Why mosquitoes love us Knowing Neurons

Why Mosquitoes Love Us

From that evil itch on your arm to torturous diseases such as malaria, Zika, dengue, and yellow fever, mosquito bites can have unpleasant consequences. But have you ever wondered why those skin-diving insects are so good at detecting humans? Not so surprisingly, the answer lies in neuroscience — in a special field called chemosensation, the sensing of chemical stimuli.Continue reading

Weird Animal Brain: Octopus

The octopus almost reaches alien status when it comes to its brain and nervous system.  And yet, the differences can help us understand more about the human brain as well as unique solutions nature has come up with for difficult problems like camouflage.  Octopuses can see polarized light, but cannot see color.  However, their skin changes both color and texture to camouflage with the surroundings.Continue reading

A Grand Vision: A Conversation with Lynne Kiorpes

When babies are born, they cannot see very well, but their vision vastly improves as they continue to develop.  Sometimes, the eyes don’t communicate well with the brain, and vision disorders like amblyopia result.  What are the neural mechanisms that allow normal visual development?  What happens when things go amiss?  And how can these disorders be prevented and treated?  These are the questions that get Professor Lynne Kiorpes up in the morning!  Listen to her passion as she explains her research and life as a neuroscientist:Continue reading

How a mother’s voice shapes her baby’s developing brain

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 2014 study of preterm infants showed that playing a recording of the mother’s voice when babies sucked on a pacifier was enough to improve development of oral feeding skills and shorten their hospital stay.  A mother’s voice can soothe a child in stressful situations, reducing levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, and increasing levels of oxytocin, the social bonding hormone.  Scientists have even traced the power of a mother’s voice to infants’ brains: a mother’s voice activates the anterior prefrontal cortex and the left posterior temporal region more strongly than an unfamiliar voice, priming the infant for the specialized task of speech processing.

While it makes intuitive sense that a mother’s voice has special power over infants and toddlers, what happens as children grow up?  Continue reading

This is Your Brain on Starbucks

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 American cultures, drinking psychoactive peyote tea is an important part of religious ceremony.  And yet, the very phrase psychoactive tea is somewhat redundant.  All tea and coffee, unless decaffeinated, is psychoactive, albeit usually not to the same extent as peyote, a cactus native to the American Southwest that contains a hallucinogenic alkaloid called mescaline.Continue reading

When the blind can see again: A critical question of perception

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 go to school, less than 50% make it to adulthood, and for those that do, only 20% are employed. But the real tragedy is that many of these cases of childhood blindness are completely avoidable and even treatable.

Why do they go untreated?

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