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Post Archive
2014 (0)2013 (2)2012 (29)
December (1)November (2)

Give thanks this Thursday—and always
Monday, November 19, 2012

"neuroBLOGical" turns 1!
Sunday, November 4, 2012
October (4)September (1)

Sight without seeing: Balint's syndrome
Sunday, September 16, 2012
August (2)

Catnip fever: why your cat acts high
Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Paralyze your face, fight depression
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
July (2)June (4)May (3)April (2)March (3)February (2)

Seeing into the future? The neuroscience of déjà vu
Sunday, February 26, 2012

Your love is my drug
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
January (3)
2011 (7)
Blogger Profile

Jordan Gaines
Neuroscience
Pennsylvania State University USA

A blog on biology, psychology, cognition, learning, memory, aging, and everything in between. Explaining recent discoveries in neuroscience, translated to language we can all understand!

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Recent Comments

Your blog is perhaps one of the best pieces of science writings I have recently come across! Brilliant work ! I have been meaning to start something similar..now am inspired :) By the way- . . .Read More
May 08, 2013, 2:08pm

When you get to smell, I have some burning questions.   What's the scoop on that new car smell, and why does it make you want to buy?  :)   . . .Read More
Jan 28, 2013, 7:14pm

Coolest series ever!  I can't wait for the next one. . . .Read More
Dec 10, 2012, 9:46am
Comment by Brian Krueger, PhD in "neuroBLOGical" turns 1!

I'm starting as the Associate Director of the Genomic Analysis Facility at Duke University in two weeks!  Hopefully once things settle down I'll actually be able to write again and start recruitin. . .Read More
Nov 06, 2012, 7:20am
Comment by Jordan Gaines in "neuroBLOGical" turns 1!

Excellent! What's the new job? . . .Read More
Nov 05, 2012, 5:37pm
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Views: 4517 | Comments: 1
Last by Sneha Mokashi on May 08, 2013, 2:08pm
My friend texted me something today that she thought I'd find interesting.

She had a meeting for work in an office she'd never entered before. Immediately as she entered the room, conflicting feelings of happiness and awkwardness washed over her.

The smell. It wasn't necessarily good or bad—just distinctive. And it didn't smell like anything in particular. All she knew was that it had an odor exactly like her boyfriend's dorm room when she was a freshman in college—something she hasn't experienced in five years—bringing back the paired feelings of excitement and nervousness that come with new relationships. And those of, well, being in a boy's stinky dorm room.

We've all experienced this at one time or another: a familiar perfume, a family recipe in the oven, the scent of a bonfire—they all bring back a flood of memories, momentarily whisking us away to re-live our past. But why does this happen?

One of animals' most primal senses is that of smell. If you look at a rat brain, the olfactory bulbs (the two little notches at the top) take up a significant portion of the total surface area. In the human brain, the piriform cortex (our primary olfactory cortex) is composed of three primitive layer . . . More
Views: 3894 | Comments: 1
Last by jimbot on Jan 28, 2013, 7:14pm
The weekend before Christmas, I was sucked into a giant, enticing vortex of craving and desire, stuck for hours with the inability to leave—my only limitation being my wallet.

In other words, I went to Target.

And—again, in other words—I was like a bull in a China shop.

Back in 2009, Target introduced new gigantic, plastic, Playskool-esque shopping carts. Maneuvering the aisles is like passing a car on a one-lane country road in a Hummer.

Of course they're ridiculously cumbersome, but it's all a trick on the Target executives' part—the bigger your cart, the more you can fit in there. You'll look silly hauling around a couple packages of pens and a box of tissues to the checkout counter, after all. Better head to the appliance section and fill it with a microwave or plasma TV.

In this second installment, we'll explore how stores betray our sense of sight, tricking us to buy stuff we really don't want or need.

Retailers have—quite creepily, actually—studied our every move. In fact, they've found that we like to shop counter-clockwise, and stores with their main entrance to the right side sell more than their counterparts with doors on the left.

They also like to welcome us . . . More
Views: 3582 | Comments: 1
Last by Brian Krueger, PhD on Dec 10, 2012, 9:46am
On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me...

...a bunch of crap I really didn't need.

With just sixteen shopping days until Christmas, it's easy to get roped into buying things we might not actually have on our gift list.

Most times, we're conscious of our impulse purchases—there's a great sale on this! I'll use that later!

But sometimes reasons for our frivolous purchases are not so obvious to us. Don't feel too bad—store chains actually hire researchers to study our shopping patterns and take advantage of our weaknesses.

Our brains are endlessly fascinatingly organs—but sometimes they betray us. The following is the first post in a five-part series on how stores trick our senses into shelling out more money than we may intend.

Taste

Did you ever take the Pepsi Challenge?

For those unfamiliar (or living under a rock), the Pepsi Challenge was a campaign started by Pepsi back in the 1970s where Coca-Cola was pitted against Pepsi in a blind taste test by consumers.

When it was revealed that most Americans chose Pepsi over Coca-Cola, sales skyrocketed.

How they tricks us: We consumers like brands, and we're loyal to them.

It make sen . . . More
Views: 1236 | Comments: 0
Sometimes our world can be pretty crappy.

There's violence and crazy people. Maybe your candidate didn't win the election. Perhaps you hate your job, and that—on top of life's other personal, familial, and financial burdens—is wearing you down. Maybe you got to your morning coffee after it went cold, and that set off a bad tone for the rest of your day.

If you're celebrating Thanksgiving this Thursday, don't forget the true meaning of the holiday between the stressful hubbub of cooking, shopping, planning, and appeasing Great Aunt Gertie: giving thanks.

As it turns out, expressing gratitude is more than just a nice idea—it's beneficial to your health and happiness.

Back in 2003, Robert A. Emmons (UC Davis) and Michael McCullough (Miami) were among the first to publish a study in examining the link between thankfulness and a person's well-being in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The researchers divided 192 undergraduate participants into three groups. All participants kept a weekly journal—the difference was what they wrote about.

Those in the first group (the "gratitude" group) were instructed to list five things for whi . . . More
Views: 2594 | Comments: 3
Last by Brian Krueger, PhD on Nov 06, 2012, 7:20am
A year ago today, I began this blog, "neuroBLOGical"!

Having my blog hosted on LabSpaces has allowed me to interact with so many interesting, insightful, thoughtful, and questioning readers, scientists and non-scientists alike—which is exactly how I envisioned my audience when I set out to write about the latest neuroscience research and hot topics.

And so, readers, I ask you for a small birthday gift. In the tradition of science writer Ed Yong and the SciAm Blog Network that just turned 1 in July, I want to know—who are you?

Whether you openly follow my blog or whether you lurk quietly, I'd love for you to tell me a bit about yourself and why you read this blog in the comments section below:

Who are you?

What is your relationship to science?

What drew you to this blog, and how often do you read it?

Do you follow LabSpaces on Twitter and Facebook?

How am I doing? What do you like, and how can I improve?

These questions are a guide, not a strict format—write as much or as little as you want. I truly appreciate the fe . . . More
Views: 1414 | Comments: 0
A couple weekends ago, I came down with coulrophobia. Unfortunately, I have yet to shake the disease.

Because we are Halloween masochists, my friends and I drove out to the Lancaster area for Field of Screams, which can be best described as a horror-movie-set-haunted-house on steroids. Sprinting from room to room offers a completely new, dizzying experience, with different themes and scary people to touch you or chase you down with chainsaws.

But this one room. This one room was unlike any other...

It zigzagged. The walls were tiled with 2x2" black and white checkers. There was a strobe light. I was holding my friend's hand and trying to keep my eyes shut through the flickering.

Out of nowhere, sitting in the corner, tiny and dejected, was this freaking clown. It looked so far away. Then suddenly, not one second later, it was IN MY FACE. The strobe light betrayed my perception of its speed and distance. I cried out. Please, just take me now, and do it quickly...

Hence my newfound coulrophobia, or fear of clowns.

But is coulrophobia a real fear? And, for that matter, what is fear?

Fear: a primer

A woman—known simply in the neuroscience world as S.M.—wa . . . More
Views: 3950 | Comments: 0
Think back to your childhood Halloween: 9pm, a school night, pillowcase full of candy.

Just as you plunge into your pile of peanut butter cups, fun size this-and-thats, and spider rings (weren't they so exciting?), Mom ruins the party. "You can eat three. Then go brush your teeth and get ready for bed."

Did you eat just three? Or did you sneak an extra Baby Ruth or two when she wasn't looking?

A study published earlier this month in Cognition suggests that willpower is not the only factor in play when it comes to foregoing that extra piece.

Instead, a child's belief about their superiors' reliability can change their willingness to wait for a better payoff later.

Psychologist Celeste Kidd and colleagues of the University of Rochester created a modified paradigm of the "marshmallow task." Originally developed by psychologist Walter Mischel in 1972, the task involves an experimenter telling a preschooler that they can eat a marshmallow, cookie, or pretzel. If the child abstains and waits 15 minutes, however, the experimenter tells them they can receive two treats.

Kids lasted an average of six minutes before grabbing the treat in front of them. When fo . . . More
Views: 2094 | Comments: 0
Every year around this time, science bloggers from all over unite as a single force (in a non-Twitter format, no less) at DonorsChoose.org. The science blogging networks engage in monetary battle, raising money to buy school supplies for needy classrooms across the country.

This challenge runs until November 5.



Check out the various projects put forth by science bloggers here and consider making a donation, no matter how small. If you cannot donate, spread the word by Facebook, Twitter, word of mouth, telepathy, etc.

Let's give kids what they need to get the education they deserve!

. . . More
Views: 1976 | Comments: 0
Do you have an ex?

Do you have a Facebook profile? Does your ex?

Do you stalk your ex on Facebook?

To the untrained eye, that photo of him eating dinner with...that girl...at Olive Garden is no big deal. But Olive Garden was our place, and—wait, is that the watch I got him? Oh, and it looks like he got into that grad school he wanted to go to. The one for which I edited his personal statement and quizzed him with GRE words...

Ugh.

I'm going to tell you something that you probably already know: you should stop doing this. And I'm armed with the psychology of why it's bad!

In a study published last month in Cyberpsychology, Behavior, and Social Networking, Tara C. Marshall of Brunel University in England examined how individuals who use Facebook have—or, uh, haven't—moved on after a breakup.



The participants comprised of 464 individuals—mostly college-age students (60%), and 84% of whom were female. They were recruited via an online survey which, if you ask me, should have established a criteria to create a 1:1 ratio of males to females. But they didn't ask me.

First, th . . . More
Views: 3247 | Comments: 0
Scientific literature is, to say the least, pretty dull.

It's rife with redundant phrases, confusing methodologies, and tiny graphs. Reading page after page of long words in small font is better than any over-the-counter sleep aid out there for getting the job done.

Occasionally, the rare gem will come along just when you least expect it, providing a readable (dare I say—enjoyable) account of the latest research.

So begins a paper published this past week in Neurology:

"It was a quiet Thursday afternoon when 'A.S.', a 68-year-old woman from a suburb of Chicago, awakened from a nap to the realization that something was terribly wrong.

What?! What's wrong! Must...keep...reading...

As the article continues, we learn how A.S. and another patient, J.D., adjust to their lives before and after their diagnoses of Bálint's syndrome.

A.S. couldn't find doors or cabinets in her house. She had difficulty naming familiar household objects, and she was unable to read a book or the numbers on her phone.

Armed with an ophthalmologist's' note declaring 20/20 vision with glasses, the next step was to visit a neurologist.

J.D.'s fir . . . More
Views: 3840 | Comments: 2
Last by Jordan Gaines on Aug 29, 2012, 8:27am
There are few things in this world more entertaining than cats. Except for, perhaps, cats on catnip.

Yes, "on" catnip. I speak of it like a drug, because it is.

Sure, make a laser pointer dance around the room and you've got endless hours of entertainment. But give Mittens a little toy mouse infused with catnip and—well, something changes.

Mittens will rub against the toy, rolling around and ecstatically chewing it. She may drool and become either sleepy or anxious. If you try to take the toy, she might act aggressive, scratching or biting at you.

Forget the mouse—Mittens wants the catnip inside. So what is catnip, and why is it causing your sweet kitty to behave so dichotomously?

What is catnip?

Catnip, also called catswort or catmint, is a plant of the genus Nepeta. Native to Asia and Europe, it's become common worldwide—in fact, you're likely to see it growing along many North American highways and railroads. Catnip is a relative of oregano and spearmint.

In the past, humans consumed the plant in the form of juice, tea, alcohol, or by smoking—for medicinal purposes such as pain, insomnia, colic, and, er, flatulence.

What is it doing to my cat?!

The toys that drive our feline . . . More
Views: 7554 | Comments: 0
I'm willing to bet you've made fun of the expression-less faces on heavily-Botoxed people.

With their vanished crow's feet, missing smile lines, lack of forehead wrinkles, and paralyzed cheeks, eventually we just can't tell whether Botox abusers are happy, sad, angry, worried, or just plain crazy. We can only assume the latter.

As it turns out, this side effect may actually be a good thing for individuals with depression who are resistant to other forms of treatment.

Back in March, I blogged about the neurochemistry of Botox (click here to read). Botox is the trade name for botulinum toxin, a powerful neurotoxin which, in very small medical doses, functions to paralyze the muscles of the face (or wherever it's injected). On the other hand, severe botulism poisoning, which occurs primarily through food contamination, can result in paralysis of respiratory muscles, leading to respiratory arrest, coma, or death if untreated.



Botox functions by blocking the neurotransmitter acetylcholine from being released by the axon terminal of a neuron. Typically, acetylcholine binds to receptors on muscle, causing contraction; inhibiting th . . . More
Views: 9445 | Comments: 4
Last by Doctor Zen on Aug 19, 2012, 10:16am
In 1982, Angela Cavallo of Lawrenceville, Georgia received the Mom of the Year Award. (Not a real award, but if it existed, she would probably win, hands down). Her son Tony was working on the suspension of his 1964 Chevy Impala when the car suddenly slipped off the jack and pinned him in the wheel well.

Angela dashed outside to see her unconscious son trapped under the car. She yelled for a neighbor to get help but it was taking too long, so she took matters into her own hands. Literally. She proceeded to lift the car—high enough to replace the jacks—and pull Tony out from beneath.

Yep, you read that correctly. She lifted a 3,500-pound car from the ground.

There's not much more information to be found about Mrs. Cavallo aside from this incredible story, but I'll safely assume she wasn't a body builder. In fact, I'll bet the same for the other individuals who have also demonstrated this sort of "hysterical strength." But that's beside the point—if you were placed in a similar situation, you could probably lift a car, too!

It's all thanks to the handy little hormone called adrenaline.

Activating the stress response

The kicker abou . . . More
Views: 4722 | Comments: 0
A teacher calls on you when your hand isn't raised, and you feel the familiar sensation as your classmate's eyes immediately dart toward you. Mrs. So-and-So watches expectantly, smirking. A surge of blood races from your gut to your head and your cheeks become warm. Hot. A sheepish smile involuntarily follows. You know you're bright red, and that embarrasses you even more.

Everyone knows what it feels like to blush—whether from embarrassment, emotional stress, or even just receiving a compliment. Perhaps worse than the act itself is knowing that everyone else can see the physical manifestation of your discomfort, which inconveniently functions to further redden your face.

But for 5-7% of the population, blushing is a chronic problem—happening both more frequently and with greater magnitude than the average person. Physically, it's rather harmless—but psychologically, it can be devastating.

In late May, Brandon Thomas, a 20-year-old University of Washington student, committed suicide by jumping from his 11-story dorm. "I am tired of blushing," read his suicide note. "It is exha . . . More
Views: 1479 | Comments: 1
Last by jamie on Oct 15, 2012, 12:49am
For me personally, June has proven to be a rather disappointing and fruitless month. Just when things began to look brighter, I was involuntarily assigned to be the middle vehicle in a double fender-bender two days ago, and my car now needs almost $1,000-worth of repairs. And as a perfect metaphor for the crappiness of the past month, for whatever reason I was not paid my stipend yesterday for the month of June.

I don't often like to talk about my sour feelings with other people because a.) I'm bad at it, and b.) I have another outlet.

Everyday for the past 12 years (save for a few angsty months in 8th grade), I've been writing in a journal. A good, old-fashioned, hardbound, acid-free journal. Most entries are about the frivolous happenings of the day at school, but as I've gotten older, they've increasingly helped me outline my thoughts and feelings while keeping my head on straight.

Feeling so low, I journaled the night before my car accident, listing ten qualities I liked about myself. Remembering what I wrote as I spent the next day at the body shop and on the phone with the police and insurance companies is, I believe, what kept me from simply bursting into tears and throwing up my hands in defeat.

Writin . . . More
Views: 5566 | Comments: 9
Last by Sean Garvin on Jul 17, 2012, 10:23am
Dr. Perry Kendall asserted yesterday that the health risks of 3,4-methylenedioxymethamphetamine—or MDMA, the active ingredient in the drug ecstasy—are exaggerated, and that pure ecstasy is not dangerous when consumed responsibly by adults.

Its lethal dangers arise, he says, when gangs pollute the drug with other chemicals.

I'm not sure when the notion came into play that anything which doesn't kill you automatically means its "safe," but I would like to respectfully debunk Dr. Kendall's remarks with a very powerful and striking study published 13 years ago.

Specifically, MDMA induces release of the neurotransmitter serotonin by causing serotonin-containing vesicles to dock and enter the synapse. Higher-than-normal serotonin levels can result in neurotoxicity in the brain.

What, exactly, causes the euphoria from MDMA is not entirely clear; other drugs that release serotonin, such as fenfluramine, do not have this effect.

Remember those old "Just Say No" PSAs from the late '80s championed by First Lady Nancy Reagan? "This is drugs." An egg cracks into a sizzling skillet. "This is your brain on dr . . . More
Views: 1091 | Comments: 0
3 Quarks Daily is a pretty fascinating site. In essence, the site writers post interesting tidbits daily, from science to art to literature to current affairs—anything they find interesting. I encourage everyone to check it out if they haven't already.

What I've been looking forward to most all year, however, is the 3 Quarks Daily 2012 Science Prize. And guess what? My blog post from back in February on the neuroscience of deja vu has been nominated!

If you are so inclined, I would appreciate a vote and a share! You can vote for me here—find me alphabetically under "Gaines, on Brains" (which is the name of my main blog). Voting is open until this Saturday at 11:59 PM.

Thanks for your support!

. . . More
Views: 6675 | Comments: 4
Last by Sisu on Sep 07, 2012, 9:12am
Check out this short video of "Rusty the Narcoleptic Dog." I was first introduced to Rusty in a video presented to my high school psychology class. As expected in a classroom full of teenagers, we erupted into a fit of laughter when the happy-go-lucky dachshund suddenly collapsed into a deep sleep.

Gallup polls reveal that 56% of Americans complain that daytime drowsiness is a problem in their lives, the majority of which is caused by sleep deprivation. A controlled, objective scientific study once revealed that 34% of participants were considered "dangerously sleepy," even when they didn't complain about daytime sleepiness.

America is a sleepy country—but narcolepsy takes it to a whole new level. Imagine feelings of exhaustion at all times, accompanied by inappropriate sleep attacks. Sure, falling asleep on the job is embarrassing and unprofessional, but also imagine the danger of a narcoleptic attack while driving. What is narcolepsy, and what causes this mysterious disorder?




What is narcolepsy?
Narcolepsy is a curious disorder characterized by excessive sleepiness. The sleep attacks are particularly strange; typically, it takes us at least an hour of s . . . More
Views: 2224 | Comments: 4
Last by SiO2lungs on May 27, 2012, 8:36pm
Today I participated in a brain imaging study! I laid in an MRI machine for 45 minutes and looked at pictures of chocolate while smelling chocolate odors. Tough life, right? (Hershey really is the sweetest place on Earth...even in the labs!)



The MRI machine is rather big, rather loud (I wore headphones), and...rather claustrophobic—but it operates on a rather GENIUS principle! My brain was imaged every two seconds; eventually, the images will be overlaid to create a complete picture of my brain, so it was important that I remain very still.

Some of you may have undergone an MRI so a doctor could examine a particular body part due to injury or to diagnose a problem. The MRI machine works on the principle of magnetism; essentially, the images you're seeing are comprised of the nuclei of the atoms in your body.


Pretty cool, huh?

Images courtesy Heart Healthy Women, Space Inspired, and PSU Hershey NMR Center.

. . . More
Views: 3051 | Comments: 0
I received an e-mail requesting that I write a follow-up to last week's blog post on multiple sclerosis (MS). I was asked to detail the immune-modulating therapies available for MS patients.

As a neuroscientist, the purpose of my original post was to explain the basic neurology behind the disease: what myelin is, what happens to myelin during MS, and why lack of myelin results in the symptoms that manifest. I also wanted to inform readers of the latest research in the field. My intention was not to leave out information or misinform, but given my lack of knowledge in other fields, I confined the blog post to my expertise.

Today I'll take off my brain hat and (do my best to) trade it in for an immunologist's.

Together, let's explore the therapies out there for those suffering this mysterious disorder.


Types of MS
Firstly, I'd like to outline the four types of multiple sclerosis:

1. Relapsing-remitting (RRMS): 75-80% of patients are initially diagnosed with RRMS. People with RRMS experience days- to weeks-long flare-ups, or "relapses," followed by periods of no symptoms, called "remission."

2. Secondary-progressive (SPMS): symptoms worsen over time in this type of MS, with or witho . . . More
Views: 1533 | Comments: 0
Montel Williams and 400,000 other Americans face it everyday. Richard Pryor was confined to a wheelchair in the last few years of his life because of it. Symptoms range from weakness to bladder problems to difficulty talking. Indeed, multiple sclerosis, or MS, is one of the most well-known yet mysterious neurological conditions we know about.

MS and myelin
MS is an inflammatory disorder affecting the central nervous system (brain/spinal cord) and its ability for nerve cells to communicate with one another.

Our individual nerve cells (neurons) have a fatty substance called myelin surrounding the long conducting axon fiber. If you picture the axon like an extremely long hot dog, myelin resembles hot dog buns lined up along its length.



Myelin allows neuron communication to occur much more rapidly. Instead of generating action potentials (rapid electrical changes) along each point in the axon, the action potential can "jump" over the myelin. Instead, action potentials are regenerated only at each node of Ranvier (see above), where there are breaks in the myelin sheath.

In MS, however, the body's immune system attacks the myelin sheath, causing it to break down and scar tissue to form. This process is c . . . More
Views: 2532 | Comments: 3
Last by Mohammadbagher on May 20, 2012, 3:36am
A random sample of Americans was polled a few years ago. The purpose of this poll was to gauge our population's knowledge and beliefs on human life and evolution. Religious beliefs aside, this statement particularly stood out to me:

A quarter of Americans believed that this is true. This absolutely floors me.

But it also has me wondering: do people understand what, exactly, a genetic defect is? Do they understand what DNA is beyond, say, mentionings in the O.J. Simpson case or paternity tests on Maury?

Another poll states that 80% of Americans believe the U.S. should create a "DNA bank" of its citizens. What exactly are they believing in, then?

There is a great divide between the scientific community and the average non-scientific layperson. And just before I enrolled in my Ph.D. program to begin my scientific career, it became clear to me how I'd like to use my knowledge: to educate others, in their terms, about what's going on in their bodies.


There are two truths about which I have been certain for most of my life: I love to write and create, and science is endlessly fascinating.

Back home, a large box is filled to the brim with papers I'd taped together to create books—st . . . More
Views: 3566 | Comments: 2
Last by jimbot on Apr 27, 2012, 7:07pm
In the sleep research lab where I'm currently completing my rotation, we are bringing back students for a follow-up study. Most of them don't seem to recall the uncomfortable beds or having electrodes pasted to their scalp from their baseline test, which was done back when they were in elementary school. (For our sake in recruiting participants, that's probably for the best.)

Nowadays they're older, wiser, more self-aware, and, as teenagers, a bit more judgmental. The researchers in charge of performing psychometric testing—new college grads and not much older or taller than the participants themselves—recently made an interesting observation: if they wear a white coat when interacting with the participants (and their parents), they receive more respect.

According to a study by Hajo Adam and Adam Galinsky of Norwestern University, it's possible that our psych testers not only look more professional, but subconsciously feel more professional. In other words, the clothes may literally make the man (or woman).

The study, published February in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, observed an interesting phe . . . More
Views: 2872 | Comments: 0
The following is a story about a college girl named Jordan.

Jordan blindly, exhaustedly, yet somehow successfully stumbled her way through college. In her final two years, she averaged 4 or 5 hours of sleep every night due to schoolwork, labwork, club responsibilities, and the dreaded 4:55 A.M. alarm for crew practice.

She only drank one coffee, ever—a pumpkin spice latte—simply because the rest of her team regularly raided Starbucks after races. It tasted alright. Oh, and she had some orange energy drink before a Developmental Bio exam once. Her pee was subsequently green.

A graduate student once told her, "If you get into grad school, you'll become addicted to coffee." Jordan scoffed at the silly, weak student, and vowed, "Ha! Never."

Then one day Jordan had a Bob Evans mocha, and her life was forever changed.

Well, maybe that was a bit dramatic. My life hasn't changed that much really, but the unique smell and somewhat bitter taste of coffee is no longer aversive to me. To the contrary, I've come to pleasantly enjoy its energizing effect in small doses. And, because I like to understand what I'm putting in my body, I decided to explore coffee: its history, its neurological mechanism, and—what I'm sur . . . More
Views: 5756 | Comments: 0
All are very attractive options—particularly for the aging population, and particularly for those looking for a fast, relatively painless solution with little effort on our part.

But did you know that Botox—the quick fix solicited by 6 million Americans each year and 75% of celebrities over the age of 35—is composed of the same deadly toxin responsible for botulism poisoning that can cause paralysis and respiratory failure? Let's examine the mechanism behind this potentially deadly neurotoxin and why, for goodness' sakes, Botox can be used as a therapeutic despite its dangerous potential.

Botox is the trade name for botulinum toxin, a protein produced by the bacteriumClostridium botulinum (below, left). With a relatively low LD50 of 40 nanograms, botulinum toxin (below, right) is one of the most powerful neurotoxins known today. That means that injecting just 40 ng of the toxin is lethal in 50% of the primate population in which it was tested. To put 40 ng in perspective: a gram is roughly the mass of a paperclip. A nanogram is one billionth of a gram.

. . . More
Views: 2778 | Comments: 2
Last by Cynthia McKelvey on Mar 13, 2012, 9:21am

The concept is quite simple. The device works by recording a person's voice as they speak via the directional mike. When the laser pointer is aimed at the speaker and the trigger pulled, their own voice is played back to them with a delay of 0.2 seconds.

Kurihara and Tsukada's tests have revealed some interesting phenomena. The device is most effective against people reading aloud compared to those engaged in conversational, spontaneous speech. It is not as effective toward nonsense sequences, such as "ahhh" or "arghh" (which unfortunately accompany many of those cell phone conversations that so irk us).

The researchers suggest that the gun could be used to silence noisy speakers in public places (mental image of black-clad librarians darting between the stacks, anybody?), or to facilitate proper group discussion and turn-taking. "There are still many cases in which the negative aspects of speech become a barrier to the peaceful resolution of conflicts," say Kurihara and Tsukada.

Let's get back to the science behind the device. Why is this sound delay so powerful in silencing someone who is speaking?

Have you ever spoken over the phone or video-chatted with someone and you can hear your voice echo on the . . . More
Views: 2079 | Comments: 5
Last by Cynthia McKelvey on Feb 28, 2012, 11:54am
Déja vu is a French term that literally means "already seen" and is reported to occur in 60-70% of people, most commonly between the ages of 15 and 25. The fact that déja vu occurs so randomly and rapidly—and in individuals without a medical condition—makes it difficult to study, and why and how the phenomenon occurs is up to much speculation. Psychoanalysts may attribute it to wishful thinking; some psychiatrists cite mismatching in the brain causing us to mistake the present for the past. Still, parapsychologists may even believe it is related to a past-life experience. So what do we know for certain about what happens during an episode of déja vu?

Some researchers speculate that déja vu occurs when there is a mismatch in the brain during its constant attempt to create whole perceptions of our world with very limited input. Think about your memory: it only takes small bits of sensory information (a familiar smell, for instance) to bring forth a very detailed recollection. Déja vu is suggested to be some sort of "mix-up" between sensory input and memory-recalling output. This vague theory, however, does not explain why the episode we experience is not necessarily from a true past event.

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For our first Valentine's Day a few years back, my boy got me chocolate brains! Not only does he know me extremely well, but he also had it right—love originates in the brain, not the heart.

But what exactly is going on between the ears when those warm and fuzzy feeling wash over us? A new study out just in time for Chocolate Day reveals that love actually acts like an addictive drug. Hmmm, it seems that Ke$ha also got it right...

Researchers at Stony Brook University in New York examined the neural correlates of intense, long-term love using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in 10 women and 7 men. fMRI measures brain activity as a function of changes in blood flow. The participants, married an average of 21 years, underwent imaging while viewing either an image of their partner's face, or a familiar acquaintance.

Compared to viewing the acquaintance, areas specifically activated when viewing their spouse included:



• Regions of the dopamine-rich reward system, including the ventral teg . . . More
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But that can't be the case. Close your left eye. You can still see much of your left visual field, and you'd certainly smell any food placed under your nose. And what dog is one to walk away without finishing their food?

In fact, Barley is displaying signs of hemispatial neglect, a strange condition in which brain damage, despite normal vision, results in complete neglect of the left side of one's world. Barley had, in fact, suffered a stroke.



Hemispatial neglect most commonly occurs after injury to the right parietal lobe like, in Barley's case, stroke.

It is not as common with left parietal lobe damage—it is thought that the right hemisphere of the brain is generally more specialized for spatial memory, while the left side is better tuned for language.

The left side of a person's world is ignored, then—damage to the right side of the brain reduces the amount of neural activity that crosses over the left via the large fiber tract connecting the two halves, called the corpus collosum (right).

A number of strange symptoms can arise in a person suffering from hemispatia . . . More
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Apologies for the cheesy blog title. My brain for the past two weeks has been a whirlwind of—well, brains. I'm in a fairly intense five-week neuroanatomy class and my neurons have been abuzz with images of brain slice after brain slice—so much that transverse sections of the brainstem were beginning to resemble a pug's face. The wrinkly cerebellum was the forehead, and the pons stained darkly resembled the snout. But I digress.

Hallucinating said "pug," combined with me missing my 11-year old greyhound and best friend Patrick (above) back home and my upcoming orientation at the Harrisburg Humane Society (so excited!) prompted me to find out: what is it about pets that, simply put, makes us feel good?

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Last by Jordan Gaines on Jan 09, 2012, 4:47pm
If you're within the 32% of Americans that made a resolution for 2012, chances are you're still going strong. Nearly a week in, you've been faced with the temptation, the test of willpower, and likely some teasing from loved ones. And you've only got 360 days left to call your resolution a success? Easy as pie...
Experimentally (and in real life), our species has consistently demonstrated unbridled optimism in the face of adversity. We've failed for the past 20 years'-worth of New Years resolutions—but no, 2012 will definitely be the year we lose weight. Plus, we're all going to quit the jobs we despise and find a better-paying, less stressful, more rewarding job. AND win the lottery (brilliant—we'll never have to go back to work in the first place!). A study by Tali Sharot and colleagues from New York University explored exactly why we can retain this buoyancy, thanks to insights in brain imaging.
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Last by jimbot on Dec 28, 2011, 4:44pm
Gift-giving isn't easy—particularly during the holidays, when there are so many different people for whom to buy. It's overwhelming and stressful, and people cope with the burden in different ways. Some, like myself, begin lists in September, all the while picking up hints from others and taking note, then making my purchases before Thanksgiving. Others rush to the mall the weekend before—or of—Christmas, hoping something will catch their eye or they'll snag a great deal.

At one point or another, we've all been on the receiving end of a poor or ill-fitting gift. How did you react to it? Or, more importantly, what did it mean to you in terms of your relationship with the giver? A study in recent years has explored exactly how men and women react upon receiving good and bad gifts.

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Last by Chas on Dec 09, 2011, 9:36pm
Check out the woman on the left and try not to yawn. Go on, give her a good ten seconds of your time. In the spirit of A Christmas Story, I triple-dog dare you. Really—try your absolute hardest not think about yawning as you read this post! C'mon, you know you can do it—you've been dared before, and you always fail miserably. NO YAWNING!
Chances are you've already let out an extended, eye-moistening, feel-good yawn or two at this point. I've personally counted six of my own since starting this post.

We've all heard that "yawning is contagious"—but why? In this busy world, we don't sleep as much as we should. Gallup Polls in recent years have found that 56% of Americans report drowsiness as a daytime problem, and 34% of us are "dangerously sleepy." Does seeing someone yawn remind us that we, too, are exhausted are must follow suit?

That may be part of it, but the true reason may go much deeper. As it turns out, yawning may have ancient roots in social bonding.

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Last by sarah on Dec 14, 2011, 12:59pm

Sir, I wanna buy these shoes for my mama, please. It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size. Could you hurry, sir? Daddy says there's not much time...

This little gem by New Song permeates the airwaves each year around this time, igniting tears and snickers alike in its listeners. We all know why the man agrees to buy the shoes for the boy—I mean, "his clothes were worn and old, he was dirty from head to toe." But how much would he be willing to part with for this anonymous child—$20? $30? $100? According to a study, the sadder the man, the more he would be willing to pay.
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Last by Jordan Gaines on Nov 18, 2011, 2:06pm
When I was in elementary school, my teacher told my class that the full moon makes people crazy. She said it was caused by the gravitational tug of the moon on the Earth—the same forces that cause high and low tides—the argument being that our bodies are more than 60% water. I was impressionable and fascinated by weird science—who isn't at that age?—and have long since stored that "fact"oid in my ever-developing hippocampus. The full moon last week (which, not to mention, was GINORMOUS—did anyone else notice?) reminded me of this theory and made me want to do a little research of my own. Does the full moon really do something to our brains?

Firstly, we must be on the same page as to what a "full moon" really means. The moon revolves around the Earth, and the Earth revolves around the sun. The phases of the moon simply represent the portions illuminated by the sun. All of this motion creates a very dynamic display for us earthlings. So when you see that little sliver in the sky, the rest of the moon is still there—the sun's rays just aren't reflected on the surface we're seeing.

That being said, why would an illuminated moon have some sort of effect (on tides, craziness, etc.), while a shadowed moon wouldn . . . More
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Last by Jordan Gaines on Nov 28, 2011, 10:04pm

A very exciting event is happening as I type this: Neuroscience 2011, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. This nerd-tastic event attracts a bevy (over 30,000, to be more precise) of the best and brightest in brain research under one roof once a year. This year's meeting is in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately for me, I am not in attendance; but fortunately for myself and, hopefully, my readers, new research radiating from this meeting gives me some great material to share.

On Saturday, the first day of the meeting, a new study was described that involves tricking arthritis sufferers with mirrors to alleviate their pain. Wait—what? Mirrors?
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I am always in awe of "unlikely animal friends," and there are plenty of these videos on YouTube from which to enjoy. This CBS Evening News Assignment America particularly interested me.

Steve Hartman has reported two follow-ups since this 2009 feature about an unlikely friendship between Tarra the elephant and Bella the dog. The latest, which I caught when aired two nights ago, was heartbreaking, but extraordinarily fascinating. Sadly, Bella was killed by what appeared to be a coyote attack on October 26. When the location of the attack was pinpointed, the blood on Tarra's trunk made it evident that the elephant had carried her friend a mile back to the house. Tarra is now showing all the signs of depression—her fellow elephant friends at the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, TN have been reaching out to her, spending more time with her and offering her their food. Nothing short of amazing, right?

Anybody with a pet wonders whether their animals can feel emotion. Scientific studies have reported signs of joy in rats, empathy in mice, and anger in baboons. We've all heard about pets who stand vigil over sick or dying owners, dogs who adopt extreme levels of responsibility for the blind or disabled, and my friend has a cat who is particularly affectionate when she isn't feeling well, physically or emotionally.



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Last by Jordan Gaines on Nov 16, 2011, 10:24am


Welcome to my new blog, neuroBLOGical! My name is Jordan, and I'm a 22-year old graduate student in the Neuroscience program at Penn State Hershey. I'm a native of the Baltimore area, and graduated from the beautiful St. Mary's College of Maryland in May with my Bachelor's in Biology and Neuroscience.

I have had an interest in neuroscience since 8th grade—that's possibly before I even knew what "neuroscience" meant. The brain fascinated me, and I wanted to learn everything that I could about the mysterious 3-lb. organ that simultaneously controlled my thoughts, speech, and movement.

I've worked in a number of labs, from cellular (a model of Huntington's disease) to organismal (salamander limb regeneration), from chemical (measuring vitamin D levels) to behavioral (RATS!). Conducting scientific research is fascinating, but can also be extraordinarily tedious. I can't tell you how many times I used to nod off in the dark microscopy room after being awake since 5 AM for my college rowing practices.

To protect myself from the occasional disappointment that sometimes accompanies failed experiments, I've always enjoyed reading about a wide variety of scientific topics, usually in popular science magaz . . . More
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