Scientific News

Are crows feathered MacGyvers?

Crows are certainly fascinating creatures. In previous articles, we had the chance to highlight their impressive cognitive abilities. This new study by the Max Planck Institute of Ornithology and the Oxford University offer new evidence of these abilities by demonstrating that these birds possess a skill previously observed only in humans and great apes: the creation of compound tools. Are crows indeed as clever as MacGyver?

Previous studies have already shown that crows’ planning skills are sophisticated enough to allow them to solve puzzles in several stages and to use a tool (a stick) to obtain food. The current study investigated whether the birds could build an object ...

Why does our brain stay attentive even when we’re asleep?

We generally consider sleep as a loss of consciousness during which we stop interacting with our environment. But perhaps you’ve had the experience of falling asleep on a train or bus only to wake up just as your station is being announced. Researchers at the CNRS and ENS Paris, in collaboration with Monash University (Australia), recently showed that our brains remain attentive even during sleep. Read on to find out why.

It may not seem like we're able to perceive surrounding noises as we sleep. But previous experiments have shown that we are still able to discriminate certain sounds during sleep. For example, we’re more likely to wake up if someone says our own name rather ...

Do bees know how to add and subtract?

Bees have some new surprises in store for us! Having already proven that bees understand the concept of “zero,” the same team of scientists, from the Royal Institute of Technology at the University of Melbourne (Australia) and the CNRS Laboratory at the University of Toulouse III (France), recently showed that bees can also add and subtract. How were the researchers able to demonstrate the arithmetic skills of these insects?

A number of animals have been shown to have some understanding of numbers at a basic level. The scientific community makes a distinction between species that can discriminate quantities and those that use numerical (precise, symbolic) cognition. Numerical ...

Does believing you’re a multi-tasker improve performance?

While the “myth of multitasking” is still going strong, research has shown that we can't actually do several things at once. Our brain isn’t capable of performing various tasks in a truly simultaneous manner. Nevertheless, a study recently published in Psychological Science suggests that simply believing that we’re good at multitasking could make us more efficient. Could this “myth” have positive effects?

Whether at work or at home, we are regularly required to perform several tasks at the same time. Living in the digital age only reinforces our impression of being able to manage this “simultaneity.” For example, we can reply to an email while talking on the phone. ...

The woman who could no longer hear male voices

Imagine waking up one morning to find that you could no longer hear your partner's voice, while still perceiving all the other sounds in the house. Some people might see this as a relief and adjust easily, but for most of us, it would be quite baffling upsetting. How can hearing loss only apply to male voices? The answer can be found through this surprising clinical case.

That morning in Xiamen, a city located on the southeast coast of China, Mrs. Chen, a young woman, woke up and realized she couldn’t hear what her boyfriend was telling her. Listening to surrounding sounds, she discovered that only part of her hearing has been affected, and apparently it was her boyfriend that ...

Are fruit, veggies and orange juice good for memory?

Science regularly praises the health benefits or warns us of the dangers of consuming various foods. The same food or beverage may even be both lauded and vilified from one year to the next, and from one study to another (coffee, for example). But the results of the current study are based on data collected from a population of nearly 28,000 men over a period of 20 years. Here’s a summary of the research recently published in Neurology.

Changzheng Yuan and her colleagues at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health wanted to assess the potential link between long term fruit and vegetable consumption and subjective cognitive function (SCF). They followed 27,842 men (all ...

Can stimulating the brain alleviate chronic pain?

A great number of people suffer from lower back pain. The pain can begin at any age with peak onset occurring during adolescence or around age 45. A team of researchers from the University of North Carolina recently published a study that could prove promising in the treatment of this form of chronic pain without the need for drugs. What if targeted brain stimulation could relieve chronic back pain?

Several studies have shown that chronic pain is the leading cause of disability worldwide. According to the authors of the present study, by focusing on the peripheral causes of pain, most of these studies have overlooked the role played by brain activity in the disease. F. Fröhlich, ...

Can breathing influence memory?

We usually breathe through the nose, but switch to mouth breathing when we have a cold or during intense exercise. Swedish and Dutch scientists explored these two ways of breathing in order to determine which one was more beneficial to memory formation. Specifically, the research focused on olfactory memory consolidation.

Three main steps are involved in memory: encoding, consolidation, and retrieval. Encoding involves the ability to acquire new information from our senses. Consolidation allows us to maintain memories over time. Finally, through retrieval, we can extract and recall previously learned and stored information. Many studies have already highlighted the role of ...

Do dogs understand our words?

Many dog owners think that their dogs know what some words mean, but there really isn’t much scientific evidence to support that,” says Ashley Prichard, co-author of the study that will be discussed in this article. How can we be sure that when a dog gets excited upon hearing "rabbit," he’s really imagining the animal and understands the meaning of the word? This research conducted at Emory University in Atlanta unravels this mystery...

To the extent that canines are able to obey verbal commands, they have the ability to process certain aspects of human language. But associating a word with an action (“fetch!)” doesn’t necessarily mean the animal understands ...

Is our sense of direction related to our sense of smell?

Recent research suggests that the main purpose of olfaction may be to help us navigate. According to this “olfactory spatial hypothesis,” our sense of smell may have evolved to help us locate ourselves in space. With this in mind, a Canadian study sought to explore the link between our ability to identify odors and our spatial memory. It was an opportunity to find out whether having a highly developed sense of smell could help us find our bearings...

While not all animals are able to see and hear, most use smells to orient themselves, find food, and avoid predators. In addition, scientists have already found that in mammals, birds, reptiles, and fish, the size of the olfactory ...

Ever heard of "cute aggression?"

“Oh, what a cute baby!” Have you noticed that some people (perhaps you yourself?) can't help pinching the cheeks of an infant they find really adorable? This phenomenon, known as “cute aggression,” is defined as a need to pinch, squeeze or even bite cute beings, without any desire to harm. Two researchers from the University of California at Riverside wanted to better understand this behavior by studying the underlying neural basis.

The "cute aggression” phenomenon was initially highlighted in a study by Aragón et al. (2015) that involved individual self-evaluations using images of baby humans and animals. The behavior was discussed as being the dimorphic ...

Is the smell of lavender relaxing?

Aside from those with allergies, most people enjoy the smell of lavender. Found on terraces, in gardens, in cosmetic products and detergents, this plant may soon be found in hospitals as well. Before beginning any tests in humans, Japanese researchers studied its anxiolytic properties in mice in order to determine whether the smell of lavender could be effective in treating anxiety.

As the authors remind us in the introduction of their article published in Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, along with pharmaceutical anxiolytic drugs, aromatic oils derived from plant extracts are already used in traditional medicine to treat anxiety. These extracts include linalool, a ...

Do cats understand physics ?

In our newsletters, we sometimes report on dogs, crows, or even sea snails, but we rarely mention cats. Let’s rectify this oversight by looking at some Japanese research published in Animal Cognition, which highlights their ability to (humbly) understand some basic laws of physics, first documented by the likes of Newton and Einstein.

In their previous work, S. Takagi and her colleagues from the department of psychology at the University of Kyoto (Japan) showed that, using their hearing, cats could predict the presence of an invisible object. This ability to understand the principle of cause (sound) and effect (material presence) can be attributed to their sharp hearing. ...

How many faces can one person recognize?

You've probably never asked yourself this question, but no matter, science is here to answer it anyway! Indeed, our facial recognition abilities allow us to identify a great number of people. But just how many? Research published in Acts of the Royal Society B looked into the question and proposed a method for putting forth the following estimate: 5000. Let’s take a closer look.

As a prelude to their study, the authors remind us that for most of history, humans have lived in small, scattered groups. But over the last few centuries, the worldwide population has increased dramatically, and this has consequences on our facial recognition capacities. In addition to all the ...

Using crows for litter clean-up

You may know the story of the crow and the pitcher… but in this study the crows are carrying cigarette butts instead of pebbles! Through this article, we’ll revisit this ancient fable with a modern twist. In previous newsletters, we’ve had a chance to highlight the crow’s intelligence, particularly its ability to plan ahead. But believe it or not, since August 13, 2018, six of these birds have been collecting cigarette butts and other trash at the Puy de Fou amusement park in France. How is this possible?

Former research on crows has shown that they are capable of making and using tools to obtain food. They are also capable of holding a grudge and can remember when a human ...

Can electric current make us good at math?

What if instead of giving schoolchildren hours of seemingly irrelevant math problems to solve, we equipped them with an electrode helmet that delivers (for a good cause) small electric shocks? Rest assured, this isn’t about to happen yet! But this experiment did take place, and it appears to be effective. Let’s take a look at this research that’s come back onto the scientific scene several years after its initial publication.

Until now, the benefits of non-invasive brain stimulation on cognitive function have often been deduced from behavioral observations and by carrying out basic tasks. In the present study, the team of researchers from Oxford University (UK) used ...

Why don’t soccer fans see the same match?

You’ll likely agree that criticizing the calls made by the referee is quite common among soccer fans. Team A’s fans think that the guy in black hasn’t called enough fouls against the players of the opposing team, and the same goes for Team B’s fans! British researchers have taken a closer look into this phenomenon. Using brain imaging, they tried to explain how fans can have such widely diverging opinions on the same match.

The study carried out by Timothy J. Andrews and his colleagues at the University of York’s Department of Psychology wanted to explore the neural basis of these group differences under natural conditions. The aim was to determine whether these ...

How does our brain suppress the desire for revenge?

Who wants to play the “Inequality game?” The winner is whoever succeeds in causing a feeling of injustice (and therefore anger) in his or her opponents. Several participants tested out this rather original “game” as part of a Swiss study. The experiment aimed to better understand the cerebral mechanisms that underlie anger and the desire to punish those responsible for putting us in this state. Discover how our brain manages to control its desire for revenge…

Few studies have investigated the neuronal functions involved in disassociating angry feelings from the regulation of aggressive reactions (responses or punitive behaviors). As specified by the study’s authors, ...

Why does the brain become more efficient during adolescence?

Adolescence… we’ve all lived through this period characterized by profound physical, emotional, and cognitive changes… a period that’s also marked by a great potential for neuroplasticity. To shine greater light on brain development during this period, researchers at the University of Oslo (Norway) studied fMRI data from more than 700 people. Read on to discover the changes that take place in a teenager’s brain.

To characterize age-related differences in functional connectivity in the adolescent brain, Norwegian researchers studied fMRI data recorded during a state of rest and during a cognitive task designed to solicit working memory. The data came from a previous ...

Can a poorly knotted tie be dangerous to your health?

Has the tie become a dangerous gift to give to a man? We’re not talking about whether it’s his style, but indeed whether it poses a real danger to his health. Neurologists at the Schleswig-Holstein University Hospital in Germany conducted a study to evaluate the effects of this clothing accessory on the brain. Can wearing a tie really be dangerous?

“The knot is to the tie as the brain is to the man,” said François de La Rochefoucauld. But you still have to know how to tie it! The Windsor knot (the most common) was chosen for the study reported here. The German researchers recruited 30 young men and divided them into two groups: “necktie” and “no necktie.” ...

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