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

I Be Strokin’

Watching another person being softly caressed activates very similar brain regions to those that actually allow us to feel a soft touch, says a new study. The sensation of gentle touch is conveyed by a specific type of neuron – tactile C (CT) afferents – found only in hairy skin. These neurons respond most strongly to soft touches and “caress-like” speeds, and send signals to a brain region called the posterior insula, which helps interpret bodily sensations like pain, warmth or cold, heartbeat, a full bladder or stomach, and balance – and also, interestingly enough, the physical feelings associated with music, laughter, and empathy. … Continue reading I Be Strokin’

Virtual Touch

A new brain-machine interface allows minds to literally feel the texture of computer-generated objects, a recent paper reports. This interface not only allows a monkey to remotely control a virtual hand by willing it to move – the system also routes feedback on textures and vibrations to the somatosensory cortex, where that feedback is processed as sensations of touch. Though mind-controlled robotic hands aren’t exactly breaking news anymore, most of those devices only provide visual feedback – in other words, the users of those robotic hands can’t actually feel the objects the hands touch. One recent project did use vibration feedback to help … Continue reading Virtual Touch

Pain on the Brain

Men and women experience pain in different ways, a new study shows. The behavior of opioids – chemicals that suppress pain – differs between men’s and women’s bodies. This is because the three main types of opioid receptors in the brain and spinal cord interact very differently, depending on whether their owner is a man or a woman. See, scientists have known for years that certain kinds of narcotic analgesics – a certain class of pain relieving drugs – are much more effective on women then on men. It was hard to understand why, though, because both men and women have … Continue reading Pain on the Brain