Scientific News

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 ...

Why do young children prefer flawless heroes?

Young children love Manichaean worlds where the lives of archetypal characters (real good and real evil) unfold and where doubts, temptations and cracks are forbidden. In stories, good guys should only do good and bad guys should only do evil. In a study published in Psychological Science, the authors explain the reasons behind this preference for perfect heroes; and much of the explanation comes from understanding brain development in children. To what extend does the brain play a role in how children perceive a character?

Christina Starmans and Paul Bloom, researchers in the Department of Psychology at Yale wanted to study how children perceived inner moral conflicts. To do ...

Can a pinch of cinnamon stimulate your brain?

Prized for its delicious scent, cinnamon holds a prominent place amongst spices with known health benefits. Rich in antioxidants, it is also known for its antispasmodic (also supports digestion), antiviral and antiseptic properties. After a recent American study, this natural spice can also boast positive effects on memory and brain plasticity among its many benefits. How did researchers reveal cinnamon's ability to boost memory capacity, promote learning, and limit cognitive decline?

To study the potential impact of cinnamon on the brain, researchers from Rush University and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Chicago tested rats by placing food at the exit to a maze. This ...

What can yawning tell us about the brain?

Seven seconds: the average length of a human yawn. While you've probably never had the urge to time the ‘activity’ yourself, after reading this article, you may change your mind... Indeed, researchers from the psychology department at the New York State University at Oneonta had the absurd idea of comparing the length of yawns in different mammals. And they discovered a surprising connection to the brain… so what does yawning tell us?

A powerful opening of the jaw, inhalation, a brief period of intense muscular contraction and a passive closing of the jaw with a short exhalation. That’s the definition of a yawn. Although the purpose of yawning has never been clearly ...

Can primates help us better understand OCD?

Check to make sure the front door is locked, look to see if your cell phone is in your purse, make sure the keys to the car are in your pocket, recheck the front door... We pay little attention to these daily micro-tasks, but some French researchers at the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) wanted to understand them better by studying primate brains. What are the brain mechanisms used in these micro-checks?

For the purposes of the study published in the journal Nature Communications, a group of researchers from the Stem Cell and Brain Institute (SBRI) attached electrodes to monkeys in order to record their brain activity. More precisely, Emmanuel Procyk ...

Is late retirement the secret to long life?

While there’s much debate about retirement age, research conducted by Chenkai Wu, a doctoral student in public health at the University of Oregon has shown that pushing back retirement age could increase life expectancy. The researcher explained his work during an interview with Nicole Torres for the Harvard Business Review (HBR) in October 2016. Why would ‘late’ retirement have an impact on longevity?

Working with professors Robert Stawski and Michelle Odden (University of Oregon), along with Gwenith Fisher (University of Colorado), C. Wu based his research on a longitudinal study (carried out between 1992 and 2010) on health and retirement. The study evaluated 2,956 ...

How does hypnosis affect the brain?

You are getting sleepy, very sleepy… Besides these ‘entertaining,' spectacular, and often funny (but equally frightening) aspects, hypnosis is also a real medical approach used to reduce pain or as a cure for phobias. But hypnosis remains an enigma. A study published in the British review Cerebral Cortex is helping to uncover part of the mystery. So what happens in the brain during hypnosis?

For their study, researchers from Stanford first gave a test to 545 students and then selected 57 for further experimentation. Among them, 36 were considered to be easily hypnotizable, while the others (n=21) were considered to be insensitive to hypnosis. According to psychologist and ...

A new map of the brain unveiled

Until today, 83 brain areas had been identified. You can now double this number because we’ve just discovered 97 others! It goes to show that the brain hasn’t finished revealing all of its mysteries. Scientists have taken yet another step toward understanding its complexity. The new map of the brain has just been published in Nature. How did researchers come upon this major neurobiological discovery?

To develop this new brain map, the research team of neurologists, engineers and computer scientists used data from the Human Connectome Project, a huge program in which highly sophisticated scanners recorded the brain activity of 1200 participants. With this partnership, the ...

How do you explain a false scare?

You’re calmly walking along in the forest and all of the sudden you jump and scream at the sight of a snake... that is actually only a stick. It’s this type of split-second reaction that an international team of scientists wanted to study, under the hypothesis that the fear response could be activated in our brains even before we’re aware of what triggered it. What happens in our heads? Let’s find out.

To explain the “false scare,” neurobiologist Constantino Méndez-Bértolo and colleagues from the universities of Madrid and Geneva (the study was directed by researchers at the Campus de Excelencia Internaciol Moncloa) hypothesized (on the basis of a previous study ...

How do horses communicate with humans?

Just as dogs can attract our attention to direct us to their empty food bowl, horses can also look to humans when they have a “problem,” as if to request our help. Rachel Malavasi and Ludwig Huber decided to find out more about “referential heterospecific communication” in domestic horses; that is, their capacity to communicate information about their environment. How do horses try to talk to us? To find out more read on.

This research was jointly led by a cognitive researcher at the Study Center for Ethical Equitation, Moncigoli Di Fivizzano, Italy, and a professor at the University of Veterinary Medicine of Vienna, Austria. The results were published in the review ...

When your right hand doesn't agree with your left…

blocking the movement and forcing you to turn right! This was a frustrating reality for one atypical patient whose case was presented in the online review Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. The patient, who was followed by a medical team in Marseille, was suffering from diagonistic dyspraxia or a conflict between his right and his left hand. But what made his case unique?

These types of behavior, also known as ‘diagonistics’, are principally observed in epileptic patients who have undergone surgery to sever the corpus callosum either partially or completely. This operation is usually used to treat refractory epilepsy by stopping interference between the left and the ...

How a baby's cry affects the adult brain

When a baby cries we react quickly to the needs of the child. A team of researchers from the University of Toronto and the National Institute for child health and human development (Maryland) studied the effects of infant vocalizations on adult cognitive performance. What happens to the brain when a new born baby laughs or cries?

While the majority of publications have emphasized the role of the baby’s face as a powerful means of attracting adult attention, the sounds of a baby’s cry are also significant. The acoustics of a baby’s cry trigger vigilance, and research on brain imagery shows that infant vocalizations activate cortical regions affecting cognitive control ...

Who wants new neurons?

It’s the beginning of a new school year and time to make some new resolutions, so we wanted to share with you the major principles behind enhancing neuron growth. According to Professor Pierre-Marie Lledo, head of the department of neuroscience at the Pasteur Institute, we all have the capacity to enhance our neuron growth regardless of our age. Here are the six main rules stated during the colloquium S3 Odeon.

1. Avoid routine

New neurons are only produced when we try out new activities. Change is a stimulant for neurogenesis. Motivation, a motor for learning, stimulates and solicits the brain, which in turn forces stem cells to produce ...

Live a normal life with only 10 per cent of your brain?!

While the astonishing case of a French man living a normal life despite having lost 90% of his brain was first reported in 2007 in the journal The Lancet, the story is resurfacing as part of the international conference of the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness. The portrait of this unusual subject was presented during the event, provoking new questions amongst the scientific community. How can a human lead a normal life with only 10% of his brain? The specialist Axel Cleeremans from the Université Libre de Bruxelles sheds light on the question.

Listening to Cleeremans paint the portrait of the patient during the conference held in June in Buenos Aires, one ...

Why are birds so smart?

Scientists have long questioned the cognitive abilities of birds in relation to their tiny brain size; in certain areas they resemble or even outperform mammals. A new study carried out by researchers from the Universities of Prague, Vienna, and Rio de Janeiro has revealed how birds are able to perform such cognitive feats with brains the size of a walnut. What if Hitchcock were right?

Among birds, corvids (crows, magpies, and jays for example) and parrots appear to be cognitively superior; they may even rival the great apes. They are able to make and use tools, understand cause and effect mechanisms (in both directions), recognize themselves in a mirror, plan for future ...

What do text messages do to our brain?

New neurological evidence highlighting the dangers of texting while driving has recently been published in Epilepsy & Behavior. Scientists at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and the University of Florida have revealed a new dynamic in the brain that they’ve termed “texting rhythm.” What exactly is our brain doing as we’re writing an SMS?

To study how writing text messages impacts brain dynamics, the team of neuropathologists evaluated data from 129 patients (53 of whom suffered from seizures). The participants were monitored over a period of 16 months and were invited to perform different types of activities: sending SMS, performing cognitive, attention, and ...

Why does our brain disconnect when we sleep?

On the train, at the beach, in front of the television... we've all experienced that moment when sleep starts to come over us: we slowly lose consciousness of our surroundings. And as we dive into the arms of Morpheus, our senses diminish; and then there's nothing. Thomas Andrillon and his colleagues studied this loss of contact with the environment. Why does the brain isolate itself during sleep?

Sleep is characterized by a loss of behavioral responsiveness. Until now, scientists weren’t able to determine exactly how neuronal activity could limit the ability to process sensory information as we sleep. In order to study this “disconnection” by the brain, a team of ...

Does chocolate make the brain more efficient?

While we may be familiar with chocolate and especially dark chocolate’s positive effect on stress; its effects on cognitive performance were little known… until now. Sweet tooths will have something to be happy about because this recent study published in the medical journal Appetite showed that the regular consumption of chocolate helps fight cognitive decline. So how is it good for our brain?

The study carried out by Georgina E. Crichton at the Nutritional Physiology Research Centre (University of South Australia), in collaboration with the psychology department, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and Engineering at the University of Maine (USA), and the ...

Why are movies scary?

The shark draws near… [music from Jaws]. Janet Leigh takes her shower and a shadow appears behind the curtain… [music from Psycho]. The teenager Regan contorts, writhing back in forth more than is humanly possible [music from The Exorcist]. We as viewers are in no danger, yet these scenes frighten us. How is that we forget it’s only cinema? Read on to learn why.

Rather than questioning the nature of emotions elicited by the film, as philosophers might do (are they real emotions?), Olivier Koenig, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University Lumière Lyon 2 (France), would rather explore the emotional mechanisms. According to the researcher, one of the central ...

Is encouraging small children good for brain development?

“Stop babying him!” “Let him do it himself!” What about encouraging and reassuring young children instead? According to a study carried out at the University of Washington and published in PNAS, very young children who have been supported, praised and coddled by their mother have brains that are better structured for learning and for handling stressful situations later on. To what extent does maternal support, beginning in childhood, influence a child's brain development?

Aside from a few mentions in longitudinal studies, the effects of positive maternal support have not been demonstrated in humans (though it has been shown in animals, particularly rats. Determining ...

Could seafood help maintain your memory?

Summer is here... For those of you who are lucky enough to be on the beach, you might take the opportunity to enjoy some seafood. Well don’t hold yourself back! According to a recent study published in the medical journal Neurology, oysters, whelks, shrimp, and other seafood are beneficial to cognitive health, especially in the elderly. What are the benefits of eating seafood?

In their research, scientists from the medical center at Rush University (United States), and Wageningen University (the Netherlands) monitored 915 volunteers (average age: 81.4 years; 25% men) over the course of 5 years, regularly subjecting them to cognitive tests (19 in all) in order to analyze the ...

How can the "first night effect" be explained?

We may be in the most peaceful room with the most comfortable bedding, but for some reason when we sleep in an unfamiliar place, our sleep is often less than optimal. This phenomenon, known as the “first night effect," is very common. Researchers at the Department of Cognitive Science, Linguistics, and Psychology at Brown University appear to have solved the mystery. What causes us to have fitful sleep during the first night in an unfamiliar environment?

Trouble falling asleep and micro-awakenings, a decrease in REM sleep: we’ve all experienced these characteristics of fragmented sleep the first time we sleep in a new vacation rental or at a friend’s house. Until the ...

Can music help young children speak?

The triple meter of that waltz may be beneficial to your baby. In any case, it’s one of the types of music that a team of researchers from the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington used in order to highlight the positive effects of early music education on speech development in young children. How can music help them acquire language? Let’s take a look at the research!

In their study, T. Christina Zhao and Patricia K. Kuhl wanted to determine whether music games could facilitate speech development in infants. 20 9-month old babies were taught to reproduce musical rhythms and were compared with 19 other babies of the same age who were ...

How did "The Voice" inspire a new unique method for learning neurology?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016. Charcot Amphitheater, Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, Paris. The candidates are waiting backstage, the jury is ready. It’s the final of a somewhat special competition, initiated by neurology professor Emmanuel Flamand-Roze: “We copied part of the scenario from the show “The Voice” and we applied it to learning neurology, particularly neurological semiology." Interviewed that very morning on Europe 1, he explained the premise behind of "The Move," his “reality medicine” contest.

The idea for "The Move” came from two observations. First, students are becoming increasingly weary of typical classroom arrangements (lectures in an amphitheater). ...

Drawing is memorizing!

Did you forget to buy the milk? But you wrote it on a post-it and stuck it on the fridge! If you had drawn a milk carton, maybe it would be sitting in the fridge right now… Indeed, according to a study carried out by Canadian researchers, drawing the thing we want to memorize is more effective than writing its name. Jeffrey D. Wammes, Melissa E. Meade, and Myra A. Fernandes demonstrated that drawn information is better memorized than written information. Why do we retain images better than words?

In order to compare memorization by drawing versus writing, the researchers from the University of Waterloo (Canada) implemented 7 protocols.

In experiments 1 and 2, ...

How did a quadriplegic man regain control of his hand?

Six years after a diving accident left him paralyzed from the shoulders down, Ian Burkhart, a young American man, can now perform complex movements with his right hand using a microchip implanted in his brain. In this study published in Nature, the researchers explain that he is now able to grasp objects and even stir his coffee. But how could this promising first success be possible?

Ian Burkhart was a 19 year-old student when he broke his neck diving in shallow water, leaving him quadriplegic. When Chad E. Bouton's team at the Feinstein Institute for medical research asked him to participate in a study aiming to restore his lost motor functions, Ian seized the opportunity. ...

What does the brain tell us about our generosity?

Our generosity may be motivated in two ways: we can give out of empathy (to someone who has deeply touched us, for example) or out of reciprocity (to someone who has done us a favor). A team of psychologists and neuroscientists led by Grit Hein and Ernst Fehr at the University of Zurich has managed to distinguish these two types of motivation for giving by using brain imaging. How are compassion and gratitude seen in the brain?

In psychology, motivation is considered to be independent from human behavior. These mental constructions cannot be directly observed. As a result, they are generally deduced from individual behavior. But different motives can lead to an identical ...

Could stimulating the senses help comatose patients recover?

Under the leadership of Dr. Karine Diserens, a unique facility has been created within the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois (Switzerland): the Acute Neurorehabilitation Unit, which is dedicated to the stimulation of patients awakening from a coma. Since its inauguration in 2011, the center has used sensorineural therapy in its treatment. Indeed, certain coma patients can show signs of life when presented with water, smells and other elements. So how does the unconventional neurologist Karin Diserens and her team do it?

It was during the summer of 2014 that the Acute Neurorehabilitation Unit was given an opportunity to see its work in the limelight. It was at this ...

Are blonde jokes a thing of the past?

Blonde jokes may very well disappear after this study. As crazy and perhaps unnecessary as it may seem, this study demonstrates that blonde women aren’t any less intelligent than brunettes and redheads. The study carried out by Jay L. Jagorsky at the University of Ohio, developed in order to fight discrimination, has demonstrated that blondes may actually have higher IQs than others. Let’s take a closer look…

The research published in Economics Bulletin was initiated to address the problem of discrimination based on appearance and its significant economic consequences. Blonde women are often the victim of negative stereotypes (stupidity, naiveté, incompetence). These ...

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