Group Fitness Classes at Emory

Notes from Elizabeth Kline

Emory has group fitness classes available. To take the classes as a graduate student, you pay a $15/semester fee and sign a release. You can do that at either the WPEC or the SAAC. You can take as many classes as you like. I have done Zumba and spinning and yoga, but none of them affect me spiritually except for Elgin’s kickboxing class.

Kickboxing is 4:30 – 5:20 PM in the summer. For an updated schedule of group fitness classes at Emory, see this link. Some classes are offered at the Woodruff P.E. Center (WPEC) on main campus and others at the Student Athletic Activity Center (SAAC) at the Clairmont campus.

Monday 7:30 AM – I wake up happy. It is Monday. Monday is for Elgin’s kickboxing class. I reflect on whether I have clean work out clothes. I do. I smile and drink a liter of water.

Excerpt from KC Green's comic gunshow #343. Also, a true-to-life depiction of Monday Elizabeth.

Excerpt from KC Green’s comic gunshow #343. Also, a true-to-life depiction of Monday Elizabeth.

Monday 10:37 AM – I am at the dentist. These notes are not supposed to be about the dentist, but while I have you here, I will tell you my dentist is Radiant Smiles in Midtown. Perhaps you are a new student looking for a dentist in Atlanta, so let me tell you what I think of Radiant Smiles. The best thing about Radiant Smiles is that it is very close to Trader Joes, and Trader Joes has yogurt star cookies, dumplings, and cheap wine.

Monday 12:04 PM – I am in Trader Joes. I walked in hoping to find fresh cut peonies and left with 4 kinds of protein bars and coconut oil.

Enemy of Dentists, Kickboxing Fuel

Enemy of Dentists, Kickboxing Fuel

Monday 2:00 PM – I am having tea while I read papers. I try not to eat for 3 hours before class to prevent gas. I check my pulse. That’s not something I normally do. I was just thinking about how maybe including my pulse in these notes might be interesting. I count 54 beats in a minute.

Monday 4:08 PM – I leave lab and walk to Elgin’s kickboxing class.

Monday 4:12 PM – I am picking at my chipped nail polish and a SHARD of it gets JAMMED underneath one of my other nails. I am BLEEDING. I take a picture to include in these notes.

Monday 4:19 PM – I finally clot.

Figure 2. What the heck?!

Figure 2. What the heck?!

Monday 4:21 PM – I start to run because I think I am going to be late to class. If this ever happens to you, do not worry because if you arrive late to Elgin’s kickboxing class, he never shames you. He just says “~hellllooooooo~” with an inflection that conveys familiarity and friendliness and recognition. He does it exactly the same way for every person who comes in late. With Elgin you know you are seen but not judged, welcomed but not forced, encouraged and accepted. “~Hellllooooooo~” is what he says but what he says is “I know you tried your best to get here on time, and it is fine that you have a hard time estimating how long protocols take. Come into my class. We will work it out.”

Monday 4:27 PM – I look around and realize the only other people running right now are tiny children who are heading toward the gym for swimming lessons. Tiny flip-flops, tiny swim trunks. I can tell I look like a giant child, also running. I almost fall down because one of the tiny children is fast and unpredictable.

Monday 4:30 PM – I made it. I am dressed and marching in place as the music starts. The walk/bleed/run to get to the SAAC from Whitehead took me 20 minutes and 48 seconds including a wardrobe change.

Elgin’s kickboxing class involves no punching bags or boxing gloves. You fight no one (except *YOURSELF!!!!!!!!!!!). It is like an aerobics class where you step-touch and grapevine and squat and hop. Most of the moves involve punching or kicking the air around you. Form is not enforced. Elgin counts backwards and calls out the moves while loud remixes of Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Ciara, Britney Spears, etc. play. It is exactly what I want. Outside of Elgin’s kickboxing class, I spend a great deal of time feeling unsure. If you are a rotation student, perhaps you often do not know how things are done in your new lab. Even after you join a lab, perhaps you often do not know where something is stored or how to fix certain problems. You can figure it out, but maybe you, like me, experience a lot of uncertainty all the time. I think I really like (love/worship) Elgin’s kickboxing class because I know exactly what to do there, and I can see that I do it well. This is extremely comforting and fun.

Figure 3. Crazy eyes. I thought about taking a new one when I looked at this later, but no! I have journalistic integrity and want you to see the real-deal face of me completing Elgin's kickboxing class.

Figure 3. Crazy eyes. I thought about taking a new one when I looked at this later, but no! I have journalistic integrity and want you to see the real-deal face of me completing Elgin’s kickboxing class.

Maybe if you were in a cardio kickboxing class, you would not know exactly what to do. That is fine. But I hope you have at least one thing where you do feel sure of yourself. You know what to do. You can check yourself out and see that you are nailing it. I think that is a good thing to find and cherish when research-related floundering inevitably happens. Eventually something will not work, but I am at peace because I can stare at my reflection for 50 minutes every Monday and punch really hard and squat really low and do that move that football players do where you bend your knees a little and move your feet up and down really, really fast. Elgin says “Uppercut let’s go” but what he says is “Jealousy wins you nothing, so abandon it in favor of focus and patience.”

Monday 5:31 PM – I’m smiling and I took this selfie (fig 3).

Tuesday 7:30 AM – Bummed that it is not Monday. Slightly sore.

Tuesday 11:45 AM – I realize I never checked my pulse during or after Elgin’s kickboxing class. Sorry.

If you ever want to go to kickboxing with me, or if you have a question about what I wrote, or if you realized that maybe 7 minutes is a slow clot and now you are worried about me, you can email me at

Posted in Local Field Potential | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

“Yes and” Brain Areas Identified

By Amielle Moreno

How do you test something as transient as “creativity” when the simple act of testing someone can lead to decreases in the very thing you seek to measure? A recent study out of the Reiss laboratory at Stanford produced a creative idea of their own to test creativity. The low pressure and innovative approach in this study attempted to solve this problem with a game and an fMRI machine.


A pack of wild dogs took over and successfully run this fMRI facility.

Large pieces of machinery such as functional Nuclear Magnetic Resonance machines, carry the hefty price tag of $316 to $600 an hour per participant. The name alone scared so many hospital patients that scientists dropped the word “nuclear.” Reimbursing participants (bribing) is often necessary to get them to willingly stick their head inside the giant magnet even when you’re trying to get them to play a game in the million dollar machine.

Recent research published in Nature attempts to understand the neural correlates recruited during Pictionary. The family friendly game that you played awkwardly with your new step-mom Susana or converted into a drinking game in college/last week was used in an fMRI machine to better understand what areas of the brain are responsible for creativity. First author Saggar made the point that creativity can be considered “a driving force behind all human progress1.”

What else but creativity is responsible for the human proclivity to identify patterns in randomness, leading ancient societies to create images and fables out of the constellations?


OK, how the hell is that a lion, ancient Greek man?

Design and Methods:

Pictionary prompts such as salute, snore and vote, were selected and graded for their difficulty by one set of participants. Then, another set of participants in an fMRI machine used a magnetic resonance-safe drawing tablet to either draw illustrations of these prompts during a 30 second time block or a random zigzag during another block.

pictionary prompts

If you ask me, it’s Grampa visiting South Carolina, the beginning of a “fail” video, CIA mind control and mailing your alimony check.

By contrasting the creative versus uncreative blocks, the researchers attempted to reveal “the neural correlates of spontaneous improvisation and creativity.” Images drawn during the creative blocks were then graded on creative content and subjective ease of guessing the prompt by two Pictionary Experts. While this might also be a major offered by Sarah Lawrence College, apparently you can obtain this position after earning a degree in Graphic Design from Stanford. Resumes were updated to include “Expert Guessers in Pictionary” post-study.

The researchers were left with mountains of data and yet again these humans sought to apply order to what might appear as randomness.



All of this leads to specific advice for the art of improvisation and Pictionary:

  1. Working Memory and Attention: Perhaps the most important thing to do in any improv scene is to listen to your partner and focus on the scene you’re building. Active listening and engagement is fueled by the attention network, including the frontal-parietal connection2. This functional connectivity can “initiate and adjust control on a trial-by trial basis.” Coherence between these two regions form “the central executive and visual sketchpad of the working memory system.”
  2. Goal Direction: Prime your cingulo-operacular connectivity to maintain stable, goal directed focus during your scenes/games. Because communication between the cingulate and the area adjacent to the insula is also associated with word-recognition, it may be particularly important during Pictionary or word associated improv games3.
  3. Shut Down Task-Control: Try to go with the flow. A fine distinction between goal directed focus, task-control involves task initiation, maintenance and adjustment4. Regions of the brain involved in task-control include the anterior cingulate cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. High BOLD signals in these brain regions are associated with less creative pictures.
  4. Creativity: To be more creative, try to activate both your bilateral cerebellum and inferior temporal gyrus. The activation of the cerebellum increased linearly with increases in creativity ratings. This study’s finding that cerebral-cerebellar interactions are active during the game Pictionary, separate from motor control and learning, indicates that this interaction is active during higher order cognitive functions which could be considered “creative.”

This is your brain on Pictionary. Modulation of fMRI activation during word-drawing condition using self-reported difficulty ratings (in red-yellow color scale) and expert creativity ratings (in blue-green color scale).



Improv greats, Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh. image from

Anyone who’s paid to think or problem solve needs moments of creativity. This study posits that it was able to isolate creative thought and found an association between cerebral-cerebellar BOLD signal and spontaneous creativity. Two neuroscience grad students who do improv, Brendan O’Flaherty and Lukas Hoffmann, might tell you that with experience it’s possible to improve your creative performance on stage. Connections between specific brain regions need to be strengthened before you can become one of the great improvisational artists, or crush Susanna and her spoiled daughter during your next family vacation.

To strengthen your connectivity, check out Village Theatre or Highwire Comedy for classes.

1 Saggar M, Quintin EM, Kienitz E, Bott NT, Sun Z, Hong WC, Liu N, Dougherty RF, Royalty A, Hawthorne G, Reiss AL. Pictionary-based fMRI paradigm to study the neural correlates of spontaneous improvisation and figural creativity. Sci. Rep. 5, 10894; doi: 10.1038/srep10894 (2015).

2 Vaden KI, Kuchinsky SE, Cute SL, Ahlstrom JB, Dubno JR, Eckert MA. The cingulo-opercular network provides word-recognition benefit. The Journal of Neuroscience. 2013;33(48):18979-18986. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1417-13.2013.

3 Chawla D, Rees G, Friston KJ. The physiological basis of attentional modulation in extrastriate visual areas. Nature Neuroscience.1999; 2: 671 – 676 doi:10.1038/10230

4 Ptak R. The frontoparietal attention network of the human brain: action, saliency, and a priority map of the environment. Neuroscientist. 2011;18 (5):502-515.

Posted in journal article | Tagged | Leave a comment

Fun Had By All: 3rd Annual Neuroscience Award Ceremony

IMG_2135Congratulations to all our 2015 student award winners! It’s time to update your CVs.

Outstanding Scientific Achievement: Kelly Lohr
Outstanding Early Achievement: Maria Briscione
Scientific Outreach: Carlie Hoffman
University Service: Natty Chalermpalanupap
Leadership: Ashley Sullivan
Excellence in Teaching: Karl Schmidt
Excellence in Mentorship: Zachary Johnson
GIN Faculty of the Year:  Malu Tansey
GIN Service Award: Maylen Perez Diaz
Director’s Impact Award:  Machelle Pardue
Director’s Unsung Hero Award: Don Noble
Excellence in Service: Gary Longstreet

Award winner Carlie Hoffman and her entourage. Chris is obviously Ari Gold.


And the winners for first in food line are… Of course, dominated by program veterans.

Our new Director with his award winning protege.

Our new Director with his award winning protege.


While grad students mingle, Monica Taylor smiles and plots the next GDBBS update for your spam folder.




Tom, as always, demonstrates his superior cheese stacking technique while in perfect cocktail attire.



“There’s the door, Don! What’s stopping you?”

"So a penguin and a farmer walk into a bar..."

“So a penguin and a farmer walk into a bar…”


Posted in Activities, GIN, Neuroscience Program | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Confessions of an audio addict–Best Neuroscience and Behavior Podcasts — Grad Student Edition

By Ben Kuebrich, More writing from Ben can be found on his blog Neuroamer on WordPress.

Edited by Amielle Moreno

(If you’re a podcast convert and I’m preaching to the choir feel free to skip ahead to my list of the best neuroscience and behavior podcasts. If you’re new to podcasts and interested in getting started, here’s my advice:)

Hello,tumblr_ms4iosnp4G1rxpffao1_500 my name is Ben and I’m a podcast addict. I can’t remember when I started using, but I know that I can’t stop. Perhaps it’s genetic or environmental – my mom listened to books on tape and I spent my formative years over-hearing these tapes as she did household chores (is there a sensitive period for podcast dependency?).

I love music, but more and more it’s familiar voices sped up to chipmunk speeds that are emanating from my earbuds. So as much as it pains me to admit my mom is right about anything, I think she was onto something – audiobooks and podcasts are the way of the future.

Podcast ‘Facts':

  1. Podcasts ‘a neologism and portmanteau derived from “broadcast” and “pod” from the success of the iPod,’ are episodic series that can be streamed from mobile devices like smartphones, so no advanced planning is required: (The best podcast apps seem to be Podcast Addict for android and Overcast for iPhones.)  Additionally you can stream them from your computer, or download podcast episodes using iTunes., If you subscribe to a podcast, it will update itself by automatically downloading new episodes when they’re released.


    Multitasking with a cellphone during your commute.

  2.  Podcasts are a great way to multitask during mindless talks, commutes, and exercise: They were a life-saver when I worked as a research tech and spent long hours moving mutated mice from shit-covered cage to shit-covered cage in a soulless basement apartment the day after Christmas in freezing Boston.
  3. Podcasts are an efficient way to take in information: You can control the audio speed, easily pause to take notes, and rewind if you’ve spaced out.

    Podcasts can make you S-M-R-T

    I use the android podcast app Podcast Addict, which has built-in control over the speed. Normally, I’ll speed up podcasts and listen to them as fast as I can get away with (starting slow at 1.2-1.3x but sometimes going as high as 2.5x to give slow drawlers the pressured speech of a manic chipmunk). Comedy is all about timing, but relative timing, and sped-up comedy if anything seems wittier and funnier, and in general everyone makes everyone seem smarter?

  4.  Podcasts are popular: You may have heard of the NPR podcast, and This American Life spinoff, and whodunnit murder mystery ‘Serial.’ A surprise success, in December 2014 Serial brought national attention to podcasts. More than just a news story about a murder mystery, NPR producers took advantage of a unique aspect of the podcast medium. The murder mystery explored in Serial was too long and complicated for a single radio episode. With flexible episode lengths, embedded links to supplementary material in the show notes, and real time serialreleasing of episodes as the journalism unfolded, the end serialchartresult was a completely binge-able story, unlike anything that could be released on radio or audiobook, and even elicited an NPR spoof:

As an aside, for anyone who loved serial I recommend This American Life and the HBO documentary The Jinx.


The only thing you should know about The Jinx before watching it. Also, Andy Richter no longer controls the universe, but he’s still got it.

  1. Podcasts can provide in depth coverage: Unconstrained by schedules, podcasts can vary in length and often go on the longer side, some last as long as 3 or 4 hours. This allows for real in-depth interviews with thinkers and celebrities that you’ll never hear on a late-night talk show.
  2. Podcasts democratize audio as anyone can release one: If you’d be interested in starting an Emory Neuroscience podcast, please hit me up.

So without further ado, here are my…


In rough order of sciency-ness and relevance to grad students, these picks are apples and oranges (and in one case an apple-orange). These podcasts can be a great way to hear how scientists talk and think, to get exposed to a variety of topics, and to keep up-to-date with this quickly moving field.

  1. UTSA’s Neuroscientist’s Talk Shop: NTSAs the name implies, NTS is hardcore neuroscience. It’s off-the-record-like speculation, on-the-record. Each episode has an invited guest who takes part in an informal discussion and answers questions posed by other neuroscientists, including my P.I. Sam Sober,and other familiar faces like Lena Ting and (early adopter back in 2011) Dieter Jaeger. Generally, the topics covered focus on computational neuroscience and electrophysiology. Often speakers assume listeners are well versed in the field, but even if you aren’t, you get a lot out of it by hearing the way scientists think, talk, and speculate on the gray areas of neuroscience. Frequency: varies 1-3 weeks during the school year ~45 min. Target Audience: Grad Student +High Proof
  2. High Proof Podcast: A podcast with a sense of humor, their tagline reads: “We demand high proof for our science and our spirits.” Two Graduate students, Ryan and Joel, pick interesting topics and I especially like the philosophical slant, though I wish they spent more time explain the background of the philosophy they cover. They could plan and research their topics a little better, but I also don’t want them to sacrifice the conversational tone. Frequency: ~1/wk 12 episodes total as I write this. Target Audience: Undergraduates, Grad Students
  3. Neuropod: Nature’s official Neuropodneuroscience podcast hosted by neuroscience journalist Elie Dolgin. Each episode is around a half hour and usually features 3-4 interviews on recent publications and reviews, this podcast is a great way to keep abreast of new research and show off during lab meeting. The website also has links to the papers if they peak your interest. The podcast has high production value on par with public radio. Frequency: Monthly episodes ~30 min. Target Audience: Undergraduates, Grad Students
  4. Brain Science Podcast LogoBrain Science Podcast: “The show for everyone who has a brain.” Hosted by an ER doctor with a background in research and engineering, Ginger Campbell, she does a huge service to the world by getting big name neuroscientists to talk in depth while keeping things accessible. It’s great for getting introduced to perspectives on neuropsychology. I also love that Dr. Campbell repeats and clarifies important points in the middle and end of episodes and always asks the guests to give advice to students. The website also features annotated transcripts of the episodes. Frequency: Monthly episodes ~1 hr. Target Audience: Undergraduates, Grad Students, Your Mom (Seriously. No, seriously tell your mom to listen to this and maybe she’ll stop asking you so many annoying questions about what you do.) (Mom if you ever read this, I’m joking around.)
  5. Naked Neuroscience Podcast: naked Neuro podcastA podcast recorded out of Cambridge University, this podcast has been around since 2001, but it’s new to me! This podcast includes news from European conferences and interviews with scientists from around the world. It has high production values, good stories, rigorous science, but as you can see from the picture a sense of humor as well. Frequency: Monthly episodes ~30 mins. Target Audience: Anyone interested in neurosciene with a sense of humor.
  6. NPR’s Invisibilia:Ivisibilia Think Radiolab focused on “the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.” Hosted by rising stars Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel, in each episode they interview scientists and craft small narratives around themes. For example, this season featured episodes on interactions with technology, blindness, and fear. The first season is 6 episodes, ~1 hr, more to come and hopefully soon! Target Audience: People who need something to talk about at cocktail parties.
  7. Freakonomics: Freakonomics“The hidden side of everything.” Hosted by the authors of the best-selling book of the same name, Freakanomics Radio podcast has released over 200 episodes since 2010. The show uses a narrative style and interviews to explain studies of behavioral economics–a field that uses economic statistical techniques and theory to determine what factor-like incentives drive the behavior of people and systems. Incredibly interesting and accessible, it doesn’t touch strictly on neuroscience, yet I would recommend it to any human being interested in behavior and decision-making. Frequency: 1/wk 30-60 mins. Target Audience: People who like to show off at cocktail parties.
  8. The Laughter Research PodcastGlen Duggan The guests of this podcast include not only professors, but comedians and entrepreneurs. This broader perspective is in part due to the host Glen Duggan. He’s a non-traditional psychology PhD candidate in Trinity College, Dublin, with a lot of real world experience. We briefly chatted on twitter and he seems like a genuinely great guy. Positive emotions like happiness and behaviors like laughter can be understudied compared to negative emotions, so the work he’s doing is very important. Frequency: ~ 2 episodes / month Target Audience: Lay people.
  9. All about Autism Podcast:autism pod If you’re interested in psychiatric disease or autism, this niche podcast is a fascinating and easy listen. This podcast is co-hosted by Heather and Dave Eaton, the co-owners and co-founders of Eaton Alliance Inc., which supports individuals with disabilities, specializing in autism. You get to hear a less academic, but extremely well informed perspective on autism. In some ways these hosts are far more informed than most academics as to the everyday lives of patients. A powerful force for good in the world right now, this podcast educates and rebuffs the misconception that vaccines cause autism. (To repeat the obvious, there is no scientific evidence showing vaccines cause autism and many have looked. The one original study that did show this has been shown to be a fraud propagated by a scientist with a conflict of interest.) Frequency: Used to be once a week, but now closer to once a month. Target Audience: anyone interested in science communication and a patient’s perspective.
  10. Talking Machines: talking machines“Human Conversation about Machine Learning” – A machine-learning podcast, but I think that a lot of neuronal learning is going to resemble machine learning. Anyways, it’s probably good knowledge to have, seeing as we’re on the precipice of another industrial-revolution with machine learning that will put a lot of white-collar workers out of business, or living in a simulation created by ‘a hypothetical, but inevitable, singular ultimate superintelligence may punish those who fail to help it or help create it. See, I learn useless junk by listening to podcasts!

As I mentioned above, I’m a podcast addict, so I’d love to hear what you’re listening to and what you’d recommend, even podcasts that aren’t directly related to neuroscience and behavior. Also, if you liked this post and want to see more like it please share it. If you want updates on what I’m thinking and listening to please follow me on twitter, or like the Neuroamer page on facebook.


Non-neuroscience podcasts that I think are worth checking out: Radio Lab, This American Life, Planet Money, Fresh Air, 60 Minutes Pop Culture Happy Hour, DVDASA, Monday Morning Podcast with Bill Burr, Harmontown, Judge John Hodgman Podcast, Human Conversation, Nature Podcast, Science Podcast, New Yorker Fiction, Yoshi Didn’t, Science Friday, Song Exploder, Startup Podcast, 4 Hour Work Week Podcast, Joe Rogan Podcast, Duncan Trussel Family Hour Podcast, Smartest Man in the World w/ Greg Proops, The Nerdist, This Feels Terrible, Upvoted, WTF with Marc Maron, Yale Humanities, You Made it Weird.

Posted in Announcements | Leave a comment

Baby-Crazy: The Mind-Control of Motherhood

 This article was originally published by Inscripto Magzine, produced by the Science Writers Association of Emory and republished with permission. Check out articles by other neuroscience students in the new Spring 2015 issue.

By Amielle Moreno

Any wilderness expert will tell you the most dangerous animal to see in the wild is a baby bear. Accidentally stumbling between a mother bear and her cubs is a sure way to get mauled. Mothers will do anything for their children and none of us would be here today if it wasn’t for the selflessness of our ancestors, putting the survival of their offspring sometimes before themselves.

So apparently, the most basic drive for self-preservation can be trumped by babies. While we can’t live forever, we can pass on our genes. Thus, what Richard Dawkins termed “selfish genes” have created animals built for their own survival, and that drive for self-preservation can be redirected to reproduction and then parental care.

The Power of Hormones

I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but the areas of your brain responsible for decision-making can be overpowered by hormone-driven signals from deeper brain regions. During development, hormones influence the structure of our bodies, including our brains. During puberty, the same hormones can act again on these existing systems to make you feel awkward during gym class. But perhaps the largest natural shift in hormone concentrations is during pregnancy.

The milieu of hormones pregnant women experience can make long-lasting structural changes to the neurons in our brain. The neurons in deep brain regions responsible for maternal behavior can grow in size when exposed to pregnancy hormones such as estrogens. So, the same time motherhood occurs, the brain is experiencing significant changes. The growing neurons start to communicate with areas of the brain that make the signaling molecule dopamine.

Dopamine rules what neuroscientists call “the reward pathway” and it’s the reason you like anything… ever… in your entire life. Your body releases this magical molecule when you perform activities that will keep you and your genes alive and spreading. Dopamine is released while consuming food or having sex, and because your genes want to be passed on, the drive for parental care relies on this reward pathway too. Large doses of estrogen, such as those occurring during late stages of pregnancy and labor trigger the release of dopamine, stimulating the reward system. This makes new mothers primed and ready to love that 7 pound 5 ounce screaming, floppy pile of responsibility, you named “Aden.”

Hormones lead to new and permanent changes in brain circuitry, which is how areas of the brain interact and respond to one another’s activity. Perhaps surprisingly, animals that haven’t been around babies are not initially fond of infants. Virgin, pup-inexperienced female mice have a natural avoidance to infant stimuli, which is not completely unreasonable. Think about what a baby would seem like if you didn’t know what it was: they cry for seemingly no reason, smell, and demand a lot of time, money and attention.  In mice, researchers have explored a natural avoidance and defensive response associated with animals that are new to infant care. There are defined circuits in the brain responsible for this avoidance response. The hormones of pregnancy, silence this circuit, and neural circuits responsible for maternal responses can then be more active.

Changes in Behavior

You might have heard from your friendly neighborhood neuroscientist you don’t have free will. Let me reassure you that yes, you’re a slave to the power of babies. The immediate changes in a mom’s behavior after childbirth suggest major changes are occurring in brain circuitry. This new baby addiction or “sensitization” is caused by changes in the reward system’s dopamine release. Cocaine and other addictive drugs trigger the reward system and release dopamine throughout the brain. Like a drug, the allure of babies is so strong that when given the choice, rats with maternal experience prefer to enter a room associated with infant pups over associated with cocaine. Using this knowledge, let’s take care of two societal problems at once: “Orphanages: The New Methadone Clinic!”

Sensitization causes mothers to act differently. Mother rodents show increases in risk-taking behavior. For example, mother mice on an elevated maze with enclosed and open arms, will spend more time exploring the potentially dangerous open arms than virgin mice. On the up side, new mothers display increases in memory. In a maze, mother rats were better than virgins at remembering where the food was and were faster to retrieve it. The researchers concluded that improved foraging memory increases the chance of survival for a mother’s pups.  If this held true in humans, the concept of “baby brain” might be unfounded. However, funding cuts have halted the construction of the human-sized maze stocked with baby supplies.

Even abstaining from motherhood won’t save you from becoming a slave to baby overlords. Mere exposure to infants can activate changes in the brain regions responsible for maternal behavior, and start the process of sensitization in rodents. The process does take more exposure time than in natural mothers, without the surge of hormones to speed things along. This suggests that women become “baby crazy” by exposure to infant stimuli. While we all might inherently be ambivalent or avoid infants, through exposure to babies, they become conditioned and highly rewarding stimuli. Do you want kids? Then it might already be too late.

Not being female won’t save you either. A study looking at brain activity using an fMRI machine found that when fathers are shown images of their children, they display similar brain activity as mothers. Recent research out of Emory made headlines when it found this increase in activity in the reward pathway was inversely correlated with testes size, and blood testosterone concentration. The conclusion: more parental care equals less testosterone and smaller balls, fellas!

Against Logic

The combination of a higher consciousness and a desire to reproduce means, unlike other animals, humans are presented with the question of if we should reproduce. However, the reason they instruct you on airplanes to put the air mask on yourself before you assist young children is because the human drive to protect our genes, I mean, children, sometimes overrides logic. There’s also an illogical drive to have our own children. In a planet with millions of orphan children, you would assume that the baby-loving masses (and cocaine addicts) would decrease the supply of foster kids overnight. However, our biological nature has a way of convincing humans that we don’t just want a child, but we want our child.

In a modern environment where motherhood is a choice, it’s illogical for anyone to be pressured to give birth to an eighteen-year commitment. Because not all people (or laboratory animals) naturally become sensitized to infants, it might be better for everyone if people who don’t want children aren’t pressured to have them. By simply understanding the literally mind-altering process of parenthood, individuals can make decisions that benefit everyone, including our baby overlords.

 This article was originally published by Inscripto Magzine, produced by the Science Writers Association of Emory. Written by Emory graduate students for the public at large, this organization helping to support science communication. To find more articles written by members of Emory’s Neuroscience program and other students on a range of science topics, please peruse their new Spring 2015 issue. Direct link to this article at here.

Posted in Announcements | Leave a comment

War Paint: 2015

We gathered at midday. It was unseasonably hot, the sun beating down uncomfortably on our backs as we put on our gear. We barely noticed the sweat soaking through. We were there for a purpose. We knew what needed to be done.


Sweet Tea and Pork B’Ellie preparing for the fight.

Dexter “The Cannon” Myrick was the first to get hit. It was his trigger hand—a costly loss. But he wouldn’t be the last to see the angry red welts rising on his skin, to fight on through the pain. None of us made it through unscathed. My own injuries have yet to heal. Perhaps they will remain with me always.

We got separated almost immediately. I found myself with Sweet Tea, hunkered down behind a wooden wall that suddenly seemed too thin to hide me from the enemy’s onslaught. We aren’t going to help our team by hiding, she told me. We have to move on. And with a sudden lunge and a tuck and roll, Sweet Tea abandoned me. I am not proud to say it, but I was too scared to move, too scared to fight back.


May they rest in peace.

We were not without heroism. I will never forget watching He Who Shall Not Be (Nick) Named O’Flaherty weaving through enemy fire, reaching our target and raising that beautiful flag that let our enemies know that we will not yield. His family should know that he perished with honor. Nor will I forget watching Phil “The Price is Righteous” Price take a hit for Pork B’Ellie, going down with such bravery and selflessness. Pork B’Ellie honored his death as she bellowed out a war cry and landed a headshot on her aggressor. We fought our way through that abandoned town, hiding behind cars, abandoned buildings, even headstones to press on. We left that battlefield bruised, battered, and covered in paint. Most importantly, we left that battlefield triumphant. We came as friends with nothing but a groupon and a free Sunday afternoon, but we left as warriors, comrades in arms, victors.


Classic Paintball features 5 playing fields and a large urban city to accommodate both recreational and advanced players. They have covered pavilions and picnic tables in the staging area that are provided for you convenience. The fields are open Saturday and Sunday 10:00am-5:00pm.

1320 Blairs Bridge Rd.
Lithia Springs, GA 30122
Phone: 770-732-1110

Posted in Announcements | Leave a comment

Atlanta Science Festival 2015: The Science of Beer

By Don Noblebeerscience

One of the highlights of this year’s Atlanta Science Festival (held March 21-28) is sure to be the Science of Beer series, sponsored by Georgia Bio and organized by our very own Neuroscience Graduate Program alum, Dr. Jacob Shreckengost (affectionately referred to as Dr. Cupcake by those in the know). This two-part event will encompass exciting talks, tours, interactive demos, and surprise!… plenty of beer to make you forget everything you’ve learned and come back next year!

Each event consists of a brief lecture and several activities designed to fully immerse you in the theme of the day. In both cases, you will hear from scientists and brewers, taste some of the relevant beers, tour the brewery, and explore interactive demos on the science of beer.

Part I on Monday, March 23rd from 6:30-8:30 @ Orpheus Brewing: The first Talk, Tasting, and Tour (modeled after former presidential candidate Herman Cain’s T-T-T plan) will focus on discovering the biology of bacterial fermentation and its role in making certain beers sour. The lecture, given by Dr. Chris Cornelison of Georgia State University, will explore the bacterial processes that give your favorite farmhouse ale and saisons just the right amount of funk, and will be accompanied by beer pairings crafted by Orpheus Brewing. After the talk and discussion, participants will have the opportunity to take tours, view and participate in demos on the science of beer, and mingle with fellow beer nerds and novices. Tickets are available here.

Part II on Wednesday, March 25th from 6:30-8:30 @ Monday Night Brewing: The second event will focus on discovering the neuroscience of taste and how the brain experiences hoppiness. The lecture, given by Emory’s Dr. Kerry Ressler, is titled “From the Brain to the Bulb: How Your Head Handles Hops”, and will explore the neuroscience of taste and how the brain experiences the floral, citrusy and piney bouquets of different hop varieties. It will be accompanied by beer pairings crafted by Monday Night Brewing. Again, after the talk and discussion, participants will have the opportunity to take tours, view and participate in demos on the science of beer, and mingle with fellow beer nerds and novices. Tickets are available here.

If you don’t pass out trying to drink Jacob under the table, you’ll leave with a greater appreciation for the expanding and innovating scientific and brewing community in Atlanta, as well as a collectible Atlanta Science Festival Science of Beer 400mL beaker/pint glass.

Look forward to seeing you there!

Tickets to the event can be purchased below: (Part I)

Orpheus Brewing: 1440 Dutch Valley Pl NE, Atlanta, GA 30324 (Part 2)

Monday Night Brewing: 678 Trabert Ave., Atlanta, 30318 

Posted in Activities | Tagged , | Leave a comment