Hacking your Brain with Smart Drugs

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 use of nootropics, or “smart drugs,” by normal healthy people has become commonplace.  But what exactly are the compounds that are claimed to improve brain function?  And are they safe?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

A Tale of Monogamy and Dopamine

In a recent hack, private information from nearly 30 million users was leaked from Ashley Madison, a “dating” website intended to facilitate extramarital affairs.  The sheer number of Ashley Madison users on this website raises some age-old questions of monogamy: is it instinctual, or even healthy?  What is it about our brains that cause some to seek monogamy and others to reject it?Continue reading

Seeing Invisible Colors Knowing Neurons

Seeing Invisible Colors

What would the world be like without color?  Imagine you are a neurophysiologist, who studies color perception.  You know that light is a wave and that humans perceive color according to differential activation of color receptors, known as cones, in the retina.  You know that red cones are sensitive to long wavelengths, green cones are sensitive to medium wavelengths, and blue cones are sensitive to short wavelengths.  There’s just one issue: your entire life, you have been confined to a dark room where your only access to the outside world is a black and white television monitor.  You have never seen color.Continue reading

Zebrafish

What Zebrafish Teach Us About Touch

Unlike the sense of vision, which is perceived only by light-sensitive photoreceptors in our eyes, the mechanoreceptors that respond to light touch are located in sensory neurons all over the body.  Our sense of touch starts in the skin, where sensory neurons with elaborate dendrites just below the skin’s surface provide dense coverage over the entire area of the body.  When we touch something, the mechanical pressure created by the contact between an object and our skin opens mechanoreceptors that cause the sensory neuron to fire an action potential and activate downstream neurons.  We are constantly coming into physical contact with objects and people in our environment, and as a result a large number sensory neurons are being activated over many different areas of our body at any given moment!  How does the nervous system handle all of this incoming tactile information?Continue reading