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Musical training boosts attention, working memory in children

Oct. 8 (UPI) — New research out of Chile suggests kids that play musical instruments, regularly practicing and performing, benefit from improved attention and working memory.

For the study, published Thursday in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience, researchers measured attention control and auditory encoding processes in the brains of musically trained children and a control group of children.

“There were no differences between groups in age, IQ and parental education, a proxy of socioeconomic status,” lead study author Leonie Kausel, a violinist and neuroscientist at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, told UPI in an email.

“This is important, because these three factors are known to have an influence on the functioning of executive functions,” said Kausel, a neuroscientist at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile, who also plays violin.

All of the musically trained children, ages 10 to 13, had been playing an instrument for at least two years and practiced at least two hours per week.

Researchers had the two groups of children perform tasks that tested their auditory-visual attention and working memory. Functional magnetic resonance imaging allowed scientists to detect small changes in blood flow within the brain as the children performed the tasks.

Study participants were asked to focus on either one, both or neither of two stimuli: a visual abstract figure and a short melody. The stimuli were presented simultaneously for four seconds.

Two seconds later, the children were replayed various stimuli and asked if they recognized them. The replayed stimuli were sometimes the same as the original stimuli and other times novel.

Children who played and practiced musical instruments more accurately recognized the stimuli and had faster reaction times.

The fMRI images helped scientists identify two main neural mechanisms explaining the difference in attention and working memory performance: a domain-general attention mechanism and a domain-specific auditory encoding mechanism.

“The domain-general attention mechanism controls our attentional resources and is used when we pay attention to something — independent of what we pay attention to, for example, stimuli in different sensory modalities,” Kausel said. “So in our study this mechanism seems to play a role in the encoding of both visual and auditory stimuli.”

“The domain-specific auditory encoding mechanism on the other hand is more specific to support auditory encoding, independent of whether you are paying attention to the auditory stimuli or not,” Kausel said.

By asking participants to pay attention or not pay attention to one or both of the stimuli, and imaging the resulting brain activity, researchers were able to isolate the different neural mechanisms.

“When you subtract the activity from paying attention minus not paying attention, the ‘difference’ can be attributed to the cognitive process of paying attention or encoding of the stimuli,” Kausel said.

The tests revealed higher activity of the fronto-parietal attention control network in the musically trained group of children. There was also higher functioning of the phonological loop, the inferior frontal gyrus and supramarginal gyrus, among the instrument-playing children.

While the latest study showed a correlation between the two

We’re paying a lot of attention to Trump’s case, but the US just recorded the most daily COVID-19 infections in nearly 2 months

The news of President Donald Trump and members of his inner circle testing positive for COVID-19 has sent shock waves across the country, but it’s not just the White House dealing with an onslaught of cases: Friday’s nationwide case count was the highest daily total in nearly two months, while the weekly average of cases reported has seen an increase.

The world reacts after President Trump and first lady Melania test positive for COVID-19

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chart, line chart, histogram: The United States recorded its highest single-day case count since mid-August on Friday, October 2, 2020.


© USA TODAY
The United States recorded its highest single-day case count since mid-August on Friday, October 2, 2020.

There were more than 54,000 positive cases of the coronavirus reported on Friday, the highest single-day case count since Aug. 14, when the country recorded just over 64,000 cases, per Johns Hopkins University data. 

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The country’s daily cases peaked on July 16, when 77,362 positive tests were reported. 

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The seven-day rolling average for daily U.S. case counts has risen in recent weeks as well. The moving average has held above 42,000 in recent days, the highest mark since late August, according to COVID Tracking Project data.

Meanwhile, deaths have held relatively steady in recent weeks, as the weekly average is down a bit from a flare-up in late July and early August. Still, 906 Americans were announced dead from COVID-19 on Friday.

Keep up with the latest data in your state: Tracking coronavirus in the US

A USA TODAY analysis of Johns Hopkins data through late Saturday shows six states – Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky, Montana, Wisconsin and Wyoming – set records for new cases in a week while two states – South Dakota and Wisconsin – had a record number of deaths in a week.

The spike in Wisconsin has been particularly sharp.

The state, which did not report a weekly average of more than 1,000 cases per day until September, has been routinely reporting more than 2,000 since Sept. 17. Deaths have started to tick up as well – the state reported its highest single-day number, 27, this week. 

New York state, once a hot spot for the virus, has experienced a jump in cases as well. After daily case counts held steady in the state for much of the summer, New York is holding its highest seven-day rolling average since early June, per COVID Tracking Project data.

Gallery: Dr. Fauci Says This One State Is ‘Asking for Trouble’ (Best Life)

The overall national COVID-19 “positivity rate” in the U.S. has hovered around 5% since the middle of September, according to John Hopkins. At the beginning of August, it was 8%. A “positivity rate” is the percentage of all coronavirus tests that are positive and it is a useful indicator of whether testing is keeping up with infections. 

If the number is too high it could mean that health authorities are disproportionately testing sicker patients or missing milder or asymptomatic cases. A low figure

LSD Microdosing to Boost Attention: Too Soon to Tell?

Microdosing with lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is associated with improved mood and increased attention, early research suggests. However, at least one expert believes it’s far too soon to tell and warns against endorsing patient microdosing.

In a dose-finding exploratory study, three low doses of LSD were compared with placebo in healthy volunteers who were all recreational drug users. Adjusted results showed that the highest dose boosted attention and mood, although participants were aware of psychedelic effects, prompting researchers to conclude the results demonstrated “selective, beneficial effects.”

“The majority of participants have improved attention,” study investigator Nadia Hutten, PhD, Department of Neuropsychology and Psychopharmacology, Maastricht University, the Netherlands, told Medscape Medical News.

“So we think that patients with attention deficits might have more beneficial effects,” she added, noting her team plans to study LSD microdosing in patients with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

The study was presented at the 33rd European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) Congress, which was held online this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Growing Interest

Over the past 10 years there has been growing interest in psychedelic microdosing, which is defined as a dose that aims to enhance mood and/or performance but does not affect perception.

However, there has been considerable debate over what constitutes a “microdose.” One tenth of a “full” psychedelic dose is typically suggested, but users report a much wider dose range in practice, suggesting potential “individual variation in response to low doses,” the researchers note.

In the current dose-finding study, the researchers explored whether the effects of LSD on cognition and subjective measures differed between individuals.

The study included 24 healthy recreational drug users and compared the acute effects of 5 µg, 20 µg, and 20 µg LSD with placebo on a computer-based psychomotor vigilance task (PVT) that measured attention and on a Digit Symbol Substitution Test (DSST).

Participants also completed the 72-item Profile of Mood States (POMS) questionnaire, a visual analog scale (VAS) on mood, and the 94-item 5-Dimensional Altered States of Consciousness Rating scales (5D-ASC).

Unadjusted results showed that the 20 µg LSD dose significantly reduced correct substitutions on the DSST vs placebo (P < .05), but had no effect on attentional lapses on the PCT or on positive mood on the POMS.

Correcting the DSST score for the number of total responses revealed no dose effect of LSD. This suggested that participants were no less accurate when under the influence of LSD, even though they encoded fewer digits, the researchers note.

Participants also reported that both the 10 µg and 20 µg dose of LSD increased subjective experiences on the VAS and alternated states of consciousness on the 5D-ASC compared with placebo.

After stratifying the results by dose and participant, the effect of LSD differed between individuals. For example, both the 5 µg and 20 µg doses were associated with improvement in attention on the PVT (P < .05), but not the 10 µg dose.

These results also indicated that the 20 mg dose was associated with a