What’s New in Neuroscience

What’s New in Neuroscience

Neuroscience takes us on a remarkable tour of the inner workings of our minds, painting pictures that reveal who we are and why we do the things we do.

“What seems astonishing is that a mere three-pound object, made of the same atoms that constitute everything else under the sun, is capable of directing virtually everything that humans have done: flying to the moon and hitting seventy home runs, writing Hamlet and building the Taj Mahal — even unlocking the secrets of the brain itself.” – Joel Havemann

Research Summaries

  • Social Conformity: Public or Private Acceptance?

    Zaki, Schirmer & Mitchell

    Harvard University

    What is conformity? Is it publically going along to avoid social rejection or a true change in individual preference? When we conform, do we know we’re doing it? In organizations, how does conformity get in the way of good work? As leaders, how can we leverage this natural tendency to foster positive results?

    In the study, Social Influence Modulates the Neural Computation of Value (Psychological Science 22(7), 894-900, ), male participants rated the attractiveness of 180 female faces using a scale from 1 to 7. After assigning a value, their rating appeared for two seconds alongside a supposed average value assigned by several hundred other similar raters. In reality, the “peer” ratings were computer generated to be two to three points higher or lower than the participant’s rating. After waiting 30 minutes, the research subjects then rated each face a second time while being scanned using functional MRI. Participants showed a clear pattern of changing their ratings to conform to those of their supposed peers. Brain regions related to computing value showed increased activation while areas related to social anxiety did not, indicating that the revisions in ratings reflected an internal adoption of the social standard as opposed to a public show of acceptance to avoid social exclusion.

  • Physical Temperature Effects on Trust Behavior

    Kang, Williams, Clark, Gray & Bargh

    Yale and University of Colorado at Boulder

    It seems the old adage “cold hands, warm heart” fails to hold up under scientific scrutiny. How does temperature affect how you engage with other? In reality, how truly objective are your assessments of others?

    Recent neuroscience research indicates that the old saying “cold hands, warm heart” may turn out to be off base. In a study recently published in the Journal of Social and Affective Neuroscience (SCAN (2011) 6, 507-515), participants “briefly touched either a cold or warm pack, and then played an economic trust game.” The study found that subjects primed with cold invested less when playing with an anonymous partner than those who were primed with warm. Subsequent fMRI imaging studies implicate the insula in mediating the influence of temperature on trust processes.

  • Sleep’s Role in Learning

    Mander, Santhanam & Walker

    U.C. Berkeley

    In a 2010 study, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory investigated the hypothesis that cumulative experience over the course of a day can saturate the brain’s learning systems thereby decreasing learning capacity and that sleep restores that learning ability. Subjects performed a face-name recognition task at noon and at 6pm on two separate sets of 100 face-name pairs. Half the participants took a one hundred minute nap between the first and second tasks, while the other half remained awake. The study found a significant deterioration in learning ability for the no nap group, but no decrease for the group that napped. To read the original research paper, see