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“Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it,” wrote Jonathan Swift in 1710. Variations of the saying, including the punchier "A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on,” have been (likely incorrectly) attributed to everyone from Winston Churchill to Mark Twain, but the timeless truth remains: it’s amazing how catchy an outright falsehood can be.
Since at least the days of the newspaper wars between Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, on some level less-than-scrupulous media outlets have understood that our faster, more reactive brain systems bias us towards internalizing more emotional, good-vs-evil stories—especially when the “good” and “evil” in question align with our own prejudices.
For instance, in the late 1890’s, Hearst’s papers whipped up a frenzy of anti-Spanish sentiment, characterized by unproven claims, propaganda, and bold-faced lies. “When the USS Maine exploded and sank in Havana Harbor on the evening…

The Fun Frontier

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If you’re not, say, a recent time traveler from the Middle Ages, by now you’ve probably heard that exercise is good for you. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you likely also know that exercise benefits the brain in a seemingly ever-expanding list of ways. Regular aerobic activity has been found to increase memory, boost cognitive skills, fight depression, and slow the effects of age-related mental fog, among other things.
There’s just one problem: it’s not necessarily a good time. For the less athletic among us, mention of exercise can conjure flashbacks of high school gym class, of dodgeball injuries and rope-climbing humiliations. And while the ability to make a mad dash for it has surely saved our species on countless occasions, the body may not feel rewarded in the early days of a jogging routine. Some can rely on the rosy glow of personal satisfaction and the legendary “runner’s high” to stay on the exercise train, while others may need a bit more of an incentive to lace up…

Mini Meditators: Mindfulness for Kids

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For adults, the benefits of meditation are no mystery. As the Mayo Clinic notes, meditating has a whole host of upsides, from lowered stress to increased self-awareness to reduced negative emotions to a spark of extra creativity and intelligence.Even the United States Marines—not a community known for their love of New Age-y practices—have begun using meditation training to help boost decisiveness and clear-headedness in times of conflict.
But while you make an effort to incorporate more guided relaxation techniques into your daily routine, don’t forget about the children in your life, writes Alice G Walton in Forbes. Whether a kid needs some help calming down before things reach tantrum territory, or strategies for not getting so stressed about homework and tests, studies are increasingly showing that meditation can be an important aid at any age.
While we still have less overall data about the benefits of meditation on the developing brain, David Gelles of The New York Times argues t…

The Personality Puzzle

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Since the days of Hippocrates, science has struggled to quantify human personality, and group the seemingly infinite combinations of traits into a number of discrete “types”. However, it’s difficult to design a personality-sorting scheme that produces replicable results. In the case of the now oft-derided Myers-Briggs, even beloved systems have earned harsh criticism from the scientific community.
Now, from Northwest University, a new study led by Luís Amaral of the McCormick School of Engineering has crunched data from more than 1.5 million participants to devise a brand-new way to categorize personality.
The subjects were a self-selecting group of internet users willing to answer one of several different online questionnaires developed over the years. These surveys contained between 40 and 200 questions, designed to measure the degree to which each respondent demonstrated five widely agreed-upon personality traits: neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness and conscientiousne…

Bad News for Bad Tempers

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Is there someone in your life with an unusually short fuse? Maybe you’ve witnessed a co-worker repeatedly go ballistic on the printer whenever it runs out of ink, or maybe you’ve been unfortunate enough to have a boss who is a yeller, trapping you in meeting after meeting full of angry rants. Well, according to a new scientific paper from the University of Western Australia, this person most likely has another, connected trait: they’re not as smart as they think they are.
Yes, in contrary to the age-old legend of the temperamental genius with a stormy, high-trigger attitude, the study found that “trait-anger” (that is, people who experience anger as a part of their everyday disposition) is linked with narcissism, and thus an inflated sense of one’s abilities.
Undergraduates from Warsaw, Poland answered questions designed to assess their trait-anger, emotional stability, and narcissism. They were asked to rate their intelligence on a 25-point scale—and then they took an actual intellige…

Why the Secret to Language May Be Hiding in Your Birdcage

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The Bengalese finch is what happens when for 250 years, people breed the white-rumped munia for its snowy plumage. It’s paler than its wild counterpart, more social. And although its genetic architects (bird breeders) weren’t selecting for singing skills, the Bengalese finch has a farmore complex, varied song. That last bit has some fascinating possible implications, concerning how we developed our own unique speaking abilities. The capacity for complex communication requires a wide variety of skills. You don’t just need to be able to recognize and respond to certain cues; in order to parse the meanings of new or unfamiliar cues, you also need to be able to guess at the other party’s intent. This is not something most wild animals have the bandwidth to do. For instance, wild foxes and wolves can’t recognize what it means when a person points to something. No amount of training will pass on the understanding. However, domesticated animals are the result of many generations of breeding …

Seen and Heard: Growing Language Skills in Children

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For parents of young children hoping to boost their offspring’s language skills, the solution might be simpler than you think: talk to them. And then, crucially, let them respond to you. Rinse and repeat—and repeat, and repeat, as much as you can.
In a recent article from the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers studied 40 healthy young children (27 male, 13 female) between the ages of 4 and 6 across a range of socioeconomic backgrounds. Of course, 40 kids is not a large enough sample size to draw any definitive conclusions, but the study does offer an interesting place to start.
The scientists found that early language exposure is a pretty good predictor of white matter connectivity between two key language-related parts of the brain, known as Wernicke’s area and Broca’s area. Broca’s area handles the movements necessary to produce speech, while Wernicke’s area aids in understanding speech, and selecting accurate words to verbalize thoughts.
However, not just any language exposure does …