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Analysis and Comment (36)

Want more working memory? Then you need to expand your brain. Want more working memory? Then you need to expand your brain. Flickr/Elena Gatti

Brain size matters when it comes to remembering

Before we had mobile phones, people had to use their own memory to store long phone numbers (or write them down). But getting those numbers into long-term memory could be a real pain. People had to write…
Neurons provided inspiration for a new type of computer chip. Neurons provided inspiration for a new type of computer chip. Wellcome Images/Flickr

TrueNorth: a ‘brain-like’ chip to turn computing on its head

Computers and brains work in virtually opposite ways. Computers are laboriously programmed for specific tasks. Brains learn from experience and can perform a wide variety of complicated tasks that are…
Consciousness: understandable, but no less amazing. Consciousness: understandable, but no less amazing. Alice Popkorn

Why being conscious is a barrier to understanding consciousness

We have no entirely satisfactory explanation for why a relentless stream of experiences normally fills your mind. On close examination, consciousness can seem truly miraculous and hopelessly ineffable…
Where do our thoughts gather? Where do our thoughts gather? www.ruffrootcreative.com

Is the key to consciousness in the claustrum?

Consciousness is one of the most fascinating and elusive phenomena we humans face. Every single one of us experiences it but it remains surprisingly poorly understood. That said, psychology, neuroscience…
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…
I hate cramming for exams. I hate cramming for exams. Tilwe

Forgetful snails could tell us about how our memories work

Snails, like all animals, need to remember – what is good or bad to eat, what might be trying to eat them, and who they recently mated with. All of these things can prove extremely important in the fight…
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…
Our immune system is constantly talking to our brain, keeping it updated on any changes to our health. Our immune system is constantly talking to our brain, keeping it updated on any changes to our health. Image from shutterstock.com

Addiction and the brain: how the immune system takes over

How do you know you are sick? No, really… Think about it. If you have suffered through another winter of coughs and sniffles, and you are about to be hit by the spring allergies, you will know the feeling…
Head for numbers: research into brain disorders is seriously underfunded. Head for numbers: research into brain disorders is seriously underfunded. Pennstatenews

Burden of brain disorders ignored by government

According to various large-scale studies conducted by the World Health Organization, about a third of the adult worldwide population suffer from a mental disorder such as depression, anxiety and schizophrenia…
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…
Memories of emotionally-dense events are formed in great detail, allowing them to be remembered extremely vividly, Memories of emotionally-dense events are formed in great detail, allowing them to be remembered extremely vividly, Julie Falk

Making a mark on the brain - how emotion colours memories

All memories aren’t created equal. Whether you remember an event the next day, week or year, depends on a number of factors, the most important one of which is the emotion associated with it. Emotional…
Falciparum malaria parasite carried by mosquitoes might be cerebral but has it been outsmarted? Falciparum malaria parasite carried by mosquitoes might be cerebral but has it been outsmarted? PA/Danny Lawson

New twist in age-old war against malaria parasite

Cerebral malaria, or malaria of the brain, means being deeply unconscious with perpetual cycles of seizures and spasms. It can cause death, or often disability. About 600,000 people suffer this terrible…
There are many pieces to the mental health puzzle: and it isn’t all about the brain. There are many pieces to the mental health puzzle: and it isn’t all about the brain. stephenphampshire

‘Mental illness’ isn’t all about brain chemistry: it’s about life

Do you believe ‘mental illness’ is all about brain chemistry? It wouldn’t be surprising if you did, because this is the message we regularly receive about various forms of troublesome feelings, thoughts…
Stay still, I’ve missed a bit. Stay still, I’ve missed a bit. PA/Tim Whitby

Doing Arnie impressions can activate your brain

The voice is an important tool which we use to communicate and express ourselves. But our voices convey so much more than the words we say. Just a few words can reveal clues about someone’s gender, age…
Does my brain look small in this? Scans can be used to detect brain shrinkage. Does my brain look small in this? Scans can be used to detect brain shrinkage. Flickr/bucaorg

Brain scan library will help us understand normal ageing

As many as 500 brain scans are performed in Scotland every week. These scans are mostly used to diagnose - or rule out - serious diseases like strokes and tumours, but this is not their only function…
What does your profile picture say about you? What does your profile picture say about you? Academic image from www.shutterstock.com

Posing intellectuals: academic profile pictures reveal more than you think

Just to the left and above this sentence is a picture of me. Like most places on the web where discussion takes place, The Conversation places a profile picture of each author next to their writing. Indeed…
Booze won’t kill your brain cells but it can still harm your brain. Booze won’t kill your brain cells but it can still harm your brain. Image from shutterstock.com

Monday’s medical myth: alcohol kills brain cells

Do you ever wake up with a raging hangover and picture the row of brain cells that you suspect have have started to decay? Or wonder whether that final glass of wine was too much for those tiny cells…
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…
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…
Birdbrains or copycats: Aesop’s fable offers insight as to how children and birds think. Birdbrains or copycats: Aesop’s fable offers insight as to how children and birds think. 'Playingwithbrushes'

Fable or truth: are birds as brainy as children?

Humans are very good at innovating and it would seem reasonable to expect our children would be too. But a recent study questions these assumptions, suggesting young children’s ability to problem-solve…
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…
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…
We can already control computers with our thoughts, but how deep does the rabbit hole go? We can already control computers with our thoughts, but how deep does the rabbit hole go? Warner Bros. Pictures

Into the Matrix: the future of augmented reality (and you)

The growth of augmented reality (AR) will almost certainly change the way we visually experience the everyday world. And, as discussed previously on The Conversation, it’s likely to be Google’s Project…
Humanity’s control of fire has led to a vastly changed atmosphere. Humanity’s control of fire has led to a vastly changed atmosphere. Jason A Samfield

The discovery of fire: initial steps toward anthropogenic climate change

The evidence for a rapid shift in state of the terrestrial atmosphere-ocean system over the last two centuries (see figure 1) requires a deep time perspective, beyond events of the day. Tracing the original…
Are you a rational thinker, or do you make decisions based on intuition? Are you a rational thinker, or do you make decisions based on intuition? alistairh

The benefits of being in two minds

Are you the “lazy” or the “deliberate” thinker? Why can’t we have a hybrid? Something has been bugging me for quite a while – how difficult it is to strike a balance between thinking fast, albeit impulsively…
Long term cannabis use has been known to harm the brain but new research shows some of this damage was there to begin with. Long term cannabis use has been known to harm the brain but new research shows some of this damage was there to begin with. Wiros

Brain abnormalities pre-date pot smoking in heavy users

Cannabis remains the most commonly consumed illicit drug in the world, with more than a third of Australians reporting that they have used it at some point in their lives. This is despite growing evidence…
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…
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…
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…
Neuroscience has made great gains but the best is yet to come. Neuroscience has made great gains but the best is yet to come. Jenn and Tony Bot

Picking your brains: what’s going on inside your head?

Welcome to On the brain, a new 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 Geoffrey Donnan, a world-renowned stroke…
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 (11)

Research Briefs (51)

Shocked by beauty

Scientists have used weak electrical shocks on the brain to make the human face seem more attractive. California Institute…

Making the brain transparent

Scientists have developed a new technique to study the brain, by making it transparent. Using a post-mortem mouse brain…

Fatty foods slim down brain activity

Fat in food can reduce activity in several areas of the brain that are responsible for processing taste, aroma and reward…

Where do you find love in the brain?

A new study has discovered that love and desire activate specific but related areas in the brain. Researchers analysed the…

New insight into brain cancer

The role of a tumour suppressor in brain cancer known as parkin has been uncovered and promises to shed light on why certain…

Babies show computers how to learn

Research into the cognition of babies and small children may help scientists program computers to think and learn more like…

Better understanding of the brain’s sensory signals

New research into how the brain processes conflicting sensory signals has found that neurons have a way of applying the correct…

Brain growth dependent on sleep

Lack of sleep during adolescent years could have a detrimental effect on brain development. Using adolescent mice, researchers…