What is a representative brain? Neuroscience meets population science

Departments of Communication Studies, Psychology, Statistics, Psychiatry, Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases, Internal Medicine, Biomedical Engineering.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (Impact Factor: 9.67). 10/2013; 110(44). DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1310134110
Source: PubMed


The last decades of neuroscience research have produced immense progress in the methods available to understand brain structure and function. Social, cognitive, clinical, affective, economic, communication, and developmental neurosciences have begun to map the relationships between neuro-psychological processes and behavioral outcomes, yielding a new understanding of human behavior and promising interventions. However, a limitation of this fast moving research is that most findings are based on small samples of convenience. Furthermore, our understanding of individual differences may be distorted by unrepresentative samples, undermining findings regarding brain-behavior mechanisms. These limitations are issues that social demographers, epidemiologists, and other population scientists have tackled, with solutions that can be applied to neuroscience. By contrast, nearly all social science disciplines, including social demography, sociology, political science, economics, communication science, and psychology, make assumptions about processes that involve the brain, but have incorporated neural measures to differing, and often limited, degrees; many still treat the brain as a black box. In this article, we describe and promote a perspective-population neuroscience-that leverages interdisciplinary expertise to (i) emphasize the importance of sampling to more clearly define the relevant populations and sampling strategies needed when using neuroscience methods to address such questions; and (ii) deepen understanding of mechanisms within population science by providing insight regarding underlying neural mechanisms. Doing so will increase our confidence in the generalizability of the findings. We provide examples to illustrate the population neuroscience approach for specific types of research questions and discuss the potential for theoretical and applied advances from this approach across areas.

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Available from: Pamela Davis-Kean, Mar 10, 2014
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    • "In other words, neither the tenets of cultural neuroscience nor population neuroscience mandate that researchers create a representative sample of the entire world population or of the country they are in, but rather to be thoughtful about (and explicitly sample for and report) who comprises the target population and how findings may be moderated by sample composition (for more suggestions on ways to address this challenge see Falk et al. 2013). Increased reporting of such logic as well as sample characteristics will facilitate later meta-analytic comparisons that may be beyond the reach/resources of any individual study team. "
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    ABSTRACT: Cultural neuroscience has documented factors that affect biological and psychological processes that reciprocally shape beliefs and norms shared by groups of individuals. Here we highlight open questions regarding the stability versus malleability of these findings across time, environments, and cultural settings. By borrowing points from population neuroscience (Falk et al., in Proc Natl Acad Sci 110:17615–17622, 2013) and neurogenetics (Bogdan et al., in Mol Psychiatry 18:288–299, 2012), we highlight considerations for research on the development of differences in brain structure and function, particularly in the context of cultural variation. These points highlight the need to better understand gene by culture interactions; in particular, the potential role of ancestry, and the role the brain likely plays as a mechanism through which gene by culture interactions affect behavior. Moreover, we highlight the need to consider development in the interaction of culture and biology. We also highlight methodological challenges as neuroscience is brought to the population level including the importance of sampling and experimental equivalence across groups and cultures. In total, this discussion is aimed at fostering new advances in the young field of cultural neuroscience and highlighting ways in which cultural neuroscience can inform a broader understanding of the development of differences in complex behaviors.
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2015
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    • "Increases in collective understanding of the importance of EF skills for all children (e.g., Raver et al., 2013) have not been met with commensurate increases in neurophysiological data on representative groups (see e.g., Falk et al., 2013). The majority of studies involving ERP measures and young children have been conducted in laboratory settings . "
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    ABSTRACT: Growth in executive functioning (EF) skills play a role children's academic success, and the transition to elementary school is an important time for the development of these abilities. Despite this, evidence concerning the development of the ERP components linked to EF, including the error-related negativity (ERN) and the error positivity (Pe), over this period is inconclusive. Data were recorded in a school setting from 3- to 7-year-old children (N=96, mean age=5 years 11 months) as they performed a Go/No-Go task. Results revealed the presence of the ERN and Pe on error relative to correct trials at all age levels. Older children showed increased response inhibition as evidenced by faster, more accurate responses. Although developmental changes in the ERN were not identified, the Pe increased with age. In addition, girls made fewer mistakes and showed elevated Pe amplitudes relative to boys. Based on a representative school-based sample, findings indicate that the ERN is present in children as young as 3, and that development can be seen in the Pe between ages 3 and 7. Results varied as a function of gender, providing insight into the range of factors associated with developmental changes in the complex relations between behavioral and electrophysiological measures of error processing.
    Full-text · Article · Feb 2014
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    ABSTRACT: The vast majority of mental illnesses can be conceptualized as developmental disorders of neural interactions within the connectome, or developmental miswiring. The recent maturation of pediatric in vivo brain imaging is bringing the identification of clinically meaningful brain-based biomarkers of developmental disorders within reach. Even more auspicious is the ability to study the evolving connectome throughout life, beginning in utero, which promises to move the field from topological phenomenology to etiological nosology. Here, we scope advances in pediatric imaging of the brain connectome as the field faces the challenge of unraveling developmental miswiring. We highlight promises while also providing a pragmatic review of the many obstacles ahead that must be overcome to significantly impact public health.
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