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.) Read the rest

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. Read the rest

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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. Read the rest

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.

Don't touch that hot stove!

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

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. Read the rest

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. Read the rest
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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. Read the rest

Of (really cute) mice and men

Scientists are trying to understand "cuteness agression" — aka, the urge we have all felt, at one point in time or another, to take something adorable and squeeze it until it pops. Read the rest

Dolphins on acid (and other bad ideas)

How dosing dolphins with LSD (and giving dolphins hand jobs) helped shape our modern pop culture beliefs about dolphins as sources of healing — beliefs that, according to neuroscientist Lori Marino, can endanger both dolphins and the humans who come to them for help. Read the rest

Dragonflies outfitted with brain sensor backpacks

Neuroscientist have attached an electronic "backpack" to dragonflies that jack into the insect's brain and wirelessly transmit the data back to a base station. Howard Hughes Medical Institute researcher Anthony Leonardo and his collaborators hope the telemetry will deepen our understanding of how dragonflies target and catch their pray. (via Wired) Read the rest

How Bugs Bunny saved Mel Blanc's life

In 1961, Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Barney Rubble, and literally a thousand other cartoon characters (see vide above), was in a terrible car crash that put him in a coma. Nothing could rouse him until his surgeon addressed him as Bugs Bunny. Of course, Blanc's response was: "What's up, Doc?" Here's a 2012 short episode of Radiolab where they interview the surgeon, a neuroscientist, and Mel Blanc's son, Noel.

"What's Up, Doc?" (Radiolab)

 Mel Blanc's vocal cords Read the rest

Your very fallible memory

Your memories can be manipulated and changed. In fact, this happens often. And you're the one doing it to yourself. Read the rest

Conspiracy theorists aren't crazy

I have a personal Facebook account, which I use to keep up with friends and family. Like many of you, I've also discovered that this gives me a peek inside the psyche of those friends and family — and one of the things that I saw was an interest (and sometimes belief in) conspiracy theories. It wasn't limited to the Right or the Left. And it definitely wasn't limited to people I love but consider a little "off", if you know what I'm saying.* Over and over, I saw perfectly rational, sane people, supporting and spreading ideas that, to me, seemed a little nuts.

And that made me curious: Where do conspiracy theories come from? The answer, according to psychologists and sociologists, is not "Glenn Beck's fevered imagination." In fact, the category "people who believe in conspiracy theories" can't even really be separated into The Other in a nice, neat way. If you look at the data, the people who believe in conspiracy theories are us. And those theories grow out of both historical context, our feelings about ourselves and the wider world, and the way that our brains respond to feelings of powerlessness and uncertainty. Here's a short excerpt from my most recent column for The New York Times Magazine:

While psychologists can’t know exactly what goes on inside our heads, they have, through surveys and laboratory studies, come up with a set of traits that correlate well with conspiracy belief. In 2010, Swami and a co-author summarized this research in The Psychologist, a scientific journal.

Read the rest

Brain hacking: using neurofeedback to master conflicting wills in your mind

I've written before about Moran Cerf -- celebrated neuroscientist, former military hacker, and good-guy bank robber -- who also happens to be a great storyteller. Here's a video in which Cerf recounts some clever and fascinating neuroscience experiments that use neurofeedback to help people resolve competition between different thoughts and wills in their minds. The applications are even more interesting -- mentally controlling a robotic arm, for example.

Moran Cerf: Hacking the brain (Thanks, Moran!) Read the rest

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