Understanding Neuroscience
Understanding Neuroscience

Understanding Neuroscience

So much depends on the brain. When scientists want to study how and why living creatures do what they do, the brain is one of the places that they start. The brain plays a key role in how you do the things you do, learn to do new things over time, and why there will be certain things that you will never be able to do no matter how hard you try. This section of Frontiers for Young Minds will not only include articles about the brain itself, but the way the brain changes over time, techniques we use to study the brain, how aspects of the brain relate to behavior and performance, and why the brain developed in the ways that it did. Understanding Neuroscience wants to provide a chance for the next generation to think critically about the organ that makes it possible for them to think in the first place.

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Core Concept

How Do We Feel the Emotions of Others?

When you see your friend disgusted to the point of vomiting, or laugh until it hurts, you immediately experience what your friend feels. Why do we feel the emotions of others around us? Neuroscience research has shown that our brain is equipped with special cells called mirror neurons that directly project information about others’ behavior into our own emotional brain regions. This mechanism shows that others’ emotions are not detected only by the visual part of the brain, but they also activate our own emotional responses, allowing us to understand and automatically transmit the same information to others. This is an incredibly fast and efficient way to communicate!

Authors

Giacomo Rizzolatti / Fausto Caruana
Reviewed by Champions of Science, Chabot Space and Science Center
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Core Concept

Taste: Links in the Chain from Tongue to Brain

Taste sensitivity brings us some of the finest things in life: the sweetness of candy, the saltiness of chips, and the sourness of lemonade. We all know it starts on our tongue, but how does it really work? Scientists have discovered that taste perception comes from a chain reaction that starts with sensitive proteins on your tongue, races through taste buds, enters your nerves, and ends in your brain. One of the most amazing findings is that taste sensitivity varies from person to person. Each of us lives in a unique taste world, making everyone different in food loves and hates.

Authors

Lucy A. Vera / Stephen P. Wooding
Reviewed by Smith Middle School
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New Discovery

Why Time Slows Down during an Accident

After an accident people often report that its duration had been subjectively longer than it could have been in real time. Time seems to have slowed down. We tried to conduct a safe experiment in our laboratory that nevertheless comes a bit close to a dangerous situation. We had participants look at a screen in which circles either virtually moved on a collision course towards the viewer or where the circles moved away from the observer. At the same time we recorded brain activation with a brain scanner. When the circle moved towards the participant, the duration of that event was judged to last longer than when it moved away. This is the effect we wanted to produce: in a situation of "threat" duration seems to last longer. Recorded brain activation showed that an area in the mid-line part of the brain was especially activated, a region which has shown to be active when events have something personal to do with the viewer. In our case, a threatening stimulus approaching is the event that is related to the viewer. This is the first study to show which regions of the brain are associated with a subjective lengthening of time during a threatening situation.

Authors

Marc Wittmann / Virginie van Wassenhove
Reviewed by Trafalgar School for Girls
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Core Concept

The Wandering Mind: How the Brain Allows Us to Mentally Wander Off to Another Time and Place

A unique human characteristic is our ability to mind wander – a period of time when our attention drifts away from the task-at-hand to focus on thoughts that are unrelated to the task. These thoughts are sometimes associated with beneficial outcomes, such as creativity; other times, they are linked to negative outcomes, such as errors in our task performance. Interestingly, we spend up to half of our waking hours mind wandering. How does our brain help us accomplish that? Research suggests that when we mind wander, our response to information from the external world around us is disrupted. In other words, our brain’s resources are shifted away from processing information from the external environment and redirected to our internal world, which allows us to mentally wander off to another time and place. Although many external processes are disrupted during mind wandering, our ability to detect unexpected events in our surrounding environment is preserved. This suggests that we are quite clever about what we ignore or pay attention to in the external environment even when we mind wander.

Authors

Julia W. Y. Kam
Reviewed by Krishna
Reviewed by Darius
Reviewed by Wyatt
Reviewed by Schuyler
Reviewed by Sybille
Reviewed by Paceyn
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Core Concept

Humans and Caffeine—A Very Long Relationship

Methylxanthines such as caffeine did not appear in Evolution to fulfill any primordial need of Homo sapiens. However, as soon as they were discovered they were likely selected by humans to attend non-primordial needs. Methylxanthine consumption continues today under very different forms. The taste of cola-drinks, coffee, tea, hierba mate or guaraná is very diverse and the only known similarity between these drinks is the presence of methylxanthines. Fire discovery was a must for humans but one its consequences, the possibility to extract organic compounds from plants, led to select caffeine and theophylline as drugs to help humans to be in better moods and to be the most successful specie in Evolution.

Authors

Edgar Angelats / Eva Martínez-Pinilla / Ainhoa Oñatibia-Astibia / Nuria Franco / Gemma Navarro / Rafael Franco
Reviewed by Jesus
Reviewed by Ximena
Reviewed by Gerardo
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New Discovery

Precommitment: A Way around Temptation

Impulsivity means we want things that make us feel good now, and we want to postpone things that take effort. This means that our preferences change - today we want to do the effortful thing tomorrow, but tomorrow, we will want to take the easy option. One potential solution to impulsivity is precommitment, where we set things up today to remove the easy option tomorrow. It turns out that precommitment depends on the fact that your brain contains lots of different opinions - like a group of friends deciding what to do. Learning how to help yourself precommit can help you do avoid temptation.

Authors

Zeb Kurth-Nelson / A. David Redish
Reviewed by Gabi
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New Discovery

How Is Building Lego Models Related to Math Skills?

Math is usually taught using a lot of words. But, is this the way the human brain learns math? We studied how math is related to memory, intelligence, and reading in 7-year-old children. We found that memory for visual and spatial information is related to math skills more than memory for words and verbal information. Interestingly, previous studies have found that building Lego models (construction play) by following instructions is related with math skills. This study found that the relationship between construction play and math is influenced by memory for visual and spatial information. Could building Lego models be the secret to improving the brain processes involved in learning math?

Authors

Swiya Murti / Denes Szucs
Reviewed by Sydney
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Core Concept

Too Much Information, Too Little Time: How the Brain Separates Important from Unimportant Things in Our Fast-Paced Media World

Wait. What? Often, we miss something that we wanted to see, hear, or feel—especially when there is a lot of information competing for our attention. We mostly notice this problem when we try to make the brain process lots of information at high speed. Imagine for instance that you are playing a video game and browsing the internet while checking text messages on your phone. Here, we look at how neuroscientists answer questions about fast media: What draws our attention? How does paying attention to one thing affect how we see other things? How long does it take to notice and remember something important? Neuroscientists have found that the brain uses a trick to pay attention to one thing in a rapid stream, but it comes at a cost. Also, what we want to pay attention to is often not what we end up noticing, despite our best efforts.

Authors

Sabine Heim / Andreas Keil
Reviewed by Allie
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Core Concept

What Are Different Brains Made Of?

How are brains built? What are the parts and pieces that make a brain what it is? Looking at the brains of different animals, we can see similarities and differences. They have similar shapes, with similar structures, but vary a lot in size and in their folds. So, are the brains of all animals built the same way? If that were true, the human brain would be a larger version of a rodent's brain. But several studies applying a new technique to count the number of cells that make up the nervous tissue says otherwise. Not all brains are built in a single way. The relationships between brain size and its number of neurons can vary a lot. This brings a lot of interesting consequences about how the brain changed in different species through the history of life.

Authors

Kleber Neves / Felipe daCunha / Suzana Herculano-Houzel
Reviewed by Riverside Elementary School
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New Discovery

Focusing Is Hard! Brain Responses to Reward in Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Have there been times when you just couldn’t focus on homework or wait for your turn to speak? We all have these experiences! But for some children and adults, focusing, sitting or waiting is extra hard, and that gets them into trouble all the time. They may have something called, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”). But why is it harder for them? We thought that perhaps a part of their brains might work a little differently. So, we looked inside the brains of college students to see their brain activity. We found that, for the students who had ADHD, one brain area was not very active when they were waiting for good things. When the brain sends signals that ‘good things are coming soon!’ this helps us wait or focus, even during boring tasks! For those with ADHD, these signals might be weaker, making it harder to wait and focus.

Authors

Emi Furukawa / Patricia Bado / Gail Tripp / Paulo Mattos / Jorge Moll
Reviewed by Champions of Science, Chabot Space and Science Center
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