Brain Function Articles

Tetris, Take Me Away!

Monday, February 21st, 2011

I’m into Sock Dye these days, a Facebook game that gives you a certain number of clicks to turn a field of socks all the same color. I play a couplafew games of Sock Dye every few hours during the day, and at night I wind down with Sock Dye and Jon Stewart.

I’ve been through a Freecell phase, a Word Drop phase, and Tetris is a longtime favorite. My husband has called it “sorbet for the mind,” which seems a perfect description. Some time with these games leaves me feeling calm and refreshed.

I also like them while I’m on the phone. I’m introverted and kinda ADD and not a fan of the phone. I have a hard time keeping my busy mind focused on a disembodied voice. Keeping half my mind engaged with an easy game actually helps me pay better attention to the call.

These games are powerful stuff, and it’s not all bad.

Carrying a Torch? Here Are Words That Should Douse It

Monday, February 14th, 2011

Photo by Stephen Klein via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Love is a beautiful thing except when it isn’t.

Most people, when they realize a relationship isn’t working, go through a period of mourning and move on. Then there are the torch carriers—people who pine long past the point of good sense. People who can’t let go even after they’ve been rejected. I know about them. I’ve been there and I’ve done some casual research on the subject that I’ll share with you.

Torch carrying feels like OCD—in fact, researchers have found that low levels of serotonin are linked to depression, addiction, OCD…and the first thrilling, obsessive stage of love. Is torch carrying a plunge of serotonin that gets stuck, like a toilet tank that won’t refill, causing that endless, irritating sound of rushing water?

And addiction sounds right, too–which is why cold turkey is probably the best way for torch carriers to end a relationship. It works for smoking, drinking, and drugs. Being friends is probably just methadone; you have to kick that eventually, too.

Babies Have to Get Their Way Somehow

Monday, February 7th, 2011

New research indicates that babies understand social dominance related to size. Scientists discovered this by showing babies two cartoons in which two blocks with faces come face-to-face. In one cartoon, the smaller block defers to the larger block and steps aside, in the other the larger block steps aside. The babies looked longer at the cartoon in which the large block defers to the small, which indicates that they were surprised by this turn of events.

There’s something almost scary to me about this image of babies gazing thoughtfully at the small block in charge. We seem to learn something new every day about babies’ capacity for understanding, so I imagine gears cranking furiously as the babies considered the possibility that they are more powerful than they realized. Were they just showing interest or were they planning a coup?

What Is the Opposite of Writing?

Monday, January 31st, 2011

Is knitting the opposite of writing?

Not that I am in the habit of turning to semi-obscure TV sitcom stars for wisdom, but I once found in the newspaper a quote from Jenna Elfman that struck me as so wise, I clipped it and kept it over my desk for years.

Guru Elfman said, “Do other things. I don’t just act. It starts to feel like you’re digging into an open wound when you do the same thing all the time. It becomes achy, sore, and tiresome.”

Baby on Stage: Music, Performance, and the Infant Brain

Monday, January 24th, 2011

Photo by karschsp via Flickr (Creative Commons).

The other night I went to see a very entertaining jazz/swing band called the Jitterbug Vipers.

Adding to the fun, singer Sarah Sharp wore her five-month-old son, Angus, in a wrap carrier while she performed. Angus was cheerfully mellow about the whole business, so I’m guessing it was not his first time in front of an audience. You can watch some video of that show here. (Video, with sounds, starts automatically. And annoyingly.)

To preempt criticism, Sarah pointed out to the audience that Angus was wearing earplugs. They evidently were quite effective, because halfway through the set, Sarah turned him from facing out to facing in and he promptly fell asleep.

When Bad Manners Go Good

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Photo by j4yx0r via Flickr (Creative Commons).

Consider the dotty old aunt who comes to family reunions and blurts things others might think but would never say. Things like, “You don’t need that second piece of cake.” Or “You’ll never get a job dressed like a hoochie mama,” or “Is that a toupee or a dead squirrel on your head?”

Usually, a beat of shocked silence is followed by nervous chatter about anything else while the person critiqued dies a thousand deaths and silently vows never to attend a family gathering again.

But what if Aunt Dotty actually speaks useful truths? She might be dead on with both her assessment and subsequent advice, according to a charming study published in The Journal of Experimental Social Psychology.

We know that decline in the brain’s executive function (EF) often results in lowered inhibitions, generally not considered a good thing. But this research finds an upside to lowered inhibitions.


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