#WSF18: Why Music Makes Us Shiver

I have some friends who have tried to describe the overwhelming emotion they feel when listening to a certain piece of music, so much so that it sometimes brings them to tears. While I could empathize with the sensation, my reaction to the same piece was often completely different. Personal experience and context for which the piece is playing are just two variables that can affect the way we interpret music and explain why we find some melodies more mesmerizing than others. But what is it exactly that gives a piece its character, and what more is taking place within our brains when we process sounds?

To further explore this phenomenon of music and its ability to dictate our emotions, an expert group of neuroscientists and musicians took the stage for a World Science Festival event, “Notes on the Folds: Why Music Makes Us Shiver.” With John Schaefer, host and producer of a nationally-acclaimed WNYC radio show, as moderator, the conversation began with a solo performance by composer Mari Kimura.

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Mari Kimura and John Schaefer. Photo: World Science Festival

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#WSF18: What Causes Extremism in the Brain?

Why did the World Science Festival organize a talk about the roots of extremism as part of this year’s celebration? Moderator Maria Konnikova explained that, under the current US administration, it is very hard to escape political discussion. With extreme views on both sides, the question of whether we are becoming a more extreme society is something on everyone’s mind.

Where does extremism come from and are we becoming more extreme? Three psychologists and neuroscientists tried to answer these questions and others at “The Roots of Extremism: The Fundamentalist in Your Brain,” a program on the final day of the World Science Festival in New York City. Jonathan Haidt, social psychologist at New York University’s Stern School of Business, Jay Van Bavel, associate professor of psychology & neural science at New York University, and Katherine Porterfield, clinical psychologist at the Bellevue/NYU program for Survivors of Torture, discussed extremism and fundamentalism, and how it relates to the brain.

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From left: Jonathan Haidt, Katherine Porterfield, Jay Van Bavel, and moderator Maria Konnikova. Photo: World Science Festival

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2018 Brain Awareness Video Contest

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Thanks to a growing Brain Awareness Week partnership, we know there are many people out there who are passionate about educating the public about the brain. The Brain Awareness Video Contest, sponsored by the Society for Neuroscience (SfN), provides a wonderful opportunity to reach even more people, and to develop something unique and creative.

Due June 14, these videos must describe a neuroscience concept in less than five minutes, in a fun and captivating way. Anyone can enter! And on top of the sense of accomplishment, the top three winners and the People’s Choice winner receive cash prizes. The first-place winner will also receive a free trip to this year’s SfN annual meeting in sunny San Diego, where the video will be screened at the Brain Awareness Reception.

For contest details, visit the BrainFacts.org website, run by SfN.

Good luck!

Bringing Consciousness to the Stage

An ongoing challenge in brain research is trying to understand how neuro-activity creates consciousness or the awareness of one’s self.  For example, we don’t understand how the brain creates colors and or why individuals process smell differently. Your favorite color is blue; mine is green. You hate even a sniff of gasoline, but I enjoy it. These are the hard problems of neuroscience and philosophy that we haven’t made a great deal of progress on.

Enter Baba Brinkman, a performance artist who has taken on explaining what makes our brains tick using words and images. His one-man, somewhat interactive show, “Rap Guide to Consciousness,” at the SoHo Playhouse through the middle of May, fuses hip-hop, humor, and neuroscience together in a 90-minute multi-media presentation that attempts to explain complex topics such as free will, artificial intelligence, the effects of psychedelic drugs, Bayesian probability, the presence or absence of thoughts in infants and animals, and much more.

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Heather Berlin, a neuroscientist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine, gains insight into her husband’s brain. He created Rap Guide to Consciousness, now playing at the SoHo Playhouse in Manhattan.

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2018 Brain Awareness Impact Stories

BAW-generalToday is the first day of Brain Awareness Week and we couldn’t be more thrilled with our partners’ commitment to educating the public about the importance of brain research in our daily lives.

Earlier this year, we spotlighted three exceptional partners on our blog, and now the International Brain Research Organization (IBRO) is doing something similar. This week, they’ll feature “Brain Awareness Impact Stories” from their Global Advocacy Initiative seed grant awardees “who have made important impacts in their local communities.”

Visit their website or follow them on Facebook to read these compelling stories, which begin in the state of Veracruz, Mexico. This piece highlights the efforts of neurophysiologist Luis Beltran-Parrazal to address a local public health crisis as the result of a hereditary disease of the central nervous system, spinocerebellar ataxia type 7.

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