February 26, 2012

Seeing into the future? The neuroscience of déjà vu

Even the most rational of us experience it: you'll be chatting with friends or exploring a place you've never been when suddenly a feeling washes over you: you've experienced this exact moment before. The familiarity is overwhelming, and it shouldn't be familiar at all. The sensation becomes stronger before ebbing, then completely leaves, all within a matter of seconds. Had you predicted the future? Yet, chances are, you can't pinpoint exactly when you'd experienced that premonition before.

Déjà vu is a French term that literally means "already seen" and is reported to occur in 60-70% of people, most commonly between the ages of 15 and 25. The fact that déjà vu occurs so randomly and rapidly—and in individuals without a medical condition—makes it difficult to study, and why and how the phenomenon occurs is up to much speculation. Psychoanalysts may attribute it to wishful thinking; some psychiatrists cite mismatching in the brain causing us to mistake the present for the past. Still, parapsychologists may even believe it is related to a past-life experience. So what do we know for certain about what happens during an episode of déjà vu?

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February 15, 2012

This is what a scientist looks like!

When I was in 4th grade, my classmates and I each had to create a biographical book about our past and make goals for our future. One page in our books prompted, "When I am 25..." and left some space for a drawing.

I wrote, "When I am 25, I will be a successful scientist." I drew myself with chin-length blonde hair (which I currently have), wearing glasses (which I sometimes wear), donning a white lab coat (occasionally) and holding a test tube with fizzy green liquid contents (eh...). A speech bubble emanates from my smiling mouth and declares, "I have discovered a substance!" (which, let's face it, I'll probably never say).

We are driven by this stereotype of the "mad scientist," usually an older white man with too little hair, or too much hair in all the wrong places, examining something small in a test tube/Petri dish/microscope, pen in breastpocket and goggles nearby. The Scientist is "smart," "nerdy," and "boring." And, obviously, they work in a starch-white lab. This is a screenshot I took of the first page when I Google Image-searched "scientist":

That's what makes the new This Is What a Scientist Looks Like project is so exciting, and my post is up today! Scroll through the site, and within seconds you'll see tattooed, pink-haired, adventure-seeking, normal-looking people; parents, grad students, professors; sporting anything from pipettes to dead fish; from the bench to the field, mountaintop to the Arctic.

Scientists look—and are—just like everybody else. I suggest you all check out the site and, if you're also lucky enough to call yourself a "scientist," submit your own entry!

February 14, 2012

Your love is my drug

For our first Valentine's Day a few years back, my boy got me chocolate brains!

Not only does he know me extremely well, but he also had it right—love originates in the brain, not the heart.

But what exactly is going on between the ears when those warm and fuzzy feeling wash over us? A new study out just in time for Chocolate Day reveals that love actually acts like an addictive drug.

Hmmm, it seems that Ke$ha also got it right...

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