Category Archives: Science

ACTORS SHUT DOWN PARTS OF THEIR BRAINS TO TAKE ON ROLES, SCANS REVEAL ·

(Josh Gabbatiss’s article appeared in the Independent, 3/12.)

‘I got the idea that maybe acting was a bit similar to possession… when you’re acting you’re kind of being taken over by character,’ says scientist

To truly inhabit a role, actors must effectively turn off part of their brain, according to a new study based on brain scans of thespians. 

In a series of experiments, actors were placed in MRI machines and asked to respond to questions as if they were Romeo or Juliet during the “balcony scene” from William Shakespeare’s play.

Scientists were surprised to see that as the participants mused on concepts ranging from romance to religion, their brains were truly taken over by those of the famous star-crossed lovers,

They watched as brain activity dropped off, with a notable deactivation in a part of the frontal lobe.

This result suggested the portrayal of a fictional character goes far deeper than simply learning a script. 

(Read more)

Photo: The Independent

BIRDS USE A LINGUISTIC RULE THOUGHT TO BE UNIQUE TO HUMANS ·

(Rachel Feltman’s article appeared in the Washington Post, 3/8.)

When it comes to human language, syntax — the set of rules for arranging words and phrases to impart meaning — is important. People might understand what you meant if you declared "to the store I go must," but your phrasing wouldn't seem quite right. And saying "must store go the I to" wouldn't get you anywhere at all, even though the same six short words were in play.

But sometimes we use syntax to impart complex combinations of ideas. "Careful, it's dangerous" is a phrase that has meaning, and so is "come toward me." When those two phrases are combined, they have a different meaning than they do on their own: They're directing the receiver to act in a different way than either phrase would independently.

Until now, only humans seemed to use syntax this way. But a study published Tuesday in Nature Communications suggests that the Japanese great tit — a bird closely related to the North American chickadee — uses grammatical rules like these in its calls.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/speaking-of-science/wp/2016/03/08/these-birds-use-a-linguistic-rule-thought-to-be-unique-to-humans/