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.
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.”
John Cleese is one of the funniest men alive. The veteran British comedian—who has appeared in classic films such as A Fish Called Wanda and Monty Python and the Holy Grail—is known for a unique blend of high- and low-brow humor. This, the thirty-third installment of his podcast, is a perfect example of intelligent silliness:
For a glimpse at how the human brain has evolved since we last shared an ancestor with primates, just observe the development of a brain from infancy through its first few decades.
The expansion, organization, and folding of the human cerebral cortex is a wondrously complex orchestration of genes that displays the very stages it took to get our brains to their current forms. In a study published July 12 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, neurobiologist David Van Essen of Washington University in St. Louis compared brain scans of infant and adult humans, then took the results and mapped them against similar scans of macaque monkey brains to show the parallels between brain development and evolution since we parted ways with our primate ancestors.
A research article in last month’s issue of Neuroscience revealed that trained musicians outperformed non-musicians in a word-remembering task: How did they do it? By recruiting extra brain resources from the visual cortex. The musicians’ recruitment of the visual cortex for this non-visual task was attributed to,
“The long-term and demanding nature of musical training to use as much available neural resources as possible (Huang et al, 2010).”