We are thrilled to reveal the new Little Grey Matters logo!

Courtesy of Christian Hogue at Lost In Space – the same crew who did Coldplay’s ‘A Rush of Blood to the Head’.


Brain Logo new final Twitter

Thanks to jamiewrites.blogspot for this image which reminds me of a very similar sculpture that used to sit on my Mum’s shelf.

In many parts of the world this week Mother’s Day will rightly celebrate a Mother’s love and dedication to her brood.

Given the many, many seen (and unseen!) tasks mothers do, calculating the hours of commitment and slog, and just thinking about the calamities of childbirth, the question does arise: where do Mums get their drive to raise a family?

Well, it’s kind of a drug. In fact a mother’s love for her child has an outrageously intoxicating effect on the brain.

Maternal love has been found to switch off the parts of the brain involving negative emotions and social judgement (in the right prefrontal cortex – that is, your right forehead area) and also deactivates the parts of your brain that produce fear, angst and aggression (in the amygdala – an almond-shaped structure found in the middle of your brain).

Maternal love also been found to switch on the very old, very primal parts of the brain that seek reward and pleasure and that are satisfied by in it the form of pure, straight dopamine – a very happy, “drive”-giving substance that gives exactly the same effects as a drug; pupils dilate, the heart races, and the body lets off streams of anxiety-quashing chemicals from just the hug from an offspring, or even by looking at their photo.

Interestingly for women, maternal love activates very similar areas of the brain as romantic love, with the exception of the memory area which activates more when looking at images of your hubby.

Also in maternal love, looking at pictures of your child causes your brain area associated with empathy to erupt in activity, (explaining the urge to take care of the infant), whereas in romantic love, empathy activity is caused in relation to touch (that is, women can understand the kind intention behind it).

Happy Mothers Day to all the women out there who bring so much happiness and buzz to all their children’s lives.

We can only hope we do the same for you in droves 🙂


Overlap between activity of maternal love and romantic love. Romantic love red, yellow is maternal. LPF = prefrontal cortex (involved in social judgement), A= amygdala (involved in fear, aggression), PC= posterior cingulate cortex (involved in negative emotions), OP = occipital parietal (involved when seeing things e.g. photos of someone you love), MP = medial parietal (involved in empathy)

Read this original study here.

Brain connection maps The Connectome Project

One of the ‘connection maps’ from the Human Connectome Project, which shows pathways in the brain.

I’ll bet you think the brain is an ugly, fairly squishy grey thing that’s best not looked at too closely if you want to keep your dinner down.

Not so. Check out this positively beautiful set of 3D images of the brain released recently thanks to the Human Connectome Project.

Using powerful scanners and magnets that could power a nuclear submarine, the US scientists look for tiny particles of water travelling along nerve fibres to trace the major connections within the brain.

This exciting tech combines US and European brain research to accelerate our understanding of – and vision into – the brain.

Like the Genome Project, the Human Connectome Project will collect genetic and behavioural data from the subjects in order to build up a complete picture of the factors that influence the human brain and best of all the data will be released to the public and scientists in the coming weeks.

Read more about The Connectome Project at BBC online  and The Daily Mail.

brain scan image pathways

A ‘connection map’ which shows pathways in the brain

corpos callossum cingulum bundles hippocampus MRI scan The Connectome Project

A close-up of the centre of the brain looking back. The large green paths are the “cingulum” bundles, which connect areas of the frontal lobes that serve executive function with the memory center, the hippocampus. The large red bundle going left to right is the corpus callosum which connects the left and right sides of the brain.

brain image facial recognition the Human Connectome Project

Yellow and red regions show brain activations in the grey matter when subjects view human faces.

maths reading brain image the Human Connectome Project

Yellow and red areas are activated by a task involving listening to stories. Green and blue areas are more strongly activated by a task involving arithmetic calculations

The Human Connectome Project

A complete cross-section through the front of the brain, with cingulum bundles at the centre. A reduction in the number of fibres in the cingulum bundle which may be an early marker for Alzheimer’s disease.

temporal lobe speech language image

The brain pathways from an above view. The two green paths near centre are the cingulum bundles, and the two C-shaped green paths closer to the sides are major pathways of language, the arcuate bundles which connect the frontal lobes, where facial movements are controlled. The temporal lobes below is where sounds are processed, hearing interpreted, and utterances planned.

cortex frontal lobes cingulum bundles cerebellum MRI scan The Connectome Project

Side view of brain pathways, from the right. Far left is the visual cortex, connected by a large green bundle which connects to the frontal lobes. At centre, the blue vertical pathways serve voluntary movement, connecting the motor areas of the brain with the spinal cord and muscles. The green path at centre is the right cingulum bundle, here seen from the side. The cerebellum, which controls coordinated movement, can be seen at bottom left.

BBC’s most shared news stories in 2012. Full listing below.

A recent New York Times article aimed to shed some light on why we share the type of news that we do.

Through analysing the brains and emails/social posts of New York Times readers, it’s been found that good news is spread more quickly and more widely than sad news.

“Buzzworthy” articles were shared the most, which neuroscientists saw reflected in the brain activity associated with social cognition — that is, thoughts about other people.

“Thinking about what appeals to others may be even more important,” says Dr Emily Falk from the University of Michigan.

Also of note, the coolest, most awe-inspiring science articles are much more likely to be shared than non-science articles, as you can see reflected in many of the ‘most shared’ news stories from 2012 to now:

The Guardian’s ‘Top 5 Regrets of the Dying’

BBC ‘Chocolate May Keep People Slim’

Daily Mail ‘Artist Turns Dead Cat Into Helicopter’ 

BBC ‘Driving School For Dogs In New Zealand’

BBC’s super-shared stories of 2012

Journalism.co.uk’s top 10 most shared news on Facebook in 2012

Yahoo!UK’s most shared news – live


the rescuing hug

‘The Rescuing Hug’ – This picture is of two week old twins who were in separate incubators, and one was not expected to live. A hospital nurse fought agast the hospital rules and placed the babies together in one incubator. The healthier of the two threw her arm over her sister in an endearing embrace. The smaller baby’s heart rate stabilised and her temperature rose to normal.

As someone whose nickname was ‘squeeze’ when I was a little girl, I can attest to loving a hug.

But recently, hugs have started to reveal their health effects.

Studies have shown that hugging has been shown to release oxytocin, sometimes referred to as “the love hormone”, in particularly high quantities following positive social interactions (like hugging). Oxytocin is key to boosting trust, sociability, and triggering maternal instincts while lessening anxiety and social fear.

However in 2010, hugging got an upgrade to a healing activity.

A study among couples found that increases in oxytocin following hugs correlated with faster wound healing. The hypothesis was that oxytocin reduces inflammation, thus allowing the wound to heal more quickly.

The study also showed that people who said they felt more social and spousal support and had more hugs and massages had higher oxytocin levels than those who reported less support and physical intimacy.

For man’s best friend, patting your pet also boost oxytocin (for canine and man alike!), and emailing loved ones has the same effect.

Providing doses of oxytocin has also been shown to result in more positive than negative behaviours during disagreements with your partner, confirming prior evidence that oxytocin  affects couples’ positive and negative communication behaviours. Read more on the study here. It also can improve communication skills for autistic children if provided in doses.

So what are you waiting for?

Do as Hunter and Collectors say.

Go find a squeeze.

Hugs are the universal medicine. 

~Author Unknown


It came as quite a shock to many to hear of Yahoo! President and CEO Marissa Mayer’s recent decision to call back its thousands of remote workers to the slave yards (albeit very nice slave yards, no doubt) for the 9-to-5 grind.

Many at first glance (myself included) thought it sounded a death knell for the modern, flexible workplace: if industry trendsetters like Yahoo! aren’t into it, my employer just got grounds to haul my ass back into the fluorescent lighted, open-plan, modern factory for over 40 hours of my working week.

The giddy enlightenment that many modern employers were beginning to realise – that the happiness, and longevity of their employees at their companies is inextricably linked to their work-life balance, ability to see their families, and prioritise other important things like their health, (not to mention the key element of inherent trust it implies between colleagues) – seemed smacked in the face by such a decision.

And when Google piped-up to back Mayer’s call, it really felt like a backflip into old-school, big business rules, where dollars rule people, and your people come second.

But, while it might seem a shame these industry giants are opening these familiar doors once again, the reason could well be valid.

Huge, bloated, and with unhealthy vital signs, Yahoo! is like an overweight person at risk of a business cardiac – it needs to trim the fat, stat.

And the cause of the disease appears be one that is ages old, and that is a diagnosis of ‘social loafing’.

Social loafing was a term crowned by social psychologist Max Ringelmann in 1913 when he noticed that a group working together collectively produced less. The reason for this was not only poor coordination, but crucially a lack of motivation.

Later tests further showed that people will ‘social loaf’ if the goal is meaningless to them, and if individual input is not identifiable as part of the whole.

(Those of you who are measured by both group and individual performance in your workplace may now see why).

Other interesting outcomes showed;

– The magnitude of social loafing is reduced for women and for individuals originating from Eastern cultures.
– Individuals are more likely to loaf when their co-workers are expected to perform well.
– Individuals reduce social loafing when working with acquaintances and do not loaf at all when they work in highly valued groups.

So if all the above is true, how we end up on this road to remote working?

The theory goes that when we find work difficult, others presence is distracting, making work harder still (hello open plan offices!). But where our work is easy and fairly boring, having others present acts as a drive, forcing ourselves to compete (even if working independently). When two people work on the same goal this is even more pronounced: most animals will eat, run, and even procreate at an accelerated rate of productivity in the presence of other. Insert gym buddy here.

Perhaps initially the work at Yahoo! was challenging enough to allow workers this much space to roam. And then things got too easy…

Hopefully for Mayer, the effects of drive theory from the company’s new workspace will kick in soon.

Hopefully for us, the flow-on effects of this flexi recall don’t tip the delicate gains in flexible working for us mere mortals not located in Silicon Valley.

Drive and motivation for many people can also reside in the hope that we won’t have to spend ever day of the average 13000 working days in our lives chained to a desk.

Sickie, anyone?


Flipper is a smart fish.

Not only can he do my favourite trick of warding off sharks, but he also uses his sleep time with an effectiveness most new parents can only dream of.

When sleeping, dolphins can’t afford the luxury of physically stopping for a kip. Instead they need to keep swimming, and crucially breathing, to stay alive.

So how do they sleep?

Scientists have found that they actually manage to switch off half their brain, so that the active part can control swimming and breathing, while the rest rests.

Better than that, they team up in pairs to sleep, switching off the respective inner hemispheres (halves) of their brains, so that the outer halves are alert for predators, attack, Elijah Wood, Paul Hogan etc.

Talk about teamwork.

Check out this highly educational video offering rare insight into dolphins and their brains at work.

Note, if you do not find this funny, we prescribe that you need more sleep.

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.


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


Love can come in the most curious forms.

In his latest book ‘Hallucinations’, Oliver Sacks tells a story about his patient, Gertie C., who suffers intense visual hallucinations as a result of Parkinson’s postencephalictic disease – or ‘frozen’ disease (as described in Sacks’ book and film ‘Awakenings’).

Sometimes frightening, sometimes funny, hallucinations are an offshoot of the disease which is thought to be due to a build up of proteins in the parts of your brain that deals with sight and movement.

After some distress at her visualisations, Gertie decides to submit to the oddities her brain conjures, and embrace the experience instead…

In the form of a hallucinatory gentleman caller.

Every night, he arrives faithfully on her doorstep with flowers, presents, love and warm companionship.

Who says love isn’t real?

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?

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