Indiana Jones proved just how useful a good bullwhip can be, both as a tool and as a weapon, but people are still surprised when neuropsychologist Jessica Cail tells them that one of her favorite hobbies is practicing whip-cracking. She talks about this peculiar sideline in the latest installment of the NOVA video series, Secret Life of Scientists.
Many neuroscience studies in animals involve some type of short-term (or acute) manipulation of the brain, followed by behavioral tests. When manipulations of a specific brain circuit are followed by behavioral changes, neuroscientists generally conclude that the circuit contributes to the behavior that’s been changed.
But brain circuits are very densely packed and highly interconnected, so it’s hard to manipulate one without influencing others. This makes it particularly challenging to know if the behavioral effects are caused by the part of the brain that was targeted or by some other part that happens to be closely connected to it.
A paper published in Nature shows that short-term alterations and long-term damage can have different effects on behavior. The findings raise a significant caution about the cause-and-effect nature of manipulating the brain and provide a reminder that the brain can sometimes work its way around damage.
In 1845, a meter-long iron rod pierced the skull of Vermont railway worker Phineas Gage. The resulting changes to his personality forever changed our perception of the human brain. But what happened next to Gage is rarely covered in textbooks — a problematic oversight, say psychologists.
During periods of chronic stress, we often up our caffeine consumption. This works better than you might expect—the increase can reduce some of the negative effects of long-term stress, including depression and memory deterioration. In a new study published in PNAS, researchers dug further into this finding, examining the signaling networks that caffeine influences within the brain. One of the proteins they identify is a potential treatment target for the symptoms of long-term stress.
Last week, researchers announced they had discovered a physical connection between the immune system and the brain’s blood supply. The finding gives researchers a novel approach to understanding diseases ranging from autism to multiple sclerosis, and strengthens the bridge between neuroscience and immunology.
There are lots of DIY scientific experiments you can put to the test, without needing so much as a lab protocol. Not all of them are just kitchen chemistry, though. In fact, here’s a strange experiment a neuroscientist gave us to try out right now, on yourself.
Sorry, but I don’t believe altruism exists. Doing something compassionate to be seen as such is in fact selfish. And I’ve seen compassion make people rather myopic, sneering at what they’d label as socialism – social programs to support the aftermath of their political views.
Orange cheese dust. That wholly unnatural neon stuff that gloms onto your fingers when you’re mindlessly snacking on chips or doodles. The stuff you don’t think about until you realize you’ve smeared it on your shirt or couch cushions—and then keep on eating anyway, despite your better intentions. Orange cheese dust is probably not the first thing you think of when talking about how the brain functions, but it’s exactly the kind of thing that makes NeuroFocus, and neuromarketing in general, such a potentially huge and growing business. In 2008, Frito-Lay hired NeuroFocus to look into Cheetos, the junk-food staple. After scanning the brains of a carefully chosen group of consumers, the NeuroFocus team discovered that the icky coating triggers an unusually powerful response in the brain: a sense of giddy subversion that consumers enjoy over the messiness of the product. In other words, the sticky stuff is what makes those snacks such a sticky brand. Frito-Lay leveraged that information into its advertising campaign for Cheetos, which has made the most of the mess. For its efforts, NeuroFocus earned a Grand Ogilvy award for advertising research, given out by the Advertising Research Foundation, for “demonstrating the most successful use of research in the creation of superior advertising that achieves a critical business objective.”
The holiday season is over, so it’s time to get serious about your New Year’s resolutions. But those fine intentions are only as good as your self-control. Here’s what you need to know about the neuroscience of willpower — and what you can do to make your will even stronger.