November 20, 2020


Thanksgiving is just a couple days away here in the U.S., and while I know it will be a different experience for many of us this year due to the COVID crisis, I hope you’ll find a way to make it enjoyable and to connect with loved ones.

In addition to the leftovers, one thing I’m looking forward to after the holiday is a new show on brain plasticity and the science of staying cognitively healthy throughout life. “The Brain Revolution” starts to air nationally on public television on November 28th. As with its predecessors, the show features the work of our co-founder, Dr. Michael Merzenich, and other luminaries in the field of neuroscience. Check your local listings to see when it is on in your area! If you’d like to learn more, here’s a press release on the new show.

Best regards,

Jeff Zimman
Posit Science

The Brain as a Mini-Universe

In a fascinating new study, a neuroscientist teamed up with an astrophysicist to show the striking similarities between the structure of the human brain and the structure of the universe. Through quantitative analysis, they found that in the brain and the universe, about 30% of the mass is active, with the other 70% seemingly passive. The “spectral density” was very similar—though on vastly different scales. And the connectivity between networks (neuronal and cosmic) echoed one another. Learn more and find out why.

COVID Pandemic Seriously Affects Mental Health

It may not come as a surprise, but the COVID pandemic has created a spike in anxiety and depression in the U.S.—tripling symptoms, according to new studies. This is especially true among certain groups of people, including low-income people, young adults, and people of Asian descent. These increases are higher than for other traumatic events, such as 9/11, and are at least in part related to increased media consumption. Learn more.

Lead Lasts

A study from New Zealand that has followed people for more than three decades has shown that lead exposure in childhood changes the structure of the middle-aged brain. Brain imaging scans taken at age 45 showed differences in white matter correlated to the amount of lead exposure before age 11. But do these brain changes lead to cognitive deficits? Interestingly, the study participants said no, while people close to them said yes. Learn more.

The Specialized Brain

Almost every experience changes your brain, and the more you repeat that experience, the sharper the changes. So, it may not be surprising that people in certain jobs show patterns of brain change. In a landmark study conducted more than 20 years ago, scientists showed that London cab drivers had very specialized brains in the areas related to spatial navigation. Now, scientists have shown that pilots develop a pattern of brain connectivity that is distinct from the average person. Learn more.

Neural “Fingerprints”

We all share events in life that are common: a memorable dance, attending a wedding, eating at a friend’s house. As a result, our brain activity based on those experiences is similar. At the same time, each of us is unique, and we express a different neural “fingerprint”—a recognizable but unique pattern—in our memories of such events. Learn more.

Book of the Month

Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain (2020)
By Lisa Feldman Barrett

In Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain, well-known neuroscientist and psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett has created a fascinating, approachable book about the brain, its structure, its mysteries, and more. As the title suggests, this material is delivered in seven essays about the brain plus a half-sized one on the evolution of the brain. As best-selling neuroscientist David Eagleman describes it, Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain consists of “[b]eautiful writing and sublime insights that will blow your mind like a string of firecrackers. If you want a rundown of the brain and its magic, start here.” Learn more.