I am sitting at my desk in a nearly empty office on a December evening, feeling the sort of directionless melancholy that tends to take hold as the holiday season sets in, listening to a video of a gentle Russian woman whispering in my ear about how much she cares about my relaxation.
“You are appreciated,” she says, making scratching noises into a microphone so it sounds like she’s scratching my head. “I would like to protect you, to comfort you, to help you relax and forget about your trouble, whatever it is.”
I’ve got to be honest, it feels like a pretty weird and lonely thing to do.
But the video doesn’t work on me the way it’s supposed to. For many of her fans, Maria’s voice causes a sensation the Internet has dubbed ASMR—autonomous sensory meridian response. Those who get ASMR describe the experience as a tingling inside their heads, or a head rush. Sometimes the sensation extends down their backs or limbs. It’s often referred to as a brain-gasm, but counterintuitively, it’s also supposed to be relaxing, a mellow feeling.
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Ready your knowing smirk, because here comes a scientific gem that’s sure to enliven even the dullest of holiday parties.
By analyzing the MRIs of 949 people aged 8 to 22, scientists at the University of Pennsylvania found that male brains have more connections within each hemisphere, while female brains are more interconnected between hemispheres.
Yes, take that, Mike from IT! It, like, so explains why you just dropped the eggnog while attempting to make flirty conversation with Janet from Accounting.
Just kidding; we still have no idea why men or women do anything in particular. But the study, released today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is interesting because it is one of the first to discover differences in the brain’s structural connectivity in a large sample size of people from a variety of age groups.
Matt Lieberman, a distinguished social psychologist and neuroscientist, basically won the lottery. This past summer, he was offered three million dollars for an academic position—one million in raw income and two to do lab research. That’s a king’s ransom for a psychology professor. On average, psychology professors make less than six figures and rely on a patchwork of modest grants to sustain their research. All Lieberman had to do was spend four months this year and next year in Moscow, a nice enough city, doing some research—which he would have done anyway at home at UCLA.
But there was a catch. He would have to be away from his wife Naomi and seven-year-old son Ian for those eight months. They could not join him in Moscow. He had a basic trade-off problem, one that kept him up for many nights: Should I take the money and give up those eight months with my family or should I stay home and give up the money and research opportunities? In one form or another, we’ve all faced this dilemma, if on a more modest scale. Do you work late tonight or join your family for dinner? Do you go to the conference or to your friend’s wedding? Do you prioritize your career or your relationships?
There is a motif, in fiction and in life, of people having wonderful things happen to them, but still ending up unhappy. We can adapt to anything, it seems—you can get your dream job, marry a wonderful human, finally get 1 million dollars or Twitter followers—eventually we acclimate and find new things to complain about.
If you want to look at it on a micro level, take an average day. You go to work; make some money; eat some food; interact with friends, family or co-workers; go home; and watch some TV. Nothing particularly bad happens, but you still can’t shake a feeling of stress, or worry, or inadequacy, or loneliness.
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This week, The Atlantic will travel to the Pacific for a summit all about health, covering everything from cancer and big data to wireless technology and wellness. But for the philosophers among us, the most intriguing topic is neuroscience, a discipline that mixes nascent knowledge of the brain with thousands of years of wonder about the human mind. A handful of scientists and entrepreneurs who will be at the event spoke with me about their latest projects and grandest aspirations, and a few even let their philosophical sides show through.
Read more. [Image: Reuters]
"Flow": What academics define as "a subject’s complete immersion in creative activity, typified by focused self-motivation, positive emotional valence, and loss of self-consciousness," or, per the inimitable Urban Dictionary, “a rapper’s ability to rhyme to phat beats in a skillful manner.”
Read more. [Images: Reuters, Scientific Reports, PLoS ONE]
Kids spend an increasing fraction of their formative years online, and it is a habit they dutifully carry into adulthood. Under the right circumstances, however, a love affair with the Internet may spiral out of control and even become an addiction.
Whereas descriptions of online addiction are controversial at best among researchers, a new study cuts through much of the debate and hints that excessive time online can physically rewire a brain.
» via Scientific American