Weekly Neuroscience Update


New research dissociates the mechanisms used in memory storage from those of memory retrieval. Image credit: Christine Daniloff/MIT.

Memories that have been “lost” as a result of amnesia can be recalled by activating brain cells with light.

A new study by UCLA neuroscientists sheds light on why Facebook is such a popular diversion for people who feel like taking a break. Their research shows that even during quiet moments, our brains are preparing us to be socially connected to other people.

New research proposes that general inflammation of the brain and related body parts — not just traditional concussion and neurotrauma — can cause the array of symptoms typically associated only with post-concussion syndrome.

In a study using functional magnetic resonance imaging, scientists found that our inherent risk-taking preferences affect how we view and act on information from other people. The brain scans showed that study participants increased their perceived value of a gamble after seeing other people take that gamble. The neural signals also predicted the likelihood that participants would conform to others’ choices.

The brainstorms generated by the billions of neurons inside a baby’s head are governed by the same rules as other massive natural phenomena.

According to a new study, individuals who had a history of depression were significantly more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease later in life. Furthermore, the risk rose with the severity of depression, as those who were hospitalized for the condition were even more likely to develop Parkinson’s.

Two recent studies show blood-sugar levels can affect the brain—-adding new evidence that diabetes might be a significant risk factor for developing Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia.

Investigators at Stanford University have found a surprising link between creative problem-solving and heightened activity in the cerebellum, a structure located in the back of the brain and more typically thought of as the body’s movement-coordination center.

The most detailed study to date showing how electrical stimulation accelerates wound healing has been carried out in 40 volunteers by University of Manchester scientists.

Finally this week, a man has been able to control a robotic limb with a mind-reading chip implanted in his brain. The details, published in Science, reveal how complex bursts of electrical signals in his brain could be interpreted into commands for the arm.

The Happy Brain

Twenty years ago, Dr. Amit Sood, a Professor of Medicine at Mayo Clinic, came to the U.S. thinking he was coming to the Disneyland of the world. He expected everyone here to be very happy. What he saw surprised and shocked him. In this funny, fast-moving, and deeply insightful talk, Dr. Sood shares his journey over two decades and across two continents, finding a way to help us outsmart our neural predispositions to suffering. In the process, he takes us on a back-stage tour of the human brain and outlines the gist of a structured program he is taking globally to decrease stress and improve focus, resilience, and happiness.

Weekly Neuroscience Update

A new study has found that while stereotypic shapes exist for this structure, individuals with a broader hippocampus tend to perform better on various tests that assess memory. The image is for illustrative purposes only. Image credit: Camillo Golgi.

A new study has found that while stereotypic shapes exist for this structure, individuals with a broader hippocampus tend to perform better on various tests that assess memory. The image is for illustrative purposes only. Image credit: Camillo Golgi.

New research challenges the long-held belief that a larger hippocampus is directly linked to improved memory function.

Premature birth can alter the connectivity between key areas of the brain, according to a new study led by King’s College London. The findings should help researchers to better understand why premature birth is linked to a greater risk of neurodevelopmental problems, including autistic spectrum disorders and attention deficit disorders.

Scientists have uncovered mathematical equations behind the way the brain forms – and even loses – memories.

New scanning methods which map the wiring of the brain could provide a valuable new tool to predict people at risk of schizophrenia, according to a new study.

People with depression may be more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease, according to a large study published in Neurology.

Medical researchers have known for several years that there is some sort of link between long-term depression and an increased risk of stroke. But now scientists are finding that even after such depression eases, the risk of stroke can remain high.

A new study from the University of Cambridge has identified one of the oldest fossil brains ever discovered – more than 500 million years old – and used it to help determine how heads first evolved in early animals.

Researchers have succeeded in reconstructing the neuronal networks that interconnect the elementary units of sensory cortex — cortical columns. The scientists say that this study marks a major step forward to advance the understanding of the organizational principles of the neocortex and sets the stage for future studies that will provide extraordinary insight into how sensory information is represented, processed and encoded within the cortical circuitry.

Smokers who are able to quit might actually be hard-wired for success, according to a study from Duke Medicine.

Scientists are attempting to mimic the memory and learning functions of neurons found in the human brain. To do so, they investigated the electronic equivalent of the synapse, the bridge, making it possible for neurons to communicate with each other.

Finally this week, in a study using functional magnetic resonance imaging, scientists found that our inherent risk-taking preferences affect how we view and act on information from other people.

Why did the Edge walk off the edge? The answer might surprise you


The music world was shaken briefly this week when lead guitarist with rock band U2, Dave ‘the Edge’ Evans, literally walked off the edge of the stage during a sell-out performance in Vancouver. Fortunately Dave survived the fall intact enough to joke about it later. It got me wondering what may have led to the fall? One possible explanation is a scientific one.

First a definition

Rod cells (or rods) – photoreceptor cells concentrated at the outer edges of the retina at the back of the eyeball which are sensitive to dim light and are almost entirely responsible for peripheral vision and/or night vision.


The human eye is built differently in men and women

The eye is an extension of the brain. The retina at the back of each eyeball contains about ninety million rod-shaped cells to handle vision in dim light including peripheral vision and/or night vision. It may surprise you but most men have less peripheral vision than most women. This is because men have less rod cells than women in the back of their eye balls. In fact, women are so sensitive to dim light that they find strong light stressful –  painful even. That is why more women than men wear sunglasses. In contrast, most men are comfortable in bright light as it eliminates the need for them to rely on their weak peripheral vision.

Do women have eyes in the back of their head?

You’ve no doubt heard that women have eyes in the back of their heads. You may have grown up believing this was true of your Mother who seemed to know what you were doing, even when her back was turned. Most women’s peripheral vision is effective up to almost 180 degrees. It is weak or absent in most men. A man’s eyes are larger than a woman’s and his brain configures them for a type of long distance tunnel vision, which means he can see clearly and accurately directly in front of him and over great distances – almost like binoculars. This allows a man to focus clearly on a distant target while women can monitor everything going on around her. This is part of the reason why women can cook dinner and watch the kids at the same time – a recipe for disaster with many men.

Men stare – women don’t 

The number of men injured or killed on our roads is more than double that of women. Not only will men will take more risks crossing the road than women, but as they get older their poorer peripheral vision increases their injury rate. Men tend to stare i.e. they concentrate on getting somewhere or something across the street and just don’t see the car coming. Car insurance statistics show that female drivers are less likely to be hit on the side than are male drivers. The lack of peripheral vision in men obstructs their ability to see traffic approaching from the side. Socks, shoes, car keys, wallets and even kerbs they’re all there, but men just can’t see them as well as women can – unless of course they stare. In fact, far from being bad manners, staring is a man’s way to compensate for their lack of peripheral vision.

Back to the edge

Chances are that the Edge simply walked off the edge because like most men of his age he just did not see it, due in part to the steady deterioration in a male’s already weak peripheral vision. I am happy to hear that Dave survived with only a few scratches.


Inside The Compassionate Brain

Emiliana R. Simon-Thomas, Ph.D., is the science director of the UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center. In this video for the Mindfulness and Compassion conference, Dr. Simon-Thomas explains the neurological mechanisms that support compassion – and why mindfulness meditation can help support the growth of compassion.

Those whom we love live on in our memory


“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living” ~  Marcus Tullius Cicero

My father died this week. He was ninety-one years old.

My father was an entrepreneur with an uncanny ability to engage people and was a master of the art of conversation.  He loved his job as a shopkeeper, and it was a job for which he was ideally suited.

During his brief illness I noticed how memories of him suddenly came flooding back and I literally became his child again, re-living my childhood trips with him to football matches, working with him in his shop and listening to his conversations with customers – so much so that sometimes the customers forgot what it was they came into the shop to buy. I could go on and on.

We are our memories

We literally are our memories; they define us and no better man than my father to instil my own childhood memories. In this way he helped to define who I am today and my brain is literally packed full of memories of him. Although the loss of my father is heart breaking, my memories of him are of some consolation and they will be cherished.

Childhood bereavement

While bereavement at any age is difficult, childhood bereavement can be particularly traumatic possibly because of the scarcity of those memories from which to derive any identity or consolation.  Click below for valuable resources in helping children understand bereavement – Consolation for Life’s Darkest Hours: 7 Unusual and Wonderful Books that Help Children Grieve and Make Sense of Death

I will develop this theme of the brain and bereavement in greater detail including coping strategies in future posts. In the meantime my memories, dreams and reflections go to my father at this time.

May his soul be on God’s right hand.

Ar dheas Dé go raibh a anam. (Old Gaelic blessing)

Weekly Neuroscience Update


Brain regions in which the scientists could successfully decode the participants’ perceived self-location from patterns of neural activity. Credit: Malin Björnsdotter/Arvid Guterstam. Henrik Ehrsson , Arvid Guterstam , Malin Björnsdotter.

In a new study from Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet, neuroscientists created an out-of-body illusion in participants placed inside a brain scanner. They then used the illusion to perceptually ‘teleport’ the participants to different locations in a room and show that the perceived location of the bodily self can be decoded from activity patterns in specific brain regions.

The brains of people with type 1 diabetes show signs of accelerated ageing that correlate with slower information processing, according to new research.

Researchers studying postpartum depression have found that the hormone oxytocin increased activation in a reward-sensitive area of the brain when women viewed images of crying infants, but not when they viewed images of smiling ones. The researchers say oxytocin might spark the motivation to help an upset baby.

New findings reveal how long term cosmic ray exposure causes lasting cognitive impairment in astronauts.

People with depression or bipolar disorder often feel their thinking ability has gotten “fuzzy”, or less sharp than before their symptoms began. Now, researchers have shown in a very large study that effect is indeed real – and rooted in brain activity differences that show up on advanced brain scans.

Researchers have shown for the first time that a common neurotransmitter acts via a single type of neuron to enable the brain to process information more effectively. 

Finally this week, your genes may influence how sensitive you are to emotional information, according to research recently published in the Journal of Neuroscience. The study found that carriers of a certain genetic variation perceived positive and negative images more vividly, and had heightened activity in certain brain regions.


The (Neuro) Science of Genius

What do originality and invention look like in the brain? In this interview with New York Times columnist Carl Zimmer as part of Big Think’s partnership with 92Y’s Seven Days of Genius series, neuroscientist Heather Berlin explains current research into creative “flow states”, examining what happens in the brain when rappers and jazz musicians improvise.

This Is Your Brain On Alcohol

Find out how alcohol molecules alter your brain with this video.

Fascinating Facts About The Human Brain (Infographic)

fascinating facts about the brain


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