While up to our ears in physics homework last week, my roommate and I had a chat or two about caffeine. And I wondered (as I poured a cup of coffee), is there a way to brew this stuff to maximize the caffeine I end up drinking? After Wednesday, exam day, a day that included a shameful amount of caffeine, I became curious as to its nutritional or even neurological value…or perhaps just hopeful that it had some. Maybe this isn’t neuroscience news per say, but it’s certainly a curiosity, and certainly relevant to my success in “Elementary Physics I”.
I was sure I wasn’t alone in my caffeine-chemistry quest and figured there must be sufficient research published to generate some answers. As it turns out, in 1996, Leonard Bell et al. at Auburn University conducted a study with the aim of improving epidemiological analyses of caffeine intake by allowing researchers to control for the effect of brewing methods on caffeine content. It’s an interesting read, perhaps in part because the “Materials and Methods” section starts out with buying coffee beans at a local grocery store and proceeds to (very methodically) describe various ways of making coffee. More
A research team led by Laura Matzen at Sandia National Laboratories in Albuqurque, NM has demonstrated that it is possible to predict how well people will remember information by monitoring their brain activity while studying. Matzen’s team monitored test volunteers with electroencephalography (EEG) sensors to make accurate predictions. Why bother making a prediction if the result will show how well someone remembered the information anyways? Matzen brought up this example, ”if you had someone learning new material and you were recording the EEG, you might be able to tell them, ‘You’re going to forget this, you should study this again,’ or tell them, ‘OK, you got it and go on to the next thing.” Essentially providing a real-time performance metric, the applications of which many students would appreciate. More
For many feminists, this effort to better understand female sexuality can be a means of empowerment, and it is not surprising that neuroscience research has branched into this area. Many people, rightfully so, believe that to understand our body and mind we must also understand the mechanisms of behavior in the brain. Yet due to its complexity, much of neuroscience research gets misinterpreted, reduced, or even generalized when written about for the public sphere.
Naomi Wolf’s Vagina: A New Biography, attempts to explain female sexuality by pulling from both subjective accounts and neuroscience to support her arguments. But what exactly does neuroscience research have to contribute to our knowledge of female sexuality? Although Wolf’s attempt at writing such a boldly stated book is admirable, it fell short, especially in terms of the science. Wolf misinterprets the roles of dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin in the brain and how they could plausibly influence a female’s romantic relationships.
As Maia Szalavits so eloquently wrote:
“The kind of oversimplification seen in Wolf’s book and, sadly, in many other popular accounts of neuroscience, threatens to perpetuate a psychological myth. Rather than illuminating the complex interplay between mind and body, it portrays human beings — especially women — as automatons, enslaved by brain chemicals we cannot control.”
So what does neuroscience have to say about female sexuality? At last year’s Society for Neuroscience Conference in Washington D.C., a 3D movie was presented of the brain during a female orgasm. Barry Komisaruk, a professor of psychology at Rutgers University, used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) to map brain activity in several women. The women were required to masturbate to an orgasm in the fMRI machine. (fMRI results are brain images reflecting activation in specific areas, and these areas are said to be lit up.) More
Social interaction and communication are essential characteristics of the human experience. As humans, we desire to create and develop relationships with each other. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurological developmental condition that impairs this ability to relate. The spectrum refers to the fact that there are multiple conditions characterized by similar features all grouped together under this one disorder. These conditions include “classic” autism, Asperger syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. There are also varying degrees of severity associated with ASD. So, depending on the disorder and degree to which a person suffers from this disorder, there is truly a wide spectrum of possible conditions created by ASD that many people around the world must deal with. More
A decision is a fact of life. Both the good and the bad, the wrong and the right, one seemingly unjust turn waiting to happen amid the uncertain crossroads of life. Lets be honest, making a decision will always provide the answer, that is the ideal outcome, nothing goes wrong, everything is perfect, happily ever after. On the contrary, there is the undesirable result, which you would rather keep trapped in a cage and have thrown into a river in order to prevent ‘it’ from ruining your party. Now with making a decision comes the possibility for his arch-nemesis “regret” to appear in the equation. Lets look at it this way, if your friend ‘decision’ calls and asks if you want to see this movie which you assume is going to be terrible, you’d probably say “No,” thereby rejecting ‘decision.’ A week later ‘regret’ sends you a letter saying ‘decision’ went to the movie that day, saw your partner, they both hit it off, ‘decision’ slept with them, and now your partner never wants to see you again. See why you should have gone to the movie! That my friends is exactly, to a tee, the comic strip you will see when you look up decision in the dictionary. More
We all know androgens and estrogens as sex hormones, right? You know, those chemicals that regulate reproductive behavior and ensure the continuation of species. There is definitely behavioral evidence of the biological importance of these steroid hormones, but could there be a way to quantitatively measure exposure to them? There is research that says yes, or at least, possibly. More
The parting words of Ken Jennings in last year’s Jeopardy match against Watson, a computer seemingly able to decipher and process language, are a milestone for robotic innovations. Advancements in neuroscience and robotics have focused on giving robots human-like intelligence and processing skills. This concept has been depicted numerous times in popular culture, many times in terms of robotic rebellion, for example in movies such as I, Robot or WALL-E.
Recent robotics research leaves us with a couple of questions. Are really focusing on the right aspects of advancing in robotic technologies? Instead of perfecting intelligence and processing, why not instead focus on perfecting human emotion? More
In the United States alone there are about a quarter of a million people affected by spinal cord injury with over 10,000 new injuries resulting in conditions such as paraplegia and quadriplegia each year. Spinal cord injuries can be completely debilitating and can occur when least expected. Drawing from a high school memory of mine, a hockey player from a town nearby was pushed head first into the boards one night during a game and sustained a severe neck injury, permanently impairing his motor skills and changing the course of his life. More
Researchers have developed a technique that reconstructs the words patients are thinking of that could help locked-in or comatose patients communicate.
A newly developed computer model reconstructs the sounds of words that patients think of. Over the past few years, scientists have been coming closer to being able to listen in to our thoughts. This study achieved that goal by implanting electrodes directly into patients’ brains. In an earlier 2011 study, test subjects with electrodes in their brains were able to move a cursor around a screen just by thinking of different vowel sounds. Another study, conducted in September of that year by Jack Gallant at the University of California, Berkeley, was able to guess images being thought of through functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
The field of neuroscience has undoubtedly expanded over the past two decades, and the explosion of all this cutting-edge discovery has inevitably lead to its proliferation in our culture. However, the spread of interest to the general population has begun to instigate the problematic phenomenon of what some scientists deem “neurobabble”. It refers to the overly simplified and misinterpreted information that many contemporary writers use to appeal to the public. Neurobabble in recent pop-science books and articles often engenders false conclusions and denies proper understanding about how the brain really works. More