Monday, October 20, 2014

#Brain article of interest: 5 Ways To Upgrade Your Brain Before Lunch

From Leadership - Fast Company

Read the full article here->

Monday, September 29, 2014

Happy INTERNATIONAL #Coffee Day! #Caffeine #coffeeday

For those of you that are seeking your caffeine (or decaf) fix, you have plenty of company!

Caffeine Headache © 2010 Michelle Hunter 
According to Wikipedia, International Coffee Day is celebrated in Australia, Canada, Scotland, England, Ethiopia, Hungary, Malaysia, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, Sweden and the United States. Other countries around the world may celebrate Coffee Day on a different date.

Note that it's a day to not only enjoy the beverage, but also to appreciate where it comes from. Think about the coffee growers and the benefit of using/purchasing fair trade coffee.

Michelle Hunter 
Exploring Neuroscience Through Art
 LinkedIn []

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

NEW #Painting : The #Brain and Recoil Sounds

Hey you!

How do you react when you hear an unpleasant sound? For example:
  • Nails on a chalkboard
  • Child crying at a high pitch
  • Metal against glass
  • Brakes screeching
We usually recoil, maybe even cover our ears. The sounds are so sensitive to us that we physically try to protect ourselves. Well, allow me to introduce my latest brain painting "Cacophony. " The word cacophony means "a harsh, discordant mixture of sounds." Thanks to a good friend for the name suggestion!

The new painting has also been featured on the Scientific American blog!!

20" x 24"
Acrylic on Canvas 
2014 ©Michelle Hunter

** NOTE: No chalk was used in the making of this painting. It's all acrylic paint. Cool huh :)

There was an interesting study published in the Journal of Neuroscience conducted by Newcastle University scientists with funding from the Wellcome Trust. The study, "Features versus Feelings: Dissociable Representations of the Acoustic Features and Valence of Aversive Sounds," looked at the interaction between our amygdala (our emotion area of our brains) and our auditory cortex.

I came across this and other articles that referenced this study on recoil sounds published in The Journal of Neuroscience ( It inspired the painting.

Pink is the amygdala and it plays a large part in our processing of emotions
Blue is the auditory cortex
Yellow is the area of the auditory cortex that handles gauging frequencies. Apparently, sound vibrations of 2,000 to 5,000 Hz are considered to be unpleasant

The article came up with a top 10 list of unpleasant sounds from their research. I included a few of them in the painting, like:
1. Knife on a bottle
2. Chalk on a blackboard
3. Nails on a blackboard
4. Female scream
5. Brakes on a cycle squealing
6. Baby crying

Are there other sounds (PG) that make you cringe?

As always feedback is welcome!! I would love to know your thoughts and recommendations on other brain topics of interest!


2014 ©Michelle Hunter

2014 ©Michelle Hunter

2014 ©Michelle Hunter

2014 ©Michelle Hunter

2014 ©Michelle Hunter

2014 ©Michelle Hunter

2014 ©Michelle Hunter

2014 ©Michelle Hunter

2014 ©Michelle Hunter

In the below photo, I took a picture of myself holding a pen (because I didn't have chalk) so I can use the photo as reference for painting my hand as you see it in the final painting.
2014 ©Michelle Hunter

2014 ©Michelle Hunter

Michelle Hunter 
Exploring Neuroscience Through Art

 LinkedIn []

Thursday, July 10, 2014

#Brain article of interest: Headbanging: Doctors highlight potential dangers at hardcore rock 'n' roll acts


German doctors highlight the potential dangers surrounding headbanging in a Case Report published in The Lancet. Ariyan Pirayesh Islamian and colleagues from the Hannover Medical School, detail the case of a man who developed a chronic subdural haematoma (bleeding in the brain) after headbanging at a Motörhead concert.

In January 2013, a 50-year-old man came to the neurosurgical department of Hannover Medical School with a 2 week history of a constant worsening headache affecting the whole head. Although his medical history was unremarkable and he reported no previous head trauma, 4 weeks before he had been headbanging at a Motörhead concert.

A cranial CT confirmed the man had a chronic subdural haematoma on the right side of his brain. Surgeons removed the haematoma (blood clot) through a burr hole and used closed system subdural drainage for 6 days after surgery. His headache subsided and he was well on his last examination 2 months later.

Headbanging refers to the violent and rhythmic movement of the head synchronous with rock music, most commonly heavy metal. Motörhead, undoubtedly one of the greatest rock'n'roll bands on earth, helped to pioneer speed metal where fast tempo songs that have an underlying rhythm of 200bpm are aspired to.

Although generally considered harmless, headbanging-related injuries include carotid artery dissection, whiplash, mediastinal emphysema, and odontoid neck fracture. This is the first reported case showing evidence that headbanging can cause "chronic" subdural haematoma.

"Even though there are only a few documented cases of subdural haematomas, the incidence may be higher because the symptoms of this type of brain injury are often clinically silent or cause only mild headache that resolves spontaneously," explains lead author Dr Ariyan Pirayesh Islamian.

"This case serves as evidence in support of Motörhead's reputation as one of the most hardcore rock'n'roll acts on earth, if nothing else because of their music's contagious speed drive and the hazardous potential for headbanging fans to suffer brain injury."

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by The Lancet . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


from Neuroscience News -- ScienceDaily [Read the full article here->]


#Brain article of interest: How The World Cup's Brain-Controlled Exoskeleton Works [Video]


Soccer Exoskeleton

Juliano Pinto, a paraplegic man, kicks a soccer ball using an exoskeleton built by Miguel Nicolelis and a large team of scientists and engineers.

Imagine Science Films

The World Cup has drawn more than rabid soccer fans to Brazil. A team of filmmakers are on the ground in Rio de Janeiro documenting the science behind the games, including an exoskeletal kick-off, the genetics of competition, and even the biochemistry of diehard spectators.

Here's Imagine Science Films' take on Kinetic, the latest mini-documentary in their "Field Work: World Cup" series:

Imagine Science Films teams up with Miguel Nicolelis, Director of the Institute of Neurosciences in Natal to discuss the neurobiology of translating thought into mechanical action in Kinetic.

What if you could move technology simply by imagining it? If this sounds like a science fiction movie, rest assured, it is all too real. The exoskeletal kick off of the World Cup, performed by Juliano Pinto who lost motor control of his lower body in a car accident, left many of us wondering, how did he do it?

Movement does not stem from one part of the brain, but neurons from many parts of the brain work in tandem to complete actions.

“Think of the brain as a big democracy,” says Miguel Nicolelis, who led a team of researchers to create the robotic exoskeleton used to prompt muscle movement. “Lots of cells ‘vote’ electrically to produce this behavior from different parts of the brain.”

The more neurons that join in, the better.

The sensors placed on Juliano Pinto record angle, position, pressure, and temperature, that is then fed back to the subject through vibrations placed on their torso. These vibrations create an illusion in the brain itself that the subject is responsible for limb movement. In a sense, the exoskeleton is incorporated as an extension of the person’s body.

Watch the film below.

Not working? Watch Kinetic on YouTube.

This article was created in partnership with Imagine Science Films. Watch all of the Field Work videos here.


from Popular Science [Read the full article here->]


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

#Brain article of interest: The less older adults sleep, the faster their brains age, new study suggests


Researchers at Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore (Duke-NUS) have found evidence that the less older adults sleep, the faster their brains age. These findings, relevant in the context of Singapore's rapidly ageing society, pave the way for future work on sleep loss and its contribution to cognitive decline, including dementia.

Past research has examined the impact of sleep duration on cognitive functions in older adults. Though faster brain ventricle enlargement is a marker for cognitive decline and the development of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, the effects of sleep on this marker have never been measured.

The Duke-NUS study examined the data of 66 older Chinese adults, from the Singapore-Longitudinal Aging Brain Study(1). Participants underwent structural MRI brain scans measuring brain volume and neuropsychological assessments testing cognitive function every two years. Additionally, their sleep duration was recorded through a questionnaire. Those who slept fewer hours showed evidence of faster ventricle enlargement and decline in cognitive performance.

"Our findings relate short sleep to a marker of brain aging," said Dr June Lo, the lead author and a Duke-NUS Research Fellow. "Work done elsewhere suggests that seven hours a day(2) for adults seems to be the sweet spot for optimal performance on computer based cognitive tests. In coming years we hope to determine what's good for cardio-metabolic and long term brain health too," added Professor Michael Chee, senior author and Director of the Centre for Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke-NUS.


1) The Singapore-Longitudinal Aging Brain Study (started in 2005) follows a cohort of healthy adults of Chinese ethnicity aged 55 years and above. This study is one of the few in Asia that tracks the brain structures and cognitive functions of older adults so closely.

2) Data collected by Lumosity, an online brain-training program, suggests that self-reported sleep duration of seven hours is associated with the best cognitive test scores in over 150,000 adults. As of now it is unknown if this amount of sleep is optimum for cardio metabolic and long-term brain health.

Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School Singapore . Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


from Neuroscience News -- ScienceDaily [Read the full article here->]


Monday, June 30, 2014

#Brain article of interest: Seize Control of Your Dreams


Considering how much of our lives we spend sleeping – years and years, if you added up all our time in slumber – it’s remarkable how much mystery still surrounds this most fundamental of behaviours. Mystery of course is the perfect breeding ground for myths.

We need eight hours

Even this most trusted tenet of folk wisdom has been challenged recently. Hundreds of historical records show that until the late 17th century, the norm used to be for two separate sessions of sleep interspersed with a period of one to two hours nocturnal activity. Some experts believe this is our more “natural” inclination, and the frustrations of insomniacs who wake in the middle of the night could be related to these old instincts for having two periods of sleep.

The sleeping brain is at rest

Since scientists started studying sleep seriously in the 1950s, we’ve learned a lot about the relevant basic physiology. We know that the brain is remarkably busy whilst we sleep, contrary to the folk idea that it’s a chance for our minds to switch off. Sleep is associated with four distinct phases, which are repeated in 90 minute cycles. Each cycle consists of three phases of non-rapid-eye-movement sleep, also known as “slow wave sleep” or “orthodox sleep” (which takes up about 80 per cent of a typical night), and there’s a phase of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is particularly associated with dreaming and lively neural activity.

Teenagers are just lazy

Most teenagers stay up late and then lie in through the morning, dead to the world. It’s tempting to think they’re just being lazy but in fact the evidence is mounting that the teenage body clock really is set differently from an adult’s. A survey published in 2004 of over 25,000 Swiss and German people compared the time of day they slept to when they didn’t have any social obligations. This time became progressively later through adolescence, peaking abruptly at the age of 20.

Another study published in 2010 found that adolescents, more than adults, suffered daytime sleepiness when they were forced to adhere to a strict 8-hour-a-night sleep schedule for several days. There’s also evidence from Mary Carskadon’s sleep and chronobiology lab at E.P. Bradley Hospital in Rhode Island that melatonin (a hormone involved in regulation of the sleep cycle) continues to be secreted at a higher level later into the day among older teens.

Dreams are filled with symbolism

Sigmund Freud famously believed that dreams were the “royal road to the unconscious”. He argued that nightmares and dreams are filled with symbolism, which if decoded, could reveal our deepest desires and fears. It’s a popular idea, with many people struggling to believe that the intricate events of their dreams could be entirely meaningless.

The simple truth is there’s little evidence that dreams have any useful meaning. At least one influential neurobiological theory contends that dreams originate from sporadic neural activity in the brain stem and the random activation of memories. By this account, dreams are the consequence of our higher brain areas attempting to translate this haphazard activity into some kind of coherent subjective experience.

A pertinent recent survey of 15 paraplegics found that they often walked in their dreams, but they walked less often than able-bodied comparison participants did in their dreams, and the researchers, led by Marie-Thérèse Saurat, concluded that these results were incompatible with Freudian theory. The paraplegics were quite open about their strong desires to walk again and if dreams act as an outlet for wish-fulfilment, you’d expect paraplegics’ dreams to be far more dominated by walking than they were.

We can take control of our dreams

In Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character is one of several people with the expertise and technical equipment to get inside other people’s dreams and interfere with the way events unfold. This technology remains a fantasy, but the film was apparently inspired by the real phenomenon of lucid dreaming.

Lucid dreaming is the often enjoyable state of being partly awake whilst dreaming and having the ability to control the dream. The state occurs most often towards the end of a period of sleep, just when you’re in that twilight zone between dreamland and waking up.

If you’ve never had a lucid dream, there are tips out there for how to make the experience more likely. In the e-book Control Your Dreams by University of Sheffield psychologist Tom Stafford and lucid dreamer Cathryn Bardsley, it’s recommended that you practice noticing whether you’re awake or asleep. By day this sounds daft, but if you get into the habit when you’re awake then it’s more likely that you’ll be able to make the distinction when you’re sleeping.

Flicking a light switch is a good test of whether you’re really awake, the authors say, since in your dreams the light levels won’t change. By contrast, pinching yourself is actually a bad test, because it’s all too easy to actually dream the act of pinching oneself. If you do become aware of being in a dream, then try to stay calm because if you get too excited you’ll probably wake yourself up. Finally, set yourself goals to aim for the next time you do manage to achieve lucidity in a dream. “Flying. Always good,” Stafford and Bardsley write. “Sex. Popular. And consequence free.”


from Brain Myths [Read the full article here->]