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How many neurons are there in the human brain? It was a question that scientists thought they had nailed – and the answer was 100bn (give or take). If you went looking you would find that figure repeated widely in the neuroscience literature and beyond. But when a researcher in Brazil called Dr Suzana Herculano-Houzel started digging, she discovered that no one in the field could actually remember where the 100bn figure had come from – let alone how it had been arrived at. So she set about discovering the true figure (HT to the excellent Nature neuroscience podcast NeuroPod). This involved a remarkable – and to some I suspect unsettling – piece of research. Her team took the brains of four adult men, aged 50, 51, 54 and 71, and turned them into what she describes as "brain soup". All of the men had died of non-neurological diseases and had donated their brains for research. "It took me a couple of months to make peace with this idea that I was going to take somebody's brain or an animal's brain and turn it into soup," she told Nature. "But the thing is we have been learning so much by this method we've been getting numbers that people had not been able to get … It's really just one more method that's not any worse than just chopping your brain into little pieces." She told me that so far, she has only looked at four brains, all of them from men. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior; Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System; Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 16451 - Posted: 03.01.2012

By Theodoric Meyer Fifty-five high school students sat silently in a Columbia University auditorium on Saturday afternoon, listening to the first question: “About how many cells are in the human brain?” The room echoed with a slight scraping sound as the students scribbled out their answers on brightly colored sheets of paper, then fell silent again. “The answer,” Michael E. Goldberg, a professor of neuroscience at Columbia, said into a microphone, “is 100 million.” It was the first of many questions to test students’ knowledge of neuroscience in this year’s New York City Regional Brain Bee, which drew students from each borough and Westchester County. The contest works a bit like its more familiar cousins, the spelling and geography bees: Eight rounds, five questions each. Thirty seconds to answer. Spelling, however, doesn’t count. The first two rounds proved fairly easy. Students needed to get only two of the five questions correct to move on, and only a few of them were eliminated. But the competition picked up during the third and fourth rounds, when students needed three correct answers for each round. Dr. Goldberg, a diminutive man in a tweed coat with black-framed glasses and thick white hair, seemed to relish his role as moderator and often supplied scientific asides to the questions. © Copyright 2012 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 16349 - Posted: 02.07.2012

A suburban Chicago man accidentally shot a 3.25in (8.25cm) nail into his skull but is recovering after doctors successfully removed it from the centre of his brain. Dante Autullo, 34, was in his workshop when a nail gun recoiled near his head. But he had no idea the nail had entered his brain until the next day, when he began feeling nauseous. Doctors told Mr Autullo that the nail came within millimetres of the area used for motor function. His fiancee, Gail Glaenzer, told the Associated Press on Friday that he was in good spirits after the two-hour surgery to remove the nail at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Illinois. "He feels good. He moved all his limbs, he's talking normal, he remembers everything," she said. "It's amazing, a miracle." Ms Glaenzer said she had no idea the nail had entered his skull when she cleaned a cut on his forehead. BBC © 2012

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 16282 - Posted: 01.23.2012

By Sora Song The Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals is warning people against the improper use of neti pots, following the deaths of two people who were infected with Naegleria fowleri — the so-called “brain-eating amoeba” — after using tap water to irrigate their sinuses. A 53-year-old woman from De Soto Parish and a 20-year-old man from St. Bernard Parish both died after using contaminated water in their neti pots, a popular home remedy that looks like a genie’s lamp and is used for flushing out mucus from the nose and sinuses. “If you are irrigating, flushing or rinsing your sinuses, for example, by using a neti pot, use distilled, sterile or previously boiled water to make up the irrigation solution,” said Louisiana State Epidemiologist, Dr. Raoult Ratard. Tap water is safe for drinking, but not for irrigating your nose, Ratard said. It’s also important to rinse the neti pot after each use and leave it open to air dry. Typically, Naegleria fowleri infection occurs when people go swimming or diving in warm freshwater lakes and rivers, particularly in summer in the southern U.S. Last summer, at least three other people died from Naegleria fowleri infection in Florida, Virginia and Kansas. The amoeba enters through the nose, travels to the brain and starts eating neurons. It sounds scary — and it is — but it’s also exceedingly rare. In the 10 years from 2001 to 2010, only 32 infections were reported in the U.S., despite millions of people swimming in lakes and rivers. Of those infected, 30 people were infected by recreational water sources, and two were infected by water from hot springs. © 2011 Time Inc.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 16166 - Posted: 12.19.2011

By Alan Boyle Slides containing thin slices of Albert Einstein's brain will go on display at Philadelphia's Mutter Museum, thanks to a donation from a neuropathologist who has been holding onto the samples for decades. Lucy Rorke-Adams of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia received the box of 46 slides in the mid-1970s from the widow of a physician who helped arrange the preparation of the brain samples, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Thomas Stoltz Harvey, a doctor at Princeton Hospital, conducted the autopsy on the famed physicist just hours after his death in 1955. Apparently without the family's permission, Harvey preserved Einstein's brain and sectioned it into hundreds of specimens on microscope slides for study. The controversy, as well as the strange journey of Einstein's brain, are detailed in Michael Paterniti's book "Driving Mr. Albert." Harvey and other researchers found nothing unusual about the brain's size, but there was evidence that Einstein's brain contained more than the expected proportion of glial cells, which play a role in supporting connections between neurons. Rorke-Adams, whose research focuses on comparisons of brain cells at different ages, said Einstein's brain looks remarkably youthful under a microscope: "“It does not show any of the changes that we associate with age," CBS Philly quoted her as saying. © 2011

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 16059 - Posted: 11.21.2011

by Elizabeth Norton A loud shirt. A gravelly voice. Purple prose. The merging of the senses, called synesthesia, is a literary device that makes for vivid imagery. But in a neurological condition with the same name, a single perception can involve a second, linked sense that most people would not experience. "Synesthetes" may taste chocolate when hearing a song or see numbers as colors. The reason, new research suggests, may be that the brain cells in the area responsible for the secondary, or extra, sense—for instance, the chocolate taste—are overly active. In addition to shedding light on an unusual mode of perception, the findings could lead to treatments for brain disorders—showing ways to reduce hallucinations, for example, or correcting various types of impaired perception that can follow a stroke. Synesthesia can occur early in life due to the explosive growth of a young child's brain, explains neuroscientist Devin Terhune of the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom. Normally, as the child grows older and brain circuits are refined, the linkages break up. But in synesthetes, for some reason, the secondary sense persists throughout life. The simplest explanation, Terhune and his colleagues believe, is that neurons in the area responsible for the extra sense are more responsive, or "excitable," than usual, strengthening a sensory association that the person wouldn't normally be aware of. The investigators tested their hypothesis with a technique called transcranial magnetic stimulation, which, as the name suggests, stimulates a specific part of the brain with a weak magnetic field applied to the scalp. © 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 8: General Principles of Sensory Processing, Touch, and Pain; Chapter 10: Vision: From Eye to Brain
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 5: The Sensorimotor System; Chapter 7: Vision: From Eye to Brain
Link ID: 16056 - Posted: 11.19.2011

By Science News Staff Cats look to the edge Cats may not seem like planners, but they do look ahead when walking. Three adult cats with magnetic devices strapped to their heads walked across slats, giving scientists the first data on where cats look when they walk. The cats looked a few rungs ahead at the edges of the slats, found Trevor Rivers, now at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine. "They don't say 'I want to step right there.' They are looking at where not to be," Rivers said November 14. — Tina Hesman Saey Moms protected from stress New mothers might not believe it, but being a mom may help protect against some negative consequences of stress. Tracey Shors of Rutgers University in Piscataway, N.J., and colleagues tested the effect of stress on female rats' ability to learn to blink when they hear a particular sound. Stress renders virgin female rats incapable of learning the task. But mothers, including virgin female foster mothers, are protected against learning deficits. And the protection lasts a lifetime, Shors said November 13. The researchers don't yet know what about motherhood is responsible for the protection. — Tina Hesman Saey Vitamin D is good for aging brain Vitamin D may keep mental gears greased during middle age. Middle-aged rats fed high, low or standard amounts of vitamin D performed similarly on memory tests in which the animals had to find a submerged platform in a water tank, Nada Porter of the University of Kentucky and colleagues found. But when the rats had to learn a new location, "the high vitamin D guys just made a beeline" for the new spot while rats in the other two groups swam aimlessly, Porter said during a presentation November 12. — Tina Hesman Saey © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2011

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 10: Vision: From Eye to Brain; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 7: Vision: From Eye to Brain; Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 16044 - Posted: 11.17.2011

by Carl Zimmer Neuroscientists these days regularly make spectacular discoveries about how the brain gets sick. They know much more today about brain cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and a host of other neurological disorders than they did just a few years ago. And from such discoveries come all sorts of encouraging possibilities for treating or even curing these diseases. If 
only we could break down some rogue protein or bind a drug to 
a troublesome receptor, it seems as if all would be well. There’s just one little hitch: Even if scientists invented the perfect cure, they 
probably couldn’t get it into the brain to do its work. Drugs can cross easily out of the bloodstream into most organs of the body. The brain is a glaring exception because it is protected by an intricate shield known as the blood-brain barrier. The blood-brain barrier serves a vital function: It keeps our brains free for the most part from infections or toxins that find their way into other parts of the body. Unfortunately, the brain’s barrier also gets in the way of most medicines that could help heal it. Neurologists sometimes open up the skull and inject drugs directly. That brute-force approach can work in an emergency, but it is hardly a practical solution for people who need to take drugs every day at home. There is reason for hope that the blood-brain barrier will not block medicine’s path forever, though. Some scientists are working on ways to penetrate it—either by sneaking drugs through the barrier or by temporarily opening channels through which the drugs can pass. © 2011, Kalmbach Publishing Co.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior; Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System; Chapter 4: The Chemistry of Behavior: Neurotransmitters and Neuropharmacology
Link ID: 16043 - Posted: 11.17.2011

By BENEDICT CAREY ST. HELENA, Calif. — The scientists exchanged one last look and held their breath. Everything was ready. The electrode was in place, threaded between the two hemispheres of a living cat’s brain; the instruments were tuned to pick up the chatter passing from one half to the other. The only thing left was to listen for that electronic whisper, the brain’s own internal code. The amplifier hissed — the three scientists expectantly leaning closer — and out it came, loud and clear. “We all live in a yellow submarine, yellow submarine, yellow submarine ....” “The Beatles’ song! We somehow picked up the frequency of a radio station,” recalled Michael S. Gazzaniga, chuckling at the 45-year-old memory. “The brain’s secret code. Yeah, right!” Dr. Gazzaniga, 71, now a professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, is best known for a dazzling series of studies that revealed the brain’s split personality, the division of labor between its left and right hemispheres. But he is perhaps next best known for telling stories, many of them about blown experiments, dumb questions and other blunders during his nearly half-century career at the top of his field. Now, in lectures and a new book, he is spelling out another kind of cautionary tale — a serious one, about the uses of neuroscience in society, particularly in the courtroom. Brain science “will eventually begin to influence how the public views justice and responsibility,” Dr. Gazzaniga said at a recent conference here sponsored by the Edge Foundation. © 2011 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 15971 - Posted: 11.01.2011

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 3: Neurophysiology: The Generation, Transmission, and Integration of Neural Signals
Link ID: 15969 - Posted: 11.01.2011

By DONALD G. McNEIL Jr. An Australian man has been hospitalized for more than a month in serious condition as a result of eating two garden slugs on a dare, according to Australian news media and ProMED , an online service that tracks disease outbreaks. The 21-year-old Sydney man apparently contracted a rat lungworm parasite from the slugs, which pick it up from rodent droppings. The parasite, a nematode called Angiostrongylus cantonensis, can cause fatal brain swelling. The ProMED moderator who reported the case said the life cycle of the nematode was described in Australia 50 years ago. It infects not just slugs, rats and humans but also dogs, horses, flying fox bats and marsupials like kangaroos. It can also be caught from unwashed vegetables. “We hope this will help to remind others to avoid eating raw slugs,” the moderator, Eskild Petersen, said. The disease is more common in Thailand, where koi-hoi, a dish with raw snail meat, is eaten; residents of Hawaii have been infected by eating improperly washed lettuce with tiny slugs on it. Escargots — snails baked in a garlic butter sauce — are generally safe, although they can trigger shellfish allergies. Snails “ranched” for restaurants (like those pictured above) are raised on clean feed and purged. Garden snails may contain poisons, including snail bait. There has been at least one report of people who developed erratic heart rhythms after eating stew made from snails that had eaten oleander leaves, which contain digoxin, a cardiac drug. © 2011 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 15921 - Posted: 10.18.2011

By ANAHAD O'CONNOR The medical literature is rife with explanations for yawning, but one has gained substantial ground in recent years: This mysterious habit may help regulate brain temperature. The brain operates best within a narrow range of temperatures, and like a car engine, it sometimes needs a way to cool down. To lower the brain’s thermostat, researchers say, the body takes in cooler air from its surroundings — prompting deep inhalation. Yawning is contagious. Simply watching someone do it is enough to induce the behavior. But when scientists had people watch yawning videos in a 2007 study, they found that applying cold packs to the subjects’ heads practically eliminated contagious yawning. Nasal breathing, which also promotes brain cooling, had a similar effect. In a study of 160 people published last month in the journal Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience, yawning was found to vary by season. People were shown to be more likely to yawn in winter than summer, perhaps because an overheated brain gets little relief from taking in air that is warmer than body temperature. The researchers, who controlled for factors like humidity and the amount of sleep subjects got the night before, also found that the more time a person spent outside in warm temperatures, the less likely they were to yawn. The findings may explain why people yawn when tired: Sleep deprivation raises brain temperature. As for why yawning is contagious, it may have evolved as a way to signal to others in a group to stay alert and ready in case of outside attacks, scientists say. © 2011 The New York Times Company

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 15889 - Posted: 10.08.2011

Heidi Ledford A widely touted — but controversial — molecular fountain of youth has come under fire yet again, with the publication of new data challenging the link between proteins called sirtuins and longer lifespan. In a paper published today in Nature1, researchers report that overexpressing a sirtuin gene in two model organisms — the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans and the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster — does not boost longevity as had been previously reported. Instead, the authors argue that the longer lifespan originally seen was the result of unrelated mutations lurking in the background of the experimental strains. Some see the results as clearing the air, and freeing the field to focus on other effects of sirtuins, such as regulating metabolism and responding to environmental stress. "The field has been overfocused on overhyped claims of longevity," says Johan Auwerx, a researcher at the Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Switzerland, who has worked with the proteins but was not involved with the new study. "I don't think that's the main function of the sirtuins." “It's like discovering a landmine. If you walk by, a lot of other people will get blown up.” But Leonard Guarente, a sirtuin researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, who published the original C. elegans work in 20012, argues that the longevity link is real and that the new paper is just "a bump in the road". "Our data are rock solid," he says. "I stand by them, and they have been replicated in other labs." © 2011 Nature Publishing Group,

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 15825 - Posted: 09.22.2011

By Jennifer Viegas The brain-eating amoeba that killed three people this summer is an organism that thrives in warm fresh water and can be found in lakes, rivers, hot springs and soil, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All three deaths this year occurred in the South: a 16-year-old girl in Florida, a 9-year-old boy in Virginia and a 20-year-old man in Louisiana. A brutal summer and drought make the conditions perfect for the amoeba. The threat of N. fowleri could potentially be elevated for weeks in some areas. According to the CDC, infections occur mainly in July, August and September. The microscopic amoeba, Naegleria fowleri, attacks anyone who has the misfortune of inhaling it. It enters first up the nose and then goes to the brain, usually killing its victims within two weeks. "Once forced up the nose, it can travel to the brain, where it digests brain cells," Jonathan Yoder, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told Discovery News. "It's a very tragic disease that thankfully is very rare." Aside from its rarity, the amoeba "is not looking to prey upon human victims," he said. "They usually go after bacteria in water and soil." © 2011 Discovery Communications, LLC.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 15693 - Posted: 08.20.2011

By Maria Popova Far from a mere motherboard, the brain has swollen into one of humanity's greatest obsessions. We have been trying to visualize it since antiquity, we have written countless books about it, we've even enlisted it in our pop culture satire. The brain, in fact, has become a pop culture fixture in and of itself. That's exactly what Davi Johnson Thornton explores in Brain Culture: Neuroscience and Popular Media -- a fascinating account of the rhetoric and sociology of cognitive science, exploring our culture's obsession with the brain and how we have elevated the vital organ into cultish status, mythologizing its functions and romanticizing the promise of its scientific study. The brain, it seems, has become a modern muse. (As Jonah Lehrer brilliantly notes in his Wired interview with Thornton, "If Warhol were around today, he'd have a series of silkscreens dedicated to the cortex; the amygdala would hang alongside Marilyn Monroe.") From the media's propensity for pretty pictures like PET and fMRI scans, often misinterpreted or presented out of context to the misappropriation of the language of neuroscience in simplistic self-help narratives to the "anxious parenting" triggered by the facile findings of developmental cognitive science, Thornton offers a refreshing lens on the many contradictions in how we think about the brain as we continue to hope that making the brain calculable and mappable would also make it manipulable in precisely the ways we need it to be. What makes Thornton's take most compelling is the lucidity with which she approaches exactly what we know and don't know about the brain. Every day, we're bombarded with exponentially replicating headlines about new "sciences" like neuromarketing, which, despite the enormous budgets poured into them by the world's shortcut-hungry Fortune 500, remain the phrenology of our time, a tragic manifestation of the disconnect between how much we want to manipulate the brain and how little we actually know about its intricately connected, non-compartmentalizable functions. © 2011 by The Atlantic Monthly Group

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 15686 - Posted: 08.20.2011

David Cyranoski Mu-ming Poo leads a double life. For three weeks every month, he works in a cramped, cluttered office at the University of California, Berkeley. Looking drab in his dark-green pullover, olive trousers and black Adidas sports shoes, the 62-year-old neuroscientist slumps slightly in his chair. In the adjoining laboratory, half a dozen postdoctoral researchers, expected to work independently, go quietly about their business. Cut to Shanghai, China, where Poo spends the remaining quarter of his time. In the director's office at the Institute of Neurosciences (ION), he sports a pressed, light-blue shirt neatly tucked into belted trousers (same trainers). With few books and papers about, the room seems more spacious than its Californian counterpart; mangoes and other fruit in a bowl provide a tasteful flourish. Here, Poo supervises only one postdoctoral researcher, but a dozen chattering graduate students are stuffed into an office, waiting for the hour that he sets aside for each one during his whirlwind visits. Poo sits straighter, talks faster and seems more alert, alive — younger, even. As stimulating as he finds his research in the United States, where he is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, Poo finds a sense of mission in China. "It's more exciting, exhilarating here," he says. "They need me. I feel it's the best use of my life." China is alive with possibilities in science, but realizing them is a complicated affair. The country's fondness for speed — for short-term achievements and, increasingly, short-term profits — has worked relatively well in the chemical and physical sciences and in large-scale genomics, where researchers can systematically tick off the chemical compounds or genetic sequences that they have produced (see 'Eastern promise'). © 2011 Nature Publishing Group,

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior
Link ID: 15648 - Posted: 08.04.2011

By Ben Harder, Those who believe in free will might be troubled to learn a few secrets about viruses, bacteria and parasites. While it may sound like science fiction, science hints at the potential for microbes to influence our minds, or at least our behavior. Granted, with very limited exceptions, there’s no conclusive proof that foreign agents can control us from within. But when you consider the evidence with an open mind, it’s interesting to consider the possibilities. The latest relevant finding seems innocuous enough. Last month, three insect and plant disease researchers in the University of California system reported a discovery about the tomato spotted wilt virus. As its name suggests, this virus infects and damages tomato plants. It’s harmless to people. To jump from plant to plant, the virus relies on insects known as thrips. A thrip feeds by sticking its oral probe into a plant’s cells and sucking out the contents. If a cell happens to contain the virus, the thrip sucks it up, too. Scientists already knew that virus-infected tomato plants are more appealing to thrips than uninfected plants. The California researchers discovered something else: Once a thrip consumes the virus, its behavior changes. It spends more time feeding, and it licks more plant cells in the process, coating the next tomato plant with the virus. © 1996-2011 The Washington Post

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook; Chapter 15: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior; Chapter 11: Emotions, Aggression, and Stress
Link ID: 15451 - Posted: 06.18.2011

By Laura Helmuth 1. We use only 10 percent of our brains. This one sounds so compelling—a precise number, repeated in pop culture for a century, implying that we have huge reserves of untapped mental powers. But the supposedly unused 90 percent of the brain is not some vestigial appendix. Brains are expensive—it takes a lot of energy to build brains during fetal and childhood development and maintain them in adults. Evolutionarily, it would make no sense to carry around surplus brain tissue. Experiments using PET or fMRI scans show that much of the brain is engaged even during simple tasks, and injury to even a small bit of brain can have profound consequences for language, sensory perception, movement or emotion. True, we have some brain reserves. Autopsy studies show that many people have physical signs of Alzheimer’s disease (such as amyloid plaques among neurons) in their brains even though they were not impaired. Apparently we can lose some brain tissue and still function pretty well. And people score higher on IQ tests if they’re highly motivated, suggesting that we don’t always exercise our minds at 100 percent capacity. 2. “Flashbulb memories” are precise, detailed and persistent. We all have memories that feel as vivid and accurate as a snapshot, usually of some shocking, dramatic event—the assassination of President Kennedy, the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger, the attacks of September 11, 2001. People remember exactly where they were, what they were doing, who they were with, what they saw or heard. But several clever experiments have tested people’s memory immediately after a tragedy and again several months or years later. The test subjects tend to be confident that their memories are accurate and say the flashbulb memories are more vivid than other memories. Vivid they may be, but the memories decay over time just as other memories do. People forget important details and add incorrect ones, with no awareness that they’re recreating a muddled scene in their minds rather than calling up a perfect, photographic reproduction.

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 1: Biological Psychology: Scope and Outlook; Chapter 17: Learning and Memory
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 1: An Introduction to Brain and Behavior; Chapter 13: Memory, Learning, and Development
Link ID: 15371 - Posted: 05.28.2011

By Jesse Bering There are so many obscure specializations, subspecializations and subcortical subspecializations within the brain sciences that even the sharpest brain has scarcely enough brainpower to learn everything there is to know about itself. But if there's one fact that the teacup-Yorkie-sized prune in your head might want to ponder, it's that it shares a peculiar past with something considerably lower in your anatomy—your genitalia. I don't mean that our brains and reproductive organs share some embryological or evolutionary history, but rather that they were once (and, to some extent, still are) entwined in the language of the body. What this odd story reveals is that the ancient anatomists were major dickheads. We all were, back then. Régis Olry, of the University of Quebec, and Duane Haines, of the University of Mississippi, brought the whole sordid tale to light in an intriguing pair of articles for the Journal of the History of the Neurosciences. These "historians of neuroanatomy" (yes, there is such a profession, and we should be grateful for it) reviewed a very old, circuitous medical literature and found that the human brain was once described as comprising its very own vulva, penis, testicles, buttocks, and even an anus. In fact, part of the cerebrum is still named in honor of long-forgotten whores. In their first article from 1997, epochs ago in academic terms, Olry and Haines revealed the surprising origins of the term "fornix." For those illiterate in neuroanatomy, which I'll assume is 99.9 percent of you, the fornix is a fibrous, arching band of nerve fibers that connects the hippocampus and the limbic system, and spans certain fluid-filled chambers of the brain known as ventricles. You'd have numerous and noticeable problems if your fornix weren't functioning properly, including serious impairments in spatial learning and overall navigation. © 2011 The Slate Group, LLC

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 2: Functional Neuroanatomy: The Nervous System and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 2: Cells and Structures: The Anatomy of the Nervous System
Link ID: 15346 - Posted: 05.21.2011

By Daniel Strain Fire ants know how to survive when the waters rise: They turn their bodies into life rafts. A new study explores the physics that keeps fire ant lifeboats, waterborne colonies sometimes containing tens of thousands of bugs, afloat. Linked together, the ants can form a watertight seal that keeps them from drowning, engineers from the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta report the week of April 25 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And the whole is bigger than the sum of its parts, says Julia Parrish, a zoologist at the University of Washington in Seattle: "The properties the group displays are not necessarily predictable by just looking at one individual." Fire ants (Solenopsis invicta), an invasive species around much of the globe, are well-prepared for disaster. When their Brazilian homes flood, entire colonies — including queens, workers and workers carrying larvae — take to the sea. "They have to stay together as a colony to survive," says study coauthor Nathan Mlot of Georgia Tech. Their double-decked rafts — about half the ants float on the bottom holding the rest up — can bob along for days or even weeks. The ants' seafaring success comes down to both small and big properties. On the small scale, single ants can walk on water, at least to a degree, similar to a floating pin or a water-striding insect. When wet, fire ants can also capture tiny air bubbles, probably thanks to the thin layers of hair covering their bodies, giving these intrepid mariners added buoyancy. © Society for Science & the Public 2000 - 2011

Related chapters from BP7e: Chapter 6: Evolution of the Brain and Behavior
Related chapters from MM:Chapter 0:
Link ID: 15264 - Posted: 04.26.2011