Brain Changes for Sculpted, Efficient Memory

While I was growing up, I remember my parents and teachers saying, “Your brain is like a sponge.” Of course, I didn’t understand what they meant, but as cliché as this statement is, it actually reveals a lot about children’s amazing abilities to absorb and remember impressive amounts of information. From new words and concepts, to detailed locations and even foul phrases, I learned to communicate using the complex rules of two languages during my childhood. I looked at the world with wonder, while adapting and making sense of it by remembering its complexities. But as I got older, I grew out of this ultra-powerful learning and memory, as most children do. What changes in our brains as we get older, and how do those changes affect our ability to learn?Continue reading

What Songbirds Tell Us About Human Nature

Every once in a while, we hear of amazing scientific feats about how some new drug successfully reduces weight without dieting or exercise in monkeys, or how scientists slowed aging in worms and doubled their lifespans. These studies are often a cause for ridicule in the media, which reduces their significance and validity by implying that mice, flies, birds—any animal really—is not a true representation of the human condition.Continue reading

“Free Bird:” How to Stay on Key

If you’ve ever done Karaoke, then you know how horribly some people sing, especially when the background music is too loud for them to hear themselves.  The ability to adjust to the environment is essential for all sensory systems, which use feedback mechanisms to modify behavior.  Usually the environmental cues are contaminated by noise, so your brain has to decide whether to modify behavior based on sensory feedback (and risk “adapting” to signals that do not accurately reflect performance) or to ignore sensory input (and risk leaving errors uncorrected).  So, how does your brain deal with this mismatch between the actual and expected sensory feedback, so you can have a better Karaoke performance?Continue reading

Let There Be Light!

When I was an undergraduate student, I was an expert at pulling “all-nighter” study sessions prior to exams and project deadlines.  Once everything was said and done the next day, many of my classmates moved on to celebratory happy hours, while the only thing that could make me happy at the time was heading to bed!  Even after some rest, however, I was slow, lethargic, and felt misplaced.Continue reading

Quick buzz. Slow learning.

Beer and wine are quite possibly the oldest known man-made beverages.  Anthropologists have discovered beer jugs that date back to the Neolithic period (10,000 B.C.), and Egyptian pictographs clearly show that wine was a common beverage as early as 4,000 B.C.  Throughout history, alcohol has been used for both celebratory and practical reasons.  Today, consuming alcohol is a way to mark special occasions, socialize with friends, relax after a long week, and (sadly) ease the pain of rejection.Continue reading

Bend it like Beckham: The Neuroscience Way

Life is a continuum of learning motor skills to achieve goals.  At a young age, children learn how sit up, walk, jump, and then cut with scissors.  Later, they may learn how to play soccer or piano, but they will probably not be as proficient as professional athletes and musicians unless they dedicate their lives to perfecting that skill.  So, how does practice make us more perfect?  Here are suggested guidelines for efficient motor skill learning that neuroscience studies have proposed.Continue reading

My, oh myelin!

How many neural processes are going on within your body as you read this sentence?  The answer to this question is hard to fathom, I know, but give it a shot.   Try to imagine all the physiological events that are being controlled by your nervous system at this very moment.  Our nervous systems control a dizzying array of sensory, motor, and cognitive processes simultaneously, without us granting them “permission” to do so.  In fact, most of our neural functions require no mental energy on our part whatsoever!  For this reason, it is extremely easy to take these basic processes for granted.  However, if we were to witness the suffering of an individual with multiple sclerosis, we might begin to appreciate these things a little more.Continue reading