Category Archives: Fascinating

Don’t Scratch That!

Do you remember when you were a little kid and you would be able to enjoy those beautiful summer nights of playing outside with your friends just long enough to steal the few remaining rays of light?  Remember how fun those nights were?  Yeah, I’m sure they were great… great until the mosqitoes came out.  All it took was one bite, one bite and your night was ruined.  You just wanted to scratch, but your mom told you not to.  I mean, what did she know?  She couldn’t have had any idea of the excrutiating annoyingness of that one bite.  Just.  One.  Scratch.

Now I’ve heard of a lot of different methods to keep your mind off of scratching.  I’ve heard of making a small X with your finger nail right on the spot, covering the spot with an array of dressings (from peanut butter to toothpaste), and trying to resqueeze out the stuff that the mosquito put in you.  I don’t know if any of those would actually work (or be any good for your peanut butter and jelly sandwiches), but I do know one way to fix this.

Your skin has a ton of receptors leading from pain, to heat, to stretch.  A lot of these receptors have common pathways leading to your brain.  So instead of focussing on how to get the bite from itching, you have to get your brain to stop thinking about the bite.  Alright, so how?  By rubbing the area around the mosquito bite, you’re activating a range of other receptors that are sending signals to the brain.  Ultimately, you’re confusing your own brain with this barrage of signals.  The brain is picking up the information from the (now slightly chapped) area instead of the irritating itch receptor.  Itching can actually damage the skin and open your body to easy access for bacteria and other nasty things you don’t want in you.

So next time you get that urge to scratch, just prove your superiority over your brain and trick it.  Rub the area instead of scratching.  Either that or take showers in mosquito repellent.


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.

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!

Momma always told me…

You can be whatever you want to be.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a hopeless optimist just like the next guy, but neuroscience has taught me to approach that statement with a skeptical V1 (the area where your eye projects in the brain).  Sometimes you just have to accept what you’re given.

Have you ever noticed professional athletic scouts filming possible recruits while they’re training?  What do you think they’re looking for?  Speed?  Vertical jump?  Which players eyes will match the color of their future uniforms?  They’re actually doing the next best thing to biopsying a chunk of the muscle to examine the size of the athlete’s axons.

There are two types of axons, fast and slow.  Fast fibers will allow an athlete to jump higher and sprint faster.  Likewise, slow fibers are better equipped for long distances.  So what would happen if a high jumper started adding long distance running into their exercise routine?  Sound like a good idea, right?  I mean, no one everyone loves running, right?  This would actually decrease the jumper’s vertical height.   Endurance training leads to an increase of the slower fibers synapsing onto the muscles.  That’s why you would want to make sure to keep your running distances short (high jump isn’t sounding so bad, now, is it?)

And although you can train to push your axons to favor one fiber over the other, some people are just born with it.  To quote Lady Gaga, “Baby, I was born this way.”  That’s why a lot of long distance runners are really skinny (besides their metabolic activities) they have the slower, smaller axons.  Fast axons used in strength training are a lot larger.   See, now don’t you feel better about yourself?  Don’t blame that cheesybread with the extra cheese dipping sauce, blame  your high jumping parents for endowing you with mad hops.

(alright, so that last part might be stretching it a little bit, but I’m just trying to give ya a little hope!)

“The Talk Show”