Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Mind


There is a growing trend of inactivity among children, which may not only result in poorer physical health, but also poorer cognitive health. Previous research has shown that lower fitness has been related to decreased cognitive function for tasks requiring perception, memory, and cognitive control as well as lower academic achievement.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognitive psychology, Cognition, Memory, Cognitive science, Perception, Mind, Neuropsychological assessment


Ayahuasca is an Amazonian psychoactive plant beverage containing the serotonergic 5-HT(2A) agonist N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and monoamine oxidase-inhibiting alkaloids (harmine, harmaline and tetrahydroharmine) that render it orally active. Ayahuasca ingestion is a central feature in several Brazilian syncretic churches that have expanded their activities to urban Brazil, Europe and North America. Members of these groups typically ingest ayahuasca at least twice per month. Prior research has shown that acute ayahuasca increases blood flow in prefrontal and temporal brain regions and that it elicits intense modifications in thought processes, perception and emotion. However, regular ayahuasca use does not seem to induce the pattern of addiction-related problems that characterize drugs of abuse. To study the impact of repeated ayahuasca use on general psychological well-being, mental health and cognition, here we assessed personality, psychopathology, life attitudes and neuropsychological performance in regular ayahuasca users (n = 127) and controls (n = 115) at baseline and 1 year later. Controls were actively participating in non-ayahuasca religions. Users showed higher Reward Dependence and Self-Transcendence and lower Harm Avoidance and Self-Directedness. They scored significantly lower on all psychopathology measures, showed better performance on the Stroop test, the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test and the Letter-Number Sequencing task from the WAIS-III, and better scores on the Frontal Systems Behavior Scale. Analysis of life attitudes showed higher scores on the Spiritual Orientation Inventory, the Purpose in Life Test and the Psychosocial Well-Being test. Despite the lower number of participants available at follow-up, overall differences with controls were maintained one year later. In conclusion, we found no evidence of psychological maladjustment, mental health deterioration or cognitive impairment in the ayahuasca-using group.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognitive psychology, Cognition, Snake scales, Perception, Mind, Psychiatry, Neuropsychological test


This study replicates and extends the findings of previous research (Wright, H., & Jenks, R. A. (2016). Sex on the brain! Associations between sexual activity and cognitive function in older age. Age and Ageing, 45, 313-317. doi:10.1093/ageing/afv197) which found a significant association between sexual activity (SA) and cognitive function in older adults. Specifically, this study aimed to generalize these findings to a range of cognitive domains, and to assess whether increasing SA frequency is associated with increasing scores on a variety of cognitive tasks.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Cognition, Educational psychology, Old age, Mind, Thought, Association of Ideas


Humans in all societies form and participate in cooperative alliances. To successfully navigate an alliance-laced world, the human mind needs to detect new coalitions and alliances as they emerge, and predict which of many potential alliance categories are currently organizing an interaction. We propose that evolution has equipped the mind with cognitive machinery that is specialized for performing these functions: an alliance detection system. In this view, racial categories do not exist because skin color is perceptually salient; they are constructed and regulated by the alliance system in environments where race predicts social alliances and divisions. Early tests using adversarial alliances showed that the mind spontaneously detects which individuals are cooperating against a common enemy, implicitly assigning people to rival alliance categories based on patterns of cooperation and competition. But is social antagonism necessary to trigger the categorization of people by alliance-that is, do we cognitively link A and B into an alliance category only because they are jointly in conflict with C and D? We report new studies demonstrating that peaceful cooperation can trigger the detection of new coalitional alliances and make race fade in relevance. Alliances did not need to be marked by team colors or other perceptually salient cues. When race did not predict the ongoing alliance structure, behavioral cues about cooperative activities up-regulated categorization by coalition and down-regulated categorization by race, sometimes eliminating it. Alliance cues that sensitively regulated categorization by coalition and race had no effect on categorization by sex, eliminating many alternative explanations for the results. The results support the hypothesis that categorizing people by their race is a reversible product of a cognitive system specialized for detecting alliance categories and regulating their use. Common enemies are not necessary to erase important social boundaries; peaceful cooperation can have the same effect.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognition, Cognitive science, Philosophy of mind, Mind, Thought, Race, Human skin color


Cognition is one of the most flexible tools enabling adaptation to environmental variation. Living close to humans is thought to influence social as well as physical cognition of animals throughout domestication and ontogeny. Here, we investigated to what extent physical cognition and two domains of social cognition of dogs have been affected by domestication and ontogeny. To address the effects of domestication, we compared captive wolves (n = 12) and dogs (n = 14) living in packs under the same conditions. To explore developmental effects, we compared these dogs to pet dogs (n = 12) living in human families. The animals were faced with a series of object-choice tasks, in which their response to communicative, behavioural and causal cues was tested. We observed that wolves outperformed dogs in their ability to follow causal cues, suggesting that domestication altered specific skills relating to this domain, whereas developmental effects had surprisingly no influence. All three groups performed similarly in the communicative and behavioural conditions, suggesting higher ontogenetic flexibility in the two social domains. These differences across cognitive domains need to be further investigated, by comparing domestic and non-domesticated animals living in varying conditions.

Concepts: Psychology, Human, Developmental biology, Cognition, Mind, Thought, Face perception, Dog


Making new breakthroughs in understanding the processes underlying human cognition may depend on the availability of very large datasets that have not historically existed in psychology and neuroscience. Lumosity is a web-based cognitive training platform that has grown to include over 600 million cognitive training task results from over 35 million individuals, comprising the largest existing dataset of human cognitive performance. As part of the Human Cognition Project, Lumosity’s collaborative research program to understand the human mind, Lumos Labs researchers and external research collaborators have begun to explore this dataset in order uncover novel insights about the correlates of cognitive performance. This paper presents two preliminary demonstrations of some of the kinds of questions that can be examined with the dataset. The first example focuses on replicating known findings relating lifestyle factors to baseline cognitive performance in a demographically diverse, healthy population at a much larger scale than has previously been available. The second example examines a question that would likely be very difficult to study in laboratory-based and existing online experimental research approaches at a large scale: specifically, how learning ability for different types of cognitive tasks changes with age. We hope that these examples will provoke the imagination of researchers who are interested in collaborating to answer fundamental questions about human cognitive performance.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognition, Cognitive science, Perception, Mind, Thought, Cognitive neuroscience, Collaboration


We present, to our knowledge, the first demonstration that a non-invasive brain-to-brain interface (BBI) can be used to allow one human to guess what is on the mind of another human through an interactive question-and-answering paradigm similar to the “20 Questions” game. As in previous non-invasive BBI studies in humans, our interface uses electroencephalography (EEG) to detect specific patterns of brain activity from one participant (the “respondent”), and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to deliver functionally-relevant information to the brain of a second participant (the “inquirer”). Our results extend previous BBI research by (1) using stimulation of the visual cortex to convey visual stimuli that are privately experienced and consciously perceived by the inquirer; (2) exploiting real-time rather than off-line communication of information from one brain to another; and (3) employing an interactive task, in which the inquirer and respondent must exchange information bi-directionally to collaboratively solve the task. The results demonstrate that using the BBI, ten participants (five inquirer-respondent pairs) can successfully identify a “mystery item” using a true/false question-answering protocol similar to the “20 Questions” game, with high levels of accuracy that are significantly greater than a control condition in which participants were connected through a sham BBI.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Electroencephalography, Visual perception, Mind, Transcranial magnetic stimulation, Problem solving, Neurotechnology


The influence of speech production on speech perception is well established in adults. However, because adults have a long history of both perceiving and producing speech, the extent to which the perception-production linkage is due to experience is unknown. We addressed this issue by asking whether articulatory configurations can influence infants' speech perception performance. To eliminate influences from specific linguistic experience, we studied preverbal, 6-mo-old infants and tested the discrimination of a nonnative, and hence never-before-experienced, speech sound distinction. In three experimental studies, we used teething toys to control the position and movement of the tongue tip while the infants listened to the speech sounds. Using ultrasound imaging technology, we verified that the teething toys consistently and effectively constrained the movement and positioning of infants' tongues. With a looking-time procedure, we found that temporarily restraining infants' articulators impeded their discrimination of a nonnative consonant contrast but only when the relevant articulator was selectively restrained to prevent the movements associated with producing those sounds. Our results provide striking evidence that even before infants speak their first words and without specific listening experience, sensorimotor information from the articulators influences speech perception. These results transform theories of speech perception by suggesting that even at the initial stages of development, oral-motor movements influence speech sound discrimination. Moreover, an experimentally induced “impairment” in articulator movement can compromise speech perception performance, raising the question of whether long-term oral-motor impairments may impact perceptual development.

Concepts: Infant, Perception, Sense, Mind, Acoustics, Phonetics, Philosophy of perception, Tongue


Hallucinations occur in both normal and clinical populations. Due to their unpredictability and complexity, the mechanisms underlying hallucinations remain largely untested. Here we show that visual hallucinations can be induced in the normal population by visual flicker, limited to an annulus that constricts content complexity to simple moving grey blobs, allowing objective mechanistic investigation. Hallucination strength peaked at ~11 Hz flicker and was dependent on cortical processing. Hallucinated motion speed increased with flicker rate, when mapped onto visual cortex it was independent of eccentricity, underwent local sensory adaptation and showed the same bistable and mnemonic dynamics as sensory perception. A neural field model with motion selectivity provides a mechanism for both hallucinations and perception. Our results demonstrate that hallucinations can be studied objectively, and they share multiple mechanisms with sensory perception. We anticipate that this assay will be critical to test theories of human consciousness and clinical models of hallucination.

Concepts: Mind, Schizophrenia, Hallucination, Psychosis, Philosophy of perception, Illusion, Hallucinations in the sane, Apparitional experience


Pervasive negative thoughts about the self are central to the experience of depression. Brain imaging studies in the general population have localised self-related cognitive processing to areas of the medial pre-frontal cortex.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Human brain, Cognition, Hippocampus, Mind, Major depressive disorder, Major depressive episode