Timehop is a reminiscence app for those that don’t already have Facebook. It pulls photos from your social media streams to remind you what you were up to a year ago, 5 years, 10 years ago etc. There’s nothing quite like a photo to trigger memories of a certain period of life. Sometimes I wonder if I would even be able to recall a tiny fraction of my life’s events in a world before photography. It’s usually the case that if a life event is deemed worthy of being captured in a photograph, then seeing it again will encourage a positive frame of mind. Only yesterday I overheard a relevant discussion between a pair of colleagues in my local supermarket. One showed the other a photograph of a family trip to Jamaica on his smartphone and the other murmured: “I love looking at old photographs, it’s just the best.”
The damage that Alzheimer’s disease does to the brain regions that support retrieval of autobiographical memories can eventually extinguish a person’s very sense of self, more often than not, the abolition of recollections from early on in life doesn’t occur until the end of the process. For most of our lives, from developing a sense of self in infancy, to ultimately losing it once and for all, our sense of who we are follows an arc that seems to be wholly dependent on the accumulation of most poignant memories, often revolving around novel and emotionally stimulating experiences. They are a reference point from which we get our sense of who we are. They are physically manifested in extra synaptic connections in neural circuitry distributed all across the brain, far beyond the hippocampus famed for it’s involvement in the creation and retrieval of memories. This brain blog is about the cues that can trigger recollection of our life’s key experiences that are so important in defining to ourselves who we are.
At first a newborn infant has no sense of self. At this stage, even the very senses it uses to understand the world around it have yet to develop to the point where reliable information can be gleaned regarding what’s out there. The brain first must be exposed to a vast torrent of sensory experiences that help to shape and mature brain areas that crunch the information coming in through the various sensory systems during early brain development. The capacity to actively explore the environment further enhances these memories for our early experiences, until sufficient experimentation of cause and effect results, miraculously, at some point during the second year of life (usually between 15 and 24 months) in the classic signs of awareness of selfhood. Infants recognise that the reflection in a mirror is themselves, as evidenced by attempts to wipe off a coloured mark that might have been surreptitiously smeared on their cheek.
Our sense of self develops in childhood as we experience more and more significant, emotionally affecting life episodes, which are each logged away deep somewhere in the recesses of our mind. Foods and people we like and dislike. Places in which we experienced pleasures and pains. Circumstances associated with unpleasant emotions associated with hunger, cold and threats, others that predicted feelings of comfort, excitement and laughter. Life’s surprises and first time encounters dominate those memories that are most easily brought to mind.
Once we look back on childhood from the perspective of a fully-grown adult some interesting quirks of memory start to become evident. First is that memories from our earliest years of life are wiped. This childhood amnesia manifests as a complete inability to recall much of what happened to us before the age of three or four. Perhaps the odd fleeting memory of one or two key events at the age of four at best, but nothing from the ages of 0-3 years old.
The sense of smell has an astonishing capacity to remind us of early childhood memories. This can be accounted for by the fact that, of all our senses, the olfactory system is the only one that plugs directly into the brain’s cortex without first filtering through the thalamus. The thalamus is the brain’s major junction box through which the senses of vision, hearing, touch and taste are required to interface before being shuttled on for further processing at various dedicated patches of the crinkly outer surface of brain tissue. There are two major sites at which the sense of smell is generated according to the different types of gaseous chemicals detected deep inside the nostrils by hundreds of different types of olfactory receptor. One is on the underside of the frontal cortex and another on the medial (inward-facing) temporal lobes. The temporal lobes also house the hippocampus (fundamental to the creation of new memories) and the amygdala (critical for the production of emotions) perhaps explaining why scents tend to produce a powerfully emotional sense of reminiscence, typically evoking memories from before the age of 10.
The reminiscence bump describes the observation that, further back than their most recent experiences, adults over the age of fifty are most likely to recall experiences from late adolescence and early adulthood (15-30 years old). Whether cues used to elicit important memories are pictures or individual words, the majority of autobiographical episodes that pop into our mind tend to come from this period of life. A period in which significant events mold our character and help to form our adult self.
The aim of this annual brain post is to make a whole year’s worth of my daily tweets available, all in one place, in case anybody fancies browsing what I considered to be the most interesting, accessible brain research breakthroughs of 2016. It’s not purely neuroscience. There are also tidbits from other realms of science beyond the brain. If you’d like to follow me on Twitter you can find me at @drjacklewis
So, without further ado, here are all my tweets from 2016, in no particular order…
7 not 8 hrs sleep per night appears to be the magic number
The buzz of truly altruistic giving seems to increase with age, according to a new brain imaging study
Could Alzheimer’s boil down to the immune system developing a taste for synapses?
Drug opens blood brain barrier 2 let therapeutic drugs in; huge potential 4treating many brain illnesses
Big data approach indicates that first sign of Late Onset Alzheimer’s is reduced blood flow to the brain
New study in humans with bipolar disorder unexpectedly finds genetic abnormalities in the striatum
High intelligence in tiny bird brain by “packing more neurons into a smaller space than primates”
Why comparisons between brain and silicon-based computing power are just plain silly
Control over hand/arm movements to be regained after neck break via brain chip is spectacular
BrainCraft – a YouTube channel using stop-motion animation to bring neuroscience to life
Neurosurgery retrospective came from Henry Marsh, now prospective view from a brain surgeon in training
Look mum – no hands!! Racing drones with the power of thought alone – the future has finally arrived
Our ability to adapt quickly to new circumstances fades as we age. Pesky brain circuit responsible is identified
Exercise after learning can help you retain information better. To maximise this brain hack – timing is key…
Everyone should know these simple psychological tricks to reduce calorie intake daily
Move aside old fashioned fingerprints, hello new-fangled brain prints
Love this study that used fMRI to figure out what physics concepts volunteers were thinking about
Concussion induced changes in the white matter still evident 6 months after initial injury
It was always just a matter of time before a study emerged indicating that zapping brains boosts creativity
We enjoy making decisions for others more than we do our own
Designer drugs try2retain memory by boosting maintenance of dendritic spines, whilst reducing toxicity
Why do about 80% of elderly people with Alz’s also have diabetes (or similar)
Drugs can screw up your brain. We’re not talking recreational drugs. We’re talking drugs from the pharmacy
Mechanism of action by which long-term memories are erased in the brain has been identified
Even one of neuroscience’s most powerful tools for investigating how brains work was discovered by mistake
I’ve been banging on about the need to exercise body for the brain’s sake for years, NS explains why
Brain area identified in fMRI (pSTS) is particularly interested in emotionally meaningful facial expressions
Allergy-prone? Could your low fibre diet. Give your gut bacteria food they need to calm your immune system
Bug in most popular fMRI analysis software may invalidate findings of over 40,000 brain imaging studies
Why so many of us struggle to NOT eat the things we know we shouldn’t
If you need to tell a lie and want to get away with it then do it on a full bladder
Computers predicting Oscars? Movie directors control audiences’ eye gaze and brain responses…?
From the horse’s mouth… what the first ever brain scan of people on LSD actually discovered
In UK where many mums can’t AFFORD full-time infant nurture during pre-school years, this must sting
Precise location/connectivity of “inner compass” defined for the very 1st time
DNA To what degree is intelligence hereditary?
Oh the irony: artificial sweeteners can stimulate our brains to seek out more food
Here’s a thing or six you should know about how your brain does learning
What your child’s brain, needs now, is love, sweet love…
Brains on acid (fMRI study from Imperial)
Protein engineered into brain allows neurons to be switched on/off with the stroke of a bar magnet (sort of)
Young migraineurs often have deficiency in certain vitamins, perhaps same in older migraine-sufferers too?
Before you know it, brain stimulation to improve mood will be as commonplace as laser eye surgery
Small study indicates people with Multiple Sclerosis have different gut bacteria to those with healthy brains
This article about how rapidly our cognitive abilities dwindle through digital multitasking is excellent
Mouse study indicates that Obsessive Compulsive Disorder could be switch on and offable
Degree to which person’s oxytocin gene is switched on/off seems to have fundamental impact on social skills
If brain’s “pain matrix” lights up in people born without a sense of pain, can you still call it a “pain matrix”?
Brace yourself for therapeutic poo transplants for MS&depression! If this way round then why not in reverse?
Why we’d all benefit from napping like a pro – it improves alertness, concentration&attention for 4hrs
Using fMRI to scan a brain at rest predicts much about how it responds to tasks using language, gambling etc
School kid 3D prints bioreactor for studies on mini-brains (cheaper & more efficient than industrial ones)
When contact sports career ravages body, leaving you in constant pain, where should you turn for relief?
A different way of thinking about stress (and how to get the best out of it)
Biohacking in Silicon Valley – rather them than me
Who’d wear a device that can detect when you’re making a decision & nudge you towards the healthy choice?
How to turn a mouse transparent and make its neurons glow so you can see whole nervous system in 3D
How your working environment can impact brain function – for better and for worse
Evidence continues to build attesting to the rejuvenating impacts of meditation on the very fabric of the brain
Give your gut bacteria a little TLC and they might just help you dodge a stroke
Why a walk in the woods really does help your body and your soul
“Since its formation, our solar system has orbited the Milky Way 20 times..”
In the 1900s, Being a ‘Cigarette Fiend‘ Was a Legitimate Defense for Murder
High tech approach to treating phantom limb pain
Dr Tamminen’s article How a lack of sleep affects your brain – and personality
Why are gambling machines so addictive?
Controlling pain in phantom limb patients via robotics
UKBigBrainData study suggests interesting positive correlations between alcohol and white matter reduction, also smoking and iron deposits
I love that a few cunning multisensory illusions can help to relieve some forms of chronic pain – so clever
@LlianaBird & I wrote a book based on 100+ stories from our Geek Chic Weird Science podcast
Mo Costandi’s book, NEUROPLASTICITY, is now available on Amazon amzn.to/1WSUfUp
First case of a ‘monkey midwife‘ seen in golden snub nosed monkeys – the monkeys that act as midwives
How much is 1 more year of your life worth? That’s exactly what health services must decide
The enormous power of the unconscious brain
The space submarine hunting the solar system for aliens
The art of brain function and dysfunction
Oxford Uni study finds that stroke patients given electrical brain tingle (tcDCS) plus intensive rehab recover best
Another nutbag decides to devote his life & fortune to uploading his brain to a computer
Congratulations Cardiff on your sparkly new Connectom brain scanner. Hubble telescope of the human brain, huh?!
British memory researchers win prestigious Brain Prize
RIP Terry Brain author of Trapdoor stop-motion children’s animations
Orangutan ‘copies human speech‘, offering “new clues to how human speech evolved”
Increased amygdala activity related to more heart disease (prob via elevated white blood cell-induced inflammation)
Small numbers processed in the right side of the brain, large numbers on the left, but the goalposts move…
Your brain’s constant gardener
Either the most amusing, or the most terrifying, promotional video I’ve ever seen. What do you think?
It’s heart-warming to see that we’re probably all hard-wired for altruism;sad that so many bury it under selfishness
That there are this many brain cells in a dust mite-sized chunk may help us to fathom the complexity of a full brain
On the role of meat in evolution of the modern brain – exquisite
Higher fluid intelligence – for problem solving – is associated with greater energy turnover in specific brain areas
“..shunned in the mistaken belief they have biological defects.In fact..evidence shows that most’ve endured traumas”
Measuring brainwaves of expert pilots with EEG to guide the stimulation of novice pilots with tcDCS, speeds learning bit.ly/1oUAs86
Monkeys fitted with brain machine interfaces can manoeuvre their electric wheelchairs with thought alone
Staggering to think of all the cash made by companies selling as-yet-unproven performance improving neurostimulation
New hippocampal neurons in the adult brain for the first time sheds light on their importance in learning
Maple syrup might help to stop brain proteins getting in a tangle
Breaking bad (habits)
Epicentre of aggression pinpointed in mice; does human violence stems from similar brain structures?
Immersive Virtual Reality 3D art is here…
Clinical trials to experiment with bringing (freshly) dead people back to the land of the living
Treating sugar addiction like drug abuse
What you know fundamentally impacts upon how you see
7T+ magnets might be just the ticket for MRI scans that type for you as you imagine each individual letter
Prosthetic arms that allow users to feel touch at the finger tips so they can handle delicate objects
A nice summary of the current state of play in the world of brain training
Homing in on important brain mechanisms involved in triggering migraines
When i was being electrocuted for my latest TV show – anticipation of infrequent shocks was the worse
Crossing the uncanny valley in VR – it’s coming…
Scientists show that rubber-hand illusion can be produced by smartphones
Why most people close their eyes when kissing? Pretty obvious isn’t it. Do we really need this to explain?
Believe it or not, children who intensively play video games actually seem to do pretty well at school after all..
Sugar—the addictive enemy hiding in plain sight
Could hypnosis banish the worried well from GP waiting rooms?
Why do sunbathers live longer than those who avoid the sun?
How the acoustics in musical spaces can impact on the emotional experience
Interactive blog post shows what it’s like reading with dyslexia
Strength training helps older adults live longer
Kavli Neuro Prize to Eve Marder, Michael Merzenich & Carla Shatz for experience-dependent plasticity work
Early Alzheimer’s supplement drink helps to maintain brain volume but has little effect on cognition
For a youthful brain – stay in school for as long as possible and avoid the sedentary lifestyle like the plague
Did human-like intelligence evolve to help us care for helpless babies?
Breathing polluted air during pregnancy leads to kids w/ poor self-regulation issues
Zapping brains with electricity (tDCS) may exert various benefits by triggering calcium release in astrocytes
Antimatter changed physics: the discovery of anti-memories could revolutionize neuroscience
Heart-warming to know that pinky and the brain still get on after all this time
Same sex brains sync up better than different sex brains when performing a joint task
Brain Topiary: new neurons in adult brains proliferate before being pruned back 2right shape
Skynet Is Coming… Machine Intelligence from Cortical Networks program receives $100M
How awareness of your heartbeat may be tweaked in order to reduce anxiety
Reward pathways of cannabis smokers respond strongly to a image of a joint
Study on cadaver w/ electrodes on inner surface of skull suggests tcDCS has no effect on the brain
The importance of bromance
The weirdest senses animals have that you don’t
I love it when my “frontal lobe just goes on holiday… and it lets the sensory cortex just do what it wants”
There are many roads to fear. Twins with no amygdalae both still feel anxiety when exposed to certain drugs
When you get interrupted when in the middle of something and struggle to remember where you were at..?
Sleep deprivation increases pleasure derived from eating food through similar mechanism to cannabis
Being in clinical trials may seem like easy money, but tragic off-target side effects are always a possibility
Just imagine what will happen when parkour enthusiasts get their hands on these robotic exoskeletons
Keeping busy is good for the brain, but chronic stress is bad for health of body & brain
Looking back at Sci-Fi literature that predicted modern VR tech
Ep 2 of my new TV series is all about faces…available to stream, anywhere in the world, at your leisure, here
In ep4 of SotB I meet a man who hallucinates in his blind patch & a surgeon who fits bionic lenses
Ciliated cells control the flow of cerebrospinal fluid through brain ventricles
Gut bacteria gobble GABA – helping to explain how what goes on in our bellies can influence our moods
Improved visual acuity that lasts two hours with just 20 mins of electrical brain zapping
Researchers find that children’s brains develop faster with music training
In ep7 of my new series i conquer fear&pain with help of Wim Hof, stream in 4k definition, at your leisure
How the brainstem regulates breathing
The Physical damage racism inflicts on your brain and body
People with anger problems seem to have less white matter connecting their frontal lobes and parietal lobes
What goes on in the brain as you learn a brand new language…?
How laughing gas inspired early psychedelic literature
We’re discovering new ways to detect if someone is lying. And finding old ways are wrong
New tricks to peer deep into the brain with yet more precision
A few simple questions can help anyone disarm anxiety before it strikes
3D imaging of amyloid-beta plaques in the brains of deceased Alzheimer’s patients
New study reveals a link between circadian clock disruption and tumor growth
Similar deficits in white matter tracts connecting left and right sides of brain in autistic, OCD & ADHD kids
Seeking Clues to Stuttering Deep Within the Brain
The Strange Brain of the World’s Greatest Solo Climber
Doggy fMRI study reveals that, like us, canine brains process word meaning on left & intonation on right
Fusiform gyrus – containing region (FFA) for recognising faces – is ~13% larger in adults than kids
Believe it or not foetal fMRI has arrived! Yes, that’s right, brain imaging in the womb
Gaming that can help depressed people to feel better by helping them to focus
Will nose-witnesses soon play a role in our courts of law? (“Eyewitnesses” are so 20th century)
Prof Van der Meer (Norwegian University) offers science-based tips for optimal ways to raise infants
Mini-brains grown from stem cells taken from milk teeth can tell you a thing or two about their actual brains
You can tell how old a person is from their brain’s glial cell health
Neuroscience in practice to enhance your star gazing experience
Antibody targeting protein in Blood Brain Barrier reduces signs of brain ageing
Some people (3-5%) simply get no joy from listening to music – now we know why
What happens in the brain when people’s beliefs are challenged?
Carbon nanotube electrodes much better than conventionals, but how to jam a “wet noodle” into the brain?
Reduced blood flow to Broca’s area (key area in speech production) in stutterers
Memory & cognition improvements in 65+ year old people if they take regular 1-hour long siesta after lunch
If learning a 2nd language is one of your New Year’s resolutions for 2017, this might be motivating for you
Interfering w/ vagal nerve function can help various health conditions – now can be done w/ greater precision
tcDCS therapy overview: depression/addiction/fibromyalgia (good news) tinnitus/stroke (bad news)
Facebook wants in on Brain Control Interfaces
16 year old’s ovarian tumour found to contain brain tissue that resembles a cerebellum and brainstem
Genetically-speaking you are 10% retrovirus – deal with it!
Peripheral neuropathy ( seen in diabetes, chemo, HIV) could be helped by anti-muscarinic agents
CBT for psychosis found to be associated with measurable changes in brain connectivity
No meaningful difference in amygdala sizes in male vs female brains across 30yrs of MRI studies
Dreaming (REM) sleep accelerates pruning of certain brain connections, vital to reshaping teenage brains
Resensitising brain cancer to chemotherapy using old school anti-malaria drug
A study of 500 MRI scans reveals the links between personality traits and brain structure
I’ve often wondered why so many schizophrenic people smoke&smoke so hard;they might be self-medicating
We’ve known for a while that Zika shrinks foetal brains, now tech is helping science to figure out why
WHO said Brazil Olympics must be cancelled or zika virus will spread all over world at home time.
How serious Rio Olympics Zika problem could be for global health? Read this Harvard Public Health Review.
Awesome: “artificial neuron that switches between crystal and glass-like states as information comes in”
What’s your #littlelifesaver ? When i feel blue, i get on my skates
Once a year I pick up my mouth organ, give it a sniff & put it right back down again – probably for the best
Beware the backup plan
5 books on the brain review by Scientific American
Ever thought of depositing your brain in a brain bank when you’re done with it. You should. You really should
“Lab tech to lab leader” tale of scientist striving to identify molecular secateurs for trimming the brain bush
Ep5 of my new series Secrets of the Brain is all about Time Perception. Stream it anytime, anywhere…
Nature have made a nice 2min video to explain why the new improved brain map is so cool
Souped up MRI shows newly discovered rubbish disposal system in action as it pumps waste materials out of the brain
New research has “uncovered stress&depression connectome” .. multiple routes from brain2adrenal glands
Breast feeding boosts neurodevelopment aged 7 for pre-term babies
“New” study shows Brain Training improves dementia outcomes? Dodgy reporting strikes again
Brushy One String always makes me smile. Amazing what you can do with a guitar that has 5 strings missing
Precise imprint of brain on inner skull enables comparison of today’s brains to those of 17,000 yrs ago
I thought I knew a thing or two about Cognitive Ease, now thanks to @veritasium I know a thing or two more
Human brain enlargement was driven by social comparison skills to aid strategic helping
Don’t call it a comeback, it’s been here for years. ElectroConvulsiveTherapy for major depression, would you?
Being overweight in middle age seems to rob humans of brain white matter compared to normal weight peers
Learning to be generous, it’s all in the brain
Gene therapy for Parkinson’s patients with goal of reviving the early benefits of L-Dopa drug treatments
Greater past / future happiness = delusional
What happens in brains of hypnotised people (vs those who can’t be)? Newly published fMRI study reveals all
High fat/sugar diet in pregnancy linked to higher rates of ADHD in kid in later life
Meditators may have greater awareness of subconscious will – that’s one way of interpreting these results…
Some people are over-reliant on internet to supplement memory – imagine if Google started charging
Morphine – gold standard of pain relief – has side effects ranging from annoying to deadly. Now a new option
Neanderthals not bright enough to be schizophrenic
Olympians zap brains in hope of improving performance despite no independent evidence to show it works
Role of oxytocin in optimism (it seems to place the focus on desirable rather than undesirable feedback)
Physics intuition and action planning are “intimately linked in the brain”
Some interesting neuroscience-based speculations on Pokemon Go – why has it become so popular?
Exposure therapy helps people get over arachnophobia. Now a simple tweak has been found to make it last
Poor sleep may partly cause PTSD, not just symptom, so improve sleep (via brain zap) to reduce PTSD cases
Honestly officer, it’s not my fault, I keep flying into these rages because of a parasite that’s living in my brain
Scanning kids brains before they can read predicts how well areas that support reading will develop by age 8
Reorientation Cost (my term) seems to be the difference between older and younger brains in elite gaming
Unexpected ability to feel touch / muscle control when spine injury patients learn to use exoskeleton to walk
Stock market prediction involves brain areas usually recruited when wondering what others are thinking
Method for measuring synaptic density without having to chop up a brain
How to make low calorie food taste better? Tweak the odour
Window into teenage brain development – all about developing hubs (through which so much traffic passes)
Ever imagined being able to make music with lightening? Someone’s cracked it..
Specific brain rhythm observed in EEG data when people write a text on their smartphone
“[the temple] is the perfect window to the thalamus, which lies seven centimetres below”
UltraSoundAwakening: man emerges from minimally conscious state after having thalamus ping’ed with US
Quote of the week: “Who needs legs when you’ve got chemistry”
Where does the instinct to be altruistic come from in the first place? As with everything… it promotes survival
Why do we sleep? If we don’t: our synapses get saturated and brains become overly excitable
Real-life zombie cockroach, courtesy of the emerald wasp.
We’re making great progress in understanding what drives risky choices using very latest neuroscience tools
Motivation boost …anyone?
Facebook’s #ArtificialIntelligence Research lab releases open source #fastText on GitHub
The orbits of the stars in the vicinity of the supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy
Neuroscientists create ‘atlas’ showing how words are organised in the brain
A cautionary tale about the promises of modern brain science
What really happens to food when you drop it on the floor…
To increase productivity take some breaks (and sleep better)
What Teens Need Most From Their Parents
Beautiful images from futuristic work. The tools of neuroscience get evermore powerful
Who better than Russ Poldrack to review a book about what MRI can and can’t do?
Stop blaming mental illness for violent crimes | Dean Burnett
Gut bacteria regulate nerve fibre insulation
Race & DNA & Neanderthals & sex & the new book & stuff.
MoCostandi’s book NEUROPLASTICITY is out now in the UK
The brain becomes more modular and integrated in development
LatitudeTalks is back with its second episode, ‘The Porn Perspective’ Listen here
The viruses that may save humanity
Africa’s sunshine could eventually make the continent a supplier of energy to the rest of the world
How we built machines that can think for themselves
The Spartan launch system could radically reduce the costs of blasting satellites into orbit
Next generation of flexible robots w/ stretchable sensors
Teaching old dogs new tricks (literally)
How problems with spelling provide evidence to suggest separate systems for long term vs working memory
Dogs and some primates may have a magnetic compass in their eyes
New research suggests that “modern men increasingly value brains over beauty in their long-term partners”
Concerned about drones snooping on your city? Might time to take up the art of falconry
Iceman Wim Hoff is teaching science a thing or two about mind over matter
MRI parts are being recycled to help discover the fundamental forces of nature
Vagus nerve stimulation results in significant relief of depressive symptoms versus sham stimulation
“Nanoscale implants that are inserted into the brain but which interact with cells optically”
Understanding the human brain – the story so far…
“excessive synaptic pruning model..far from new..was proposed in 1983 &..discussed in 3580 papers”
Babies can categorise colours before language… which I don’t find surprising at all but apparently it is
Who would’ve thought brushing your teeth could help you avoid a stroke!
“Japanese already had a name for the experience of well-being in nature: shinrin-yoku or ‘forest bathing’”
Why being sceptical of anyone claiming to be a “great multitasker” makes sense
Sleep deprivation leads to higher rate of false confessions
Half the population of the globe will be short sighted by 2050 =5Bn of 10Bn
Midlife physical activity is associated with better cognition in old age
‘Gambling’ wolves take more risks than dogs
Big neuroscience is going global
Mice who sing for sex in the ultrasound range use vocal cords arranged like a bit like a jet engine
Preventing obesity with mindful eating
London Eye tastes like lumpy mashed potato and baked beans to a lexical-gustatory synaesthete
Brain size and the risk of getting shot – Size does matter
Mice fall for rubber hand illusion just like us
Show me the former pro footballers with accelerated age-related cognitive decline, then i’ll stop heading balls
Irrational decisions neatly explained by reward driven behaviour + biases
Little did we know how big a role immune cells play in everyday brain function; in health not just in sickness
Tesla unveils its new line of camouflaged solar panels
Cognitive benefits in later life for mum’s who have their last kid after 35, but why…?
The world in 2076: Genetically engineered people are everywhere
Connectome fingerprinting can identify people with 100% accuracy
Staying socially active can slow decline in older adults’ ability to function
Winners of the 2016 BioArt competition include this image of a spinal neuron in culture
Eternal Sunshine is here. Rather than erasing painful memories,mightn’t this result in a penchant for BDSM?
The Eye As a Biomarker for Alzheimer’s Disease
Musical training creates new brain connections in children
Obituaries are often written before celebs have died. Turns out brains do a similar thing with DNA
Double-blind trial shows that single dose of psilocybin can give 6 months relief from cancer-related anxiety
Levels of IL-6 inflammatory cytokine in blood at 9 years old used to predict bipolar symptoms in adulthood
Your not just imagining it – people’s aggression really does manifest itself in the way they walk: agro-swagger
One day, logging into your computer, email, twitter etc may require you to don a hatful of EEG electrodes
Your brain’s structural connections are as unique as your fingerprint. No surprises there then
“Cloudy with a chance of pain” Study investigates potential link between the weather and pain conditions
Using MRI to distinguish between depression subtypes to predict whether TMS might be useful or not
Hippocampal detonator synapses
http://bit.ly/DrJEEGcntlRobt Dear Santa, If I’ve been good enough this year, please may I have a robotic arm controllable via 64 electrode EEG?
How the brain juggles tradeoffs between effort and reward in decision making
“Individuals may engage in geek culture in order to maintain narcissistic self-views”
Star-shaped glial support cells form chain to bridge L/R halves of the brain for baby neurons to grow along
The world’s first home-made brain implant
Ban digi-media use 1hr before bedtime, keep bedrooms, mealtimes & parent-child playtime screen free
Don’t mesmerise under-3’s with screens – chances are you’ll be doing them a great disservice in long run
Insightful video about how to make see-thru brains & what we can learn. Karl Deisseroth on CLARTY
Although “Princess Leia brainwaves” is unashamedly headline grabbing – science itself is pretty fascinating
The most self-ruinous way of consuming social media? Lurking: observing without contribution
Ability to make new memories, but keep the old prob relies on multiple synaptic “dials”
@LlianaBird & I are delighted to announce our new book #MiceWhoSing available now at Waterstones
Hopefully this will dispel the widespread myth that it takes a lot of mindfulness practice to gain any benefit
Porn Brain: some teens are over-consuming porn to the extent that it effects normal sexual function
TV/radio off please: tough to separate speech/noise for older people, even in those who aren’t hard of hearing
Schizophrenics more likely to try cannabis. Why would delusional people crave greater distance from reality?
Maybe I won’t be saving up my $200k to hitch a ride to Mars with Elon after all… space brain sounds nasty!!
Stress and conception don’t mix: one of the dark sides of mind over matter
Boys & girls brains change as a result of extreme stress: insula volume is reduced in girls, increased in boys
Male/female brains, more similar than dissimilar, but why stereotypical gender differences in behaviour…?
Sleep paralysis in Brazilian folklore and other cultures
Brain-inspired intelligent robotics: The intersection of robotics and neuroscience
This mental quirk could explain why you’re always running late
There was I thinking MRI was terrible at monitoring for specific emotions – not according to this…
A few words from the man behind Google’s brain
In this week’s @GCweirdscience podcast we discuss a miracle cure for cancer, gravity waves and horses
WeirdScience Ep51 podcast: newly discovered planet in our solar system, head transplants & ejaculating bees
Episode 62: Tribute to John Glenn, Preserved Dino-Tail, Pubic Hair grooming / STD’s & Magic Mushrooms
11 out of 10 on the geek-o-meter: Milky Way over the Pinnacles
How to stimulate deep brain areas without having to open the skull to implant electrodes – very clever work
Leave my iPhone alone: why our smartphones are extensions of ourselves
Music therapy can reduce pain and anxiety; improve quality of life for people w/dementia
Learning from experience of others (single cell recordings in the human AC)
Thought that learning to get around was all about the hippocampus? Think again…
Imagine being able to feel sensation of touch through a robotic finger…BCI makes it reality
Global connectivity differences in brain scans of PTSD vs no-PTSD kids traumatised by Sichuan Earthquake
1st 2 months of human embryonic development in womb with amazing new accurate 3D interactive atlas
Tuning brains to banish pains: alpha freq light / sound pulses induce activity observed in placebo analgesia
Study investigates how far electrical current applied at human brain surface travels via phosphene mapping
Deep brain stimulation soon to use tiny coils to influence neurons with magnetism rather than electrons
If the way we breathe influences what we remember, are there breathing techniques to help students revise?
Starting with the world’s first city in 3700 BC, this map visualizes the history of urbanization
When does brain development reach completion?
In Cambridge? You can contribute to cutting edge @The_MRC cognitive neuroscience research.
How to get Artificial Intelligence to tell us when it’s not sure anymore and needs some human help
Ditch that sense of entitlement – it’s an illusion and will just make you perpetually miserable
“..a lesion..can disrupt the brain’s familiarity detector and reality monitor simultaneously”
Multilab study indicates that pulling smiling/frowning facial expressions does NOT induce emotions after all
How many different types of neurons there in the brain (even just the hypothalamus) blows my mind
Experts: “almost twice as likely to remember incidents relating to..topic that never happened”
Might stoned drivers be more cautious?
Mouse study suggests Omega-3 may promote brain toxin removal by helping out the glymphatic system
Could the impact of oxytocin on human behaviour boil down purely to synchrony
Psychobiotics – science of figuring out what to feed your gut bacteria so they influence the brain positively
Psychics used as controls for schizophrenia studies! Both hear voices, psychosis only present in latter group
Turns out people high on psychopathy scale ARE capable of regretting past actions, just don’t learn from it
How sleep affects responses to anti-depressant medication
Drugs for ex-convicts to reduce violent reoffending
See how superagers brains compare2young ones. Figure out how they keep their brains so plump&juicy
fMRI measures impact of antidepressant drugs on serotonin and dopamine levels in discrete brain areas
Could NA hold the key to coordinating integration of different brain areas according to task demands?
Preference lag for previously pleasure-giving things
UK Biobank imaging study finds links between brain anatomy and cognitive decline
Toddler robots help solve how children learn
First pop song ever written by artificial intelligence. The singularity is coming!
“The Irrational Idea That Humans Are Mostly Irrational“
Now you see ‘em, now you don’t: Visual illusion 12 ever-present black dots cannot be seen at the same time
Being bored is good for children – and adults
The best-known homunculus diagram was actually drawn by Penfield’s secretary
Could ultrasound therapy activate immune cells to increase toxin removal, thereby slowing brain ageing?
I am Groot: Plants can do associative learning
Secrets for how to master your #intuition and trust your gut from @bakadesuyo
Yoshinori Ohsumi gets Nobel medicine prize
Rhesus monkey with damaged spinal cord moves leg via remote (brain) control
Deep brain ultrasound procedure zaps thalamus to abolish Cornish man’s uncontrollable tremor
Iron-based pollution nanoparticles found in the brains of deceased; from Mexico City to Manchester
Incredible: switching just one pair of nucleotides in an ancient ancestor’s DNA trebled our brain volume
Loneliness is endemic among older people, with deep cuts to befriending and daycare services
Why women feel cold more than men? (and why are many women advised that it’s in just their head!?)
Why childbirth is so painful
“Big-brained adults start out life as big-brained babies, so evolution came into conflict with itself.”
Why do paper cuts hurt so much!?
http://www.bbc.com/news/health-37988197?post_id=1119922004725090_1275515435832 BBC News – Dementia game ‘shows lifelong navigational decline’
Ketamine for Depression: An Update
Radio interview on new paper on decision making in traders, gut instinct and interoception
“Assorted mammalian brains, roughly to scale.”
Science must take risks/push boundaries to advance. Can psychedelics open new window into mental health?
The truth behind new mum’s baby brain
The well-designed city is a healthy city, all over the world
Brain Books of 2016
Walk more, it’s good for your brain
Drink for joy, not to drown woes – boozing under duress may reverberate through your brain in later weeks
People tweaking doses of multiple nootropics with no concept of drug-drug interactions is terrifying
Buffalo worms for dinner. They have as much biovailable iron as sirloin
What is a SuperRecogniser?
Illuminating the realities of “flashbulb” memories – not as reliable as once thought
Areas critical for consciousness identified in human brain
Gene editing now works on cells that have stopped multiplying, prospect of fixing adult DNA malfunctions
The latest memristors – materials that mimc behaviour of synapses – are becoming incredibly sophisticated
Potential for MDMA (ecstasy) as a therapeutic agent for PTSD to be investigated in a proper clinical trial
Swimming… good for your brain, it seems
Added sugar in our diet is bad, but I didn’t realise range of negative impacts, like reduced oxytocin!
How genes can influence music’s impact on mood
Imagine if middle-aged people were one day prescribed nicotine to slow brain ageing?
Improved muscle strength via weight training “significantly improved global cognition” in mild cog. impaired
Talk about getting the wrong end of the stick…
Cross-species studies of orbitofrontal cortex & value-based decision-making
Whole new neuroscience-based perspective on adage: “not the size of the boat but the motion in the ocean”
Sharks like listening to AC/DC and heavy metal music, says #MiceWhoSing
“People who speak two languages often outperform monolinguals on general measures of executive function”
Article on helping kids with dyslexia & brain changes that result is great lesson in using animated gifs
What placebo/belief can and can’t heal
The marriage of technology and young brain, for better and for worse…
“Like many of my friends, I spent years using prescription stimulants… Then I tried to get of”
NYT highlights problems UK faces –Brexit May Hurt Britain Where It Thrives: Science and Research
Bonobos become long-sighted when middle-aged too
How to get adolescents to eat healthily? Make it a joint act of rebellion against the food industry…
Fast fMRI can detect oscillatory neural activity in humans
Why do we kill? Controversial study blames our distant ancestors
Lithium (yes the element) useful treatment for various psychiatric conditions & we’re finally figuring out why
Most influential neuroscientists from the world of brain imaging? A computer programme has worked it out
Kahneman and Tversky’s errors in understanding human error
Yawning cools brain? Do they need to cool a bit to get off to sleep, or in an effort to postpone sleep?
Researchers translate bat talk. Turns out bats spend most of their time arguing and complaining
How memory actually works is deeply counter-intuitive and constantly fascinating.
Tories just quietly put £7.9 BILLION worth of #NHS contracts up for sale
Apart from getting readers to consider TMS/ tDCS these reminders re: improving brain function ain’t too bad
Brain soup anyone? Apparently the best way to compare cortical neuron number across different species.
Our little black box podcast where we chat with neurologist+neuroscientist @DuzelLab is up
“Fisher gave scientists a mathematical machine for turning baloney into breakthroughs..flukes into funding”
How video games unwittingly train the brain to justify killing
So this is what adolescence is all about
Neuroscientist who spanned intellectual divide offers some thought-provoking new perspectives
“Rotating waves during human sleep spindles organize global patterns of activity…”
Wonder how many other podcasts talk about cuttlefish who count and growing sperm!?
GC EP 56: Green Slime with sight, Paracetamol lies and Pigtails!
Brain Game Claims Fail A Big Scientific Test
Your brain has a physics engine & helps you avoid causing chaos in the grocery aisle
New drug improving longevity & memory in animal studies of prion disease brings hope for fight against Alz’s
How subtle changes in our bodies affect awareness & confidence
Structural changes in the brains of teens are highly correlated with genes linked to schizophrenia
Winners of the 2016 British Wildlife Photography Awards
Teens perform better at reinforcement learning than adults (NB main difference in hippo not striatum)
Higher BMI-> More inflammation-> poorer cognitive function according to new study
Before you start zapping your brain why not wait until science has actually researched what it does to us?
How to manage the global Neuro-Tsunami
Sleep deprivation associated with increased calorie consumption the following day
“Delta waves represent slow wave activity that increases after brain injuries.”
Time passes fast, time passes slow. Neuroscience may finally have pinpointed brain areas that influence this
If you want to hang onto your crystalline intelligence in later life don’t forget to eat your greens
Some wise words on ToDo lists
You can’t work people to death just because you pay them lots
The brain’s stick (as in carrot and stick) of decision making resides in the globus pallidus
Images of neurons migrating within brain tissue of newborn babies (mostly completed by ~5 months old)
Would you let someone implant a $100 million dollar brain chip if would make you more intelligent?
Feel like you’re addicted to your prescription medicine? You’re not alone…
Cancer surgeons can tell healthy from cancerous cells with audio signal generated by laser reflection analysis
The plaques and tangles of Alzheimer’s disease don’t necessarily result in symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease
Injecting blood plasma of human teenagers into “old” mice rejuvenates their cognition
New approach halts spread of Alzheimer’s via tau protein tweak to prevent tangles
Quite possibly the strangest sex study i’ve ever read about.. and there’s a lot of competition for that accolade
A musical about cancer, playing at National Theatre from tomorrow until the end of November… who’s in??
Further financial boost for NIH BRAIN Initiative
Congrats @kmdouglass et al for winning the image contest
The biology of bigotry (is prejudice in your genes?)
Time to revise how we think about the cerebellum (role extends far beyond balance and muscle coordination)
TMS reawakens access to latent memory (link to orig Science paper at end of article)
Train the parents to train the child. A successful strategy for improving autistic kids’ communication abilities
How to grow your own brain
A common diabetes drug may stave of dementia even in nondiabetics
Now the human brain’s beauty is available for all to see (in great detail) thanks to the Allen Institute
Any book by Steven Rose =winning for me
Promising Links Found Between Different Causes of Parkinson’s
Magnetic pulse (TMS) applied at border between temporal/parietal lobes hobbles perspective taking ability
Why ice skaters don’t get dizzy when they spin
How do we track the evolution of myths and folktales over time? Anthropologist Julien D’Huy explains
Growing up, my mother seemed lost in her own world. Then I discovered why. She had a lobotomy
Injectable electrode mesh could revolutionise deep brain stimulation
Can you boost your brain power by making yourself ambidextrous?
Where in your brain do all those virtual maps of space live?
What living with Lewy Body disease was like in Robin Williams’s last months on Earth
High incidence of brain injuries among homeless is not being addressed by NHS
If you want to practise mindfulness, the garden is the place to be
Could thinning of the grey matter really account for risk aversion in older adults?
An fMRI study that shines some light on why negative stereotypes stick (clue: it’s easier)
What’s different about the brain of a man who can play 33 games of chess simultaneously (and blindfolded)?
Lie to me: first a little, then more and more – it will become easier as your amygdala adapts to the habit
Stem cells from schizophrenics produce fewer neurons
These monkeys are creating tools thought to be unique to humans – by accident
Building a building so high that the roof spins around earth at the speed of light?
This #selfie single-handedly justifies the existence of selfie-sticks. #slothselfie @reddit
Oversharing on Facebook – my brain made me do it… again!
Dear fans of MMA, If you repeatedly punch someone in the head this kind of thing is inevitable
Might diabetics of the future be treated with an injection directly into the brain?
A single species of gut bacteria can reverse autism-related social behavior in mice
Longer maternity leave linked to better infant health
Neurofeedback during fMRI scan enables volunteers to learn to crank up their reward pathways
Best of both worlds for Middle Aged brains (better emotional regulation techniques&crystalline intelligence)
Nice synopsis of a few of the more notable achievements in neuroscience to arise over the course of 2016
Turning mice into killers at the flick of an (optogenetic) switch
Mixing up names of nearest & dearest probably due to them being stored in ur “people I love” brain directory
“I did what honour dictated and that belief sustains me, except for a slight desire to be dead, which I’m sure will pass” Brando re: Bounty
“In my whole life, I have known no wise people who didn’t read all the time, none, zero” —Charlie Mungern
Read this & you’ll find clues re: why mixing up your exercise regime is a good way2promote neuroplasticity
A new study indicates that taking up yoga can have a very positive impact on the brain
Go inside the lab with the world’s largest collection of brains affected by the disease CTE
I hope my retirement home is as brain health-centric as this one…
Earth and the moon – as seen from Mars
Cocoa benefits turn out to be a bit of a chocolate teapot, upon closer inspection
Interesting perspective from a man with a rare form of synesthesia
Finally FDA restrictions on antibiotic use in livestock. Can’t use the medically important ones anymore.
The brain looks like a forest but the forest works like a brain! Brilliant @Radiolab episode
Today’s route to work involves driving thru’ mountains of Spain – who knew neuroscience would be so jetset?
Make the best out of any situation!
With 4 new elements discovered Asia enters the hall of fame and the USA jumps to 2nd place
Analysis of MDMA studies suggests ‘ecstasy’ can damage brain’s serotonin system
Smell you later, stranger
How brains respond to being insulted and laughed at
You can draw a straight, uninterrupted line across the sea from Newfoundland to Australia
Confused about mixed messages regarding differences between male & female brains?
Jamie Oliver praises “brave” sugar tax move in #Budget2016
Could “vesicle trafficking” be at the root of the brain disease that so afflicted the great Ali in his later years?
Why do we make bad choices? It’s all relative. As in, quite literally…
That powered exo-skeleton from Aliens? Yep. We got that now
The mysterious science of hiccups: why we get them and how to stop them
Just how smart is an octopus? Smarter than you think
New Chinese supercomputer is world’s most powerful
Success! Nasa’s #Juno craft is now in orbit around #Jupiter
Bacteria can turn cylindrical rotors and provide a steady power source
Ingestible batteries and robots in the bloodstream could be future treatment solutions
Sugar tax will raise £520m for primary school sports
A glia chased by three axons! It doesn’t end well. 40 hours time-lapse from the archives
On the 3rd January I went for a dip in a freezing cold lake in the Dutch countryside with a man who has learned to control his immune system using breathing techniques in combination with cold water immersion.
Between January and May I wrote a book Mice Who Sing For Sex with my Geek Chic podcast co-host Lliana Bird. That hit the shelves in October and flew off them in the run up to Christmas.
I flew out to the USA to work with a pair of NFL superstars and a supercar test driver to talk about how high performance athlete‘s brains work compared to the rest of us.
An unexpected opportunity to appear on the sofa with Rylan for Big Brother’s Bit on the Side gave me the opportunity to use five brightly coloured jelly brains as colour code for different brain functions and used them to explain the cause of various errant behaviours exhibited by some of this year’s contestants.
Participating in a debate organised by the Wellcome Trust on the Latitude Festival’s Literature Stage opened my eyes to the Porn Perspective.
My TV highlight has to be a very enjoyable weekend that I spent spy on some unsuspecting guinea pigs with the BBC’s Michael Mosley a TV presenter of considerable experience and acclaim. Meet The Humans (working title) will be broadcast at some point on BBC Earth throughout the world in 2017. I learned a huge amount about what being a TV presenter is really all about and felt truly privileged to work with him and a crack team of Science TV producers and directors from BBC Bristol. Seeing how they all handled what was a huge logistical undertaking, with so many moving parts that innumerable things could have gone wrong, was a real privilege. All hands on deck performed with tremendous competence, efficiency and good humour throughout; even when the pressure was on and Sod’s Law threatened to tip the apple cart.
The most notable achievement of this year career-wise is that, for the very first time, a show I’ve presented has been deemed worthy of a second series; not to mention a runner’s up prize for Best Science Series of 2016 at the Association for International Broadcaster’s Awards. Not bad considering we were pipped to the post by a documentary about a near perfectly preserved 5,000 year old man thawed out from a melting glacier. That’s pretty steep competition and I was only too happy to concede defeat to a series documenting such an extraordinary scientific discovery.
Looking forward to 2017 there’s already plenty of exciting projects in the pipeline. My third book Science of Sin, scheduled for publication next autumn, is coming on leaps and bounds. I’ve wanted to write a book about the light neuroscience might be able to cast on the topic of Why We Do The Things We Know We Shouldn’t for ages. I’m very grateful to Bloomsbury Sigma for the opportunity to immerse myself in such a fascinating and diverse body of science.
Filming for Secrets of the Brain 2 is already underway and, after the intensive period of filming, editing and voiceover ahead in the next four months, that particular seires scheduled to be ready for broadcast on www.insight.tv (ch 279 on Sky) over the summer. Happily it seems we’ve been able to re-recruit most of the team from series one. It is fortuitous that we could get almost everyone back because there really is no substitute for prior experience with this kind of show.
The speaking circuit this year has taken me all over London, to Cheltenham, the Midlands, Barcelona, twice to Cologne courtesy of ITV Global / Germany and as far East as Berlin. My Neuroscience of Creativity talk always seems to go down particularly well and the C-HR festival of Creativity and Innovation, which took place in a beautiful architectural space – an abandoned department store slap bang in the centre of Berlin – was no exception. I must have hit a new Personal Best by answering questions from the audience for longer than the actual duration of the talk itself (90min talk, 150min Q&A)!
Of all the ways I communicate the fruits of neuroscience research to the world, it’s the face-to-face contact with live audiences that I get the most personal satisfaction from. People always seem to have burning questions about their own brains, their kids, their ageing relatives and it gives me great pleasure to share what I know with others. So if you have an event coming up for which you have need of a motivational speaker that brings something a little different to the event, why not get in touch? I’ve got five 60-90 min talks, I can take off the shelf: Boosting Performance, Neuroscience of Decisions, Neuroscience of Creativity, Dealing with Change and even one on Gender Neuroscience that has turned out to be pretty effective at encouraging greater equality in the workplace.
That said I’m always happy to make something bespoke to fit the specific event. I’m always happy to stick around afterward if the crowd fancies making the Q&A a bit more informal.
All that remains to be said is to wish you happy holidays and a fantastic 2017.
If you’d like to follow me on Twitter (@drjacklewis) you’ll get my daily tweets that flag the best of the neuroscience news that hits the lay press. The Geek Chic Weird Science podcast is still going strong after nearly three years, which can be accessed through iTunes, Podbay, Libsyn and many other podcast providers so if you fancy taking a lighter look at the world of science, that’s your badger. And finally, you’re at a loose end over the holiday season and fancy a break from the usual TV fare, then why not catch up on the (nearly) award-winning Secrets of the Brain by pointing your internet towards www.insight.tv (my parents are actually doing that right now…)
As we move around in the world we develop a sense of how to get from A to B. This relies heavily on the hippocampus, a brain structure nestled deep within each of the temporal lobes, responsible for many functions vital to cognition such as memory and navigation. This is the brain structure famed for becoming physically larger as a result of all the practice driving around London that the drivers of London’s famous Black Cabs have to accrue before they can pass “The Knowledge.” Whilst their memory for the 25,000 roads and 20,000 major landmarks that enable them to instantly reel off the route they’d take to get from one place to another is extraordinary, for the 33% of those born in 2015 will live long enough to develop dementia at some point in their lives this situation is reversed. Difficulties with navigation, even familiar routes between places visited many times before, is one of the problems in daily life that can herald the approach of full-blown dementia. Understanding the normal trajectory of changes in navigational ability over the lifetime of a health brain is a vital first step. With or without dementia our abilities to memories complex routes becomes slowly but surely compromised by the normal processes of age-related cognitive decline. We need to know what is normal for each age group before we could be in a position to use a steeper than normal decline in navigational ability as an early warning signal, ideally before any memory deficits have had a chance to rear their ugly heads. As our understanding of the metabolic processes that lead to various forms of dementia improve, this early warning could prove to be a vital mechanism in triggering prophylactic treatments early enough to slow down disease progression.
Hugo Spiers, a memory researcher and neuroscientist at University College London, launched a smartphone game in 2016 called Sea Hero Quest, which aims to do just this. Over 2.5 million people have played this surprisingly fun, engaging and challenging game so far, generating the equivalent of an astonishing 9,400 years worth of lab data. The game involves memorising a map of waterways around which a series of numbered buoys have been distributed. Once you’ve planned the journey you’re going to make and tucked it away in your working memory, the map is then taken away and your job is then to steer your little fishing boat (increasingly customisable as you progress through the game) by tapping the left or right side of the touch screen. The terrain varies from idyllic sandy paradises to rainy, foggy, bumpy rides across perpetually undulating swell. Thanks to the funding from Deutsche Telekom and Glitchers – the tech-gurus who actually created the game – the graphics are beautifully rendered, the gameplay is smooth and unlike most games designed to answer important scientific questions, every aspect of the user experience is highly polished. As was the delivery of the first results announced at SfN 2016 and summarised below by the man himself…
Personally I was surprised by how hard some of the levels were. I play a lot of brain training games (e.g. PEAK Review, BRAIN AGE 2 Review ), just to keep myself up to date on the latest offerings, and am now accustomed to finding myself able to get maximal scores on most categories of games pretty quickly through daily play. Not Sea Hero Quest. Once I got past the easier earlier levels, I often found myself getting lost in the mist, or going round and round in circles having forgotten how to get from buoy 3 to buoy 4. As a consequence, not only did I help scientists like Hugo Spiers and colleagues from the University of East Anglia and Alzheimers Research UK to generate data (anonymously, you only have to give your age) but I also got an insight into what the future might have in store for me should I become one of the unfortunate 1 in 3 that get clobbered by dementia in my post-retirement years. As you progress from level to level you periodically get to chase down one of a large variety of sea monsters. Having dodged innumerable obstacles along the way the monster in question eventually leaps out of the water at you and your task, is to resist the temptation to hit the button on your camera to take a photo of the rare and exotic sea beast in question, until the very last second when the captured image is at its most aesthetically pleasing.
Overall, I found playing this game great fun, very challenging at times and doubly satisfying knowing that it would, in some small but meaningful way, help science to get some much needed answers about how the human brain keeps track of where it is and where it’s going in health, so we can better understand when this system breaks down in disease.
I would just like to take a moment to applaud @HugoSpiers and collaborators for finding a way to genuinely enable people to #gameforgood. Hats off to you all… your Cannes Lion was thoroughly well deserved!
In addition to these monthly blogs you can get daily brain tweets about other amazing developments in the world of neuroscience by following me on Twitter (@DrJackLewis). And for a fortnightly appraisal of the latest quirkly stories from the wonderful world of science on general there’s always the totally free Geek Chic Weird Science podcast available from iTunes, Podbay, Libsyn and many others.
On the 6th October 2016 the book of the podcast that is Geek Chic Weird Science hit the shelves of bookshops all over the UK. A couple of days prior to this my co-author (and co-presenter of the podcast) Lliana Bird and I threw a little party to celebrate this milestone with a few family and friends.
I’m quite literally just running out the door to record our 60th podcast tonight! For those who’ve never had a chance to listen, every couple of weeks we talk about the latest weird and wonderful science stories to hit the press in the past few days. We tend to favour the conversation starters: the whacky techy tales that people might pull out of the bag around the dinner table, at work/school or in the pub to spark a conversation around the latest strange/surprising scientific discoveries.
By the time we got about episode 50 we had an archive of about 200 or so of these science stories. So we thought: why not write a book. Happily the publisher Little Brown were prepared to publish it under their Orbit imprint and with only four months to bash it out we just about managed to hit the deadline. It’s a bit ragged in places, a few errors and slight inaccuracies here and there, but given the incredibly limited time we had to get it done I think we did a pretty good job.
We’ve had some tremendous reviews from the likes of Brian Cox and the Times Science editor. Some of our stories have already been picked up in the NME and the London Metro. And with Noel Fielding’s beautiful original artwork adorning the front cover we have high hopes for some good sales over Christmas.
We dedicated the book, with love to our parents, but also to Richard Boffin who has been our “sound guy,” editing our podcast, adding the music and sound effects and getting it up on iTunes, libsyn, podbay (click any of these links if you want to have a listen) and various other podcast media month after month for over two years now. Thanks Boff – you’re a legend!
A huge thanks must also go to our thousands of podcast listeners around the world – we’re really grateful for your continued support – and we really hope you enjoy the book, not to mention the quirky and amusing illustrations our talented artists conjured up for us.
Mice Who Sing For Sex by Lliana Bird and Dr Jack is now available to buy online and in all good bookshops like, my personal favourite, Waterstones.
Last summer I was invited by the lovely people at the Latitude Festival to participate in a debate at the Literature Tent on the impact of online pornography on society.
It was chaired by Dr Suzi Gage (@soozaphone) of Bristol (and by now Liverpool) University, known for her popular Guardian science column and podcast Say Why to Drugs. The other panelists were Martin Daubney (@MartinDaubney), former editor of lad’s mag Loaded for eight years and theatre-maker Christopher Green (@Kit_Green) creator and player of comedy Country ‘n’ Western heroine Tina C.
My role was to bring the neuroscience perspective, Martin the media perspective and Chris was taking the arts angle. I got prepared quite a few weeks in advance and was stunned by what I found lurking in the academic literature. So I thought I’d share my main findings with you here in this month’s blog.
When people think of addictions, compulsive consumption of various psychoactive substance is usually the first thing to spring to mind. Much research has demonstrated a hyper-responsiveness of the reward pathway – the ventral tegmental area in the midbrain and nucleus accumbens in the ventral striatum in particular – to drug-related images in the brains of people addicted to recreational drugs like, for example, cocaine. This body of research also demonstrates that the activity generated in the reward pathways of drug addicts to pleasant images of scenes unrelated to drugs, is somewhat diminished compared to non-drug takers. In other words, excessive consumption of drugs seems to subtly rewire the reward pathway so that it becomes more sensitive to visual scenes relating to their preferred recreational drug and less so (than normal) to everything else. It seems this is not just limited to drugs, a similar impact on brain function is seen in people who over-consume porn too.
It is important to bear in mind that the reward pathway is not only important for generating feelings of happiness when we participate in pleasurable activities, but it’s also instrumental in predicting what choices might bring us rewards in the future, which means it is critically involved in decision making. It’s role in helping us evaluate the benefits of one option over another extends to the point where this system, in combination with other nearby brain areas, can be thought of as providing the very drive that motivates us to pursue one course of action over another.
In recent times, research into excessive consumption of various products accessed through the internet – online gaming, gambling and pornography, to name but a few – also leads to behaviours that have all the hallmarks of addiction, not to mention the altered neurological responses outlined above. There has been some resistance to this idea in various academic communities, but the movement to have these “arousal” addictions included in handbooks of psychiatric illness symptom classification, and in particular the DSM-5, is starting to gather momentum.
On the basis of a huge survey investigating the pornographic consumption and sexual experiences of 28,000 Italian teenagers it seems that, for about one in ten boys who consume explicit online pornography on a daily basis, the habit is interfering with their ability to engage in real life sexual activities:
Carlos Forsta, President of the Italian Society for Andrology and Sexual Medicine.
This may at first glance seem to fly directly in the face of the stereotype of the ultra-horny teenage boy, brimming full of the very sex hormones that would usually ensure a hair-trigger sexual response to any possibility of coitus. But in light of research conducted many years ago by joint winner of the 1973 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, Nikolaas Tinbergen, it starts to make a lot more sense. In experiments conducted with “supernormal” stimuli, he observed that birds preferred to sit on larger than normal and / or more colourful eggs constructed from plaster, rather than their own real eggs. Similarly, herring gull chicks would peck harder and more often at a fake adult herring gull beak with brighter or more numerous red spots than the real thing, in a vain effort to elicit a regurgitated dinner. The point is that the larger than real life stimuli seem to have short-circuited the birds’ primal instincts leading to a preference that would ultimately be deleterious to the survival of the bird’s progeny.
It seems that the ubiquitous availability of explicit internet pornography is leading to a similar scenario in modern day internet addicted teenage boys. A subconscious preference for artificial, supernormal, explicit porn over actual sexual partners seems to be occurring with alarming regularity in adolescents who let their penchant for titillating pornographic films get out of control. In his TED talk entitled “Why I stopped watching porn” Ran Gavrieli gives an excellent and compelling account of some of the key differences between what pornographic films actually show and the relatively tame sensory stimuli involved in genuinely satisfying, intimate sexual behaviour between consenting adults.
Essentially, he points out that themes typically conveyed on free online porn sites, such as female subordination and extreme close ups of penetration to name but a few, are the human sexual equivalent of the brightly coloured, super-sized eggs and beak markings from Prof Tinbergen’s experiments (just not in so many words!). Porn is a supernormal stimulus, dominated by explicit close ups of penetration that you simply can’t reproduce in reality (the penis and eyeballs will always be separated by a set distance, unless you are exceedingly flexible, of course). Inevitably the real thing pales into insignificance by comparison after sufficient daily use of explicit porn of virtually infinite variety. No wonder boys are struggling to get it up!
This isn’t to say that there is no place for pornography in society. Regardless of your attitudes on this topic, it certainly isn’t going away any time soon. However it may be useful for porn fans to bear in mind the concept of everything in moderation. Once one genre of porn is no longer arousing there are many other categories to choose from. Once the relatively soft porn is no longer stimulating, casual browsing will always yield more explicit options. Eventually the kind of sexual activities we are likely to have access to in real life become insufficient to yield an erection for long enough to reach climax, which will inevitably lead to relationship problems. And nobody wants that.
The good news is that abstinence from pornography is usually sufficient to enable normal biological sexual function to eventually return. Interestingly, in older men this takes two months, whilst in younger men it can take much longer: four to five months. Find out more in the Latitude Podcast of the Porn Perspective Debate.
In my 8 years of presenting / contributing as an expert to TV shows I’ve appeared on every British terrestrial television channel and half a dozen or so international cable and satellite channels. My most recent series Secrets of the Brain is available to be streamed for free from anywhere in the world on the dedicated ultra high definition digital channel insight.tv (also on sky channel 279 in the UK). It’s without a shadow of a doubt the best presenting work I’ve done so far and it even got shortlisted for an AIB award.
Here’s my brand new showreel dedicated entirely to SotB.
Hope you like it…
This week, I’m supporting UK research charity Autistica who are launching a campaign to support their work in mental health in autism. They’re funding science to discover the treatments and interventions that can help autistic people to live happier lives.
Mental health problems have a devastating effect in autistic people and the problems start early. 70% of children with autism have a mental health problem and 79% of autistic adults will have a mental health problem (this link gives access to full published research paper) e.g. bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia or ADHD at some point during adulthood. Autistic adults with no intellectual disability are over nine times more likely to kill themselves than the rest of us, with two thirds experiencing suicidal thoughts.
The reasons are unknown but it’s suspected that a combination of environmental and genetic factors are the cause. They may be triggered by social exclusion, bullying and experiencing stigma; all of which are extremely common in autism.
We are starting to know what mental health treatments are effective for people without autism but there has been very little research into mental health problems in autistic people. Currently there are no autism-specific treatments. When we think about the common lifelines for the general population – talking therapies, or even helplines, you can understand that for those with autism – by its very nature a communication disorder – we will need to approach intervention very differently. There are a number of approaches that may help, but they all need further investigation.
Mental health has taken a back seat in autism yet, in a recent consultation, individuals and families reported that mental health problems are the biggest challenge that they face day to day. They say that it’s not the autism itself that’s the problem, but the anxiety and depression that comes with it that stops them living life to the full.
Autistica is funding groundbreaking work at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, looking for chemical imbalances in the brains of autistic individuals and developing a revolutionary digital tool to help people self-manage their anxiety. But they need support to be able to fund the work that so many desperately need.
Autistica’s #LittleLifesaver campaign is being fronted by the one and only Ruby Wax. The charity is asking the public to take part online by sharing images on social media of that person, thing or place that helps get them (or their children) through the day – their #LittleLifesaver. Because sometimes it can be the smallest things that make the biggest difference. For me it’s roller skating, which explains the selfie at the top of this page!
The campaign will run all week, so please join in any way you can. Autistica will be sharing stats and stories, so follow them (@AutisticaUK) and the hashtag #LittleLifesaver to keep up with the campaign. Support them to understand autism better so that we can give autistic people the chance to live the long, healthy and happy lives that they deserve.
I haven’t had a new TV series on the box for quite some time, but at 9pm tonight on Sky channel 279 my latest series Secrets of the Brain hits our screens. The first episode is all about memory. I take on the reigning world memory champion in a devilishly difficult mnemonic challenge and learn from him the techniques he uses to retain mind-bogglingly large amounts of information in a surprisingly short period of time.
Secrets of the Brain is also available to stream in ultra-high definition at www.insight.tv and the first 3 episode have already been released, available to view at your leisure, anytime. Over the course of each of these 10 x 1 hour episodes we explore the depths of human brain function by meeting people with amazing brains and others with extraordinary brain malfunctions.
I hang out with the Iceman Wim Hoff to understand how we can all plunge ourselves into icy water with minimum discomfort by following a few simple techniques. I meet an amputee whose state of the art prosthetic limb has enabled him to conquer his phantom limb pain. I go car racing around the track at Goodwood as part of my investigation into how our perception of time can expand and contract according to what we happen to be doing at the time. I spend an uncomfortable night wired up in a sleep lab, meet people suffering with narcolepsy and keep some student guinea pigs up all night to gain a better understanding of the importance of sleep. I get hammered to investigate the effect of alcohol on creativity. I interview one of Europe’s leading ophthalmic surgeons as he conducts surgery to implant a telescopic lens into the eye of a patient suffering with macular degeneration. I meet someone with acquired prosopagnosia, who is completely unable to recognise faces, even those of his nearest and dearest. I dine on a delicious multisensory feat with a synaesthetic man to get a handle on how our sense can get cross-wired. Throughout this adventure I’m accompanied by Pete Heat; a man with hundreds of tricks up his sleeve that really help bring the science to life with some brilliant magic.
All this, and more, coming up over the next few weeks in what I genuinely think might be my best TV work to date. The Brighton-based production company who made the series – Lambent Productions – are some of the loveliest TV people I’ve ever worked with. Every single member of staff went above and beyond the call of duty to make this series as good as it could possibly be. I’m very grateful to everyone who gave their absolute best every day and in particular Ollie Tait (co-MD of Lambent) with whom I worked very closely throughout. It’s always great to work with people who make you feel relaxed in front of camera and they really did make me feel extremely comfortable and relaxed. I’d almost go so far as to say a part of the family. And I really hope that comes across…
As well as these monthly blogs you can also follow me on Twitter. Also, in addition to my first book Sort Your Brain Out, my second offering Mice Who Sing For Sex is now available to preorder. It is the book of the Geek Chic Weird Science podcast I do with Lliana Bird, telling the story of over a hundred weird and wonderful nuggets of research to hit the press from many different scientific disciplines.
I’ve been digging around in the scientific literature recently in search of research investigating racing drivers’ brains. Having stumbled a handful of pretty incredible facts I thought I’d devote this month’s blog to sharing these with you.
Over many thousand of hours of practice and experience the driver’s brains become honed to perform the incredibly demanding cognitive task of getting round the track, lap after lap, as fast as human possible, without spinning out of control. This is much more physically demanding than most people imagine. For instance, the forces delivered through the steering wheel when travelling at up to 200 mph on a typical track can reach a magnitude equivalent to carrying 9 kg in each hand. Maintaining the intensely focused concentration required to deal with the stream of rapidly changing sensory information also requires razor sharp reflexes and amazingly fast reaction times. In fact, one study demonstrated that there is no overlap in the spread of reaction times between elite and amateur racing drivers (as measured by the Vienna Reaction Apparatus). In other words, the slowest reaction times for the elite drivers across the whole experiment were still faster than the best reaction times logged by the amateurs.
Another biological specialisation exhibited by the elite drivers is their capacity to produce adrenaline. Their adrenal glands are larger than the rest of us so that they can produce more of this vital performance-enhancing hormone under high pressure racing circumstances. Adrenaline increases blood flow to the brain, heart and skeletal muscles, inducing an elevated heart rate and ventilation, whilst narrowing the blood vessels that feed other organs like the digestive system. This improves reaction times and the strength of muscular contractions to enable fight or flight to take place; or both as is the case in racing drivers. This is not specific to racing drivers. Athletes from many different sports have been found to have an enlarged adrenal gland, something referred to in the literature as the Sports Adrenal Medulla.
A further study compared the release of adrenaline and noradrenaline (primary neurotransmitter of the sympathetic nervous system) in elite racing drivers as they cycled to exhaustion in a staged bike ride versus whilst racing their cars. They were found to produce double the quantity of adrenaline whilst racing, as measured via detection of metabolites in their urine. I found this finding particularly extraordinary. You might have imagined that exercising to exhaustion would be more demanding on the body, but it just goes to show how cognitively demanding racing is. Presumably the extra adrenaline is required to help the brain deal with cognitive demands.
Several studies have scanned the brains of elite racing drivers using fMRI revealing that there is relatively little activity across the cortical surface compared to amateur drivers. This is thought to reflect the fact that racing is simply less taxing for the elite drivers. Much more of the cognitive processing required to manoeuvre the car around a constantly changing terrain at great speed can be handled subconsciously, freeing up precious conscious resources for dealing with unexpected occurrences.
Their extensive training also seems to have led to some racing driving-specific brain specialisations as they appear to exhibit greater activation in the retrosplenial cortex. This area is known to be involved in creating a view-independent model of environment being navigated. In other words it enables them to build a picture of the whole track in their mind’s eye so that they have an awareness of what to expect beyond the next turn. This skill is clearly vital to staying on the ideal racing line.
I recently pitted my own amateur racing skills against Christoffer – the official test driver of the Koenigsegg supercar – in an ultra-realistic simulator of Spain’s famous Ascari race track. The real thing, which he drives on a daily basis, is capable of producing 1,400 brake horsepower! Putting that into context, that’s two and a half times more powerful than a top of the range Ferrari! I don’t think it will come as any surprise to hear that he smashed me out of the park.
In addition to these monthly blogs you can also follow me on Twitter for a daily download of the most interesting neuroscience research to hit the press. In addition to my first best-selling book Sort Your Brain Out, my second Mice Who Sing For Sex is now available to pre-order and tells the story of over a hundred weird and wonderful nuggets of research from full the length and breadth of scientific research.