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.
Today’s New York* Times Science section profiles the work of N.Y.*U. developmental psychologist Karen Adolph, doctoral candidate John Franchak, and their colleagues. Using high-tech eye-tracking technology designed by the New York* company Positive Science, the researchers studied how children 5 months and older navigate obstacle courses. The results show that infants are surprisingly adept within even a novel and complicated environment. Mr. Franchak:
“Adults only fixate on obstacles about a third of the time, and 4- to 8-year-old children fixate on obstacles about 60 percent of the time, but it’s remarkable that infants can even navigate without looking.”
At these early stages, it appears that brain needs even less information than once thought. Here is the Times piece.
*(“IN NEW YORK, CONCRETE JUNGLES WHERE DREAMS ARE MADE OF, THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN’T DO” . . .)
Ryan Nikolaidis, a PhD student at the Georgia Tech Center for Music Technology, has invented a robot that can improvise on the marimba. The robot, “Shimon,” uses real-time programmed algorithms that calculate tempo, rhythm, and harmony as the music plays. While it may not be the most moving music, it’s still pretty awesome (especially the head-bobbing.)
Laurie Santos, a Yale Psychologist, studies primate cognition. In here recent TED talk, she lucidly explains how monkeys show the same economic riskiness as we do, treating economic losses differently than gains. I wonder if there’s a Capuchin monkey recession going on that we don’t know about…
In a new research article in Nature, Jonathan Oler and his team show that chronic anxiety is partly heritable. The form of clinical anxiety they studied is termed “Anxious Temperament” (AT), and Olen describes AT as,
“A trait-like phenotype evident early in life that is characterized by increased behavioral and physiological reactivity to mildly threatening stimuli (Olen et al, 2010).”
The researchers studied a large population of rhesus Monkeys (200+); by eliciting anxiety in the monkeys while analyzing their brains using PET scans, they found that “the central nucleus region of the amygdala and the anterior hippocampus are key components of the neural circuit predictive of AT.” Furthermore, the hippocampal-driven anxiety response was often seen in closely related individuals. I wonder what Woody Allen’s folks were like…
“Early in life, I was visited by the bluebird of anxiety.”
Caleb Warren and A. Peter McGraw, two psychological scientists from the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado-Boulder, argue that violations of norms are laughable, but only if benign. If I actually shot the sheriff, it would not matter whether or not I killed the deputy. If I really did it, it’s really serious. McGraw explains:
“We laugh when Moe hits Larry because we know that Larry’s not really being hurt. It’s a violation of social norms. You don’t hit people, especially a friend. But it’s okay because it’s not real.”
Here’s a link to a PDF of the paper, published in Psychological Science. Disclaimer: It is not a knee-slapper. In fact, the only thing we surely don’t need science to tell us is that the easiest way to ruin a joke is to explain it to death.
If you have yet to check out the BBC’s hilarious, absurdist, educational-video-spoof show “Look Around You,” you must. It’s the brainchild of the uber-talented British comedians Robert Popper and Peter Serafinowicz. The show no longer airs new episodes, but it can be viewed/bought online.
And now for your enjoyment, the gut-splitting pseudo-neuroscience episode — “The Brain.”