10 There is still plenty we do not know about language. For instance, scientists recently uncovered a language called Koro, spoken by only 800 people in northeastern India. And another study showed that we automatically distrust what people say when they speak with a foreign accent. As Harvard University psychologist Alfonso Caramazza will explain in a lecture, scientists often make inferences about how the normal language system works by examining people who have damage to the areas of the brain that process language. Caramazza will also try to map the language centers of the brain using magnets, which can temporarily disable neural regions.
Santa Barbara, Calif.
10 Scientists who are dedicated to unraveling the complexities of a disease often become obsessed. But sometimes an obsession with research can become a kind of disease in itself. In Sharr White’s new play The Other Place, which extends through April 24 at the MCC Theater, scientist Juliana Smithton is consumed by her investigation of the molecular basis of Alzheimer’s. But just as she comes close to a potential therapeutic breakthrough, Smithton inexplicably finds herself battling memory loss and other symptoms characteristic of the disease she is trying to cure.
New York City
17–19 The magic stays with us long after we have outgrown the fantasy novels and stopped believing in Santa Claus. Humans are hardwired to find patterns and cause-and-effect relationships, but when we cannot find any, we naturally turn to the supernatural to explain a situation. At the three-day Second Global Conference on Magic and the Supernatural, researchers will discuss the neuroscience of magical thinking and the ways some traumatized individuals try to cope with abuse and tragedy by attributing their suffering to mystical forces or imaginary beings instead of admitting that someone they love has hurt them.
Prague, Czech Republic
21 Is there a psychological basis for racism? One thought is that our brains evolved to notice anyone who is different from us. A new study has found that mirror neurons, which help us mimic and empathize with others, are less likely to fire in response to someone of
a different race. But we have the power to overcome our prejudiced impulses. During the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, we can remember the mistakes and celebrate the progress we have made to try to eliminate race-based discrimination.
26–30 People who live to age 100 in good health often have brain lesions that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. Somehow these sprightly centenarians show no signs of dementia. Scientists think this remarkable resilience is largely explained by a unique set of longevity genes—if you have a centenarian relative, your chances of living a long life are much higher than average. But lifestyle choices—namely, diet and exercise—also make a big difference. Scientists will gather at the five-day Aging in America conference to discuss potential causes and treatments for Alzheimer’s and related dementia.
MUSEUM ROUNDUP: Exploring Who We Are
Three museum exhibits probe the mind, exploring how early psychologists tried to do so, how we attempt to define ourselves and what makes us tick.
Without fancy neuroimaging technology, how did early psychologists probe our minds? At the London Science Museum’s Mind Your Head exhibit, you can experiment with models of historical tools that psychologists once used to study people’s personality and intelligence. Test your spatial memory with the Visualization of Cubes Test, which psychologist Colin Elliott originally devised in 1983 to evaluate cognitive functioning in adolescents. And in the Telling Stories display, learn how early psychoanalysts relied on the power of storytelling, or the “talking cure,” to help patients work through their problems.
Many people think genes determine ethnicity. But as the exhibit Race: Are We So Different? at the Boston Science Museum explains, although certain genes are more common in various races, there is no set of Asian genes or Hispanic genes. Ethnicity is largely a social construct: we tend to create divisions in our minds based on physical appearance.
Psychologists asked participants to lie inside a functional MRI scanner next to a live corn snake—all in the name of science, of course. The findings revealed that a brain region called the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex (sgACC) is associated with courage: the participants who were able to control their fear effectively and get closest to the snake showed the highest activity in the sgACC. Find out how your brain handles fear at the Virginia Science Museum’s Goose Bumps! The Science of Fear, where you can conquer the terror of falling or your phobia of public speaking.