Monthly Archives: March 2011

Neurological Development of Laughter

I was watching this youtube video the other day and it got me thinking.

Why was this baby laughing so much and then so scared?  I mean, I understand that kids can be afraid of the boogey monster, but I thought this might have been taking it a little far.  There is a look of shear terror on this child’s face.  When was the last time that you’ve been that scared?  Or for that matter, been that happy?  This apparent range of emotions was intriguing.

So what’s actually going on?  According to Discovery Health, researches have already used an EEG to measure the brain waves stimulated during laughter.  They reported:

  • The left side of the cortex (the layer of cells that covers the entire surface of the forebrain) analyzed the words and structure of the joke.
  • The brain’s large frontal lobe, which is involved in social emotional responses, became very active.
  • The right hemisphere of the cortex carried out the intellectual analysis required to “get” the joke.
  • Brainwave activity then spread to the sensory processing area of the occipital lobe (the area on the back of the head that contains the cells that process visual signals).
  • Stimulation of the motor sections evoked physical responses to the joke.
  • They Hypothalamus (what I do my pain research on) has been seen as the major contributor to loud, uncontrollable laughter.

Lawrence Kutner, a psychologist teaching at Harvard Medical School, explains that the humor that this baby might be experiencing can be compared to the developmental problems that the baby is currently facing.  Like when kids are learning how to move onto “big-boy” underwear and they still find jokes about the toilet so funny they wet their pants.

Even if we don’t know the exact mechanism as to why we might find blowing someones nose extremely scary or belly-splitting funny, we can all agree on one thing: that baby is darn cute.

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I am neuroscience. And you can, too!

What does it mean to be a neuroscientist?  Does it mean you perform brain surgery on a day by day basis?  Does it mean that you can diagnose every aspect associated with the brain?  Does it mean that people will believe that you’re most likely the smartest person alive?

All the answers to these questions are no (except the last one, but I mean, you don’t have any control over what other people think of you…).  Neuroscience is so much more than McDreamys and Frankensteins. In fact, neuroscience is more than just the brain.

When I tell people that I’m a neuroscientist, the most common reaction is, “Wow, you must be really smart.”  And although the compliment is extremely flattering, neuroscience is just like any other profession that people can specialize in.  I’m just lucky that I find the nervous system really interesting.

Neuroscience is everything related to the nervous system.  That means your eyes,your ears, your mouth and nose (where have I heard that before?)   Anything with perception or feeling can be traced back to neuroscience.  Really, anything and everything can be traced back to neuroscience.

When you take a look at it, everyone experiences neuroscience on a daily basis.  So, I guess we’re all neuroscience experts!  (And then everyone can have puppies and world peace.)

I wish this blog were more interesting…

I know, I know.  That’s exactly what I’ve been saying the whole time.  I’m right there with ya!

So what do you want to see?  Make sure to comment and tell me what you want to learn more about.  Here are some of the next few blog posts coming up:

1. This is your brain on Disney

2.  The neurological origin of laughter

3. Telecommunication: Will we ever understand Twitter?

4. What’s that Lassie, Benny just read Mindless Science? Animal Communication and Neuroscience

5. The creation of the super-awesome-mind-controlled-mega robot.

Stay tuned for new blog posts!

 

The neuropsychological benefits of Jersey Shore

Have you ever had a rough day at work and then just decided to treat yourself to multiple hours of reality TV with your best friends, Ben and Jerry?  What about those days from H-E-double hockey sticks that makes you want to go out to the bar and grab a drink?  Are these just methods for you to relax or are they neurological functions that are being expressed after strenuous activity?

In my last post, I talked about having the free will to do what you want to do.  This week, Jonah Lehrer from WIRED talked about where bad moods come from.  He explained that an urge to indulge at the end of the day is from a psychological condition known as ego depletion.  Ego depletion occurs after continuous self-control.  So if you’re working really hard all day, this gives you the want to treat yourself right.  I mean, you’re worth it, right?

Having more self control can lead to becoming irritable more easily.  Current research shows that when given the choice between a chocolate bar and an apple, the subjects who chose the apple were more likely to watch movies (Anger Management compared to Billy Madison) often associated with anger.  

But the real problem with this study is two-fold.  Anyone who would ever choose an apple over a bar of chocolate has serious psychological issues in the first place.  Moreover, let’s take a step back and examine their choice in movies.  Anger Management?  Billy Madison?  Who conducted this study?  Middle school boys?

All in all, we can still learn something from this.  We can learn that ‘giving in’ to the cast of Jersey Shore each night could have beneficial affects on your neuropsychological being by freeing up ‘will power’ for when you might actually need it.  Looks like it’s T-Shirt Time!

Who’s in control here?

Have ever wondered if you’re in control of your own actions?  This weeks post dives into the Supplementary Motor Area to try and answer this question.

 

Right, right?

I just posted a new page giving some brief information about the field of neuroscience.  Make sure to check it out!  In the video, I talk a little about how signals from your brain cross over to control opposite sides of your body.

But what happens when the right side of your brain has to control your left hand to decide that the left hand on the screen is facing downwards in a typical right hand position?  Yeah, I’m confused, too.  Check out this cool game that will give your brain a little practice on the power of perception.

Brain Game

(And thanks to the good people over at Body In Mind for the find!)

L is for the way you look at me, O is for oxytocin…wait, what?

Thanks to my friends over at Scientific American for this excellent display of your “brain on love.”

It’s  comforting to know that our obsessive behaviors while dating can be traced back to the neurochemical balances in our brains.

Now I just wonder if this would be the same image for “This is your brain on a sandwich.”