By Guest Contributor Katherine Bryant
Katherine Bryant is a PhD candidate in Neuroscience at Emory University, where her research interests include network models of cortical connectivity, multi-modal association cortex, and human evolution. Her dissertation focuses on identifying human-unique specializations of the temporal lobe by comparing the white matter connectivity of cortex in humans, chimpanzees, and macaques. She is also receiving training in interdisciplinary graduate studies as part of a certificate in Mind, Brain, and Culture.
* This post was originally featured on The Neuroethics Blog.
Who are synesthetes?
[Describing the experiences of subject MMo] Eights are yellow, for example, a square feels like mashed potatoes, and the name Steve is somehow like poached eggs. (Cytowic p. 26)
“…I [asked the vendor] what kind of ice cream she had. ‘Fruit ice cream,’ she said. But she answered in such a tone that a whole pile of coals, of black cinders, came bursting out of her mouth, and I couldn’t bring myself to buy any ice cream after she’d answered that way…” (Record of patient “S”, Luria p. 82)
|Colored alphabet,via Wikipedia Commons|
The unexpected sensory pairings described above are the experiences of a minority of people, perhaps 4% of the population (Simner et al., 2006), known as synesthetes. Synesthesia is a perceptual phenomenon in which unusual linkages occur between sensory modalities – sounds may evoke colors, tastes may evoke shapes, or numbers may evoke spatial patterns – in all, over 40 unique pairings have been documented. Synesthesia creates problems – it defies normal categories of clinical pathology, and yet is clearly different from what we might call “normal” or neurotypical perception. But examining the phenomenon can help us gain a greater understanding of how synesthetes perceive the world, how others perceive them, and in what ways neuroscience can help us better understand unusual neurological phenotypes – what we might call neurodiversity.
Thanks to Carol Clark who wrote this piece for Emory University’s Escience Commons on Sara Freeman’s innovative teaching on Intersex.
As a little girl growing up in Atlanta, Sara Freeman says she was a tomboy, preferring to play in the dirt than with dolls. “I dealt with the psychological issue of not behaving like a feminine ideal,” she recalls, “but I don’t think most people ever feel like a perfect version of their sexual assignment.”
She went on to major in biology at the University of Virginia, where she developed an interest in reproductive endocrinology. Freeman is now on the brink of receiving a PhD in neuroscience from Emory, focused on the evolution of behavior, especially in relation to hormones. Her thesis involves the oxytocin system and the social attachment of mammals, drawing from her work in the lab of behavioral neuroscientist Larry Young.
“I find it fascinating that a chemical like a hormone can have such a big influence on an organism’s social interactions,” says Freeman, who loves teaching as much as research.
Last fall, Freeman taught an undergraduate class that she developed called “Intersex: Biology and Gender.”
Read more here.
This blog post by Jennifer Sarrett was originally featured on The Neuroethics Blog.
Jennifer C. Sarrett started working with people on the autism spectrum in 1999 in Athens, GA while getting her B.S. in Psychology. In 2005, she completed her M.Ed. in Early Childhood Special Education with a focus on autism from Vanderbilt University. She is currently a fifth year doctoral student in Emory University’s Graduate Institute of Liberal Arts working on her dissertation which compares parental and professional experiences of autism in Atlanta, GA and Kerala, India as well as the ethical issues the arise when engaging in international, autism-related work.
On Friday, December 14th 2012, the country learned of the mass shooting of 5- and 6-year-old children and several adults in Newtown, CT. By the end of the day, we learned that Adam Lanza, the perpetrator of the heinous act, may be autistic. Although we now know that this is not the case, it has spurred conversations about the link between autism and violence. This mental illness guessing-game has become the norm in the wake of such tragedies. Jared Loughner and James Holmes may have been schizophrenic; Sueng-Hi Cho may have been depressed, anxious, and also possibly autistic; Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold may have been depressed and/or psychopathic. These speculations are understandable – the public yearns to understand the motives behind such acts and recognizes that good mental health and mass shootings are never coupled–however, the way these representations are presented to the community create stigma and blames others with similar disabilities.
In Media Madness:Public Images of Mental Illness, psychologist Otto Walh explains that the public does not get its information about mental illness from evidenced-based, professional sources, rather, “[i]t is far more likely that the public’s knowledge of mental illness comes from sources closer to home, sources to which we are all exposed on a daily basis–namely, the mass media.”  The media (i.e. news, television, movies, video games, popular literature) often provides these links casually but carefully. Reports may mention Adam Lanza had autism, but don’t make the causal link between this diagnosis and his crimes. Yet in the minds of readers, the association is made. Read the rest of this entry »
The 2013 Zurich Spring & Summer School in Neuroethics
Progress in understanding the human brain poses various ethical problems: How can neuroscientific research with animals and humans be conducted in a responsible way? What are the practical con-sequences of increasing insights on neurobiological causes for behavioral disorders? Should we use neuroscientific knowledge to enhance our brains and minds? Does neuroscientific research on hu-man moral behavior change our understanding of ethics? These are some of the questions Neuroeth-ics deals with. In the Zurich Spring & Summer School students will get an overview, insights and com-petences in this emerging field.
The Zurich Spring and Summer School in Neuroethics are two coupled events. In the Spring School (April 2nd to 5th 2013), students will get an introduction in the field by a leading international expert, Judy Illes, together with a teaching team of researchers working in neuroethics. In addition, students will participate in a workshop, where neuroscientific researchers from various fields present and discuss ethical issues of their work. In the Summer School (June 3rd to 7th 2013), the students will expand their expertise in various site visits and meet leading researchers of the Neuroscience Center Zurich, the joint competence center of ETH and University of Zurich unifying 800 neuroscientists. The students are encouraged to summarize their findings and insights gathered during the spring and summer school for poster contributions to the 2013 International Neuroethics Society Meeting.
All students with interests in neuroethics are invited to apply for the Zurich Spring and Summer School in Neuroethics, preference will be given to PhD students working in fields related to neuroscience, neurology, psychiatry and/or ethics of the Universities Basel and Zurich. It is expected, but not mandatory, that students participate in both schools. A total of 15 to 20 students are envisaged to form the school, no fees apply. The School is part of the PhD Program in Biomedical Ethics and Law of the Universities Basel and Zurich.
Please send your application (CV and a short letter of motivation) both to Laura Cabrera (email@example.com) and Markus Christen (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Upcoming conferences that may be of interest
1. Neurodiversity: Critical Juncture
Friday, March 22nd– Saturday, March 23rd, 2013
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
What are the different ways that the humanities and social sciences, scientific research, and community organizations are beginning to explore how multiple social identities–such as race, disability, gender, sexuality, and social class–shape human bodies and human experience? How can a focus on the intersections of social identity help us understand and influence the social, political, and economic structures in which we live?
CRITICAL JUNCTURE is a conference that seeks to foster discourse on identity, difference and inequality from a variety of cross-disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives. This conference invites engaged participation of researchers, scholars, community artists, and organizers whose work focuses on the impact of the relationship between social identities and the contexts within which they form. For more information, click here
2. Neurolaw: SEAL XIV Conference
SEAL XIV Conference
April 5-6, 2013
University of Pennsylvania Law School
The Society for Evolutionary Analysis in Law (SEAL) is a scholarly association dedicated to fostering interdisciplinary exploration of issues at the intersection of law, biology, and evolutionary theory, improving the models of human behavior relevant to law, and promoting the integration of life science and social science perspectives on law-relevant topics through scholarship, teaching, and empirical research. Relevant disciplines include, among others, evolutionary and behavioral biology, cognitive science, neuroscience, complex adaptive systems, economics, evolutionary psychology, psychiatry, behavioral ecology, behavioral genetics, primatology, memetics, chaos theory, evolutionary anthropology, and gender relations. SEAL welcomes everyone — professors, students, practitioners, and all others — with serious interests in evolutionary processes and law. SEAL is comprised of over 400 members, from more than 30 countries. For more information about SEAL, please visit https://www4.vanderbilt.edu/seal/
In their article, “Socioeconomic status and the brain: mechanistic insights from human and animal research,” Daniel A. Hackman, Martha J. Farah, and Michael J. Meaney explore how low socioeconomic status (SES) affects underlying cognitive and affective neural systems. They identify and focus on two sets of factors that determine the relationship between SES and cognitive development: (1) the environmental factors or ‘mechanisms’ that demonstrably mediate SES and brain development; and (2) those neurocognitive systems that are most strongly affected by low SES, including language processing and executive function. They argue that “these findings provide a unique opportunity for understanding how environmental factors can lead to individual differences in brain development, and for improving the programmes and policies that are designed to alleviate SES-related disparities in mental health and academic achievement” .
|Neuroscience can tell us how SES may affect her brain.
Can it move us to do something about it?
Theoretically, I have no doubt that neuroscience can make a powerful contribution to early childhood development by determining whether and which neurocognitive systems appear to be more extensively affected by low socioeconomic status.
After attending the Neurogenderings Conference in Vienna, where participants debated whether it would be possible to conduct feminist neuroscience research, I decided it would be useful to interview an actual practicing feminist neuroscientist – and I knew just who to talk to. Dr. Sari van Anders is an Assistant Professor in Psychology and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan. She earned her Ph.D. in Biological & Cognitive Psychology from Simon Fraser University. In her social neuroendocrinology lab at the University of Michigan, she conducts feminist neuroscience research on a variety of topics, with a principle focus on the social modulation of testosterone via sexuality, partnering/pair bonding, and nurturance. She has received grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the American Institute of Bisexuality and has published articles in Hormones and Behavior, Archives of Sexual Behavior, and Psychoneuroendocrinology, among others.
I asked her to talk about what she sees as feminist about her own behavioral neuroscience research, how she has secured support for her work from other behavioral neuroendocrinologists, and what advice she would give to early career scientists who want to incorporate feminist concerns into their research. Read on for Dr. Van Anders’ thoughtful and thought-provoking answers.
I have heard you describe your research as a behavioral neuroscientist as ‘feminist.’ Can you explain what you see as feminist about your behavioral neuroscience research? Read the rest of this entry »
Carolyn is a PhD student in the Department of Philosophy at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Her research focuses on ethics, with special emphasis on Bioethics and Neuroethics, as well as social and political philosophy. Her most recent work is on the authenticity of emotions, and considers authentic emotions as a normative ideal in the debate over neuromodification. Other work explores human rights, moral psychology, and democratic community. Carolyn received her BA in Philosophy at Georgetown University, and earned honors for her undergraduate thesis on personal identity. Below is a synopsis of the paper she presented recently at Brain Matters 3 in Cleveland, Ohio on the authenticity of emotions and deep brain stimulation. Read the rest of this entry »
Does this lab coat make me look fat? Response to sexist comments made during Society for Neuroscience
Here is my response to sexist comments made during the recent Society for Neuroscience conference. “Even more troubling than Maestripieri’s adolescent wailing is how some women have tacitly accepted his subjugating rhetoric. Rebuttals in which women say that they “know plenty of beautiful female neuroscientists” or insist, “Hey, I’m not ugly!,” miss the point to such a degree that even our advocates can’t advocate for us.” The rest can be read here. I encourage you to weigh in and share your comments here or on The Chronicle of Higher Education.
JOIN US FOR DINNER AND DRINKS after INS on Friday, Oct 12 @ 530pm!
Our first meeting will happen immediately after the International Neuroethics Society meeting on Friday (~5:30pm) at the Palace Café, which is 0.1 miles from the INS venue at 605 Canal Street, between Chartres and Royal Streets (see map below for directions from INS). *each person will be responsible for his/her bill*
Please RSVP to Karen Rommelfanger (email@example.com) by Tues, Oct 9th at 5pm EST.