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This Month From The Archives: October 2015

We’ve got a pretty hefty archive of This Week in Neuroscience (TWIN) and Ruthless Listener Retention Gimmick (RLRG) links. And heaps of those links are pretty darn interesting. To stop these nuggets from being lost to the ages, every month we’ll be looking back at what we were reading and sharing a year or two or three (!) ago.

Episode 96 – Know Your Neurotransmitters:  Noradrenaline

TWIN:  Young children have less available working memory

Have you ever tried to get young children to remember multiple things?  Whether that’s not to touch hot objects, or how to play gently with the dog, things seem to go in one ear and out the other.

Turns out, neuroscience has an explanation for why adults have a better working memory than children.  While children do use the same area of the brain as adults when using short-term memory, there’s less activity in the brain.  Most adults can remember up to seven items in their short term memory at one time, but for young children, that number is more like one or two.

So next time you’re frustrated with your kindergartener for forgetting what you told her five minutes ago, remember:  she’s not ignoring you, she really can’t remember.

RLRG:  The protein that senses magnetic fields

It seems clear that animals can sense things that humans can’t.  Think of birds that migrate thousands of miles or animals that clear an area before an earthquake.

Scientist have long known that animals as diverse as sea turtles, butterflies, and wolves can sense the major north-south magnetic fields.

But thanks to a new discovery, we now know exactly which protein lets them do this.

This discovery isn’t the only news though.  It’s mired in a dispute over which collaborator was entitled to publish the findings first.  Drama, drama, drama.

Episode 97 – Emotional Intelligence

TWIN:  Part of your intelligence is genetically determined

You probably know a family that just seems blessed in the intelligence department.  Part of the reason why turns out to be three different genetic variants.

But before you start calling this genetic advantage unfair, although the genetic variants have statistical significance, even when all three are expressed optimally, that only translates to an extra 1.8 IQ points.

RLRG:  Test your emotional intelligence

IQ isn’t the only type of intelligence.  There’s also emotional intelligence, your ability to recognize emotions in yourself and others.

Wondering if you’re emotionally smart?  Then take the test!

Episode 98 – Adderall Perspectives

TWIN:  A new way to fight aging in the brain

Scientists have long known how to turn other cells into brain cells.  The problem for researching age-related diseases is that turning cells into brain cells would re-set the cell’s age — they’d go back to being “babies.”

New research has solved this problem.  Scientists have been able to turn skin cells into brain cells without resetting cellular age.

The upshot:  researchers will be able to more easily test medicine to fight age-related diseases.

RLRG:  A big, bloody brain cake

Just in time for October 31st, a way to combine celebrating Halloween with your love for neuroscience and the brain. has a recipe for a huge cake — red velvet on the inside, bloody brain on the outside.  It looks scarily realistic, too.

Bloody brain cake

Episode 99 – Psychedelics:  New Perspective

TWIN:  Sleep protects you from catching a cold

Being sick is the ultimate anti-nootropic.  Unfortunately, nothing protects you 100%, but sleep could drastically reduce your chances of getting sick.

People who sleep less than 6 hours a night are more than four times more likely to catch a cold than those who sleep 7 hours or more.

And it’s not just run of the mill colds that sleep protects you from.  Getting enough deep sleep may prevent the onset of Alzheimer’s.  Beta-amyloid plaques are a precursor to Alzheimer’s.  People who have the most beta-amyloid plaques in their brains have the hardest time getting into and maintain deep sleep.

RLRG:  A fasting mimicking diet keeps you alive longer

In numerous studies, fasting and caloric restriction prolong the lives of animals.  But food is one of the great human pleasures, and it’s no fun being on a permanent limited-calorie diet.

The good news is that Professor Valter Longo has found the 80/20 of fasting: the fasting mimicking diet.  Just five days is enough to slow down aging.

Here’s how it works:

  • Day 1:  Eat 1,090 calories, of which 10% should be protein, 56% fat, and 34% carbs.
  • Days 2 – 5:  Eat 725 calories, of which 9% should be protein, 44% fat, and 47% carbs.

If you’re generally pretty healthy, do this five-day “fast” once every 3 – 6 months.  If you’re obese or have other health risk factors, you can do this diet much more frequently, up to once every 2 weeks.

Episode 100 – Card-carrying Genius

TWIN:  Your brain activity is a fingerprint

Everyone knows that fingerprints and retinas are ways to identify a unique individual.  Turns out, you can also identify people based on their brain activity.

Regardless of what activities you’re doing, certain brain regions activate together, in a way that is unique to each human.  This is based on the activity in your brain, not the physical structure.

RLRG:  Toddler temperament is influenced by gut bacteria

Scientists studying young children found a significant correlation between the diversity of gut microbes and disposition.

Children who have the most diverse gut bacteria had more pleasant moods and were more curious, sociable, and impulsive.

Clearly, there’s communication between gut bacteria and the brain.  Still to be discovered:  which one starts the conversation.

PS:  For more neuroscience, sign up for Brain Breakfast — brain boosting goodness delivered to your inbox every week.

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