Scientists are still trying to figure out exactly why exercise promotes cognitive health, especially in older adults. Some researchers posit that physical activity helps maintain youthful brain structures, but a new study instead suggests exercise changes the way seniors’ brains process information – making the aging brain more adaptable. Understanding how this adaptation occurs can ultimately guide seniors as they work to maintain good mental health.
Q&A with Micah Allen
From the CIA to Ashton Kutcher to CNN, Twitter is the social medium du jour for rapidly communicating ideas. And the scientific community is no exception – a growing community of scientists and science communicators are using Twitter to share ideas and news. Just last month, Science Magazine came out with the “top 50 science stars of Twitter” (which sparked controversy, particularly with regard to gender diversity, and ultimately a revised list).
We’ve all had moments when something just didn’t seem quite right – perhaps a slightly crooked photo hanging or a book that seems out of place on the shelf. For people with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), these feelings are more frequent and intense. In a new study, researchers have found a new way to test these symptoms. They found that patients with OCD-type symptoms reacted faster to disharmonic sounds than to harmonic ones.
Guest Post by Amitai Shenhav, Princeton University
Tonight, after dinner, I will go out for ice cream at one of my favorite spots in Princeton. I will salivate in anticipation of my visit, delighting in all of the options that await me. I will carry that excitement with me as I enter the shop and examine all of the flavors I have at my disposal. And then, even as I’m thinking all of these good thoughts, I will quite predictably bring on board another feeling: stress over which flavors I should choose.
When we see children moving their bodies uncontrollably, we sometimes tell them to calm their bodies and thereby draw their attention to the unwanted behavior. But for people with Tourette’s syndrome, being more aware of their tics may actually exacerbate the actions. In a new study, researchers found that people with Tourette’s syndrome who watched themselves in the mirror actually had more tics than those who did not.
Before writing this story, I had never heard the song “Pills” by Bo Diddly, but once I listened to it, I couldn’t help but snap my fingers. I needed a refresher course on beat and meter to figure out the rhythmic organization of the song, but as it turns out, my brain automatically knew the difference. New research suggests that while listening to music — whether Pills or a new U2 track — your brain is actively tracking the beat and how it is organized. Researchers found that while simple distractions can throw your brain off-track, your brain can still help you tap along to the basic beat.
Guest Post by Marc Coutanche, Yale University
From a young age, we learn the differences between a lemon and a lime and dozens of other fruit, making going to a farmer’s market to shop for fruit a seemingly simple task. But despite appearances, very little is simple about holding what you want in mind, and then identifying it in the world — whether that is a lime in the market or keys on a cluttered counter. It’s a testament to the evolution of the brain that it’s hard to even imagine object identification as anything other than effortless past childhood. But if you’ve known someone with Alzheimer’s disease, or certain other neurological disorders, its fallibility can become all too clear.
Anytime we are using our coordination – whether taking a shot in golf or just reaching for a coffee mug – the cerebellum is at play. The small structure at the base of the brain is well-known to be critical in coordinating our movements, their precision and timing. But according to a growing body of research, the same predictive abilities the cerebellum brings to motor control also influence language and learning, and may even bring insight into thought disorders associated with schizophrenia.
You’ve been stuck in traffic forever and are waiting in a long lineup at a red light. The light finally turns green and you start slowly moving, only to find that the light turns yellow as soon as you approach the intersection. Do you go for it and run the yellow (or maybe red!), or stop and wait again? And how does that decision change if a colleague or friend is in the car?
Guest Post by Cyrus Foroughi, George Mason University
The day before I began writing this post, I decided to run a small-scale case study on myself. I wanted to count the number of times I was interrupted during the day. I did not silence my phone nor did I disable any notifications (e.g., email, Facebook) so I could get an accurate estimate of the number of times I was interrupted throughout the day. The study only lasted about two hours because I was getting so distracted I wasn’t getting any work done.