The truth is, the human brain is somewhat limited when it comes to processing visual images.
Not everything we see with our eyes actually registers with our brains. There is simply too much visual information to completely process every second; therefore, our brain processes just a fraction of what we see.
However, if something changes, flashes, or skirts across our vision, we automatically give it our full attention. It is this hypersensitivity to movement that has led many people to be overconfident in their ability to observe things.
In reality, people are often surprised at how blind they can actually be in a given situation.
By definition, change blindness is the failure to notice a visual change in our field of vision.
Two Views – Same Phenomenon
Previous research has uncovered two theories to suggest how humans view things. One is called the top down approach; the other is the bottom up approach. The top down theory suggests that our brain puts things into context as we see them.
For example, if you are told to look to find a computer in an office, you would automatically look at the desk, since that is where your brain expects a computer to sit. You would not immediately look at a window or the ceiling of the office – your brain has already learned that the computer would most likely not be on the ceiling.
The bottom up theory focuses on the things in the field of vision that stand out. These two theories are perhaps the more basic elements of how our brain deals with the visual images that it is bombarded with every day.
A Little Bit of Truth in Each
Both of these theories are used at different times in different settings. Depending on the desired outcome, the top down process is used to look through the scene to see if there is anything of interest. Then our bottom up way of thinking takes over to notice the thing that suddenly stands out.
When your brain uses one process, the other has to be set aside.
This simple fact that it is difficult to do two things at once means that details can be missed, or changes overlooked, regardless of how acute you think your attention to detail has been developed.
The human brain allocates our resources as needed to different tasks, but we can’t do it all, all the time.
We also cannot explain everything all of the time, and that is why we wanted to share an awesome related video on the concept of change blindness and a test you can take to determine your own cognitive abilities.
This video is great – from the observer’s point of view (us watching the video) it seems so shocking that the people giving directions don’t notice the switch!
And here is a really great test for you to take as well, and make sure to leave a comment and tell us how you did…this is a test on your ability to notice changes in a series of photos – I definitely did not do as well as I thought I would have… Once again, writing these articles demonstrates we all have a lot to learn and a lot of brain power to continue to harness and develop.
Verma, Milan, and Peter W. McOwen. “A Semi-automated Approach to Balancing of Bottom-up Salience for Predicting Change Detection Performance.” Journal of Vision. June 4, 2010. Volume 10, number 6, article 3. Full text: http://www.journalofvision.org/content/10/6/3.full
Yes, you read that correctly. A recent press release from Northeastern University in Boston revealed a project to chart how happy Americans are based on their twitter posts.
We had to share this; it is such an excellent result of mixing social media and neuroscience.
Like the press release mentions, using Twitter as a way to capture the feeling of a moment in time is raw, real, and possible. It is a researcher’s goldmine, and it can help answer a lot of different questions, including the happiness quotient of Americans.
(Shameless plug: you should follow us on twitter: exploringmind. And while you’re at it, like us on facebook, too. We will be posting exclusive content, as well as contests, news, and general science research, etc.)
Researchers compiled a pool of 300 million tweets that were captured from 2006-2009. They did not include posts from outside the US or from tweeters who did not post their exact city on their profiles. All of these tweets were posted publicly.
The team, from Northeastern and Harvard, rated each tweet by looking for key words to determine the mood of the posts.
Some of the keywords included ‘funeral’ and ‘death’ for unhappy words, and ‘love’ and paradise’ for happy key words, among others.
The results are awesome – and you can read about them on a colored map or check out a time lapse video that shows how tweeters represent happiness in a 24 hour period. Good stuff!
Check it out in full: http://www.ccs.neu.edu/news/mood_maps.html
As always, comment below and let us know what you think. Check out your own twitter posts, too. Do your posts reflect how you feel at any given moment?
Pretty much everyone has heard about the Butterfly Effect. (We do not mean that Ashton Kutcher movie! You can go to IMDB for that, but first, stay here and read this.)
In sum: the butterfly effect states that a butterfly flapping its wings somewhere in the jungles of Asia can eventually start a tornado in Texas.
It’s a concept that has been used by people willing others to realize the unforeseen consequences of their actions. (Smoky the Bear may have summarized it best – if you leave a smoldering match near a campsite, you can start a forest fire.)
Did you stop to ever think that it could have a material effect on in the inner workings of your brain? (Butterfly effect, not a forest fire.)
According to recent research at University College in London, published in the June 2010 issue of Nature, there may be evidence of a butterfly effect happening within the brain.
The scientists at UCL decided to test this. They asked: would the firing of a single neuron quickly peter out, or would it have a material effect on the surrounding brain circuitry?
The researchers decided to present a single (artificial) synaptic spike into the neuron of a rat’s brain. To do this, the animals were first anaesthetized, then a single neuron was artificially “excited” with a current lasting either 100 or 200 milliseconds.
The surrounding area of the brain was closely monitored to check for any resultant synaptic spikes.
The researchers had expected that the single spike would extinguish itself and no continuing motions or actions would be found.
What they found was that this single spike did not extinguish, but instead, the single jolt produced at least twenty-eight separate synaptic spikes.
This would be like setting off a small firecracker near a pile of dynamite and having twenty-eight subsequent explosions!
And just in case you thought it ended there, it didn’t – each subsequent synaptic spike was shown to create more and more ripples of activity.
The researchers found that that single spike could potentially create over 1,500 new synaptic spikes within the brain.
Obviously, this avalanche of synaptic firings makes the brain a very busy place. The next question here, then, is: How does the brain deal with all the extra noise and still be able to function on a daily basis?
Within this same experiment, the researchers uncovered information about the brain’s rate code, which makes sure that computation in the brain is accurate.
A rate code essentially means that the more intense the stimulus is for a given action, the higher the frequency of firings and synaptic spikes for that particular action.
In other words, if the need and desire for the task is great enough, the concept of the task will “drown out” the added noise created within the brain.
The concept of the rate code sounds cool, but it is confusing… If there are any rate code experts reading this, please comment at the end of this article!
After reading this research, a couple of questions popped into my mind.
From the mental health conditions I have studied, it seems like noise might be too much for some brains to handle.
It would be interesting to know if there actually was a limit to how much noise a person could stand to have in their mind, but could still be able to function and perform necessary activities also.
Is there such a thing as too much noise? If so, what happens to someone’s mind? I am imagining a big, messy brain explosion with a loud sonic boom-type noise accompanying it, like a building imploding.
If your brain explodes, is it Ashton Kutcher’s fault?
London, Michael. “Sensitivity to perturbations in vivo implies high noise and suggests rate coding in cortex.” Nature. Volume 466, number 1: 123-128.
Image: Credit to http://www.celsias.com/article/group-declares-planetary-ecological-emergency/
Clay Shirky is a firm believer in changing how society works by using new technologies to enable global cooperation. In other words, he believes social media can and will change the world.
This TED talk is from June 2009, but it is perhaps more relevant today than when it was originally posted.
Please excuse any errors as I wrote this in a rush and was distracted by social media…
In a fun article published in the magazine Fast Company, journalist Adam Penenberg submitted to being a human guinea pig for neuroeconomist Paul Zak’s social networking experiment.
And the result was more than interesting.
Adam had his blood levels tested for Oxytocin (not Oxycontin, the addicting painkiller) which is called the “love” hormone because it stimulates empathy, generosity and trust.
He also tested his stress hormones cortisol and ACTH tested.
Then Adam spent some time tweeting...
Ten minutes later Zak had his blood tested again. And the result was that Adam’s level of Oxytocin increased by 13.2%. As Adam writes, “that’s equivalent to the hormonal spike experienced by the groom at the wedding Zak attended.”
Even more interesting to me is that the stress hormones cortisol and ACTH went down 10.8% and 14.9%, respectively. That is pretty significant.
Too much trust…
I am not going to get into the mechanisms of why this is happening. (Dr. Zak explains more in the article that I link to below.)
But what I do want to talk about is this trust thing. If social networking increases a hormone that makes us trust too much, then we might be as vulnerable online as we are at the back of the room at a Tony Robbins’ seminar.
For example, a recent study by the Ponemon Institute revealed that almost 90% of social media users believe that social media sites pose no risk even though 60% weren’t sure the social media could even protect their identities!
And 44% would use these sites even if they were sure the site could NOT protect their identities!
Here are some more fun findings:
*Approximately 65 percent of users do not set high privacy or security settings in their social media sites.
*Approximately 40 percent of all respondents share their physical home address through social media applications.
Sounds like a little too much trust to me! Could it be that the hormonal effects just make us immune to critical thinking?
Stress and connection
On the flip side, if connecting with people through social media reduces our stress levels, then it could be very good for our health as stress is the silent killer.
It is kind of ironic. Technology seems to be the source of a lot of isolation. And then social media comes to the rescue and provides a whole new way to connect.
This new remote way of connecting seems to do the trick if Dr. Zak’s results can be replicated on a larger scale.
Save the children
On a related note, neuroscientist Susan Greenfield believes that social media is literally changing the brains of young users. She believes that they: shorten attention spans, encourage instant gratification, and make young people more self-centered.
More from Dr. Greenfield:
My fear is that these technologies are infantilizing the brain into the state of small children who are attracted by buzzing noises and bright lights, who have a small attention span and who live for the moment.
Funny, that kind of sounds like me.
So where is this all going?
Based on the latest developments in neuro-technology, Emotiv has developed a revolutionary new personal interface for human computer interaction. The Emotiv EPOC is a high resolution, neuro-signal acquisition and processing wireless neuroheadset. It uses a set of sensors to tune into electric signals produced by the brain to detect player thoughts, feelings and expressions and connects wirelessly to most PCs
One piece of advice that all dieters receive is simply this: don’t skip breakfast. The idea is that skipping breakfast will make you crave junk food, and bypass eating the healthy stuff.
Well, new research presented at the Endocrine Society’s 92nd Annual Meeting in San Diego explains why this may be the case. And it has everything to do with the activation of ghrelin, the “hunger hormone.”
Before we get to the newest study, let’s learn a little more about this “hunger hormone.”
Ghrelin is a hormone located in the stomach that sends hunger signals to the brain. When ghrelin levels are too high, the brain wants food – even if we are full.
And when ghrelin levels are high, the food we crave is high in calories – especially foods that are loaded with fat.
Here is where it gets interesting: ghrelin helps you feel good. In fact it helps you feel REALLY GOOD by activating some of the same regions of brain that are also activated by cocaine! So let’s just say it is highly motivational.
Ghrelin and high calorie cravings
In a study on micei, Dr. Jeffrey Zigman and his team found that mice injected with ghrelin chose to be in a room previously anchored with a high calorie treat versus a room anchored with a low calorie treat. The mice not injected with ghrelin had no preference for either room.
For clarity, the mice with elevated levels of ghrelin just “felt better,” in the high calorie room, “The mice’s behavior had nothing to do with eating,” Zigman said. “Their behavior was linked to obtaining the more pleasurable thing.”
In a second test, Zigman tested how long mice would continue to poke their noses into a hole in order to receive a pellet of high-fat food. The non-ghrelin group gave up far faster than the mice injected with ghrelin.
A new way to increase ghrelin levels and your cravings for fatty foods…
Skip breakfast. In the studyii referred to earlier in this article, researchers recruited healthy (not obese) adults to test this theory.
Here were the conditions:
- Subjects came into the lab on three separate mornings.
- Each time, subjects would be asked to view pictures of either high calorie foods (chocolate, cake and pizza) or low calorie foods (salads, vegetables and fish).
- Then, using a keypad, the subjects rated how appealing they found each food picture.
- There were, however, three different conditions:
- Condition one: subjects came into the lab 90 minutes after eating breakfast and were injected with a saltwater solution 40 minutes before viewing the pictures.
- Condition two: subjects came to the lab 90 minutes after eating breakfast and were injected with ghrelin 40 minutes before viewing the pictures.
- Condition three: subjects came to the lab after skipping breakfast and were injected with the saltwater solution 40 minutes before viewing the pictures.
When injected, neither the researchers nor the subjects were aware of whether they were injected with salt water or ghrelin.
The results: Skipping breakfast is just like injecting ghrelin
The group that skipped breakfast (c) AND the group that ate breakfast and had the ghrelin injection (b) both preferred the high calorie foods.
The group that ate breakfast AND had the salt water injection (a) preferred the low calorie foods.
So don’t skip breakfast if weight loss is your goal!!
The best breakfast for reducing ghrelin (and your cravings)…
In a study, iiipublished in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers determined that protein is the best way to lower post meal ghrelin levels.
The ingestion of fats had little to no effect on post meal ghrelin levels, meaning that eating fat for breakfast is not going to help you make better decisions later in the day.
The ingestion of carbohydrates had an initial ghrelin lowering effect. But in a short period of time after eating carbohydrates, the ghrelin levels not only rebounded, but after only two hours, they rose to an even higher level than before. So eating lots of carbohydrates might also be counterproductive.
So, if you want to control your cravings for high calorie, fatty foods throughout the day, it might be wise to include a lot of protein along with a limited amount of carbohydrates and fats. I am not sure of the types of carbohydrates and fats used in the study, so it might be that carbohydrates high in fiber have a different effect – I just don’t know.
And you definitely require a certain amount of good fat in your diet, so please don’t overdo this.
A ghrelin pill?
Don’t expect ghrelin to show up in your local health food hotspot any time soon. Other studies indicate that artificially reducing ghrelin is also associated with a rise in feelings of depression.
Would losing weight be worth risking depression? Sadly, when people were surveyed on this question back in 2008, the majority of people said it would be worth the risk.
So would you take a pill that would help you lose weight even if you knew it would probably make you feel bad?
Please leave me your thoughts…
iPerello, Mario, and Ichiro Sakata, Shari Birnbaum, Jen-Chieh Chuang, Sherri Osborne-Lawrence, Sherry A. Rovinsky, Jakub Woloszyn, Masashi Yanagisawa, Michael Lutter, Jeffrey M. Zigman. “Ghrelin Increases the Rewarding Value of High-Fat Diet in an Orexin-Dependent Manner.” Journal of Biological Psychiatry. May 1 2010. Vol. 67, Issue 9, 880-886.
iiThe Endocrine Society 92nd Annual Meeting. San Francisco, California. June 21, 2010.
iiiWendy AM Blom, Anne Lluch, Annette Stafleu, Sophie Vinoy, Jens J Holst, Gertjan Schaafsma and Henk FJ Hendriks. “Effect of a High-Protein Breakfast on the Postprandial Ghrelin Response.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. February 2006. Vol. 83, No. 2, 211-220.