Why I Love and Hate “Game”

Yes, it’s that special time of year again – time for flamboyant bouquets and chalky candy to appear at office desks – time for Facebook pages to drown in cloying iconography – time for self-labeled “forever aloners” to dredge the back alleys of OKCupid in last-ditch desperation – and time for me to load up my trusty gatling crossbow with oxytocin-tipped darts and hit the streets. Oh, and it’s time for everyone to complain about how misogynistic all this “Game” stuff is. So, while I guess I could write about, say, a new study that says cutting your romantic partner some slack can make him or … Continue reading Why I Love and Hate “Game”

Sacred Values

Principles on which we refuse to change our stance are processed via separate neural pathways from those we’re more flexible on, says a new study. Our minds process many decisions in moral “gray areas” by weighing the risks and rewards involved – so if the risk is lessened or the reward increased, we’re sometimes willing to change our stance. However, some of our moral stances are tied to much more primal feelings – “gut reactions” that remind us of our most iron-clad principles: don’t hurt innocent children, don’t steal from the elderly, and so on. These fundamental values – what … Continue reading Sacred Values

Stress Intervention

Scientists have discovered a way to shut down the brain’s “stress process” before it gets going, says a new study. By blocking the brain’s ability to manufacture certain chemicals called neurosteroids, researchers have managed to temporarily cut off a biological process crucial for stressful behavior – and for many stressful feelings as well. Animals from amphibians all the way up to humans produce a hormone called corticosterone in their adrenal glands. Corticosterone levels become elevated under stress, and this hormone is a major ingredient in a number of stress-related biological processes, from feelings of nervousness to aggressive behavior. Corticosterone does most of its … Continue reading Stress Intervention

Harry Potter and the Nature of the Self

Yup, this is what we’re doing today. I finally got to see Deathly Hallows Part 2, and it got me thinking about neuroscience like frickin’ everything always does, and I came home and wrote an essay about the nature of consciousness in the Harry Potter universe. And we’re going to talk about it, because it’s the holidays and can we please just pull it together and act like a normal family for the length of one blog post? Thank you. I really mean it. Besides, I guarantee you that this stuff is gonna bug you too once I’ve brought it … Continue reading Harry Potter and the Nature of the Self

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

Digital Friendships

Those of us who have loads of Facebook friends tend to have greater development in several specific brain regions, says a new study. Researchers have found a strong correlation between large numbers of Facebook connections and increased development of gray matter – tissue containing neuron cell bodies, where dense communication occurs – in several regions crucial for social interaction: the amygdala, the right superior temporal sulcus (STS), the left middle temporal gyrus (MTG), and the right entorhinal cortex (EC). Intriguingly, the size of some of these regions seems to correlate only with the size of people’s online social networks – not their real-world ones. It’s not clear … Continue reading Digital Friendships

Modified Memories

Each time we retell a story, our actual memories of its events change, says a new study. When we receive hints – true or not-so-true – about a story’s details from our friends, we often revise our version if what they say makes sense to us. But what’s incredible is, it isn’t just our retelling of the story that changes – fMRI scans show that our brains actually rewrite our memories, and we end up remembering the new version as “what really happened.” To understand how this can work at a neurological level, a team led by Micah Edelson at Israel’s Weizmann Institute … Continue reading Modified Memories