Clarke’s Third Law

Today I want to take a break from breaking news and tell you about the new love of my life: my Emotiv EPOC neuroheadset. This thing costs $299, and it is worth every penny. It uses 14 sensors positioned around my scalp to create a wireless EEG interface between my brain and my computer. I can move objects onscreen by thinking about it. I can click the mouse by thinking “click.” I can watch real-time video maps of my brain activity as I think about different ideas. I can summon specific feelings to navigate through photo albums sorted by emotion. In short, the future … Continue reading Clarke’s Third Law

Chemical Parasites

A certain brain parasite actually turns off people’s feelings of fear by increasing levels of the neurotransmitter chemical dopamine, says a new study. Toxoplasma gondii, a parasitic protozoan (a kind of single-celled organism), mostly likes to live in the brains of cats – but it also infects birds, mice, and about 10 to 20 percent of people in the U.S. and U.K. This might sound like science fiction, but plenty of microbiologists will assure you it’s very real. In fact, T. gondii isn’t the only parasite that controls its hosts’ behavior – a fungus called Ophiocordyceps unilateralis makes infected ants climb to the highest point they can find, sprout fungal spore … Continue reading Chemical Parasites

Wakefulness Cells

Certain groups of neurons determine whether light keeps us awake or not, says a new study. In the hypothalamus – a brain structure responsible for regulating hormone levels – specific kinds of neurons release a hormone called hypocretin (also known as hcrt or orexin). Hypocretin lets light-sensitive cells in other parts of the brain – such as the visual pathway – know that they should respond to incoming light by passing along signals for us to stay awake. Scientists have understood for centuries that most animals and plants go through regular cycles of wakefulness and sleep – they call these patterns circadian rhythms … Continue reading Wakefulness Cells

Brain Scans & Lucid Dreams

The brain activity of lucid dreamers – people who become aware that they’re in a dream state – shows some interesting similarities with that of people who are awake, says a new study. By studying the brain activity of lucid dreamers under electroencephalograms (EEGs) and fMRI scans, researchers have found that activity in the somatosensory and motor cortices – regions crucial for touch and movement, respectively – show very similar activation patterns during lucid dreams to those they display when people make or imagine those same movements while awake. Though dreams have fascinated philosophers and scientists since the dawn of history … Continue reading Brain Scans & Lucid Dreams

Surprising Synchrony

Our corpus callosum is a bundle of fibers that allows our brains’ left and right hemispheres to communicate – but even in people born without these connections, the hemispheres are still somehow able to synchronize their activity, reports a new study. The brains of people born with a condition called agenesis of the corpus callosum (AgCC) – basically, absence of a corpus callosum – show activation patterns that are essentially the same as those of people with an intact corpus callosum. It’s a Neuroscience Mystery! For decades, the corpus callosum’s purpose seemed straightforward enough: though certain areas of our left and … Continue reading Surprising Synchrony

Autistic Development

Certain regions of the brains of autistic children develop much more slowly than in non-autistic brains, a new study reports. As most of our brains mature throughout our adolescent years, our white matter – the tissue that connects separate brain regions and allows them to communicate with one another – undergoes vast amounts of growth, as areas like the parietal, temporal, and occipital lobes learn to work together more closely. In the brains of autistic adolescents, though, this white matter grows much more slowly. Meanwhile, their gray matter – the tissue composed mostly of neurons’ cell bodies, where most intensive processing takes place – shows … Continue reading Autistic Development

Hypnotized Eyes

A state of hypnosis creates detectable changes in a person’s eye movement patterns, says a new study. The “glazed” look of a person who’s been hypnotized can be linked to measurable, quantifiable changes in the patterns of that person’s reflexive eye movements – changes that non-hypnotized people aren’t able to replicate. The exact nature – and even the actual existence – of the hypnotic state have been controversial topics since the term was first coined in the 1840s. Some have likened it to a form of sleep (the word itself comes from the ancient Greek hypnos, meaning “sleep”), while others have described … Continue reading Hypnotized Eyes