Scientific News

Can words influence pupil dilation?

We know that our pupils dilate (mydriasis) and contract (mycosis) depending on ambient light and our mood. A recent study conducted by researchers at Aix-Marseille University’s laboratories of Cognitive Psychology, and Speech and Language, along with the University of Groningen (Netherlands) shows that the meaning of a word also influences the size of our pupils. How can a word trigger pupil dilation or contraction?

During the 70s, Eckward Hess, a pioneer in pupillometry (and former head of the psychology department at the University of Chicago) observed that, in general, pupil size increases when a person observes something or someone "stimulating." Ads for cosmetics have ...

Do ravens hold a grudge?

Many studies have already demonstrated the intellectual abilities of corvids, such as crows, magpies, and ravens. A scientific team from the University of Vienna (Austria) and the department of cognitive sciences at Lund University (Sweden) tested the memory capacities of crows. By subjecting them to a rather unusual experiment, the researchers discovered that ravens are rather spiteful creatures…

J.J.A. Müller and colleagues tested the memory of nine ravens in an exchange paradigm with humans (reciprocity). Laggie, Horst, Louise, Nobel, and the other ravens had the opportunity to exchange a low-quality food (bread) for a high-quality food (cheese); experiments have shown ...

Can spider venom protect your brain?

Its name: Hadronyche infensa or the “Darling Downs funnel web spider” (the name of a vast farming area in Australia): a very toxic poisonous spider. But this creature may also have an unexpected virtue: protecting the brain from neural damage caused by a stroke. How did Australian researchers chance upon this discovery? Read on to find out more about this study published in PNAS.

One of the studies main authors, Professor Glenn King from the Institute for Molecular Bioscience at the University of Queensland (Australia) says, “We believe that we have, for the first time, found a way to minimize the effects of brain damage after a stroke.” These encouraging remarks are ...

Is GPS bad for your brain?

For many people GPS is a beneficial form of technology. But letting yourself be guided vocally (or even just visually) by a GPS could actually be harmful to your brain in the long run. A study published in the review Nature Communication tells us why following the instructions given by a virtual guidance device could impair our brain’s orientation functions, e.g. our internal GPS.

It began in 2014 when a team of researchers (Edvard and May-Britt Moser, and John O’Keefe) shed light on the existence of a tracking and navigation system in the human brain. Their research showed that cells in the hippocampus helped animals to record spatial information in order to orient ...

How to become a memory athlete

You’re undoubtedly already familiar with memory champions that are capable of easily memorizing tens, hundreds, or thousands of pieces of information (word, numbers, faces, etc.) A recent study published in Neuron shows that, from a cerebral point of view, they’re not really so different from the rest of us. And that with training we can also considerably increase our memorization abilities and even compete with these athletes!

In order to better understand the brain features of people with highly developed memorization skills, the research team led by Martin Dresler (of the Radboud University Medical Center in the Netherlands) decided to study the 23 top participants in ...

Can an eye that's disconnected from the brain see?

In regenerative medicine, in cases of transplantation or graft, innervation, or the supply of nerves to a body part, remains a major difficulty. This is particularly true for the sensory organs since they must be connected to the brain in order to communicate auditory, visual, and tactile information. But a recent study, carried out on tadpoles seems to indicate that it's possible to use the eye without it being directly connected to the brain.

In a previous study, D.J. Blackiston, K. Vien and M. Levin succeeded in demonstrating that eyes grafted to the outside of the tadpole’s head were sensitive to light. However, visual tests were disappointing, since innervation failed ...

How does the brain of a believer function?

People who have had a religious experience often describe feelings of joy, warmth and peace. The same feelings are associated with falling in love. However, the brain mechanisms of a believer remain unknown. The current study aimed to improve understanding of the neurobiology underlying spiritual and religious experiences. How does the brain of a believer function?

Hypotheses about the neurobiology of a religious experience are conflicting. Discovering the neuroscience of religious experiences seems vital if we are to understand the motivation for religious behavior. The study undertaken by American researchers from the University of Utah and published in the review ...

Which social media platform is the most dangerous for our mental health?

YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram. The five most popular social media platforms ranked in order from the least to the most harmful for teenage mental health. This classification was made following the results of a British study by The Royal Society for Public Health and the Young Mental Health Movement, published in May 2017. The study was carried out on 1500 young people aged 14 to 24, of whom 91% use the internet for social networking. So, what were the findings?

In the introduction to the study, Shirley Cramer (President of the Royal Society for Public Health) and Becky Inkster (Department of Neuroscience Cambridge University) remind us of the significance ...

Do creative people's brains look different?

The implications of the “two-brain” theory (right hemisphere/left hemisphere) have already been explored; particularly their use in branding people’s strengths and flaws. Various research has highlighted the importance of connections between the two hemispheres and has demonstrated that our personality can't be explained by our use of one or the other. A new study supports this point of view by showing that creative people have better brain connections.

The research conducted by two statisticians is supported by a study on neuroanatomy and creativity previously carried out by R. Jung and colleagues at the University of New Mexico. Using a special MRI technique, the team ...

Using subliminal images to overcome phobias?

What if arachnophobia could be overcome without the sufferer even realizing it? According to a study conducted by American researchers, ending one of our population’s most common phobias, a fear of spiders, could be achieved simply by exposing arachnophobes to subliminal images. Rather than putting them face-to-face with a tarantula, a subconscious exposure to photos might prove to be quite effective. How did the scientists make this surprising discovery?

Directed by Bradley S. Petersen (director of the Institute for the Developing Mind at Children's Hospital Los Angeles) and Paul Siegel (associate professor of psychology at NYU’s Purchase College), the team of researchers ...

Can we train bumblebees to score goals?

For a many years, the capacity to manipulate objects with a specific goal in mind was ascribed to humans alone. However, research has shown that this type of behavior is also displayed by primates, marine mammals (dolphins), and birds (crows). Even more surprisingly, a team of scientists recently discovered that invertebrates, specifically bumblebees, also show this capacity. Discover how the bumblebee’s learning abilities have been tested.

The research was led by the department of biological science and experimental psychology at the Queen Mary University of London. It aimed to show that bumblebees could resolve a cognitive task which wasn’t part of their normal ...

Is the bilingual brain more efficient?

Whether it happens early or late in life, the acquisition of two or more languages has been linked to improved cognitive flexibility. A team of researchers from Quebec chose to study the way in which bilingual and monolingual brains function while doing the Simon task, an exercise which involves neutralizing irrelevant secondary information to concentrate on the relevant information. How can bilingualism increase our capacity for multitasking?

Numerous studies have shown the advantages of being bilingual or multilingual, particularly in improving the functional efficiency of older people as well as reducing interferences from irrelevant stimuli in daily life. The Simon task ...

Ever heard of Disney therapy?

In addition to the triumph of La La Land at this year's Oscars (even if it didn't make the final cut for "Best Film"), another film nominated in the "Best Documentary" category deserves some attention. The film tells the true story of Owen, a young boy suddenly struck by autism at the age of 3 who gradually regains normal functioning thanks to Walt Disney cartoons. It offers both a moving story and a message of hope.

Life, Animated is a documentary directed by Roger Ross Williams, adapted from the novel by Ron Suskind, Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism. The author, a well-known American journalist and winner of a Pulitzer Prize, tells the story of how he ...

What effects do seasonal allergies have on the brain?

Runny nose, watery eyes, itching: these are the most common symptoms of seasonal allergies. A recent study conducted jointly by the University and the Institute of Molecular Regenerative Medicine in Salzburg, Austria suggests they may cause more than just rhinitis and conjunctivitis; allergies may have a long-term effect on the brain, and particularly memory. For example, how can pollen affect the brain?

Currently, few findings suggest that allergic reactions can affect cognitive function in humans, though some studies have indicated that people suffering from seasonal allergic rhinitis perform less well on cognitive tests and have a greater tendency to exhibit signs of ...

The man who saw twisted mouths

Imagine you lived in a world where the faces of everyone you met had a "deformed" mouth. One man actually began experiencing this disturbing vision rather suddenly. This incredible clinical case was reported by ophthalmologists in eNeurologicalSci, a review published by the World Federation of Neurology. So what exactly was the patient suffering from?

The 62-year-old man visits his doctor with an unusual complaint: faces look deformed to him. More specifically, while the nose and eyes appear normal, another part of the face always looks twisted and enlarged: the mouth. He isn’t suffering from prosopagnosia (an inability to identify faces) and he can correctly identify ...

Does music make us more responsive?

What if playing the guitar, piano or bass could improve your multisensory capacities and responsiveness? A study conducted by Simon P. Landry and François Champoux of the School of Speech Therapy and Audiology at the University of Montreal shows just this. These Canadian researchers studied the reactions of musicians and non-musicians in response to various types of sensory stimuli. Does playing an instrument improve sensory processing?

Numerous studies have suggested that musical training may improve the way in which our senses interact. In the present study, the scientists wanted to verify if, over the long run, this training could improve multisensory processes at the ...

Is machismo harmful to mental health... in men?

What if the macho behavior of certain gentlemen actually affected their mental health? While the study led by Dr Y. Joel Wong from the University of Indiana at Bloomington may seem exaggerated, it does present some interesting findings. Indeed, using a meta-analysis of a number of studies on the topic, it establishes a link between male chauvinists and their state of mental health. So is being macho dangerous to psychological well-being?

To answer the question, the authors of the study, which appeared in Journal of Counseling Psychology, conducted a meta-analysis (78 studies were reviewed) examining research on 19,453 subjects. In order to better evaluate the influence of ...

Does our brain enjoy poetry?

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? What if these verses by Shakespeare could unconsciously communicate with the human spirit? A team of researchers has recently demonstrated that people with no knowledge of Welsh poetry are implicitly capable of discerning whether a sentence follows certain poetic rules. Even before considering its literal meaning, are we instinctively capable of enjoying the musical properties of poetry?

As an introduction to their work, Guillaume Thierry and his colleagues at the University of Bangor (United Kingdom) remind us that even in 1932, the poet T.S. Eliot maintained that “genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.” This ...

Why is it sometimes difficult to look someone else in the eye?

Have you ever noticed that when you are trying to find the right formulation or have a word at the tip of your tongue during a conversation, you often look away from the other person, as if it were to help you concentrate? Based on this observation, two researchers from the Cognitive Psychology Department at the University of Kyoto conducted a study to try to explain why we need to break eye contact in order to focus on what we’re trying to say. According to them, there’s a good scientific reason for this.

As noted by the authors, Shogo Kajimura and Michio Nomura: “Although eye contact and verbal processing appear independent, people frequently avert their eyes from ...

The threat of stereotyping: are girls better readers than boys?

Do you think boys are better than girls at math? And that girls outperform boys when it comes to reading? Well it turns out that as a result of hearing these “beliefs,” both boys and girls start behaving as the stereotypes predict. This is what research conducted by Pascal Pansu and colleagues has come to show; “the threat of stereotype” contributes to gender differences favoring girls when it comes to reading.

While the threat of stereotype in creating gender differences has already been demonstrated in mathematics (in favor of boys), it has never been demonstrated for reading. P. Pansu, from the University of Grenoble and his colleagues at the Universities of Aix ...

Who enjoys getting songs stuck in their heads?

Imagine you spend the whole day with Old MacDonald stuck in your head. While it might not have been with this song in particular, we’ve all had the experience of having a song looping in our head that we can’t seem to get rid of. Researchers at Goldsmiths University studied the neuronal bases of this phenomenon, often called “earworm.” How does a melody become “sticky?”

More formally known as “Involuntary Musical Imagery” (INMI), earworm happens spontaneously and without our conscious control. This cognitive phenomenon is very widespread and is generally triggered by recent exposure to the song in question, but can also be influenced by our mood. For some, INMI ...

Does the human brain change in space?

Is French astronaut Thomas Pesquet’s brain the same on earth as it is aboard the international space station (ISS)? Though humans are subjected to significant sensorimotor changes during space flights, until now no studies had ever examined the effects of space travel on the structure of the human brain. But this is changing thanks to researchers at the University of Michigan who have recently published a first report on the structural brain changes in humans due to space travel. How does the human brain change in space?

For their study, a team led by V. Koppelmans used data from 27 astronauts, 13 of whom had spent 2 weeks in space (inside a shuttle) and 14 others who had ...

What if running could repair your brain?

Physical activity is clearly beneficial to our cardiovascular and brain health; it can even improve motor and cognitive function in certain forms of neurodegenerative diseases. Still, the underlying mechanisms by which exercise prevents or protects against neurodegeneration remain poorly understood. But researchers at the Department of cellular and molecular medicine (University of Ottawa, Canada) were able to find out more, at least in mice. Does running promote brain repair?

Among these many benefits, we know that physical exercise promotes neurogenesis (the production of new neurons). In addition, although their role in delaying neurodegeneration is not yet clear, nerve ...

Why do we speak "baby" to dogs?

Have you ever noticed that when we speak to dogs, we often use a register very close to “baby talk?” While the reasons behind this “analogy” haven't been clearly determined, a study led by the ENES team (Sensorial Neuro-Ethology Team) provide some preliminary answers to the question: why do we use 'baby talk' with dogs?

When adults speak to infants, they generally change intonation (a higher pitch), slow their speech, and articulate vowels. These characteristics of “baby talk” have the positive effect of maintaining the infant’s engagement and attention. Moreover, speaking to babies in this register has been shown to increase their brain activity. For thousands ...

How does the brain react to being tickled?

Despite being the subject of research for the last fifteen years, tickling is still largely misunderstood and there is a certain mystery attached to this form of social contact. That’s why S .Ishiyama and M. Brecht, researchers at the Centre for Computational Neuroscience, Humboldt University Berlin, wanted to try to understand what happens in the brains of animals and humans when they are tickled. And to uncover part of the mystery of these cerebral mechanisms they started by… tickling rats!

Previous studies had shown that when rats are tickled they produce ultrasonic vocalization; in other words, they ‘laugh.’ These little cries of joy, inaudible to the human ear, ...

How long should a nap last?

The benefits of napping are well known, however a new study led by Chinese researchers at the Sleep Center at John Hopkins University, Baltimore (USA), has re-established these benefits while providing further details on the ideal length of time for a nap. To really experience the cognitive benefits of napping, nap time should be neither too long nor too short. So, what is the ideal length of time?

In this study, a team of researchers, led by Professor Junxin Li, questioned 2,974 Chinese people aged 65 years and over. Each person was asked (amongst other things) if they were used to taking an afternoon nap, and if so the average length of time. Then according to napping ...

How can our brains make us dishonest?

Once a thief always a thief. Could this proverb be true from a neuroscientific perspective? According to a team of researchers in the Experimental Psychology Department at University College London, a neuronal mechanism could be the cause for the progressive learning of dishonesty. Their study shows that, through a snowball effect, small acts of cheating could result in more significant acts of dishonesty. How does our brain learn to be dishonest?

Starting from the observation that many fraudulent acts begin as minor transgressions, Neil Garrett and colleagues attempted to empirically demonstrate this phenomenon of escalating dishonesty and explore the underlying neurological ...

Do dogs have personal memories?

Human beings have the ability to remember events they’ve experienced (date, place, emotional state), a function fulfilled by episodic memory. A group of scientists of the Department of Ethology at the University Eötvös Loránd (Budapest, Hungry) wanted to know if dogs also shared this form of memory. But how can you prove that animals have personal memories without being able to "ask" them? The researchers found the solution: Do as I do.

It may seem surprising that scientists thought it useful to prove that dogs can travel mentally in time and recall a specific event. Indeed, their behavior alone would seem to suggest that they possess this ability: for example a dog won't ...

How can we be moved by a work of art?

Has a painting ever given you a wave of emotion? Have you ever had chills from listening to a piece of music? Jean-Pierre Changeux tries to explain why we answer yes to these questions in his book La Beauté dans le cerveau (The Beauty in the Brain, Odile Jacob). Interviewed in L'Obs, the neurobiologist reviews research in the field of “art neurosciences” on understanding aesthetic emotion. So what happens in our brains when we're presented with a work of art?

The work of J.P. Changeux, an honorary professor at the Collège de France, is presented as a summary of twenty years of research, particularly on the neural mechanisms involved in aesthetic perception. When ...

Aversion to cheese: is the brain to blame?

Cheese or dessert? For most of the French population, it's not an easy choice! But while France may be the country of cheese (boasting nearly 1,600 varieties), some of its inhabitants are disgusted by it. Researchers at the Neuroscience Research Center in Lyon and the Paris-Seine Neurosciences Laboratory wanted to understand this aversion. What they found is surprising… It appears that the brains of people disgusted by cheese work differently.

So why would researchers choose cheese in order to study the phenomenon of aversion? Intuitively, the researchers figured that a fair number of people hate cheese. So they carried out a study on a sample of 332 subjects (145 men ages ...

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