Questioning Perception with Illusions

Can you spot the difference between the two pictures in the video above? Most of the packed audience at the “The Neuroscience of Illusion” event at the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan couldn’t. What if we told you to look for something the men couldn’t leave without? Even with that clue, many attendees were still stumped. One women continued to struggle even when told to look for the man without a hat. If you’re like her and still confused, the engine of the plane is only present in one picture!

What makes it so hard to see what’s right in front of us? The audience’s response to the video illustrates that our field of vision, called the “attention spotlight,” is very narrow, said Apollo Robbins, speaker at the event. Called “The Gentleman Thief,” Robbins is a master pickpocket and illusionist who is said to have picked the pockets of more than 250,000 men and women. When we are focused on something intently, we may miss other important details. Pickpockets manipulate this shortcoming to divert attention and steal, he said.

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Upcoming Brain Events in New York City

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This year’s Brain Awareness Week (BAW) was another success with over 850 registered events worldwide (including 42 countries and 44 states)! We spoke with BAW partners from Korea, Israel, and the US, and went to the Rubin Museum of Art in NYC to learn more about perception with their Brainwave series. For those of you living in the NYC area, if you weren’t able to attend any local events, it’s not too late!

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Video Games and the Brain: Action, Strategy, and Pac-Man

Playing some video games can cause serious harm, while others might improve or restore skills, suggested three panelists at the American Association for the Advancement of Science this week.

“Not all games are created equal,” said Chandramallika Basak, a researcher at the University of Texas at Dallas. She and her colleagues study how memory and other skills change across our lifespan; part of that includes research investigating brain and cognitive effects of different games, especially as people get older.

Not everything in your brain declines with age (crystallized memory stays strong), but she’s looking for activities that could strengthen the ones that do, especially working memory (including how fast you can update current information) and task-switching (how fast you can switch when multitasking). Assuming there is a “functional threshold” for success at daily life, she wonders, “Can we keep this declining cognitive abilities stable for a few more years” above this threshold. “If I’m going to live to 90, I’d rather get it [dementia] at 89” as opposed to earlier, she said.

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AAAS’s Deborah Runkle moderates the Q&A session with, from left, Craig Anderson, Hilarie Cash, and Chandramallika Basak.

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Eye Health for Kids

Vision is not only crucial for children’s physical, cognitive, and social development, it can continue to affect health and happiness all through adulthood. A recent report about children’s vision and eye health revealed that more than one in five preschool-age children have a vision disorder, which can range from mild refractive errors (i.e. myopia—nearsightedness, hyperopia—farsightedness, astigmatism) to vision loss. While there is a lot being done to ensure a nationally-recognized system to promote eye health, it’s important to build awareness around the genetic and environmental factors that play a role in visual disorders.

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Test Your Knowledge: Brain Trivia

Do we really only use ten percent of our brains? Is it possible to be genuinely skilled at multitasking? With so much information out there about our brains, separating fact from fiction is not always an easy feat. Part of our mission at the Dana Foundation is to educate the public about the brain and its functions and potential; so we set out to do just that at this year’s NYC Regional Brain Bee.

We approached attendees at random and asked a set of brain-related trivia questions. With a mixed bag of responses, our goal was to not only debunk some common misconceptions, but share a few new facts as well:

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