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

Do Teenagers Really Make Bad Decisions?

Scientific research provides evidence to show that a specific area of the human brain, known as the prefrontal cortex, continues to develop much longer than other brain regions. This area is involved in a number of complex functions and actions, including our decision making abilities. As the areas involved in making decisions do not reach full maturity until early adulthood, and undergo major structural changes throughout adolescence, the way in which we make decisions can differ greatly between our teenage years and adulthood.

Authors

Stacey A. Bedwell
Reviewed by Manchester Grammar
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New Discovery

Waves of Perception

We experience the world around us as continuous. But how does our brain achieve that? Here we suggest that the brain samples our environment in discrete snapshots. We demonstrate that brain waves work just like a flipbook, where the rapid stream of related pictures creates the illusion of a continuous movie. We present results from a recent experiment that show how brain waves capture our visual world. These brain waves occur approximately 10 times per second and are called ‘alpha oscillations’. Here we provide an overview how these brain waves were discovered, how they can be measured, what they mean and how they help to create our perception from the world around us.

Authors

Bhargavi Ram / Randolph F. Helfrich
Reviewed by Krishna
Reviewed by Darius
Reviewed by Wyatt
Reviewed by Schuyler
Reviewed by Sybille
Reviewed by Paceyn
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New Discovery

Yawns Are Cool

Although we yawn each and every day, most people have little understanding of why we do it. In fact, the function of yawning has remained elusive for centuries, even among scientists, and this has only changed quite recently. Contrary to conventional wisdom and long-held popular beliefs, it is now well recognized that yawns do not have a respiratory function. Instead, new and growing research has revealed that yawns serve as a brain cooling mechanism. This new perspective on yawning as a response to elevated brain temperature has transformed our understanding of this commonly overlooked, and misinterpreted behavior, and provides numerous practical applications in the fields of medicine and psychology.

Authors

Andrew C. Gallup / Omar Tonsi Eldakar
Reviewed by Amy
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New Discovery

What Is Optogenetics and How Can We Use It to Discover More About the Brain?

How does the brain work? This is a question that scientists have been interested in for hundreds of years. In order to figure this out, scientists have had to do lots of experiments and figure out ways to examine and test the brain. In 2005, a new technique was created called optogenetics. This technique uses a combination of light and genetics to control the cells of the brain. Optogenetics has become very popular and is being used in neuroscience laboratories all over the world. It is helping us to discover many new things about the brain. Here, we explain what makes optogenetics so special for studying the brain.

Authors

Diana H. Lim / Jeffrey LeDue
Reviewed by Pruthvi
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Core Concept

Why Are We Not More Selfish? What the Study of Brain and Behavior Can Tell Us

Even though it might not always seem to make sense from the perspective of personal gain, people often show a tendency towards cooperation. Why this might occur is a question that has long been a topic of fascination in researchers from many different fields. As societies often do better when their citizens cooperate with each other, an answer to this question not only gives us insight into ourselves, but also creates opportunities for improving our society. In this article, we discuss behavioural and brain imaging research which suggests that there may be several different motivations as to why we tend to cooperate instead of behaving selfishly. A tiny hint: wanting to feel good, avoid punishment, and live up to others’ expectations have a lot to do with it!

Authors

Mirre Stallen / Nastasia Griffioen / Alan Gerard Sanfey
Reviewed by Maxwell
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Core Concept

How Do Little Kids Learn Language?

Different kids grow up in different environments. Imagine Kid A: she gets to play and talk with her parents a lot, she has a yummy dinner every night with her family, she gets to travel on airplanes, and she has lots of books in her bedroom. Now imagine Kid B: his parents are really busy, he does not play or talk with grownups very much, he watches TV a lot, he does not get to eat much healthy food, and he almost always stays in his house. Kid A gets a lot of chances to have fun and learn, and Kid B gets fewer chances. Kid A gets to read about adventures all over the world, and Kid B does not get as much practice with reading. Did you get a lot of chances to play, talk, and learn when you were little? Have you ever thought about how other kids’ lives were different from yours? Have you ever thought about all the complicated stuff you learned, like language? There are lots of scientists who study how babies and little kids learn, and we want to tell you about some important research findings. After you finish reading, we hope you feel excited about how this science could help give every kid a fair chance.

Authors

Casey Lew-Williams / Adriana Weisleder
Reviewed by Nick
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New Discovery

What Happens in Your Mind and Brain When You Are Excluded from a Social Activity?

In school and in everyday life, we sometimes experience being rejected by classmates, or we might see someone being excluded. What do excluded individuals feel? How does the brain process information about being socially excluded? In the past few decades, psychologists and social neuroscientists have investigated the influence of social exclusion, including social rejection, on our mind, brain, and behavior. Social exclusion is a complex and ambiguous phenomenon, and therefore, we process information about it dynamically and often cope with it flexibly. In this article, I have described the dynamic effects of social exclusion on our mind, brain, and behavior by developing a model of intrapersonal and interpersonal processes of social exclusion.

Authors

Taishi Kawamoto
Reviewed by Ayanna
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Core Concept

How to Exercise by Imagining Movements

When you shoot some hoops or kick a ball, areas in your brain responsible for planning, coordinating and executing movements are active, the so-called motor areas. But motor areas are not only involved in movement execution, they are also activated when you imagine performing movements. The fact that movement execution and imagery activate comparable brain areas can be used to improve motor functions such as hand or foot movements. When motor areas of the brain are damaged due to an injury, e.g., when you hurt your head during an accident, your motor functions might be impaired. So, you have to make physiotherapy to train specific movements and let injured brain areas recover. The recovery can be boosted by additionally imagine moving the affected limb. This therapy is called movement imagery. Movement imagery activates injured brain areas and leads to improvements in motor functions. This is how exercising using movement imagery works.

Authors

Silvia Erika Kober / Guilherme Wood
Reviewed by Bailey
Reviewed by Devona
Reviewed by Rosie
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Core Concept

How Your Brain Cells Talk to Each Other—Whispered Secrets and Public Announcements

Imagine that you want to tell your friends something new; you could whisper it into their ears or shout it out loud. This is rather like two forms of communication that occur within your brain. Your brain contains billions of nerve cells, called neurons, which make a very large number of connections with specialized parts of other neurons, called dendrites, to form networks. Neurons have been thought to communicate with each other by passing (‘whispering’) chemical signals directly through these connections, but now we know that they also can spread messages more widely (‘public announcements’) by releasing chemical signals from other parts of the neuron, including the dendrites themselves. If we understand how and what neurons communicate with each other, we will have a chance to correct disturbances in communication that may result in altered behaviors and brain disorders.

Authors

Mike Ludwig
Reviewed by Sarit
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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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