Category: Brain

People who grew up in cities tend to be worse navigators

By Matthew Warren

The environment in which you grew up can have a long-lasting effect on your navigational skills, according to an analysis of data from nearly 400,000 players of a mobile game.

People who spent their childhood in rural or suburban areas tended to be better at navigating in the game Sea Hero Quest than those who grew up in cities. This difference could be seen decades later, the researchers report in Nature, and was particularly striking in countries where cities are organised in a grid layout.

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Does VR give you motion sickness? Try chewing some gum

By Emma Young

VR headsets are becoming commonplace not only in entertainment and pilot training, but in clinical settings — in helping people to overcome phobias, for example, or to distract burns patients while their dressings are changed. Unfortunately, there’s a common side effect: visually induced motion sickness (VIMS), sometimes also known as “cybersickness”. This limits the use of VR, or means that people have to spend extended periods feeling nauseous while they adapt to it. But according to new research in Experimental Brain Research there’s a very simple way to tackle this problem: chewing flavoured gum.

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Language Proficiency Can Determine How Similarly First And Second Languages Are Represented In The Brain

By Emma L. Barratt

Researchers widely agree that first and second languages are handled similarly in the brain. According to previous research, proficient bilinguals’ brain activity is broadly quite similar when accessing their first and second languages.

However, the literature exploring this until now has relied on imaging methods that can tell us where in the brain there is activity, but not how languages are represented in those areas. Distinct patterns of activation may have differentiated first and second languages in those same regions all this time, and by relying on traditional forms of imaging analysis alone, we could have been none the wiser.

Thanks to new imaging methods, however, we’re finally able to take a look at activation in these areas in a much more detailed way. Now, newly published work from Emily Nichols at The University of Western Ontario and colleagues suggests that languages are represented more distinctly than we thought.

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Excessive “Mirroring” Could Explain Why People With Misophonia React Strongly To Sounds Of Chewing Or Drinking

By Emma Young

No one likes the sound of someone else chewing or drinking. But for some people, it’s enough to cause overwhelming feelings of anger or disgust — and in some cases, send them into a violent rage. People with “misophonia” (literally a hatred of sounds) over-react to some common everyday “trigger sounds” — typically, sounds made by another person. Though the phenomenon has been well documented, exactly what causes it hasn’t been clear. Now a new paper in the Journal of Neuroscience provides a compelling explanation: that misophonia isn’t related to hearing so much as to an “over-mirroring” of someone else’s physical actions. The team, led by Sukhbinder Kumar at Newcastle University, thinks that this excessive mirroring causes anger in some sufferers, and anxiety and distress in others.

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Our Brains “See” Beams Of Motion Emanating From People’s Faces Towards The Object Of Their Attention

By guest blogger Sofia Deleniv

Back in the 1970s, the developmental psychologist Jean Piaget discovered that, if you ask young children to explain the mechanics of vision as they understand them, their answers tend to reveal the exact same misconception: that the eyes emit some sort of immaterial substance into the environment and capture the sights of objects much like a projector.

Although this belief declines with age, it is still surprisingly prevalent in adults. What’s more, so-called extramission theories of vision have a long-running history dating all the way back to antiquity. The Greek philosopher Empedocles was amongst the first to suggest in the 5th century BC that our ability to see must stem from an invisible fire beaming out of our eyes to interact with our surroundings. This view was subsequently endorsed by intellectual authorities like Ptolemy and Galen.

Now, a duo of researchers behind a recent publication in PNAS think they might have found an explanation for the intuitive appeal of extramission theories. According to their paper, this worldview might just be a reflection of the mechanisms that play out within our brains when we follow other people’s gazes and track where they pay attention. This is because, to carry out this process, our brains actually conjure illusory beams of motion emanating from other’s faces — a quirk of evolution with interesting consequences.

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Here’s How The Brain Responds When We Feel Our Parents’ Joy

By Emma Young

You scrape off the panels on a lottery scratch card… and you’re a winner! Brain imaging would show a burst of activity in a region called the nucleus accumbens, in the ventral striatum, a region known to code the impact of reward-related stimuli, such as getting money. But how the brain handles so-called vicarious joy — the type you might feel if you scraped winning panels from a relative’s scratch card, or even a stranger’s — is not well understood. Now a new study, published in Cognitive, Affective & Behavioural Neuroscience, shows that while there are similarities, there are also some important differences. Notably, the participants’ brains responded differently when they won money for their mother versus their father.

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Our Brains Have Two Distinct “Beauty Centres”: One For Art And One For Faces

By Emma Young

Audrey Hepburn’s face and Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris. Darcy Bussell dancing the role of Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty and The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh. All of these things, and more, are widely regarded as looking beautiful. Do we have, then, a “beauty centre” in the brain that responds to something that we find visually beautiful, no matter what it is? For almost two decades, psychologists and neuroscientists have been exploring this question, without reaching a consensus. Now a new meta-analysis of existing fMRI studies on almost 1,000 people concludes that no, our brains don’t have one “beauty centre” — but two.

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Cognitive Control Helps Cheaters To Stay Honest — And Honest People To Cheat

By Emma Young

Many of us are faced with daily temptations to cheat. You might be offered the chance to download pirated music, perhaps. Or you might wonder about passing your child off as younger than they are, to avoid buying them a ticket on public transport.

As the authors of a new paper, published in PNAS, point out, several lines of research propose that cognitive control is needed for us to resolve the conflict between wanting to cheat and wanting to be honest. We need, in other words, to make an effort to rein in our impulses. However, the new work, led by Sebastian Speer at Erasmus University in the Netherlands, shows that this means different things for different people. If you’re typically honest, cognitive control can turn you into a cheat.

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When We Follow Orders To Hurt Someone, We Feel Their Pain Less Than If We Hurt Them Freely

By Emma Young

It’s one of the best-known and also controversial experiments in psychology: in 1963, Stanley Milgram reported that, when instructed, many people are surprisingly willing to deliver apparently dangerous electrical shocks to others. For some researchers, this — along with follow-up studies by the team — reveals how acting “under orders” can undermine our moral compass.

Milgram’s interpretation of his findings, and the methods, too, have been criticised. However, the results have largely been replicated in experiments run in the US, Poland, and elsewhere. And in 2016, a brain-scanning study revealed that when we perform an act under coercion vs freely, our brain processes it more like a passive action rather than a voluntary one.

Now a new study, from a group that specialises in the neuroscience of empathy, takes this further: Emilie Caspar at the Social Brain Lab at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience and colleagues report in NeuroImage that when we follow orders to hurt someone, there is reduced activity in brain networks involved in our ability to feel another’s pain. What’s more, this leads us to perceive pain that we inflict as being less severe. This process could, then, help to explain the dark side of obedience.

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Musings On Music: Seven Insights From Psychology

By Emma Young

Music and humans go back a very long way. The earliest accepted instruments, made from bones, appear on the European scene about 40,000 years ago. But for perhaps at least a million years before that, our ancestors had the throat architecture that in theory would have allowed them to sing.

All kinds of ideas have been put forward for why and how music came to matter so much to us. But what’s abundantly clear is that it does matter; there isn’t a society out there that doesn’t make and listen to music. And new research is now revealing all manner of psychological and neurological effects… Continue reading “Musings On Music: Seven Insights From Psychology”