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.
A new article out of article out of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm released last week, entitled “The Illusion of Owning a Third Arm,” details an ingenious set of experiments that actually convinced individuals that a prosthetic “third limb” was of their own flesh. While the traditional “phantom limb” experiments used mirrors to trick people into thinking a prosthetic arm was their own, this experiment put the fake one right out on the table next to the real thing.
The neuroscience behind the illusion is intriguing. How does the brain “make room” for the ownership, albeit illusory, of an extra limb? How far can this little trick go? Can the brain also be tricked into amplified physical states? Three eyes? Four legs? Two selves?
Patricia Kuhl of the University of Washington gave a TED talk late last year and it is now live on their site. Kuhl has done some interesting work on the sheer complexity of language learning during infancy, and dicusses the complexities of the integrated brain systems that support language. From TED:
Patricia Kuhl shares astonishing findings about how babies learn one language over another — by listening to the humans around them and “taking statistics” on the sounds they need to know. Clever lab experiments (and brain scans) show how 6-month-old babies use sophisticated reasoning to understand their world.
I just came across an article published last month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, US. It turns out that shifting of the circadian clock – the natural light/dark and sleep cycle represented in mammalian hypothalamic suprachiasmatic nuclei - is probably not good for you. If lack of sleep in the modern era isn’t bad enough, the daily deviation from the natural synchronous rhythms of activity and light, brought about mainly with the advent of electric lighting, affects us as well (rather than just the absolute amount of sleep).
Researchers at Rockefeller University in New York bounced mice off the normal 24hr light cycle they (and, of course, we) evolved in response to, and found devastating effects:
Housing in these conditions results in accelerated weight gain and obesity, as well as changes in metabolic hormones. In the brain, circadian-disrupted mice exhibit a loss of dendritic length and decreased complexity of neurons in the prelimbic prefrontal cortex, a brain region important in executive function and emotional control. Disrupted animals show decreases in cognitive flexibility and changes in emotionality consistent with the changes seen in neural architecture.
Maybe this means we should start going to work at 5:30 in the morning, get home at 2:00pm, and turn off the lights at 6:00.
Oh yea, and no more transoceanic flights, night shifts, or midnight screenings….and last call is now at 8:00pm.
New research out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill shows that the immensely complicated, accurate, and dangerous migration of hatchling loggerhead sea turtles in the open ocean is acheived using an amazing sixth sense: the ability to sense the earth’s magnetic fields.
The turtles measure both angle and intensity of the planet’s natural magnetic field created billions of years ago. The Loggerhead’s abililties are especially interesting, as the turtles are turning a relatively small amount of data into a superlative ability to locate a single breeding site. As one of the reserachers, Nathan Putman, says, ”although it is true that an animal capable of detecting only inclination or only intensity would have a hard time determining longitude, loggerhead sea turtles detect both magnetic parameters…This means that they can extract more information from the Earth’s field than is initially apparent.”
Little is known regarding the neuroscience behind this amazing sensory feat, but it’s sure to be interesting.
And I wonder what the sensation of sensing the earth’s magnetic fields would be like…itchy? warm? tasty? completely subconscious? Hmmmm…..
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.