CNS 2011

My trip to San Francisco was possible largely thanks to the hospitality of my best friend Rupe, who has an incredible view from his balcony.

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to attend the Cognitive Neuroscience Society 2011 Annual Meeting in beautiful San Francisco, where my lab presented some of our recent research.

Sylvia, Dr. Mangels, & Belèn with our poster: "Task goals and achievement mindset influence attention to feedback and learning success in a challenging memory task"

This was my first time at a big academic conference, and I really had an incredible time. Few things make me happier than interesting ideas and intelligent people, and CNS provided 40 solid hours of learning and conversation which left me smiling like an idiot by the time I got on the plane back to New York. Aside from filling 25 pages of my Moleskine with notes (which I’m in the process of transcribing and putting online), the chance to talk with many of the names I’ve been reading for years was really exciting, and possible in no small part thanks to the fact that my advisor turned out to be friends with (or have worked with) almost everyone I wanted to meet. It was particularly great to chat with Roberto Cabeza, whose Attention to Memory model inspired my insight research. On a more practical level, it was really valuable to be able to talk with current graduate students in programs and labs I’m considering applying to for my PHD, and learned some important things for when it comes time to make my decision.

I’m sure I would have enjoyed the conference had I gone on my own, but it was great to be there with 5 other members of my lab. Though I met a bunch of great people at the Student Society dinner, it was really nice to always have someone I knew to grab lunch with or chat to during coffee breaks.

Equally important to having people to talk to is having people to watch your things while you collapse between sessions.

The conference went from 8am to 7pm every day, so I didn’t get much of a chance to see friends in the city, but I did experience my first authentic Mission burrito during our Lab dinner at Pancho Villa Taqueria. The foursquare tips said to get my burrito mojado (wet, thus the sauce and cheese), and it was definitely the right decision.

The horchata was also excellent.

I also rode the cable car for the first time, which I had somehow neglected to try despite all the time I’ve spent in San Francisco. I couldn’t help feeling like a monkey as I hung off the side (thanks Eddie Izzard), but it was preferable to having to walk back up Nob hill to where I was staying.

I’ll post a note with a link when I get my notes up online, but for now, I leave you with nightmare EEG baby courtesy of the EGI booth.

EEG baby knows your darkest secrets.

P.S: Tal Yarkoni, currently a post-doc at CU Boulder, is not just a talented researcher and blogger, but also a very funny man. Check out his CNS timeline for a good laugh.

The Science of Morality

I was lucky last night to be able to attend a fantastic lecture panel on the Science of Morality at the 92stY as part of the World Science Festival. Philosophers Daniel Dennett and Patricia Churchland, and neuroscientists Antonio Damasio and Marc Hauser discussed the philosophy, psychology, and biology of a fundamental aspect of human nature. Below are some of the more interesting ideas discussed.

Reduced D2 receptor densities lead to difficulty in learning from error and negative reinforcement:
Genetically Determined Differences in Learning from Errors (Science)
“Go” and “NoGo”: Learning and the Basal Ganglia (DANA)
This is of particular interest to me due to its implications for ADHD.

Breakdown of Theory of Mind in social, emotional, and moral decision-making:
Mindblindness: An Essay on Autism and Theory of Mind (Google Scholar, book)

PFC damage inhibits normal social/moral behavior:
On the neurology of morals (Nature Neuroscience)

Fundamental neurochemical differences effect social behavior:
The effects of oxytocin and vasopressin on partner preferences in male and female prairie voles (Microtus ochrogaster) (PubMed)

Most of these articles are behind pay-walls, so let me know if you need access to one of them and I’ll use my school account.