Musical mind-reading experiment

Researchers at the University of Washington scanned the brains of volunteers listening to one of several simple songs. Based on the neural activity they saw, the scientists were able to identify what song the subjects were hearing. Psychology professor Geoff Boynton presented the results of their study at this week's Neuroscience 2013 conference. (via New Scientist)

Elephants get PTSD, too: orphans lack social knowledge they need to survive in the wild


Photograph via National Geographic, by Graeme Shannon

A recent study investigated the impact of culling and relocation on elephant decision-making and cognition decades later. African elephants are highly intelligent and social creatures, and rely on their sophisticated communication skills to survive in the wild. How does the trauma of being separated from "loved ones" and their native terrain change how orphaned elephants think, and cope?

From a recent National Geographic article by Christy Ullrich Barcus:

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Does a fetus feel pain? (And, if so, when?)

Across the United States, politicians are passing laws limiting abortion that are based on the idea that a fetus can feel pain after 20 weeks gestation. But the science underlying this assertion is a lot more complex than it's made out to be. Most scientists don't think fetuses have the neural circuitry to experience pain until later. And the scientists whose research is most often cited as evidence of fetal pain at 20 weeks don't think their work is saying what anti-abortion activists think it does.

Master pickpocket Apollo Robbins on the art of misdirection

EDW Lynch of Laughing Squid says: "Sleight-of-hand artist and master pickpocket Apollo Robbins demonstrates the art of misdirection on an unlucky volunteer in this entertaining TED talk from TEDGlobal 2013."

How to be simultaneously right and wrong

If somebody tells you an ostensible fact about human behavior or human thought and shows you a picture of an fMRI at the same time, are you more likely to believe what you've just been told? There's a debate within science right now about whether people are more easily lead astray by brain imaging, or whether those rainbow pictures of the mind affect our thinking much at all. Some studies show one result. Some show another. At Scientific American Mind, Jay Van Bavel and Dominic Packer explain why both sides might be right in this fight. It's a neat reminder that answers aren't always binary.

True tales of a chemistry lab accident

The artificial sweetener Splenda was discovered when a chemistry grad student misunderstood his advisor's instructions to "test" a compound and tasted it, instead. (This piece at Scientific American focuses on how the brain responds to, and is changed by, sweeteners.)

See your own brain waves in this trippy optical illusion

If you look at this wheel out of your peripheral vision, you should see it flicker or strobe a bit. (To me, it almost looks like a fast pulsating motion, coming from the center of the wheel.) And that's neat. Optical illusions are usually pretty neat.

But, as the blogger Neuroskeptic writes, there's some reason to think that what you're seeing might be something even more awesome than just your brain being misled. A study published this month in The Journal of Neuroscience suggests that the flickering is actually a visual representation of the rhythmic alpha waves that are constantly pulsating through your brain.

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Your right brain is not creative

Creativity is actually more than one thing, it happens in many different parts of your brain, and it is DEFINITELY NOT confined to the brain's right hemisphere. At Beautiful Minds, Scott Barry Kaufman talks about the complex processes that get glossed over in our pop-sci understanding of creative thinking. It's a good companion to the story I wrote here last week about why the idea of "fear" is also more complex than we give it credit for.

Memories, mistakes, and scientific evidence in the courtroom

Moheb Costandi has written two amazing profiles on psychologist Elizabeth Loftus, a researcher who has challenged the way we rely on memory in the courtroom and fought against attempts to legitimize "recovered" memories. Hugely controversial — she's received death threats from people who blame her for setting criminals free — Loftus' story isn't purely about science vs. emotion. In fact, Costandi writes, in her efforts make our concept of memory more evidence based, Loftus might be glossing over the rare and the weird-but-real.

Who’s afraid of the amygdala? Research blows away "fear center" myth

New revelations about your brain’s so-called “fear center” explain why it’s misleading to say “this part of the brain does x”. Maggie Koerth-Baker talks to neuroscientist Paul Whalen and learns that there’s more to fear than fear, itself.

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Don't touch that hot stove!

The complicated process that allows your brain to quickly cancel an order and replace it with another.

Your brain on poetry, and the three-second human perception of 'now'

Jalees Rehman has an interesting neuroscience essay on 3Quarksdaily about the three second rule of temporal perception and processing in the human brain.

"It is comparatively easy to measure the thresholds that our brain uses to create temporal structure, i.e. the minimum time interval required to correctly tell apart the sequence of brief sounds or images," he writes--that's measured in the milliseconds.

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Neuromarketers can't actually control your brain

Neuromarketing is one of those ideas that might best be classified as "important and creepy, if true," writes Matt Wall at Slate. Fortunately for us, there's not really much evidence that marketing professionals can use fMRI data (or any other neuroscience tools) to manipulate us into buying stuff. Nor can they get unique glimpses of our subconscious desires. In the end, there's not much neuro happening in this mini-industry, but there is a lot of marketing.

Building a 15-foot-tall brain-controlled brain for Burning Man and beyond

My cousin Katherine Leipper is part of a crew that's building a 15-foot-tall head and brain with interactive light and flame effects that will be controlled by a participant's brain waves.

Yup. Weirdness runs in our family.

She and her co-makers will take it to Burning Man, but the bigger plan is to take it around to schools after the festival, "to get kids excited about science, technology and fabrication."

Katherine and her brain-building buddies have a crowdsourcing campaign under way. They're well on their way, but if you love 15-foot-tall brain-controlled brains like I love 15-foot-tall brain-controlled brains, and you think America's children need more 15-foot-tall brain-controlled brains in their classrooms because SCIENCE, you should kick in a little to ensure this weird dream comes true.

Katherine explains the wild idea to Boing Boing, below:

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What is dopamine?

Dopamine — the most talked-about human neurotransmitter — isn't a "love drug", or a "lust drug", or an "addiction drug", writes Bethany Brookshire in a smarter-than-average neuroscience story at Slate. It's actually a lot more complicated than that, and if you keep trying to pigeonhole and oversimplify what it does, you're going to completely misunderstand how your brain works.