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How We Sharpen Attention on the Fly in Response to Incentives

A simple trip to the grocery store can be an exercise in trying to keep your attention focused on a task. You may have a list of items you need to buy but have a constant barrage of sale signs and displays enticing you to reward yourself. How do these incentives affect our attention? A new study finds that we actively suppress high-incentive cues in our environment to enhance our efficiency in paying attention to a task.

Judgments of Competence Affect Anticipation of Pain

Doctor_examines_patientPicking a new dentist or doctor can be harrowing experience. Internet reviews and word of mouth may help, but oftentimes it comes down to first impressions, maybe even just a photo online. A new study shows that these impressions of people’s competence actually affect our anticipation of pain.

Distinguishing Consonant Sounds in Noise Predicts Reading Ability in Preschoolers

krauslabWhen babies are born, they undergo a hearing test with a simple little machine. What if one day that test could also predict how well a child will be able to read and identify those children early may need extra help? A new study has taken a crucial first step toward that possibility.

Patterns of Brain Activity Match Vividness of Memories

PixarPixar’s Inside Out portrays memories as glowing individual spheres that we replay in our minds like a movie on a projector screen. But in real life, neuroscientists have found that memories are not compartmentalized into perfect little bubbles; they are represented over a largely distributed set of brain regions. And the same brain regions at play when we remember something reactivate when we try to recall the memory. In a new study, researchers found that the memories we recall most vividly have the greatest patterns of brain reactivation.

Evidence from Tone Deafness: Limiting Musical Exposure Can Deteriorate the Auditory System

CameronDiaz_mybestfriendsweddingOften thought of in pop culture as a funny quirk (think: Cameron Diaz singing karaoke in My Best Friend’s Wedding), tone deafness is actually a brain disorder. Whereas most of us derive great pleasure from music, someone who is tone deaf may hear music as a noisy din and may even avoid situations where music is present. A new study has shed light on this condition, finding that people who are tone deaf have weakened sound processing in their brainstems, possibly the result of a lifetime of limited musical exposure.

Creating a Bigger Bubble: What Happens When People Invade Our Personal Space

Connex_trainIt’s a hot summer day and you are crammed onto a commuter train. So you may take measures to cope with the uncomfortable closeness of strangers: Perhaps you put in earbuds or read a book, or perhaps you just avoid eye contact and turn away.

How You Predict the Future Every Day all predict the future every time we listen to someone speak or read a book. If I say “barbed,” for example, what word comes next? How about “undivided”? (see answers below, along with other top word pairings) The ability to predict words helps us take mental shortcuts in language. And a new study finds that the frequency with which these words have occurred together in our past conversations is key to our predictive skills.

Chocolate Smells Pink and Stripy: Synesthesia and Smells

For one person, chocolate smells pinky and stripy, for another it was a hazy mist. These were not smell Synesthete_images_russellassociations – the images are how some people actually experience the smell of chocolate. The people drawing the images have a rare form of synesthesia, in which a smell elicits a color. And in a new study on this form of synesthesia, researchers found that it’s not just about color but also patterns and shapes.

The Neuroscience of Trauma from Sexual Assault

Guest Post by Kathryn Gigler, Northwestern University

“I believe that you believe something happened to you.” The young woman repeated the detective’s statement to me again. It had been the detective’s response to her question of whether he believed her account of the brutal sexual assault she had experienced the past weekend.

When Children Try to Remember Many Things At Once on your shoes and jacket, then grab your lunch bag and turn off the lights – sounds simple, right? But to a 5-year-old, this multi-step process could be tricky to follow, especially if the child is distracted. What’s at play here is working memory – holding things in your mind that you can’t see. A new study has found that children actually recruit similar brain areas as adults for working memory but have a lower capacity for remembering multiple things at once.