Brain and Behavior

In looking back over the history of the blog, I thought it would be fun to take another glimpse at the top 5 most popular posts in 2017 thus far... Image of lavender from GFDL 1.2, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=322384 While lavender aromatherapy has been documented to reduce stress in humans, little is known about its potential for reducing stress in veterinary medicine. Horses can develop elevated heart rates and stress hormone levels when they are confined to horse trailers and transported to new competition venues. Therapies to reduce stress in competition…
Two science books cheap (Kindle version, two bucks): The Male Brain: A Breakthrough Understanding of How Men and Boys Think Dr. Louann Brizendine, the founder of the first clinic in the country to study gender differences in brain, behavior, and hormones, turns her attention to the male brain, showing how, through every phase of life, the "male reality" is fundamentally different from the female one. Exploring the latest breakthroughs in male psychology and neurology with her trademark accessibility and candor, she reveals that the male brain: -is a lean, mean, problem-solving machine. Faced…
Sara Letzner had humans compete against pigeons in a behavioural experiment. Photo from: Ruhr-Universitat at Bochum A new study conducted by Drs. Sara Letzner and Onur Gunturkun (Ruhr-Universitat at Bochum) as well as Dr. Christian Beste (Technische Univeritat at Dresden) shows that pigeons are better than humans when it comes to multitasking. Their findings were published in Current Biology. The findings from the study show that the mammalian cerebral cortex, with all of its cortical layers, is not the only type of brain that can perform complex tasks as birds do not have a…
Last week, an antivaxer "challenged" me to look over a paper purporting to show that aluminum adjuvants in vaccines cause inflammation of the brain and therefore contribute to autism, a paper that she would be "citing frequently." Being someone who lives by the motto, "be careful what you wish for," I looked it over in detail. Not surprisingly, my conclusion was that the experiments were poorly done using obsolete and not very quantitative methodology and that the results do not support the conclusions made by the authors. I was not alone in this conclusion. Skeptical Raptor was, if anything…
  "Why, oh, why do I have to die in the cause of such crappy science?" For antivaxers, aluminum is the new mercury. Let me explain, for the benefit of those not familiar with the antivaccine movement. For antivaxers, it is, first and foremost, always about the vaccines. Always. Whatever the chronic health issue in children, vaccines must have done it. Autism? It’s the vaccines. Sudden infant death syndrome? Vaccines, of course. Autoimmune diseases? Obviously it must be the vaccines causing it. Obesity, diabetes, ADHD? Come on, you know the answer! Because antivaxers will never let go of…
“It will shine still brighter when night is about you. May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.” ―Galadriel, LOTR, J.R.R. Tolkien The scientific stories we've covered this week have been out-of-this-world here at Starts With A Bang! But the greatest show is still to come. Right now, I'm on my way down to the path of totality in Oregon, along with millions of others hoping to catch a glimpse and enjoy the experience of a sight unlike any others on Earth. When the sunlight goes completely out, some truly wonderful things will be revealed, and I hope to see them all…
If you give your children over to the Boy Scouts for a day or two, they may do something to them akin to abuse. This happened. The Boy Scouts knew what they were getting into when they invited Donald Trump to speak at their national event. They even posted warnings for the troop leaders and scouts, on their blog. As a unit leader or staff member, you can help make the president’s visit a success by ensuring that any reactions to the president’s address are, as we state in our Scout Law, friendly, courteous, and kind. This includes understanding that chants of certain phrases heard during the…
I've been writing about antivaccine loons for a long time, and during that time I've seen them propose some crazy ideas. The other day, I came across one proposing what might well be the craziest, most irresponsible idea I've ever seen from an antivaccine activist. It comes from our old friend Kent Heckenlively. Heckenlively, as you might recall, started out over at the antivaccine crank blog Age of Autism but, for whatever reason, left the blog to write somewhere else. Amazingly, that "somewhere else" turned out to be the website of one Patrick "Tim" Bolen, whom I just mentioned yesterday…
One of the most persistent narratives latched on to by advocates of "integrative medicine" is that the "mind" can somehow "heal" the body. Sometimes, the claim is that such interventions work through "powerful placebo" effects. Sometimes it involves the abuse of emerging science, such overblown claims about what can be accomplished through epigenetic modifications of DNA and gene expression. While my wife and I were away on vacation last month, there was another example of this claim popping up in the media under headlines like these: Mindfulness and meditation dampen down inflammation genes…
I know that a lot of you like John Oliver and watch Last Week Tonight with John Oliver , and I do too. In particular, I love how he devotes 20 minute segments of his show to intelligent long form comedy about all sorts of issues, including scientific and medical issues, including issues that I never would have thought I was interested in. Indeed, there are lots of times when he covers news stories better than the news media. So when he did a segment on vaccines last night—and a segment that was longer than his usual major segments—you know I would be incredibly interested. Here's a video of…
Photo of a kea by Mark Whatmough - Milford Sound, Key Summit, The Divide, Queenstown, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons Most of us have heard the phrase: Laughter is contagious. When we hear other people laughing, we often smile even if we have no idea why they are laughing. Dr. Sophie Scott from the University College of London and her colleagues played both positive sounds (like laughter) and negative sounds (like retching or screaming) to subjects and found the sounds activated the premotor cortical region of the brain. This area of the brain is responsible for preparing facial muscles…
You've heard to story. I'm here to give you a little context. A pretty typical early handaxe, made by a Homo erectus. This was a big flake made from a bigger rock. The big flake was subsequently flaked to make this handaxe. The word "handaxe" can be spelled about nine different ways. But in case you haven't heard the story, this is from the press release which is, so far, the only information generally available: New finds of fossils and stone tools from the archaeological site of Jebel Irhoud, Morocco, push back the origins of our species by one hundred thousand years and show that by…
[Editorial update: I woke up this morning to find out that the answer to my question in the title is almost certainly yes. The post has been quickly altered to reflect that. See below.] Believe it or not, I overlooked something in yesterday's post about a putrefying, rotting mess of a "vaccinated versus unvaccinated" study carried out by an Andrew Wakefield fanboi named Anthony Mawson that purported to have found that vaccinated children have a much higher prevalence of neurodevelopmental disorders (NDDs) and and diseases not preventable by vaccines than unvaccinated children. I'll refer you…
[Editor's note: Sorry this is a few hours late. I forgot to change the status from DRAFT to SCHEDULE in WordPress last night. D'oh!] The single most persuasive strategies by which quacks sell their wares and believers in quackery persuade others to try the quackery they believe in is the personal anecdote. Indeed, I established very early on in the history of this blog a type of post that has become a staple that shows up several times a year. In these posts, I deconstruct "alternative cancer cure" testimonials, showing how the story as related doesn't provide convincing evidence that the…
If there's one thing about antivaxers, it's that they're single-minded beyond belief. No matter what the chronic health problem, it's always about the vaccines. To them, vaccines are always the cause. Autism? Vaccines must be the cause. Asthma? vaccines. Diabetes? Obviously vaccines. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)? What else could it be but the vaccines? (Never mind that there's plenty of evidence suggesting that vaccinated children have a lower risk of SIDS.) That's how antivaxers think. Monomania doesn't even begin to describe it. I was reminded of this yesterday when I came across yet…
You all know about this: It is being said that the OK sign is used to indicated "White Power" and this use has been spotted among politicians and celebrities everywhere. Is this real? I don't know. Is it a valid symbol for "White Power"? Certainly not. The problem with the white power symbol is that it is not a symbol. Or, if it is a symbol, it is a baby symbol that doesn't know how to be a symbol yet, so don't expect much from it. Semiotics Ahead Index (not an icon, not a symbol, but yes, it is a sign. With a sign on it.) Try this. Move your hands in front of you as though you were…
Image of a painted turtle by Victor Young, New Hampshire Fish and Game Department. (via Wikimedia commons) Bisphenol A (BPA) has earned a bad reputation as a potential endocrine disrupting chemical in several studies of developing animals. Some studies even report correlations of BPA levels with certain diseases in humans. Thus it is not surprising there are a plethora of BPA-free food containers, especially for baby food and bottles, as our most common route of exposure is through our diet. It gets there from the epoxy resin lining of some canned foods as well as our use of polycarbonate …
It always amuses me how antivaccine activists have such a love-hate relationship with academia, particularly the higher echelons of academia. On the one hand, they routinely denigrate academics because inevitably well-designed, well-executed epidemiological studies testing the hypothesis that vaccines are correlated with the risk of autism always come up empty. That's because vaccines don't cause autism. I used to hedge a bit when I said that, but over the 12 years I've been doing this, I've covered more studies than I can remember testing this very hypothesis, and a clear pattern has emerged…
Asking for a friend... But seriously, this is a real question. For example, several years ago, Herbert Weinstein tossed his wife out the window of their Manhattan apartment, after killing her, following an argument. He was well known to be a non violent person, and there was really no good reason for him to murder his wife this way. But, it turns out, his prefrontal cortical region was compromised by a very large cyst. Weinstein was one of the first in recent decades to use an insanity style defense connected to neuro-imaging or other neurobiology showing a demonstrable, physical, brain…
I've got this press release that will be of interest to many: An international team including researchers at the university of Edinburgh and Antoine Wystrach of the Research Centre on Animal Cognition (CNRS/Université Toulouse III—Paul Sabatier) has shown that ants can get their bearings whatever the orientation of their body. Their brains may be smaller than the head of a pin, but ants are excellent navigators that use celestial and terrestrial cues to memorize their paths. To do so, they use several regions of the brain simultaneously, proving once again that the brain of insects is more…