How curiosity boosts memory

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Photo: Pixabay/CC0 1.0

You’re sitting at your desk, desperately trying to learn a list of facts about a mind-numbingly boring subject for an exam the next day. You give up and decide to relax by watching a documentary about a fascinating subject. After all of the effort you put into trying to learn the facts for the exam, you find that you can’t remember a single one of them, although you can remember the tiniest details from the documentary.

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Sex talk – it’s all about electricity and vibrations

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Image by Nemo/CCO

During mating rituals, animals usually communicate through touch, sight, smell, or hearing. Some species communicate in unconventional ways, relying on vibrational and electric signals rather than the more common sensory approaches. These unique signals are often invisible to other animals that do not possess the organs needed to perceive them. Continue reading

Masters of deception: how spiders trick ants

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Image edited: vectorsme (ant);Nemo/30559 images (spider), CCO

 All spiders are predators, but most of them are small and have rudimentary defences against larger animals that in turn prey on them. Spiders have thus evolved a range of predatory behaviours that, at the same time, allow them to evade the threat of predation – and some of the most effective strategies involve deceiving ants.

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‘Inner GPS’ of a bird’s brain helps it find food

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Clark’s Nutcracker (Image: Wing-Chi Poon, CC BY-SA)

The 2014 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine was awarded to three neuroscientists for their pioneering work on the brain’s “inner GPS system”. Over the course of four decades, they revealed that a small part in the brain called the hippocampus stores a map of animals’ surroundings and helps them navigate.

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Revealing cicada song patterns through audiolisation

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cicada-bugs-pictureOur brains are incredibly powerful pattern detecting devices. Scientists have often relied on our ability to detect visual patterns when trying to convey structure in their data: graphs, maps, images from under microscopes or telescopes. Sometimes, however, other sensory modalities are more appropriate for certain types of data.

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Bacteria and the brain

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Invasive bacteria battle native microbes in the gut. Photo: U-M Health/CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

One of medicine’s greatest innovations in the 20th century was the development of antibiotics. It’s a treatment that has transformed our ability to combat disease. And yet medicine in the 21st century is undertaking a re-evaluation of bacteria and concluding that, far from being uniformly bad for us, many of these organisms are actually essential for our health.

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Drug policy at a crossroads: Why banning legal highs would be short-sighted

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The local drug dealer. Photo: M88nly, CC BY-SA 3.0

A few doors down from my house, a man is selling drugs. But he’s not standing on a street corner, skittishly glancing up and down the road. Instead, he is sat behind a desk, in a small room lined with neat glass cabinets – and if anything, he looks rather bored. Continue reading

False memories, real implications

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False memories (Image Scout; CC BY; edited)

“When I was young, my dad and his best friend went fishing in a very remote part of the NZ bush. They got lost and somehow crashed into a tree. The story was often recollected and retold at gatherings of family and friends. I always thought I remembered the crash so clearly as I was in the car at the time, belted in the back seat.. It was a scary but exhilarating experience for a child. However, I was told as a young adult that [I was] never there.” Continue reading