November 28, 2011

The neuroscience of "Christmas Shoes"

Sir, I wanna buy these shoes for my mama, please. It's Christmas Eve and these shoes are just her size. Could you hurry, sir? Daddy says there's not much time...

This little gem by New Song permeates the airwaves each year around this time, igniting tears and snickers alike in its listeners.

We all know why the man agrees to buy the shoes for the boy—I mean, "his clothes were worn and old, he was dirty from head to toe." But how much would he be willing to part with for this anonymous child—$20? $30? $100?

According to a study, the sadder the man, the more he would be willing to pay.

November 17, 2011

Lunacy by the full moon-acy: Is it real?

When I was in elementary school, my teacher told my class that the full moon makes people crazy.

She said it was caused by the gravitational tug of the moon on the Earth—the same forces that cause high and low tides—the argument being that our bodies are more than 60% water.

I was impressionable and fascinated by weird science—who isn't at that age?—and have long since stored that "fact"oid in my ever-developing hippocampus. The full moon last week (which, not to mention, was GINORMOUS—did anyone else notice?) reminded me of this theory and made me want to do a little research of my own.

Does the full moon really do something to our brains?

November 15, 2011

Mirror mirror on the wall, relieve me of pain once and for all

A very exciting event is happening as I type this: Neuroscience 2011, the annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience.

This nerd-tastic event attracts a bevy (over 30,000, to be more precise) of the best and brightest in brain research under one roof once a year. This year's meeting is in Washington, D.C. Unfortunately for me, I am not in attendance; but fortunately for myself and, hopefully, my readers, new research radiating from this meeting gives me some great material to share.

On Saturday, the first day of the meeting, a new study was described that involves tricking arthritis sufferers with mirrors to alleviate their pain. Wait—what? Mirrors?

November 5, 2011

Hippocampus (or should I say, elephant-campus)

I am always in awe of "unlikely animal friends," and there are plenty of these videos on YouTube from which to enjoy. This CBS Evening News Assignment America particularly interested me:

Steve Hartman has reported two follow-ups since this 2009 feature about an unlikely friendship between Tarra the elephant and Bella the dog. The latest, which I caught when aired two nights ago, was heartbreaking, but extraordinarily fascinating. Sadly, Bella was killed by what appeared to be a coyote attack on October 26. When the location of the attack was pinpointed, the blood on Tarra's trunk made it evident that the elephant had carried her friend a mile back to the house. Tarra is now showing all the signs of depression—her fellow elephant friends at the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, TN have been reaching out to her, spending more time with her and offering her their food. Nothing short of amazing, right?

November 3, 2011

Goodbye, sun. Hello, confused suprachiasmatic nucleus!

In my book, Ben Franklin is the man. An expert swimmer, self-taught pentaglot, and inventor of the "glass harmonica," he was also among the first to suggest the notion of Daylight Savings Time. A 1784 essay by Franklin suggested that an extra hour of daylight in the evening would save on candles.

I love that extra hour. As a kid during the summertime, it meant my brother and I could play our aptly-named "Kick the Ball" game in the yard after dinner. Nowadays, it means I can see where I'm going when I walk home from an afternoon in lab.

The end of Daylight Savings Time (which occurs at 2 a.m. this Sunday) means an end to all that, and the beginning of—well, winter. And winter is...cold. So very cold...

For most of us, changing our clocks back an hour is no big deal—in fact, it has its perks over "spring forward" in that we get an extra hour of sleep. But for others, changing the time can have a big impact on our circadian rhythm.