Tickets on Sale for Brainwave 2017: Perception

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Photo credit: Adam Ferguson

Tickets are now on sale to the public for the Rubin Museum of Art’s 2017 Brainwave series on perception. Based in New York City, this series, which runs from January 25 – April 29, pairs scientists and artists, celebrities, and other personalities for talks on topics related to the program theme.

As described on the Rubin Museum’s website:

“The tenth season of Brainwave will help us better understand the limits of our perception, allowing us to change our brains, unshackle ourselves from the past, and unleash creativity, growth, and inspiration.”

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Facial Cues and the Brain

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As human beings, we can tend to be a little judgmental–sometimes without even realizing it. When we first meet someone, our brains are busy processing facial features, body language, personality traits, etc., within milliseconds of just saying “hello.” So what characteristics make us assume certain things about people we just meet, and can these unconscious first impressions really change the way we perceive someone?

Expanding on this topic, neuroscientist Jon Freeman, Ph.D., spoke to a room crowded with eager listeners as the featured guest in the latest event from the Secret Science Club. As director of the Social Cognitive & Neural Sciences lab at New York University, Freeman devotes all of his research to understanding “split-second social perception”—that is, how our brains use subtle facial cues, personality traits, and emotion to instantly categorize others into social groups. With the help of brain imaging technology (fMRI), electrophysiology (EEG and ERP), and real-time behavioral techniques, Freeman is able to study activity within the brain in hopes of learning more about the phenomena of snap judgments.

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How Expectations Influence Human Behavior

Hello, my name is Simon Fischweicher, and I’m a fantasy nerd. In high school I outlined an entire epic fantasy series filled with fairies, centaurs, talking raccoons, and demi-gods. I’ve spent an entire day watching all three “Lord of the Rings” movies in a row. And, I love George R. R. Martin’s epic fantasy series “A Song of Ice and Fire,” or “Game of Thrones” as it is more commonly known because of the HBO television series adaptation. So naturally, when I heard Peter Dinklage, the actor who plays Tyrion Lannister on “Game of Thrones,” would be speaking at one of the Rubin Museum’s Brainwave events, I had to go.

The event, titled “The Actor,” showcased a conversation between Peter Dinklage and Dan Ariely, Ph.D., James B. Duke Professor of Psychology & Behavioral Economics at Duke University. Their discussion focused on the illusions, expectations, and perceptions created by actors, but also branched into other areas, such as a behavioral discussion of lying and Dinklage’s frustration with the film industry’s demeaning attitude toward roles for little people.

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(Credit: Michael Palma for The Rubin Museum)

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Kandel and Wiesel Talk Memory

Last Sunday, two Nobel Laureates, Eric Kandel and Elie Wiesel, oscillated brilliantly between emotion and reason while discussing memory at the 92nd Street Y.

In neuroscience circles, Kandel, a Dana Alliance for Brain Initiatives member, gained acclaim in 1965 for his groundbreaking work with the California Sea Slug Aplysia by showing how the classical conditioning of an organism leads to the intercellular rearrangement of its neurons. As a pioneering researcher committed to discerning the intercellular basis of learning and memory, he was a perfect complement to Wiesel’s humanistic perspective on memory.

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Video games stay on the brain?

Thinking of sneaking in a few rounds of Halo during your lunch break? You may want to reconsider—the video games we play may have long-lasting effects on how we study and work.

According to a new study in the journal Perception, different genres of video games “prime” us for certain ways of thinking. Scientists at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., found that, after playing Unreal Tournament, a fast-action first-person shooting game, people were faster but less accurate at spatial and perception tasks. In contrast, after sitting down to Portal, which involves solving puzzles, people became more accurate but slower at the follow-up tasks.

In some ways, this is not too surprising. Scientists have long known that, over time, video games—like any form of entertainment—cause changes in the brain. As Douglas Gentile
writes in a recent Cerebrum piece
, these effects are many and can have both positive and negative influences. Fast-paced games can increase reaction times and perceptual discrimination, just as violent video games can blunt typical brain reactions to the suffering
of others.

But psychology professor Rolf Nelson, who led the study, speculates that the priming effect might have significant effects on our day-to-day work and school lives, since the changes show up after only an hour of play. Such a short chunk of time, he says, suggests that action fans may return to homework assignments with increased speed at the cost of making more mistakes; puzzle aficionados might become more methodical and accurate at work but fail to meet deadlines.

Determining whether that is actually the case will require significantly more study, of course. Video games are complex and varied and rarely have a single mode of play, while the tasks presented to research subjects don’t really reflect what goes on in the modern workplace. It’s also unclear how long the effect lasts and whether people can become “immune” to it. But such studies demonstrate the usefulness of research that parses out the exact effects of video games and other technologies on the brain. If confirmed, Nelson’s work suggests that some frantic Call of Duty action might help me meet pending afternoon deadlines—OK as long as my editor ensures an extra-sharp eye with some rounds of Tetris and Minesweeper.

-Aalok Mehta

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