Scientific News

Who wants to play hide and seek with rats?

“There are all these YouTube videos from pet owners that say their animals love to do this.” That’s how neuroscientist Michael Brecht of the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience at the University of Humboldt in Berlin got the idea of teaching rats to play hide and seek. See how this both absurd and fascinating study managed to shed light on rats’ cognitive abilities.

To accomplish their goal of studying the behavior of these rodents while at play, the research team transformed their laboratory into a playground. In the first case, a member of the team placed a rat in a closed box and hid. The scientist then opened the box using a remote control… and ...

Are laugh tracks really effective?

Why did the smartphone need glasses? Because it lost all of its contacts! [laughter…?]. This is one of 40 jokes of its kind used in a study on the effectiveness of canned laughter. You may not have found the joke made earlier very funny, but you might have laughed at it anyway had it been followed by recorded laughter. Read on for the results of this more-serious-than-it-seems research on humor sensitivity, particularly in autistics.

As the study’s authors point out, recorded laughter (live or pre-recorded) was introduced to remind listeners and viewers that they were watching humorous programming and to make them feel like they were part of the audience. Are you ...

Is tea good for the brain?

Tea or coffee? According to this article, we should probably be switching to tea… The present study conducted by Chinese and British researchers uses brain imaging data for the first time to explore the effects of tea on the brain, particularly on the connections between brain regions. Is drinking tea regularly beneficial for cognition?

As the authors point out in the preamble of their article (published in the journal Aging), previous studies have already highlighted the fact that tea consumption could be beneficial for health, including improving mood, preventing cardiovascular disease, and reducing the risks of cognitive decline. The virtues of tea stem primarily from its ...

Will students soon be graded using a neural test?

Traditionally, student knowledge has been evaluated using written or oral exams. But imagine if teachers could use another measure to determine to what extent a student understands the concept they’re teaching. How might that be possible? By observing students’ brain activity, and giving them a “neural score,” the study we’re about to explore promises to revolutionize the way we teach.

Researchers at Dartmouth College and Harvard University started from a simple assumption: when an individual acquires new knowledge, it has to be represented somewhere in the brain. If this is the case, these representations should be illustrated through new patterns of brain activity. The ...

Can animals reduce stress in students?

Between classes, exams and the stresses of everyday life (bills, shopping, cleaning…), going to school can be very stressful. In the United States, a unique approach to stress prevention has been warmly accepted: inviting students to pet animals. A recent study from the University of Washington has highlighted some promising results.

During past decade, American students have reported increasing levels of stress. Implemented in almost 1,000 university campuses to date, the “Pet your stress away” campaign offers students the chance to pet dogs and cats for 5 to 45 minutes in small groups. While the program’s soothing effects have already been noted in previous research, ...

How much time should we spend in nature to improve well-being?

It’s a fact: spending time in nature is beneficial to both our physical and psychological health. But is there a minimum threshold for obtaining a significant positive effect? This was the question raised by a team of researchers from the University of Exeter (England). Through their very large-scale study, they were able to determine the “minimum weekly dose of nature” we should all be taking.

Many studies report improvement in health and well-being when we spend time in natural environments (forests, parks, beaches, etc.). Although evidence varies (in quantity and quality) depending on the research, living in “greener” urban areas is regularly associated with a lower ...

Are emotions contagious in crows, too?

Another study on crows! It’s true, these birds never cease to fascinate scientists. In this latest episode, you’ll discover how researchers tested a psychological phenomenon known as “emotional contagion” in these birds. Here’s the question they wanted to answer: can crows transmit a bad mood ?

In cognitive science, a person’s ability to attribute mental states (emotions, intentions, desire…) to others or to themselves is known as “theory of mind.” This human ability makes our social relationships more effective. For example, we can quickly detect sadness in another individual simply through their facial expressions. Moreover, one person’s emotions can be quickly ...

Does sleeping make us more creative?

Fifteen years before his hit movie Sink or Swim, Gilles Lelouche co-directed his first feature film: Narco. In this comedy, Guillaume Canet plays a character suffering from narcolepsy, which at first glance appears to be a handicap. But the young man comes to realize that the condition also gives him an incredibly vivid imagination that turns his dreams into story books. In line with this scenario, a study recently carried out on narcoleptic subjects suggests a link between sleep and creative abilities.

Few studies have attempted to unravel the mystery of sleep as a “creative muse,” though some have shown the role of REM sleep in creativity. This sleep phase could ...

Do office temperatures affect cognitive performance?

It’s summer and temperatures are on the rise. Sometimes the heat makes us feel less “productive,” or like we’re moving in “slow motion.” A German-American study recently looked at the effects of temperature variation on cognitive performance in men and women. Who performs better when the mercury climbs above 90°?

As Tom Y. Chang (a researcher at the Marshall School of Business) and Agne Kajackaite (researcher at the Berlin Social Center) point out, while there’s much debate about whether or not women prefer higher indoor temperatures, until now, no one had explored the link between temperature variation and cognitive performance in the two sexes. The researchers ...

Are most people honest?

You’re walking down the street and find a lost wallet. What do you do? Researchers decided to voluntarily create this situation in different cities throughout 40 countries. In addition to finding out that reactions varied between different populations, the goal was to see whether the psychological burden of seeing oneself as a thief had an influence on behavior. Can this burden outweigh economic benefits?

The research team composed of A. Cohn (University of Michigan), D. Tannenbaum (University of Utah), and C. Lukas Zünd and M.A. Maréchal (University of Zurich) wanted to test people’s honesty in a more realistic environment rather than a laboratory setting. Laboratory ...

Could an attention disorder and hyperactivity be the explanation behind Leonardo da Vinci’s genius?

While the Louvre Museum in Paris prepares to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo da Vinci, the genius of this artist who produced some of the greatest masterpieces of all time remains somewhat of a mystery. A recent study published in the journal Brain puts forth a new hypothesis to explain his incredible creativity and multitude of unfinished projects: did Leonardo da Vinci have an attention disorder and ADHD?

Painter, sculptor, musician, architect, geologist, mathematician, anatomist, botanist, philosopher… Reading this (non-exhaustive) list, one may wonder how this Florentine, revered by popes and kings alike, managed to excel in so many domains. Marco ...

Do sleep and mood affect working memory performance?

Remembering an email address long enough to write it down, following a conversation, or remembering the beginning of a sentence you’ve just read. Working memory makes these tasks possible. A recent study conducted by a team of psychologists has shed light on strong connections between working memory and sleep, mood, and age. What are the effects of these three factors on working memory?

A component of short term memory, working memory is used to store, temporarily maintain, and manipulate useful information for performing cognitive tasks, such as reasoning and comprehension. It plays a crucial role in many cognitive functions (language, action planning, etc.). Research has ...

Can wasps make deductions?

Michael is shorter than Daniel and Daniel is shorter than Jennifer, so Michael is shorter than Jennifer. From 4-5 years of age, children are able to reach this conclusion through something known as transitive inference. This logical reasoning has also been demonstrated in vertebrate animals (monkeys, rats, birds, and fish). For the first time, a study has shed light on this capacity for deduction in an invertebrate: the paper wasp. Here’s how...

As the authors of this research point out, animal species that show complex social behavior seem to be the most likely to develop transitive inference. In invertebrates, the skill has already been studied unsuccessfully in honeybees. ...

Can synthesized speech be generated from brain activity?

You're undoubtedly familiar with the late astrophysicist, Stephen Hawking. While his condition left him unable to speak, he could communicate through a device, using eye and facial movements to compose each word, letter by letter. New research is allowing faster speech synthesis technology to be developed that more closely simulates the natural flow of speech. So how does this “brain decoder” work?

Though we’re largely unaware of it, speaking requires very precise, multidimensional coordination and control of the vocal tract’s articulatory muscles, which extend from the glottis to lips. The process of speaking is based on a set of complex, simultaneous, and fluid movements ...

Does the brain have a Pokémon area?

A scientific study on Pokémon? You're not the only one to be skeptical of the idea. Project initiator Jesse Gomez also had trouble convincing his colleagues. According to the neuroanatomist, there may be an area of the brain specifically designed to recognize hundreds of Pokémon characters. See how this unusual research can teach us more about the way our visual cortex works.

Pokémon video games have known unwavering success since the late 90s, and they’re still very popular today. The study’s lead author, Jesse Gomez, is himself a big fan: “I played it nonstop starting around age 6 or 7. I kept playing throughout my childhood. What was unique about Pokémon is that ...

Can doing crosswords and sudoku help optimize our cognitive health?

Some of you readers undoubtedly love crosswords or sudoku, or even both! A recent study, the largest to date, has revealed the possible beneficial effects of these reflective activities on cognitive function in seniors. The research has led to the publication of two articles in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. So, is it time for everyone else to start puzzling over letter and number grids?

More than 19,000! That's the (rather impressive) number of participants enrolled in the study presented here. All of these over-50-year-old subjects registered with Protect, an online platform managed by the University of Exeter and King’s College in London. Each ...

Do our brains make us naturally selfish?

During a party, as you're chatting away with other guests, you suddenly turn around at the sound of your name. This is an all-to- familiar way of capturing your attention. Indeed, we are primarily interested in stimuli that relate to us personally, something known as the "self-referential bias." Based on this observation, researchers wanted to test if a similar phenomenon could be seen in the brain. It was a chance to discover whether our brain makes us naturally self-centered…

Tobias Egner, an Associate Professor in the Department of Neuroscience at Duke University (United States) and one of the study’s co-authors, says that we tend to prefer external stimuli that are ...

Do we have an internal compass?

We all know that migratory birds and sea turtles have a geomagnetic sense that supports their sense of direction. This sensory modality has been studied in vertebrates and even in certain invertebrates (like bees and lobsters). It has long been believed that humans also possess a form of magnetoreception, but the ability has never been demonstrated scientifically. A recent study has just revealed that our brain may come with an internal compass...

For migratory animals, magnetoreception (their ability to detect Earth’s magnetic field) allows them to build a sort of “map” that helps them navigate. In the 1980s, researchers attempted to demonstrate this ability in humans. For ...

Can team sports combat depression?

Many of our posts have praised the virtues of regular physical activity on our cognitive health. This new research carried out at Washington University in Saint Louis highlights a potential link between participation in team sports and reducing symptoms of depression in young boys. But why would team sports have a positive impact on boys’ moods?

If you take a look at co-author Lisa Gorham’s web page (on Washington University's website), you’ll see that she’s a sports addict and captain of the cross-country and track teams. The learnings she's gathered from this experience clearly inspired her to conduct this research on adolescent mental health. Inspired by her coach’s ...

Is forgetting easier than remembering?

All of us have at least a few memories we’d like to erase. But deleting them from isn’t always easy. According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, forgetting something may require more mental effort than trying to remember it. How did they make this discovery?

Our memories are not static; they are dynamic constructs of the brain that are regularly updated and reorganized according to our life experiences. We are constantly remembering and forgetting information, most often while we sleep. Previous studies have shown that forgetting plays a vital role in preserving memories and eliminating unwanted information. Traditionally, intentional ...

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