Resisting temptation in the brain

Having spent the last three years studying how difficult it is to say no to our vices, and being intimately acquainted with all that can go wrong in fMRI research, I’m always a bit skeptical of studies that claim to be able to predict our capacity for self-control based on a brain scan. But a new paper out this week in Psychological Science seems to have done a pretty admirable job, tying our real-life ability to resist temptation with activity in two specific areas of the brain.

Blind Sight: The next generation of sensory substitution devices

Conventional wisdom says that you see with your eyes. But new technology is changing the way we think about sensation and perception, showing that instead of relying on these orbs for vision, we instead really see using the activity in our brains.

My newest piece for Discover Magazine explores three amazing devices that are restoring sight to the blind, circumventing the malfunctioning sensory organs and tapping into the healthy neuro-circuitry underneath. High-tech computers in Google Glass-like devices are converting visual information into auditory and tactile stimuli, allowing the blind to see, drive, navigate, and mountain climb using their ears, fingertips, and even their tongues, the brain translating this information back to the visual cortex.

This is what Candy Crush does to your brain

What level of Candy Crush are you stuck on? 42? 73? 130? 305? I myself can’t get passed level 140. Yet despite the frustratingly frequent losses and time-outs, I can’t seem to put the game down. So just what is it about this mind-numbingly simple app that has us all so enthralled?

My latest piece in The Guardian explores the addictive nature of Candy Crush — its similarities to slot machines, how it taps into our dopamine learning and reward circuitry, the illusion that we are in control of the game, and how the finite number of lives actually makes it extra enticing when we are let back into Candyland.

Humans Can Smell 1 Trillion Scents

Smell always seems to get the short shrift of the sensory world. We don’t rely on it to navigate and communicate like we do sight and sound; it doesn’t send shivers up our spine like a soft caress; and no one’s ever claimed a whiff of roses to be “orgasmic” like they might a bite of chocolate peanut butter cheesecake.

But smell will be relegated to the sensory corner no longer! New research published inScience reveals that our olfactory abilities are far stronger than anyone had previously imagined, enabling us to detect more than 1 trillion different scents – 10 million times more than was originally thought.

Read this mind-blowing article in less than 30 seconds!

Ok, maybe not literally 30 seconds. (Or mind-blowing, for that matter; mildly interesting, perhaps?)

By now we’ve all heard about the “insane new app” that allows you to read comfortably at speeds of 500 words per minute, roughly twice the standard reading pace. Topping out at 1000 words per minute, this, according to the experts at the Huffington Post, would compute to being able to get through a 300-page book like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in under 77 minutes, saving dozens of hours wasted delving through JK Rowling’s delightful prose. Just imagine how quickly you could get through a book of poetry this way!

The science behind the meat sweats

A  friend of mine asked that I write about an important medical condition that will likely afflict us all at one point in our lives (except perhaps vegetarians). A diagnosis involving discomfort, physiological distress, remorse, and possibly embarrassment. I am referring, of course, to the meat sweats.

Following a barbecue, particularly Korean or Argentinean in nature, or a rib-eating contest, one might find oneself feeling flushed, overcome by fatigue, and noticing a telltale dampness underneath the arms. As your body processes what it has just been forced to consume, you might begin to perspire profusely, purging liquid-protein through your pores.