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Frontal Lobes Are What Make Us Human

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    NHNE News List Current Members: 447 Subscribe/unsubscribe/archive info at the bottom of this message. ... STUDY PINPOINTS REGION IN FRONTAL LOBES AS ESSENCE
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 1, 2001
      NHNE News List
      Current Members: 447
      Subscribe/unsubscribe/archive info at the bottom of this message.


      Baycrest Center for Geriatric Care/EurekAlert!
      January 31, 2001


      Toronto, CANADA -- A new study has found the strongest evidence yet that
      what sets humans apart from other primates may be found in the brain's
      frontal lobes, particularly in an area the size of a "billiard ball" called
      the right prefrontal cortex.

      Dr. Donald Stuss, one of the world's experts on the frontal lobes, led the
      study at The Rotman Research Institute, part of Baycrest Centre for
      Geriatric Care, and affiliated with the University of Toronto. The findings
      are published in the February 2001 issue of the international journal BRAIN
      and the subject of the lead editorial.

      Understanding the mental processes of others -- mentalizing -- is the basis
      of our socialization and what makes us human. It gives rise to our capacity
      to feel empathy, sympathy, understand humor and when others are being
      ironic, sarcastic or even deceptive. It's a "theory of mind" that has been
      associated with the frontal lobes, but until now scientists have had
      difficulty demonstrating this ability to specific regions of the brain.

      What is exciting about this study, according to Dr. Timothy Shallice of the
      Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London, is that
      the Rotman study came at this challenge with two different testing methods
      and both generated similar compelling evidence to show that these higher
      cognitive functions in humans are "localizable" to a specific region within
      the frontal lobes. Dr. Shallice wrote the lead editorial in BRAIN.

      Dr. Stuss and his research colleagues tested patients who had damage to
      various parts of the frontal lobes, and other areas of the brain as well.
      The selective impairment in only some patients provided the ability to
      precisely localize those regions that are necessary when specific
      mentalizing tasks are performed. Co-authors on the paper with Dr. Stuss, who
      is director of The Rotman Research Institute at Baycrest, were Dr. Gordon
      Gallup, Department of Psychology, State University of New York at Albany;
      and Dr. Michael Alexander, Memory Disorders Research Centre at Boston
      University and Department of Neurology, Harvard University.

      "In our study, we've shown that the frontal lobes were the most critical
      region for visual perspective taking, and the inferior medial prefrontal
      region, particularly for the right, for detecting deception," says Dr.
      Stuss. Visual perspective taking is the ability to empathize or identify
      with the experience of another person.

      It has long been known that some patients with frontal lobe damage have
      significantly changed personalities. What is important about the study is
      that it helps families, friends and caregivers of the patient to appreciate
      and understand a very important reason why this occurs. This deficit in
      mentalizing can affect social cognition which is important in everyday human
      interactions. For example, patients with damage in the specific frontal area
      are often less empathetic and sympathetic, and they miss social cues which
      lead to inappropriate judgements.

      In the study, 32 adults with lesions in frontal and non-frontal brain
      regions, most commonly as a result of stroke, and a control group of 14
      healthy adults, underwent two seemingly very simple tests. Both tasks
      required participants to guess which coffee cup a ball was hidden under.
      Participants sat across a table from the experimenter and a table curtain
      was used on some occasions to conceal which cup the experimenter hid the
      ball under. The participant was asked to point to the correct cup.

      In the first test -- visual perspective taking -- participants had to
      reflect on their own experience to understand and interpret the experience
      of others. For example, the participants either saw the ball being hidden
      under a particular cup with the curtain open, or were told that the ball was
      being hidden when the curtain was closed and they could not see anything.
      Then two assistants joined the task; one sat beside the experimenter, and
      one beside the participant. The table curtain was drawn this time,
      concealing which cup the ball was placed under. When the participant had to
      guess where the ball was hidden, the assistants 'helped' by moving beside
      the examiner and each pointed to a different cup. Participants needed to
      realize that one of the assistants had not been in a position to see where
      the ball was hidden (because they were sitting beside the participant who
      themselves could not see where the ball was hidden). Frontal lesion subjects
      had a much higher error rate on the task and it appeared that the 'right'
      frontal lobe was most critical. While the small number of right frontal
      subjects (4) makes this only a suggestion, it is still a striking finding,
      says Dr. Stuss.

      In the second test on deception, an assistant sat at the table beside the
      experimenter and always pointed to a cup where the ball was NOT hidden.
      Participants had to infer that the assistant was trying to deceive them.
      Those with right inferior medial prefrontal damage had difficulty catching
      on to the ruse and were the most frequently deceived.


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