June 19, 2013

LEGO Faces are Getting Angrier; So What?

Transport yourselves back to sprawling across the living room floor—colored blocks scattered like confetti about the carpet—building the highest towers and fattest spaceships (without directions, of course), all the while ignoring your parents' yelps as they step on a rogue piece.

There's nothing quite like LEGO.

And certainly there's nothing quite like those ubiquitious yellow, blocky LEGO faces.

But a piece in The Daily Mail last week cites that "LEGO faces are getting angrier," and that this may, in turn, "be harming children's development."

Christopher Bartneck, of the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, will be presenting his findings at the First International Conference on Human-Agent Interaction in Japan this August. The central theme of the conference will explore how humans interact with objects that represent different personalities.

Whoa whoa whoa...let's slow down a bit. Perhaps LEGO faces have indeed become angrier—and more disdainful, more fearful, more smug—since their 1975 debut. But is it actually affecting the emotional and mental well-being and learning of a developing child?

June 5, 2013

Tone deafness and the brain

Hiya, brainiacs!

I've been having a crazy, exhausting, educational, and whirlwind week in Baltimore for the SLEEP2013 annual conference. Check out the Twitter hashtag #sleep2013 for real-time updates. Wednesday is the final day!

In the meantime, I'm over at NBC's The Body Odd blog today exploring a recent study on the neuroanatomical differences between amusics (tone-deaf individuals) and normal controls.

The authors found differences in short-term memory, electrical currents, and white-to-gray matter ratios in the two groups.

Check it out here!

June 2, 2013

Sound it out: Do you "see" or "hear" words you have to spell?

I have an extraordinarily intelligent friend. Halfway through veterinary school, she's a hard worker, an avid reader, and scores highly on standardized and academic exams. She excels at what she does, and I've met few other people in life with her brand of outstanding dedication and commitment.

But there is one feature about her that is so strangely unexpected—so strikingly opposite her accomplishments—to the point where it's just comical.

She can't spell to save her life.

Now don't get me wrong. The spellcheck has saved me more times than not, and while I'm no Arvind Mahankali (13-year-old New York native who just won Thursday night's 2013 Scripps National Spelling Bee; seen above competing in 2011), I never had too much difficulty remembering how to spell words that I'd read. What do we know about spelling, and why are some of our most brilliant peers some of the greatest misspellers out there?