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Analysis and Comment (70)

Black or red (or zero), the odds stay the same regardless of previous spins. Black or red (or zero), the odds stay the same regardless of previous spins. Mark Seton/Flickr (cropped)

Wizard of Odds or Even Steven? The science of gambling fallacies

Imagine yourself, a picture of sartorial elegance and sipping champagne from a crystal flute, in Le Grande Casino at Monte Carlo. It is a Monday night – in fact, the date is August 18, 1913 – and you are…
Not just a scholarly toy. Not just a scholarly toy. pennstatelive

You can’t dismiss brain imaging as just an academic gimmick

Given the media coverage brain imaging studies get, you might think that they are constantly revealing important secrets about this mysterious organ. Catherine Loveday thinks otherwise. She makes the point…
Rabbit or duck, it’s all in the eyes. Rabbit or duck, it’s all in the eyes. Wikimedia

Animals could help reveal why humans fall for illusions

Visual illusions, such as the rabbit-duck (shown above) and café wall (shown below) are fascinating because they remind us of the discrepancy between perception and reality. But our knowledge of such illusions…
To really get into the brain’s mechanisms, we need to build a working model. To really get into the brain’s mechanisms, we need to build a working model. Tankakern/Flickr

It’s time to build a bionic brain for smarter research

The structure of the brain reveals a network of massively interconnected electrochemically active cells. It is known that information can be represented by changes of state within this network, but that…
Fight or flight? Bankers likely to opt for the second. Fight or flight? Bankers likely to opt for the second. BK and EP

Fear of risk linked to high stress hormone in bankers

In times of financial uncertainty and crisis, high stress reactions lead to traders becoming more risk averse, which drives pessimism and further falls in finance, according to a new study. This is because…
Get used to it: 100-year sentences enjoy popular support. Get used to it: 100-year sentences enjoy popular support. Amanda Slater

Hundred-year sentences ignore both logic and evidence

David Cameron plunged into the criminal punishment debate recently by throwing his support around proposals to impose incredibly long sentences (100 years or so) for some murders as a way to circumvent…
While a flinch, or a grimace may provide us with clues, ultimately we only know that someone’s in pain if they tell us. While a flinch, or a grimace may provide us with clues, ultimately we only know that someone’s in pain if they tell us. the italian voice/Flickr

Understanding pain: can the brain provide all the answers?

We now know that there’s much more to pain than simply what is happening in the painful body part, and attention has turned to the role of the brain. But not even this mysterious organ can tell us everything…
Lynette Wallworth’s artworks resonate with recent findings in neuroscience, Duality of Light (2009). Photograph by Grant Hancock courtesy Samstag Museum of Art. Lynette Wallworth’s artworks resonate with recent findings in neuroscience, Duality of Light (2009). Photograph by Grant Hancock courtesy Samstag Museum of Art. Lynette Wallworth

Encounters with neuroscience: Lynette Wallworth’s Duality of Light

Neuroscientific knowledge of how the brain processes the separate attributes of visual images has expanded exponentially in recent years. The mesmeric appeal of the artworks created by the Australian new…
Neuroscience has advanced far beyond public understanding. Neuroscience has advanced far beyond public understanding. Kristian Mollenborg

Does your left brain know what your right brain is thinking?

Are you a left brain or a right brain person? I’ve never met a person who doesn’t know what I mean by this question. The idea that creative people use the right side of their brain more than logical people…
A game of bowls now, or Premier League tickets in a month? Your hippocampus can help. A game of bowls now, or Premier League tickets in a month? Your hippocampus can help. Crystian Cruz

Delayed gratification – how the hippocampus helps us hold off

Would you prefer a beer right now or a bottle of champagne next week? So begins an interesting new study published today in the journal PloS Biology. Of course these kinds of choices feature throughout…
Over the show’s three episodes, Todd Sampson tests whether it’s possible to enhance his mind, using exercises designed by scientists. Over the show’s three episodes, Todd Sampson tests whether it’s possible to enhance his mind, using exercises designed by scientists. ABC

Preview: ABC’s Redesign my Brain with Todd Sampson

We live in an age of great public fascination with minds and brains; books about brain plasticity, for instance, regularly make the bestseller lists. This fascination is not merely the product of our thirst…
The jelly-like tissue that is the brain is the most complicated object in the known universe. The jelly-like tissue that is the brain is the most complicated object in the known universe. Dr Case/Flickr

Understanding the brain and mind: science’s final frontier?

The brain and the mind are two sides of the same coin. We have always wanted to understand how our minds work but, until recently, lacked the tools to investigate the brain. The jelly-like tissue that…
Fake or real? A simple question with a tricky answer. Fake or real? A simple question with a tricky answer. dhammza

Fake finger illusion pokes holes in body ownership

It may seem silly to ask yourself if your index finger is part of your body, but that question is actually perfectly reasonable in neuroscience research - and has led to important insights into key brain…
Not just a party trick. Not just a party trick. roderickrussell

Hypnosis gives insight into psychiatric disorders

Despite long standing associations with mysticism and stage hypnotism, hypnosis has also been used for medical and scientific purposes. For well over a century, hypnosis has been used to treat a wide range…
There are reasons to be sceptical that sex addiction will turn out to be anything as powerful as drug addiction. There are reasons to be sceptical that sex addiction will turn out to be anything as powerful as drug addiction. id iom/Flickr

Can people really be addicted to sex?

Is sex addiction real? That is, is it really a disorder, involving diminished control over behaviour? Questions such as these are difficult to answer because it’s always difficult to distinguish diminished…
Here’s looking at you kid. Here’s looking at you kid. PA/Peter Byrne

Japanese supercomputer takes big byte out of the brain

Researchers in Japan have used the powerful K computer, one of the world’s fastest supercomputers, to simulate the complex neural structure of our brain. Using a popular suite of neuron simulating software…
Hazy recollection: I’m sure I buried some cheese here. Hazy recollection: I’m sure I buried some cheese here. Paul.J.Hurtado

Fake memory implanted in mice with a beam of light

If you’ve ever been frustrated by erratic memories, spare a thought for the mice involved in a study published in the journal Science. Researchers have been able to consistently create a “false memory…
An American neuroscientist claims that the key to free will lies in how neurons can rewire each other. An American neuroscientist claims that the key to free will lies in how neurons can rewire each other. blackham

Is free will a scientific problem?

An American neuroscientist claims to have solved the problem of free will. Peter Tse, who works at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, says that the key to free will lies in how neurons can rewire each…
While it seems unbelievable, there’s a scientific explanation for foreign accent syndrome - and it may surprise you. While it seems unbelievable, there’s a scientific explanation for foreign accent syndrome - and it may surprise you. Baturix

Explainer: what is foreign accent syndrome?

In the past few days, a great deal of media attention has been paid to Leanne Rowe, a Tasmanian woman who has lived eight years with a French accent she acquired after a car accident. This phenomenon is…
It’s just a fly on a ball, from up close. It’s just a fly on a ball, from up close. Benjamin de Bivort

Watching a fly on a ball could help us understand its brain

After many years of research, we still do not completely understand the brains of even the simplest organisms. The human brain with its 80 billion neurons is largely a mystery. But with better tools we…
A patient with a drug addiction is in a very different situation to someone with Parkinson’s – and should be treated as such. A patient with a drug addiction is in a very different situation to someone with Parkinson’s – and should be treated as such. killermonkeys

Deep brain stimulation: the hidden challenges of a technological fix

Deep brain stimulation (DBS) is a remarkable therapeutic innovation that has restored the lives of many individuals with intractable neurological disorders. Nowhere is this more evident than in crippling…
Completely immersive virtual reality is still a little way off - unless you have room to move. Completely immersive virtual reality is still a little way off - unless you have room to move. Trypode

Rats! Why virtual reality doesn’t feel ‘real’

Have you ever noticed that even detailed, sophisticated virtual reality experiences don’t feel completely “real”? It all comes down to your inner ear - and a study published earlier this month using rats…
Implanted electrodes can alleviate symptoms of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and help treat addiction. Implanted electrodes can alleviate symptoms of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and help treat addiction. Wikimedia Commons

Deep brain stimulation: a fix when the drugs don’t work

Neurological disorders can have a devastating impact on the lives of sufferers and their families. Symptoms of these disorders differ extensively - from motor dysfunction in Parkinson’s disease, memory…
Interpreting what different types of laughter mean requires different brain regions. Interpreting what different types of laughter mean requires different brain regions. chris.huggins

I amuse you? Judging laughter is no joke for the brain

There’s nothing quite like overhearing a hearty belly-laugh, unless perhaps it’s having a good chortle yourself. The happy likelihood is that, in any case, one guffaw will lead to the other. Laughter is…
Pick a card, any card - and maybe a research paper too. Pick a card, any card - and maybe a research paper too. Micah Taylor

The science of magic: it’s not all hocus pocus

Think of your favourite magic trick. Is it as grandiose as David Copperfield’s Death Saw, or is it as simple as making a coin disappear in front of your very eyes? These two very different tricks have…
A woman reads the Sydney Morning Herald in its new tabloid-sized format while a neuro test monitors her reaction. A woman reads the Sydney Morning Herald in its new tabloid-sized format while a neuro test monitors her reaction. Fairfax/AAP

Neuromarketing for the compact Fairfax papers was a no-brainer

If there’s one thing that could be observed from Fairfax’s move to publish its first tabloid-sized broadsheets it was a surprising level of neuro-illiteracy. Fairfax’s head of advertising, Sarah Keith…
Plans are afoot to map the brain, but the scientific methods of US scientists involved may be too ambitious. Plans are afoot to map the brain, but the scientific methods of US scientists involved may be too ambitious. shutterstock.com

Wham BAM: Obama’s brain map aims are laudable, but laughable

Recently, I wrote a sceptical article for The Conversation on the subject of new proposals for computer mapping of the brain. The two top contenders are the European Human Brain Project (HBP - which has…
The race to map the human brain may be more political than scientific. The race to map the human brain may be more political than scientific. brewbooks

The brain race: can giant computers map the mind?

In the past month, we have seen two major announcements of huge projects to map the brain – the European Human Brain Project (HBP) and the Obama Brain Activity Map (BAM). What you may not have noticed…
Are there things you’d rather not remember? Are there things you’d rather not remember? Megyarsh

Going, going, gone: the where and why of memory erasure

If you could erase your memories, which ones would you choose? As a neuroscientist, one of my raisons d’etre is to achieve, in a way, some form of memory erasure, especially for individuals that suffer…
Neuroscience is used to explain everything from sexual attraction to voting habits to why we buy particular products. Neuroscience is used to explain everything from sexual attraction to voting habits to why we buy particular products. Flickr/mutsmuts

Blame it on the brain: our modern obsession with all things ‘neuro’

In May last year, a new attraction called The Ascent opened for a brief season in Brooklyn, New York. Described as “part art installation, part adventure ride and part spiritual journey,” The Ascent consisted…
“Wait a minute. I’ve been here before …” “Wait a minute. I’ve been here before …” PhotoJonny/Flickr

Explainer: what is déjà vu and why does it happen?

Have you ever experienced a sudden feeling of familiarity while in a completely new place? Or the feeling you’ve had the exact same conversation with someone before? This feeling of familiarity is, of…
Despite having “simple” brains, dragonflies appear to be capable of more complex tasks than was first thought. Despite having “simple” brains, dragonflies appear to be capable of more complex tasks than was first thought. Henry McLin

Enter the dragonfly: insect shows human-like visual attention

Being able to focus on an important object or task while surrounded by distractions is a valuable skill. It’s an ability that’s probably widespread in the animal kingdom, but is best known in large mammals…
Different parts of the brain do different things, but there’s more overlap than you might think. Different parts of the brain do different things, but there’s more overlap than you might think. Brain image from www.shutterstock.com

Explainer: the brain

If I had been asked 15 years ago to write a short piece about what the different parts of the brain did, it would have been a fairly straightforward task. Not any more. Over the last 15 years, the methods…
There’s still plenty to discover about how the brain works but what we know now is irrelevant to education. There’s still plenty to discover about how the brain works but what we know now is irrelevant to education. Brain image from www.shutterstock.com

Weird neuroscience: how education hijacked brain research

Neuroscience: the word oozes sophistication and intelligence – the very qualities we might want to nurture in our students, our children, our general populace. Maybe that’s why many people involved in…
The imperative to remember information has been replaced with the imperative to remember where information is located. The imperative to remember information has been replaced with the imperative to remember where information is located. parkieblues

Outsourcing memory: the internet has changed how we remember

When Nicholas Carr’s article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” hit newsstands in the July/August 2008 edition of The Atlantic, the reaction was predictably vociferous. The essay itself – a 4,175 word editorial…
Something’s going on behind your eyes … but what is it, and why does it happen? Something’s going on behind your eyes … but what is it, and why does it happen? Rubén Chase

Explainer: what is dreaming?

For most of human history, dreaming has been seen as a second “reality” in which altered forms of perception provide insights into ourselves and others, our fears, fantasies and motivations or even the…
We can learn to use our minds better by becoming more familiar with how they work. We can learn to use our minds better by becoming more familiar with how they work. JohnGreenaway

Good reasoning needn’t make you an unfeeling robot

Some interesting recent research using neuroimaging gives us evidence that different brain systems activate in different reasoning situations. But before we get to that, try the following puzzles: Puzzle…
Getting rid of negative memories is increasingly within our grasp. Getting rid of negative memories is increasingly within our grasp. taylor.a

Remembering to forget: how to erase unwanted memories

Memories influence our behaviour for better or worse. A traumatic incident, experienced once, can darken our lives for ever more. Drug or alcohol addiction – driven by remembered rewards – can render the…
We all know the past disappears. We all know the past disappears. FotoRita [Allstar maniac]

Explainer: what is forgetting?

If memory can be defined as “a past that becomes a part of me”, can forgetting be defined as “a past that is no longer a part of me”? Smokers who have abstained for years may not consciously be able to…
Music can create a vortex – and a coupling of cortexes. Music can create a vortex – and a coupling of cortexes. AlicePopkorn

Motion slickness: music moves makers and listeners alike

Music is an emotional business. But is it also a natural law, bound in with our bodies and ideas of motion we’re only beginning to understand? I am in the unique position of studying with both Professor…
Did you forget to lock the door, or just forget to pay proper attention? Did you forget to lock the door, or just forget to pay proper attention? jef safi \ 'pictosophizing

Explainer: what is memory?

Memory is difficult to define without being circular. People often define memory as “something you can remember”. But we cannot deny the existence of a memory when there is no recollection. Sigmund Freud…
What can brain imaging reveal about human intelligence? What can brain imaging reveal about human intelligence? PraveenbenK

Brain imaging: the smart way to predict intelligence?

When it comes to intelligence, what factors distinguish the brains of the exceptionally smart from those of average humans? New research by post-doctoral fellow Michael Cole and colleagues suggests as…
Brains are supposed to change in response to experiences; that’s a sign they’re working as they are designed to. Brains are supposed to change in response to experiences; that’s a sign they’re working as they are designed to. Stephen Anthony

Your brain on the internet: a response to Susan Greenfield

Whenever I hear dire predictions concerning the social impact of new technologies, I recall a similar prediction made nearly 2,500 years ago. In the Phaedrus, Plato recounts a myth, according to which…
We don’t know why some people don’t recover from an acute episode of pain. We don’t know why some people don’t recover from an acute episode of pain. Kennedy/Wikimedia Commons

Pain really is in the mind, but not in the way you think

Everybody hurts, but not everybody keeps hurting. The unlucky few who do end up on a downward spiral of economic, social and physical disadvantage. While we don’t know why some people don’t recover from…
An active cognitive lifestyle leads to reduced dementia risk. An active cognitive lifestyle leads to reduced dementia risk. Antonio Monerris

Brain power: why using it helps stop losing it

“Use it or lose it” is a catch-cry that applies to the brain as well as the body. For some time now, researchers have known that, in general, people who stay more mentally active throughout their lives…
Could your brain be anticipating what’s there before you even turn your eyes? Could your brain be anticipating what’s there before you even turn your eyes? Joe Fakih Gomez Photography

Out of sight, but still in mind: the mysteries of peripheral vision

As you read this article your eyes will move so the words fall on the central part of your vision. This region is called the fovea and it has excellent resolution when compared to your peripheral vision…
A woman drinks using a robotic arm, something she hasn’t been able to do with her own arms for 15 years. A woman drinks using a robotic arm, something she hasn’t been able to do with her own arms for 15 years. Nature

Brain-controlled robotic arm toasts success with a drink

The world of brain-machine interfacing (BMI) has a new posterchild. A study on people with tetraplegia, published in Nature, has shown participants were able to control a robotic arm and hand over a broad…
Despite being considered a scientific taboo in the past, the study of consciousness is slowly gaining momentum. Despite being considered a scientific taboo in the past, the study of consciousness is slowly gaining momentum. emmakate deuchars

Learning experience: let’s take consciousness in from the cold

Until 20 years ago, scientists interested in empirical work on consciousness – our private subjective experiences – hid it by minimising or eliminating the “c-word”, the use of which was a career-limiting…
Rugby player Nate Myles (far right) shouldn’t have returned to the field after suffering a concussion. Rugby player Nate Myles (far right) shouldn’t have returned to the field after suffering a concussion. AAP

Correcting our blurred vision on football concussions

“He got a free trip to Disneyland.” That’s how Wally Lewis described the knockout of Nate Myles, from the Gold Coast Titans, during a tackle two weeks ago. Rugby league is a tough game with tough players…
The jury is still out on whether mobile phones cause cancer. The jury is still out on whether mobile phones cause cancer. yago.com

Do mobiles give you brain cancer? The verdict’s still on hold

Neurosurgeon Charlie Teo is, to many of his patients, the “angel” who cuts where other surgeons fear to go. He feels strongly about the possibility that using mobile phones might increase the risk of brain…
You know that guy in the pub that goes on and on and on? You wouldn’t believe how happy he is. You know that guy in the pub that goes on and on and on? You wouldn’t believe how happy he is. Jaysun

Now, let’s talk about me: self-disclosure is intrinsically rewarding

Have you ever been at a party where someone has talked about themselves without pause? You may have thought this a case of “too much information”, but science is begging to differ. According to new research…
Using lab rats allows us to experiment in ways that would not be acceptable in humans. Using lab rats allows us to experiment in ways that would not be acceptable in humans. ressaure

Rats, rewards and mental illness

Many forms of mental illness can affect our moods. But that isn’t all they do: they can also damage our willpower. Problems such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity…
When emotions meet economics: New York police and protesters clash during the Occupy movement protests on Wall Street. When emotions meet economics: New York police and protesters clash during the Occupy movement protests on Wall Street. AAP

Economics and the brain: how people really make decisions in turbulent times

In a 2008 paper on neuroeconomics, Carnegie Mellon University economist George Loewenstein said: “Whereas psychologists tend to view humans as fallible and sometime even self-destructive, economists tend…
Differences in the brains of autistic infants emerge well before behavioural signs. Differences in the brains of autistic infants emerge well before behavioural signs. Awen Photography

Looking for early signs of autism in the infant brain

For parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), the diagnostic process can be a long and stressful journey. Behavioural signs of ASD can appear around the child’s first birthday when he fails…
It just isn’t possible for someone with a normal brain to selectively use just one side of it. It just isn’t possible for someone with a normal brain to selectively use just one side of it. vaXzine

Monday’s medical myth: you can selectively train your left or right brain

When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, getting your body in shape often tops the list. But what about your brain? If your left or right brain is feeling a little flabby, there’s a wide range of books…
Hesitation might be our crowning achievement. Hesitation might be our crowning achievement. nana untel

Looking backwards and forwards – is that what makes us human?

Understanding what is special, if anything, about the human brain is a scientific problem of such magnitude it has defied all manner of investigation for centuries. And human consciousness, our experience…
Dopamine, which is released during gaming, can influence the wiring of the adolescent brain. Dopamine, which is released during gaming, can influence the wiring of the adolescent brain. Steven Andrew Photography

Pleasure centre: how video games affect young brains

Teens who frequently play video games have larger reward centres in their brains than those who play less often, according to a study published today in the journal Translational Psychiatry. The researchers…
Neuroimaging is commonplace, but do you know what you’re getting into? Neuroimaging is commonplace, but do you know what you’re getting into? Katrina Lawrence/AFP

Adventures in blobology: 20 years of fMRI brain scanning

This month, fMRI brain imaging celebrates its 20th anniversary. And so it should. It has come to dominate cognitive neuroscience. Massive amounts of precious funding are poured into it and thousands of…
The brain repairs itself only minimally following damage or disease. The brain repairs itself only minimally following damage or disease. x-ray delta one

Set to fade: is the brain doomed to degenerate?

Welcome to the sixth and final part of On the Brain, a Conversation series by people whose job it is to know as much as there is to know about the body’s most complex organ. Here, Professor Malcolm Horne…
Addicts have choices, but those choices might be severely constrained. Addicts have choices, but those choices might be severely constrained. davidblume

Brain’s addiction: is shooting up a disease or a choice?

Welcome to part four of On the brain, a Conversation series by people whose job it is to know as much as there is to know about the body’s most complex organ. Here, Neil Levy, Head of Neuroethics at Florey…
Susceptibility to addiction can be seen as a form of Russian Roulette. Susceptibility to addiction can be seen as a form of Russian Roulette. kriffster

Brain’s addiction: what makes heavy drug users different?

Welcome to part three of On the brain, a Conversation series by people whose job it is to know as much as there is to know about the body’s most complex organ. Here, Professor Andrew J. Lawrence, the Florey…
“A venerable orang-outan”: editorial cartoon depicting Charles Darwin as an ape from The Hornet, 1871. “A venerable orang-outan”: editorial cartoon depicting Charles Darwin as an ape from The Hornet, 1871. Author unknown

Peer Review: Aping Mankind – Neuromania, Darwinitis and the Misrepresentation of Humanity

Welcome to Peer Review, a series in which we ask leading academics to review books written by people in the same field. Here Neil Levy, ARC Future Fellow, based at the Florey Neuroscience Institutes, reviews…
The emerging field of neuromarketing exploits the gap between what we say and what we think. The emerging field of neuromarketing exploits the gap between what we say and what we think. Flickr/DierkSchaefer

Our brains, our wallets - the field of neuromarketing

How do we choose? Consumers imagine themselves as rational decision-makers, able to weigh up the relative costs and benefits of decisions to arrive at reasoned choices. Yet, a growing body of research…
Everything from playing sport to speaking a foreign language is better when done automatically. Everything from playing sport to speaking a foreign language is better when done automatically. pfv

Your brain knows the moves (you just get in its way)

Welcome to part two of On the brain, a Conversation series by people whose job it is to know as much as there is to know about the body’s most complex organ. Here, Malcolm Horne, deputy director of the…
Our understanding of how people’s minds perceive time is still rudimentary. Our understanding of how people’s minds perceive time is still rudimentary. numb3r

Tick, tock, where’s your brain’s clock?

Our perception of time is something we take for granted. It drags. It goes too fast. It’s always there in the background, ticking away. But the means by which we measure, interpret and remember the flow…

Research and News (15)

Research Briefs (29)

Synchronised brain waves hold visual memory

The brain encodes short-term visual memory with in-sync electrical neural oscillations. Neuroscientists have observed how…

Marijuana impairs memory

Independent of its effect on neurons, marijuana’s psychoactive ingredient (THC) impairs memory by affecting passive support…

Seeing eye-to-eye is key to copying

Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but how do our brains decide when and who we should copy? New research suggests…

How to navigate the brain

A new brain-mapping technique has been developed to provide rapid access to brain landmarks that were previously accessible…