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

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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Core Concept

Connecting the Dots: Your Brain and Creativity

Have you ever taken the opportunity to marvel at an intricate painting, relax to a delicate piece of music or ponder a complex poem? Humans pursue creative expression and enjoy consuming creatively produced material everyday. Creativity is essential for the arts, innovation and human expression. How does the brain support creativity? However, while creativity is all around us and a fundamental aspect of our lives, scientific inquiry into creativity has been difficult. While we can identify creative acts and processes, there has been some trouble testing and measuring creativity. Here we explore the scientific research of creativity. In particular we ask, what is happening in the brain and in our thoughts in order for us to pursue creative endeavors? Lastly, we explore some myths surrounding the brain and creativity and the benefits that being creative has in your life.

Authors

Dita Cavdarbasha / Jake Kurczek
Reviewed by Amalia
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Core Concept

Knowing What We See

Have you ever wondered how you know what you see? For example, when you see a round, red object at the grocery store, how do you know that it is called an apple and that it can be eaten? This type of knowledge is called semantic memory. Semantic memories are learned over a lifetime and can be accessed without remembering a specific experience. In other words, you do not need to remember details from the last time you ate an apple to identify one at the grocery store. Although knowledge about apples seems to come to mind rather easily when we see them, linking semantic memory to vision actually requires a lot of brain power! The purpose of this paper is to explain how the brain accomplishes this goal and describe the functions of key brain regions. We also discuss the functional importance of linking semantic memory and vision.

Authors

Chris B. Martin / Celia Fidalgo / Morgan D. Barense
Reviewed by Princeton Friends School
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Core Concept

What Is Spinal Cord Injury?

The spinal cord is a pathway for messages to and from the brain and other parts of the body. It has nerve cells called neurons which are divided into white matter – which has a fatty coating called myelin and grey matter. It is protected by the boney spine. When the spinal cord is injured, the injury happens in two stages: the first of these is the actual injury where the cord is bruised or torn and the second is known as the secondary injury. The secondary injury includes a few different reactions that happen in the body because of the bruising and tearing. Spinal cord injuries can cause a person to lose feeling or use of their arms and legs so scientists are working to find different ways of stopping or reducing the secondary injury to help people with spinal cord injuries recover better.

Authors

Madeleine O’Higgins / Anna Badner / Michael G. Fehlings
Reviewed by Noa
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New Discovery

What Is in Milk? How Nutrition Influences the Developing Brain

Have you ever noticed that babies less than six-months of age only drink milk? This is because their digestive system is not quite developed enough to handle all the different foods and drinks that you can easily digest. You may have also noticed that babies can’t walk, talk, or read during that same time. This is partially because their brains also haven’t matured enough let them do activities that you can easily do. The brain is growing very quickly at this time, so it is important to make sure babies are provided the best nutrition for brain growth. However, it is difficult to test babies, so our research looks at how different components in milk affect a piglet’s brain development, since piglets are much more similar to human infants than you might have thought. This study shows that some components of milk may help the brain develop.

Authors

Austin T. Mudd / Lindsey S. Alexander / Rosaline V. Waworuntu / Brian M. Berg / Sharon M. Donovan / Ryan N. Dilger
Reviewed by University of Memphis Campus School
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Core Concept

Getting Out of the Laboratory to Make Experiments Real: Can Sports Fans Influence Muay Thai Judges?

To find out if one thing actually causes another, carefully controlled experiments are needed. Experiments usually take place in a laboratory. However, to examine how people respond to things that happen in particular places at particular times, it can also be important to step outside the laboratory. This article discusses how to have enough control in an experiment to be confident that something caused something else to happen, yet also be confident the same effect would happen with other people, at other times, and in other places. To illustrate how this can be done, the article looks at a study that investigates the effect of crowd noise on sports officials during Muay Thai competitions.

Authors

Tony D. Myers
Reviewed by Emily
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New Discovery

Human Communication and the Brain

If a person on the street asks you for directions to the movie theater, the person’s age or the presence of a bike are just a few of the multiple contextual elements that will influence your reply. You may decide to speak more clearly, use simpler words, and give directions specifically on how to get there by bike. Yet despite the ease with which we flexibly adjust our communication to whom we are communicating, it remains a mystery how we manage to rapidly do that. A new study shows that a certain part of our brain, the prefrontal cortex, is particularly relevant for fine-tuning communication with knowledge of a social partner. Patients with damage to the prefrontal cortex were still able to communicate. Unlike healthy individuals and patients with brain damage elsewhere, however, prefrontal patients failed to adjust their communication to the presumed abilities of their social partner.

Authors

Arjen Stolk
Reviewed by Krishna
Reviewed by Darius
Reviewed by Wyatt
Reviewed by Schuyler
Reviewed by Sybille
Reviewed by Paceyn
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Core Concept

When Kicking the Doctor Is Good—A Simple Reflex

Humans and animals have reflexes to help protect them from danger. Reflexes are unconscious responses, which means they are automatic and do not require the brain to create the action. There are many different types of reflexes but the most basic is a simple reflex. This reflex contains only one area (mono) where information travels in open space between two nerves (synapse) in the spinal cord. Thus, a simple reflex is called monosynaptic. There are three parts to a monosynaptic simple reflex. The first is a sensor, the second is a sensory nerve to carry information to the spinal cord, and the third is a motor nerve to transmit information away from the spinal cord to the muscles to create an action. Messages travel along this pathway as action potentials. Doctors will test reflexes by tapping the tendon just below the knee and this causes the leg to kick out. This knee jerk reflex is an example of a simple monosynaptic reflex.

Authors

Jennifer M. Jakobi / Sienna Kohn / Samantha Kuzyk / Andrey Fedorov
Reviewed by Francisco
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Core Concept

How We Read Emotions from Faces

The ability to read emotions from faces is a very important skill. One might even call it a superpower. People around the world use this skill when they communicate with each other. But do people from different cultural backgrounds recognize and interpret facial expressions the same way? The answer, according to scientists, is both yes and no. Yes, because the brain system specializing in understanding faces is similar across cultures, so we all can recognize basic emotions, such as happiness or sadness, when looking at other faces. No, because culture influences how we behave and how we think, which means it also influences the rules we learn as children that tell us when and how to show our emotions. In this article, we discuss how we are able to perceive emotions from faces and how we might be reading emotions differently, depending on where we are from.

Authors

Marianna Pogosyan / Jan Benjamin Engelmann
Reviewed by Jenaplanschool De Lanteerne
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