Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Neuropsy

The Mystery of Agatha’s Amnesia

By Tim Hannan

A popular fictional theme, psychogenic amnesia is a possible consequence of stress or trauma.

Watching the Detective

Credit: dynamosquito (CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Tim Hannan

Studies of neural activity in viewers of Sherlock reveal how we connect story elements.

Over the past century, research in cognitive neuroscience has enabled the development of a consistent and testable theory of how we perceive and remember individual pictures and words. Yet one question has continued to trouble researchers: how does the brain enable us to understand and recall a series of discrete words and pictures as a continuous story? A team of American researchers believes it may have solved this problem, with the assistance of Sherlock Holmes.

Wired for Sound?

Credit: Scott Griessel/Adobe

Credit: Scott Griessel/Adobe

By Tim Hannan

A new study proposes a biological cause for misophonia – the pathological hatred of sounds.

Many of us display a degree of discomfort when exposed to certain sounds, such as fingernails being scraped down a blackboard, the grinding of teeth, or fellow diners chewing their kale too loudly. For some people, however, these and certain other sounds trigger an intense emotional reaction involving increased physiological arousal, a feeling of disgust and the desire to flee.

Every Day I Hear the Book

By Tim Hannan

Some readers “hear” characters speaking to them, even when the book is finished.

Those who love literature often describe one of the joys of reading as the experience of being fully absorbed in the words and actions of a particular character, who seems to express the reader’s own thoughts, feelings or views of the world. A recent study by a team of British researchers found that some readers even experience the voices of fictional characters as a quasi-hallucinatory phenomenon, claiming to “hear” the words of fictional characters even when not reading.

Personality Influenced by Brain Structure

By Tim Hannan

Individual differences in personality have been associated with structural variation in the cortex.

The Man Who Mistook His Cat for a Spy

By Tim Hannan

A new report describes a variant of Capgras syndrome in which a patient believed that his cat had been stolen by the FBI and replaced by an imposter that was spying on him.

Capgras syndrome is an uncommon but distressing condition in which the sufferer expresses the bizarre belief that a person known to them has been replaced by a near-perfect duplicate. Named after the French psychiatrist who provided the first description in 1923, Capgras is one of a range of delusional syndromes in which a person believes that a person, place or object has disappeared and been replaced by a duplicate, such as an alien, robot or meticulously constructed building.

Send in the Creepy Clowns

Credit: moccabunny/Adobe

Credit: moccabunny/Adobe

By Tim Hannan

Fear of clowns may result from an evolutionary adaptive “creepiness detector”.

Creepy clown sightings have increased exponentially in recent months, with media reports of painted or masked pranksters simultaneously entertaining and terrorising Australians throughout the country. The craze originated in the USA, where it appears to have been triggered by a remake of the Stephen King movie It, which features a murderous, sewer-dwelling clown named Pennywise.

How Strong Is the Evidence for Brain Training Programs?

By Tim Hannan

The quality of research supporting brain training programs has been questioned.

It’s well-established that training on a cognitive task will usually improve performance on that task. However, companies that offer “brain training” software invariably make the bolder claim that the benefits of their products extend beyond the trained tasks to the improvement of a broader range of cognitive skills that enhance the user’s academic studies, professional goals and social pursuits.

The Sleep Switch

By Tim Hannan

Researchers have located a brain circuit that regulates sleep and wakefulness.

Sleep is often described as one of the three pillars of a healthy life, along with regular exercise and a balanced diet. Yet while studies have consistently demonstrated the detrimental effects of poor sleep on physical and mental well-being, much less is known about the processes that regulate sleep and wakefulness, including the location and interaction of the neurobiological mechanisms critical to the initiation of sleep.

Childhood Trauma and the Developing Brain

By Tim Hannan

A new study has identified the neurological basis for why some adolescents who have experienced childhood trauma are resilient while others are prone to mood disorders.

Psychologists have long recognised the challenges inherent in treating children who have experienced trauma during childhood, especially where this has been repeated in occurrence, extended in duration, or severe in impact. The effects of such early experience include a range of emotional, behavioural and cognitive symptoms, presumed to result at least in part to trauma-induced changes in the developing brain. A new study has identified specific brain mechanisms that are affected by early trauma and associated with successful adaptation and vulnerability to mood and anxiety problems.