Why the Secrets of Language May Be Hiding in Your Birdcage

The Bengalese finch is what happens when for 250 years, people breed the white-rumped munia for its snowy plumage. It’s paler than its wild counterpart, more social. And although its genetic architects (bird breeders) weren’t selecting for singing skills, the Bengalese finch has a far more complex, varied song. That last bit has some fascinating possible implications, concerning how we developed our own unique speaking abilities. The capacity for complex communication requires a wide variety of skills. You don’t just need to be able to recognize and respond to certain cues; in order to parse the meanings of new or unfamiliar cues, you also need to be able to guess at the other party’s intent

Seen and Heard: Growing Language Skills in Kids

For parents of young children hoping to boost their offspring’s language skills, the solution might be simpler than you think: talk to them. And then, crucially, let them respond to you. Rinse and repeat—and repeat, and repeat, as much as you can. In a recent article from the Journal of Neuroscience, researchers studied 40 healthy young children (27 male, 13 female) between the ages of 4 and 6 across a range of socioeconomic backgrounds. Of course, 40 kids is not a large enough sample size to draw any definitive conclusions, but the study does provide some interesting possibilities. The scientists found that early language exposure is a pretty good predictor of white matter connectivity bet

Want to Slow Aging? Keep Moving!

Good news for those of you who make it a point to stay physically active: a recent experiment may suggest that regular exercise decreases the effects of age-related memory loss. In a study published in the journal Cortex, a group of young people (18 to 31 years old) and a group of older folks (55 to 74) each completed a memory test and a fitness test. To determine their memory chops, the participants had to essentially practice attaching a name to a new face—frequently a vexing task for people of a certain age. Instead of meeting strangers, they viewed pictures of unfamiliar faces, each attached to a name they had to learn—all while observed in an MRI machine. The fitness test involved walki

Are Women Better at Reacting to Faces?

It’s an old stereotype that women can pick up on social nuances that men can’t. Ask a neuroscientist whether women are more adept at interpreting feelings from looking at people’s faces, and you’ll get a resounding yes. Or possibly, a resounding no. It turns out that it really depends which neuroscientist you ask. To pick one example, in 2009, Olivier Collignon and his team from the Université de Montréal Centre de recherche en neuropsychologie et cognition (CERNEC) hired actors to portray fear or disgust in front of 23 men and 23 women, all between the ages of 18 and 43. Participants then had to categorize each performance by emotion. This study found that women completed the assignment mor

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