The latest news about cognitive psychology, brain development and neuroscience research
New research indicates that the integration of senses and functions in the brain is common. About two percent of the population has a condition called synesthesia, in which two different sensations, like color and sound, are experienced at once. Although this condition is rare, the new findings suggest the brain is wired in complex and sometimes overlapping ways to help people interpret and understand their environments.
In this week’s issue of the journal Nature, a research team led by scientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has taken an important step toward understanding just how this kickoff occurs by beginning to dissect the neural circuitry of fear. In their paper, these scientists—led by David J. Anderson, the Benzer Professor of Biology at Caltech and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator—describe a microcircuit in the amygdala that controls, or “gates,” the outflow of fear from that region of the brain.
Researchers recently mapped the complete structure of a glutamate receptor, a key communications port in brain cells. Scientists at Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) in Portland pieced together the three-dimensional image of the protein by bombarding it with X-rays, a technology called X-ray crystallography. Knowledge about the receptor’s form is expected to yield insights into its function in the nervous system.
They show that one of those genes in particular has a long evolutionary history, as evidenced by the fact that it plays a role in pain sensing in flies, mice and humans. At least in mice, the newly described gene is also linked to a condition known in humans as synesthesia, in which one sensory experience triggers the perception of another sense.
People spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy. So says a study that used an iPhone web app to gather 250,000 data points on subjects’ thoughts, feelings, and actions as they went about their lives.
A team of researchers from the University of Minnesota’s College of Liberal Arts and College of Science and Engineering have found that an early part of the brain’s visual system rewires itself when people are trained to perceive patterns, and have shown for the first time that this neural learning appears to be independent of higher order conscious visual processing.
People aren’t very accurate at predicting how good or bad they’ll feel after an event — such as watching their team lose the big game or getting a flat-screen TV. But afterwards, they “misremember” what they predicted, revising their prognostications after the fact to match how they actually feel, according to new research.
Although bilinguals tend to have smaller vocabularies in each language than do children who know one language, bilinguals may have an advantage when it comes to certain nonverbal cognitive tasks. Bilinguals tend to perform better than monolinguals on exercises that require blocking out distractions and switching between two or more different tasks.
By applying electrical current to the brain, researchers reporting online on November 4 in Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, have shown that they could enhance a person’s mathematical performance for up to 6 months without influencing their other cognitive functions. The findings may lead to treatments for the estimated 20 percent of the population with moderate to severe numerical disabilities (for example, dyscalculia) and for those who lose their skill with numbers as a result of stroke or degenerative disease, according to the researchers.
We all know how hard it is not to scratch when we have an itch. But how can an itch be alleviated? In a new study published today in the prestigious journal Neuron, researchers at Uppsala University present the surprising finding that the same nerve cells that are active when we experience heat pain are also associated with itching.
Most people are familiar with the concept that sentences have syntax. A verb, a subject, and an object come together in predictable patterns. But actions have syntax, too; when we watch someone else do something, we assemble their actions to mean something, according to a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
Anger is an interesting emotion for psychologists. On the one hand, it’s negative, but then it also has some of the features of positive emotions. For a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, researchers find that associating an object with anger actually makes people want the object—a kind of motivation that’s normally associated with positive emotions.
The language we speak may influence not only our thoughts, but our implicit preferences as well. That’s the finding of a study by psychologists at Harvard University, who found that bilingual individuals’ opinions of different ethnic groups were affected by the language in which they took a test examining their biases and predilections.