How physics makes your brain light up
fMRIs reveal that physics causes activity in some surprising areas of the brain.
A study has just been published that reports increased activity in, and development of, certain brain areas as a result of thinking about physics. It offers a fascinating insight into some of the specialized forms of thought that the discipline requires. Eric Brewe of Drexel University and grad student Jessica E. Bartley of Florida International University are the study’s lead authors.
The multi-year project involved 55 students (33 male and 22 female) taking Modeling Instruction (MI) at Florida International University. MI is an innovative teaching method that helps get students thinking like real-world physicists through the collaborative development of mental models that account for observed phenomena, doing research and discussing and revising their models until they accurately predict real-world behaviors.
(Credit: Kelli Games Warble)
How the study worked
Before and after the instruction, the students’ brains were scanned using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) that reveals activity as evidenced by changes in blood flow.
Both times, fMRIs were performed while students completed a modified version of the Force Concept Inventory test optimized for the study. The 30-question quiz had been simplified down to just nine questions that “required students to determine the trajectories and motion of objects as resulting from different scenarios and combinations of initial velocities and/or force configurations the test had been tweaked to focus on both,” according to the study. Also, the possible answers for each multiple choice question were reduced from five to four to accommodate the four-button controls students used during testing/scanning. Subjects also answered a set of control questions that didn’t involve physics.
What researchers discovered
Even during the first scans, the fMRIs revealed that thinking about physics problems unexpectedly lit up an intriguing area of the prefrontal cortex: “One of the keys seemed to be an area of the brain, the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex, that generates mental simulations. This suggests that learning physics is an imaginative process, which is not typically how people think of it,” Brewe tells Drexel Now.
After the classes, though, the posterior cingulate cortex, linked to episodic memory and self-referential thought, was active during the test. This may, says the study, reveal “shifts in strategy or an increased access to physics knowledge and problem-solving resources,” reflecting “more complex behavioral changes in how students reason through physics questions.”
The results of this study attest to the value of Modeling Instruction, and shed light on how it works,” says Brewe. “The neurobiological processes that underpin learning are complex and not always directly connected to what we think it means to learn.” The study also reveals some of the ways in which physics gives the brain a good workout.
Brewe concludes, “I would like to follow up on the question of mental simulations in physics, to see where that shows up at different levels of physics learning and with different populations,” he said. “But this whole study opens up many new areas of investigations and I’m pretty excited about how it will play out.”
- The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) are a set of 17 directives to be completed by a 2030 deadline, with the aim of significantly improving quality of life for all people on Earth.
- Pfizer's commitment to the UN's SDG #3, Good Health and Well-being, is exemplified by its mission to improve global health through a combination of local and global programs catalyzed by innovative health leaders.
- In 1998, Pfizer embarked on a 22-year mission to eradicate trachoma by 2020.Trachoma is an infectious eye disease that can cause irreversible blindness or vision impairment. So far, it has been eradicated in six countries.
- Pfizer is a committed partner in improving global health, helping to provide a number of critical cancer medications to six African countries where an estimated 44 percent of all cancer cases in sub-Saharan Africa occur each year
There will never be enough time. Here's how to use it more wisely.
- One-third of us are suffering from chronic stress in the workplace. Other studies suggest that half of us bring our work stress home, creating stress in our personal lives.
- Being busy has become a cultural obsession. But it's not the golden badge of honor we think it is. Dan Pontefract points out that there's a big difference between being busy and being productive.
- The best productivity hack? Schedule a break. That means eating lunch away from your desk. Saying hello to people around you. Keep a graph in your mind that has 'action' on the x-axis and 'reflection' on the y-axis. Where do you sit on that graph?
Ever wanted to describe precisely how crummy you feel after a bad haircut?
- English is a phenomenal language, but there are circumstances where words seem to fail us.
- Often, other languages have already found a solution to expressing the complicated ideas that can't be succinctly conveyed in English.
- If you've ever wanted to describe the anguish of a bad haircut, the pleasure of walking in the woods, or the satisfaction of finding your life's purpose, read on.
Don't get me wrong. The English language has some very excellent words. There's petrichor, the pleasant smell of the first rain after warm and dry weather. Paraprosdokian—which describes sentences that end surprisingly, forcing the reader to reinterpret the first half—is both oddly specific and fantastic to say out loud. I'm even a fan of new inventions, like tweetstorm, even if I'm not a fan of the experience.
But English-speaking culture—like any culture—has a limited perspective on the world. Just like English, Japanese also has some five-star words that English could stand to borrow. The Japanese have an entirely different perspective on the world than many English-speaking cultures—as proof, it's tough to imagine that the politely reserved Japanese have a word for defenestrate, or the act of throwing somebody out of a window. Here's the top 7 Japanese words that we could use in English.
(Flickr user Raul Pacheco-Vega)
Literally translating to "life value," Ikigai is best understood as the reason somebody gets up in the morning—somebody's reason for living. It's a combination of what you are good at, what you get paid to do, what you love to do, and what the world needs.
We often find our ikigai during flow states, which occur when a given task is just challenging and absorbing enough that we forget time has passed, that "in the zone" sensation. But it's more nuanced than something that is simply absorbing or a passion; it's a fulfilling kind of work that benefits oneself and others.
Karoshi, or death from overwork, provides a nice contrast to the concept of ikigai. Japan's work culture is so over the top that dying from working too hard is not uncommon. This word covers a range of ailments from heart failure to suicide, so long as the root of their cause is in working too hard.
As another hardworking nation, the U.S. could stand to better appreciate the dangers of overwork. Americans put in an average 47 hours a week, which is demonstrably bad for our health.
(Flickr user jungle_group)
This word translates to "forest-bathing," which sums up the activity fairly well. It's getting outdoors to de-stress, relax, and promote well-being. While the concept is familiar, we clearly don't place enough importance on getting outdoors to honor it with its own term.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans spend about 87% of their time indoors, which is clearly too much. Meanwhile, being in nature is associated with a slew of benefits, like improving memory, reducing stress and anxiety, and even lowering inflammation. Scotland has the right idea—doctors in Shetland can now prescribe nature to their patients.
4. Shikata ga nai
Used interchangeably with shouganai, this term roughly means "it cannot be helped." You can think of it as the Japanese equivalent of c'est la vie´or amor fati. It's the idea that one should accept things outside of one's control with dignity and grace and not implode from the pressure of having no control over a terrible situation.
This concept is a bit controversial. During the U.S. internment of Japanese-Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, many Japanese-Americans resigned themselves to their mistreatment, characterizing the situation as shikata ga nai.
On the other hand, when a tsunami devastated Japan in 2011, many outside observers commented upon the stoic way the Japanese carried on with their daily lives, an example of the positive side of shikata ga nai.
While it's a little less high-minded than the previous words on this list, it's certainly one that I and others could use. A combination of tsunde-oku (letting things pile up) and dukosho (reading books), tsundoku is the practice of buying a book you swear you're going to read, obviously not doing that, finding a new book you swear you're going to read, and then letting these abandoned books pile up in your house until it's a certifiable fire hazard.
Garden State (2004)
You're in a terrible, anti-social mood and don't want to see anybody at all today. Suddenly, your doorbell rings; you lie as still as possible in your bed (surrounded by the hordes of unread books you purchased), praying the unwanted visitor leaves. This is the practice of irusu, or pretending not to be home when somebody rings your doorbell. It's a very common experience, although maybe the modern-day equivalent is responding "Sorry, I just got this" hours after you actually saw a text.
Not everybody practices tsundoku, and I'm sure some extroverts are entirely unfamiliar with practicing irusu, but everybody can identify with getting a bad haircut. Age-otori is the feeling one gets after leaving a barbershop looking worse than you did going in. It's an ingenious word for the unique blend of regret, suffering, and shame you feel after you foolishly trusted your elderly barber when he said "Yeah, I can do a hard part."
While Japanese has some phenomenal words, there are some that the English language probably doesn't have need of. For example, a nito-onna is a woman so obsessed with her job that she doesn't have time to iron her blouses and so resorts to wearing knitted tops constantly. It's a wonderfully specific word, but its specificity probably doesn't translate to English-speaking contexts.
There's also the hikikomori, a mostly Japanese phenomenon involving modern-day hermits that don't leave their bedrooms for years and years. People like this exist in English-speaking contexts, but we generally characterize these as people suffering from anxiety, as loners, or hermits. In addition, part of what makes a hikikomori is the high pressure and highly ritualized nature of Japanese society, a feature that is mostly absent in English-speaking contexts.
So, write to our good friends Merriam and Webster. Let's see if we can pack a little more utility into the English language.
NASA research finds a new direction in searching for signs of life in the Universe.
- NASA-funded research says retinal, not chlorophyll, gave the early Earth its color
- The two pigments co-evolved but retinal came first
- We should be looking for retinal-based life throughout the Universe
Achieving good health and well-being around the world is critical to the company's mission
- SDG 3 drives Pfizer's business and societal mission.
- Creative partnerships support progress toward health and well-being targets.
- Quality healthcare access is essential to a more just, equitable world.
Carl Sagan liked to smoke weed. His essay on why is facsinating.
- Carl Sagan was a life long marijuana user and closeted advocate of legalization.
- He once wrote an anonymous essay on the effects it had on his life and why he felt it should be legalized.
- His insights will be vital as many societies begin to legalize marijuana.
He was recruited by Jim Henson himself in 1969.
- His last performance will be this coming Thursday, Oct. 19
- A feature movie about him was made in 2014
- Other actors will take over. Well, at least, they'll try ...
They have more casual sex, too.
- Between 18 and 25 percent of Tinder users is in a committed relationship while on Tinder.
- Non-single Tinder users are more likely to report casual sexual behavior.
- Personality distinctions were found between non-single users and other groups.
Swiping left or right has now been engrained into the cultural vernacular. Across the world with approximately 50 million people swiping on the daily, Tinder has become one of the most popular dating platforms online.
However, it's most certainly not everlasting love everyone is after. Recent surveys suggest that anywhere between 18 and 25 percent of users are in what's considered an "exclusive" relationship. In the United States that percentage nearly doubles to a close 42 percent.
In a study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior researchers found that non-single Tinder users were quite different from their single user counterparts. The paper, aptly titled Why are you cheating on Tinder? Exploring users' motives and (dark) personality trait, found that people who cheat on Tinder use dating apps for different reasons than users who are single. They are also more likely to have psychopathic personality traits compared to people in exclusive relationships who aren't on Tinder.
Researchers surveyed students and non-students with questionnaires about their relationship status, Tinder usage, and whether or not they used the app for sexual encounters.
When a round of follow-up questions were asked about their offline behavior between other Tinder connections (or hookups) the researchers found that cheaters were more likely to have reported they engaged in more casual sexual relationships than other single users.
One of the authors of the study stated:
Some people in relationships might want to satisfy their curiosity about the current dating market by downloading Tinder. But we interpret this finding to mean that some people are also looking for a lot more when they download the app.
What some of these people in exclusive relationships are looking for in their side-quest for some digital infidelity might be led on because of some psychopathic tendencies.
A look into the research of potential tinder psychopaths
The researchers presented an exploratory study with an intent to figure out why people in relationships would use Tinder and looked to see if they'd score higher on a number of dark personality traits compared to single users and non-users in exclusive relationships.
Their results found that non-single Tinder users reported a higher number of romantic relations that included these criteria: "French kisses, one night stands, and casual sexual relationships with other Tinder user…" When it came to dark personality traits, non-single Tinder users scored lower in categories of Agreeableness and Conscientiousness, while scoring higher on Neuroticism and Psychopathy compared to non-users in exclusive or committed relationships.
There is still a number of follow-up studies to understand the full implications of this data. For example, researcher Elisabeth Timmermans wanted to be cautious around the fact that partnered Tinder users may cheat more than those in exclusive relationships not on the app. She goes on to sat that:
We also looked into whether partnered Tinder users differ on their Tinder outcomes compared to single Tinder users. Our findings show that partnered Tinder users report significantly more one night stands, casual sexual relationships, and committed relationships with other users compared to single Tinder users.
However, one major limitation here is that we did not specifically ask these users whether they reported on these outcomes while in a committed relationship. It thus might be possible that they are also reporting on these behaviors while being single. As we did not measure this and did not have information on relationship length either, we are a bit cautious about claiming that partnered Tinder users are more likely to cheat on their partner.
Main takeaways and future research
Researchers of the study are working on continuing with follow-up research the complex effect on relationships dating apps are having. "Our findings leave me wondering whether dating apps might be a threat to romantic relationships," said Timmermans. "Of course our findings are too preliminary to make such conclusions, but they already suggest that some people (i.e., with certain personality traits) might be more susceptible to using dating apps for infidelity purposes than others."
The next questions that need to be asked is how to determine if these types of people would have cheated anyways regardless of the platform — although the app makes it easier to do so. The nature and problems of social media still baffles many sociologists and when you add into the mix an intricate human activity like courtship, you'll find we're entering into dangerous territory.
Hopefully future research will help us navigate these choppy dating waters.
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