Thursday, November 12, 2009

TEDxSF talk - neuroscience and willpower

I'll be coming to San Francisco next Tuesday for TEDxSF, a spinoff of the famous TED conference. It's at the California Academy of Sciences. Mayor Gavin Newsom will launch the event. The event will be LiveStreamed - tune in around 4:00pm Pacific. I'm on a little after 4:30pm to talk about the neuroscience of willpower.

Others on the docket: cellist Zoƫ Keating, planetarium guru Ryan Wyatt, and many more. It's a sold out show! Check it out at

Update: for the talk click here or watch below:

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Neuroscience experiments at home!

This is interesting: a startup company to let you make neurophysiological recordings at home. From, among other things...cockroaches. Wow and eww! And here's some news about their debut at the Society for Neuroscience meeting and first sale here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Does the Brain Like E-Books?

In the New York Times today, Sandra weighs in on the differences in reading a physical book vs. an electronic book - and possible reasons why, in some ways, print still wins. Check it out here.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

On NPR's Talk Of The Nation this afternoon

Flash - I'll be on Talk Of the Nation this afternoon at 2:30pm Eastern time, talking with Neal Conan about why people believe that President Obama isn't a natural born citizen, despite positive proof of his birth in Hawaii. It's related to previous false beliefs that arose during the campaign - see our NY Times op-ed on Obama's religion.

Tune in!

Update: a link to NPR here should have audio soon. Find out whether Neal Conan's favorite food really is liverwurst dipped in chocolate.

Friday, July 3, 2009

This is your brain on physics (or vice versa)

Recently I was asked to write for Physics World on what physical scientists can bring to the study of the brain.

As it turns out, they are good for lots of things! Examples include developing innovative imaging technologies and new theories for understanding brain function. My own laboratory's research does both. Read the piece here.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

New trends in neuroscience research - on Big Think

Here's a recent interview on Big Think. They divided the interview into clips - see here for all of them.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Glutamate is in the house - UPDATED

Here's one from the...Glut-Tang Clan?

That's right, a rap about synaptic transmission. Accurate in pretty much every detail. Lots in there - glutamate, acetylcholine, addiction, dopamine...amazing. It appears to be a project for a class at Stanford University, Human Biology 4A. It's the brainchild of Tom McFadden, who also did one on development.

A shout out to his professor, Russ Fernald, who sent it to me - and makes a cameo appearance! "The mind arises from the brain" - word.

Update: it's won an award from The Scientist! A huge shout out!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Are women moodier than men?

I just did an interview with Jean Chatzky on Oprah Radio. Jean gives financial advice but we talked about many more topics from Welcome To Your Brain: whether we really use 10 percent of our brains (no), ways to improve your willpower, and much more.

Jean was particularly interested in the popular belief that women are moodier than men. As Sandra and I have written, this is a myth. Psychologists have given men and women beepers and then asked them to write down their mood whenever the beeper went off. They found that men's and women's moods were just as variable. No difference!

However, both men and women tend to remember women's mood swings better. So if people are asked to remember how moody they or their partners were in the previous week, more mood swings are reported for women than men. It's apparently a matter of perception and recollection - both men and women remember the women's moods.

It is true that mood disorders, including depression and anxiety, are about twice as common in women than in men. No one is really sure why, though it could be a matter of stress. But that's for another post...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

A course for behavioral scientists

I've just returned from a meeting of the Midwestern Psychological Association, where I was a guest speaker. Fun audience, lots of students, great questions.

One of my hosts, Karl Bailey, uses Welcome To Your Brain in an introductory brain course for students of behavioral science. He also uses a second book, Phantoms In The Brain, by V.S. Ramachandran and Sandra Blakeslee. This is a great pairing: we write about everyday life, whereas Phantoms focuses on the clinical side of neuroscience - and is an excellent book.

Thanks, Prof. Bailey!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

On the air in the Netherlands!

Tonight I'll be on FunX, a syndicated radio station in the Netherlands. The hosts are Farid and Sticks, who investigate things ranging from the paranormal to what life is like for the elderly. We talked about lots of things, including...nasal love sprays. Tune in, sometime between 8pm and 11pm tonight. Update: here's a link to the program (and a translation). Hardcore!

The Dutch edition of our book, Het geheim van je brein, has just come out in its fourth printing. The Dutch love their brains!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Increase your IQ by 4 points!

For the next month, Sandra and I will be guest-posting over at Olivia Judson's blog, The Wild Side. Olivia's off working on her latest book, leaving the blogging in various hands - including ours.

This week we write about intelligence, and how it can be affected by environmental factors. One such factor is experience. We focus on working memory, which when exercised can improve fluid, problem-solving intelligence. Now that's news you can use...

Friday, February 27, 2009

Discover magazine video interview

Discover magazine, the Franklin Institute, and the NSF hosted a panel discussion featuring Carl Zimmer and four neuroscientists: Dan Levitin, Michael Gazzaniga, Rebecca Saxe, and me. The clip above starts with me. There are many more here.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

CNN's Situation Room

Today at 6:50pm ET, I'll be on CNN's Situation Room to talk about left-handed presidents and their brains. It might be re-broadcast tomorrow at 6:50am ET and/or 8:55am. I free-associated a bit - let's hope nothing embarrassing emerges.

Update: In addition to left-handed presidents (Obama, Clinton, Reagan), it was mentioned to me that Osama bin Laden is also left-handed. Left-handers tend to be more variable than the general population. They are over-represented among the verbally gifted and are more likely to solve problems in unusual ways. But they are also more likely to be criminals. I guess bin Laden combines all three categories.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Anti-vaccine holdouts at Autism Speaks?

Alison Singer, a top executive at Autism Speaks, has resigned. Her reason? The organization is still funding studies of vaccines as possible triggers for autism. She quit in protest, saying that it's a diversion from other research avenues that have a higher chance of succeeding.

As I've written before, I am in agreement. It would be unfortunate for resources to be diverted to test a hypothesis that has been thoroughly tested - and rejected. Recent research has uncovered more productive avenues, including the discovery of gene linkages, as well as ideas about prenatal environmental hazards during the time when critical brain regions are developing.

However, there's a counter-argument. Advocacy organizations rely on the goodwill of their members. Looking at it this way, the question is how to direct their supporters' energy so that they can do the most good.

One interesting avenue is the question of whether prenatal immune reactions can hurt the developing brain. Next week I'm hosting a talk on this subject Paul Patterson from Caltech. That should be interesting!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The brains of southpaw presidents - on Good Morning America

Tomorrow I'll be on Good Morning America Weekend, talking with David Wright about the mysterious abundance of left-handed presidents. (Update: watch it here.) Barack Obama is left-handed - as were Bill Clinton, the first President Bush, [perhaps] Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, and Harry Truman. What's going on?

Sandra and I have written about this before [PDF] [annotated]. An unusual number of left-handers use both sides of their brain to process language, significantly more than the rest of the population. So one might expect enhanced communication skills in some left-handers (think of Obama, Clinton, and Reagan). There's also a tendency for left-handers to solve problems in creative ways. These could be useful traits in a president!

Air date is Sunday, near the end of the first half-hour of the program. The show's start time varies. It's mostly 8-9AM Eastern, 7-8AM Central, and 6-7AM or 7-8AM Pacific. Here's an old list of station affiliates. Check your local listings!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Medical legacies of World War I

Goedemorgen! Here's an interview in Quest, a Dutch science magazine for young readers. The piece is more personal than coverage of the book in the U.S. But at the same time, people don't smile for photographs there.

A box mentions that the horrors of World War I inadvertently produced significant medical knowledge. Because of the sheer number of injuries, combined with advances in ballistics, soldiers could survive after injury to a specific brain region such as the cerebellum. It was possible to observe what happened when that region was damaged - and therefore what it might be needed for. Also mentioned in the piece is another World War I-era advance, blood transfusion.

The Dutch translation of our book is Het geheim van je brein, which means The Secret of Your Brain. That's not to be confused with the anti-scientific book The Secret! We're reviewed in Hart en Ziel (Volkskrant) here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Matt Lauer, Dr. Nancy - and us

...actually, our book will be on, but we won't. Dr. Nancy's doing a segment called "Welcome To Your Brain." Tune in at 8:09am (the same in all time zones because of rebroadcast). You can also go to their website to read an excerpt and take our quiz.

Update: what a nice piece. Nancy Snyderman covered many topics from the book, and she clearly enjoyed it. To see the segment, go to one of these sites: [MSNBC] [Hulu] []

Friday, January 9, 2009

A prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science

The American Association for the Advancement of Science and SB&F have chosen Welcome To Your Brain for a prize! The book has won the AAAS/SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books award, sponsored by Subaru. The category is Young Adult books.

First prize comes with a trip to Chicago to claim the award at the 2009 AAAS Meeting. Unfortunately, Sandra can't make it since she is in New Zealand. But I'll be there.

There is a weekend kids' fair too. Maybe I'll bring this small brain that I keep on my desk. Or teach everyone some tricks they can do with their own brains.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

On the Today Show with Dr. Nancy Snyderman

We've heard that Dr. Nancy Snyderman, medical correspondent for NBC, will have a segment on The Today Show called "Welcome To Your Brain," focusing on our book. Tune in next Wednesday, January 14th, a little after 8:00am.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Blood sugar, "normal" memory decline, and exercise

Last year we wrote about the benefits of physical exercise for brain function in the elderly, and how these benefits substantially outweigh those of any known "brain fitness" products. Now comes a study arguing that exercise as a means of helping memory may also apply much earlier in life.

In the New York Times is a report by Roni Caryn Rabin on an article in the December issue of Annals of Neurology. The researchers, led by Columbia neurology professor Scott Small, found that even moderate elevations in blood sugar led to decreases in blood flow in a part of the hippocampus, which is involved in memory formation. Because decreased blood flow is potentially fatal to neurons, the researchers speculate that "normal" declines in memory function may come from uncontrolled fluctuations in blood sugar. The prescription? Exercise, which helps in the control of blood sugar. Considering the rise in diabetes in the US, this is important advice for many people.

This study is quite sobering. I'm off to the exercycle!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Jimi Hendrix, Glenn Gould, and Barack Obama's shared gift...

...they're all left-handed.

In today's Atlanta Journal-Constitution, music critic Pierre Ruhe writes about left-handed musicians. Is there something special about how their brains interact with their craft? He focuses on pianists, who need to have an exceptional amount of left-right hand coordination. He and I talked about unusual features of the brains of lefties. Sandra and I have written on this before - check out our previous article.

We're open for questions at

Over at Cogito, an online magazine for academically talented youth, I'll be taking questions on the brain and about being a neuroscientist. The chat will go on for two weeks. Come on over and ask anything you want!