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Unlocking The Inner-Savant In All Of Us

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  • medit8ionsociety
    We are all capable of the extraordinary savant skills displayed by people with autism according to Professor Allan Snyder, speaking at the Royal Society today.
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 30, 2008
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      We are all capable of the extraordinary
      savant skills displayed by people with autism
      according to Professor Allan Snyder, speaking
      at the Royal Society today. Snyder argues that
      it is our inbuilt expectations of the world that
      stop us from using them.

      Prof Snyder spoke on the savant syndrome and his
      efforts to 'turn on' autistic savant skills in
      people who don't have autism at a discussion
      meeting jointly organised by the Royal Society
      and the British Academy. Snyder is director of
      the Centre for the Mind at the University of
      Sydney, Australia.

      The savant syndrome is a rare condition in which
      people with autism or other mental disabilities
      have extraordinary skills that stand in stark
      contrast to their overall handicap. Savant skills
      are typically confined to five areas: art, music,
      calendar calculating, mathematics and spatial
      skills and these skills are accompanied by an
      exceptional ability to recall meaningless detail.
      In autistic savants these skills appear
      spontaneously at a young age.

      Prof Snyder has been able to artificially induce
      savant skills in people who do not have autism
      using the inhibiting influence of low frequency
      repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation
      (rTMS) to turn off that part of the brain which
      controls all our inbuilt expectations.

      "To do this," says Snyder, "we direct magnetic
      pulses into the brain, to a specific site called
      the left anterior temporal lobe, which is near to
      the left ear. This site has been implicated in
      individuals who suddenly display autistic savant
      skills after injury or fronto-temporal lobe
      dementia." The magnetic pulses are applied over
      the left anterior temporal lobe for 15 minutes
      using directed, low frequency rTMS."

      During one study conducted by Prof Snyder and
      his colleagues participants were asked to perform
      a specific task, before, during, immediately after,
      and 45 minutes after rTMS treatment, with tasks
      including drawing a dog, horse or face from memory
      in one minute, or proofreading a document.

      The result was a major change in the drawing
      ability in four out of the 11 participants, two
      of these participants also showed a noticeable
      improvement in their ability to recognise duplicated
      words in the proofreading task. Their abilities
      returned to normal within about an hour.

      In a similar study, ten out of twelve participants
      had an improved ability after the rTMS treatment
      to accurately guess a large number of objects in
      one and half seconds, an ability which faded after
      the treatment.

      At the discussion meeting Snyder spoke about
      these innate skills, and discussed why it is
      that savant skills are usually suppressed.

      "Normally we are aware of the whole and not the
      parts that make it up. These attributes of
      objects are inhibited in normal brains" says Snyder.

      "Savants have access to the less processed
      information, before it is packaged into holistic
      concepts and labels. Autistic savants tend to
      see a more literal, less filtered view of the world."

      1. The Royal Society is an independent academy
      promoting the natural and applied sciences.
      Founded in 1660, the Society has three roles,
      as the UK academy of science, as a learned
      Society, and as a funding agency. It responds
      to individual demand with selection by merit,
      not by field. As we prepare for our 350th anniversary
      in 2010, we are working to achieve five strategic
      priorities, to:

      - Invest in future scientific leaders and in
      - Influence policymaking with the best scientific
      - Invigorate science and mathematics education
      - Increase access to the best science internationally
      - Inspire an interest in the joy, wonder and excitement
      of scientific discovery

      2. The Centre for the Mind is part of the University
      of Sydney. http://www.centreforthemind.com

      3. Professor Allan Snyder received the Marconi
      International Prize, in New York City in December 2001.
      He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of London and
      the recipient of its 2001 Clifford Paterson Prize.
      Allan holds the 150th Anniversary Chair of Science
      and the Mind at the University of Sydney. He was
      a Guggenheim Fellow at Yale University's School of
      Medicine and a Royal Society Research Fellow at
      the Physiology Laboratories of Cambridge University.
      He is a graduate of Harvard University, Massachusetts
      Institute of Technology and University College London.

      His discussion focussed on published work from
      the papers indicated below as well as new work
      on reducing false memories and on prejudice.
      Snyder, A.W., Mulcahy, E., Taylor, J.L., Mitchell,
      D.J., Sachdev, P., & Gandevia, S.C. (2003).
      Savant-like skills exposed in normal people by
      suppressing the left front-temporal lobe. Journal
      of Integrative Neuroscience, 2, 149-158. Snyder,
      A., Bahramali, H., Hawker, T., & Mitchell, D.J. (2006).
      Savant-like numerosity skills revealed in normal
      people by magnetic pulses. Perception, 35, 837-845.

      The Royal Society

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