Backpacks And Bird Brains: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

Our weekly round-up of the best psychology coverage from elsewhere on the web

Many birds have impressive cognitive abilities such as good memory, tool-making talents, and problem-solving skills — yet they don’t have the part of the brain called the neocortex which is key to those abilities in mammals. But now researchers have discovered that a region of the pigeon brain called the pallium seems to be organised in a similar way to mammals’ neocortex, reports Virginia Morell at Science, suggesting it is responsible for bird cognition.

Most of us would go out of our way to avoid hurting others. But why do some people “harm the harmless”? At The Conversation, Simon McCarthy-Jones has written a primer on psychopathy, sadism, and “dark” personality traits

In a new preprint, researchers report finding changes in the volume of certain brain areas after the COVID-19 lockdown. A total of 50 volunteers were scanned in Israel in 2019 and then again in May-July 2020, after the country’s first lockdown. The team found increases in the volume of the amygdala and nearby regions, which they suggest could relate to emotional stress. At Discover Magazine, Neuroskeptic takes a more detailed look at the study, with — as you’d expect — a healthy dose of scepticism.

Neuroscientists have created a prototype backpack that can take EEG measurements and provide brain stimulation — and it even includes a virtual reality system too. The device could allow researchers to study brain function while people are moving around, writes Rebekah Tuchscherer at Science, though only patients with neural implants are able to use it.

People of African ancestry are underrepresented in genetics and neuroscience research. At NPR, Jon Hamilton has the story of an initiative seeking to change that.

What causes people to stutter? Research has suggested that stuttering could be related to different patterns of connectivity within the brain, or increased levels of dopamine. Some studies have implicated mutations in particular genes as well. At BBC Future, Amber Dance examines the evidence.

Skin-to-skin contact could reduce newborn babies’ neural response to pain, reports Jason Goodyer at BBC Science Focus. Researchers found a dampened pattern of brain activity in response to a needle prick when mothers held their baby against their skin rather than against their clothing. However it remains to be seen whether this altered response actually relates to reduced perception of pain.  

Compiled by Matthew Warren (@MattbWarren), Editor of BPS Research Digest