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 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.
A review article by Janka Zoltan (2004) looks at the pattern of psychological disorders in a few celebrated artists, and it finds that there is a large prevalence of bipolar disorders in these artists. Bipolar mood disorder is largely defined by having phases of mania and depression. The manic phase is characterized by inflated self-esteem, less need for sleep, being talkative, irritable, having racing thoughts, greater activity (both positive and negative), and distractibility. The article suggests that the hypomania of bipolar disease could contribute to prolificness and creativity of great artists. Though it is not a novel concept, it is nevertheless an intriguing, perhaps poetic, idea that painful neurological disorder can very well have beautiful products.
We came across this venn diagram as part of the Imaginary Foundation‘s exhibition “The Undivided Mind” in San Francisco.
From the description of the show:
The artist and scientist may at first seem strange bedfellows. Of the many human disciplines, there are few that could seem more divergent. The artist employs image and metaphor; the scientist uses number and equation. Art creates illusions meant to evoke emotion, while science engages in the pursuit of empirical verification. There is, to some degree, a physiological cause for this apparent divergence: the two halves, or hemispheres, of the brain.
The right side of the brain is responsible for emotions and intuition, the left for logic and reason. Yet the notion of two brains gives rise to the function of one mind. Perhaps it is this one “undivided mind” that presents a way forward through the monumental cultural changes we now face, enabling us to surf this dynamic moment in history from a platform of balance and symmetry.
This installation endeavors to fuse the aesthetic beauty of art and science in order to create a synthesis of mind, one which is as much rational as it is fantastic. Think of this undivided mind as a prototype of human possibility—an evolutionary signal of convergence, harmony, and accelerated progress. The rest is up to us.
While this description of the drastically split functions of the hemispheres of the brain is pretty oversimplified and outdated, props to the Imaginary Foundation for cool images and a great idea for a show.
In a study by Tootell et al. (1982), researchers were able to inject metabolic radio-isotope markers into visual cortex area 1 of monkeys when the monkeys saw this pattern:
The marker stains brain cells that are active. When the monkeys were sacrificed and the brain dissected, the researchers saw this, almost haunting, image:
This is a remarkable, beautiful demonstration of how the V1 area of the brain is retinotopically organized. That is, this part of the brain is organized similarly to how the light hits our retinas. Unfortunately, after V1, this information is scrambled and sent to various other parts of the brain for different levels of processing.
Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. This incredible story of two young girls conjoined at the head is inspiring, bizarre, and potentially a first in human history: Tatiana and Krista recently turned four, an event that was not expected by a team of doctors in Vancouver who predicted a myriad of fatal health complications that have yet to be realized. T and K are joined at the head and actually share regions of their thalamus.
Because the thalamus plays a vital role in sensory processing and integration – in essence, it is the “gatekeeper” of higher cognitive functioning – some scientists and doctors believe the girls may share sensory experiences and perhaps even thoughts. If the girls do indeed see what each other sees, this would be a first set of conjoined twins to do so. Researchers eagerly await the day the girls can report any possible “mind-sharing” experiences.
It has long been expected that what a mother eats during pregnancy is directly related to the type of food her child will be attracted to. In a recent study, newborn babies were subjected to two swabs of amniotic fluid (the fluid that protects and provides nutrients for a baby). You can see in the video below, babies actually “inhale” and “exhale” this fluid.
The researchers found that the babies are consistently positively biased towards the amniotic fluid it developed in. It shows that the human fetus is capable of detecting and storing olfactory stimuli, even before their brains are fully developed. This could be because olfaction is an evolutionarily old sense, developing sooner in fetuses than senses that rely heavily on the neocortex.
A side note, during this experiment, the researchers noted that the amniotic fluid of smoking mothers actually smelled like smoke. Rather disturbing, and the idea of fetal olfactory detection and storage could have implications in the study of high levels of nicotine dependance.