December 9, 2014

Colin Firth and the Slippery Slope of Scientific Authorship

Colin Firth CBE...PhD? Nicogenin (Flickr)
I’ve been in research for about seven years now. But if you search my name in PubMed, precisely one scientific paper will pop up—a manuscript published this past spring from my current group. I’m pretty far down on the author list, which reflects my contribution relative to my colleagues on this particular paper. While I helped with some of the writing, the data collection and most of the analyses were performed by others.

As you snuggle by the fire this holiday season to watch Love Actually, you should know that you’re also viewing the work of a published academic neuroscientist. That’s right—another PubMed search reveals that actor Colin Firth is cited on a 2011 brain imaging study in the journal Current Biology. 

And it doesn’t take an insecure graduate student like me to accuse Mr. Firth of not pulling all-nighters in the laboratory.

Authorship in science is tricky. In some laboratories, it’s a bit of a taboo topic. Ask your average scientist if they’ve witnessed abuses in authorship, and they’ll likely be brimming with stories for you—from people being “gifted” an authorship they don’t truly deserve, to hard-working (often junior) scientists being wrongly shafted by their colleagues. These stories are rarely discussed among labmates, and almost never between junior and senior investigators.

And then there are the extremes, like the 2001 Nature paper on the sequencing of the human genome boasting 2,900 authors and the 2012 paper detailing the Higgs boson, which cites a whopping 3,171 co-authors. Where exactly do we draw the line between who has made a meaningful contribution to a project and who is better suited for the “Acknowledgments” section?

November 28, 2014

Exposure to Different Forms of Violence Affects Kids’ Sleep Differently

I have a guest post today with the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog. The piece is based on a new study in the journal Sleep Medicine showing that children exposed to different forms of violence in their community are plagued with different types of disturbed sleep.
Two particular types of violence stood out to researchers in terms of their association with sleep disturbance. Controlling for relevant confounders (such as age, gender and family income), individuals who were physically assaulted had a shortened sleep duration (by 35 minutes on average), exhibited almost three times as much wake time after sleep onset, and 6 per cent lower sleep efficiency than kids who did not experience physical assault. These effects were also seen three months later at follow-up. 
On the other hand, children who witnessed a homicide had twice as much wake time after sleep onset, greater night-to-night variability in sleep duration, and more self-reported sleep problems than kids who had not witnessed a homicide. These findings, however, did not persist at follow-up.
Read more of the post here!

November 20, 2014

#SfN14 Day 5: Reflections on a Neuroscient-astic Week

This is the final post in my series on the 2014 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting. It's been fun! You can read other posts in this series here. I live-tweeted some sessions @GainesOnBrains. Re-live the experience by exploring the hashtag #SfN14.
Taking some time away from the hubbub (and
warmth, apparently) to sightsee.

What a week. Neuroscience 2014 was completely overwhelming, exhausting, inspiring, invigorating, and fruitful (I'm kind of sad that last one didn't end in "-ing"):

  • There were over 30,500 people in attendance on any given day, with over 15,000 abstracts presented as posters or oral presentations.
  • I don't think I attended a single talk that didn't have a line of latecomers waiting to get in.
  • ...and I saw Eric-freaking-Kandel strolling around casually in his signature bowtie while I sat on the steps waiting to meet some friends for dinner.

But I think my biggest "takeaways" from the meeting weren't necessarily from the scientific sessions. There is so, so much more that goes on behind the scenes at scientific conferences, and thanks to its titanic proportions, Neuroscience 2014 was certainly no exception.

Here are 3 things I learned from #SfN14:

#SfN14 Day 4: “It’s Not the Stress that Kills Us; It’s Our Reaction to It” –Hans Selye (Theme E)

This post is part of my series on the 2014 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting. You can read other posts in this series here. I’m also live-tweeting some sessions @GainesOnBrains. Join the conversation at #SfN14.

Day 4 winding down. You wanna know what a stressful situation is?
Being surrounded by 30,500+ people for five days. Whew!
For the most part, I like to think I handle stressful situations fairly well. I take a few deep breaths, tell myself the stressor is really not that big of a deal, then go find something else to do—like exercise or knitting.

The fact of the matter still holds, though: I’m a ruminator. As much as I try to escape, I can’t stop thinking about it if something’s bothering me. It affects my attention, what I eat, and how I sleep, to name a few.

The worst part is that all of this rumination is probably terrible for my cardiovascular health in the long-run. I try to adopt my positive coping mechanisms…but am I actually doomed?

Susan K. Wood of the University of South Carolina spoke on the role of stress and neuroinflammation in not only the susceptibility to depressive symptoms, but also how these symptoms translate to risks for cardiovascular disease. Wood was one of several speakers on Tuesday’s symposium focusing on resilience to stress.

November 18, 2014

#SfN14 Day 3: How to Effectively Communicate Your Science to the Public

This post is part of my series on the 2014 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting. You can read other posts in this series here. I’m also live-tweeting some sessions @GainesOnBrains. Join the conversation at #SfN14.

My positively GORGEOUS new cell scarf from Artologica (Michele Banks)!
Check out her Etsy store for this and other incredible art!
Talk about exhaustion. I didn’t get a chance to write yesterday because I was too busy meeting Internet friends at #sfnbanter. In case anyone was wondering, all the people on Twitter are real!

In sleep research, we have this term called “social jetlag.” It’s aptly named. I’m feelin’ it big time this morning.

Yesterday morning, I attended the professional development workshop called “How to Effectively Communicate Your Science to the Public.” Panelists included science communicator Elaine Snell, AAAS Director of Public Engagement Tiffany Lohwater, author Jane Nevins, and Columbia University professor and NeuWrite host Stuart Firestein.

Here are some tips and tricks that particularly stood out to me:

November 16, 2014

#SfN14 Day 2: On the Origin of Sex Differences in the Brain (Theme E)

This post is part of my series on the 2014 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting. You can read other posts in this series here. I’m also live-tweeting some sessions @GainesOnBrains. Join the conversation at #SfN14.

This is what a bunch of hungry neuroscientists look
like when it's 5pm and the poster session is over.
One of my mentors likes to occasionally tease me when I bring him data: “You’ve discovered something new. Men and women are different.”

He kids, of course. Male and female brains are different in funny and fascinating ways we don’t quite understand.  My poster (which I presented this afternoon) was on gender differences in the loss of slow-wave sleep across adolescence. I just had a paper accepted (today, actually!) on gender differences in some aspects of sleep apnea. (I could actually probably build a pretty successful career on studying gender differences in sleep alone, actually. If I wanted to.)

So I was very excited to attend Dr. Margaret (Peg) McCarthy’s talk on the origin of sex differences in the brain earlier this afternoon.

Let me get two things out of the way before I begin. First of all, I really admired Dr. McCarthy, who hails from the University of Maryland School of Medicine, for how she spoke about her past and present colleagues, giving credit where credit was due to previous labmates and graduate students. You don’t realize how few people do that until someone does it explicitly.

Secondly, McCarthy covered the history of research in sex differences in the most genius way possible: a parody of The Big Bang Theory theme song. Seriously—it was golden.

The simplistic view of biological sex differences goes a little something like this: an undifferentiated group of cells destined to become the gonads will, by default, be ovaries. But it’s the influence of the Y chromosome that gives half of our population testes. In this way, too, the “female brain” is the “default brain.”

#SfN14 Day 1: Tackling Difficult Mentor/Mentee Discussions

This post is part of my series on the 2014 Society for Neuroscience annual meeting. You can read other posts in this series here. I’m also live-tweeting some sessions @GainesOnBrains. Join the conversation at #SfN14.

Wearing lots of hats—er, ribbons—at this meeting.
Greetings from D.C.! It’s nearly midnight on Saturday and my stomach is exploding from this chocolate torte I decided would be a good idea after a giant plate full of ravioli.

It wasn’t a good idea, though. It was a GREAT idea.

This afternoon, I attended life coach Dr. Samantha Sutton’s interactive talk called "Mentor-Mentee Interaction: How to Have a Difficult Conversation." In the past, Dr. Sutton has presented this as a 10-week, 4-credit course at Stanford. I was pleasantly surprised to see what I believe were an equal number of students, postdocs, and professors in attendance.

When I typically think of preparing for a tough talk, a student approaching a professor comes to mind. My preparation strategy for things like this is usually: 1. Prepare what you’ll say; 2. Be disappointed by mentor’s response; and 3. Not know how to respond because I didn’t prepare for this response, and because I lack tact and self-confidence. Knowing I’m not alone, and that PIs struggle with this too, was reassuring to me.

Kudos to everyone for realizing that relationships in the workplace—and especially among extremely competitive and career-driven scientists—are really, really complex.

November 12, 2014

Gearing Up for #SfN14!

The letters "SfN" have become so ubiquitous in my world that I actually forget that most people don't know what they stand for!

Established in 1969 (happy 45th birthday!), SfN stands for the Society for Neuroscience, the world's largest organization of neuroscience researchers, with over 40,000 members representing 90 countries and 130 chapters worldwide.

Each year, SfN hosts the Neuroscience meeting, a huge (yes, HUGE) academic conference in a major city. 

This year's meeting, Neuroscience 2014, is in Washington, D.C., beginning this Saturday, November 15 and concluding on Wednesday, November 19.

Believe it or not, this'll be my first time attending.

Best of all, beyond all the diverse talks spanning research, outreach, and professional development I've got scribbled down in my planner, I have a few more things to look forward to.

October 29, 2014

This is Why There are So Many Defibrillators in Casinos

Gamblers beware. Nadavspi (Wikimedia Commons)
My brief experience in a casino was pretty typical, I’d say.

Flashing lights. The faint smell of booze. Not much chatter among patrons. The sounds of dice rolling, machines buzzing, and coins clanking. The same butts inhabiting the same stools for hours on end. Everything you see on TV or in the movies is fairly accurate, to my untrained eye.

But one thing I didn’t notice in either the movies or real life, likely due in part to the gaudy décor, was the abundance of defibrillators lining the walls.

While nearly as common as water fountains and restrooms in public spaces like schools, malls, and airports, automated external defibrillators (AEDs) have more recently taken up residence in a place that probably needs it most of all: the casino.

October 16, 2014

Why Do We Find it So Hard to Write About Ourselves?

Throes of Creation by Leonid Pasternak. Wikimedia Commons
For many students right now, an overwhelming mountain stands between them and the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. In this case, I’m not talking about Christmas—rather, I’m referring to the end of the Application Season.

Across the country, high school and college students are feverishly applying to institutions of higher education—doling out, on average, nine applications each. In order to afford the inevitable financial burdens to come, many are also toiling over scholarship applications in parallel. With competition for college admission at an all-time high, surely the perfect personal statement will make students stand out among their straight-A counterparts with glowing teacher recommendations.

But students aren't the only ones to bear the burden of seemingly endless applications; after all, the job market is tough too. More often than not, career-seekers find themselves face-to-face with blank computer screens in an attempt to pen one short masterpiece: the dreaded cover letter.

We’re experts on ourselves. So why do we find it so difficult to write about ourselves?

September 16, 2014

TEDMED Day 3: The Nature of People, the Peculiar, and the Pint-Sized

Bob Carey knows that laughter is the best medicine.
I was sad on the last day because a.) it was the last day, and b.) it started an hour earlier than Day 1 and by this point I was exhausted. (Exhaustion is the curse of the introvert who tries to put oneself out of their comfort zone by surrounding oneself with a thousand strangers for 10 hours a day). But as you can see from the picture on the right, it's clear that my spirits were lifted by midday.

Session 7: "Human Nature Inside and Out." This was a very diverse session addressing not just how can improve upon patient care by understanding human nature, but also how we can turn around our natural tendencies in the face of adversity.

The session opened with Julian Treasure, chairman of The Sound Agency, which advises businesses on how to design their buildings with sound in mind. Treasure gave some upsetting statistics: hospital noise has doubled in magnitude in the past 40 years; it's 12X louder during the day and 8X louder at night than recommended by the World Health Organization; and loudness is the #1 complaint of hospital patients in 2013. Treasure suggests hiring acoustic engineers, employing vibrating pagers and silent trolleys and footwear, and masking sound with white noise or music. Next, architect and scientist Mariana Figueiro spoke of the range of afflictions to which we're vulnerable when we don't get appropriate amounts of (blue!) light during the right time of day. Jeff Karp then spoke about his brilliant "bioinspired" technology, including how imitating spider webs improved adhesive tape for premature babies and how barbs, like on porcupine quills, are much better for the skin than tradition staples. Next, anesthesiologist Emery Brown gave us a primer on general anesthesia (which is not sleep!). It's actually, he says, a "drug-induced reversible coma," and different anesthetics have different signature EEG patterns. Neurosurgeon and researcher Uzma Samadani then spoke about her company Oculogica, which creates eye-tracking diagnostic technology to detect concussions and other brain injuries that do not show up on imaging. Finally, Debra Jarvis, the "irreverent reverend," spoke on the importance of finding meaning from crappy situations. She told us about a man with cancer who would go for his chemotherapy treatments alone. When Jarvis asked why he didn't bring anyone, he said he didn't have any friends. Once cancer-free, he vowed to find the meaning of friendship; when Jarvis attended his Christmas Eve party later that year, his house was packed to the brim.

September 14, 2014

TEDMED Day 2: Hijacking, Keeping Mum, and the Importance of R&R

I was particularly excited about Day 2. Not only did this day include some of the speakers that I was most looking forward to, but the session topics were relevant, I found, to both medical practice and the scientific method.

Progress on Andrew Rae's mural by Day 2.
Session 4: "Stealing Smart." This session described how one biological system can hijack another to assert its effects—and how we humans can take advantage of that for our own needs.

The session opened with cardiologist Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, who observed that vets were often treating animals with similar afflictions as humans—even mental illness. Natterson-Horowitz argues that studying behaviors and conditions like self-harm, infant neglect, and stress-induced heart failure in animals can improve our treatments in humans. Next up, economist Ramanan Laxminarayan discussed the worldwide problem of antibiotic resistance. Like the "drill, baby, drill mentality," we find alternatives when other antibiotics stop working; Laxminarayan proposes solutions comparable like emissions taxes and green energy subsidies. Drew Lakatos took the stage next, citing that 1/4th of people over age 65 who break their hip die within the next year. Lakatos created ActiveProtect, a sensor technology one wears around the pelvis and deploys like an airbag when it detects atypical human motion. We were then treated to the soulful sounds of jazz trumpeter Dominick Farinacci, who, in addition to his musical skill, shared stories of his mother's cancer treatment and playing for hospice patients. Neuroscientist Nora Volkow, Director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, spoke next, discussing her work on depletion of the dopamine D2 receptor in both drug addiction and obesity. Like "driving without brakes," she says, these conditions are not simply problems of self-control, as this dismisses the idea that a region of the brain is chronically malfunctioning. Last up, journalist Leslie Morgan Steiner told the story of Rhonda and Gerry, an infertile couple who chose surrogacy in India, which was 1/10th of the cost that it would have been in the U.S. Despite being so stigmatized here—by conservatives and feminists alike—the business is thriving abroad thanks to "medical tourism." We were lucky to be introduced to Rhonda, Gerry, and their three little miracles onstage.

September 12, 2014

TEDMED Day 1: Uncertainty, Amazingness, and Upside-Down-ness

TEDMED curator Jay Walker interviews NIH Director Francis Collins (L).
TEDMED D.C. kicked off wordlessly on Wednesday with skilled acrobatics by a pair from the Art of Motion Dance Theater hailing from New York, followed by a soulful performance by Jordanian singer Farah Siraj, who led us on an international musical journey with her talented back-up band.

Session 1: "Turn it Upside Down." This session had us re-thinking what we currently know (or thought we knew) about current medical dogma and approaches to healthcare.

The session opened with science journalist Sonia Shah challenging us to re-think our current paradigms of disease origin and treatment. Did you know that opossums can destroy up to 6,000 ticks per week simply through grooming? Yet our desire to rid of these pests may be hindering our ability to control Lyme disease. This was just one of many examples given. Next up, Eleanor Bimla-Schwarz from U.C. Davis discussed a hidden risk for heart disease: not breastfeeding your child in the weeks and months after giving birth. Sure, doctors can prescribe the usual regimen to prevent or treat heart disease: clean up your diet and exercise more. But without this key preventative, Bimla-Schwarz says that there are an additional 14,000 heart attacks, 54,000 medications prescribed, and billions of dollars spent needlessly every year. Actor and playwright Heather Raffo took to the stage next as "Somora," a 9-year-old Iraqi girl detailing her feelings of oppression during war and misunderstandings with her family. Doctor Danielle Ofri from Bellevue Hospital spoke next, revealing a medical error that she kept secret for 25 years: she missed an intracranial bleed in a patient (that, luckily, a resident caught). The current culture has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to medical error, but Ofri argues that we should speak openly about and accept these errors as part of human nature. Finally, Ted Kaptchuk of Harvard and director of the Program in Placebo Studies described noticing, strangely, how patients' mobility seemed to return once he wrote them a prescription. In a series of experiments, he detailed how placebos can, in some cases, be just as effective as a drug for subjective alleviation of symptoms.

September 11, 2014

Reflections on TEDMED D.C., 2014: The Big Picture

There's a BLOGGING LOUNGE! So obviously I'm here.
Greetings from TEDMED 2014! I type this at The Hive surrounded by the hub-bub, brilliant minds, and countless coffee stations that could only power an event this stimulating. I'm currently eating a Kind bar, chillin' in the Blogging Lounge (yeah, that's a thing here), and keeping an ear open for when I'll be called to get lunch at an event they call TableTalk. There's also a nap station which, as a sleep scientist, I wholeheartedly endorse.

We're here at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., and today, this 13th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, is particularly humbling for me for many reasons. My wonderful college friend (and wedding officiant) Jessie has agreed to put up with me for a few days at her house. I'm waking up before the sun to experience the bustle and confusion that is a weekday morning on the D.C. Metro.

And I'm only here in the first place thanks to the generous support of TEDMED's Global Partners and Patrons, as I've received a full Front Line Scholarship to be here. There's no way I would have been able to afford TEDMED otherwise, and I thank them graciously for their financial support.

We're streaming live in over 140 countries, with 7,000 affiliates and 200,000 watching at home. For the first time, TEDMED is also being held across the country at The Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, and occasionally we'll check in with them to get a glimpse of what they're up to or watch some of their speakers. But I can attest that being at TEDMED is a much different experience than watching a TED talk while lounging in bed with an iPad. The talks are only a small percentage of the day's events; there are plenty of opportunities for networking, meeting the speakers, checking out new start-ups, connecting with extremely diverse folks from all over the world, and good food. Really good food.

In a parallel post, I'll give a snapshot of each talk we've seen here, giving a particular focus to speakers that had the biggest impression on me. Regardless of the breadth of attendees' ("Delegates") careers here (doctors, scientists, students, health consultants, CEOs of biotech companies, and everyone in between), each speaker's message is relevant to everybody in some way.

I can only do so much in a blog post, but please don't hesitate to contact me through e-mail or Twitter if you'd like to hear a more informal account about my experience here at TEDMED. The theme of TEDMED this year is "Unlocking Imagination," and the fact that I'm even here at all is beyond my wildest imagination.

Click below for a few more pictures from my first day at TEDMED:

September 5, 2014

Why Does Hershey’s New Logo Look Like the Poo Emoji? Neuroscience Explains.

I live in the city of Hershey, the "Sweetest Place on Earth." I’m surrounded by references to chocolate everyday—from the smell of it in the air to Kiss-shaped streetlamps to chocolate-brown paved roads. It’s a pretty sweet life.

The Hershey Co.
So when The Hershey Company unveiled their new logo (above) last Thursday, I didn’t find anything unusual about it.

That is, of course, until the Internet began comparing it to the poo emoji, popularized by Apple.  Even after seeing the comparison, I still didn’t know what the big stink was about, so to speak.

Why did some people immediately see a big, steaming turd when, obviously, it’s supposed to be a drop of chocolate topped with the iconic Kiss flag? Actually, understanding the cognitive processes behind visual recognition can explain everything from Hershey Kiss poop emojis to why we perceive animals in clouds and Mother Mary’s face in a piece of toast.

August 6, 2014

3 Ways to Thrive at Work When Times Flies Faster Every Year

With our packed, non-stop schedules—career, family, chores, errands, and sleep (if we’re lucky)—everyone really wants to know one thing: How can we make our workdays fly by, and our time off stretch out luxuriously?

TED's partner site Return on Ideas asked me to write about the topic of my TED@NYC talk last month—why we perceive time flying faster as we get older—and give it a spin on our work life and career prospects.

You can read the piece here!

July 17, 2014

Lucy is Wrong; We Use Way More Than 10% of Our Brains

Scarlett Johansson as Lucy; Fandango
“It is estimated most human beings only use ten percent of their brain’s capacity,” lectures Professor Norman, played by actor Morgan Freeman, in the trailer for the new thriller Lucy. “Imagine if we could access 100 percent. Interesting things begin to happen.”

I know I haven’t earned my Ph.D. yet, Professor, but I beg to differ. You see, we all access 100% of our brains every day. And we don’t have to be telekinetic or memorize an entire deck of cards to do it.

In the film, which opens next Friday, Scarlett Johansson’s character Lucy is forced to work as a drug smuggler in a Taiwanese mob. The drug they’ve implanted into her body leaks into her system, allowing her to “access 100%” of her brain. Among other things, Lucy can move objects with her mind, choose not to feel pain, and memorize copious amounts of information.

In a way, the idea that we only use 10% of our brains is rather inspiring. It may motivate us to try harder or tap into some mysterious, intact reservoir of creativity and potential. There are even products that promise to unlock that other 90%.

As ludicrous as the claim is, however, 2/3 of the public and half of science teachers still believe the myth to be true. The notion is so widespread that when University College London neuroscientist Sophie Scott attended a first aid course, her instructor assured the class that head injuries weren’t dangerous because “90% of the brain [doesn’t] do anything.”

June 13, 2014

Tracy Morgan's Accident Tells Us What We Already Know about Drowsy Driving

David Shankbone, Wikimedia Commons
The National Sleep Foundation has done a great job of terrifying citizens since the 1990s with its annual Sleep in America poll results. In 2005, 60% of adult drivers in the U.S. reported that they’d driven a vehicle while drowsy in the past year, and 37% said they had actually fallen asleep at the wheel. Startlingly, 11 million drivers (4% of the population) admitted to an accident or near-accident from actually dozing off at the wheel.

The outrage surrounding “30 Rock” comedian Tracy Morgan’s crash over the weekend is for good reason.

Kevin Roper, whose Wal-Mart truck struck Morgan’s limousine bus on the New Jersey Turnpike early Saturday morning, had reportedly not slept for over 24 hours when the crash occurred. As of Wednesday, Roper denied these claims, pleading not guilty during his arraignment. The multi-vehicle crash killed comedian James McNair and critically injured several others.

Driving while sleep-deprived is such a terrible idea that it begs the question of why anyone would attempt it in the first place. But indeed, while study after study confirms that Americans are sleepier than ever before, nearly one in 10 of us also commutes an hour or more to work everyday. Add in the stress of finances, parenting, maintaining a social life, and trying to fit in a few minutes of exercise. It’s hardly surprising that drowsy driving is commonplace.

May 28, 2014

Does Childhood Stress Explain Why Harry Potter Was So Short for His Age?

Warner Bros.
“Perhaps it had something to do with living in a dark cupboard, but Harry had always been small and skinny for his age…[he] had a thin face, knobbly knees…and wore round glasses held together with a lot of Scotch tape because of all the times Dudley had punched him on the nose.”

And so we are introduced to The Boy Who Lived, the Chosen One—the famous Harry Potter. His seven books have been translated into 73 different languages and sold over 450 million copies worldwide.

But readers wouldn’t guess, after author J.K. Rowling’s introduction of Harry in Chapter 2, that the orphaned boy would be the one to defeat the powerful and devastating Dark Lord Voldemort. Snubbed by his only remaining family, bullied by his cousin and classmates, and residing in the cupboard under the stairs, Harry is short, skinny, and totally non-threatening.

And it’s clear to us why. His Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, and cousin Dudley Dursley—to whom he was passed as an infant after the death of his parents— ensure that he’s properly malnourished at all times. After spending a day cleaning the Dursleys’ entire house and doing yardwork in the blazing July heat (on his 12th birthday, no less), Aunt Petunia prepares for Harry “two slices of bread and a lump of cheese” before sending him off to hide during their dinner party with the Masons. It’s no wonder he’s so small for his age.

But perhaps something other than the physical abuse held back his growth, too. Beyond the malnourishment, it’s possible that Harry Potter suffered from something similar to what is known as psychosocial short stature.

April 11, 2014

A Mad Man, Indeed: Don Draper on the Couch

When last we saw our fearless antihero, Don Draper, he was standing face-to-face with his crumbling, dilapidated childhood home. Surprisingly, his three children were by his side as he took these first tentative steps towards admitting his past life. In the episode's final moments, he shared a knowing glance with his oldest (and somewhat estranged) daughter, Sally.

In Season 7 of Mad Men, which launches this Sunday on AMC, we hope for some closure on the real Don Draper and the secret life he created for himself.

Draper was named #1 Most Influential Man by online magazine Ask Men in 2009 (ahead of real people, mind you), and Comcast has christened him one of TV's Most Intriguing Characters.

And rightfully so. Draper is the perfect character study for Drama 101, introduced to us in 1960 as the dapper, charming creative director for the fictional NYC advertising firm Sterling Cooper.

But as the series unfolds, it’s hard to ignore Don’s cynicism, arrogance, and womanizing tendencies. He drinks and smokes too much. He’s cheated on both of his wives (many, many times). He's left his children home alone (to deal with an intruder, no less), and Sally once caught him having sex with a neighbor. And let's not forget that he was basically fired in the last episode.

But perhaps most telling is that Don Draper's name is actually Dick Whitman, a Korean war deserter who switched Lt. Donald H. Draper’s dog tags with his own and created a new life for himself.

We love him. We hate him. And we definitely don’t understand him. Many questions remain, but perhaps the most puzzling of all is simply: who is Don Draper, and why is he the way he is?

March 11, 2014

Why We're Wired to Binge-Watch TV

In this day and age of microblogging, distracting smartphones, 140-character tweets, and compulsive multitasking, it seems a little backward that one of the top post-workday hobbies of young folks is to become completely engrossed in the complicated storylines of Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, and House of Cards for hours on end.

A new type of consumer has evolved in recent years—the love child of the Couch Potato and the Channel Surfer, raised by streaming devices and nurtured by entire seasons of shows available at the click of a remote.

For just a few dollars a months, subscribers to Netflix, Hulu Plus, and Amazon Instant Video have access to thousands of streaming movies and TV shows updated regularly. And with Netflix’s new post-play feature, which prompts viewers to play the next episode just as the credits of the last one begin rolling, it’s easier than ever to succumb to the captivating lure of Walter White and Frank Underwood.

Indeed, the birth of the “binge-watcher” has been an intriguing, unexpected development in the past five years. Neuroscience, it turns out, can partially explain the phenomenon.

March 2, 2014

Internet Trolls are also Real-Life Trolls

Have you ever been minding your business on the Internet when a "troll" comes around just in time to ruin your day?

Sure, they're super annoying to deal with, and the anonymity of the Internet provides the perfect playground to hone their skills.

But a new study sheds light on the personality of The Troll. Indeed, they're real-life sadists and truly gain pleasure from their online antics.

Read more at my latest piece with The Guardian here!

February 18, 2014

Why Don't Figure Skaters Get Dizzy?

If you've been faithfully watching the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, you've probably found yourself asking the question, "Don't those figure skaters get dizzy?"

Well, the truth is: yes, they do.

But what causes dizziness, and, most importantly, how do figure skaters seem to recover from it so well? As it turns out, they've got some tricks up their sheer, sequined sleeves.

Check out my latest piece with NBC News Health to learn more here!

February 6, 2014

Love, Love Medulla: The Neuroscience of Beatlemania

The term “Beatlemania” has come to be associated with many things over the past half-century.

Coined in October 1963 during the Beatles’ tour of Scotland, the extent of Beatlemania in the United States is obvious by record sales alone. Between the 1964 release of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on the Billboard Hot 100 and the Let it Be EP in 1970, the Lads from Liverpool had a Number One single for, on average, one out of every six weeks, and the top-selling album once every three weeks.

But to most, “Beatlemania” incites a vivid image of frenzied fans, predominantly teenage girls, looking as though they’ve just witnessed a gruesome murder. Fat buttons proclaiming “I LOVE GEORGE” adorn cardigan sweaters, hanging on for dear life as their owners attempt to push past overwhelmed human police barricades. Nurses stand at the ready, armed with smelling salts and ready to rouse the next fainting victim. Lots of tears. Lots of screaming.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of John, Paul, George, and Ringo’s first U.S. appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show this Sunday, we can’t help but look back and laugh nostalgically. Just what was it about the moptop haircuts, Cuban heels, and “yeah yeah yeah”s that turned us, our parents, or our grandparents into primeval beings whose sole purpose was to drown out the blare of a Vox AC30 amplifier?

As it turns out, neuroscience can (partially) explain the phenomenon.

January 28, 2014

Brain-Training Apps: Neuroscience, or Pseudoscience?

I’m not old by any means, but I’ve become a little more forgetful lately.

This morning I poured myself a thermos of coffee and left for lab, abandoning it on the kitchen counter. I nearly forgot about the paper I had to review this week until I saw the deadline looming on my desk calendar. And I didn’t remember my friend’s birthday until logging into Facebook—and I’m always the one people rely on to remember birthdays.

I sure could use a little memory boost. Unfortunately, despite the growing popularity of brain-training apps and programs like Lumosity, CogniFit, CogMed, and Jungle Memory, I’m not going to find any help here.

They're totally bogus, you see.