Homemade Neuroscience: DIY Experiments for Kids

We know it’s important to keep busy with activities to avoid the dreaded summer slide. We also don’t expect your child’s summer to be a hotter version of being in the classroom—you can have fun while exploring different interests! We’re a bit biased to the brain and the way it works, so here are a few fun, educational, and easy neuroscience-themed experiments that you can do in your own home during these last few weeks of summer vacation. Have fun!

Make Your Own Brain Hemisphere Hat

This one is super easy but can teach you a lot about how the brain works. All you have to do is print out the brain hemisphere templates available for download on this website. The PDF gives a small size and a larger version for those of us with extra-large brains up there. Once you’ve printed out the templates, you can begin to color the different parts of the brain—frontal cortex, occipital lobe, temporal lobe, etc.—while also learning their respective functions thanks to illustrations on the hat. For example, in the frontal lobe, we see, “Logic 3x=6,” because the frontal lobe aids our logical thinking activities. When you finish coloring it’s as simple as following the instructions on the templates and now you have your very own brain outside the brain!

Fast Hands

Reactions help us avoid touching hot surfaces, getting hit by snowballs, or colliding with swerving car. This next experiment tests the speed of our reactions with the use of a ruler. All you need is a ruler and a friend. While one friend holds the ruler with their strong hand at the bottom of the ruler, the other friend will say “GO” at which point the partner holding the ruler will let go and allow it to slide from their grasp. As quickly as possible, try to catch it so it doesn’t fall completely through your hands. You can measure how quickly you were able to let go and re-grab the ruler based on the centimeters between the new grip and the original holding place. Repeat 5 times and take an average to see who has the quickest reaction time.

Touch Here, Touch There

This activity is another partner experiment but it tests our brains’ awareness of our bodies. You’ll need two washable markers or pens of different colors. While Partner 1 stands with their eyes closed, Partner 2 will make a single dot with the marker somewhere on Partner 2’s visible skin. Now, without opening their eyes, Partner 2 will use the other colored marker to try and touch the exact same spot their partner touched on their body. You can measure accuracy by the distance between the two points. This is one of my favorite experiments because it shows us how awesome our brains truly are. Even with our eyes closed our brains know where every spot on our body is, almost like it has a 3D map of our body stored in its hard drive ready to access whenever we need it.

Afterimages

When it comes to our brains, they serve a lot of very important functions, including allowing us to experience the world around us. Perception is how our brain helps us interpret the stimuli that we are exposed to each day and includes how we smell, touch, hear, taste, and see. This experiment lets us explore a fun quirk related to how the brain works with our eyes to perceive colors. All you need to do is find some good examples of pre-images online or make your own using different colored bright markers. Some good examples and the science behind the illusion can be found here. Once you’ve found your images, go to a well-lit room and stare at one image for 35 seconds, then move your gaze to a plain white surface such as a wall, table, or piece of printer paper. You will see the same image, except the colors will be different. See if you can figure out which after-colors coincide with the originals.

Taste Test Trick

This final experiment studies how color affects our perceived taste. You will need 10 cups, 5 different flavored clear juices, and food coloring. Have someone write down the type of juice on the bottom of each cup, or on a secret note, and pour each of the juice types into separate cups (2 cups per juice). Now, add food coloring to one of each pair to dye the juice a different color from the original color. For example, dye one of the grape juices red and one of the cherry cups green. Taste test the “wrong” colored drinks and record your guesses. Now, taste test the correctly colored drinks and record your guesses. Compare and see how color affects your ability to identify the juices.

Want more?

If you are local to NeuroPlus HQ in the North Carolina Triangle and enjoy these types of activities, register for our first ever NeuroPlus hosted mini-camp on July 31st. At this FREE event, we will learn more about the brain, do some hands-on experiments, and try out the NeuroPlus games. Join us for Fun with Neuroscience!

Chills and Thrills: Your Brain on Music

Have you ever had the chills while listening to a powerful piece of music? Recently, I went to listen to the North Carolina Symphony play The Music of Star Wars event. As I was listening to the music, I was able to visualize scenes from the movies. My body instantly got chills and I felt many emotions swell with the music. According to researchers at USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute, if you get chills while listening to music, your brain may have an enhanced ability to experience intense emotions.

 

The experience of getting chills is called frisson (free-shawn), which is French for “aesthetic chills.” The most common occurrence of frisson is listening to emotionally moving music, but it can also occur when you watch a particular movie, look at a piece of art, or are in physical contact with another person. Music that includes sudden changes in volume or unexpected harmonies are common triggers for frisson because it goes against our expectations in a positive way. For example, if a violin soloist is playing an emotional piece that builds to a unexpected high note, the listener may feel this emotional build up and experience goosebumps.

 

Over the past five decades, there have been numerous studies on frisson and how our brains and bodies react to unexpected stimuli, particularly in music. A study conducted by Matthew Sachs, a USC Ph.D student, found that people who get chills while listening to music have structural differences in their brain. Sachs says that people who get chills while listening to music might have a higher volume of fibers connecting their auditory cortex to areas of the brain that process emotions. These fibers mean better communication between the two areas.

 

Another study conducted by Dr. Amani El-Alayli, a professor of social psychology at East Washington University sought to find if a person’s personality type played a role in if they were able to experience frisson while listening to music. The study had participants listen to 5 pieces of music, each with at least one thrilling portion to induce a frisson response. Participants also filled out a personality test, which researchers used to draw the conclusion that participants who experienced frisson also scored high in the personality trait “openness to experience.” People with this trait often reflect deeply on their emotions, seek out new experiences, and have active imaginations. As a result, researchers concluded that listeners were experiencing frisson due to a deeply emotional reaction to the music they were listening to.

 

With an estimated 55 to 86% of the population able to experience frisson, it is very likely that you have experienced it while listening to emotionally charged music or watching an emotional film. In these moments, your brain is working at an enhanced level so you are able to experience emotions more strongly. If you want to put the theory to the test, listen to our frisson-inducing playlist and see how you react!

 

Bohemian Rhapsody– Queen

Across the Stars– John Williams

I Will Always Love You– Whitney Houston

Human Nature– Michael Jackson

Fortuna– Carmina Burana

 

Have you ever experienced frisson while listening to music? Comment and let us know!

 

Game On! Why Your Child Should Play Video Games

“Get off that game! You’ll go blind!”

It’s a tale as old as time: parents are chasing their children off video games all over the world. As a parent, you want to be sure your child is getting the most beneficial experiences possible. New and conflicting information seems to appear often on whether or not video games are “good” for you. Among the World Health Organization (WHO)’s new draft of medical conditions on June 18, 2018, they included “gaming disorder” as a diagnosable illness. Meanwhile, psychologists, researchers, and game developers point to how games can instill therapeutic, recreational and educational values in its players. It’s understandable that you want your kids to engage in a positive activity that helps them socialize and grow, but who’s to say your child’s video game isn’t doing both?

So video games are good for me now?

I know what you are thinking, “How can playing a video game for hours on end be good for anyone, let alone a child?” Video games provide players with challenging and engaging tasks that require the player to think critically and adapt new strategies as they progress.

According to a journal article entitled The Benefits of Playing Video Games published by Isabela Granic, PhD of Radboud University Nijmegan in The Netherlands, playing video games can help improve problem-solving skills as well as have motivational benefits. Dr. Granic says that video games are an ideal training ground for acquiring an incremental theory of intelligence because they provide players concrete, immediate feedback regarding specific efforts players have made.

Incremental theory of intelligence is the belief that intelligence is “malleable, or something that can be cultivated over time and effort.” This form of intelligence is extremely important, as it teaches children to maintain a positive attitude in the face of failure. Dr. Granic also mentions that there may be a positive correlation between playing video games and dealing with failure and “real world” success in areas like continuing to push past a problem instead of giving up.

Now of course, other settings can also help children learn and reinforce these lessons while playing games or working in groups, playing video games all day can have negative effects. Video game play must be done in moderation, so how much time should someone spend playing?

The answer may surprise you

A recent study from University of Oxford experimental psychologist Andrew K. Przybylski, Phd. entitled Electronic Gaming and Psychosocial Adjustment was conducted using 2436 males and 2463 females, ages ranging from 10 to 15. What Dr. Przybylski was looking for was the effects of gameplay of a child psychosocial development. What he found may shape the way we think about children and video gameplay. Dr. Przybylski found that children who spend less than one-third of their day gaming—that’s no more than 3 hours a day—were shown to have higher levels of prosocial behavior and life satisfaction and lower levels of conduct problems, hyperactivity, peer problems and emotional symptoms. He also went on to say that “electronic play has salutary functions similar to traditional forms of play; they present opportunities for identity development as well as cognitive and social challenges.”

Now that we know more about the positive cognitive and behavioral effects video games have on kids, we see that maybe we shouldn’t be chasing them off these games. Video games played in moderation have been shown to increase cognitive function and be as beneficial as other forms of play. Video games also provide children with the opportunity to learn skills we may overlook, like critical thinking, strategy and spatial thinking. Some games promote physical activity in children with ADHD, as the risk for obesity is much greater. So the next time you see your child playing his or her favorite game, have a seat next to them and ask to play next because you’re never too old learn a new skill.

 

What do you think is a good amount of video game time for your family? Let us know in the comments!

Gifts from Dad: What Dad Passes Down To You

From the time we are born, we as humans have a special bond with our fathers. Typically, dads are known for teaching their sons how to throw a baseball or teaching their daughters how to change a flat tire, but fathers also pass on many other traits that literally make us who we are.

Genetically speaking, we bear more resemblance to our fathers than we do our mothers. Researchers at UNC School of Medicine studying gene expression, or the genes level of activity at creating RNA found that the genes being studied were parent-of-origin specific, with 60% of the genes activity level coming from the father’s side. Although we inherit the same amount of DNA from each parent, the father’s side has more influence on the features a child will develop.

Let’s take a closer look at what we can thank our fathers for this Father’s Day.

Sex

The most well known “gift” from dad, a child’s sex is highly dependent on the father’s sperm. The women’s egg carries the X chromosome that pairs with the chromosome from the sperm. If the sperm is carrying an X chromosome and links with the mother’s X chromosome, the baby will be a girl, while a Y chromosome brings a baby boy.

Eye Color

The color of your eyes is determined by dominant and recessive genes. Dominant genes will produce brown eye color, while recessive genes produce lighter colors like blue or green. If both of your parents have recessive genes, you have a chance to inherit blue or green eyes. however, if your father has brown eyes, you will likely inherit them as well.

Hair

On to more traits from dominant and recessive genes, hair texture is also influenced by our genes. The gene for full, thick hair is dominant while the gene for thinner or balding hair is recessive. So, if your father has a thick head of hair and your mother has thinner hair, you are likely to have flowy locks like your father.

Mental Health

Although the mother can pass on mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, ADHD or bipolar disorder to their children, older fathers are more likely to pass different kinds of genetic mutations to their children. Older men continue to produce new sperm, while mothers have all their eggs from the time they are born, therefore, fathers who have mental health conditions are more likely to pass them on.

Additionally, children that are diagnosed with ADHD are highly likely to have a parent or blood relative that also has it. Researchers need to conduct larger studies to identify the specific genes associated with ADHD, however, there is no genetic test to determine if someone has ADHD. It’s often helpful for the child to know someone like them to look up to and who can help with tools and tactics for success.

Teeth

According to a study published in the Journal of Physical Anthropology, children can inherit their tooth size, jaw size, and shape of their teeth from either parent. However, due to the fact that the father’s genes are more dominant than the mothers, you can thank your father for your pearly whites!

 

We have a lot to thank dads for this Father’s Day.  Our fathers have made us into the people we are today—with a lot of help from mom, of course! We thank fathers everywhere for their guidance, knowledge, and most importantly, their good genes.

 

What traits did you inherit from your dad? Leave a comment and let us know!