are used in both cultures.Both groups engaged a portion of the brain called the inferior parietal cortex, which is involved in quantity representation and reading. But native English speakers also showed activity in a language processing area of the brain, while native Chinese speakers used a brain region involved in the processing of visual information, according to the report in Tuesday's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The difference "may mean that Chinese speakers perform problems in a different manner than do English speakers," said lead author Yiyuan Tang of Dalian University of Technology in Dalian, China.
"In part that might represent the difference in language. It could be that the difference in language encourages different styles of computation and this may be enhanced by different methods of learning to deal with numbers," Tang said in an interview via e-mail. "We believe language plays a role in the calculation," Tang said. But Tang added that cultural factors may also play a part, such as math learning strategies and school training.....
Richard E. Nisbett, co-director of the Culture and Cognition Program at the University of Michigan, said "the work is important because it tells us something about the particular pathways in the brain that underlie some of the differences between Asians and Westerners in thought patterns."
Nisbett last year reported on differences in the way Asians and North Americans view pictures. He tracked eye movements and determined that, when shown a photograph, North American students of European background paid more attention to the object in the foreground of a scene, while students from China spent more time studying the background and taking in the whole scene.
"They literally are seeing the world differently," he said."
The second finding describes the biological basis for something we are more or less familiar with. The reason that older people seem to mellow with age, doesn't just have to do with their decreasing physical vigor to fight a good fight. The human brain apparently finds a way to focus more on positive thoughts as we age.
With maturity, emotional activity appears to shift to the medial prefrontal cortex the part of the brain associated with conscious thought. Younger people on the other hand, feel emotions mostly in the amygdala, the area also associated with fear responses. Experience and a longer memory help put the ups and downs of life in proper logical perspective for the grown ups. Hmm... did they study the brain patterns of Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld? I bet they would be all amygdala!
"Given all the bad news that science has delivered about brain cells withering and memory waning as the years mount, older people have a right to be cranky. But, instead, the over-50 crowd handles life's rotten realities and finds life's bright side more effectively than whippersnappers do. In no small part, that's because the aging brain makes critical emotional adjustments, a new study indicates.
Advancing age heralds a growth in emotional stability accompanied by a neural transition to increased control over negative emotions and greater accessibility of positive emotions, according to a team led by neuroscientist Leanne M. Williams of Westmead (Australia) Hospital. A brain area needed for conscious thought, the medial prefrontal cortex, primarily influences these emotional reactions in older adults, Williams and her colleagues say.
In contrast, people under age 50 experience negative emotions more easily than they do positive ones. These younger adults' emotion-related activity centers on the amygdala, a brain structure previously implicated in automatic fear responses.
This gradual reorganization of the brain's emotion system may result from older folk responding to accumulating personal experiences by increasingly looking for meaning in life, the researchers propose in the June 14 Journal of Neuroscience.
Evidence that emotional functions improve in older brains "indicates that our ability to register the significance of information is preserved, and even enhanced, as we age," Williams says. Older people may benefit from associating information they need to remember with personally significant matters, such as a favorite tune, he adds."