Saturday, March 31, 2012

Brains and Stress

Did you know that the female brain may be more vulnerable to stress-related disorders? Rat studies from the National Institute of Mental Health showed that when the male brain is under stress, receptors for stress hormones tend to retreat into the cell, making the brain less stress reactive. The opposite happens in the female brain. The receptors remain exposed, allowing CRF (corticotropin releasing factor) to persist in its effect. Even in the absence of any stress, the stress-signaling system in the female brain appears to be more sensitive from the start.

Friday, March 30, 2012

What You Think . . .

Did you know that what you THINK others are intending matters more than what they really DO? Stanford MRI studies showed that even though people saw the exact same game, framing the game changed the test subjects’ neural reactions to the players. It’s your perception of their intentions (not their actual actions) that makes the difference. When you believe a person is doing something nice for someone else, your brains register the observation of a good deed as a personal reward. Of course, the opposite is also true. So, what are you thinking?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Decision-making and Stress

Did you know that risk versus reward are processed differently in the brain in people who make decisions while under stress? According to studies by Mather and Lighthall, reported in Current Directions in Psychological Science, individuals who make decisions while under stress are more likely to pay more attention to the upside of a possible outcome (than the downside). For example, a person under stress might decide to take a street drug to feel better momentarily and ignore the potential negative consequences; or take a new job with a slightly higher salary while ignoring the consequences of a longer and more stressful commute. Knowing this, if you are under stress, try to hold off on making a big decision.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Dancing with Snowball

Did you know that the ability to move rhythmically to the beat of music may not be exclusive to humans? Studies of a sulphur-crested cockatoo named Snowball, provided the first documented case of a nonhuman creature that, without training, could sense a beat in music and move to it. He processed the music in his brain and his muscles responded. Snowball may have circuits in its brain for processing a beat, similar to the human brain.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Brain by Design

Are you using your brain's unique giftedness by design? Many people fly through life by the seat of their pants, so to speak. Some times they get it right but are unsure how to replicate that success consistently. Some times they get it wrong but are unsure how to prevent similar disasters in the future. I've found that when you learn more about the brain in general, and your brain in particular, you are more likely to be able to use your brain by design--to help you be more success in life and to thrive. It takes some time and energy, but you're the only one who can do it because it's your brain!

Monday, March 26, 2012

ATP and Sleep

Are you getting enough sleep? Rat studies, reported in the Journal of Neuroscience, showed that in the initial stages of sleep, energy levels increased dramatically in brain regions found to be active during waking hours. Adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy currency of cells, was found to surge during non-REM sleep. This surge of cellular energy may replenish brain processes needed to function normally while awake. Sleep appears to be necessary for this energy surge to occur.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

It Takes a Village of Neurons

Did you know that it takes a team effort to keep your heart beating regularly and effectively? An isolated heart neuron simply sparks chaotically, without exhibiting any apparent intelligence. But when that neuron is a part of the neuronal network in a living heart, it synchronizes with the other neurons to create a steady heartbeat. It takes a village of heart neurons to keep your heart beating regularly and effectively for more than 2.5 billion beats in an average lifetime.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Humor and Laughter

Do you choose to take humor personally, get upset by it, or overreact? Healthy humor (not angry, sarcastic, or hurtful humor) is simply an exaggeration of real life. That's what makes it funny. For example, take a Red-Skelton style comment such as: I haven't spoken to my wife for several months--I hate to interrupt her. That reflects studies indicating that the average male speaks about 12,000 words a day (most of them at work), while the average female speaks upwards of 50,000 words a day. When you hear a humorous comment like that, look for the kernel of truth and choose to laugh. The laughter can give your brain a shot of serotonin, which can act as an antidepressant.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Neurons Love to Practice

Did you know that neurons love to practice? According to Georgia Tech neuroengineer Steve DeWeerth, the brain adapts continuously, so you keep getting better at tasks that you repeat. For example, when a child starts piano lessons, the brain gradually learns to coordinate finger, hand, wrist, and arm muscles. And when a beginner tosses a a tennis ball above his head and hits it, the brain gradually learns to coordinate the muscles needed to serve the ball. But teaching neurons takes time. Estimates are that 10,000 hours of practice are required to achieve world-class skill. Fortunately, neurons love to practice.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Reading Stories

Did you know that "theory of mind," your brain's capacity to construct a map of other people's intentions, appears to be enhanced by reading stories? It also appears to be enhanced by watching movies (but not by watching TV). Studies have shown that the brain processes interactions among fictional characters in a story or a book as something akin to real-life social encounters, just as the brain responds to words related to smells, movements, and textures as if they were the real thing. Read to yourself, read to others. Read! (Paul, Annie Murphy. "Your Brain on Fiction,", 3-17-12)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Iditarod and Cellular Memory

Dallas Seavey, age 25, a third-generation musher, just won the 2012 Iditarod, the nearly 1,000 mile Northern-route race from Anchorage to Nome. Congratulations! In addition to dedicated practice and a keen understanding of his team, perhaps some cellular memory helped Dallas win. His father was the 2004 Iditarod champion, while his grandfather reportedly started the Iditarod 40 years ago. When Dallas took the podium, two of his lead huskies were there with him. Previously, in 2005, Dallas had achieved his best time ever and had become the youngest musher to ever run the Iditarod. You may want to check out the map and pictures at:

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Magnificent Brain

Did you know that a magnificent mind starts with a balanced brain? According to Dr. Daniel Amen, author of "Magnificent Mind at Any Age," failure is often the result of a brain gone wrong. He advocates using every option available to balance the brain, including natural supplements, diet, exercise, thinking strategies, and if needed, medication. Optimize the brain and you dramatically increase a person's abilities.

Monday, March 19, 2012

EQ and S.A.T Scores

How skilled are you at delaying gratification? The longitudinal Marshmallow Study at Stanford University found that children who had been able to wait fifteen minutes to eat the marshmallow had an S.A.T. score that was, on average, 210 points higher than that of the kid who could wait only 30 seconds. Follow-up studies showed a connection between an ability to delay gratification (a learned skill and a characteristic of higher levels of Emotional Intelligence) and later success in life.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Brain and Value Assignment

Did you know that the brain appears to size up products even when you are not consciously making purchasing decisions? fMRI studies have identified specific patterns of brain activity in the prefrontal cortex that predicted which cars people might unconsciously favor, even when not making purchasing decisions. These brain areas appear to impart value onto products (automatically or unconsciously) as soon as you’re exposed to them.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Gastric Distention and the Brain

Did you know that what happens in your stomach affects what happens in your brain? Studies have shown that gastric distension affects neurons, thinking cells, in portions of the brain. Areas involved include gray matter in the mesencephalic periaqueductal gray or MPG that has to do with modulation of pain and defensive behaviors; and the hypothalamus that controls body temperature, hunger, thirst, sleep and circadian cycles.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Ultrasound and the Brain

Did you know that pulsed ultrasound has been found to affect the brain in rather dramatic ways? Neuroscientists at Arizona State University found that pulsed ultrasound activated brain waves in the hippocampus, the brain’s search engine, and stimulated production of BDNF, brain-derived neurotrophic factor, vital for long-term memory. This means that in the future, pulsed ultrasound may be useful for enhancing cognitive performance; perhaps even in the treatment of cognitive disabilities such as mental retardation and Alzheimer's disease.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Your Heart Neurons

Have you been keeping up with studies related to neurons in the heart? It’s been over ten years since researchers validated that the heart has its own independent nervous system with at least 40,000 neurons (as many as are found in various subcortical sections of the brain). A two-way nervous system relay between the brain and the heart allow neurons in both organs to communicate and share information with each other.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Cultural Neuroscience and Cognition

What part do you think environment plays in terms of cognitive development in children? The new genre of Cultural Neuroscience has validated the importance of a child’s environment in terms of cognition (at least). Studies have found that cognitive ability is consistently enhanced and/or diminished by the quality of the developmental milieu for a child in both African and American Cultures. (Chiao, Joan Y. Cultural Neuroscience: Cultural influences on brain function. Volume 178. Pp 130. US:Elsevier (Mosby/Saunders).

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Time-Space Synesthesia

Have you heard about Synesthesia? It is an unusual perception ability in which the senses are mixed (e.g., a sound or a number has a color, the sense of touch evokes emotions). There is also a time-space synesthesia. According to studies by David Brang of UC San Diego, Department of psychology, time-space synesthetes tend to perceive months of the year in circular shapes, usually just as an image inside their mind's eye.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Mental Decline

Do you believe that mental decline is an inevitable part of aging? Think again! A study of the brains of people who stayed mentally sharp into their 80s challenges that belief. Some super-aged individuals might have good genetics, but others may help preserve high brain function by maintaining a healthy diet, staying physically active, and by keeping the brain active through mentally demanding activities such as brain aerobic exercises.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Sleep On . . .

The National Sleep Awareness Week ends today in the United States. However, it would behoove many to stay aware all year. Studies have shown that individuals who reported sleeping less than 7 hours on average during a 24-hour interval were more likely to report unintentionally falling asleep during the day at least one day out of the preceding 30 days (46.2% compared with 33.2%) and nodding off or falling asleep at the wheel during the previous 30 days (7.3% compared with 3.0%). This could mean the difference between staying healthy and well or having an accident that could not only impact the individual but also others in the immediate environment. ( ) and (

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Brain Hypotheses

Did you know that the brain’s main job, much like that of a scientist, is to generate hypotheses about what is going on in the outside world? Apparently the brain does not just sit and wait for visual signals to arrive. Instead, it actively tries to predict these signals. When it is right it is rewarded by being able to respond more efficiently. If it is wrong, it tries to figure out how it was wrong and to come up with better predictions.

Friday, March 9, 2012

PEA Euphoria

Did you know that phenylethylalanine (PEA) is sometimes called the "love chemical" because it is associated with the initial euphoria of falling in love? In some ways, PEA resembles adrenalin or an amphetamine and can be addictive. In combination with dopamine, PEA acts as an anti-depressant, promoting feelings of attraction, excitement, and nervousness. Outside the brain, PEA has been isolated in avocados and chocolate. No wonder a few slices of avocado or some dark chocolate can make you feel better.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Movie Memories

Did you know that the memory of movies you have seen leave unique memory traces in your brain’s hippocampus? These memory traces can be distinguished from one another. Volunteers, while inside a fMRI scanner, were asked to recall each of three films they had just seen. A computerized algorithm was able to identify which of the three films each volunteer was recalling just by analyzing the pattern of the volunteer’s brain activity.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Neuroplastic Connections

Did you know that your memory may get things wrong as often as it gets this right? That's due to neuroplasticity, the ability of the brain to be flexible and to change throughout your life. Neuro stands for "neuron" and plasticity stands for the "plastic" connections among neurons that can change. Each of the 100 billion neurons in your brain has thousands of synaptic-connection possibilities. Challenging your brain with stimulating information can keep dendrites (finger-like projections on neurons) stretched out and reaching toward other neurons. This process can even trigger growth of new dendrites.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Pupil Dilation Gives You Away

Did you know that your eye pupils tend to dilate in stressful situations? This occurs automatically as part of the "fight-or-flight" response. The reflex is mediated by the release of the hormone noradrenalin, which in animals has also been implicated in memory and decision-making. Noradrenalin helps you to cement decisions toward which you are moving. Pupil dilation is an outward sign of this.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Need the Z-z-z-z

Did you know that today, March 5th, 2012 begin The National Sleep Awareness Week in the United States? Although the National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults get between 7-9 hours of sleep each night, more than a third of adults in the US reportedly get less than 7 hours of sleep per night. Obtaining insufficient sleep for14 or more days in the past 30 days, has been associated with self-reported anxiety, depressive symptoms, and frequent mental and physical distress. ( ) and (

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Brain Imaging with MEG

Did you know that by spotting specific brain biomarkers, researchers wre able to diagnose PTSD sufferers with 90% accuracy? Using a brain imaging method called magnetoencephalography (MEG), they scanned the brains of 74 U.S. veterans with PTSD, and 250 civilians without PTSD. Whereas CT scans and MRIs record brain signals every few seconds, MEGs can do it by the millisecond, catching biomarkers and brain activity that the other tests inevitably miss.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Accelerometers in Your Brain

Did you know that your head contains accelerometers that report the direction of gravity and head motions to the brain? Scientists have found that subtle head motions are amplified by inner-ear hair cells before the signal is reported to the brain. In both the auditory and the vestibular systems, hair cell response is nonlinear. Meaning that the lower the strength of the stimulus, the more the hair cell amplifies the signal.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Brain Power Plants

Did you know that physical exercise can help to keep your brain younger? Studies show this may be because working up a sweat improves your neurons' power supply, which in turn encourages the growth of new neurons and allows the brain to work faster and more efficiently. In response to exercise, your muscles produce new mitochondria, miniature power plants inside cells that supply the body with energy. Neurons ten to lose mitochondria with age. Increased mitochondria may help the brain slow down declines in brain function due to age and disease.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Emotions and Brain Patterns

Do you know that emotions have their own brain-activity patterns? Using fMRI studies, researchers at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, presented subjects with pseudowords spoken in five ways (with anger, sadness, relief, joy, or neutral with no emotion at all). Researchers were able to classify each emotion against all other alternatives by analyzing the spatial pattern of activity in the auditory cortex.