Archives for category: science

Your snout is able to determine over 10,000 different smells using about 500 nasal receptors.

However for some people, smell is but a memory.

They are unable to smell a whiff of anything and this total loss of smell is known as anosmia.

It currently affects around 5% of the US population, which means there are around 16 million people unable to smell leaking gas, smoke, or even worse, themselves (resulting often, undertandably, in some level of social anxiety).

As well as that, they sometimes can’t taste the flavours in food.

Your brain portion that controls smell is located at the base of your skull, so even mild head injuries to the back of the head can result in anosmia, however this is often temporary.

But for those whose smell never returns, hallucination of smells can form in their place where people think they smell coffee, smoke or other alarming substances even when there is none.

Hallucinated smells of a particularly vile smell kind are called cacosmia as described by Bonnie Blodgett in her book ‘Remembering Smell’ where she was plunged into a flurry of terrible smells from rotten eggs to chemicals, mould and sick.

On a more positive note, there have been recent studies to suggest that those who have a good sense of smell are more emotionally sensitive (thought to be because the two areas of the brain related to emotion and sense are in the limbic system), and science has taken steps closer to proving the simple truth that a memory can be triggered by a smell due to the proximity of the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for emotional memory) to the hypothalamus and olfactory tracts (nose!).

So if you can smell the roses, be thankful. Some people are getting noses full of nothing, or worse.

http://www.google.co.uk/imgres?hl=en&tbo=d&biw=1063&bih=580&tbm=isch&tbnid=Qf4Q1xQq7Ouo6M:&imgrefurl=http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-sense/201003/i-hit-my-head-and-i-cant-smell-thing&docid=SJ5eWnXwWl84aM&imgurl=http://www.psychologytoday.com/files/u610/olf.gif&w=338&h=300&ei=2LciUZa7Heqa1AXGooGABA&zoom=1&ved=1t:3588,r:88,s:0,i:351&iact=rc&dur=2350&sig=104541046096363718316&page=7&tbnh=182&tbnw=238&start=79&ndsp=15&tx=179&ty=69

Facts found in Oliver Sacks’ newest book ‘Hallucinations’.

Image courtesy of Telegraph.co.uk

Bad day at the office?

In the Olympics, if you choke, it’s 4 years ’til your next review.

Canadian swimming psychologist Hap Davis made his athletes watch video re-runs of their failures on repeat and scanned their brains to see what was going on under the lid.

Initially when watching the video, high level blood flow to their amydala (responsible for emotions) and low-level to their motor cortices (where movement is executed). This likely reflected their physical reaction at the time.

Once they talked it through and explained the feelings of the race, he asked them to re-watch the race.

This time, blood flow to the amydala and pre-frontal cortex (which controls planning) was less, and blood flow to the motor cortex more.

Effectively, talking it out took away the negative emotion.

Who knew?

Image courtesy of Justin Metz at Newsweek.

Been online for 8 hours today?

Churning through emails, checking Facebook, posting Powerpoints, playing with pixels?

Guess what.

You’re brain is on crack.

MRI scans in the US and China are showing that people who spend 38 hours a week online (that’s not hard) are producing brains that look like drug addicts’.

The grey stuff (the smart stuff that controls motor function, memory, emotion, senses and more) shrinks by up to 10-20%, and the white stuff (involved in spreading messages quicker, attention and decision matter) grows in its place.

Your cerebral cortex, the part responsible for thought, changes shape. And it can start to morph after a week of practice. And it continues to.

So we’re becoming quicker thinkers. But we can’t remember about what.

And we pay more attention to that cat video, but can’t tell someone why it’s funny.

Same goes for gamers; speed, agility and skill vs smiles, memories and living in that weird thing called reality.

The advice from the doctor? Switch off.

More on this at Newsweek.com

Tom Daley

Tom Daley missed a medal ranking today

This Olympic Games have shown some serious grit from British athletes.

In the wash of narrowly coming 4th, 5th and or even last, they bowl up to an expectant BBC camera, look down it, and vow solemnly one of these lines straight out of Sports Psychology 101:

‘It was the journey, not the destination’

‘This is just a bump in the road’

‘Obviously I’d have liked to have done better but I’m happy with that’

‘It’s just great to be here’

etc etc

All while beaming, shrugging their shoulders, and seeming generally 150% ok with that.

Really?? After HOURS and HOURS and HOURS of tedious, lonely, painful, stressful, sometimes boring, sober, early, late, long, hours of training… that’s your gut reaction?!

That’s medal-worthy if you ask me.

How about some Andy Murray tears?? We’d understand! Really, we would.

You’ve just not entered the history books in front of your home crowd. We’d understand a quivering lower lip.

There must be some gun sports psychologists led by Dr Mark Bawden, who is also the head sports psychologist at the EIS.

Oop, just seen on the Beebs – they fudged the starter gun in the Women’s 100m Breaststroke Final so the girls had to wait for techies to fix it.

Just another hurdle to jump!

Does I.Q. matter when looking at the super-successful in our world?

The recent New York Times article on natural skill, or I.Q., and practice suggests that I.Q. is the determinate factor in success, not practice. i.e. it doesn’t matter how long you keep trying, you’re more unlikely to get there unless you have a high I.Q. to begin with.

The initial evidence from Florida State University found that excellent violin players, by age 20, had slogged at it for over 10,000 hours, compared with just under 8,000 hours for the “good” players and not even 5,000 hours for the least skilled.

However, the working memory capacity (that is, the capacity of your brain to work on various items simultaneously – think of it as a computer “desktop”), which is a key part of intellectual ability, made a statistically significant contribution, i.e. if you took two pianists with the same amount of practice, but different levels of working memory capacity, it’s likely that the one higher with working memory capacity would have performed considerably better.

Michigan State University researchers recently found that compared with participants in the 99.1 percentile for intellectual ability at age 12, those who were in the 99.9 percentile (the profoundly gifted) were between three and five times more likely to go on to earn a doctorate, secure a patent, publish an article in a scientific journal or publish a literary work.

Don’t stop tinkling the ivories though… it may not lead to super-stardom, but it will lead to a lot of fulfilment. 🙂


The first ever mind-controlled bike has arrived!  The ‘PXP’, from Toyota, Saatchi & Saatchi LADeeplocal, and Parlee Cycles reads your thoughts via a specially built helmet to change gears as you ride.

The bike helmet, designed by Deeplocal, incorporates a built-in EEG array that lets you shift gears just by thinking about it!

The helmet learns to read your thoughts after a ten-minute “training” session to distinguish your “shift up” thoughts from your “shift down” thoughts.

“When you see the bike shift for the first time, it’s kind of like magic,” Matthew Pegula, Deeplocal Lead Engineer, tells Co.Design.

“…we’re not too far off from this being commercially viable.”

Cadel Evans, you have to get this new toy.

COOOOL.

Read more at Fast Code Design and John Watson’s blog.

This is your brain on winning - Newsweek

Illustration by Bryan Christie for Newsweek

Newsweek published this awesome graphic last week’s looking at the neurological activities and sequences that happen in the brain when you play sport. Pretty cool huh? If you need a new reason to get off the couch – look at what a workout it gives your grey matter!

I’ve been meaning to explore brain activity during sport in this blog what with Wimbeldon, the cricket season kicking off at Lord’s today, and of course Olympics 2012. With all those competitors slogging it out, you wonder what makes them tick?

The Newsweek article ‘The New Science of Triumph’ by Nick Summers (featuring the above pic) looked at the burgeoning area of neuroeconomics – that is, the new links being forged between winning, brain chemistry, social theory and economics of winners.

It has been discovered recently that the traditional hormone of ‘dominance’ (or winning), testosterone, has a close relationship with cortisol, a stress hormone. When balanced in the right levels this directly can affect winning – good stress can motivate, and alert you. But too much cortisol/stress is not a winning combination.

“Testosterone is helpful only when regulated by small amounts of another hormone called cortisol. What’s more, for those with a lot of cortisol in their blood, high levels of testosterone may actually impede winning.”

Also the dopamine system of the brain, which is involved with rewards and anticipating rewards, also affects winning because it affects your expectations to win:

“People’s brains are constantly comparing what happened with what could have happened,” says Scott Huettel, the director of Duke University’s Center for Neuroeconomic Studies.

“A bronze medalist might say, ‘Wow, I almost didn’t get a medal. It’s great to be on the stand!’ And the silver medalist is just thinking about all the mistakes he made that prevented him from winning gold.”

Read the full article here – The New Science of Triumph – Newsweek.

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