Is Your Reality an Illusion?

Since the dawn of humankind, we've believed that we've been immersed in a continuous flow of consciousness. But that was merely an illusion our brains created according to cognitive neuroscientists at the Swiss National Science Foundation.  Their paper, published earlier this month, is titled "Time Slices," and theorizes that consciousness works much like a movie reel--we rapidly perceive myriad discrete images and our brains splice them together to create what we perceive as consciousness. Because visual processing takes only a few milliseconds,…

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Inside the Brain of a Math Wizard

There's no doubt that truly gifted mathematicians think differently than the rest of us. It's often observable during their everyday social interactions. But is there a neuroanatomical explanation for the difference, or is it merely the result of training? Cutting-edge fMRI studies suggest the former. You'll recall from last week's post a discussion of the revelations gleaned from the dissection of Einstein's brain: it was more connective, and had a smaller than average language center  (a.k.a., Broca's…

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Neuroscience Reveals the Best Time to Take a Test

As you may have already surmised, the best time to take a test is in the morning. This revelation is courtesy of researchers at the Danish National Center for Social Research, who published an enlightening study in February of 2016. The study concludes that "for every hour later in the day, test performance decreases by .9%...however, a 20 to 30 minute break improves average test performance by 1.7%..." The researchers reason that this trend is driven by cognitive…

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Is Your Brain Over the Hill by 30?

Cognitive aging is widely misunderstood. It is true that many cognitive capabilities begin to decline in one's twenties, foremost among them fluid intelligence (the ability to solve novel problems). However, new studies are emphasizing that this is only half of the intelligence equation. The other half--crystallized intelligence--continues to improve all the way into one's seventies. And what's more, new theories are being advanced that fluid intelligence, once thought to be static and genetic, can be amplified through focused…

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How Ignoring Stuff Makes You Smarter

We've all accused somebody of selective hearing before, or have been accused of the same. We probably thought at the time that this potential manifestation of selective attention was an impediment. But neuroscientific studies of working memory are revealing the opposite. Working memory is like the brain's dashboard--it's where the brain stores things before determining whether they will be committed to long term memory. For a long time now, it's been generally accepted that working memory can store about…

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Dumb and Grumpy: The Effects of Sleep Deprivation

This blog often discusses cognitive enhancers, such as mental mojo, but one of the single most devastating cognitive detractors is sleep deprivation. Increasingly, neuroscientific studies are showing that sleep deprivation is cognitive kryptonite. For starters, it blunts the brain's ability to be positive. According to findings of two related studies published in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research, less sleep makes the brain more sensitive to negative stimuli, and less sensitive to positive ones. This is why, as many new parents will…

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Can Concussions Cause Suicide?

For decades, Americans have been glued to NFL Sunday or flying down the ski slope without a helmet, mostly ignorant of the perils associated with concussions. Now, the players' lawsuit against the NFL and the publicity it inspired (including a movie called Concussion, which itself includes a suicide by an individual suffering from concussion related cognitive disorders) has placed concussions and their risks front and center. Those risks are real, and fall into two primary categories. For those who…

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Confident to Creeper: How Much Eye Contact is too Much?

Most of us have been told the importance of eye contact more times than we can count--from job interviews to public speaking, it is one of the fundamental tactics cited for building rapport and conveying confidence. Inherently, most of us also know that there is a fine line between confidence and full-on "creeper mode." So just how much eye contact is too much? Researchers have found that the answer depends on two factors: (1) whether the person…

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Binge-Watching = Brain Drain

Recent cognitive performance studies suggest that binge-watching TV on a regular basis is bad for your brain. Specifically, researchers at the University of California followed individuals with low exercise levels and high television consumption over 25 years to determine whether these behaviors would negatively effect their midlife cognitive performance. Unsurprisingly, the researchers found what they were looking for. Both the group of individuals who did not exercise and the group that watched more than three hours of daily TV over the…

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Grace Under Pressure: Avoiding Emotional Override

In the heat of battle with a friend or significant other, they suddenly throw a power punch. Heat prickles across your skin. Your heart rate increases. Your chest tightens. "Name one time..." they say. It was an easy question prior to the fight; now you're at a loss. Neuroscientists and psychologists call this experience "amygdala hijack" based upon the neurochemical mechanism underlying it. Most lay people call it the "fight or flight response." In a nutshell, we all have…

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