5 comments for “44: Animal Brains

  1. March 1, 2019 at 11:55 PM

    Trace & Amy,
    I think you have an excellent podcast! I was especially intrigued by this particular episode about animals learning during sleep. Your questions/curiosities are things that I, too, have been curious about. Last year, my colleagues and I published a paper on speech discrimination processing in infants during sleep. I don’t have much more to add other than I thought you might find it interesting. Here is a link to that research if you are curious to learn more:
    https://www.colorado.edu/today/2017/05/10/what-baby-hears-while-asleep-matters-more-previously-thought
    https://bmcneurosci.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12868-017-0353-4
    Please keep up the great work! Cheers!

    • March 3, 2019 at 7:10 PM

      Oooh, that is a terrific topic and raises questions I didn’t know I had. I now wonder, if babies process speach during sleep do adults do so as well? And how much? Just key words like our names and things we would normally tune into if we were in a separate conversation but overheard a key word our brain liked? Headed to read your paper as soon as I am done working on show notes! And thank you for your kind words! AB

    • March 3, 2019 at 7:38 PM

      UPDATE: I’ve abandoned the show notes and left them in a shambles and have so many new questions about hearing and brain development and how it might relate to your brain’s processing of selective attention, and how did you convince 24 parents to allow you to strap their babies into electrodes? And what about babies who are exposed to a high number of unexpected noises is that training a baby’s brain to be more vigilant-probabilistic processing? Will their sleep be compromised? How does that affect their development? I look forward to reading more about your studies and results! AB

      • March 8, 2019 at 2:15 PM

        Just being a part of this research has raised questions that I didn’t know I had, which is why I’ve enjoyed this project so much. To answer your questions:

        “…if babies process speach during sleep do adults do so as well?”
        Yes, adults do as well. Some previous research showing auditory responses in sleeping adults helped with the motivation and design of this study.

        “And how much?”
        Great question…unfortunately, we really don’t know.

        “Just key words like our names and things we would normally tune into if we were in a separate conversation but overheard a key word our brain liked?”
        Also a great question, and I can only speculate that key words or other “behaviorally relevant” information would be more likely to evoke an attentional shift than non-relevant information. I’ve often thought that it would be neat to replicate our studies but with the parents’ own speech as the stimuli (e.g., in a random subset of the participants). But, we’re lucky enough to get the data we have now, so adding new test conditions isn’t always feasible.

        “…how did you convince 24 parents to allow you to strap their babies into electrodes?”
        I am very fortunate that I get to work with Dr. Kristin Uhler on this project; she is the “real brain” behind all of this, and she is fantastic at working with families and organizations that help recruit babies for the study. The motivation behind this research is to discover new biomarkers and to develop new diagnostic tests that help with treatment and rehabilitation strategies in children with hearing loss. When a newborn is identified with hearing loss, we would love to be able to fit that child with a hearing aid or cochlear implant as early as possible to facilitate natural language development. I believe that the families who volunteer for these studies have equally altruistic motives to help advance clinical science. Recruiting volunteers is certainly not easy, but Kristin and her team do an awesome job; her team has now tested over 150 infants since publishing that paper!

        “And what about babies who are exposed to a high number of unexpected noises is that training a baby’s brain to be more vigilant-probabilistic processing? Will their sleep be compromised? How does that affect their development?”

        I’ve lumped these questions together, because the general answer is that “we don’t know for sure”, but these are definitely questions we have discussed and/or are currently pursuing in our research. We know that excess noise can disrupt our natural sleep cycles and that exposure to excess noise can result in a variety of negative health consequences. I have no reason to think that the developing brain is less susceptible.

        A key theme that I’ve repeated a lot lately: just because our brain can do something doesn’t necessarily mean that it should. The brain has many jobs to do during sleep, and I’m not convinced that processing a lot of auditory information should be a priority, and in fact could compromise other sleep functions, as you suggest. However, we would like to better understand those processes, especially when a child has a hearing loss, so that we can better facilitate the brain’s work when needed.

        I hope that helps some. Cheers!

    • Trace and Amy
      March 5, 2019 at 9:55 AM

      Well, I think I know what one of our next Brain Storms is going to be about! Thank you for you kind words and for the super interesting research. Also, the pictures of the infants with all the electrodes on their smiling faces is strangely adorable.

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