Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Good Brain / Bad Brain

'Wiring diagrams' link lifestyle to brain function

Human Connectome Project finds surprising correlations between brain architecture and behavioural or demographic influences.

The brain’s wiring patterns can shed light on a person’s positive and negative traits, researchers report in Nature Neuroscience1. The finding, published on 28 September, is the first from the Human Connectome Project (HCP), an international effort to map active connections between neurons in different parts of the brain.

What are some of these surprising conclusions about the living human brain?

Good Brain / Bad Brain

Smith et al. (2015):
“We identified one strong mode of population co-variation: subjects were predominantly spread along a single 'positive-negative' axis linking lifestyle, demographic and psychometric measures to each other and to a specific pattern of brain connectivity.”

Well. This sounds an awful lot like the Hegemony of the Western Binary as applied to resting state functional connectivity to me...

And hey, looks like IQ, years of education, socioeconomic status, the ability to delay reward, and life satisfaction give you a good brain.

“You can distinguish people with successful traits and successful lives versus those who are not so successful,” [Marcus Raichle] says.

The authors used canonical correlation analysis (CCA) to estimate how 280 demographic and behavioral subject measures and patterns of brain connectivity co-varied in a similar way across subjects (Smith et al., 2015):
“This analysis revealed a single highly significant CCA mode that relates functional connectomes to subject measures (r = 0.87, P < 10−5 corrected for multiple comparisons across all modes estimated).”

And who is not so “successful” (at least according to their chaotic and disconnected brains)?

Regular pot smokers:  “ of the negative traits that pulled a brain farthest down the negative axis was marijuana use in recent weeks.”  Cue up additional funding for NIDA:  “...the finding emphasizes the importance of projects such as one launched by the US National Institute on Drug Abuse last week, which will follow 10,000 adolescents for 10 years to determine how marijuana and other drugs affect their brains.”

But what about wine coolers??

Why am I asking this?? Because in the subject measures, it was a little obvious that malt liquor was considered separately from beer/wine coolers. {Who drinks wine coolers? Who drinks malt liquor?}

In terms of alcohol content, the distinction is silly these days, since you can buy craft beers like Boatswain Double IPA (8.4% alcohol) for $2.29 at Trader Joe's. Unless those questions were retained as a code for race and socioeconomic status...


I'm getting way off track here. My point is that presenting correlational HCP data in a binary manner without any sort of social context isn't a very flattering thing to do.

I am my connectome,” says Sebastian Seung. What about the 460 participants in the study? What about you?


Reardon S (2015). 'Wiring diagrams' link lifestyle to brain function. Nature News. doi:10.1038/nature.2015.18442

Smith SM, Nichols TE, Vidaurre D, Winkler AM, Behrens TE, Glasser MF, Ugurbil K, Barch DM, Van Essen DC, Miller KL. (2015). A positive-negative mode of population covariation links brain connectivity, demographics and behavior. Nat Neurosci. 2015 Sep 28. doi: 10.1038/nn.4125.

“As a black woman interested in feminist movement, I am often asked whether being black is more important than being a woman; whether feminist struggle to end sexist oppression is more important than the struggle to racism or vice versa. All such questions are rooted in competitive either/or thinking, the belief that the self is formed in opposition to an other...Most people are socialized to think in terms of opposition rather than compatibility. Rather than seeing anti-racist work as totally compatible with working to end sexist oppression, they often see them as two movements competing for first place.”

bell hooks, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center

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