Scientific News

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 ...

Animal seduction: does intelligence beat looks?

Until recently, few studies on birds have looked at how intelligent behaviors in males can be used to attract females. But this is exactly what Dutch and Chinese researchers examined in their research to determine whether intelligence could win out over appearance when it comes to finding a mate. Here are the findings of this Darwin-inspired research.

The Budgerigar (Melopsittacus undulatus) lives in all arid and semi-arid areas of Australia, where finding food is sometimes difficult. An individual’s ability to find food may thus be of great value… A team of researchers from the University of Beijing (China) and Leiden (the Netherlands) decided to specifically study how ...

Does regular aerobic exercise improve cognitive abilities?

A new study is shedding light on the benefits of physical exercise on our cognitive health. Published in the medical journal Neurology in January 2019, the research indicates that activities such as walking or cycling have a positive effect on executive function. How were the scientists able to pinpoint the link between aerobic exercise and our thinking skills?

Our body produces energy both aerobically and anaerobically. The two types of metabolism are distinguished by whether or not they use oxygen produced by breathing. By drawing from a reserve that mobilizes different substrates (mainly carbohydrates and lipids), aerobic metabolism releases energy relatively slowly but ...

Rocking isn’t just for babies

The days when our parents rocked us in their arms are far behind us… This soothing swinging motion helped us fall asleep. But Swiss scientists wondered if this rocking motion could be beneficial even after these tender years. For their study, they invited adults to be rocked in their laboratory. What effects did it have on their sleep and memory?

As early as 2011, Laurence Bayer and her colleagues demonstrated the possible benefits of a slight rocking motion on falling asleep for a nap. This new research, led by L. Bayer and S. Schwartz, involved consolidating these results by studying whether the positive effects could be generalized to longer periods of ...

Are women’s brains younger than men’s?

On a morphological level, research has already shown that men's and women’s brains are different. A recent study from Washington University School of Medicine in Saint Louis has shed light on metabolic differences between the two. Indeed, sex appears to have an influence on brain aging...

In humans, normal aging is associated with a decrease in brain metabolism. We know that the brain metabolizes glucose, but the way it’s used changes as we age. As babies and children, our brain draws on this "fuel” to develop and mature. This process is called aerobic glycolysis. The remaining sugar is burned to fuel the daily tasks of thinking and acting. As adolescents and adults, a ...

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 ...


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