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For Teens

Welcome, to the Gabrieli Laboratory!


What we do?

At the Gabrieli Lab, we study cognitive and affective neuroscience. This means we try to understand the brain mechanisms and structures underlying mental processes and emotion.

 

Some of the topics and questions we are interested in are:

 

- Language and Reading

- Learning

- Memory

- Executive function - Attention, Inhibition, Decision-making

- Intelligence and Neural Plasticity (how the brain changes)

 

We hope to gain a deeper understanding of how the brain structures and functions related to these processes develop over time and change as we get older. This is why we appreciate teenagers like you who come in to participate in studies at our lab. There are a lot of changes happening to your brain while you are a teenager, and without your help, we wouldn’t be able to understand how these changes affect the way you think, act, and process the world around you.

 

Our lab also studies special populations such as individuals with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorders, dyslexia and other learning impairments. By comparing healthy teens to teens with these disorders, we can begin to identify what brain areas and functions are different in these disorders and find ways to help those affected by them.


How do we study the brain?

At the Gabrieli Lab, we have access to two very exciting technologies that allow us to study the brain---electroencephalography (EEG) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).


Electroencephalography (EEG)

 

We use EEG as a non-invasive way to record your brain waves. Your brain has billions of cells called neurons, and these neurons use electrical pulses to send messages to and through each other. Although the electrical signal from a single neuron may be very tiny, when you have a large number of cells firing these electrical pulses in a synchronous manner (at almost the same time), we are able to detect these pulses on the surface of your head using an electrode (type of sensor that picks up electrical activity). This electrical signal has to make its way all the way through your skull, however, and traveling through the bone distorts the signal a bit, so we are not able to get very accurate information about the location of the neurons that are firing. The reason that we use the EEG technique is that it gives us very precise information about the timing of changes in your brain---EEG can distinguish changes in your brain waves that are happening over milliseconds (one-thousandth of a second!).


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During an EEG experiment, you will wear a stretchy cap (like a swimming cap) which has holes in it. We squirt a gel
made out of salt and water into these holes to try to create a bridge between the surface of your head and the delicate sensors that we later plug into these holes. These sensors pick up the electrical activity on the surface of your head. We record your brain waves as you see or hear different things during an experimental task and we look for any significant changes to your brain waves that might be caused by what you are seeing and hearing.

 



Don’t worry about the gel that we use to help us measure your brain waves. It comes right out in the shower, and we have a supply of fresh towels on hand for you to wipe your hair clean before leaving our lab!



Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

There are three types of pictures we might take of your brain: structural, functional, and diffusion-weighted.

The different types of tissue in your brain, like white matter and grey matter, have different magnetic properties. The strong magnet allows us to record these small differences to create a structural image of your brain.

When a certain part of your brain becomes more active, your body sends it more blood with oxygen. This oxygenated blood has slightly different magnetic properties than blood without oxygen, and we can use this small difference to see what areas of your brain are more active. Using clever experimental tasks, we can try to isolate a certain process we are interested in studying and analyze which areas of the brain are more active during that process.

Neurons in the brain communicate via wire-like tracks insulated with a fatty substance called white matter. Small particles of water, which are present all over your body, are constantly wiggling around and diffusing in your brain. The water has a tendency to diffuse along the white matter tracts, which we can in turn image by recording how the water molecules move. These diffusion-weighted images give us valuable information about how neurons are connected to one another.


Go see our FAQ section to learn more about MRI and EEG!


How can you get involved?

 

We are always looking for people to participate in our research studies, especially teenagers! Go to our ‘Be a participant’ site to look for ongoing studies. You can also email JLIB_HTML_CLOAKING for more information and to be contacted for future studies.


While you’re here at MIT, we hope you get to learn more about how science happens and have a good time. In addition to helping scientists and other teens by participating in research, you will receive gift cards for the time you spend with us!


If you participate in MRI, you will also receive a CD with pictures of your brain; if you participate in an EEG study, you’ll get a chance to take a picture of your brain waves home and maybe even a picture yourself connected to the EEG devices!



The Society for Neuroscience has a website (www.brainfacts.org) where you can learn more about the amazing human brain!