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

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

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

I Know Kung Fu

New technology may soon enable us download knowledge directly into our brains, says a new study. By decoding activation patterns from fMRI scans and then reproducing them as direct input to a precise area of the brain, the new system may be able to “teach” neural networks by example – priming them to fire in a certain way until they learn to do it on their own. This has led everyone from io9 to the National Science Foundation to make Matrix references – and it’s hard to blame them. After all, immersive virtual reality isn’t too hard to imagine – … Continue reading I Know Kung Fu

The Brain Lab Tour

This past weekend, I got to visit one of the coolest places I’ve ever seen: the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging (LONI). So just for today, I’m gonna take a break from news reporting, and tell you a little about what goes on inside an actual cutting-edge neuroscience lab. Sound good? OK, let’s go! I’m not sure quite what I was expecting to see as I stepped through the lab’s electronically locked door – certainly not the roomful of clean, open-walled work areas that greeted me. I might’ve been standing in a sleek law office, or an advertising agency – … Continue reading The Brain Lab Tour

Psychopathic Anatomy

The brains of psychopaths have a significant physical difference from those of non-psychopaths, says a new study. In a psychopath’s brain, white matter (connective neural tissue) links between the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) and amygdala are unusually weak. This means a major brain area involved in anticipating risk (the vmPFC) is only weakly connected with an area crucial for processing fear and sadness. Though the word “psychopath” gets thrown around a lot, it doesn’t necessarily refer to a maniacal killer. It’s simply a term used to characterize personality disorders in which a person has difficulty linking their actions with feelings like empathy, … Continue reading Psychopathic Anatomy

Musical Matchups

Our brains process music via different sensory pathways depending on what we think its source is, a new study finds. As our brains organize information from our senses into a coherent representation of the world around us, they’re constantly hard at work associating data from one sense – say, sight – with data from another – say, hearing. A lot of the time, this process is pretty straightforward – for instance, if we see a man talking and hear a nearby male voice, it’s typically safe for our brains to assume the voice “goes with” the man’s lip movements. But it’s also not too … Continue reading Musical Matchups