Matthew Ludwick’s Motto

My motto from Matthew Ludwick

My personal motto is “Your dreams are on the other side of fear”.  I have learned through experience that anything is possible with time and effort.  Fear will scare us, and that’s ok, but it can’t stop us.  So wither your goal is to go back to college, leave your current job, apply for that management position, or reach out to an old ex, don’t let fear stop you.  We don’t live long enough to have regrets, and being comfortable is when you don’t grow.  Run towards your fear, and you will come out the other side with your goals reached.

By Matthew Ludwick

Understanding Prejudices

BrainWe don’t always say what we think: we often hide prejudices we have, even from ourselves.  Yet unconscious prejudices become visible with tests.  Researchers in Bern have shown that additional processes in the brain are not responsible for this, yet some of them simply take longer.  For example, sports fans will need more time to associate a positive word with a rival team, and supporters of a political party associate a favorable trait faster with their party than with political rivals.  It’s been known for a while that a positive association with one’s own group happens unconsciously faster than with an “outgroup”.  Such different reaction times become visible in the Implicit Association Test (IAT), which psychologists use to examine unconscious processes and prejudices.

Now a team headed by Professor Daria Knoch from the Department of Social Psychology and Social Neuroscience from the University of Bern shows that an additional mental process isn’t responsible for this, but rather that the brain lingers longer in certain processes.  The study has now been published in the scientific journal “PNAS” (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA).  The researchers used an Implicit Association Test with 83 test subjects who are soccer fans or political supporters.  While the test persons had to associate positive terms on the screen with a button click, the brain activity was recorded with an electroencephalogram (EEG).  By analyzing this data, the researchers were able to depict all processes in the brain for the first time.

The analysis has revealed that the brain runs through seven processes, from the presentation of stimulus up to the button click, in less than one second.  The reaction time with the outgroup situation is longer since some of the seven processes take longer, not because a new process is switched in-between.  A complete consideration of all processes in the brain is essential for an interpretation.  One of the researchers provided this example: on Monday after work, you go to dinner with a friend and then go to sleep afterwards at 10pm.  On Friday you do the exact same thing, but come home two hours later.  If you compare the days at 8pm, you would conclude that this is an identical time schedule, because both times you’re having dinner with your friend.  But if the comparison takes place at 11pm, the two situations are different, and one could conclude that you have an entirely different daily schedule.  Therefore, it’s clear that selective considerations don’t allow for any conclusions with regard to the entire day.

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More Than We Thought

There are few things as astounding as the brain and human memory.  Yet Salk researchers and collaborators have achieved critical insight into the size of neural connections, which revealed that mankind’s memory capacity is actually much higher than previously believed.  This new work also answers a longstanding question as to how the brain is so energy-efficient, which could help engineers to build computers that are not only incredibly powerful, but also conserve energy.  The researchers say that they have discovered the key to unlocking the design principle for how hippocampal neurons function with low energy but high computation power.  Their new measurements of the brain’s memory capacity are around 10 times what we’d previously though, around the same amount as the World Wide Web.  skull memory

Our thoughts and memories are the result of patterns of electrical and chemical activity in the brain.  A key part of the activity happens when branches of neurons, much like electrical wire, interact at certain junctions that are known as synapses.  An output wire (or axon) from one neuron connects to an input wire (dendrite) of a second neuron.  Signals travel across the synapse as chemicals called neurotransmitters to tell the receiving neuron whether to convey an electrical signal to other neurons.  Each neuron can have thousands of these synapses with thousands of other neurons.

Synapses remain a mystery, although their dysfunction can cause a variety of neurological diseases.  Larger synapses are stronger, which makes them more likely to activate their surrounding neurons than medium or small synapses.  While building a 3D reconstruction of rat hippocampus tissue, the Salk team noticed that in some cases, a single axon from one neuron formed two synapses reaching out to a single dendrite of a second neuron, meaning that the first neuron seemed to be sending a duplicate message to the receiving neuron.  Researchers didn’t think much of this duplicity at first, which occurs about 10 percent of the time in the hippocampus.  Yet one of the researchers realized that if they could measure the difference between two very similar synapses, then they could glean insight into the synaptic sizes, which so far had only been classified in the field as small, medium and large.  To do this, the researchers used advanced microscopy and computational algorithms they had developed to image rat brains and reconstruct the connectivity, shapes, volumes and surface of the brain tissue down to a nanomolecular level.

While the researchers expected the synapses to be roughly the same in size, they were shocked to learn that they were nearly identical.  Since the memory capacity of neurons is dependent on synapse size, this eight percent difference was a key number that the team could plug into their algorithmic models of the brain to measure how much information could be stored into synaptic connections.  Armed with the knowledge that synapses of all sizes could vary in increments as little as eight percent between sizes within a factor of 60, the team determined that there could be about 26 categories of sizes of synapses as opposed to just a few.

The researchers calculated that for the smallest synapses, about 1,500 events cause a change in their size and ability (20 minutes), while for the largest synapses, only a couple hundred signaling events (1 to 2 minutes) cause a change.  This means that every 2 to 20 minutes, your synapses are going up or down to the next size.  The implications of what the researchers has found are far-reaching, offering a valuable explanation for the brain’s surprising efficiency; the brain generates only about 20 watts of continuous power, about as much as a very dim light bulb.  This discovery could help computer scientists to build ultraprecise, energy-efficient computers that employ “deep learning” and artificial neural nets.

If you’d like to learn more, you can click here!


Energy Drinks & TBIs

Energy drinks are dangerousAccording to a study published in “PLOS ONE”, teens who reported a traumatic brain injury in the past year were seven times more likely to have drunk at least five energy drinks in the past week than those with no history of TBI.  Researchers also found that teens who reported sustaining TBI within the past year were at least twice as likely to have consumed energy drinks mixed with alcohol than teens who reported sustaining a TBI more than a year before.

While energy drinks have been associated with general injuries, this is the first study to actively explore the link between energy drinks and TBI.  Dr. Michael Cusimano, a researcher in the study and a neurosurgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital, says that energy drink consumption could interfere with recovery efforts for teens who have sustained a TBI.  This is particularly troubling for teens, since their brains are still developing.  At a time when the consumption of energy drinks continues to rise among teens in Canada and the US, the study also suggests that these drinks are particularly linked with people who play sports.  This is hardly surprising, as advertisements for energy drinks often feature prominent athletes.  Teens who have reported suffering a TBI in the past year while playing sports were twice as likely to consume energy drinks as teens who reported a TBI from other injuries in the same time period.

Data for the study was collected by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s 2013 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey.  Approximately 10,000 students between the ages of 11 and 20 participated in the self-administered, in-classroom survey.  TBI was defined as an injury that results in the loss of consciousness for at least five minutes, or being hospitalized for at least one night.  The number of teens who report mixing energy drinks with alcohol is also particularly troublesome, as it’s a line of behavior that is not only horrible for your body, but can also lead to poor decision making that could lead to additional TBIs.  About 22 percent of all students surveyed reported they’d experienced a TBI, with sports injuries accounting for almost half of TBI cases in the past year.

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Being Comfortable in Your Own Skin

In the immortal words of William Shakespeare, “to thine own self be true”. sharpei puppy with baggy skin Yet being true to who you really are and being comfortable in your own skin can be a lot easier said than done.  If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, then consider being comfortable in your own skin is another way to say that you’re comfortable “with your own power”.  I recently came across an article that shares some tips about how you can be comfortable in your own skin, listed below:

Being comfortable with your “own personal power” means that you can express your opinions, set your boundaries, direct other people and move about your life, all without fearing rejection.  Fearing rejection means that you’re withholding your personal power, or your right to be just as you are.  Fearing what what others think about you means that you’re giving unnecessary power for them to determine how you feel, what you do and even what you think on your own private time.  Yet doing this leaves yourself powerless and subject to the whims of others.

It’s important to remember that such insecurities are all occurring based on your own projections; you’re making yourself powerless over what you believe about others, as opposed to the others themselves.  Yet this is all your own projection, a false anticipation of some form of rejection.  Maybe you’re withholding an opinion, dressing differently or saying yes to a favor simply because you’re worried about how they’ll react.  More or less, being uncomfortable in your own skin is like anticipating rejection at every turn, with everything that you think, say and feel being subject to endless scrutiny and criticism.  This is enough to make anybody uncomfortable in their own skin, and serves as a form of self-sabotage where you doom yourself to rejection before you even give others a chance to respond in the real world.

People are going to actually reject you in the real world, yet it doesn’t happen nearly as often as we fear.  Yet it’s typically a lot easier to deal with occasional cases of actual rejection than deal with perpetual, self-inflicted anticipatory rejection of self-sabotage.  You should begin to see your powerlessness as the powerlessness of self-sabotage as opposed to actual powerlessness.  If you realize that it’s nothing more than self-sabotage, then you can imagine what life would be like if you stopped self-sabotaging.  It’s here that your potential is the greatest.

Suicide and Counseling

Suicide is one of the 10 leading causes of death in the US, and it’s estimated that more than 1 million Americans try to kill themselves every year.  According to the research team, led by Annette Erlangsen of the Department of Mental Health at Johns Hopkins, people who have already tried to kill themselves are at a high risk of a repeat attempt.  The majority of people who have attempted suicide tend to have some form of mental disorder, such as depression or schizophrenia.  These people could receive medication dependent on the type of disorder that they have, which in turn could help reduce their risk of suicide.  For her study, Erlangsen wanted to assess the effects of psychological counseling among people who have attempted suicide.

For their study, the team analyzed the health data of more than 65,000 people in Denmark who have attempted suicide between 1992 and 2010.  Over a 20-year follow-up period, the team monitored the Matthew Ludwick counselingoutcomes of 5,678 people who had undergone such counseling at one of eight clinics and compared them with the outcomes of people who hadn’t yet received this counseling.  Those people who have received the counseling attended 6-10 sessions.  The team discovered that in the first year after counseling ended, those who underwent therapy were 27% less likely to repeat suicide attempts, and were at 38% lower risk of death from all causes than those who didn’t receive any therapy.

After 5 years, repeat suicide attempts were 26% lower among the therapy group.  After 10 years, the suicide rate was 229 per 100,000 for the therapy group and 314 per 100,000 for those who didn’t receive therapy.  Since the counseling sessions were tailored to each individual’s circumstances, the researchers weren’t able to say why the therapy was so effective for preventing suicide.  However, they say that this is something they intend to investigate with future research.  Back in September, the site Medical News Today revealed that World Health Organization (WHO) have called for global action to reduce the number of suicide deaths, and that one person dies by suicide every 40 seconds.

Mental Illness Breakthrough

Matthew Ludwick Mental IllnessThe DISC1 gene is a major red flag for a high risk of various mental illnesses, including depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.  According to brain imaging studies, these illnesses involve alterations in both the structure and connectivity of the brain.  Yet for the first time, scientists have revealed how the disruption of a key gene involved in mental illness impacts the brain.  This discovery that could pave the way for developing effective psychiatric drugs to combat such mental illness in the future.

Through studying the genetics of several generations of one Scottish family affected by these psychiatric illnesses, it’s been revealed that all of these illnesses were connected to the disruption of the DISC1 gene.  As of now, however, this connection remains unclear.  While much is still left up in the air, this is the first time that neuroscientists have been able to reveal that the disruption of this key risk gene is able to significantly modify the organization of functional brain networks.  Dr. Neil Dawson, the leader of the research team, has pointed out how this data strongly suggests that being able to disrupt DISC1 is a key molecular event with the potential to contribute to emerging disease-relevant alterations in brain function.

Through their studies of this Scottish family, the research team has found a way to determine deficits in brain function and functional connectivity.  These deficits themselves result from the disruption of DISC1, and are relevant to various psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia-related alterations in brain function, functional brain network connectivity and the functioning of the glutamate neurotransmitter system. The findings of this study parallel various changes that have been seen in the brains of schizophrenia patients.  Because of this, this research has a huge amount of potential to pave the way towards developing new drug treatments for the illness.

My First Post!

Welcome to my blog!  Here’s the first blog post.  Stay tuned – there’s sure to be more to come!