Posts tagged ‘research’

The Neuroscience Of “Harry Potter” or, What Happens to Your Brain When You’re Lost in a Book


Let’s do a casual experiment. Here’s a brief passage from the first book in some obscure fiction series called Harry Potter:

A bush on the edge of the clearing quivered. … Then, out of the shadows, a hooded figure came crawling across the ground like some stalking beast. Harry, Malfoy, and Fang stood transfixed. The cloaked figure reached the unicorn, lowered its head over the wound in the animal’s side, and began to drink its blood.

And here’s another passage from the final book of the series:

He got up off the floor, stretched and moved across to his desk. Hedwig made no movement as he began to flick through the newspapers, throwing them on to the rubbish pile one by one; the owl was asleep, or else faking; she was angry with Harry about the limited amount of time she was allowed out of her cage at the moment.

Which passage did you find more engaging? Chances are it was the first. While the second passage might advance the plot, the first passage has drama, tension, and irresistible vampire-like behavior stuffed into a matter of four lines. It’s the type of action that helps readers get lost in a book. And it’s precisely this ability to immerse readers that helps sell hundreds of millions of copies.

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5 Things UX And UI Designers Could Learn From Wes Anderson


Director Wes Anderson has always been distinguished for his visual artistry, detail-rich sets, and storybook-like imagery. From the whimsical, campy feel of Moonrise Kingdom to the carefully crafted sets and miniatures in The Grand Budapest Hotel, Anderson’s movies are visual masterpieces.

The design-conscious filmmaker has some practices in common with successful mobile user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) designers. Professional designers can learn to improve their apps by studying the director’s techniques and implementing such practices within their creative processes. Here are five key tips:

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Corridors of the Mind

ARCHITECTS HAVE BEEN talking for years about “biophilic” design, “evidence based” design, design informed by the work of psychologists. But last May, at the profession’s annual convention, John Zeisel and fellow panelists were trying to explain neuroscience to a packed ballroom.

The late-afternoon session pushed well past the end of the day; questions just kept coming. It was a scene, Zeisel marveled—all this interest in neuroscience—that would not have taken place just a few years earlier.

Zeisel is a sociologist and architect who has researched the design of facilities for Alzheimer’s patients. Architects, he explains, “understand about aesthetics; they know about psychology. The next depth to which they can go is understanding the brain and how it works and why do people feel more comfortable in one space than another?” Continue reading…

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Monsters of the deep

These are amazing to look at… and perfect for creature design!

They look like monsters from another planet. But far from inhabiting some alien world light-years from ours, these frightening looking creatures exist at the bottom of Earth’s deepest oceans.

Astonishing new pictures of Polychaetes, or scale worms, show how they have evolved to survive the intense pressures more than 1,000 meters below the water’s surface, where the sun’s rays never penetrate.

And it is hoped discoveries from this region could help shed light on the possibility of life existing on other planets.

Evolution: The scale worms have evolved to withstand the harshest environments found anywhere on our planet Evolution: The scale worms have evolved to withstand the harshest environments found anywhere on our planet

Alien world: The conditions in the deep oceans have more in common with outer-space than planet EarthAlien world: The conditions in the deep oceans have more in common with outer-space than planet Earth

Details including their fearsome mouths that can turn inside-out, making it easier for them to snatch their prey, are revealed in a series of images just released by deep ocean researchers.

The creatures, which measure little more than two or three centimeters long, form part of an ecosystem that was unknown until 40 years ago.

But since the 1970s, developments in technology have allowed ever deeper exploration of our marine world, enabling scientists to revisit their ideas about the deep ocean floor.

Instead of a barren wasteland, they have discovered diverse communities of creatures that live on and around hydrothermal vents.

More popularly know as ‘smokers’, hydrothermal vents are cracks in the seafloor, usually found around quake zones, volcanoes and the edges of tectonic plates.

They release superheated water and a cocktail of chemicals that provide a home for creatures like the scale worms.

Similar hydrothermal vents are believed to exist no Jupiter’s moon Europa, and scientist speculate that they may once have occurred on Mars.

Fearsome: Scale worms have mouths which can turn inside out in order to help them catch their preyFearsome: Scale worms have mouths which can turn inside out in order to help them catch their prey

Scientists hope to learn about the potential for life on other planets by studying how these creatures have manged to thrive without relying on the sun's rays for energyScientists hope to learn about the potential for life on other planets by studying how these creatures have manged to thrive without relying on the sun’s rays for energy

Exploration: As scientists push further into the unknown regions of the deep ocean they turn up more extraordinary discoveriesExploration: As scientists push further into the unknown regions of the deep ocean they turn up more extraordinary discoveries

Scale worms crawl along the seafloor near to a vent, using their vicious-looking teeth to munch on the bacteria and simple organisms that thrive in the hot water and chemical soup.

The vent community gets its energy from chemistry rather than photosynthesis, since no light reaches the depths.

This leads to some bizarre relationships: the scale worms are hosts tosymbiotic bacteria that may be providing them with nutrients.

Some scientists believe that the worms may even rely on the bacteria to survive.

Their ability to exist in some of the harshest conditions known to man, makes scale worms fascinating to Daniel Desbruyeres, a senior researcher at I’lfremer, the French Research Institute for Exploration of the Sea.

He said: ‘The recent discoveries of hydrothermal vents have changed our views of the whole marine realm.

‘The deep sea realm is one of the most diverse habitats on Earth, yet our perception of it is still in its infancy.’

Survivors: The creatures can exists in both the extreme cold of the seabed, as well as super heated water found near the volcanic vents where water can be 375CSurvivors: The creatures can exists in both the extreme cold of the seabed, as well as super heated water found near the volcanic vents where water can be 375C

The images capture in extraordinary detail how the many different scale worms have evolved The images capture in extraordinary detail how the many different scale worms have evolved



Fear Helps You Appreciate Abstract Art, Study Finds

Article by Amy Lee @ the Huffington Post


The next time you’re having trouble appreciating Jackson Pollock, try seeing a horror movie first.

According to a new study, feeling fear may actually help people to better engage with abstract art.

In the study, which used 85 Brooklyn College students as a sample, participants were assigned randomly to one of five conditions: fear, happiness, high physiological arousal, low physiological arousal or a control group.

Fear was induced with a video of a screaming, zombie-like face, happiness with a clip of a baby and dog interacting, and high and low physiological arousal by having participants complete 30 or 15 jumping jacks, respectively. Participants were then shown four paintings by abstract artist El Lissitzky.

When results were tabulated, fear was the only factor shown to significantly increase the strength of viewers’ reactions to the art. “Art’s allure may… be a byproduct of one’s tendency to be alarmed by such environmental features as novelty, ambiguity, and the fantastic,” the study concluded.

“I wanted to focus on how our body literally shapes the way we think. The body is not just a vessel for the mind, it is the mind, it’s all the same stuff,” said Kendall Eskine, the study’s lead author, in an interview with The Huffington Post

Eskine, a research psychologist at Loyola New Orleans, is interested in the field known as embodied cognition, which explores the ways that physical states can influence the way that people think. Eskine is particular interested in how people process abstract concepts like beauty, truth, or morality.

One study in this field showed that participants holding a hot cup of coffee had more positive first impressions upon meeting a stranger than those holding a cold cup of coffee. Another study, run by Eskine, highlighted the connection between eating bitter food and increased feelings of moral disgust.

In the case of abstract art, Eskine explained, fear might stimulate viewers to the painting in front of them, in part because of the emotion’s evolutionary basis.

“When you’re in a fear state, it promotes fight or flight,” he said. “When you’re scared, [you focus on] the object that is involved in your fear state in a very special way. You couple the physical, visceral experience of fear with this object that has taken over your mental world — a way of describing the sublime.”

Eskine’s definition of the sublime is taken from 18th century philosopher Edmund Burke, who believed that a truly great work of art should inspire both fear and pleasure. Though 18th century philosophy might seem out of place in a contemporary psych study, taking old philosophical ideas and testing them with empirical evidence is one of Eskine’s passions.

“People for centuries have had provocative and interesting ideas and it doesn’t hurt to see if they work,” he said. “It’s a great way to disseminate information to people who aren’t scientifically trained.”

Eskine plans to continue researching different aspects of aesthetic experience, including dance, film, music, and more. In one recent project, which has not yet been published, Eskine had participants sit on the edges of their seat. Afterwards, they expressed “more excitement/anxiousness,” according to Eskine.

Eskine also pointed out that the results of his study could even be applied in reverse.

“Whenever you’re asking people to look at art, if they’re trying to get a sense of whether they like it, they could consider how it physically makes them feel and use that information as a cue to understand what it meant,” he said.

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DNA Robot Kills Cancer Cells: Device identifies target then releases deadly payload

I’m not sure why robots are in the air of late, but I found this veeeery interesting.

By Alla Katsnelson of Nature magazine

DNA origami, a technique for making structures from DNA, may be more than just a cool design concept. It can also be used to build devices that can seek out and destroy living cells. [View a “DNA Origami” Slide Show.]

The nanorobots, as the researchers call them, use a similar system to cells in the immune system to engage with receptors on the outside of cells.

“We call it a nanorobot because it is capable of some robotic tasks,” says Ido Bachelet, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, and one of the authors of the study, which is published in the February 17 issue of Science. Once the device recognizes a cell, he explains, it automatically changes its shape and delivers its cargo.

The researchers designed the structure of the nanorobots using open-source software, called Cadnano, developed by one of the authors–Shawn Douglas, a biophysicist at Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering. They then built the bots using DNA origami. The barrel-shaped devices, each about 35 nanometers in diameter, contain 12 sites on the inside for attaching payload molecules and two positions on the outside for attaching aptamers, short nucleotide strands with special sequences for recognizing molecules on the target cell. The aptamers act as clasps: once both have found their target, they spring open the device to release the payload.

“You can think about it as a sort of combination lock,” says Bachelet. “Only when both markers are in place, can the entire robot open.”

The researchers tested six combinations of aptamer locks, each of which were designed to target different types of cancer cells in culture. Those designed to hit a leukemia cell could pick that cell out of a mixture of cell types then release their payload–in this case, an antibody–to stop the cells from growing. They also tested payloads that could activate the immune system.

The work “takes us one more step along the path from the smartest drugs of today to the kind of medical nanobots we might imagine,” says Paul Rothemund, a computational bioengineer at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and inventor of DNA origami.

Right on target

Because the nanorobots can be programmed to release their payload only when the target cell is in the correct disease state, they achieve a specificity that other drug-delivery methods lack, says Hao Yan, a chemist and nanotechnologist at Arizona State University in Tempe. “This really takes advantage of the programmability of DNA nanotechnology.”

Whether or not these structures will work in a living organism remains to be seen. For one thing, they are designed to communicate with molecules on a cell’s surface. “If your therapeutic target is inside the cell, it’s going to be tricky,” says Bachelet.

What’s more, the nanorobots are quickly cleared by the liver or destroyed by nucleases, enzymes chew up stray bits of DNA. It might be possible to coat them with a substance such as polyethylene glycol, widely used to boost the length of time a drug can remain in the body, says Douglas, or “maybe to borrow inspiration from other biomolecules or cells”–such as red blood cells–“that can circulate in the blood for a long time”. He and his colleagues are just beginning to think about testing the nanobots in mice, he says.

“If these sorts of problems can be solved, then the nanorobots have a chance at becoming real therapeutics,” Rothemund says.

This article is reproduced with permission from the magazine Nature. The article was first published on February 16, 2012.

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Neuroscience: the new face of warfare

I find this scary and horrifying.

(Via Reuters) – Directed energy weapons that use wave beams to cause pain, and electrical brain stimulation that boosts a soldier’s combat ability – it may sound like science fiction warfare, but experts say advances in neuroscience mean it’s on the horizon.

Rapid progress in the ability to map brain activity and manipulate its responses with stimulants could change the face of warfare, a panel of experts said on Tuesday.

The experts, looking at the scope for neuroscience in future military conflict, said researchers on the cutting edge of medical science should remember that their work could have other, more harmful uses.

“We know neuroscience research has the potential to deliver great social benefit – researchers come closer every day to finding effective treatments for diseases and disorders such as Parkinson’s, depression, schizophrenia, epilepsy and addiction,” said Rod Flower, a professor of biochemical pharmacology at Queen Mary University of London, who led the panel.

“However, understanding of the brain and human behavior, coupled with developments in drug delivery, also highlight ways of degrading human performance that could possibly be used in new weapons.”

The report, published on Tuesday by the UK’s national academy of science, the Royal Society, was written by experts in neuroscience, international security, psychology and ethics.

It divided the issue of neuroscience in conflict and security into two main areas – the potential to enhance performance of military forces, and the potential to degrade or diminish the enemy’s performance.

Looking at performance enhancement, the report pointed to advances in neural interface technologies which could allow machines such as drone aircraft to be controlled directly with the human brain, and advances in neuroimaging which could help military chiefs screen for recruits with particular attributes.

“There is also a great deal of research taking place around drugs that improve the alertness, attention and memory of military personnel while in the field,” the report said.

The experts said it was in the interests of military commanders to screen for abilities relevant to a given task.

While one person may excel in detecting targets in a cluttered environment, they said, another might excel in decision making skills under stress, and advances in neuroimaging and brain stimulation techniques could help pinpoint these differences during screening and recruitment.

Irene Tracey, an expert on brain imaging from Oxford University and one of the report’s authors, said most of the applications of neural interface technology, such as brain prostheses or implants, have so far been only at the trial stage and mostly in medicine – particularly involving the rehabilitation of people using prosthetic limbs.

“You can imagine how you can be used for the military – both for rehabilitation of soldiers and for control of remote devices,” she told a briefing in London. “Some of it is the stuff of dreams at this stage, but the speed at which technologies tend develop … is always alarmingly quick.”


Flower gave an example of how an aircraft like a drone could be in future be controlled by a person with such brain implant – raising tricky ethical questions.

“This idea brings about a bit of a blur in the distinction between mind and machine, which obviously has to be addressed very carefully,” he said. “If we got to the point where we could control a sophisticated machine, and the machine did something … like committing a war crime of some sort, who would be responsible for that, you or the machine?”

The report also looked at neuroscientific applications that could give rise to new weapons – particularly advances in neuropharmacology and drug delivery that could speed the development of incapacitating chemical agents.

The report highlighted new so-called directed energy weapons in development, including one called an Active Denial System (ADS) which uses a millimeter wave beam to heat the skin and cause a painful burning sensation.

Malcom Dando, a professor of international security at the University of Bradford and another of the authors, said the changes neuroscience could bring about were mostly in the future, giving experts time to assess their impact.

“We’re only at the beginning of a whole stream of neuroscience applications, and that gives us a window of opportunity to weigh up the pros and cons,” he said.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

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The benefits of meditation – MIT News Office

Okay, I’ll admit I get completely geeky over findings about meditation practices, but check it out!

Studies have shown that meditating regularly can help relieve symptoms in people who suffer from chronic pain, but the neural mechanisms underlying the relief were unclear. Now, MIT and Harvard researchers have found a possible explanation for this phenomenon.

In a study published online April 21 in the journal Brain Research Bulletin, the researchers found that people trained to meditate over an eight-week period were better able to control a specific type of brain waves called alpha rhythms.

“These activity patterns are thought to minimize distractions, to diminish the likelihood stimuli will grab your attention,” says Christopher Moore, an MIT neuroscientist and senior author of the paper. “Our data indicate that meditation training makes you better at focusing, in part by allowing you to better regulate how things that arise will impact you.”

There are several different types of brain waves that help regulate the flow of information between brain cells, similar to the way that radio stations broadcast at specific frequencies. Alpha waves, the focus of this study, flow through cells in the brain’s cortex, where sensory information is processed. The alpha waves help suppress irrelevant or distracting sensory information.

Read more @ The benefits of meditation – MIT News Office.

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