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Dilemmas, Decisions, and Brain Function.

Moral Dilemmas and Brain Function

Participants needed to take part in a decision making and brain scanning study.

You will be asked to answer written problems, whilst seated in front of a computer screen and having your brain function and emotional arousal monitored. You will also be asked to answer a short personality questionnaire. This will take approximately 1 hour. Participants must be comfortable with English language and be free from known reading / language problems in order to participate.

Contact Glen Carrigan to book a laboratory slot: GACarrigan1@uclan.ac.uk. When emailing, please indicate which times would be most convenient for you between the dates of the 18th and 27th of August if you have a preference.

The laboratory is located in Darwin Building at The University of Central Lancashire, Preston, UK. We can arrange to meet you at the building or elsewhere on campus if needed, please make us aware of any access issues you may have ahead of time.

Ethical Approval: PSYSOC 159_2nd Phase

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The Science of Star Wars – The Light Side

Lancashire Science Festival 2015. Ian Turner’s The Science of Star Wars – The Light Side. Introduction. The University of Central Lancashire @docwiththesocs @CarriganGlen #LSF2015

https://youtu.be/mzzH8_KT4H4

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Moral, religious, psychopathic, or just human?

Glen Carrigan looks at the science of morality

Original article at British Humanist Association 07.07.2014

Science, increasingly, is answering questions which before only philosophers could attempt

Why doesn’t Microsoft Word recognise the word ‘Neuropsychology?’ Maybe because it’s a rather new field, although people have been musing on the workings of the physical brain for a very long time indeed – don’t worry though, we’re not trepanning people anymore!

My interest is the moral brain, how humans – and other animals to some degree – draw the distinction between right and wrong to organise society. Some argue that moral standards are axiomatic and that moral compasses come from god. There actually seems to be some truth to this, in that some absolutist standards like Thou Shalt Not Kill or the Golden Rule seem to be very intuitive – as is the notion that you’re somehow a social pariah if you play World of Warcraft. A paper by Baumard and Boyer called “Explaining Moral Religions” shows just how universal this is.

Is the Golden Rule any good though? Maybe, but you’re making your own narrow individual experience the basis for how you treat others. Wouldn’t it be better to ask them how they’d like to be treated? This should indeed be the case for issues such as assisted dying, where holding to Thou Shalt Not Kill diminishes the dignity and autonomy of a feeling, reflecting being. To hold dogmatic moral views also only works if you believe in god and that at least in some religions, you’re good to escape punishment in the hereafter, rather than for the sake of the here and now.

Far from being divine in origin, there seems to be a wealth of evidence showing us that being an individual yet social animal, with a big (relative to body size) and healthy brain, necessitates certain behaviours for us to flourish in a group. This then, gives rise to our need to discuss and reflect upon what it means to be a moral agent. You can see similar intuitive behavioural patterns to our own in other animals that operate in social groups. A wonderful example is the reciprocal behaviour of vampire bats, who seem to understand that a good deed (donating a regurgitated blood meal – stomach churning I know) deserves repayment. There is much converging evidence in evolutionary psychology that points to animals being the origin of their own ‘moral’ codes. But there are driving forces behind being a good egg other than reciprocity.

Throughout history philosophers have struggled with what constitutes the virtuous act. We notice that certain behaviours are predictable and wrong such as rape and rightly condemn people for it. We also need to accept that we make choices – if we have free will – and should be responsible for them. The fact that certain prohibitions are intuitive might suggest an in-built moral acquisition and refinement device (MARD) which is nurtured by social experience, emotion and reflection, rather than an omnipotent law giver. Perhaps we are actually responsible for the holy books that seek to have us tow the moral line – although we were managing to beforehand – in any event we seem to be the only species we know of that spends a great deal of time writing books telling ourselves to be good, that we’re special, and that we should be humble about it!

Neuropsychology can perhaps tell us a bit about this MARD and how we think, rather than what we should think here: We establish the social norms after all and what acts constitute deviance. The archetypal Psychopath seems to be deviant to many of us and this is why I study them. The fact is that we all have psychopathic traits along a spectrum; it’s just that some people have more pronounced, what the majority consider to be, morally deviant tendencies. Neuropsychology shows us that Psychopaths seem to have diminished empathic concern, as well as, fail to notice the importance of intention in a harmful act. Since it’s us that establish that intention to cause harm is worse than an accident (the difference between murder and manslaughter) we view psychopaths as morally deviant in society – perhaps their MARD is broken?

People often panic here and think that if we can predict someone will think and perhaps behave murderously then the notion of choice in society falls apart. It might, if you want Neuroscience to strip us of our humanity. In my view, although we could see why such people might be like this, that doesn’t mean they walk away scot free. What matters is that we discuss our options reflectively and organise society around us as moral beings that makes choices, with a sense of responsibility, and who can be punished for transgressions, rather than allowing my brain made me do it as an alibi in all cases where mental instability is an issue. It’s also worth pointing out that most psychopaths actually don’t run around murdering people like Heath Ledger in Batman!

Adults Only! Festival of the Spoken Nerd, and Surgical Spirit: The Science of Cocktails

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The University of Central Lancashire is hosting Lancashire Science Festival again this year! After our huge success last year with Titan the robot and Matt Dickinson’s Science of Star Wars amongst a whole host of other fantastic events, the public are gearing up to experience all things science yet again.

This year we have some special late night, adults only events, because adults love science too! Festival of the Spoken Nerd features Helen Arney, a geeky songstress, Matt Parker a stand-up mathematician (maths can be funny?), and the BBC’s Steve Mould. This will be an excellent show, having met Helen Arney before, I was blown away with her perfect blend of music, wit, science and satire… and the glasses too – an act you just can’t miss!

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Our second adults only event is Surgical Spirit: The Science of Cocktails. Have you ever wondered about the physiology of booze? Well, why don’t you join science-mixologist Noel Jackson to find out what exactly goes on in your favourite drink – we all know what happens after you’ve drank it…. never again! Ticket price includes 5 cocktails, of which you’ll get an amazing hangover-free cocktail!

Festival of the Spoken Nerd
Thursday 26 June 2014, 1930, 53Degrees, UCLan
Quote ‘FOTSN’ for discounted tickets at £11.00 + booking fee (down from £15.00)

Surgical Spirit: The Science of Cocktails
Friday 27 June 2014, 1930, Foster Building, UCLan
Quote ‘Surgical Spirit Discount’ for Tickets at £15.00 + booking fee, includes 5 cocktails (down from £20)

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An Evening of Science and Reason in Pictures

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Top TV Scientist Draws a Crowd at UCLan

George McGavin

Glen Carrigan, Masters by research student UCLan School of Psychology, palaeontologist Dr Robert Asher, associate lecturer in computer aided engineering at UCLan Matt Dickinson and Television presenter Dr George McGavin.

Written by: Rachel Atkinson, 09 June 2014, original article.

The BBC’s Dr George McGavin was the headline speaker at a science event.

One of the country’s top entomologists drew a crowd at a public lecture at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

Television presenter Dr George McGavin, who is a regular contributor to the BBC’s One Show, was the headline speaker at the Evening of Science and Reason.

He was joined at the free student led event by Dr Robert Asher and UCLan’s Matt Dickinson. All three talks were designed to highlight scientific discovery and ethical living in a modern world.

Dr McGavin, who has recently presented Monkey Planet for BBC1, gave a talk entitled Insects: Sex, violence and a cast of billions. Dr Asher, a palaeontologist specialising in mammals, presented Evolution, Reason, and Religion and Matt Dickinson talked about The Science of Superheroes.

Organiser Glen Carrigan, who is a Masters by Research Student in UCLan’s School of Psychology, said: “An Evening of Science and Reason was a huge success. With Matt Dickinson showing us how his fully functional iron man helmet worked, Dr Robert Asher weighing up his religious belief whilst being a palaeontologist and Dr George McGavin telling us how much sex insects have whilst he threw melons around the room, there truly was something for everyone.”

“I set up this project in order to stimulate scientific and ethical debate, and feel that this aim was definitely achieved. We hope to hold more events like this in the future and wish to thank all of our guests and fantastic volunteers for coming along.”

An Evening of Science and Reason

Poster 06.06.14 event George, Robert and Matt

Come along to An Evening of Science and Reason on the 6th of June with Doctor George McGavin, Dr Robert Asher and Matt Dickinson at the University of Central Lancashire’s 3d Lecture Theatre in Darwin Building (DBLT). The Theatre has featured various well known scientists in the past such as Professor Richard Dawkins and many others including most recent, Professor Robin Dunbar. So come along and be part of what promises to be and interesting and entertaining event.

An Evening of Science and Reason

The University of Central Lancashire

Friday, 6th June, (Darwin Building Lecture Theatre), 1700 – 2100

Organised by Glen Carrigan, University of Central Lancashire


Schedule

  • 1700        Doors open, meet and greet by Science and Reason staff and exhibitions
  • 1800        Dr George McGavin “Insects: Sex, violence and a cast of billions”
  • 1900        Dr Robert Asher “Evolution, Reason, and Religion”
  • 2000       Matt Dickinson “The Science of Superheroes”
  • 2100        Glen Carrigan “Thanks and closing remarks”

CLICK HERE to book a ticket!

Theoretical and Applied Aspects of Distraction: An International Symposium

Glen Carrigan, John Marsh Symposium ay UCLan, 30th April 2014

Symposium: Theoretical and Applied Aspects of Distraction

The University of Central Lancashire

Wednesday 30th April, (Adelphi Building Lecture Theatre 2), 9: 30 am – 15:00 pm

Organised by Dr John Marsh and Glen Carrigan, University of Central Lancashire


Schedule

  • 9:30 am           Overview of the Symposium by John E. Marsh

Session 1 (9:45 am – 10:45 am):Attentional Capture and Cognitive Control

  • 9:45 am        Jessica K. Ljungberg (Umeå University, Sweden) “What’s In a Name? No More than when it’s Mine Own”: Evidence from Auditory Oddball Distraction
  • 10:00 am     Robert F. Potter (Distinguished Visitor, Indiana University, US) Two Really is Better than One: The Voice Change as a Means to Increase Attention to Radio Messages
  • 10:15 am       Robert W. Hughes (Royal Holloway, University of London) Auditory Distraction: A Duplex-Mechanism Account

  • 10:30 am       John E. Marsh (University of Central Lancashire) Cognitive Control of Distraction: Task Difficulty Eliminates Attenuates the Between-Sequence Semantic Similarity Effect
  • 10:45 am         Break/Group Discussion

 

Session 2 (11:00 am – 12:00 pm): Applied Aspects of Distraction

  • 11:00 am        Faye C. Skelton (University of Central Lancashire) In the Face of Distraction: The Impact of Changing-State Speech on Person Identification
  • 11:15 am         Charlie F. Frowd (University of Winchester) The Impact of Weapons and Unusual Objects on Face Recall and Composite  Construction
  • 11:30 am         Patrik Sörqvist (via Skype; University of Gavle, Sweden) Task Difficulty and Distractibility: Basic and Applied Aspects
  • 11:45 am         François Vachon (Université Laval, Canada) Reverberation and Multiple Voices: Solutions to Reduce the Cognitive Impact of Office Noise
  • 12 pm              Lunch

 

Session 3 (1:00 pm – 1:45 pm): Distraction, Action Planning, and Specialised Processing

  • 1:00 pm          Paul J. Taylor (University of Central Lancashire) Action Planning Interference of the Visual Processing of Action-Related Stimuli
  • 1.15 pm           Linden J Ball (University of Central Lancashire) When Distraction Helps: Evidence that Concurrent Articulation and Irrelevant Speech Can Facilitate Insight Problem Solving
  • 1.30 pm           Lea Pilgrim (University of Central Lancashire) Hemispheric Specialisation in Semantic Processing: Using Distraction as a Device to Evaluate the Fine-Coarse Model of Cerebral Asymmetry in Conceptual Processing
  • 1.45 pm           Break/Group Discussion

 

Session 4 (2:00 pm – 3:00 pm): Music as Distraction and Distraction within Special Populations

  • 2:00 pm           Nick R. Perham (Cardiff Metropolitan University) Music as Background Sound
  • 2.15 pm           Rona Linklater (University of Central Lancashire) Music Messaging for the Brain
  • 2:30 pm           Jingqi Yang (University of Central Lancashire) Examining Whether Lonely Individuals are Hypervigilant to Social Threat Using Attention and Memory Tasks
  • 2:45 pm           Tanya N Joseph (University of Central Lancashire) An Investigation of the Vulnerability of Child Cognition to Auditory Distraction

  Read the rest of this entry

Memories in the Making; Neuroscientists Observe Memory Formation

mouse brainFor the first time in history, neuroscientists are observing memory formation and transmission around the brain of a mammal. Developing on advances in the field of RNA research, this astounding discovery really does reveal how this particular function of the brain might work.

Memory is a complex cognitive process comprising many different facets. Before we have a memory (that which we can reconstruct) it has to be encoded in the brain in some way. This is an ever-changing process that is not entirely understood but what we do know is that an initial phase of encoding must take place; this can involve visual, auditory, olfactory perception and more, with a system of storage following its receipt.

This need to store the memory leads to the alteration of molecular structures in the brain including synapses – think of them as radio antennas, one transmitting a particular signal that needs to hop across a gap to another which is designed to receive it; both synapses and radio signal can be strengthened and thus make the job of bridging the gap easier. Memories on a cellular level are seen to be encoded and stable when long-lasting synaptic connections occur between neurons that are in contact with each other. But how do we see this work? Neurons are minute, despite there being 86 billion of them – a figure arrived at by Dr. Suzana Herculano Houzel of the famous ‘brain soup’ study – they are difficult to see and their processes even more troublesome to appraise.

Researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in Yeshiva University developed a mouse model within which they were able to fluorescently tag molecules of RNA (mRNA) that code for beta-actin (β-actin) proteins. This is a process that we have used before to tag particular types of neurons in the brain; you might also remember a similar technique being used to produce a fluorescent pig! The appeal of this technique is in the fact that one can tag beta-actin proteins without disrupting the normal cellular processes within them. Bet-actin proteins are found thought living organisms with large concentrations in the brain.

One study describes a process where Dr. Park stimulated neurons in the hippocampus (memory associated) of the mouse, producing glowing beta-actin mRNA molecules which they were able to observe travel within the dendrites of the neuron. A second study by graduate student Adina Buxbaum observed that the way in which beta-actin mRNA is synthesised and controlled by neurons may be unique, leading to a process where it is packaged making it inaccessible for making protein and subsequently unpackaged making it available of beta-protein synthesis.

Dr. Singer in whose laboratory this was discovered remarks: “This observation that neurons selectively activate protein synthesis and then shut it off fits perfectly with how we think memories are made.” This would allow for selective stimulation of beta-actin protein where and when needed in order to strengthen synapses and in turn, memories. I only wish my synapses were sufficiently strengthened when taking Japanese language classes: transmission of language through auditory and written media and rehearsal of what is heard leading to better retention and reproducibility, all through the effective functioning of our neural circuitry.

To find out more about the molecular basis of memory please click the links cited within text for academic research articles.
Video courtesy of Albert Einstein College of Medicine

Engaging the Public in Research at UCLan

UCLan astrophysics research

UCLan astrophysics research

Would you be interested in taking part in real world academic research at The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan)? My name is Glen Carrigan, a Neuropsychology research assistant at UCLan and I am currently interested in seeing how many people would be interested in taking part in research as members of the public. We will be giving presentations around the UK in February and March with regards to how the public can become engaged in research and would love to speak to as many people as possible.

Briefly, we’re trying to set-up a serious, community participation centre for the public to take part in research at our institute in many different disciplines. There is a vision for an online portal for people to join so they can easily keep up to date with current research and take part by booking themselves into a study via a simple to use interface. There will be many laboratory based studies using our neuroimaging, audio perception and memory labs to name but a few! On top of this there will be many online studies to choose from and also the facility to visit participants at their convenience for particular research, so the opportunity is very much open to all interested parties, whatever their interests, location (you could even be in another country for the online studies!) or time commitments.

Neuroimaging Research. Image by Karl Hopkinson: http://www.photoPychopathology/

Neuroimaging Research. Image by Karl Hopkinson: http://www.photoPychopathology/

I would very much like to hear if you are interested in this opportunity and how many people you know who might potentially enjoy taking part in research too: individuals, schools, academic groups, community centres and so on. Our research areas are as diverse as they are interesting so there will be something for everyone. Your contributions to research really will make an impact in those areas that studies address and we really do value your time and commitment in helping us achieve new standards of research in collaboration with the wider public and indeed, for the benefit of us all. Please feel free to contact me with any questions by email and I will be more than happy to address them. Alternatively leave a comment in the comments section.

Glen Andrew Carrigan

Research Assistant, founder: JSOC 会長, Project Science & Reason
The University of Central Lancashire
Email: GACarrigan@uclan.ac.uk, Linkedin, @CarriganGlen

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