By Tessa Abagis

Liar Liar, Pants on Fire, Hanging from a 75th Percentile Wire

February 15th, 2013 in Uncategorized 0 comments


Do you remember telling a lie at 2, 3, or 4? Well, feel guilty no more! Lying is actually a reliable sign of higher cognitive functioning. It was previously accepted that children were able to start lying at 3.5 years and no earlier. However, a recent study by psychologist Angela Evans found that 25% of two-year olds, 50% of three-year olds, and 80% of four-year olds were capable of lies.

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Failing Relationship? Take Some Neurochemicals!

February 28th, 2012 in Article, Pop Culture 1 comment


The one day of the year dreaded by the many people in, out of, and between relationships has come and passed. Being a huge neuroscience nerd, I spent much of February 14th searching for articles and scholarly papers about the neuroscience of love, sex, attraction, friend zones, what have you. But nothing really blew me away. In my third year of studying neuroscience, I have a relatively extensive knowledge of the brain. I certainly have heard all about neurochemicals being released during sex, when you’re constantly thinking (to the point of obsessing) about that special someone, and even when you just look at a photograph of them. And sure, it’s cool the first five times you read about how fascinating oxytocin and serotonin are. But I’m over hearing it. More

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Music Makes the Brain Grow Stronger

October 20th, 2011 in Arts + Media 7 comments


A recent study found that musical aptitude seems to have a relationship with reading ability. This study directly relates literacy with inherent musical aptitude that the researchers are able to measure, which is something that you’re born with and that does not magically appear by listening to classical music on repeat. While they do examine the inherent musical aptitude, the study suggests that we might be able to prescribe some sort of musical curriculum that could potentially improve literacy in children. So, yes, all those weird to-be-moms holding heavy duty headphones up to their baby bumps blasting Mozart may be on to something. More

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What You Don't Know CAN Kill You.

August 16th, 2011 in Uncategorized 0 comments


Zombies are terrifying creatures. The most panic-inducing aspect of their completely factual existence among us is that they have a taste for human blood and they will do anything  to get to it. Recently, the Zombie Research Society (ZRS) has been attempting to scan (with some difficulty due to the fact that zombies aren’t huge fans of staying still in MRIs) and create a map of the zombie brain. A leading researcher in ZRS, Dr. Bradley Voytek, lectured about these terrors at Nerd Night SF. In his presentation he gives a medical term to describe the zombie condition: “consciousness deficit hypoactivity disorder (CDHD)- the loss of rational voluntary and conscious behavior replaced by delusional/impulsive aggression, stimulus-driven attention, and the inability to coordinate motor or linguistic behaviors.” So with those messy scans and some preliminary facts we know about the living dead, researchers such as Dr. Voytek have been able to come up with multiple images of what a real zombie brain must look like. More

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Are you and your significant other meant to be?

February 14th, 2011 in Article, News 1 comment

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Well, no one truly knows the answer to that question until they’re looking back on their life and reminiscing about the time they spent with their partner. However, a new theory suggests that certain subtleties in language style can determine compatibility between two people. This includes speaking as well as personal writing styles, from Facebook chat to an essay sample.

Researchers have postulated that the use of common words called “function words”, including ‘me’, ‘a’, ‘and’, ‘but’, as well as a number of other prepositions, pronouns, adverbs, etc. can at least estimate the compatibility of a couple. These researchers have devised an equation using the basic-level function words to determine “language style matching” (LSM). A higher LSM means more compatible writing styles, and ergo, a more compatible couple.

A study that analyzed the writing styles of online chats of various couples over the course of ten days revealed much about this theory. According to an article about this study in The Daily Telegraph, ”almost 80 percent of the couples whose writing style matched were still dating three months later, compared with approximately 54 percent of the couples who did not match as well.”

An online LSM generator has been created by this team of researchers. You can go to this site and insert various writing samples from IM chats to poetry. But this is not solely to determine compatibility in a relationship; you are able to compare writing styles of strangers, friends, and even two of your own pieces. I’ve tried it and find it to be intriguing at least. In no way would I assert that this is a completely accurate way to determine personality similarity, but it seems to me that it has some logic to it and is not as absurd as I had originally expected.

Language Style Matching Predicts Relationship Initiation and Stability- Association for Psychological Science

Scientists find true language of love – The Telegraph

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Dog Lovers, Rejoice!

January 1st, 2011 in Uncategorized 11 comments

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Any dog lovers out there? Have you ever wanted to refute someone who claimed “dogs can’t really understand you?”  PBS program Dogs Decoded: NOVA asserts the idea that dogs are able to communicate with and understand humans better than any other animal that we know of.

When humans express an emotion, the right and left sides of their face show very different pictures. The right half is more expressive than the left when displaying all emotions, from happiness to anger to guilt. Therefore, humans have developed something called a “natural left gaze.” This means whenever we are presented with a face, we automatically look to our left to view the right side of their face to see a better display of their emotion. Recent studies with dogs have shown that they use this same mechanism when presented with a human’s face. Yet, when presented with a picture of another dog’s face, Fido treats it as if it is a picture of an object and randomly assesses the picture with no determined natural gaze.  Dogs are the only animals known to display a natural left gaze when presented with a human face, suggesting that they have evolved to understand our facial expressions.  Scientists are becoming more convinced that dogs are able to interpret our emotions better than many people think.

There are a few unique communication tools that only humans possess, such as eye gaze. Humans have almond-shaped eyes with white sclera surrounding the pupil so others are able to follow the direction of one’s gaze. We also use pointing as another communication tool that many other species are not able to utilize or comprehend. Cognitive psychologist Dr. Juliane Kaminski has been performing experiments with both chimps and dogs studying these two communication tactics.  When a chimp is presented with two cups upside down and Kaminski points at the cup containing a reinforcer (such as a food treat), the chimp is not able follow her point nor gaze to pick up the correct cup. Instead, Kaminski notes that chimps tend to make a decision before she even points, supporting the idea that they are not wired to comprehend human gestures. Yet Kaminski performs this same task with dogs and they are able to follow to where her finger is pointing and retrieve a reinforcer. Even when presented with only a gaze at the correct cup, dogs are often able to determine which one Kaminski is urging them to choose.

It’s interesting to think that dogs have evolved to advance the way they communicate with the species that has domesticated them.

Dogs Decoded: Nova – PBS special via Netflix

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Magic Rooted in Neuroscience

November 17th, 2010 in Uncategorized 1 comment

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Magic and neuroscience are not two commonly associated topics. Yet we don’t realize how pertinent these sleights of hand are to certain neural processes. Have you ever been walking down the street and been approached by a street magician? You say “bring it on mister” and think: I’m smarter than this dude. If I pay close enough attention to what he’s doing there’s no way he can trick me. But despite your best efforts, your wallet ends up in his hand and your chutzpah on the ground.

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Based on a video from Scientific American, it appears that magicians are pseudo-neuroscientists. In the video neuroscientists Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde analyze the work of street illusionist Apollo Robbins. Macknik and Martinez-Conde explain that magicians rely upon something called ‘active misdirection’ for their tricks. By using verbal cues and focusing his eyes on his left hand Apollo has directed your attention there. He then proceeds to snipe your wallet out of your back pocket with some quick movements of his right hand.

He probably threw in a couple jokes about the ol’ ball-and-chain or your hideous sweater, right? Turns out it’s difficult to pay attention to all of your surroundings while you’re laughing.

According to another slightly far-fetched theory, magicians take advantage of ‘mirror neurons’ as well. Mirror neurons help us feel sympathy or, in this case, cause us to act similarly to the person we are interacting with. So when Apollo looks at his left hand your mirror neurons fire, cause you to follow his gaze, and ‘poof’ goes your wallet.

Watch the video from Scientific American here.

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