Can rats read minds? Perhaps not usually, but researchers at Duke University have developed what they call a brain-to-brain interface, which transfers information directly from one rat’s brain to another. The interface allows the decisions of a rat on one continent to control the behaviors of a rat on another.
To accomplish this, researchers in North Carolina implanted tiny electrodes into the brain of a rat to record its activity, and then trained the rat to distinguish between a wide chute and a narrow one by whisker feel. The rat had to correctly match the sensation (wide or narrow) with a corresponding hole (left or right) by poking it with its nose. When the rat correctly matched the width and hole, which it did 96 percent of the time, the rat was rewarded with a drink of water. Researchers called this rat the encoder.
“Slow down. Sound it out.”
This is the mantra for most dyslexic students learning to read. But results from a new computer training program suggest that the opposite may be true for dyslexics once they’ve learned to read—going faster could improve reading skills and comprehension.
Researchers in Israel compared the reading skills of dyslexic and non-dyslexic university students, before and after using a custom computer training program. The program’s premise is this: a sentence appears on the computer screen, which the participant is supposed to read silently. One by one, the letters disappear off the screen, from left to right, pushing the reader through the sentence. When the entire sentence has been removed from the screen, the user is prompted with a question about the content of the sentence he or she just read. This ensures that the participant did not just read the sentence, but actually understood what it meant.
Every person thinks and acts a little differently than the other 7 billion on the planet. Scientists now say that variations in brain connections account for much of this individuality, and they’ve narrowed it down to a few specific regions of the brain. This might help us better understand the evolution of the human brain as well as its development in individuals.
Each human brain has a unique connectome—the network of neural pathways that tie all of its parts together. Like a fingerprint, every person’s connectome is unique. To find out where these individual connectomes differed the most, researchers used an MRI scanning technique to take cross-sectional pictures of 23 people’s brains at rest.
Petting feels good. You can see it in a cat’s slowly closing eyes or the contented panting of a dog getting his belly rubbed. In fact, all mammals enjoy being caressed, including humans. Researchers looked at this phenomenon in lab mice and found that stroking stimulates a very specific set of neurons that have to do with hair.
Some sensory neurons are relatively non-discriminatory. They respond to touch, temperature and pretty much anything that comes into contact with the skin. A few years back, researchers identified a rare type of neuron called MRGPRB4+, which is linked specifically to hair follicles. In lab tests on a patch of mouse skin, these neurons didn’t respond to a single stimulus. But with live mice the researchers got much more promising results, published in Nature on Wednesday.
“You are so cute I could just eat you up!”
We’ve all experienced that urge to squeeze something that is really, really cute. Think tiny bunnies, baby ducks, a pudgy baby’s cheeks. In the Philippines they even have a word for it:
gigil n. the urge to pinch or squeeze something that is unbearably cute.
To make up for this lack in the English language, two psychology grad students at Yale came up with their own name for the urge: cute aggression. [Researchers' disclaimer: "When we refer to 'aggression' here, we do not at all mean to say that any actual harm is intended towards the cute object."]
The symbolism of wearing high heels is a perennial human behavior question. But now scientists at the University of Portsmouth have published a study that objectively evaluates one charge leveled at heels: that they make women walk more sexily.
To test whether taller shoes actually increased a woman’s sex appeal, the researchers affixed reflectors to the heels, ankles, knees, hips and shoulders of the female participants. They recorded videos of the women walking in high heels and flat shoes, but only lights shone on the reflectors (not the women themselves) were visible. This point-light method allowed researchers to determine which gaits men found more attractive without letting a woman’s appearance—or the visibility of the heels themselves—skew their opinions.
Today the White House starts gun control discussions with groups on both sides of the issue, and they’ve got their work cut out for them: the problem of gun violence is simultaneously social, cultural, educational, behavioral and governmental. Some researchers now argue that rebranding gun control as a public health issue may be the key to making real change.
Infants are known for their impressive ability to learn language, which most scientists say kicks in
somewhere around the six-month mark. But a new study indicates that language recognition may begin even earlier, while the baby is still in the womb. Using a creative means of measurement, researchers found that babies could already recognize their mother tongue by the time they left their mothers’ bodies.
The researchers tested American and Swedish newborns between seven hours and three days old. Each baby was given a pacifier hooked up to a computer. When the baby sucked on the pacifier, it triggered the computer to produce a vowel sound—sometimes in English and sometimes in Swedish. The vowel sound was repeated until the baby stopped sucking. When the baby resumed sucking, a new vowel sound would start.
Among the many unpleasant side effects of chemotherapy treatment, researchers have just confirmed another: chemo brain. The term refers to the mental fog that chemotherapy patients report feeling during and after treatment. According to Jame Abraham, a professor at West Virginia University, about a quarter of patients undergoing chemotherapy have trouble focusing, processing numbers, and using short-term memory.