The Science Behind How Nature Changes Your Brain

Talking a walk amongst plants is good for you in many ways, but why? This questions recently bothered some neuroscientists and they set out to answer it. It turns out that exposure to nature changes the way blood flows in our brain in a way that makes us feel better.

Then the scientists randomly assigned half of the volunteers to walk for 90 minutes through a leafy, quiet, parklike portion of the Stanford campus or next to a loud, hectic, multi-lane highway in Palo Alto. The volunteers were not allowed to have companions or listen to music. They were allowed to walk at their own pace.

Immediately after completing their walks, the volunteers returned to the lab and repeated both the questionnaire and the brain scan.

As might have been expected, walking along the highway had not soothed people’s minds. Blood flow to their subgenual prefrontal cortex was still high and their broodiness scores were unchanged.

But the volunteers who had strolled along the quiet, tree-lined paths showed slight but meaningful improvements in their mental health, according to their scores on the questionnaire. They were not dwelling on the negative aspects of their lives as much as they had been before the walk.

Read more.

Using YouTube to Study Effects of Drugs

Researchers have noted that people like to get high and post video of themselves doing drugs. As a result some researchers are looking at YouTube videos to understand what salvia does to the brain and body. Strange, I know, but apparently these people sharing their drug trips can help us understand a little more about pharmacology.

They created a systematic coding scheme which researchers used when watching the videos. This allowed them both to categorise the effects and check that each viewer was agreeing on what they saw.

After watching 34 videos, each of which was selected to show an entire trip from the initial hit to when the effects wore off, the team categorised the effects into five main groups:

(1) hypo-movement (e.g. slumping into a slouched position, limp hands, facial muscles slack or relaxed and falling down), (2) hyper-movement (e.g. uncontrolled laughter, restlessness, touching or rubbing the face without apparent reason or thought), (3) emotional effects included being visibly excited or afraid, (4) speech effects (unable to make sense, problems with diction, problems with fluency, inability to speak, and having problems recalling words) and finally (5) heating effects related to being hot or heated (e.g. flushed, or user makes a statement about being hot or sweating).

Read the rest at Mind Hacks.

Thanks Trevor!

Twofer of Machine/Brain Interfaces

The ever quickening pace of technology is leading to more and more good news! The first bit is a great story from New Scientist.

cyborg illustration by Renegade Zen

A man named Matt Nagle controls a computer cursor by ‘thinking’ about it much like you would ‘think’ about moving your arm, despite being totally paralyzed. A brain implant the size of a pill with 96 electrodes allows the man to control the computer or a robotic arm through a system developed by the company Cyberkinetics.

The second bit of good neuroscience news comes from Wired magazine, and is all about a wild new DARPA project called the “cortically coupled computer vision system” or C3 Vision. The system uses an electrode cap to pick up the ‘aha!’ signal that your brain generates when it sees something interesting. As images flicker past the user, the ones that generate the ‘aha!’ signal are saved for later inspection by the user.

There are many commercial applications in military and law enforcement/security sectors, but one could imagine all sorts of other novel uses for the technology such as culling good designs from bad ones.

Readers of TAG will remember the story last month about Japan’s bionic hand