Neuroscience Friends!

I’ve just returned from a thrilling weekend at the BIL Conference in Long Beach, California (yes, the pun on “TED” is very intentional) where I met all kinds of smart, fun people – including lots of folks who share my love for braaaiiins! So I thought I’d introduce you guys to some of the friends I made. I think you’ll be as surprised – and as excited – as I am. Backyard Brains Their motto is “neuroscience for everyone” – how cool is that? They sell affordable kits that let you experiment at home with the nervous systems of insects … Continue reading Neuroscience Friends!

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

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

Musical Learning

A new study throws some light on how musical aptitude can offset one very specific aspect of the aging process. In research comparing older patients with musical training to those without, older people who’d spent time regularly practicing or teaching music consistently displayed much faster neural reaction times to certain kinds of sounds. The idea that the human brain has a deep relationship with music is obviously nothing new – but lately, research has been demonstrating more and more ways in which music is a major ingredient in mental health. For example, a 2007 study found that the brain reacts … Continue reading Musical Learning

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

Taking Vision Apart

For the first time, scientists have created neuron-by-neuron maps of brain regions corresponding to specific kinds of visual information, and specific parts of the visual field, says a new study. If other labs can confirm these results, this will mean we’re very close to being able to predict exactly which neurons will fire when an animal looks at a specific object. Our understanding of neural networks has come a very long way in a very short time. It was just a little more than 100 years ago that Santiago Ramón y Cajal first proposed the theory that individual cells – neurons … Continue reading Taking Vision Apart