Scientific News

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 ...

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 ...

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