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.
Now that we’re in the dog days of summer, I find myself imagining the perfect summer vacation – long trips to Greece, or maybe Fiji… somewhere I have never been. My imagined trips would not be complete without my memories from past trips – the feel of the breeze from the shore, happy times spent with family. But do my imagined scenarios and memories come from the same place? New research finds that while imagining and remembering draw on shared regions of the brain, the two processes activate those regions in different ways.
A smile, a wave, a head nod – seemingly small communicative gestures are of vital importance even for babies. And new research finds that the brain processes these social cues faster than previously thought, as quickly as 70 milliseconds. The finding gives insight into the brain’s priorities that may further understanding of both typical and atypical social interaction.
I feel your pain.
These words are famously associated with Bill Clinton, who as a politician seemed to ooze empathy. A skeptic might wonder, though, whether such a powerful figure really was personally distressed by the suffering of average Americans. Can people in high positions of power — be they presidents, bosses, celebrities and so on — easily empathize with those beneath them?
We have all heard the amazing things the brain can do when deprived of one of the senses – stories about blind people with incredible hearing or deaf people with amazing visual skills. That is because the part of the brain responsible for hearing reorganizes itself in the deaf to take in visual information (and vice versa in the blind). A new study of deaf people explores how that reorganization occurs and how it is affected by use of hearing aids.
Drawing objects seems like a simple task – most of us, from young to old, can copy simple pictures even if we lack artistic talent. An inability to draw simple pictures is often a symptom of a cognitive disorder or brain damage. New research looking at stroke patients has found that drawing depends on several complex cognitive processes that operate via specific neuronal networks.