Tea and Science


Neuroscience Wednesday!

Why music makes you feel emotional
Music has been around almost as long as humans have, and is a universal occurrence in all human societies. We sing songs, we dance to music and we listen to playlists when driving to and from work; there is almost no aspect of our lives that does not use music to enhance the experience. Whether it is the radio softly playing in the background while you’re doing the dishes, that soundtrack during a powerful emotional scene in a movie, or that annoying tune of that one commercial you just can’t seem to get out of your head. We sing to our children to make them calm down and go to sleep, and we put on our iPods to pump ourselves for that 5 mile run. On a bright sunny day, upbeat music can have you skipping down the sidewalk with happiness, while on a drab, melancholy day, gloomy music might make you feel the need to shed a tear or two.
Scientist believe that music can be one of the most effective triggers of powerful emotions in people, but why is it that music can make us feel good? And on the other hand, if music can also make you feel such negative emotions like sadness and anger, why would we continue listening to it?
In short, what is the neuroscience behind music?
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Your brain on music
During the last few years, interest in music and the effect it has on the brain has increased. Neuroimaging studies have shown that music can affect part of our brains, triggering strong emotions and activating brain areas that are involved with memory, emotions and the limbic system. It is believed that music can change our emotional state, having an effect on not only our subjective feelings, but also our level of arousal and our actions throughout the day.  
Research has shown that one of the most central aspects of the brain that is activated upon listening to music is the Amygdala, which plays a role in regulating our emotions. Some parts of the amygdala are particularly sensitive to social-affective signals: these are signals that can convey particular social meanings. It is therefore possible that this area is activated because music is interpreted as a social signal, conveying communicative information.

Furthermore, it appears that damage to the amygdala impairs emotional recognition of music (Gosseling et al, 2007) and unexpected chords in a song show a different type of activation of the amygdala than regular chords, showing that music can trigger emotions when it’s both pleasant and unpleasant, and even when listening to only a single chord instead of an entire song (Koelsch et al, 2008).
Pleasure and reward
One aspect of music that is pretty consistent in human cultures is that music is rhythmically repeating, with aspects of a song being very well structured. This allows the listener to predict what is going to come next. Listening to music that completes these expectations appears to activate the reward system, especially if the music has made a detour, thereby differing from expectations, but then returning to the presumed, recognizable melody.
This is one of the reasons why you will find a repeating chorus in most modern songs, and also why a bridge is often incorporated in a song. The bridge is a part of a song which differs significantly from the rest of the melody. Having a song return to the normal melody after a bridge offers a fulfilment of expectations and a rewarding feeling for the listener!

Similar to other pleasurable experiences, this reward when an expectation is fulfilled causes the release of dopamine in the striatum, a part of the brain that is involved with the brain reward system. Dopamine is the same type of neurotransmitter that is also involved in many addictions, and it therefore not an unreasonable hypothesis that perhaps one can become addicted to listening to music!
Luckily for us, listening to music is universally accepted and has so far not been linked with any particular nasty side-effects, except perhaps for deafness when you are listening to your mp3-player on too loud a volume.
How can music convey other emotions? Another aspect in which music can play with your expectations is the variations of loudness, rhythm, dissonance and timbre in the song. By changing these aspects, music can increase and decrease tension, thereby having an effect on expectations and the listener’s emotions.
For example; soundtracks that want to increase physical tension often have a rhythm that increases in loudness and speed (for example, the movie Jaw’s theme), while sad music decreases rhythm and slowly wafts through its melody. Violating expectations can also convey other emotions, such as surprise and arousal, which can be measured via simple experiments such as looking at skin conductance responses (Koelsch et al 2008).
Most interestingly, it appears that in contrast to other pleasurable activities, such as eating and having sex, listening to music also activates the hippocampus. The hippocampus, named for its shape that is similar to that of a seahorse, is the part of the brain that deals with memories.
It is safe to say that music is enjoyable not only because it activates the reward system but also other parts of our brain that deal with entirely different aspects of cognition. The hippocampus is not only involved with memory, but also in activating and modulating stress responses. People with reduced hippocampal volume appear to experience less tender emotions, and the hippocampus also appears to be involved in forming social attachments via the manipulation of oxytocin levels (the so-called ‘Love Hormone’). (Koelsch, 2014). 
Does this mean that listening to music can de-stress you, and cause you to feel sentimental and attached to the music? Or perhaps this may all point towards a social function of music.
Music and social functions
Just like the role of the amygdala in social interpretations, it is very possible that the role of the hippocampus also shows us the importance of the social aspect of music in triggering emotions. In many human societies, the origin of music is associated with communal feelings, with individuals actively participating in the ritual of making music, either through singing, dancing, clapping their hands or otherwise contributing to a song.
The social and language aspects of music can for a large part explain why the existence of music is so widespread, and why even months old babies are sensitive to music, and can move in synchrony to musical beats without directly having learned this behaviour.

Furthermore, studies of western music have shown that the characteristics of music that convey a particular emotion is similar the same characteristics of speech expressing that same emotions. Joyful music often has a higher tempo and a higher pitch, just like is present in the voices of individuals expressing joy. Basic emotions that can be conveyed in voices, faces and in music both elicit responses from the amygdala, suggesting the pathway through which these emotions are triggered are the same.
Scientist such as Juslin and Laukka (2003) have argued that even though musical performances do not sound the same as vocal expressions, perhaps those areas of the brain that are sensitive to picking out particular emotions from speech react to these same cues in music. When registering anger in both music and in speech, the brain will listen for cues that deal with a high speed, loudness and a rough timbre. As long as these cues are present in the stimulus, it doesn’t matter if the stimulus is a voice or a song; the individual will interpret the associated emotion.
Why is music so effective in eliciting emotions?Juslin argues that music can go above and beyond what a human voice can trigger in the context of emotions, because musical instruments are capable of expressing a range that is broader than what a normal human voice could ever achieve: They can be faster, their pitch higher, their timbre rougher and their intensity louder. In the brain, these aspects of an instrument, or indeed even the voice of an opera singer, can be interpreted as ‘superexpressive voices’. Thus, in normal circumstances in which a voice might sound sad, a violin might sound even sadder simply due to the fact that brain pays attention to the voice-like nature of the sound, but the extreme changes and turns in the music itself, far beyond the capabilities of a normal voice, allows it to greatly increase its emotional impact.
Although yet speculative, these types of interpretations and ideas can give us insight in how our brains deal with music, and why strong emotions can arise from them. The activation of the reward system furthermore explains why we even enjoy listening to music that can trigger emotions we would otherwise interpret as negative, such as sadness. It is music’s social role that has made it so widespread throughout history and human population, and it is that link to social cues that allows it to create such powerful emotional reactions in its listeners.
Further Reading: 
Why music makes our brain sing - New York TimesWhy does music make us feel? - Scientific American
Image Credits:-Image 1: By Denali National Park and Preserve (EVC Concert  Uploaded by AlbertHerring), via Wikimedia Commons-Image 2: Adapted from the fMRI study by Koelsch et al, 2006. -Image 4: By karur parames (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons
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Neuroscience Wednesday!

Why music makes you feel emotional

Music has been around almost as long as humans have, and is a universal occurrence in all human societies. We sing songs, we dance to music and we listen to playlists when driving to and from work; there is almost no aspect of our lives that does not use music to enhance the experience. Whether it is the radio softly playing in the background while you’re doing the dishes, that soundtrack during a powerful emotional scene in a movie, or that annoying tune of that one commercial you just can’t seem to get out of your head. We sing to our children to make them calm down and go to sleep, and we put on our iPods to pump ourselves for that 5 mile run. On a bright sunny day, upbeat music can have you skipping down the sidewalk with happiness, while on a drab, melancholy day, gloomy music might make you feel the need to shed a tear or two.

Scientist believe that music can be one of the most effective triggers of powerful emotions in people, but why is it that music can make us feel good? And on the other hand, if music can also make you feel such negative emotions like sadness and anger, why would we continue listening to it?

In short, what is the neuroscience behind music?

Read More



Neuroscience Wednesday!

Have you ever experienced the moment when, as you’re helping a parent/friend/loved-one in the kitchen, chopping some onions or what not, you suddenly get this ridiculous idea? That idea being, as you look at the knife in your hands, you could totally stab that person next to you to death. Right now. There is nothing to stop you.
Or maybe you’re waiting for a train and as you see it approaching, you think about shoving that nice elderly gentleman next to you onto the tracks.
Or perhaps, as you are holding your new-born son in your arms, you think about dropping him down the stairs. Just for a moment.
Possibly your thoughts manifest in non-violent ways, such as the thoughts of deviant sexual acts, especially with inappropriate people, such as a sibling.
You think about these things. And as you form these thoughts in your mind you probably immediately try to stop thinking about it. “This is crazy!” you tell yourself; “Who in their right mind would ever think such horrible things?”
The answer: everyone.
These thoughts are known as intrusive thoughts and researchers believe they are an essential part of being human. But where are these thoughts coming from, why do we have them and should we be afraid we’re going to act on them? In short, what is the science behind intrusive thoughts?
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With studies showing anywhere between 80% and 99% of mentally healthy people exhibit intrusive thinking, the phenomenon is widespread in all populations. Taking into account that people usually are not completely honest during questionnaires since the nature of the questions can make them uncomfortable, it’s safe to assume that in all likelihood that percentage is closer to 100% than 80% (Belloch et al, 2004).
These thoughts can be about violent acts; especially towards perceived innocent targets (elderly, children, and animals), sexual acts, blasphemous urges if you are religious, or simply other inappropriate behaviour; the impulse to scream during a minute silence for example. 
Why do intrusive thoughts occur?
There is no clear image of why intrusive thoughts occur. Theories suggest that perhaps your brain simply performs a risk assessment of any situation you are in, contemplating and calculating the results of what-if scenarios to understand what is appropriate and what is not, and what actions to undertake at any specific moments. Intrusive thoughts might simply be the result of your brain coming up with the most inappropriate action to undertake (‘What would happen if I cursed very loudly in this church?’), or warning you of specific danger (‘You have an awfully big knife in your hand, you should be careful with that or you might hurt someone’). It is also simply possible that your thoughts start overlapping, leading to the result of a disturbing thought. 
I, for one, know that my brain really quickly leads myself to thinking about strange things when I get the simple idea that there might be someone reading my thoughts, and that’s all it takes to have varying disturbing ideas about the people around me.
It has previously been shown that people who experience intrusive thoughts more frequently, show greater activity in particular brain areas during an fMRI scan than people who have these thoughts less frequently. One of the places that show an increase of activity is the Broca’s area, a language area that has also been associated with inner speech. 
Another area is the Cingulate Cortex, activation of which has been associated with conflict resolution, perhaps in the content of the intrusive thoughts themselves. Activity in the Cingulate Cortex has also been associated with mind wandering, perhaps causing the higher incidence and bizarre nature of the intrusive thoughts.

The authors suggest that the type of activation that occurs in these people points towards stronger habitual inner speech processes. Thus, perhaps people who often experience intrusive thoughts mentally talk to themselves more frequently during periods of mental rest (Kühn et al, 2013).
Cognitive disorders
Intrusive thoughts are strongly linked with several conditions, especially obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Other conditions are post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, postpartum depression (especially when new mothers have recurring thoughts of harming their child), body dysmorphic disorder, eating disorders and schizophrenia.
The important thing to note is that these disorders, especially OCD, do not exist because people have intrusive thoughts, but can develop because of the way people deal with those thoughts. Especially how they deal with the associated negative feelings that can be attached to those thoughts, such as anxiety, paralyzing fear, shame, doubt, and self-hatred.
It is thought that individuals with OCD are less able to deal with the nature of the intrusive thoughts, and cannot simply ignore them. Thereby, instead of being a brief annoyance to the non-clinical populations, these thoughts become very distressing to the patient. Because of this, the patient pays more attention to the thoughts, thereby causing them to occur more frequently and obsessively. Patients might cope with these obsessive thoughts by performing ritualized behaviour that lowers their anxiety (such as washing their hands repeatedly), or avoiding situations in which these thoughts occur entirely (no longer taking the train for example). 
These kinds of disorders develop in a specific way and usually because a person attaches a greater emotional significance to the thoughts, thereby wanting to actively suppress thinking about it. It has been shown that suppressing thoughts only makes them stronger, such as the trying to “not think about a white bear for 1 minute”. This is in part caused by the fact that your brain wants to keep checking that is no longer thinking about the thing it doesn’t want to think about, therefore increasingly thinking about it (Kelly & Kahn, 1994).
How to deal with intrusive thoughts
We have established that thought suppression does not work. Similar strategies that deal with preventing harmful thoughts in the case of anxiety or self-harm can also backfire, such as the old trick of snapping a rubber band against your wrist when you are thinking about hurting yourself. This trick works great if it keeps you from self-harming because the rubber band is already providing you with a painful stimulus. However, this trick doesn’t work if you’re using the rubber band to actively keep you from thinking about self-harming. Such behaviour is actually something very close how OCD individuals deal with the anxiety that comes from their intrusive thoughts; by performing a ritual or compulsion. 
If people find that their intrusive thoughts are harmful or if they are intervening with their lives, emotionally or otherwise, the same strategies that are used in the treatment of OCD can be applied. First people must realize that these things are true:
-Everyone has intrusive thoughts. -These thoughts do not define you as a person: thoughts ≠ reality. -Trying to stop thinking about it will only make it worse.
The treatment can come from exposure therapy, wherein individuals try to reduce the anxiety they attach to their thoughts by confronting these thoughts head on. Someone can therefore allow themselves to be in a situation that triggers intrusive thoughts, such as standing on a train platform, and saturating themselves with these thoughts and anxiety, until they diminish.
Furthermore, cognitive therapy deals with people recognizing their intrusive thoughts, labelling them, and allowing them to pass naturally through their head. They prevent themselves from suppressing the thoughts, and move on with whatever they were doing after the anxiety has subsided. In this way someone can slowly break down a conditioned response of fear to these types of thoughts, and simply recognize them for what they are: a normal occurrence. 
Should you be worried by your thoughts?
No, or perhaps yes. Because precisely because you are worried about them, feel shame or remorse when you are thinking certain ‘bad’ thoughts means it is incredibly likely you will never act on them. It is the people that find these thoughts not at all distressing, or even pleasurable, which are more worrying. However, in the non-clinical population and for disorders such as OCD, it is precisely the upsetting part of the thoughts that makes them intrusive, and therefore highly unlikely to actually spur you to perform actions based on those thoughts. 
These fleeting worrying ideas that randomly float through your head might make you distressed, especially when you are already depressed and may view them as evidence that you are a horrible person, but as we have established; everyone has them. Probably your grandma has them, or even the pope. They should not significantly impact your life emotionally, as they say nothing about you as a person, as long as you do not act on them. And remember that 99% of people simply never act on them. Therefore there is no shame in occasionally having thoughts that are part of human nature and actually only confirm you are normal. 
Further reading:
Thought Suppression by Richard M. Wenzlaff and Daniel M. Wegner
Image credits:-Image 1: “Matlagning (2)" by Johannes Jansson - Nordic Co-operation website (norden.org). Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.5-dk via Wikimedia Commons.-Image 2: Kühn, Simone, et al. “The neural representation of intrusive thoughts.” Social cognitive and affective neuroscience 8.6 (2013): 688-693.

 
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Neuroscience Wednesday!

Have you ever experienced the moment when, as you’re helping a parent/friend/loved-one in the kitchen, chopping some onions or what not, you suddenly get this ridiculous idea? That idea being, as you look at the knife in your hands, you could totally stab that person next to you to death. Right now. There is nothing to stop you.

Or maybe you’re waiting for a train and as you see it approaching, you think about shoving that nice elderly gentleman next to you onto the tracks.

Or perhaps, as you are holding your new-born son in your arms, you think about dropping him down the stairs. Just for a moment.

Possibly your thoughts manifest in non-violent ways, such as the thoughts of deviant sexual acts, especially with inappropriate people, such as a sibling.

You think about these things. And as you form these thoughts in your mind you probably immediately try to stop thinking about it. “This is crazy!” you tell yourself; “Who in their right mind would ever think such horrible things?”

The answer: everyone.

These thoughts are known as intrusive thoughts and researchers believe they are an essential part of being human. But where are these thoughts coming from, why do we have them and should we be afraid we’re going to act on them? In short, what is the science behind intrusive thoughts?

Read More


Well, yesterday I graduated from the University of Groningen, receiving a shiny new diploma in the presence of my friends and family.
The already fabulous day was significantly improved by the gorgeous weather and the fact that the judicium (latin honours) on the diploma is Cum Laude, which I guess means I can now properly call myself a true Master of Science.
So, watch out world, this master is not yet nearly done sharing her sciency knowledge with the rest of you!
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Well, yesterday I graduated from the University of Groningen, receiving a shiny new diploma in the presence of my friends and family.

The already fabulous day was significantly improved by the gorgeous weather and the fact that the judicium (latin honours) on the diploma is Cum Laude, which I guess means I can now properly call myself a true Master of Science.

So, watch out world, this master is not yet nearly done sharing her sciency knowledge with the rest of you!



(Early) Neuroscience Wednesday!(It’s actually still Tuesday…)

What is Chronobiology?
It’s no secret that teens have trouble getting up in the morning, often falling half-asleep during classes and maybe even labelled as ‘lazy’ by perhaps their parents or teachers.
“Well, if you would just go to bed earlier you wouldn’t feel so tired in the morning!”, is advise often given to those of us who just aren’t morning people. Easier said than done right?
Well, the next time you are berated by people older than you, let them know that the reason you go to bed late and don’t want to get up in the morning has less to do with your lazy personality and more to do with your brain chemistry!
In this post I will tell you what chronobiology is, how it affects every aspect of your life, and society as a whole, and explain the concept of Social Jetlag. Furthermore, you can test if you’re a night owl or early bird, and how you compare to other people your age (while at the same time participating in research)!
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Chronobiology
The study of sleep and other biological rhythms is called chronobiology. The part of your brain that controls your sleep/wake cycle doesn’t only affect what time you go to bed, but it also affects many other interesting biological processes going on in your body.
Chronobiology plays an important part in our lives, just look at the images below to give you an idea how your body changes throughout the day, and also how the outcome of certain activities and procedures is affected by what time of the day you perform them!

This rhythm means that you’re best at sports late in the afternoon, while low alertness at night (together with late shift changes) means that you’re more likely to die in surgery at midnight than at 2 in the afternoon. Furthermore, your rhythm influences your health in other ways: abrupt shifts in rhythm, leading to lack of sleep, can negatively affect your health, as can be observed during Daylights saving times. In the week following daylight savings time, there is a 10% jump in heartattacks and also a huge jump in the number of traffic accidents!  The image at the beginning of this post further demonstrates negative consequences of sleep deprivation.
Your brain and biological rhythms
The part of your brain responsible for your biological rhythm is known as the “Suprachiasmatic Nucleus”, or SCN for short. It is a teeny tiny part of your brain which is located just above your optic nerves as they cross over into your brain, and can also be described as a ‘master clock’. Its position allows the SCN to receive light information from the eye, thereby allowing for adaptations to day/night cycles.
When light enters the optic nerve and reaches the SCN, specific photosensitive cells react to the light, and can either phase shift rhythm forward or backwards. This entirely depends at what time the light information is received. If you’re in a very bright environment late at night, this will delay your rhythm thereby causing you to sleep very late. On the other hand, if you’re frolicking around in the sunlight at 6 AM, your brain will shift your sleep rhythm to get up earlier the following days. This timing-dependent-effect can be calculated using a Phase Response Curve.
Phaseshifting occurs because your biological rhythm is controlled by the presence of melatonin, a hormone that controls overall sleepiness which is produced in the Pineal Gland. The SCN controls the production of this hormone via axons projecting to the Pineal Gland. These activations occur rhythmically, under the control of a complex gene expression cycle: genes in this mechanism affect their own expression via the use of a negative feedback loop. Thus, when a gene is expressed, it can inhibit its own expression via this loop. The time it takes to complete this loop thereby generates a true biological clock, with genes being expressed in a biological cycle.
Left to its own devices, this clock is roughly 24 hours. However, because it’s not exactly 24 hours, but a little bit longer, normally in the absence of light people will start to ‘free run’. Meaning that they will get up a little later and go to bed a little later every day, until eventually, after many days, they’ve made a complete 24-hour loop. However, under normal circumstances the presence of light allows the SCN to adjust to the actual 24 hour cycle, which is why you’re able to get up at 8 o’clock for an entire year without freerunning. However, as you might have guessed, freerunning is absolutely a problem that some blind people have to deal with, especially in the absence of other zeitgebers (literally: ’time-givers’; stimuli that lets your body know what time it is, thereby allowing your SCN to adjust to this rhythm). For more information on this fascinating topic, and the problems blind people face, can be read here: Wikipedia article, Science article.

An ‘actogram’ plotting the time an individual was active during 24 cycle conditions (Day 1-10) and temporal isolation without a zeitgeber (Day 10-35) and back to a 24 cycle (day 35+). Under isolated conditions, this individual’s activity pattern (dotted black lines) slowly shift later into the day, until eventually the timing of sleep has made a complete loop and is back to what it was before isolation.
Social Jetlag
We’ve all heard of jetlag, but have you heard of social jetlag? It’s what occurs when your natural circadian (circadian means ‘about a day’) rhythm clashes with the rhythm society wants you to follow. For example, maybe you’re a student and like to go to sleep at 2 o’clock at night. But you have to be in school by 8 o’clock. This means you’ll slowly acquire a lack of sleep, which is usually caught up in the weekends, when someone’s true rhythm is shown. On these free days you’ll probably sleep until 1 PM in the afternoon, just to catch up on your sleep!

(The above image is from a really cool infographic by Bizbrain, I highly recommend clicking that link and reading the rest of it!)
However, if you’re a teen or young adult, it’s not unusual to have a rhythm that clashes heavily with that of school or work. During natural development and aging your biological clock phaseshifts; elderly people need less sleep than adults, but on the other hand young people often have very late sleeping cycle compared to their parents and society as a whole. This is completely natural, and some developmental scientists even argue that the time when your sleepcycle finally phaseshifts to a more ‘normal’ rhythm is actually the real start of adulthood, instead of an arbitrary age such as 18.
Thus, developmental changes in teens and young adults delay the timing of their sleepcycle, actively preventing them from going to sleep earlier in the evening because their brain only makes them feel sleepy much later.
Unfortunately school start times means that overall, students have to be alert during times that is in complete contrast with adolescent naturally preferred waking hours. This causes unusual early waking times, shorter sleep times and lack of sleep, lack of concentration and lower alertness and retention of facts. Some scientist believe that even shifting school’s starting time by as little as half an hour can dramatically increase academic performances. Try to get that suggestion approved by the schoolboard…
Chronotypes test
To find out your own ‘chronotype’, follow this link and fill out the form. Not only can you see how you compare to the rest of the population, you also help advance research into chronobiology and sleeping rhythms! Furthermore, you will be provided with a personal PDF with some handy advise on how to adjust your sleeping schedule if need be. As you can see below, I myself am quite the night owl.


Further reading:-You are most likely to die at 11 AM: an article by The Atlantic.-Scholarpedia article on Chronobiology -A BBC article that explains the interesting ways in which the biological clock can be used to increase the efficacy of medical treatments, known as Chronotherapy.  
Image credits:-Image Sleep deprivation:  Häggström, Mikael. “Medical gallery of Mikael Häggström 2014”. Wikiversity Journal of Medicine 1 (2). DOI:10.153-Image circadian clock: Wikimedia Commons, by YassineMrabet.-Image freerunning period: www.sleepsources.org-Image Jetlag: Bizbrain-Image chronotypes:www.euclock.org
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(Early) Neuroscience Wednesday!
(It’s actually still Tuesday…)

What is Chronobiology?

It’s no secret that teens have trouble getting up in the morning, often falling half-asleep during classes and maybe even labelled as ‘lazy’ by perhaps their parents or teachers.

“Well, if you would just go to bed earlier you wouldn’t feel so tired in the morning!”, is advise often given to those of us who just aren’t morning people. Easier said than done right?

Well, the next time you are berated by people older than you, let them know that the reason you go to bed late and don’t want to get up in the morning has less to do with your lazy personality and more to do with your brain chemistry!

In this post I will tell you what chronobiology is, how it affects every aspect of your life, and society as a whole, and explain the concept of Social Jetlag. Furthermore, you can test if you’re a night owl or early bird, and how you compare to other people your age (while at the same time participating in research)!

Read More


In the last 2 weeks of August, the normally quite tranquil ‘Noorderplantsoen' park in Groningen turns into a bustling festival full of music, theatre, art, dance, shops and stalls, and lots and lots of people. 
The festival is known as ‘Noorderzon' (northern sun) and is quite the experience for anyone, from kids to grandparents and everyone in between, and I really like it a lot. There's a lot to eat, drink and experience. There are lights everywhere and the whole park is just filled with whatever performance art (or just 'plain' art) you can imagine. To use a Dutch term, it's just really ‘gezellig’!
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(Photocredit: mathijzs on Flickr) 
Yesterday night I went with two friends of mine, listened to some bands and just walked around and had fun. 

One of them even assaulted me with his prickly beard stubble!

Today my parents unexpectedly paid me a visit and I took them with me to roam around Noorderzon by day, although not nearly as gezellig as in the evening, it was still a nice day and I highly recommend it if you ever find yourself in the North of the Netherlands in the last weeks of August :)
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In the last 2 weeks of August, the normally quite tranquil ‘Noorderplantsoen' park in Groningen turns into a bustling festival full of music, theatre, art, dance, shops and stalls, and lots and lots of people. 

The festival is known as ‘Noorderzon' (northern sun) and is quite the experience for anyone, from kids to grandparents and everyone in between, and I really like it a lot. There's a lot to eat, drink and experience. There are lights everywhere and the whole park is just filled with whatever performance art (or just 'plain' art) you can imagine. To use a Dutch term, it's just really gezellig!

Read More



Neuroscience Wednesday!

What is Synaesthesia, and do you have it?

I am quite sure a lot of you have heard about the phenomenon of synaesthesia, but if not, let me give you a brief introduction.

Synaesthesia is the name of a neurological phenomenon that occurs in the brains of individuals, that causes them to see, hear, feel or experience associations with certain stimuli that is unusual in the normal population. One of the most famous examples of synaesthesia is the experience of colours in response to seeing letters and numbers, as can be seen in the image above (known as Grapheme-colour synaesthesia). But it can also be that you taste specific things when you hear certain words (Lexical-Gustatory Synaesthesia), or experience colours when you listen to music (Chromestesia).

Synaesthesia can be any unusual crossovers between normally-separate experiences within the brain in response to specific stimuli. It could therefore be entirely possible that you are a synesthete without even knowing it! For example, I myself am a synesthete but only recently discovered that I am one, even though long before I discovered this I already knew about the phenomenon of synaesthesia.

Therefore, in this post I will be highlighting different (obscure) synaesthesia subgroups and will discuss the neurological background of synaesthesia. Since as many as about 1 in 23 people might have a form of synaesthesia, it is not unimaginable that you might discover you have a form of synaesthesia as well!

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