Science Life

Brain Teasers: Cracking the mind’s toughest riddles [video]

Sian Beilock, PhD, speaks at the Brain Teasers event held April 1, 2015.

How can we build robotic arms with a sense of touch? What causes us to choke under pressure? How can a misfolded protein cause so much harm to our memory? And is empathy something shared across species, not just humans?

Speaking to a packed crowd at the Logan Center earlier this April, neuroscientists from the University of Chicago discussed these fascinating questions and more in a series of TED-style talks. Videos of the event, moderated by John Maunsell, PhD, Albert D. Lasker Professor in Neurobiology and Director of the Grossman Institute, are now available.

Without the sense of touch, even simple tasks like typing on a keyboard, brushing your teeth, opening a door, would be almost impossible. For neuroscientists designing robotic protheses, imparting the sense of touch into these devices is a critical challenge that must be overcome. Sliman Bensmaia, PhD, assistant professor of organismal biology and anatomy, discusses below:

Why, when then stakes are highest, do some people perform to their best ability and others stumble? Sian Beilock, PhD, professor in the Department of Psychology, has studied this on sports fields and in the classroom. She presents a slice of her fascinating discoveries, including how students can perform their best on math tests:

As a resident, neurologist James Mastrianni, MD, PhD, Director of the Center for Comprehensive Care and Research on Memory Disorders at the University of Chicago Medical Center, came across an usual, rare form of dementia — one usually found only in sheep, cannibals and cows. Today, his research focuses on these diseases, known as prion diseases, which continue to fascinate and yield insights into much more common neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s:

Do rats have empathy? The answer is yes, and it looks like they’re capable of much more. Peggy Mason, PhD, describes her work exploring the pro-social, empathetic nature of rats, including a “Jungle Book”-type experiment that yields a surprising question: Can rats be… racist?

For a video of the full Brain Teasers event, including audience Q&A and an introduction by John Maunsell, click here.