The Beautiful Brain explores the latest findings from the ever-growing field of neuroscience through monthly long-form essays, reviews, galleries, short-form blog posts and more, with particular attention to the dialogue between the arts and sciences.
The Beautiful Brain now has an official Blog! It’s called the “BBBlog” and will provide a constant stream of interesting news and thought from the neuroscience and art worlds we like to cover. The blog sits over in the right column of the main page and also has its own site (see below). Expect a broad range of posts on a broad range of topics, and please share and comment on the posts!
Remember when when Gap tried to change their iconic logo and the immediate backlash from consumers? No? Well it happened. And as luck has it, neuroscientists were consulted for advice on why their new logo failed. Some advice:
-When a word overlaps with an image, the brain tends to ignore the word in favor of the image
-The sharp edge behind the letter “p” can invoke negative subconscious feelings.
-The old logo had a slightly odd font, which our brains prefer and remember better.
-High contrast is good. The new logo’s “p” is lost in front of the blue box.
-The capital “G” followed by lowercase letters makes our brains think of “Gap” as a word rather than a logo.
Some would argue that these are principles that every designer knows, regardless of lacking a neuroscience background. But it’s nice to know the neural reasoning for things we take for granted, like design.
The researchers stained (using green-fluorescent protein) and imaged tens of thousands of neurons in the fly brain and used complex gene-marking procedures to find out which cells interacted with one another.
These methods helped them elucidate the architecture of specific networks of cells, and that information allowed for a reconstruction of the pathways of functional brain regions, and ultimately the full structure of the brain. The authors compare their model of interacting neurons to a city highway system, writing:
Each unit is like a city containing local intersected streets and avenues linked to other cities through multi-lane highways without cross-traffic. Sometimes, several geographically closed units form a family working together for a specific function requiring intensive information processing.
The researchers also address the age-old brain/computer comparison, pithily stating:
It seems that a fly brain is smarter and more complicated than any computer built thus far.
However, their work by no means represents a full understanding of the workings of the fruit fly brain and the translation of neural network to behavior (that level of understanding is a ways away); rather, it’s a useful visual tool for testing hypotheses about specific neural interactions in the fruit fly brain, and locating neurons of interest. It’s akin to navigating on a road trip – why use a glove compartment full of small, unconnected state maps when you can use a nice, big road atlas?
The Hwang team has published the results of their brain-mapping project online for free and open access, just like the Human Genome Project did in 2003. To see the exciting images and videos, go here.
Carl Zimmer recently reviewed studies by Dr. Niedenthal in the New York Times. In it, he reports a new theory on how a person detects different types of smiles. When we see someone smile, we tend to mimic the smile. This act of mimicry lights up different parts of our brain for different types of smiles (genuine, happy, fake, etc). Dr. Niedenthal’s model suggests we decode other’s smiles by analyzing our own brain activity when we mimic.
When subjects were shown fake and genuine smiles under two conditions, with and without pencils in their mouths, those who had their smile-muscles occupied by a pencil had a significantly harder time distinguishing the test smiles. It is good support for the model, but this is still a budding field.
Next time you see a summer blockbuster or art house film and you see a scene where everything is in slow motion, consider this: researchers have found that our perception of time is actually distorted during clips of slow and fast biological movements (such as people moving). For example, subjects reported that stimuli lasted for a shorter period of time while viewing slow motion footage. As well as being beautiful cinematic techniques, overcranking (slow motion) and undercranking (fast motion) film also affects our perception of reality.
Time perception is not always accurate. We know this from experience. An hour of playing a fun video game may feel like 15 minutes, a bad movie can feel like eternity. But interestingly, there is a 3-second “point of indifference,” a term coined in 1868. Tones shorter than 3-seconds are reported as being longer, and tones longer than 3-seconds are reported as being shorter. And even though technology has sped up, our cars got faster, and we’re constantly looking at 3 websites at once, this 3-second point of indifference has remained.
A new study in Science argues that thinking about certain foods acually makes you consume less of that food, contrary to conventional wisdom.
Carey Morewedge and his team at Carnegie Mellon University experimented on subjects who sat next next to full a bowl of M&Ms. Experimental groups were divided based on how many M&Ms they were told to “imagine eating” (respectively 0,3, and 30). The group that was told to imagine eating the largest amount actually ate the least.
The authors argue that their result was due to “habituation.” That is, the subjects got used to the presence of the delicious candies by imagining themselves binging on them, and “getting used” to the candies helped them control their intake. The authors conclude:
These results suggest that mental representation alone can engender habituation to a stimulus.
Meanwhile, those with responsible “mental representations” (‘I’ll only eat 3′) went ahead and binged. Go figure.