The Worm Did It!

The basic “scaffolding” for the vertebrate brain has been found in an unexpected distant relative: a marine worm, a new study reports. The worm’s brain is much simpler than that of even the simplest vertebrates – but it contains three signaling centers almost identical to those found in the brains of vertebrate embryos. I leaped up and did a happy dance when I read this news, because it’s a clue to one of the greatest mysteries in neuroscience today. See, for most of science history, evolutionary biologists have found the vertebrate brain to be pretty enigmatic. The closest relatives of … Continue reading The Worm Did It!

Mixed-Up Memories

Just a minute of physical exertion can seriously impair a person’s memory of the threat that triggered it, says a new study. When we undergo a strenuous task, such as a chase or a fight, immediately after witnessing an event, we have much less ability to remember the event’s details than if we’d taken time to process what we’ve seen. This calls the concept of eyewitness testimony into serious question. As I’ve written here and Jonah Lehrer has written here, our memories aren’t nearly as static as we might like to think. In fact, each time we recall a memory, … Continue reading Mixed-Up Memories

Celebrity Neuroscience Blog Makeover

We’ve got our own dedicated hosting account now! That means our official URLs from now on are… Though I’ll keep this blog around as an archive, all posts from now on will be on the new site only. Here are some things I think you’ll like about the new site: – More bandwidth for faster load times – More storage space for high-quality podcasts and videos – A new design with lots more cool features So head over and check it out – I think our new look is quite slimming! Continue reading Celebrity Neuroscience Blog Makeover

Forget Me Not

Having trouble remembering where you left your keys? You can improve with a little practice, says a new study. It’s an idea that had never occurred to me before, but one that seems weirdly obvious once you think about it: people who train their brains to recall the locations of objects for a few minutes each day show greatly improved ability to remember where they’ve left things. No matter what age you are, you’ve probably had your share of “Alzheimer’s moments,” when you’ve walked into a room only to forget why you’re there, or set something down and immediately forgotten … Continue reading Forget Me Not

Connection Clusters

As our brains learn something, our neurons form new connections in clustered groups, says a new study. In other words, synapses – connections between neurons – are much more likely to form near other brand-new synapses than they are to emerge near older ones. As our neuroscience friends like to say: “Cells that fire together wire together” – and that process of rewiring never stops. From before you were born right up until this moment, the synaptic pathways in your brain have been transforming, hooking up new electrochemical connections and trimming away the ones that aren’t needed. Even when you’re … Continue reading Connection Clusters

Beyond Perfection

If you continue to practice a skill even after you’ve achieved mastery of it, your brain keeps learning to perform it more and more efficiently, says a new study. As we perform a task – say, dunking a basketball or playing a sweet guitar solo – over and over again, we eventually reach a point that some psychologists call “unconscious competence,” where we execute each movement perfectly without devoting any conscious attention to it at all. But even after this point, our bodies keep finding ways to perform the task more and more efficiently, burning less energy with each repetition. … Continue reading Beyond Perfection

Learning Expectations

Researchers have isolated a specific pathway our brains use when learning new beliefs about others’ motivations, a new study says. Though this type of learning, like many others, depends heavily on the neurotransmitter chemical dopamine‘s influence in a set of ancient brain structures called the basal ganglia, it’s also influenced by the rostral anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) – a structure that helps us weigh certain emotional reactions against others – indicating that emotions like empathy also play crucial roles. As we play competitively against other people, our brains get to work constructing mental models that aim to predict our opponents’ future actions. This means we’re … Continue reading Learning Expectations