What comes to mind when you think of Friday? Friends. A night off from work. Movies. Fun. Rebecca Black? Yikes. I don’t mean to remind you of such a low point in the history of American pop-culture but there is, in fact, a small amount of useful information to be extracted from the phenomenon that is Rebecca Black. Why did her music spread like an epidemic through the minds of millions of teens and adults worldwide? This event can be loosely related to what the Germans like to call an öhrwurm.
The term öhrwurm literally translates in English to “earworm”, and can be described as that inescapable occurrence of getting a song stuck in your head for an hour, a day, or even months at a time. The term is misleading in that the repetition of music does not occur in the ear but within the brain. For an experience that is so familiar to most people there is still much unknown as to how and why one contracts this stuck song syndrome. More
Hey Scientists, Where’s My Jetpack?! : The future is here; it just looks a little different than expected
In almost every major futuristic science-fiction work of the last century, jetpacks and flying cars are seemingly as ubiquitous as today’s oversized SUV’s, lining the closets and garages of every hardworking American. Understandably, in the year 2011, this has lead many disenchanted Trekkies and purveyors of assorted geek cultures to ask, “Well, scientists, where’s my jetpack?!” While I commiserate with my fellow fans of Asimov and Adams, several recent innovations have led me to believe that we all might be overlooking just how “futuristic” the time we live in really is. Accessing Google on the iPhone is certainly as close to the Hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy as we may ever come. We have the ability to beam blueprints of intricate plastic objects and now even organs anywhere in the world and literally print them out. We have computers that can beat us in Jeopardy! And last but not least, Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you Brain Driver, the thought-controlled car. On behalf of scientists everywhere, I accept your apologies, geeks. More
Research has been conducted that proves that our thoughts can control the rate of firing of neurons in our brain. This research reveals the crucial advancement of brain-operated machines in the field. John P. Donoghue at Brown University has conducted research that uses neural interface systems (NISs) to aid paraplegics. NISs allows people to control artificial limbs; individuals simply need to think about commanding their artificial limbs and signals are sent down from their brain to control the movement of these limbs! This great feat is not the only applicable result of current research done by brain-machine interfaces. Dr. Frank Guenther of Boston University uses implanted electrodes in a part of the brain that controls speech to tentatively give a voice back to those who have been struck mute by brain injuries. The signals produced from these electrodes are sent wirelessly to a machine that is able to synthesize and interpret these signals into speech. This is specifically useful for patients suffering from locked in syndrome, wherein an individual with a perfectly normal brain is unable to communicate due to specific brain damage, and thus allowing these individuals to communicate with the world! These discoveries are not only incredibly useful, but they also reveal the astonishing feats that the field of computational neuroscience is accomplishing in the world today.
Because of the brain’s amazing and incomprehensible complexity, there are billions of neurons that connect and network all the major areas of the brain with the small intricate parts as well. So how can we distinguish one of these neurons from the billions of others?
Well, within the past five years more advanced techniques have been discovered and used on various organisms. The most prevalent, and probably the most revolutionary, has been staining. This process was pioneered in the late nineteenth century by Camillo Golgi and allowed for the staining of whole, random cells.
Since then, much progress has been made and today the viewing of even more complex and minute parts that make up the brain is possible. One extraordinary technique was developed by a team of Harvard researchers a few years ago, and it is truly beautiful.
Known as the Brainbow technique, these investigators were able to use genetics to visualize complete neuronal circuits in unprecedented detail. Up to four differently colored fluorescent proteins were used, generating a palette of 100 distinct hues that labeled individual neurons.
Here are the fluorescent proteins in their full glory illuminating the many neurons that make up the brain of a mouse. More
Can you hear me now? For years, it has been popular doctrine that cell phone use is bad for our brains, but we glue our phones to our ears anyway. Cell phones emit radio frequency-modulated electromagnetic fields (RF-EMFs) that are questioned for their potential danger when the brain is exposed to them. The oscillatory frequencies of RF-EMFs correspond to those measured in neural tissue, and thus could interfere with neural activity. The amount of electromagnetic radiation given off by our communication devices is small, but is radiation all the same. Radiation exposure is dangerous for any kind of cell in our body, and can penetrate cells and damage DNA either by crashing into the molecule directly or causing damage indirectly by forming free radicals from water that can have cancer-causing effects.
Obviously, our brain is the most complex part of our body, but did you ever think that people would use its powers to persuade and manipulate you to buy products seen in advertisements?
Well, with the ever-changing and enhancing state of technology these days, it is no surprise that people would be bound to create more amazing advancements, especially when applied to consumerism. Neuromarketers, groups of researchers who use techniques from neuroscience to study people’s reactions to products, are bringing new studies to the forefront due to the fact that only 2 percent of the brain’s energy is expended on conscious activities.
A.K. Pradeep, founder and chief executive of NeuroFocus, a neuromarketing firm based in Berkeley, California, believes that the only way to truly understand people’s inclinations is through studying their subconscious. Therefore, NeuroFocus has led the way in this upcoming field by researching volunteers through the use of eye-tracking devices and measuring the brain’s electrical frequencies.
A volunteer undergoing testing that focuses on measuring his brain’s electrical frequencies and his eye movements.
By tapping into this realm, researchers are able to get a clear view of people’s unconscious thoughts when viewing commercials, movie trailers, or web sites. As Dr. Pradeep says, “We basically compute the deep subconscious response to stimuli.”
This process has now led way to multiple companies forming in hopes of furthering the development of neuromarketing. And many big-name sponsors -such as Google, CBS, and Disney- have used neuromarketing to test consumer responses to advertisements, even political ones.
However, some people are concerned that companies could take advantage of consumer’s thoughts and use those against them.
“If I persuaded you to choose Toothpaste A or Toothpaste B, you haven’t really lost much, but if I persuaded you to choose President A or President B, the consequences could be much more profound” Dr.Pradeep says.
The likelihood of this is not large since companies are not focusing heavily on the political side of things and we do still have control over our brains.
A professor of neuroscience and psychology at Berkeley, Dr. Robert T. Knight explains that neuromarketing may distinguish between one’s positive or negative emotions, but it cannot be specific enough as to say whether one’s positive emotion is joy or excitement. The only measurable variable is if the viewer pays attention. No correlation has been made between the brain-pattern responses to neuromarketing and purchasing or reactionary behavior.
Whatever your opinion, the initiative is just beginning, and the Advertising Research Foundation has developed a project for defining industrywide standards based off of reviewing research done by participating neuromarketing firms.
The future looks bright for these companies as sponsors have poured in with great interest, but only time will tell the fate of our brains being used for or against us.
Neuromarketing – Ads That Whisper to the Brain - NYTimes.com