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Brain and cognitive sciences

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HealthDay News

A study by MIT researchers finds that the screening test used for autism creates a gender gap that impedes diagnosis and treatment for women and girls, reports Sydney Murphy for Health Day. The researchers found that “a screening test often used to decide who can take part in autism studies seems to exclude a much higher percentage of women than men,” writes Murphy.

The Hill

A new study by MIT researchers finds that women being excluded from studies on autism can hinder diagnoses and the development of useful interventions for women and girls, reports Gianna Melillo for The Hill. “Female diagnoses could be missed altogether and an already small pool of study subjects is further reduced,” writes Melillo.

Economist

Prof. Edward Boyden has developed a new imaging technique called expansion-revealing microscopy that can reveal tiny protein structures in tissues, reports The Economist. “Already his team at MIT has used it to reveal detail in synapses, the nanometer-sized junctions between nerve cells, and also to shed light on the mechanisms at play in Alzheimer’s disease, revealing occasional spirals of amyloid-beta protein around axons, which are the threadlike parts of nerve cells that carry electrical impulses.”

The New York Times

Helen Santoro, a participant in Prof. Evelina Fedorenko’s “Interesting Brain Project,” writes about her experience for The New York Times. “In April, I wrote Dr. Fedorenko an email telling her about my missing left temporal lobe and offering to be part of her research,” explains Santoro. “She replied four and a half hours later, and soon I was booking an airplane ticket from my home in rural Colorado to Boston.”

The Guardian

Researchers at MIT have discovered that pictures of food appear to stimulate strong reactions among specific sets of neurons in the human brain, a trait that could have evolved due to the importance of food for humans, reports Sascha Pare for The Guardian. “The researchers posit these neurons have gone undetected because they are spread across the other specialized cluster for faces, places, bodies and words, rather than concentrated in one region,” writes Pare.

The Conversation

Graduate student Anna Ivanova and University of Texas at Austin Professor Kyle Mahowald, along with Professors Evelina Fedorenko, Joshua Tenenbaum and Nancy Kanwisher, write for The Conversation that even though AI systems may be able to use language fluently, it does not mean they are sentient, conscious or intelligent. “Words can be misleading, and it is all too easy to mistake fluent speech for fluent thought,” they write.

Fast Company

Rob Morris PhD ’14 has dedicated his career to easing access to mental health services online, reports Shalene Gupta for Fast Company. “When you search for a flight on Google, you get directed to these options that make you instantly buy a flight,” he says. “The interface is beautiful. But when you look up mental health, it’s not great. I want to do for mental health what Google did for flights.”

Popular Mechanics

Researchers at MIT have found that the brain can send a burst of noradrenaline when it requires you to pay attention to something crucial, reports Juandre for Popular Mechanics. “The MIT team discovered that one important function of noradrenaline, commonly known as norepinephrine, is to assist the brain in learning from unexpected results,” explains Juandre.

The Daily Beast

MIT researchers have developed a new computational model that could be used to help explain differences in how neurotypical adults and adults with autism recognize emotions via facial expressions, reports Tony Ho Tran for The Daily Beast. “For visual behaviors, the study suggests that [the IT cortex] pays a strong role,” says research scientist Kohitij Kar. “But it might not be the only region. Other regions like amygdala have been implicated strongly as well. But these studies illustrate how having good [AI models] of the brain will be key to identifying those regions as well.”

Mashable

A new working paper by researchers from MIT and Yale finds that “80 percent of Americans think social media companies should take action to reduce the spread of misinformation,” reports Rachel Kraus for Mashable. “Our data suggests [Musk’s views] are not representative,” says Prof. David Rand. "A lot of people in Silicon Valley have this kind of maybe libertarian, extreme free speech orientation that I don't think is in line with actually how most Americans and social media platform users think about things."

Wired

Prof. Evelina Fedorenko is studying a woman whose brain does not have a left temporal lobe in an effort to understand how the brain regions thought to play a role in language learning and comprehension develop. “Because EG’s left temporal lobe is missing, Fedorenko’s team had a chance to answer an interesting question: are the temporal regions a prerequisite for setting up the frontal language areas?” writes Grace Browne for Wired. 

TechCrunch

CSAIL researchers have developed a new technique that could enable robots to handle squishy objects like pizza dough, reports Brian Heater for TechCrunch.  “The system is separated into a two-step process, in which the robot must first determine the task and then execute it using a tool like a rolling pin,” writes Heater. “The system, DiffSkill, involves teaching robots complex tasks in simulations.”

The New York Times

In an article for The New York Times exploring whether humans are the only species able to comprehend geometry, Siobhan Roberts spotlights Prof. Josh Tenenbaum’s approach to exploring how humans can extract so much information from minimal data, time, and energy. “Instead of being inspired by simple mathematical ideas of what a neuron does, it’s inspired by simple mathematical ideas of what thinking is,” says Tenenbaum.

The Boston Globe

Boston Globe reporter Kevin Lewis spotlights a new study by MIT researchers that explores why it is often so difficult to comprehend the language in legal contracts. “In other words, what sets lawyers apart from laypeople is not necessarily their greater familiarity with legal concepts,” writes Lewis. “It’s that they’ve been trained in how to handle such esoteric language.”

Smithsonian Magazine

Smithsonian Magazine reporter Margaret Osborne spotlights MIT researchers who have discovered that specific neurons in the brain respond to singing, but not sounds such as road traffic, instrumental music and speaking. “This work suggests there’s a distinction in the brain between instrumental music and vocal music,” says former MIT postdoc Sam Norman-Haignere.