October 20, 2019


We live in interesting—some might say, “scary”—times. And I’m not just referring to Halloween.

What’s going on in the brain when we’re scared? Why do we sometimes like it? Why do we sometimes have strong memories of scary situations, and at other times, we block out the memory? Find the answers to these questions and more in my interview of my co-founder, Dr. Mike Merzenich (see video just below).

You can always find other interviews in our holiday series here.

Best regards,

Jeff Zimman
Posit Science

Denying Death
Our brains are designed to help us survive. That might be why, when it comes to thinking about death, we have a built-in protective mechanism. A fascinating new study shows that our brains distance the concept of death from ourselves, generally thinking about it as something that happens to other people. As one of the researchers summarizes it, “[t]he brain does not accept that death is related to us.” Learn more.

How the Brain Tunes In
When you’re in a noisy place, how does your brain tune out background noise, and tune in to the one person’s voice that you’re trying to hear? New research published in Neuron suggests that a part of the brain called the “superior temporal gyrus” may weight one voice over others. Learn more.

Surprising Second Chance for Alzheimer’s Drug
In March, pharmaceutical company Biogen announced another failed trial of a drug designed to slow Alzheimer’s progression—in this case, a drug called aducanumab. But after expanding their analysis, they have now said they will submit the drug to the FDA for approval next year. If approved, it would be the first drug to reduce the clinical decline of Alzheimer’s. Learn more.

Poverty the Biggest Stressor for Syrian Teen Refugees
What is the biggest stressor to a child’s brain? In this study of Syrian teenage refugees, researchers found that current conditions of poverty had a bigger effect on cognitive function than the past trauma of war—a finding that mirrors studies in kids in other places. Learn more.

New Brain Link to Anxiety and OCD
In a new study, researchers have linked anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) to the dysfunction of a special type of brain cell, called “Hoxb8-lineage microglia.” They also linked anxiety to female sex hormones, which may explain why more women than men suffer from debilitating anxiety. This finding may be the first step toward new treatments. Learn more.

Young People, Social Media, and Scientific Research
In the last few years, many researchers have found that using social media can have negative effects on mental health, and shared their findings with provocative titles like “Has the Smartphone Destroyed a Generation?” But according to new research, those studies don’t tell the full—or even a very accurate—story. Instead, “…social media research is the perfect storm showing us where all the problems are with our scientific methodology,” says researcher Amy Orben. Learn more.

Book of the Month
Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick (2019)
By Wendy Wood
A lot of us set goals for ourselves—like eating more healthily or resisting the lure of our smartphone, for example—only to feel like failures when our willpower isn’t up to the task. But according to psychologist Wendy Wood, there are more practical ways to create good habits and break bad ones. In particular, we need to stop relying entirely on our conscious decision-making, and tap into our automatic, unconscious actions—which make up about 43% of what we do. It’s a great book for anyone wanting to learn more about why we fall into certain habits—and how to rise above them. Learn more or buy on Amazon.