Scientists may soon give your braking leg a break. In a recent study in the Journal of Neural Engineering, researchers at the Berlin Institute of Technology monitored the brain signals of drivers and found that they could detect the study participants’ intent to stop before they actually stomped on the brakes. The findings could someday lead to automated braking technologies that help avoid devastating car crashes.
In the study, the researchers had 18 participants drive along virtual roads in a racing simulator that includes winding streets and oncoming traffic—the drivers had to maintain a certain distance behind the computer-controlled cars in front of them, which braked at random intervals. While the participants drove, the researchers tracked their brain signals using caps fitted with EEG sensors.
Artists and storytellers devote much time to showing the wondrous powers of love. And it seems that scientists are also attuned to studying love, and through such studies they’ve made an interesting discovery: love may shield you—at least partially—against pain because of the feelings of safety it provides.
Is this milkshake better than yours?
Congratulating yourself on that calorie-conscious salad might just make you feel hungrier, scientists are now finding—better to close your eyes, take a bite, and pretend you’re eating ice cream.
We’ve already heard in recent years that eating imaginary M&Ms or cheese cubes can give you some of the satiety of the real thing: In a 2010 paper, researchers found that contrary to popular belief, imagining eating such foods in vivid detail actually made subjects eat fewer M&Ms, cheese chunks, and so on. Now, scientists have found that if you believe a shake is low in calories, you’ll feel less satisfied than people who think the shake was an indulgence, even when you’re both drinking the same shake. What gives?
One day you might not have to ask someone to lend a helping hand–because you’ll have a third arm of your own. At least, that’s a possible application of a mental trick scientists performed on 154 healthy volunteers: These men and women were made to feel as if they had three arms.
To pull off this ruse, the researchers placed a prosthetic arm next to a volunteer’s two real arms, and they touched the subject’s right hand and the rubber hand in exactly the same place at the same time. Because the taps were synchronized, the volunteer’s brain was tricked into feeling them both. According to Science Daily:
“What happens then is that a conflict arises in the brain concerning which of the right hands belongs to the participant’s body,” says Arvid Guterstam, one of the scientists behind the study. “What one could expect is that only one of the hands is experienced as one’s own, presumably the real arm. But what we found, surprisingly, is that the brain solves this conflict by accepting both right hands as part of the body image, and the subjects experience having an extra third arm.”
To prove that the test subjects really were having three-arm experiences, the scientists threatened both the fake and real hands with a knife, and determined that the subjects’ palms sweated the same amount in both circumstances. In other words, they had the same stress levels regardless of whether a real hand or the prosthetic was in danger.
As for applications, the researchers surmise that similar techniques could help someone paralyzed on one side to gain a feeling of ownership over a prosthetic. “It is also conceivable that people with demanding work situations could benefit of an extra arm, such as firemen during rescue operations, or paramedics in the field,” the study’s leader, Henrik Ehrsson, told Science Daily. Hey, what about the rest of us?
See Ed Yong’s post on Not Exactly Rocket Science for more details…
80beats: In a Sensory Hack, What You Touch Affects What You See
80beats: Virtual Reality Gives Out-of-Body-and-Into-Someone-Else’s Experience
80beats: DARPA’s Next Prosthetic Arm Will Connect to Your Brain
Not Exactly Rocket Science: The Quantum Leap effect – creating a body-swapping illusion
Image: Guterstam et al.
It wasn’t your typical American Museum of Natural History crowd: yesterday evening, a handful of kids and the standard science nerds were joined in the Hall of Ocean Life by ping pong aficionados.
Five ping pong tables—courtesy of co-host SPiN ping pong club—were set up in the hall for the event, “This is Your Brain on Ping Pong.” The evening included time for guests to practice the sport, as well as a panel discussion moderated by museum icthyologist Melanie Stiassny.
The evening’s attempts to connect ping pong and science were, well, a little weak. Stiassny ran through a brief history of life on Earth, with references to the sport dotting her speech like product placements: 500 million years ago the first organisms with nervous systems are on the scene—hey, you need a spinal cord to control a ping pong paddle! “Clearly evolution has a purpose, and that purpose is ping pong,” said Stiassny.
One panelist was legendary actress Susan Sarandon, perhaps most beloved for her role as Janet in Rocky Horror; she’s also an investor in SPiN. Why does she think SPiN is so popular? Sarandon claimed that it’s all about the romance: “You play it facing someone, maybe your date,” she said. “I see some people nodding, people here on dates.”
Some may say it as a joke, others might find it offensive, but it turns out there’s some truth to the idea that people of other races “all look alike.” A new study demonstrates that people have more trouble recognizing faces of people of other races.
While this effect has been observed for almost a hundred years, scientists still don’t fully understand why it happens and who it happens to, explains Ars Technica:
It has been suggested that the other race effect is simply a result of differing amounts of facial variation between races, or varying observational abilities of particular races. However, in this study, subjects of both races showed the same trends, suggesting that the other race effect is a generalized phenomenon experienced by people of more than one race.
So sweet… so painful. You try to hold back, to stop yourself from over-indulging, because you know what will happen: That crippling, brain-piercing pain of the ever-feared brain freeze will ruin your ice cream love-fest.
Bjorn Carey of Popular Science discussed this terrifying condition with medical experts, seeking their opinion:
First, let’s get one thing straight. “This condition is referred to as an ‘ice-cream headache,’ ” says Stacey Gray, a sinus surgeon at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in Boston. “It’s a very technical term.”
Gray also noted that, even though no studies have been done on the exact cause of ice cream headache, she believes we can safely rule out the theory that imbibing overly cold edibles actually lowers brain temperature or causes brain damage. The pain that comes from slurping that Slurpee doesn’t have anything to do with the brain, she says.
Move over, Dr. Quinn. Sure, the fictional television doctor could perform surgeries in the Old West using nothing more than a spoon–but one researcher now argues that inhabitants of a small village in Turkey sliced skulls over 4,000 years ago, using shards of volcanic glass.
Working in a Bronze Age graveyard in Ikiztepe, Turkey, archaeologist Önder Bilgi has uncovered 14 skulls with rectangular cut marks. He believes the Ikiztepe people used obsidian “scalpels,” found elsewhere on the site, to treat brain tumors and fight-related head injuries, and to relieve pressure from hemorrhaging.
Bilgi also told New Scientist, which has a complete interview, that the skulls’ healing indicates that some patients survived at least two years after their surgeries. Though this isn’t the oldest evidence of brain surgery (researchers have found a hole drilled into a Neolithic skull), Bilgi argues that the Ikiztepe rectangular skull openings are much more “sophisticated.”
Bilgi, who in an earlier study analyzed arsenic absorption in Ikiztepe bones to determine their metalworking skills, told New Scientist that the tools themselves aren’t too worse for multiple millennial wear:
“The blades are double-sided, about 4 centimetres [1.6 inches] long, and very, very sharp. They would still cut you today.”
Discoblog: Brain Surgery Enables Woman to Run 100-Mile Races
Discoblog: Why Michael Jackson Might Be Buried Without His Brain
Discoblog: Military Members to Donate Their Brains to Science
Discoblog: Will Drilling a Hole in Your Head Cure Alzheimer’s?
Image: flickr / Mykl Roventine
What do you see in this detail from the Sistine Chapel frescos?
We’ll give you a hint: Look at God’s neck.
Still can’t see it? Take a look in a May issue of the journal Neurosurgery. What do a medical illustrator and a neurosurgeon see when they look at a Michelangelo masterpiece?
We propose that in the Separation of Light From Darkness, Michelangelo drew into God’s neck a ventral view of the brainstem as well as the perisellar and chiasmatic regions.
Though finding this hidden drawing seems to take a lot of squinting and genuine imagination, the article’s authors claim that their beliefs have historical and artistic groundings. For one, Michelangelo was a master at dissecting cadavers, a hobby he started at age 17, the authors told NPR. They also point to the lighting, God’s trimmed beard, and the fact that, as a neck, it isn’t anatomically correct. For a brainstem, the authors think, it’s just right.
Some art historians aren’t convinced. Brian A. Curran, an associate professor of art history at Pennsylvania State University told The New York Times:
“I think this may be another case of the authors looking too hard for something they want to find. . . I don’t want to discourage people from looking. But sometimes a neck is just a neck.”
Discoblog: Astronomers Identify the Mystery Meteor That Inspired Walt Whitman
Discoblog: Super-Size Me, Jesus: Last Suppers in Paintings Have Gotten Bigger
Discoblog: Artistically Challenged Man Becomes “Michelangelo” After Brain Surgery
Bad Astronomy: A vast, cosmic cloudy brain looms in a nearby galaxy
DISCOVER: Visual Science The Achilles Heel on Michelangelo’s David: His Shin
Images: Wikimedia, Ian Suk and Rafael Tamargo / Neurosurgery
As neuroscientists refine their techniques for imaging the brain, scans like the fMRI keep creeping toward the courtroom and getting closer to joining to polygraph tests as means to sort liars from truth-tellers through physiology. In Brooklyn, lawyer David Levin is now offering the fMRI brain scan of a witness as proof of her honesty. If the court accepts it, it could be the first time such a brain scan was ever admitted as evidence.
For what would be a legal breakthrough, the case is a rather minor one: Levin’s client, Cynette Wilson, claims she was treated poorly at her job at a staffing center after filing a sexual harassment complaint. The lawyer found a coworker of Wilson’s to corroborate her story, but wanted to bolster his credibility. Wired.com reports:
So, Levin had the coworker undergo an fMRI brain scan by the company Cephos, which claims to provide “independent, scientific validation that someone is telling the truth.”
Laboratory studies using fMRI, which measures blood-oxygen levels in the brain, have suggested that when someone lies, the brain sends more blood to the ventrolateral area of the prefrontal cortex. In a very small number of studies, researchers have identified lying in study subjects (.pdf) with accuracy ranging from 76 percent to over 90 percent.