brain

Not Exactly Rocket Science

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At first glance, the African elephant doesn’t look like it has much in common with us humans. We support around 70-80 kg of weight on two legs, while it carries around four to six tonnes on four. We grasp objects with opposable thumbs, while it uses its trunk. We need axes and chainsaws to knock…

We all have a personal bubble, an invisible zone of privacy around our bodies. When strangers cross this boundary, it makes us feel uncomfortable. But not all of us – Daniel Kennedy from the California Institute of Technology has been studying a woman known only as SM, who lacks any sense of personal space. SM…

In martial arts classes, students are often taught to treat weapons as extensions of their own body. But this is more than just a metaphor. It turns out that when we use tools – not just swords and spears, but toothbrushes and rakes as well – our brain treats them as temporary body parts. According…

Be it in sports or comedy, they say that timing is everything. In evolution, it’s no different. Many of the innovations that have separated us from other apes may have arisen not through creating new genetic material, but by subtly shifting how the existing lot is used. Take our brains, for example. In the brains…

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about propranolol, a drug that can erase the emotion of fearful memories.  When volunteers take the drug before recalling a scary memory about a spider, it dulled the emotional sting of future recollections. It’s not, however, a mind-wiping pill in the traditional science-fiction sense, and it can’t erase…

The trauma of child abuse can last a lifetime, leading to a higher risk of anxiety, depression and suicide further down the line. This link seems obvious, but a group of Canadian scientists have found that it has a genetic basis. By studying the brains of suicide victims, Patrick McGowan from the Douglas Mental Health…

Chimpanzees may not be able to recite Hamlet or giving rousing speeches but there is no doubt that they are excellent communicators. They exchange a wide variety of sophisticated calls and gestures that carry meaning and can be tailored to different audiences. The sophistication of chimp communication doesn’t stop there. Jared Taglialatela from the Yerkes…