Why Prairie Voles Fall in Love: A Chemical Romance

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, the most romantic day of the year. Couples will stroll down the lane, gaze into each other’s eyes, and experience one of the most enigmatic feelings of all: love. But we won’t be Cupid’s only targets; prairie voles will be falling in love, too! This Valentine’s Day eve, let’s discuss what we have learned about this crazy little thing called love from these little cute animals.Continue reading

Love is in the air! Or is that oxytocin?

Have you noticed the chocolates wrapped in bright red paper, teddy bears holding pink hearts in all the stores, and the endless supply of diamond commercials on television? Indeed, this Thursday is Valentine’s Day, which means couples will dote on each other with complete infatuation all day. But what happens after that lovely night out, when the alcohol is gone and the sugar high wears off? Will she notice the hot guys at the beach, and will his eyes wander to the attractive women walking across the street?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

Towards A Better Brain Model

One of the fundamental goals of cognitive and systems neuroscience is to create a computer program that can simulate the activity of the human brain, from single neurons, through network level processing, to influences on behavior.  The only problem is that the human brain contains almost 90 billion neurons with an estimated total of 100 trillion synapses!  As staggeringly large as those numbers are, researchers actually aren’t too far away from producing such a complex computer program.Continue reading

The Reward Pathway Reinforces Behavior

If you think about it, most of our daily lives revolve around food: when our next meal will be, what it will be, and how yummy it will be!  Evolutionarily, these have been essential thoughts for our survival, so that when we find food, we are compelled to eat as much as we can.  Not only does this ensure that we get all our necessary nutrients, but it also keeps competitors from stealing our meals.Continue reading

Do You Crave Sweets?

My answer is YES, all the time, no exceptions!  Do you remember when Miranda from “Sex and the City” was so addicted to chocolate cake that even after she threw it away, she pulled a piece of cake out of the trashcan and ate it?  No doubt we have all had a moment when we knew we should stop but it was impossible to resist even when we are not hungry!  So, why do we indulge in sweets?  Is it because of our emotions, or is it due to chemicals in our brains?Continue reading