Category: Mind & Brain

The Psychological Benefits of Thanksgiving Rituals


(Credit: Brian Chase/Shutterstock)

When Americans gather together around a table groaning with favorite dishes on the fourth Thursday of November, what are we doing beyond filling our bellies with turkey and pie? We convened four experts in the psychology of family traditions and shared meals for a roundtable discussion about what ritual means in the context of Thanksgiving. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: psychology

The Brain Has a Blind Spot for ‘Unknown Unknowns’

By Rob Brotherton | November 17, 2015 9:00 am


A conspiracy theory is an invitation to an exciting alternative reality where nothing is quite as it seems. There is fun to be had defying conventional wisdom, sifting through signs, uncovering lost knowledge and secret plots. But we don’t generally believe stuff just for the fun of it. For us to really believe something it has to seem plausible.

How can we be so sure that our journey off the intellectual beaten path and down twisting trails of conspiracy theory has led us to the truth, while the scientific mainstream is deluded or deceptive? Sometimes all it takes is our own overly optimistic brain telling us we understand the world in far greater depth than we actually do.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: psychology

Human-Like Neural Networks Make Computers Better Conversationalists

By Ben Thomas | November 11, 2015 2:00 pm

HAL 9000, depicted as a glowing red “eye,” was the frighteningly charismatic computer protagonist in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 movie “2001 Space Odyssey.” (Credit: Screengrab from YouTube

If you’ve ever tried to hold a conversation with a chatbot like CleverBot, you know how quickly the conversation turns to nonsense, no matter how hard you try to keep it together.

But now, a research team led by Bruno Golosio, assistant professor of applied physics at Università di Sassari in Italy, has taken a significant step toward improving human-to-computer conversation. Golosio and colleagues built an artificial neural network, called ANNABELL, that aims to emulate the large-scale structure of human working memory in the brain — and its ability to hold a conversation is eerily human-like. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Technology, Top Posts

The Man Who Tried to Weigh the Soul

By Ben Thomas | November 3, 2015 3:00 pm


In 1907, a Massachusetts doctor named Duncan MacDougall performed an unusual series of experiments. Intrigued by the idea that the human soul had mass, and could therefore be weighed, Dr. MacDougall put together a bed fitted with a sensitive set of beam scales, and convinced a series of terminally ill patients to lie on it during the final moments of their lives.

MacDougall was nothing if not detail-oriented: He recorded not only each patient’s exact time of death, but also his or her total time on the bed, as well as any changes in weight that occurred around the moment of expiration. He even factored losses of bodily fluids like sweat and urine, and gases like oxygen and nitrogen, into his calculations. His conclusion was that the human soul weighed three-fourths of an ounce, or 21 grams. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts

Meet the Parasites That Control Human Brains

By Ben Thomas | October 29, 2015 9:00 am
brain illustration

(Illustration credit: Triff/Shutterstock)

It’s time to enjoy some monster stories, and the scariest monsters of all are those that actually exist.

Join us as we share tales of some of the creepiest parasites around — those that control the brains of their human hosts, sometimes leaving insanity and death in their wake. These are the tales of neurological parasites. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Living World, Mind & Brain, Top Posts

Getting ‘High’ On Your Own Supply

By Ben Thomas | October 19, 2015 3:58 pm


Earlier this month, researchers discovered that at least part of the euphoria that comes after a strenuous workout — runner’s high — is due to endocannabinoids, the body’s self-produced counterparts to some of marijuana’s mood-enhancing chemicals.

The finding overturned decades of conventional wisdom claiming that natural highs come from endorphins, the chemicals that became famous in the 1980s for their euphoric effects. While endorphins seem to help numb our muscles during a workout, their molecules are too large to cross the blood-brain barrier and trigger a “high” like endocannabinoids can. Read More

What’s the Color of Your Favorite Song?

By Stephen Palmer and Karen B. Schloss | August 21, 2015 3:05 pm

piano keys

Imagine yourself as a graphic designer for New Age musician Enya, tasked with creating her next album cover. Which two or three colors from the grid below do you think would “go best” with her music?

Would they be the same ones you’d pick for an album cover or music video for the heavy metal band Metallica? Probably not.

color gridFor years, my collaborators and I have been studying music-to-color associations. From our results, it’s clear that emotion plays a crucial role in how we interpret and respond to any number of external stimuli, including colors and songs.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: emotions, senses

The Darker Side of the ‘Love Hormone’

By S Craig Roberts, University of Stirling | May 21, 2015 9:40 am

love hormone

A decade ago, a revolutionary paper showed that a hormone called oxytocin can actually make us trust other people. This spawned a flurry of research that revealed oxytocin’s potential to boost social interactions. Now a new study has shown that the hormone is actually very similar to alcohol, a well-known social lubricant. However, just like alcohol, it has a dark side.

In the first study, published in 2005, volunteers were asked to invest money in an anonymous trustee whose honesty could not be guaranteed. People who received a dose of oxytocin chose to invest more than those given a placebo – they were more trusting. Subsequent experiments have shown that oxytocin also leads people to become more empathetic, generous and cooperative. They become better at reading social nuances and facial expressions, believe others to be more approachable and become less fearful and anxious in social situations.

Not only this, it seems that oxytocin may help to promote fidelity. Evidence for this comes most clearly in two intensively studied and closely related rodent species. One, the prairie vole, is monogamous; mated couples form close pair bonds and share nest-building and parental duties. In the other, the meadow vole, males leave the female with the babies and will try to mate again.

The two species vary in their sensitivity to oxytocin. However, experiments that increase the effective sensitivity to oxytocin by increasing hormone dosage or blocking receptors in the brain can actually change pair-bonding behavior, making it easier for female prairie voles to choose a partner and turning previously promiscuous meadow vole males into monogamous, caring dads.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: sex & reproduction

Is Marijuana Really a Gateway Drug?

By Dave Levitan | April 27, 2015 1:12 pm


This article originally appeared on

Chris Christie recently said that marijuana is a “gateway drug” while arguing for enforcement of its federal status as an illegal substance. Though there are correlations between marijuana use and other drugs, there is no conclusive evidence that one actually causes the other. The science on this topic is far from settled.

The “gateway hypothesis” or theory refers to the idea that one substance — marijuana, in this case — leads users to subsequently use and/or abuse other drugs. If Christie’s point is simply that the use of marijuana tends to precede the use of other drugs, then he is correct — but that’s not the whole story.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts
MORE ABOUT: drugs & addiction

In the Brain, Romantic Love Is Basically an Addiction

By Helen Fisher | February 13, 2015 11:43 am

brain hearts

“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it,” Albert Einstein reportedly said. I’d like to broaden the definition of addiction—and also retire the scientific idea that all addictions are pathological and harmful.

Since the beginning of formal diagnostics more than fifty years ago, the compulsive pursuit of gambling, food, and sex (known as non-substance rewards) have not been regarded as addictions. Only abuse of alcohol, opioids, cocaine, amphetamines, cannabis, heroin, and nicotine have been formally regarded as addictions. This categorization rests largely on the fact that substances activate basic “reward pathways” in the brain associated with craving and obsession and produce pathological behaviors. Psychiatrists work within this world of psychopathology—that which is abnormal and makes you ill. Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Mind & Brain, Top Posts

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