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. show more show less

New Discovery

Itsy Bitsy Spider? It Depends…

You have probably heard it before, “the bug was huge!” (said your friend who is afraid of bugs), or “the needle was so big!” (said another friend who is afraid of shots). Can such statements be more than just a figure of speech? We asked if fear could change the way we estimate size. To answer that question, we asked people who were afraid of spiders, and people who were not, to estimate the size of pictures of spiders and other animals. We also asked how unpleasant each picture was to look at. People who were afraid of spiders estimated spider size to be larger compared to people who were not afraid of spiders. This result shows that things like our emotions can affect the way we evaluate the size of things around us. In other words, each of us experiences the world in his own special way.

Authors

Tali Leibovich / Noga Cohen / Avishai Henik
Reviewed by Ben and Nate
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New Discovery

How Can I Make My Younger Sibling Stop Crying?

When a baby won’t stop crying, it can be frustrating. One well known trick parents use is holding the child and walking around for a while, however we are just now finding out how and why it works. Researchers find that this process occurs in different parts of the brain: the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) and the cerebellum. The PNS, which is part of the autonomic nervous system, is the brain relaxation command center. When babies are carried, the PNS relaxes their bodies (i.e dropping the heart rate), which gradually calm them down and stop their cry. Also, carrying triggers the cerebellum, which controls movement coordination, making the baby physically adjust to their mother. Understanding how the brain works will teach us how to better soothe babies. In turn, parents will be more relaxed and this will better health, happiness, and parent-child relationships.

Authors

Gianluca Esposito / Keegan B. Coppola / Anna Truzzi
Reviewed by Andrew
Reviewed by David
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Core Concept

Does the Brain Read Chinese or Spanish the Same Way It Reads English?

There are at least 6,000 languages spoken in the world today (Comrie, 2009). The world’s languages are represented by a variety of writing systems called “orthographies”. All orthographies code spoken language using a system of symbols. However, orthographies differ in the size of the sound unit that is mapped onto each symbol. For example, in alphabetic orthographies, like English, Spanish, and Russian, each symbol maps onto an individual sound called a phoneme (e.g., the /b/ sound in “book). In non-alphabetic orthographies, like Chinese or Cherokee, the symbol maps onto a larger sound unit such as a syllable (e.g., like “pro” in the word “project”). Over 400 orthographies exist today. Here we will first learn about the characteristics of different orthographies. Then we will use this information to help understand how the characteristics of different writing systems affect reading. We will then learn about the brain regions involved in reading.

Authors

Nicole J. Conrad
Reviewed by Village Charter School
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Core Concept

Why Doesn’t Your Brain Heal Like Your Skin?

Skin wounds may be painful, but they usually heal perfectly. Worst case scenario, you may be left with a scar. In contrast, when the brain gets injured, we are often left with disabilities that stay with us for the rest of our lives. What is so different about the brain and how does it repair itself? Brain cells face unique challenges when they get injured, for example by a concussion or a stroke. And to cope with these challenges, the brain developed an ingenious strategy to deal with injury.

Authors

Nina Weishaupt / Angela Zhang
Reviewed by Trafalgar School for Girls
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New Discovery

Training Your Emotional Brain: From Science Fiction to Neuroscience

Our neuroscience research project begins with a science fiction story: in the future, androids (robots made of flesh and bones) became virtually identical to humans, except that they lacked deep emotions, such as empathy. What if we could find out a way to read empathic feelings just by measuring brain activity in real life? And, even more, what if a person could boost their empathic feelings (e.g. love, tenderness or affection) using information from their own brain activity? This was our goal. We asked 24 volunteers to enter in an MRI scanner that measures brain activity. Inside the machine, they should think about significant others while looking at their own brain activity on a monitor – a process called “neurofeedback”. Volunteers receiving neurofeedback were able to increase their brain activity associated with empathy. This evidence opens the possibility that people can change their brain’s emotional states and boost empathy.

Authors

Patricia Bado / Maria Stewart / Jorge Moll
Reviewed by St. Andrew’s College
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Core Concept

What Are Neural Stem Cells, and Why Are They Important?

For as long as anyone can remember, people have noticed that the brain has a limited ability to heal after injury. It was generally thought that this was in part due to the inability of the brain to make new cells. Then researchers observed that there are two special regions of the brain that actually do produce new cells, even in adults. The cells from these two special regions are called neural stem cells and now scientists are working hard to determine how their special properties can be used to treat different types of damage in the brain.

Authors

Leigh Anne Swayne / Juan C. Sanchez-Arias / Andrew Agbay / Stephanie Michelle Willerth
Reviewed by School of the Madeleine
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Core Concept

How Do We Understand Other People?

Imagine this: you walk into class, and see your friend sitting alone at a table. You notice your friend is looking downward, with a frown on her face. You would probably think from these clues that your friend is sad. But how did you know that? One way that your brain could accomplish this is by simulating, or copying in your mind what you see the other person doing. This may help you understand that when you are doing these things you are usually sad, so it is probably the case that your friend is sad too. While there are other hypotheses for how our brain understands others, we are going to focus on simulation, and how special cells in the brain-- called mirror neurons—may help to make simulation possible. We will first examine neuroimaging experiments, in monkeys and in humans, which help us understand this system better. Lastly, we discuss disorders such as autism, in which it may be more difficult to understand others’ actions, intentions and emotions.

Authors

Jennifer Stiso / Anat Perry
Reviewed by School of the Madeleine
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Core Concept

Emotions and the Brain – Or How to Master “The Force”

Do you like science fiction? Have you heard of, or are you even a fan of, the iconic ‘Star Wars’ series? To summarize, there are rebels, emperors, princesses, robots and many more fabulous creatures. There is also a power source called ‘The Force’. It is used by the Jedi’s (the good ones), but also by the dark side (the evil ones). Only the dark side uses the destructive power of ‘The Force’ which exists based on negative emotions such as fear, anger, jealousy or hate. A Jedi masters ‘The Force’, and uses it for knowledge and defense by learning to control their emotions. Our research also looks at emotions and how to control them. We know that in our galaxy too, we have more success when we can control our feelings. Therefore, we want to find brain regions responsible for emotion processing and regulation and help those children struggling.

Authors

Nora Maria Raschle / Ebongo Tshomba / Willeke Martine Menks / Lynn Valérie Fehlbaum / Christina Stadler
Reviewed by Riverside Elementary School
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New Discovery

Can Children See Emotions in Faces?

One way in which we make judgements about how people are feeling is based on how their face looks. Being able to do this allows us to react in the right way in social situations. But are young children good at recognizing facial expressions of emotion? And how does this ability develop across childhood and the teenage years? Children are able to recognise certain emotions very well when they are just 6 years old but become better at recognizing other emotions as they grow older. At all ages, girls seem to have less difficulty at recognizing emotions than boys. Hormones that our body produces at puberty don’t just influence how our body develops but also influence how our brain develops and how we change emotionally. Understanding more about the typical development of emotion recognition can guide us in helping children who have difficulties with these skills.

Authors

Kate Lawrence / Ruth Campbell / David Henry Skuse
Reviewed by Jeya
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New Discovery

Can Money Buy You a Better Brain? What Do You Think?

The things you do and experience in the environment you grow up in as a child can impact the way your brain develops and works throughout your life. Our brains keep changing as we learn new skills and form new memories even when we get to be older adults. When we are in our childhood and adolescent years, our brains are like sponges, soaking up things we learn, see, eat, and do at a much faster rate than later in life. If you spent all of your time doing nothing when you are a kid, then, your brain would have nothing to tell it how to wire itself as you grow up. So, it is important that you give your brain a chance to experience new activities like sports, art, and music, to learn new things from reading books, or going to museums, and, to make new friends to play and learn with. You don’t need a lot of money to do many of these things, so, get off of the couch, and start training your brain!

Authors

Kristina Uban / Megan Herting / Elizabeth R. Sowell
Reviewed by Carpenter Community Charter School
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