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 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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New Discovery

How Do Kids and Grown-Ups Get Distracted in Everyday Situations?

The world is a distracting place – full of shapes and colors, sounds, and smells that constantly excite our senses. Sometimes, a single object can stimulate multiple senses at once. When the TV is on, moving images on the screen are accompanied by sounds. But you may have noticed that, as you grow older, you become better at ignoring distractions, and staying focused on what you are doing. Especially if what you are doing is very demanding, like reviewing a Young Minds article. Would you have done as well when you were six? Control over what and how you attend to improves with age, however, adults get distracted too. We found that, surprisingly, adults are worse at ignoring distractions involving both shapes and sounds than six-year-olds. By studying distractions engaging multiple senses, we can better understand how our attention works in everyday situations and how it grows as we grow.

Authors

Nora Turoman / Rebecca Merkley / Gaia Scerif / Pawel J. Matusz
Reviewed by Hebrew University High School
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Core Concept

Music: The Last Thing We Forget

Have you ever wondered what happens in your brain when you think about your favorite songs? Recent research has revealed an area of the brain that is active when we listen to music that we know. This musical memory area is separate from the parts of your brain you use to remember things you have learned in school, and details about events in your life. In this article, we will show you where the musical memory area is, and why our memory for music is often resilient to brain diseases that cause memory loss.

Authors

Francine Foo / Elizabeth L. Johnson
Reviewed by Amy
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New Discovery

Remembering or Forgetting: The Lifetime of Memories

If we walk on the street where we were once bitten by a dog, we feel fear. This is because our brains are great in creating associations. The street and the dog bite become linked in our brain’s information store. Our brain can even remember this association forever! But, how is the lifetime of memories adjusted? During the fearful experience, a trace will be recorded in a small group of neurons in our brain. Every memory has its own group, composed of different types of neurons. In the laboratory, we made experiments to artificially change the number of neurons in these groups. According to our results, in a particular brain region called hippocampus, the number of neurons is important for memory. Adding neurons improves memory while removing them accelerates forgetting. A special type of neuron in our brain controls the size of these groups. We think that this serves to adjust the lifetime of memories.

Authors

Pablo Mendez
Reviewed by Eduardo
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Core Concept

Why Studying Rare Diseases Is So Important: Do You Know of This Disease?

Some diseases strike many people and are of course very bad. Some others strike just a few people and are called rare. This sounds like a good thing but… if you are one of the few people affected them this is not a consolation! It is also very bad because, often, pharmaceutical companies are not interested in developing a treatment because too few people would buy them. Federica will tell you about her experience in a rare disease and explain what causes it and what could be done, if anything, to cure this very nasty disease. We hope that you may help us to find a cure…

Authors

Federica Lupoli / Annalisa Pastore
Reviewed by Fábio
Reviewed by João Victor
Reviewed by Luiz Carlos
Reviewed by Marcos
Reviewed by Maria Fernanda
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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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