Spotlight: The Brain

The brain is an enigma. Scientists are working to understand how these meager three pounds of matter inside your skull give rise to consciousness, thought, memory, and emotion. Doctors want to know how to keep your brain healthy and fix it when things go wrong, as in depression and autism. Here you will hear Science Update shows on the latest and most fascinating brain research.

Tracking Fastballs

September 26, 2014

To hit a fastball, a batter’s brain has to predict when it’ll come across the plate.

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Elderly Sleep

August 27, 2014

Insomnia in older adults is due to a failure in brain circuitry.

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Feeding Neurons

August 4, 2014

Scientists have accidentally stumbled upon specific brain cells that turn feeding behavior on and off in mice.

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Bubble Brains

July 15, 2014

In stock trading simulations, people’s brains indicate whether or not they’ll get out before the bubble bursts.

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Podcast for 18 June 2014

June 18, 2014

CHANGING BRAINS (Encore Presentation) – Why London taxi drivers have bigger brains, how eye movements reveal what we’ve really seen, and why emulating the eye movements of experts produces better surgeons. And, what long-dead brains can tell us about mental illness. Also: how violent video games could be changing young men’s brains.

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Blue Light Dangers

June 11, 2014

Blue light, abundant in artificial lighting, LED’s, and computer screens, may delay sleep and increase nighttime hunger.

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Jumpstarting Memories

June 10, 2014

Scientists turn memories on and off in rats.

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Pain and Longevity

May 26, 2014

Blocking chronic pain could slow down the aging process.

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Anti-Alzheimer’s Drugs

May 23, 2014

Certain antidepressant drugs may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

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Musical Creativity

May 21, 2014

Musical creativity could be good for the aging brain.

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Huntington’s Drugs

March 6, 2014

Scientists are screening drugs that could help delay the onset of Huntington’s disease.

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Eyewire

February 15, 2014

With a computer and an internet connection, you can help scientists map the human brain just by playing a video game.

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Multiple Sclerosis Toxin

February 6, 2014

A bacterial toxin may trigger some cases of multiple sclerosis.

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Childhood Amnesia

February 5, 2014

By the age of 7, we’ve forgotten more than half of our memories from early childhood.

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Vicarious Trauma

January 21, 2014

Observing a single traumatic event can alter the brain of a mouse.

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The Bingeing Brain

January 17, 2014

The brain chemical serotonin may play a role in binge eating disorder.

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Brain Stimulation for Eating Disorders

January 1, 2014

An experimental treatment for bulimia nervosa may help restore connections within the brain that influence eating behavior in some patients.

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Music & Touch

December 30, 2013

Trained musicians are better at distinguishing between their senses than the average person.

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Crows & Faces Update

December 24, 2013

Eight years later, a population of Seattle crows still holds a grudge against the face of their human capturer.

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Schizophrenia & Brain Maturation

November 21, 2013

Some mental illnesses, like schizophrenia, seem to involve overzealous brain maturation.

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Mice & Autism

November 19, 2013

A common drug reverses social deficits and repetitive behaviors in mice with autism-like symptoms.

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Armadillo Vision

November 18, 2013

The armadillo’s poor eyesight is helping researchers understand the genes behind certain forms of blindness.

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Podcast for 15 November 2013

November 15, 2013

YOUNG BRAINS – Just how long does the teenage brain take to mature? How teenagers with autism see things differently. And, scientists reverse autistic-like symptoms in adolescent mice. Also: can you put barcodes on brain cells? And, what casino rats can tell us about gambling addiction.

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Teenagers & Autism

November 14, 2013

Autistic teens and infants at risk for autism share a heightened interest in looking at objects.

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Cold Turkey

November 13, 2013

Quitting drugs cold turkey may trigger neurological damage.

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Teen Brains

November 11, 2013

Teen brains are much more developed in some areas than others.

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Brain Cell Barcodes

November 6, 2013

Encoding cellular proteins on a barcode could help researchers learn more about mental illnesses like schizophrenia.

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Rat Casinos

November 5, 2013

Miniature “casinos” built specially for rats are helping researchers understand gambling addiction in humans.

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Music in the Brain

November 4, 2013

Brain differences explain why not everyone has an ear for music.

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Tracking Fastballs

October 17, 2013

To hit a fastball, a batter’s brain has to predict when it’ll come across the plate.

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Fiction & Social Perception

October 7, 2013

Reading literary fiction, more so than other types of books, improves performance at gauging others’ mental states.

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Infant Synesthesia

September 26, 2013

Only a tiny fraction of adults have a condition called synesthesia, but all of us may be born with it.

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Food Reward Circuit

August 19, 2013

A molecule in the gut controls the brain’s response to food, and its absence could lead to overeating and obesity.

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Silk Brain Implants

August 7, 2013

Silk brain implants could prevent the onset of epilepsy after brain injuries.

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Brainy Baby Seals

June 5, 2013

Weddell seal pups survive infancy with the help of surprisingly large brains.

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Aging Color Vision

May 21, 2013

Our eyes’ ability to detect color deteriorates with age, but our brains compensate.

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Podcast for 17 May 2013

May 17, 2013

VISION SCIENCE – A camera modeled after the compound eyes of insects. How the brain compensates for worsening color vision as we age. And, could electrical simulation to the brain improve math performance? Also: Young people are still flocking to tanning booths, despite the risk of developing life-threatening melanoma.

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Protective Hearing Loss

May 9, 2013

Temporary hearing loss protects the ear against long-term damage.

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Numeral Hotspot

May 7, 2013

Scientists have discovered the area of the brain dedicated to recognizing numerals.

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Zapping Cocaine Addiction

April 24, 2013

Lasers can eliminate cocaine addiction in rats, pointing to new therapies for humans.

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Sound & Memory

April 22, 2013

Playing soundwaves synchronized with a person’s own deep sleep rhythms may improve short-term memory.

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Down Syndrome Protein

April 2, 2013

Deficiency in a key protein may strongly contribute to cognitive impairments in Down Syndrome.

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Podcast for 29 March 2013

March 29, 2013

EARLY HEALTH – A molecule that could make it possible to jumpstart the newborn immune system. Why too many brain cells could be a bad thing. And, could humidity affect flu transmission? Also: The effects of sleep deprivation on your genes.

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Fragile X Neurons

March 28, 2013

Fragile X Syndrome, a leading genetic cause of intellectual impairments, may actually result from too much brain activity.

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Mental Housekeeping

March 21, 2013

Cells that eat up defective brain cells may also target healthy cells during development.

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Half-Asleep Seals

March 11, 2013

Fur seals sleep with one half of their brain at a time.

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Brain Sensor Tattoos

February 21, 2013

Sensors the size of temporary tattoos could transform how brain signals are monitored.

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Facebook Memory

February 14, 2013

We remember Facebook posts much better than sentences from books or actual faces.

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Mood & Brainpower Roundup

February 8, 2013

Mood can affect older adults’ performance on cognitive tests.

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Making Room for Memories

January 29, 2013

Children are better at forming long-term memories than adults for a surprising reason.

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Podcast for 25 January 2013

January 25, 2013

MEDICINE & MEMORY – Scientists have developed a test for Parkinson’s disease. Also, drugs for the condition may have beneficial side effects. There’s good news about cancer. And, researchers say babies start learning their native tongue before they’re even born. Also: why grown-ups don’t form long-term memories as well as kids do.

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Parkinson’s & Creativity

January 22, 2013

Side effects of meds for Parkinson’s disease may include bursts of creativity.

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Newborn Language

January 21, 2013

Newborn babies have a preference for their mother’s language over foreign languages.

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Your Brain on Fructose

January 7, 2013

A brain imaging study supports growing evidence linking fructose to weight gain.

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Podcast for 30 November 2012

November 30, 2012

CHILD DEVELOPMENT – Are kids naturally stingy? Why children’s self-control could depend on the adults around them. And why math anxiety “hurts”. Also: What monsters from Dungeons & Dragons can tell us about the importance of eyes.

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Listening to Football Helmets

November 20, 2012

Measuring the acoustical signatures of colliding football helmets could help improve helmet safety.

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Painful Math Anxiety

November 15, 2012

Areas of the brain normally associated with physical pain are activated when people with math anxiety think about doing math.

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Eyes vs. Faces

November 13, 2012

Monsters from the role playing game “Dungeons & Dragons” help reveal what’s most important to us.

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Forgetting Bad Memories

November 7, 2012

The brain has two very different mechanisms for erasing bad memories.

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Chimpanzee Brain Development

October 9, 2012

The insulation surrounding nerves develops more quickly in chimpanzees than in humans.

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Socially Deprived Brains

October 2, 2012

Neglect keeps young brains from developing adequate insulation.

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Podcast for 7 September 2012

September 7, 2012

MEDICAL BREAKTHROUGHS – A new drug that could block heroin addiction, how mice could speed up AIDS research, and why we’re more prone to cancer than our closest living relatives. Also: the two brain chemicals behind sleep paralysis.

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Addiction Blocker

September 5, 2012

A drug called (+)-naloxone blocks the brain’s addiction to heroin and other opiates.

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Podcast for 27 July 2012

July 27, 2012

ANIMAL SURVIVAL – Naked mole-rats defy old age, vampire spiders attack Franken-mosquitoes, dogs protect babies against asthma, what the genes of parrots reveal about speech, and the relationship between fox populations and Lyme disease.

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Robotic Gait

July 26, 2012

Engineers have developed a two-legged robot with a more lifelike walking gait.

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Social Poker

July 25, 2012

Neuroscientists used poker games and MRI scans to separate social from purely strategic decision making.

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Parasites & Suicide Attempts

July 17, 2012

Researchers find a link between a common parasite and suicide attempts in humans.

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Podcast for 29 June 2012

June 29, 2012

BRAINS & BEHAVIOR – How the brain quickly overcomes arachnophobia. Why psychopaths’ brains are different. And how the stress of great-grandparents is visited upon their great-grandchildren. Also: paralyzed rats walk again, and a robotic arm controlled by thoughts.

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Grandfathers & Telomeres

June 28, 2012

Men that sire children later in life may pass on an advantage to their grandchildren.

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Zebrafish Robot

June 27, 2012

A robotic fish could shepherd real fish into safer waters.

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Cancer-Fighting Bacteria

June 26, 2012

Genetically modified L. acidophilus bacteria reverse colon cancer in mice.

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Sleep & Junk Food

June 25, 2012

A lack of sleep makes the brain crave junk food.

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Overcoming Arachnophobia

June 11, 2012

Peoples’ brain activity changes permanently when they overcome a phobia.

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Podcast for 8 June 2012

June 8, 2012

The link between touch and hearing. And, why bilinguals hear better in noisy environments. Also: new brain research could illuminate why we’re willing to share so much personal information on social networking sites. And, how much money would it take for you to give someone an electric shock? The answer may surprise you.

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Thought-Controlled Robot

June 7, 2012

Two patients with near-total paralysis have learned to control a robotic arm with their thoughts.

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Inheriting Anxiety

June 6, 2012

The great-grandchildren of rats given a fungicide were more stressed-out and anxious than other rats.

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Bilingual Hearing

May 30, 2012

Does speaking a second language change the way your brain works?

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Yeast on Zoloft

May 29, 2012

The antidepressant Zoloft affects cell membranes in yeast, which lack the brain chemical the drug targets.

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Self-Disclosure

May 28, 2012

How the brain’s reward system makes sharing personal information on social media so compelling.

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Money vs. Morals

May 21, 2012

What would you do if given enough money?

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Podcast for 2 March 2012

March 2, 2012

ALL ABOUT LANGUAGE – Neuroscientists are beginning to reconstruct what we’ve heard by listening to brainwaves, how scientists measure language delays around the world, using technology to keep endangered languages vibrant, and a musical instrument that allows you to sing…with your hands, Also: decoding the secret language of worms.

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Brain Voices

February 27, 2012

Scientists are beginning to reconstruct the words people hear based on electrical activity in their brains.

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Brain Window

February 13, 2012

Researchers have captured images of single brain cells in a live animal.

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Bat Brains

January 16, 2012

Like humans, bats process some types of sounds on the right side of their brains and other sounds on the left side of their brains.

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Video Game Brains

December 29, 2011

Violent video games can affect brain activity well after the games are over.

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Old Brains

December 26, 2011

Preserved brains from the early 20th century may shed light on mental illness.

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Podcast for 23 December 2011

December 22, 2011

CHANGING BRAINS – Why London taxi drivers have bigger brains, how eye movements reveal what we’ve really seen, and why emulating the eye movements of experts produces better surgeons. And, what long-dead brains can tell us about mental illness. Also: how violent video games could be changing young men’s brains.

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Taxi Driver Brains

December 19, 2011

The brains of would-be London taxi drivers get bigger during their multi-year training for the job.

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Starving Fat Cells

December 14, 2011

A drug that cuts of the blood supply to fat cells resulted in significant weight loss in obese monkeys.

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Wasp Face Processing

December 13, 2011

Paper wasps, which can recognize each other, seem to process faces in ways similar to humans.

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Placebos & Pain

December 12, 2011

Can the placebo effect be harnessed to help people with chronic pain?

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Dreams & Emotions

December 6, 2011

REM sleep, in which dreams occur, also may help take the edge off painful memories.

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Podcast for 2 December 2011

December 2, 2011

THE BRAIN, MOOD & BEHAVIOR – Could dreaming help heal emotional wounds? The relationship between the placebo effect and chronic pain. New research into the genetics of empathy. Also: a computer program to help prevent depression in girls, and exploring sex differences in mood disorders.

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Changing IQ

November 9, 2011

Contrary to expectations, some teenagers’ IQ scores changed significantly over a four-year period.

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Podcast for 21 October 2011

October 21, 2011

PREVENTIVE HEALTH – Vitamin D and ethnicity, a breath test for toxins, drinking and the immune system, measuring pain in the brain, and a new weapon to combat allergic reactions.

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Measuring Pain

October 17, 2011

Researchers have developed a way to measure pain in the brain.

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Kids & Marshmallows Revisited

October 13, 2011

An update on a landmark experiment probes the neurological roots of delayed gratification.

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Taste Neurons

October 7, 2011

The brain has special hotspots that are sensitive to each type of taste.

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Mind Movies

October 5, 2011

A computer algorithm partially reconstructs movies from patterns of brain activity in people watching them.

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Podcast for 30 September 2011

September 30, 2011

HORMONES & BEHAVIOR – Testosterone and fatherhood, the genetics of oxytocin and depression, gender and spatial reasoning revisited, where taste is found in the brain, and more.

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Oxytocin & Optimism

September 26, 2011

A gene variant may influence a person’s outlook on life.

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A Deadly Attraction

September 19, 2011

Rats are supposed to be afraid of cats, but a tiny pathogen has turned the relationship around for its own benefit.

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Sex & Spatial Thinking

September 15, 2011

Gender differences in spatial reasoning abilities may be strongly influenced by culture.

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Fear Confusion

September 6, 2011

An enzyme deficiency makes mice afraid of the wrong things.

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Shrinking Brains

August 30, 2011

Our brains shrink by up to 15% over our lifetimes, but those of chimpanzees do not.

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Podcast for 26 August 2011

August 26, 2011

FEAR, LIES & SHRINKING BRAINS – Why our brains shrink, but chimps’ don’t, why computers are better at spotting lies than we are, and an enzyme for fear. Also, medical electronics that resemble tattoos, and how organic chicken farms could be a boon to public health.

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Aging Brains

August 23, 2011

Age-related working memory loss may be at least partly reversible.

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Soccer Goalies

August 3, 2011

Soccer goalies tend to dive toward the right when their team is behind.

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Beauty & Brains

August 2, 2011

One area of the brain becomes active when we experience beauty.

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Podcast for 22 July 2011

July 22, 2011

THE BRAIN & SOCIETY: How the brain experiences beauty, what soccer reveals about the mind, and why lazing around in a hammock could benefit your memory. Also, how your cell phone could help you kick the habit.

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Theta Waves

July 5, 2011

A type of spontaneous brain activity seems to create favorable conditions for remembering things.

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Podcast for 1 July 2011

July 1, 2011

A failing grade for fat substitutes, a master regulator gene for fat, a brainwave that helps control memory, and turning skin cells into brain cells.

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Deaf Vision

June 28, 2011

The retinas of people who have been deaf from birth enhance their peripheral vision.

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Neanderthal Hands

June 22, 2011

Evidence from ancient teeth suggests that most Neanderthals were right-handed, like us.

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Barbie Effect

June 21, 2011

To study how we perceive our environment, scientists created the illusion of being either Barbie doll-sized or gigantic.

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Blind Echolocation

June 20, 2011

Blind people who can echolocate use their brain’s visual center to do so.

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Brainy Noses

June 13, 2011

We may owe our large brains in part to the earliest mammals’ sense of smell.

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Podcast for 10 June 2011 – Vision & The Brain

June 10, 2011

What reindeer can see that we can’t. How some blind people are using echolocation to navigate the world. And, how the retinas of deaf people change their experience of the world. Also: better noses spelled bigger brains for ancient mammals, and: what the teeth of Neanderthals tell us about their hands.

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Sleep Roundup

May 27, 2011

New research sheds light on what’s going on in the brains of sleeping teenagers.

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Erasing Memories

May 26, 2011

Scientists have extinguished, or at least greatly weakened, a long-term memory in a sea snail.

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The Embarrassed Brain

May 17, 2011

Researchers have identified the region of the brain responsible for humiliation.

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Podcast for 13 May 2011 – Neuropsychology

May 13, 2011

Researchers erase sea snail memories, the brain’s sarcasm detector, why a lack of embarrassment could be a sign of dementia, and schizophrenia in a petri dish.

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Sarcasm, Lies & Dementia

May 9, 2011

A new study links a failing sense of irony to a form of early-onset dementia.

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Autism & Visual Processing

May 4, 2011

Autistic people use their brains differently than non-autistics when processing visual information.

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The Smell Hormone

May 2, 2011

A hormone called ghrelin enhances our sense of smell and increases appetite.

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Podcast for 15 April 2011 – The Five Senses

April 15, 2011

Justice and lunch breaks, autism and visual processing, a case of beat deafness, and the hormone of smell.

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Breaking Focus

March 29, 2011

Taking brief breaks from long tasks may help the brain regain its focus.

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Screening for Autism

March 22, 2011

EEG brain scans may someday allow doctors to identify – and treat – babies at risk for autism.

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Thought-Controlled Car

March 16, 2011

German scientists have engineered a car that can be driven by thinking.

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Braille Brains

February 28, 2011

The same area of the brain is activated whether you’re a blind person reading Braille with your hands or a sighted person reading with your eyes.

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Podcast for 25 February 2011: Language & Behavior

February 25, 2011

The surprising way the brain processes Braille, bilingualism staves off dementia, and new research on stuttering. Also: why being lonely could change how your immune system works, and the relationship between popularity and bullying.

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Bilingualism & Alzheimer’s

February 22, 2011

Speaking a second language may slow down the cognitive decline of Alzheimer’s disease.

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Memory Tagging

February 15, 2011

The brain may “tag” certain experiences for long-term storage during sleep.

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Musical Chills

February 10, 2011

Music stimulates the brain area involved in drug addiction.

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Reversing Early Alzheimer’s

January 13, 2011

Scientists have erased learning and memory deficits in a mouse model of early Alzheimer’s disease.

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Imaginary Eating

December 21, 2010

Imagining that you’re eating a food may curb your appetite for the real thing.

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Preventing Stroke

August 26, 2010

Stimulating a rat’s whiskers after inducing stroke completely prevented brain damage.

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Brain Structure Roundup

July 16, 2010

The size of different brain structures is related to how neurotic, outgoing or friendly we are.

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Brain Master Switch

May 25, 2010

Scientists have identified a protein that serves as the brain’s master switch.

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Writing the Brain

January 27, 2010

Scientists have pinpointed the brain region responsible for efficient reading, writing and spelling.

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Naked Mole Rat Survival

December 28, 2009

Naked mole rats can survive without oxygen longer than any other mammal.

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Running Monkeys

December 23, 2009

Vigorous exercise helps monkeys avoid symptoms of Parkinson’s disease.

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Newborn Accents

November 23, 2009

The sound of a newborn baby’s cry depends on the language its parents spoke while it was in the womb.

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Sleep Deprivation

November 11, 2009

Researchers discover how to reverse the cognitive effects of sleep deprivation in mice.

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Brain to Brain Interface

October 28, 2009

Scientists have successfully transmitted information from one brain to another.

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Reading Brains

October 19, 2009

Scientists can reconstruct what a person has seen by analyzing brain scans.

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Scary Kafka Roundup

October 2, 2009

Reading disturbing, surrealistic stories may make you smarter than reading stories with straightforward plots.

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Tortured Memories

September 29, 2009

Using torture to extract information from suspects may have the opposite of the intended effect.

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Nostril Rivalry

September 24, 2009

Our two nostrils may constantly take turns sending different information to our brain.

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Placebo Effect Genes

August 24, 2009

The placebo effect only works for certain people – could this be genetic?

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Auditory Synesthesia

July 29, 2009

Some people hear sounds when they see something move.

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Tools as Body Parts

July 23, 2009

People perceive tools as extensions of their own bodies.

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Alzheimer’s & Caffeine

July 22, 2009

Caffeine may stave off and even reverse the underlying cause of Alzheimer’s disease.

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Staring into Space

July 21, 2009

A listener asks: What are your eyes and brain doing when you stare into space?

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Narcolepsy & The Immune System

June 25, 2009

Researchers discover that narcolepsy is an auto-immune disease that attacks the brain.

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Estrogen & Hearing

June 16, 2009

A lack of estrogen may cause hearing loss.

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Jet Lag

May 5, 2009

Two areas of the brain go out of synch during jet lag.

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Pre-Mistake Brainwaves

April 15, 2009

Brainwaves can signal when your attention is wandering, making some mistakes more likely.

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Addiction & Parkinson’s

March 30, 2009

Parkinson’s disease and addiction overlap in surprising ways.

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Brainy Impersonation

December 22, 2008

Professional impressionists use different parts of their brains than amateurs when impersonating famous people.

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Sleeping Brains

December 8, 2008

Different parts of the brain fall asleep before others.

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Musician Brains

October 27, 2008

Trained musicians use both sides of their brains more effectively than non-musicians.

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Brainwaves & Schizophrenia

March 6, 2008

Mental illness alters brainwaves during neural processing.

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Brain Geometry

March 3, 2008

When we hallucinate, what we see may actually be the architecture of our own brains.

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Cocaine-resistant Mice

January 2, 2008

Mice lacking a single receptor in the brain don’t become dependent on cocaine.

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Lead Levels

December 20, 2007

Even at exposures well below federal safety standards, lead can lower IQ.

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Baby Robots

November 26, 2007

Researchers have developed a new way for children once left behind by their peers to explore the world around them.

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Apes vs. Toddlers

October 3, 2007

Although equivalent in many intellectual tasks, human toddlers are much better than apes in social thinking.

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Sex, Drugs and Rock N Roll

September 27, 2007

Listening to our favorite music activates the same region of the brain that is involved in drug addiction.

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Placebo Effect

August 15, 2007

Scientists look to the brain to find out why some people respond better to the placebo effect than others.

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Art and Brain Damage

July 17, 2007

Brain damage sometimes has a suprisingly positive effect on artists’ work.

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Beyond IQ

May 23, 2007

There’s much more to excelling in school than just having a high IQ.

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Brain Sniff Test

May 8, 2007

A simple sniff test may help doctors pick up the scent of debilitating brain diseases.

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Déjà Vu

April 26, 2007

A listener asks: What’s déjà vu?

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Future Amnesia

January 31, 2007

Some patients with amnesia not only can’t remember the past, but they can’t imagine the future.

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Whale Brains

January 4, 2007

Whales share a specialized type of brain cell with us.

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Money Mentality

December 6, 2006

Thinking about money can encourage both self-reliance and self-centeredness.

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Caffeine Withdrawal

October 3, 2006

A listener asks: Why do I get a headache if I go without coffee?

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Forgetting Dreams

September 5, 2006

A listener asks: Why don’t we remember our dreams?

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Autism and IQ

March 14, 2006

There’s a lot of talk about an autism epidemic these days. But what if autism isn’t a disease at all?

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Chronic Deja Vu

March 1, 2006

Almost everyone’s had deja vu: the feeling that you’ve experienced something before, even though you haven’t. But what if the feeling never let up?

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Body Image

January 4, 2006

People with anorexia and other eating disorders can become dangerously thin but still feel overweight. New research may point to a cause.

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Liars’ Brains

November 3, 2005

A difference in the brains of pathological liars may be the cause of their strange behavior.

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Cocaine and Cigarettes

October 27, 2005

One listener asks: What do two very different drugs have in common?

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