Cute things are usually vulnerable, fragile and weak. But cuteness itself is mighty indeed. Morten L. Kringelbach and his colleagues at the University of Oxford recently described cuteness as ‘one of the most basic and powerful forces shaping our behavior.’ And yet, despite its elemental importance, cuteness might be a fluid, evolving concept and trait.
Consider three scenarios. A kid joins a new high school and eats lunch by herself. A recently separated man is alone for the New Year’s Eve countdown. A prisoner becomes aggravated in a solitary confinement cell. The common thread that runs through these disparate experiences is the universal feeling of loneliness. Humans, as incredibly social
It is no surprise that a child prefers its mother’s voice to those of strangers. Beginning in the womb, a fetus’s developing auditory pathways sense the sounds and vibrations of its mother. Soon after birth, a child can identify its mother’s voice and will work to hear her voice better over unfamiliar female voices. A
Marine mammals, such as dolphins, whales, and porpoises, spend their entire lives at sea. Like us, they need to breathe, avoid danger, and care for their young. Like us, they need to sleep, which — for us — involves almost total unconsciousness and paralysis. So how do these marine mammals not drown when they sleep?
My father often jokes that hundreds of years from now, future anthropologists will speak of the cult of the Seattle goddess, her shrine adorning every airport, shopping mall, and train station in America. The worshippers partake in a holy communion of coffee, tea, and espresso. In fact, anthropologists today tell us that in some indigenous
Our sense of sight is arguably our most important sense. Imagine how different your life would be if soon after birth, you lost the ability to see. For over 1.4 million children worldwide, that is their life. Being blind in developing countries like India has a costly impact: over 90% of blind children do not
The human genome consists of nearly 25,000 protein-coding genes – and a mutation in just one of these can have dramatic effects on our brains. Remarkably, one tiny change in our genes (which can be as small as 0.000000025 cm!) can lead to visible changes in our behavior. Schizophrenia, autism, bipolar disorder, and ADHD have
The jewel wasp’s venom is potent on two levels. With the first stab of its stinger, the wasp paralyzes the much larger cockroach. The neurotransmitter GABA, inserted into the thorax of the cockroach, causes temporary paralysis by shutting down motor neurons. The paralysis allows for the second stab — a perfectly targeted attack on a specific
The minds of individuals are like parallel universes, forever inaccessible to one another. Never do we truly see through the eyes of another person. It is common for us to wonder if other people experience the world in the same way we do. Is your green my red? Is my yellow your blue? While we
Have you ever wondered if you experience the world like everyone else? We assume that our senses tell us what’s going on in the world, but they’re far from perfect. Synesthesia is a cool example of when our senses have a mind of their own.
We have someone new joining our team! She is a neuroscience PhD student at the University of Iowa, and she studies speech perception – but let’s let the animation she created explain exactly what that means: Among neuroscientists, there is a huge range of topics to study and methods with which to study them. This is
If you grew up with siblings, it is likely that you have heard the phrase, ”Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” However, it wasn’t until a groundbreaking finding in the 1990s that the neural correlate to imitation was discovered in a class of neurons called mirror neurons. These neurons were discovered in the macaque
Responding to the assertion that computers lack intuition, the philosopher and cognitive scientist Daniel Dennett once (counter-intuitively) argued that computers must have intuition. Ask a computer to calculate the square root of 54357.029. How did the computer get the answer? Lacking awareness, the computer doesn’t know. The answer wasn’t the result of deep thinking or
Your brain is the most remarkable thing about you because it makes you you. So, when Dean Burnett, Ph.D. chose to describe all that the brain does to make you amazing, he did it in a uniquely humane and entertaining way. His popular science book Idiot Brain: What Your Head is Really Up To is
In Dante’s Inferno, the fifth circle of Hell is a place where the wrathful fight each other for eternity. Similarly, I often consider YouTube comments to be an extracanonical circle of Hell where the trolls fight each other for eternity. You might, then, imagine my surprise when I found many thoughtful comments expressing wonder and
Dear Skin, I would like to express my upmost gratitude for the vast amount of receptors you possess. Among my favorites – the practical ones that allow me to find keys at the bottom of my large jet-black bag, the emergency ones that warn me the fajita plate is searing, and those truly special ones
This weekend, I attended a special event at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Pasadena, CA to celebrate the Juno spacecraft’s July 4th arrival at the planet Jupiter. Planetary scientists study outer space, while neuroscientists such as myself study inner space. But as my visit to JPL revealed, the goals and challenges of each discipline are
Our eyes contain millions of color-sensitive cells, called cones, which maximally respond to red, green, and blue light. With just these three types of color receptors, we can see the full rainbow of our world. Animals with fewer types of cones cannot see the full visual spectrum. For example, dogs only have green and blue
The nostrils of a rabbit may seem like an unusual path to studying the nature of meaning and chaos. But Walter J. Freeman III was not a usual man. His father, Walter J. Freeman II, helped to popularize the frontal lobotomy in America, a procedure unthinkable by today’s ethical sensibilities. While continuing in the medical
Welcome to Knowing Neurons’ Neuroscience Fiction Theater. Please note that the following story contains mild profanity and may be unsettling for younger audiences. Reader discretion is advised. “I’m sorry, Art. What you’re asking for is illegal.” Art’s neuroiatrist Abree stared unsympathetically at her patient from across the patio table of her San Diego estate. Her
What if you could take a pill to enhance your cognitive abilities? What if this pill could help you ace a test, get more work done efficiently, and truly multitask? For entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and executives on Wall Street, the answer to these questions is a resounding “Yes!” In these high stake environments, the
What are brain waves? It’s no wonder the term sounds like science fiction. In the 1920s, a German psychiatrist embarked on a highly personal quest to discover the supposed medium of telepathy. By placing electrodes on the human scalp, Hans Berger found waves of electrical brain activity using a tool called electroencephalography, or EEG. Physicists