Scientific News

Neuroplasticity: does playing the drums change the brain?

Have you ever tried to tap a rhythm with your right hand while tapping a different rhythm with your left hand? Very few people are able to perform this complex task. In general, we have a so-called dominant hand for fine motor skills (writing, for example). A recent study sought to determine whether this preference can be modified. The scientists decided to look at the brains of drummers, who can play two distinct rhythms simultaneously.

As a preamble to the study, the authors indicate that for the past 5,000 years, over all continents, there has been a constant ratio of 90% right-handed to 10% left-handed people. Each hand is controlled by the contralateral motor cortex. The ...

A driver’s license for rats?

Can you imagine a rat driving a tiny car? This is the unusual experiment that neuroscientist K.G Lambert decided to run with colleagues at the University of Richmond. While it may seem outlandish, this research aimed to demonstrate that rats have much greater neuroplasticity (the brain’s ability to adapt and learn new tasks) than previously thought.

While the behavioral tasks generally used to assess cognitive processes provide interesting information, they tend to be overly simple and do not reflect the animal’s real cognitive potential. This is why the scientists in the present study wanted to assess behaviors that allow for the observation of various responses. According ...

Is a well-wrapped present better appreciated?

Holiday gift-giving is just around the corner… A recent study has just shown that there’s an important, but often overlooked factor that may affect how a gift is received: the wrapping. The data from this study, published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, could soon be very useful because it shows the effects of a well or poorly wrapped gift on the perception of the gift itself.

According to Jessica M. Rixom, a co-author of this study and professor of marketing at the University of Nevada, Reno: “When we receive a gift from a friend, we use the wrapping as a cue about the gift inside and form expectations […] If it's wrapped neatly, we set high expectations, ...

Can babies understand numbers before they learn to count?

Mathematical intuition has already been demonstrated in very young infants. For example, just hours after birth, newborns have an early predisposition that allows them to associate an auditory number with a corresponding visual number (Izard et al. 2009). In this study, researchers tested babies’ understanding of digit names. Can babies associate “one,” “two,” and “three” with quantities even though they don’t know how to count?

Lisa Feigenson, a specialist in child number development, and Jenny Wang, both from Johns Hopkins University, observed 14 to 18-month old babies in a simple experiment. They showed the babies toys (small cars or dog figurines), which they ...

How quickly can our brain recognize a familiar song?

Are you particularly good in a blind test? Are you one of those people who can recognize a song from hearing just the first few notes? Researchers decided to precisely quantify this ability. Using electroencephalography and pupillometry, the scientists wanted to understand how quickly the brain could identify excerpts from a familiar and well-liked song from a selection of unknown excerpts, as well as identify the “neural signatures” of this recognition.

As a preamble to their research, the scientists from the Ear Institute (University College London) point out that research has shown that the concept of musical familiarity is based largely on traces of long-term memory ...

Can garlic save your memory?

Too bad for your breath! A recent study has highlighted the possible benefits of garlic on memory. Researchers from the University of Louisville carried out an experiment on the positive effects of this plant on intestinal flora as well as its impact on cognitive health, including memory. For the moment, the experiments have only been conducted on mice, but scientists are already suggesting that garlic could be effective in fighting memory aging in humans.

Neuroscience in conjunction with microbiology has shown that there is indeed permanent communication between our gut and our brain. There are 200 million neurons in our large intestine connected to our brain through the vagus ...

Is optimism one of the keys to longevity?

If you tend to see the glass half empty, this article may convince you to change your philosophy. Using data collected from over 70,000 people, a team of researchers, mostly from the Boston University School of Medicine, have highlighted the role that optimism may play in life expectancy.

Work on exceptional longevity has so far often focused on biomedical factors while the positive influence of psychosocial factors on healthy aging remains much less clear. This is what motivated Lewina O Lee and her colleagues to study the possible effects of optimism on longevity. They hypothesized that (very) optimistic people would live longer. To test this, they relied on data from two ...

Do brief but intense physical efforts improve brain function?

Most studies on the benefits of physical activity for the brain have focused on sustained and regular exercise. Recent research from Oregon Health and Science University in Portland took a look at shorter, more intense exercise to see if it could also have positive effects. What if even brief physical effort could improve our cognitive health?

Various scientific publications have reported the benefits of physical exercise on neuronal activity, including improved learning and memory, through short and long-term changes in synaptic plasticity. Indeed, the dentate gyrus is particularly important as an entry step for coding contextual and spatial information from several brain areas. ...

Do monkeys show greater cognitive flexibility than humans?

“We are a unique species and have various ways in which we are exceptionally different from every other creature on the planet […] But we're also sometimes really dumb.” What made Julia Watzek, the main author of the study described here, say this? Published in Scientific Reports, her research shows that, unlike apes, humans do not always consider alternative solutions to effectively solve problems. Let’s find out why.

In a predictable environment, we apply strategies (developed through past experiences) that save us from intense cognitive exertion and help us solve everyday problems. But we live in a changing environment, and alternative solutions are sometimes ...

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 ...

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