Take two placebos and call me in the morning – NeoLife

Illustration by Gabriel Alcala

When a new drug is being tested in a controlled clinical trial, half the patients get the real drug and half get a placebo, something harmless like a sugar pill or a saline injection. But patients on the placebo often improve anyway, and that’s because they expect that they’re getting the real drug, right? Well, no. Harvard professor Ted Kaptchuk’s research has exploded that explanation. Read the full story in NeoLife.

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Dyslexia doesn’t work the way we thought it did – Mental Floss

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Dyslexia is not just about reading, or even language. It’s about something more fundamental: How much can the brain adapt to what it has just observed? People with dyslexia typically have less brain plasticity than those without dyslexia, two recent studies have found.

Read the full story in mental_floss.

Maestro – Tufts Magazine

A new artificial intelligence system designed at Tufts has made it faster and easier to learn to play the piano. Is it the future of education? 

Illustration by Gaby D’Allesandro

In a fourth-floor Tufts lab, a computer program was in the process of convincing a student that she was actually interacting with a human. It was spring 2015, and the student had come to the lab for a study involving a new way of teaching people to play the piano.

Yuksel and Oleson call their AI system Brain Automated Chorales, or BACh. It’s the first AI system to collect brain data and use that information to adapt a task for learners in real time. “It’s a huge deal,” said H. Chad Lane, an educational psychologist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who studies intelligent technologies for learning. “No one has really successfully integrated neuroscience into interactive digital learning very well yet.”

With BACh’s flexibility, it becomes possible to envision brain-based AI tutoring systems that students could use in daily life—while doing homework, for example.

Read the full story in Tufts Magazine.

Elizabeth Mormino | Innovators Under 35

A telltale protein seen in people’s brains before they have Alzheimer’s could offer a clue about possible treatments.

Elizabeth Mormino knows it’s too late to save her grandfather, whose Alzheimer’s disease was diagnosed a few years ago. “It’s really hard to see a familiar face go through this, knowing that there’s really no drugs that work right now,” she says. But her work may help future patients by showing an intriguing new path to treating the disease.

Read the full profile in MIT Technology Review.

Lost first languages leave impressions in the brain

Credit Scott Sherrill-Mix, flickr. Used under Creative Commons.

Like a footprint in wet concrete, the first language a baby hears makes an impression that lasts for years, regardless of what follows. Later, children even as old as ten who are adopted or immigrate can completely forget their first language. But even if they do not consciously remember their mother tongue, their brains retain its traces, according to a study published this week in PNAS, led by Lara Pierce of McGill University.

Read the full article in Scope.