March 20, 2019

Dear Friend,

Part of the fun of my job is I get to ask my co-founder Dr. Mike Merzenich all sorts of questions about the brain. I often walk away thinking that what I learned would have made an interesting piece for public radio, and wishing we had recorded it.

With April Fools’ Day coming up, I asked Mike about how the brain gets fooled, what happens in the brain when we are surprised by a mistake, and why April Fools’ Day is so popular all over the world. You can eavesdrop on our 5-minute chat through the video just below.

Best regards,

Jeff Zimman
Posit Science

What Is “Adulthood” in the Brain?
Over the past few decades, neuroscientists have gotten a clearer understanding of how the brain matures, from childhood to adulthood. What they’ve found is that critical systems—including those that control impulsive behavior and evaluate long-term consequences—often do not mature until people are well into their twenties. Does this mean we should reconsider how we define “adulthood” for things like military service and criminal justice?

A Bright and Buzzy New Approach to Alzheimer’s Treatment
Over and over, promising medications tested for Alzheimer’s treatment fail in human trials. Now, scientists have tried an innovative new approach: “gamma oscillation entrainment.” In this approach, a gentle light and a buzzing sound, each pulsing 40 times per second, were delivered to the patients (so far, only mice). Surprisingly, that frequency energized special brain cells, which helped to clear out the amyloid plaques associated with Alzheimer’s. Our own Dr. Michael Merzenich comments on the study in this LA Times article.

Time Flies, and Here’s Why
As we get older, each year seems to fly by more quickly. That may be because our ability to process what we see slows down with age, according to a new study from researchers at Duke University. In effect, we process fewer new images than when we were younger, making it feel like time is passing more quickly.

An Advantage to ADHD
In many situations and settings, having ADHD can make it harder to fit in and succeed. But people with ADHD may also have an advantage: more creativity. Research suggests that people with ADHD are particularly good at divergent thinking (coming up with new uses for objects, for example), and are less constrained by prior knowledge and established concepts. That may make them more likely to be original thinkers.

You Are Your Brain’s Priority
When you see a photo of a group, do you look at yourself first? It turns out your brain is designed to do just that. According to a new research study, our brains are naturally self-centered; they prioritize “self” even when it would be smarter not to do so. This self-centeredness may have implications for how we make decisions.

Understanding the Brain to Help You Save Money
Did you know that different parts of your brain are activated when you spend money with cash versus a credit card? That our brains can tempt us to spend rather than save? That similar brain regions are involved whether you are expecting a social or material reward?

Book of the Month
The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog and Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook: What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and Healing
By Bruce D. Perry and Maia Szalavitz (2006, 2017)

First published in 2006, The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog is a landmark book on how neglect, trauma, and abuse affect a child’s developing brain. By sharing stories of children who have faced devastating events, psychologist Bruce Perry chronicles his growing professional understanding of how such events shape the brain in maladaptive ways. His experience contradicts the age-old belief that kids are “resilient” or that medications alone can help; instead, their brains must be trained in new patterns. Learn more or buy on Amazon.