26 March 2011

Encephalon #85: Bottom up!

Welcome to the latest edition of the brain and behaviour blog carnival, Encephalon! The study of brain and behaviour is one of the most widely varying disciplines, ranging all the way from the very, very small to the classic “big picture” questions. In this edition of Encephalon, we’ll take a bottom-up approach.


Bacteria have no nervous systems, so they don’t appear on Encephalon all that often. But we have far more bacterial cells in our body than brain cells. Might all those bacteria have an influence on your behaviour? Mo investigates a story of germ-free mice at Neurophilosophy.

The always prolific Scicurious looks at those itty-bitty antidepressant drug molecules, and wonders where they are working in your brain. She notes, “Sci is funded by nothing, but motivated by chocolate cupcakes and coffee.”

Speaking of cupcakes, Sci also blogged about weight gain. She still has antidepressants on the mind, examining the complex dance between weight, stress, and antidepressants.


But if you want to keep your girlish figure by exercising, you might be relieved to learn from Scicurious (told ya she was prolific!) that exercise improves both the size of your hippocampus and your spatial memory.

Athletes are no stranger to exercises, but athletes in contact sports might do their brains more harm than good. Sabrina DeRiso looks at a new test designed to assess whether an athelete has a concussion. This is not trivial, as Sabrina notes:

I spoke with 5 accomplished athletes in my high school from the ages of 15-18. I gave them an scenario where if they were going to cost the game by notifying a coach about a head injury and asked them what they would do, or have done in the past. All their responses portrayed the fact that they would continue playing, and that it was their “responsibility” or “duty”.

Exercise and athletics are all about coordination. And one of the most challenging problems you can imagine a brain facing is coordinating a limb with visual input... especially when that limb is one of eight and has no bones. I look at visual-tactile learning in octopuses here at NeuroDojo.

How brain size is related to behaviour is always a trick, contentious subject. The webs of some very small spiders might give some insight into how much small brains limit the behaviour complexity of animals.


Are brain and behaviour sciences unique in the funding race? Taylor Burns at Cognoculture says they are in “A more perfect science: Jon Haidt and our Tribal Moral Community” because it is “one of the only sciences where a proposal can spur an instinctual, cultural reaction...in funding bodies, faculties or the public at large.”

What is the role of metaphors in solving problems? David Deriso at The Artful Brain argues that it’s more important than you probably would think at first, because “our senses are often too blunt for nature's finer points.”

Can you imagine a smell? Not just recognize one, but imagine it? Most people can’t, according to Janet Kwaniak. But, like many things, imagining smells is a skill that can be learned - which has interesting implications for conscious experience more generally.

Songs from the Woods examines the simple act of pointing. Except, of course, it’s not that simple, or you wouldn’t get such a rich blog post out of it. Pointing is loaded with implications about our development, our culture, and our conscious experiences.

Next time...

Thank you for reading this edition of Encephalon! Encephalon #86 will be hosted at In the News.

Don’t forget to subscribe to the Encephalon home page. We are looking for volunteers to host upcoming editions of the carnival!

Photo by Xenocryst @ Antares Scorpii on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.

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