Tag Archives: Brain

Can’t decide? Roll a die


Image source: Flickr commons; Uploader: neni d

Do you ever feel as though despite your experiences, you repeatedly make the same mistake? Most of the time, we center our decisions on logic and prior experience. But…  can we ever get the best outcome by simply making a random choice and ignoring what we already know?

(Click here for an awesome article about how our brain helps our reasoning and decision-making!)

Rats were monitored by a computer that tried to predict the rat’s decisions. Image Source: Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)

In a study recently published in Cell, scientists from Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) found that when faced with a challenging “opponent”, rats stopped using strategy to make decisions and made decisions randomly instead. In the experiment, rats were presented with two holes in a wall, one of which contained a sugary reward. Meanwhile, the rats were monitored by a computer-simulated opponent, which recorded the rats’ past choices so as to predict its future choices. To get the sugar, the rats had to choose the hole that was not predicted by the opponent. When faced with opponents that made weak predictions, the rats selected holes using strategy. However, when the computers used complex algorithms to predict the rats’ choices, the rats instead selected holes at random!

Are there advantages for animals to change behaviour from using logic to choosing randomly? Firstly, when animals encounter situations that are unpredictable in the wild, such as predators or prey that move erratically, it could be beneficial to move randomly to evade predation or capture prey. Moreover, random behaviour might be useful in the exploration of new environments. For example, a rat might find food in a place that it would not explore if it were making decisions based on past experience gained in a different environment.

The scientists from HHMI discovered that when the rats faced hard-to-beat opponents, the amount of a stress hormone (norepinephrine) increased in the rat’s brain. Furthermore, the rats continued to act randomly even after the opponent started to make weak predictions again! To free the rats from this state, the scientists suppressed the release of the stress hormone, causing rats to return to their strategic decision-making.

Further research into the role of hormones in the brain on decision-making may lead to novel treatments foe mental conditions. Image source: Flickr commons; Uploader: European Space Agency

This study may be a step in the right direction of developing a treatment for “learned helplessness” in people. Learned helplessness is a mental condition in which an individual becomes unwilling to avoid painful situations because they believe that they cannot control the outcome. The actions of people suffering from this disorder resemble that of the rats stuck in “random mode”, as their decision-making is impaired. Perhaps a treatment can be found in the near future for learned helplessness and other conditions, such as depression, with further research investigating the brain’s function in decision-making.

In the video below, uploaded to YouTube by LennyBound, an Oxford math professor participates in an experiment that aims to explain the brain’s role in decision-making:

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-Imran Mitha

Don’t Forget Your Chocolate!

Memory loss has long since been correlated with age, due to a common deficiency of a certain protein in the dentate gyrus (region of the brain involved in memory) observed in elderly patients. Previously, this was just accepted as a hard truth; as you age, you’re destined to have to deal with various parts of your body slowly starting to become less functional, including your brain, which shrinks over time.


The dentate gyrus is a subregion of the hippocampus, shown in red. This part of the brain is involved in memory functions. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The dentate gyrus is a subregion of the hippocampus, shown in red. This part of the brain is involved in memory functions. Source: Wikimedia Commons

However, a recent study at the Columbia University Medical Centre has found that age-related memory loss, at least, is one thing that doesn’t necessarily have to impact you in your old age any longer.

Not only were the effects of age-related memory loss reduced in the study, they were actually reversed! How?

A group of otherwise healthy adults aged 50-69 were divided into two groups with different diets, which they followed for 3 months. The key difference was the level of flavanols (plant-based antioxidants) each group was consuming. The participants who followed a high-flavanol diet performed better on memory tests than those who followed a low-flavanol diet, and brain imaging showed that flavanols improved function in the dentate gyrus.

So what? Well, flavanols aren’t just a mysterious chemical reserved for scientific experiments…they are already readily available to us, and have been for a long time. Flavanols are found in tea leaves, blueberries, grapes and broccoli, so while it’s important that you do as you’ve been told and eat your fruits and veggies, flavanols are also found naturally in cocoa, which is present in chocolate.

Cocoa beans are used to make chocolate, and they are natural sources of flavanols. Source: Flickr Commons User Tom Hart

Cocoa beans are used to make chocolate, and they are natural sources of flavanols. Source: Flickr Commons User Tom Hart

A similar study in 2012 showed that drinking cocoa-containing beverages daily helped to indirectly improve blood flow in the brain, resulting in increased cognitive function, including improved memory.

However, this isn’t an excuse for everyone to just turn to a chocolate-only diet and claim that it’s in their best interests to eat as much of it as they can. Research shows that the cocoa-flavanol works best when paired with regular exercise, so it is important that a healthy lifestyle is maintained, while including flavanol-containing foods as part of a balanced diet.

That being said, chocolate can provide many other health benefits if eaten in moderation, as described in the video below.

YouTube Preview ImageVideo Source: YouTube user WLWT

So what are you waiting for? Go grab some tea, blueberries…what was the other thing? I can’t remember…


– Mikaela

Something is going on while you are sleeping

Man sleeping. source: google image(free to share)

We spend about a third of our lives sleeping, and it is considered as an activity as crucial to our health and well-being as eating. Sleep makes us improve our mood and feel more energized. However, there are a lot of unknown information and things going on while we are at rest.

First, what is going on while you are asleep? When we’re sleeping, neurons in the brain fire nearly as much as they do while we are awake. That means whatever happening during our sleeping hours is quite important to a number brain and cognitive functions.

These are some reasons why you need enough sleep and they describe what our brains do while we are asleep – and it suggest you to get some shut-eye tonight.

1. Rememers / Learns how to perform physical activities.

Your brain stores information into a long-term memory in sleep spindles, which signal processes that refresh our memories. This process help storing information specifically related to physical tasks, such as sports, driving, and dancing. These short-term memories are transferred from the motor cortex to the temporal lobe, where they become long-term memories.

2. Create and strengthen memories

Location of hippocampus in the brain source: wikipedia common

While you are asleep, the brain keeps forming new memories linking them from old ones to more recent memories. This process happens during both REM and non-REM sleep periods. Lack of sleep can cause a significant effect on the hippocampus, and affect in memory creation and consolidation. Due to this fact, all nighter would lose their ability to learn new study materials.

3. Decision making

Decision making: where to go sources: google image( free to share)

The brain can process information and prepare for actions during sleep. A recent study found that the brain processes complex stimuli while we are asleep, and utilize this information to make some decisions while we are awake.

4. Clears out toxins

Research at the Univiersity of Roschester found that during the sleep, the brains of mice flush out damaging molecules associated with neurodegeneration, which could potentially have the effect of accelerating diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Therefore, our brains would not have enough time to flush out toxins if we do not get adequate time of sleep.

Parkinson’s disease effect on various parts of brain. sources: google image(free to share)

Why do we need sleep? and What is going on in our brains during the sleep?

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Jack Yoon

Do you listen to music while studying?

Do you listen to music while you study?

I bet some of you are currently doing that right now.


Example of someone listening to music Source: Flickr Commons

Music is one of the effective ways to find pleasure. It is simple, easy and free (Unless you actually spend money downloading). Since I am all about finding pleasures in life, I have speakers hooked up in every single room of my houses.

Ever since music became a “must-have” for people, especially for students, there have been many studies regarding their affect on studying.

Some argue that listening to music while studying distracts one enough to make lose focus.

However listening to music such as Mozart, enhances synchrony of the firing pattern of our right frontal, left temporoparietalareas, and right temporal regions (just means it uses more parts of our brain), which is why this phenomenon is named “Mozart Effect“.

Try this next time you study!

YouTube Preview Image Cited: JaBig, “6-Hours Mozart Piano Classical Music Studying Playlist Mix by JaBig: Great Beautiful Long Pieces”. YouTube. YouTube, 15 May. 2013.| Web. 21 Sep. 2014.

Furthermore, a research from University of Dayton found that students performed better at spatial and linguistic processing if Mozart was playing in the background.

However, not all of us can handle these classical vocal-less music.

In a study in Taiwan correlating the work concentration level with background music, they separated groups of college students into three groups to test the affect of vocal music.

1) Listening to music while given the attention test

2) No music while given the test

3) 10 minutes of listening to music prior the test.

The experiment showed that the group that was allowed to listen to music prior to the test scored higher than the group that had no music at all, giving us an idea that music can gives us a supplemental effect increasing our attention level. As for the group that allowed music during the test, it showed a extremely high level of variation in the test scores, meaning even vocal music definitely affects our concentration level somehow.

From this, we can infer that different genre of music affects individuals in a very complex ways. It has been proven that vocal-less classical music has a positive effect on our brain function. However the effect of modern music or any other types of genre remains undefined. As a result, if you are someone wondering whether to listen to music while doing your homework, try it with and without. Neither I nor the researches made can give you a straight answer.

This is the song that I was listening to when I was writing this, maybe try this?? (warning: some are not in English, and contains lot of swearing)

YouTube Preview Image Cited: onstage 온스테이지, “빈지노 – Profile”. YouTube. YouTube, 1 Nov. 2012.| Web. 21 Sep. 2014.

If you found this article boring and not informative, let me know so I can switch the type of music I listen to.

By Jeamin Yoon