It’s Brain Awareness Week!

Every March, Brain Awareness Week (BAW, for short) unifies the world in celebration of the brain and mind! In order to raise awareness about how the brain works, what neuroscientists do, and how amazing new research is, scientists present interactive activities, host laboratory tours, and speak to audiences about brain-related topics.

This year, we put together a list of our favorite Knowing Neurons content that highlight how amazing the brain is! Check them out and share the awesomeness!Continue reading

Why Dopamine Makes People More Impulsive

Over the past few decades, the neurochemical dopamine has earned the reputation of being the brain’s reward molecule.  This image is built on observations that when animals and humans experience surges of dopamine, they feel rewarded and motivated to pursue more of the experience or substance which triggered the dopamine release.  Researchers theorize that this neurochemical is at the root of an ancient system that evolved to make us feel gratified and thus more likely to approach situations and objects that might satisfy our needs — anything from nutrition to the more sophisticated desires for social approval or even money, a universal ticket for access to most resources.Continue reading

How Do We Know? The Value of Scientific Models.

Last month, astronomers announced the prediction of a new giant planet in our solar system dubbed Planet IX, a genuine ninth planet with ten times the mass of Earth.  The announcement lead to some confusion on the Internet as to the whether the planet had actually been discovered.  In fact, no direct observation of this planet has been made. Rather, the planet has been predicted by a model, a simplified description of a system which often incorporates hypothetical elements to explain the variance in data.  Because many models use equations to describe a system, a model can often be thought of as a theory with a mathematical backbone.Continue reading

Digging Out the “Earworms:” Involuntary Musical Imagery Correlates with Cortical Structure

You don’t know you know this song, but you definitely know this song: “Hey Mickey you’re so fine, you’re so fine you…” Did the end of the lyric materialize in your mind, complete with musical accompaniment? Your memory of Toni Basil’s “Mickey” is so ingrained, it will probably continue to annoy for several hours after you finish reading this article. Sorry. However, the example illustrates “stuck song syndrome” or more formally, involuntary musical imagery (INMI), a universal phenomenon of having music looping in one’s head. How do musical tunes affix to the architecture of the brain? Is the structure of some brains “stickier” than others?Continue reading

The Fugue of Life: Why Complexity Matters in Physiology and Neuroscience

People like simplicity. Each decade, corporate logos grow progressively minimalistic, pop songs use ever simpler melodies, and visual art embraces simpler compositions, as Monet gives way to Picasso and Picasso gives way Rothko.  This zeitgeist, summarized as “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication,” shapes our perceptions of physiology in interesting ways.  The thumping of a beating heart is often celebrated as nature’s beautifully simple rhythm.  Listening through a doctor’s stethoscope, one expects any deviation from perfect rhythmicity to be an omen of disease.Continue reading

Inhibitory Neurons: Keeping the Brain’s Traffic in Check

Imagine that you’re driving down a road undeterred, no red lights or stop signs to slow you down. While that may seem like a very exciting idea, it is obviously very dangerous, since our roads are not all parallel, but interconnected in a number of different ways. For traffic to go smoothly in all directions, we have stop signs, red lights, speed bumps and police cars to make sure no accidents occur. Continue reading

Hubel and Wiesel & the Neural Basis of Visual Perception

Snap!  Crackle!  Pop!

Those are the sounds that Professors David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel heard in the early 1950s when they recorded from neurons in the visual cortex of a cat, as they moved a bright line across its retina.  During their recordings, they noticed a few interesting things: (1) the neurons fired only when the line was in a particular place on the retina, (2) the activity of these neurons changed depending on the orientation of the line, and (3) sometimes the neurons fired only when the line was moving in a particular direction.Continue reading