Scientific News

Dog versus cat: who is the smartest?

Just to be clear from the start: there is no objective measure of intelligence. But an international team of researchers has come up with a method to quantify the number of brain neurons, particularly in the cerebral cortex, in various carnivorous species. Starting from the premise of “the higher the number of neurons, the smarter the animal,” the scientists were able to determine which of the two was smarter: cats or dogs?

Carnivores were chosen as the subjects for this neuroanatomy study for two reasons: the wide range of their brain sizes, and the fact that they come in both wild and domesticated varieties. Indeed, for S. Herculano-Houzel (Vanderbilt University, Nashville) ...

Can meditation slow brain aging?

Meditation has already been shown to reduce stress, anxiety and improve sleep quality. While proof of the positive effects of meditation on brain aging is limited, a recent pilot study, conducted by INSERM researchers, promises to provide just this. The participants in this study included a famous Tibetan Buddhist monk, Matthieu Ricard. What if meditating could protect our brain from the effects of age?

In 2015, a study from the University of Los Angeles highlighted the benefits of meditative techniques on the functioning and even the structure of the brain, in subjects aged 24 to 77 years. Based on the observation that physiological changes related to aging can be accelerated by ...

Can the mind be located in the brain?

Since Descartes' Error (Odile Jacob, 1995), the world-renowned neuroscientist Antonio Damasio has argued for the primordial role of emotions and feelings in cognitive processes. In an interview with LesEchos.fr about the release of his latest book The Strange Order of Things (2017), Damasio, who directs the Brain and Creativity Institute (Los Angeles), offers us the keys to his theory on the emergence and functioning of the mind.

Antonio Damasio is convinced that the mind is not purely cerebral, but also bodily, because “it is not only a product of the brain but also of its interaction with the body." Here's a quantifiable example (among others): if you placed all ...

Are dogs trying to communicate through facial expressions?

Imagine that the look of a guilty dog (you know, the one he uses when you scold him) wasn’t just a simple demonstration of emotion, but also represented a desire to communicate? A team of researchers from the University of Portsmouth (United Kingdom) wanted to explore canine facial expressions. Couldn't they be attempts to communicate with humans?

As the authors remind us in the introduction to their study, “it has long been assumed that animal facial expressions, including some human facial expressions, are involuntary and dependent on an individual's emotional state rather than being flexible responses to the audience.” But research has shown that primates (orangutan, ...

Do green spaces promote cognitive development?

While green spaces reduce exposure to urban pollution (atmospheric, visual and sound), we know far less about the positive role they can play in brain development. A recent longitudinal study evaluated the attentional skills of Spanish children ages 4-5 and 7 years who had always lived near green spaces. Does living near greenery improve attention?

Until now, there was limited evidence of the virtues of long-term exposure to green spaces on cognitive development, often due to a failure to integrate prenatal and postnatal exposure into the assessment. To correct this, the present study was part of a longitudinal perspective based on data from two well-established birth cohorts, ...

Does reading aloud improve memorization?

From his prison cell, Flaubert put his writings to the test by reading them aloud. In doing so, he hoped to verify and improve the precision of his prose. In addition to this literary use, reading aloud is often used in the classroom to ensure that students can sound out words correctly and read fluently. A recent study which appeared in the journal Memory has just demonstrated another benefit of reading aloud. What if reading aloud was more effective than silent reading in helping us to memorize words?

Many cognitive psychology experiments have already shown that if we do something ourselves when learning a skill, it strengthens memory encoding of the new information. Taking ...

Is it good to have a wandering mind?

Reading this article will undoubtedly free certain readers of their guilt... There’s no denying it, all of us have caught ourselves daydreaming during a meeting at one time or another, right? Well, that may not necessarily be a bad thing! A study published in Neuropsychologia shows that having a wandering mind may actually be quite productive. What if the greatest daydreamers were also more efficient and creative than the rest of us?

While most of us spend part of our waking moments lost in thought, we accord little importance to this activity. According to J. Singer, a professor of psychology at Yale, we must distinguish two types of daydreaming that we experience at varying ...

Can sheep recognize Barack Obama?

In addition to humans, we often discuss the cognitive capacities of ravens and chimpanzees in our newsletters. Well for this newsletter, we thought it was high time to take a look at sheep! A research team at Cambridge University (England) recently tested sheep’s ability to recognize famous human faces using photographs. Were the sheep able to identify Emma Watson and Barack Obama?

Several studies have shown that, just like rhesus macaques, horses, dogs, and mocking birds, sheep have the ability to recognize both other sheep as well as familiar human faces. Yet we knew very little about their overall ability to recognize faces. To learn more, researchers from the Departments of ...

Can happy music make you more creative?

For years, research in neuroscience and psychology has shown the virtues of music for the brain, particularly in terms of memory, attention, and learning. A recent study, conducted jointly in the Netherlands and Australia looked into the positive effect of happy music on people's creative potential. What if listening to a piece of joyful music could help us find innovative and original solutions?

As Simone Ritter (Radboud University, the Netherlands) and Sam Ferguson (University of Sydney, Australia) point out: “Creativity can be considered one of the key competencies for the twenty-first century.” So it seems important for us to be able to study how to foster and improve it. ...

How can we get a better look at how babies brains work?

Until now, if you wanted to study how babies' brains functioned and developed, there was no alternative to magnetic resonance imaging. Unfortunately, putting babies in an MRI machine and keeping them still isn’t exactly easy. But a French team has just developed a new ultrasound neuroimaging technique. How is this scientific innovation going to revolutionize the way we observe babies’ neuronal activity?

Even today, apart from data from neuroimaging and electroencephalography (which doesn't produce functional images), "we're completely in the dark when it comes to brain activity and development in babies,” says Mickael Tanter (who led the research team). Moreover, with very ...

Is it possible to locate Christmas spirit in the brain?

Holly, turkey, chocolates, presents, reindeer, snow… Ah the magic of Christmas! But some people don’t enjoy this time of year and appear to be entirely lacking in "Christmas spirit." Until now, the phenomenon had escaped the scientific radar. But Danish researchers decided to conduct a (both serious and facetious) study to detect the "Magic of Christmas" in the human brain. What happens in the brains of Christmas addicts?

In order to locate “Christmas spirit" in the brain, researchers from the Departments of Neurology and Clinical Physiology, and Nuclear Medicine (University of Copenhagen, Denmark) compared a group of 10 people (8 men and 2 women) that had been celebrating ...

Can a chimpanzee learn to play rock-paper-scissors?

After watching all of the Planet of the Apes films, we noticed something disturbing: we never see primates playing rock-paper-scissors! And yet, they’re perfectly capable of playing. A recent study carried out by the University of Kyoto (Japan) and Beijing (China) shows that chimpanzees can learn to play this game and master it as well as a four year-old child. Read on to learn more about this discovery.

The study, published in the journal Primates, aimed to determine whether chimpanzees could learn and master a "transverse" task. Rock-paper-scissors is the perfect game because it implements so-called circular relationships between three elements: the flat hand (paper) covers ...

How can a big scare lead to nightmares?

Have you ever had a nightmare after experiencing a particularly frightening event during the day? Researchers from the New York University Neuroscience Institute studied the mechanisms behind this process of emotional memory reactivation. In their experiment, they exposed rats to a harmless experience with the help of a keyboard cleaner. So why do we have nightmares after experiencing a frightening situation?

Just like humans, rats also store what are known as cognitive maps. The term was introduced in 1948 by E.C. Tolman who argued that rodents didn't just learn responses (turn right or left, go up or down), but were capable of building mental maps of their environment; in other ...

Is face recognition innate?

In humans and primates, the ability to recognize faces has long been considered to be innate. This means that, from birth, the brain is “naturally” able to identify faces. But this innate view has been called into question by a recent study carried out by Harvard Medical School and published in Nature Neuroscience. What if facial recognition was actually a product of experience?

Studies on primate brain development indicate that the clusters of neurons responsible for facial recognition develop in the superior temporal sulcus at about 200 days. The region appears in various species of primates as well as humans. To better understand how the ability to recognize faces ...

Why is dancing good for the brain?

As dictated by the eternal David Bowie, “Let’s Dance." And he’s right to encourage us to practice this art that’s not only good for the body… but also for the brain. Indeed, a recent study carried out by a German team of scientists has recently shown the benefits of dance on mental health, particularly in the elderly. And you don’t have to be a terrific dancer to enjoy the benefits! Why is dancing so good for our brains?

For their longitudinal study published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, the scientists examined the effects of regular dance practice on brain structure and function along with motor and cognitive performance and compared them with ...

Can ravens plan?

Grabbing an umbrella as we walk out the door demands a type of planning that requires us to be able to remove ourselves from the current situation (it’s not raining right now…) To project into the future (...but it might rain). This is based on elaborate cognitive skills that, up until now, were thought to only exist in humans and great apes. But a new study shows that ravens may also be capable of organizing by thinking about the future. How did the scientists make this surprising discovery?

Whether preparing dinner or a business plan, planning involves anticipating events and making decisions based on this "analysis." While this ability is specific to humans, several studies ...

Why do certain songs give us the chills?

Personally, I get the chills every time I hear One by U2 or (in a totally different genre) Nessun Dorma sung by Pavarotti. Do you ever get goose bumps when listening to a piece of music? If you do, your brain may be "unique." Indeed, a recent study carried out by the University of Southern California indicates that people who vibrate in unison with music may have an increased capacity for feeling intense emotions. How does music affect the brain?

As a prelude to their research, Matthew Sachs and his colleagues at the Brain & Creativity Institute remind us that the emotions provoked by an esthetic piece of work activate the same reward network in the brain that responds to the ...

Are questions with gestures more effective?

While gestures vary between individuals and cultures, it's natural to gesticulate while speaking. More and more studies are looking into how these non-verbal signals affect our understanding. Do gestures facilitate or hinder comprehension? To shed light on the matter, a new Dutch study aims to demonstrate the positive effects of gestures when asking someone a question. How can adding gestures to a question make the interaction more effective?

Oral communication is multimodal; it simultaneously solicits several semiotic systems: verbal (all of the areas related to “language": phonological, lexical, morphosyntactic, etc.), but also non-verbal (kinesics and proxemics) and ...

Is expensive wine really better?

Quality undoubtedly comes at a price. But we also know that prices can influence our perception of a product. Studies have shown that the same product can be perceived differently depending on its price. This is called the “marketing placebo effect.” A new study published in Scientific Reports explains the role played by the brain in these sorts of price biases. How can the same person judge the same wine differently simply by changing the price?

Previous work carried out by the Franco-German research team (the Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory / Economic Decision-Making group in Paris and the Center for Economics and Neuroscience in Bonn) showed that the price of a product ...

Does being bilingual increase your brain capacity?

Over the past several years, J.M. Annoni, a neurologist and professor at the University of Friborg (Switzerland), has conducted studies on the effects of bilingualism on the brain. In an interview published in the Swiss journal Le Matin, the specialist in language development shed light on the impact of second language acquisition and learning on the brain. How is the brain able to manage two (or more) languages?

The studies carried out by J.M. Annoni show just how flexible our brain can be, choosing between different strategies according to the context in which it is solicited. For example, a perfectly bilingual individual will tend to develop two ocular “reading modes” ...

Can seeds decide for themselves when to sprout?

It’s generally accepted that seed germination is based on external factors such as humidity, temperature, and light. The chemical reactions caused by these stimuli affect the length of seed dormancy. But what if the seed itself decided when the time was right for germination? A study published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) tells us more about this possibility, implying that plants may have "brains."

The research team, composed of researchers from the School of Biosciences (University of Birmingham, United Kingdom) and the Department of Cell and Systems Biology (University of Toronto, Canada), wanted to better understand the mechanisms used by the ...

Does being generous make us happier?

Be generous, it will make you happy! This could be the conclusion of a study carried out by an international team of neurobiologists from the universities of Lübeck (Germany), Chicago (United States), and Zurich (Switzerland). Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the researchers discovered a neural link between generosity and happiness. How were they able to isolate this relationship in the brain?

Among the studies seeking to uncover the motives for generous behavior, it’s undoubtedly those in psychology that, since the year 2000, have put forward the most interesting hypothesis: what if altruism and generosity made us happy? While the positive emotion induced by generous ...

Right eye or left eye? Which do you prefer?

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” as the saying goes. Who would have thought this old proverb could be so true? Imagine you’re about to gaze upon a famous painting. Which eye would you use? Except for those of us who are ambidextrous, each of us is either right or left-handed. But this form of laterality doesn’t just apply to our hands and feet, it’s also true for the eyes. Why do we have a dominant eye?

Unless you practice archery or another precision sport, or if you’ve ever needed to look through a keyhole, it's unlikely you're aware of which eye is dominant. But if you have a tendency to favor your right hand or right foot in various activities, the same is ...

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 ...

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