Tag Archives: macquarie university

Gamers have more grey matter and better brain connectivity, new research suggests

All those hours of leveling up your character have finally paid off – a new study conducted by Australian and Chinese researchers suggests that playing computer games not only increases the amount of grey matter in your brain, but also promotes better connectivity between different areas of the brain.

The former Dota2 squad of Evil Geniuses, one of the most successful teams.

Even after all these years, people who often play computer games still get a lot of bad rep in many circles of society – but that’s likely to change in the near future, as more and more studies showed that not only does it not hurt you (except for wasting copious amounts of time), it might actually help you. Gaming has been linked to brain thickening (which is a good thing), it improves spatial orientation, it improves eyesight and reflexes, and despite what many people think, it might actually make you more social and polite. Also, it should come as no surprise that gaming improves brain connectivity – after all, most of today’s computer games require active participation and a mixture of very different types of thinking.

A team led by researchers from the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China and Macquarie University in Sydney, used functional MRI (fMRI) scans to analyse the brains of 27 gamers who have achieved professional, or ‘expert’, levels of playing action video games (AVG), having won regional and national championships in League of Legends or DOTA2.

The team, led by researchers from researchers from the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China and Macquarie University in Sydney, used functional MRI (fMRI) scans to analyse the brains of 27 gamers who achieved professional status or at least had an ‘expert’ status. The team then compared the results with those from people who don’t typically play games and noted the results.

The results showed increased activity for gamers in an area called the insular cortex – typically associated with ‘higher’ cognitive functions such as empathy and compassion, but also with the ability to focus. The image below below reveals what they found; the anterior (green), transitional (yellow) and posterior (red) regions of the brain showed greater connectivity in gamers.

This really shouldn’t shock anyone – competitive computer gaming is… well, competitive, especially with the huge money influx in games like Dota2 or League of Legends (they already have multi-million tournaments) – so you’d expect players to be really good at it, and have a better ability to concentrate, reason and make quick decisions that most people.

“By comparing AVG experts and amateurs, we found that AVG experts had enhanced functional connectivity and grey matter volume in insular subregions,” the team writes in Scientific Reports. “Furthermore, AVG experts exhibited increased functional connectivity between the attentional and sensorimotor networks, and the experience-related enhancement was predominantly evident in the left insula, an understudied brain area. Thus, AVG playing may enhance functional integration of insular subregions and the pertinent networks therein.”

Journal Reference: Diankun Gong, Hui He, Dongbo Liu, Weiyi Ma, Li Dong, Cheng Luo & Dezhong Yao, Enhanced functional connectivity and increased gray matter volume of insula related to action video game playing. Scientific Reports, doi:10.1038/srep09763

Scientist interview: Culum Brown [biology/fish]

A couple of weeks ago we were telling you about a study which showed that not only do fish feel pain, but they also multi task and even have cultural traditions. We liked it so much, that we included Culum Brown, the study leader, in our list of featured researchers. He was kind enough to take the time and talk a bit with us, answering some questions about his research and how intelligent fish are.
ZME: In your recent study, you wrote that fish not only feel pain, but they also multi task and have cultural traditions. I’m not very familiar with this topic, but was there really a scientific dilemma on whether or not fish feel pain, or is it just a popular misbelief?

CB: Its an odd thing. The fact that fish feel pain is generally accepted by most neuroscientists, but there are always those out there who deny it.  For the most part they are either 1) old school or 2) have a conflict of interest (eg they work for/funded by fisheries). A neuroscientist once compared them to the Flat Earth Society. So i guess in that sense its like climate change; a few deniers puts doubt into the minds of the general public.

ZME: What about cultural traditions? What kind of cultural traditions to fish exhibit? Is this something exhibited by many/species?

CB: So social learning is wide spread in fishes. We have shown in the lab that information can also move between generations. In the wild there is evidence that migration pathways are heavily influenced by cultural traditions.  For example the failure of the North Atlantic cod fishery is partly due to us fishing all the older knowledgeable individuals.

ZME: I feel that fish are not given enough attention in terms of conservation because they are not as lovable or “cute”, or because they are dismissed as non-intelligent. What is your general opinion on this? Are people’s misconceptions about fish having a detrimental effect on conservation efforts?

CB: Yes we often refer to this as the “cute and fury” factor.  Fish lack it and that is why most conservation societies use pandas or koalas as their logo.  Because of this people often lack empathy for fish.

ZME: What do you think about the general status of fish stocks? It seems pretty clear that we are exploiting them at an unsustainable rate (to say the least). How will the fish stocks likely look like in 10-20 years?

CB: Fish stocks are in dire-straits. There is no doubt. Fisheries scientists have been saying this for 200 years. But rules are not made by scientists they are made by politicians. Politicians listen to the loudest voices (in this case fishermen). Its pretty sad, because this instant satisfaction of greed will destroy the worlds fish stocks for future generations. There will be no fishing industry if they keep it up.

ZME: What’s something about your area of study (or biology in general) that you think most people don’t know (and should), or think they know but are wrong?

CB: Obviously for me the no 1 theme is that fish are not stupid. In many aspects they are just as clever as us, and certainly just as clever as most other vertebrates.  That is my take home message.

A bit of background: Culum Brown is currently associated with Macquarie University, and he describes his interests as follows:

I’m primarily interested in Behavioural Ecology and in particular predator avoidance behaviour, learning and memory in freshwater fishes. I have conducted comparative research on the behavioural ecology of predator avoidance in Austalian freshwater fishes (Uni. Queensland) as well as examining social learning in guppies and salmon at the Sub-department of Animal Behaviour, University of Cambridge. I also have an interest in the evolution of cognition and worked at the University of Edinburgh and the Smithsonian Institute on tropical poeciliids. In addition to this theoretical work, I have interests in applied research in conservation biology and fisheries management. These interests include conducting research aimed improving life skills in hatchery reared fishes utilising social learning protocols and environmental enrichment.

Featured Researchers: This Week in Science

We talk a lot about science and research, but we don’t spend enough time talking about the people who actually do the research. In case you haven’t followed our previous feature, here is where we share some of the most interesting studies from the week, and share a bit of information about the scientists who made them.

Scientists use fMRI technique to study the brain of novice and experienced writers as they write

Martin Lotze University of Greiftswald

Scientific Paper
Featured Researcher: Martin Lotze
University of Greifswald
Research Interests: Neuroscience, Emotion, Stroke rehabilitation, Motor Learning, TMS, and Functional Imaging. Since 2001, he has published 87 articles and is one of the most active neuroscientists in the field.

Saturn’s moon Titan may be older than Saturn itself

Kathleen Mandt NASA.

Scientific Paper
Featured Researcher: Kathleen Mandt
Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio
Research Interests: She has nearly a decade of experience in planetary research, six years of which were spent working on NASA-funded instrument teams. She has used numerical modeling to study atmospheric dynamics and photochemistry, with a special focus on isotopic evolution of atmospheres, and her career path was quite different from what we usually see.

“Working in planetary science is an opportunity to go beyond a single discipline and immerse oneself in a range of scientific studies without limits!”

Fish do feel and acknowledge pain. They also multi task and have have cultural traditions

Culum Brown Macquarie University.

Scientific Paper
Featured Researcher: Culum Brown
Macquarie University
Research Interests:  He is mainly interested in Behavioural Ecology and in particular predator avoidance behaviour, learning and memory in freshwater fishes. He has conducted comparative research on the behavioural ecology of predator avoidance in Austalian freshwater fishes (Uni. Queensland) as well as examining social learning in guppies and salmon. He has been associated with several Universities in the UK, such as Cambridge and Edinburgh. He also has interests in applied research in conservation biology and fisheries management.

X-rays image atoms during chemical reactions for the first time

makoto fujita university of tokyo

Scientific Paper
Featured Researcher: Makoto Fujita
University of Tokyo
Research Interests: His most notable papers focus on coordonation polymers, self-assembling molecular systems utilizing transition metals and the chemistry of isolated nano-space. His main goal is translating natural weak interactions into design principle for artificial molecular assemblies by showing the self-assembly of well-designed molecules into functional molecular systems.

Invasive ant has bear trap-like jaw which can propel it through the air

D. Magdalena Sorder ants

Scientific Paper
Featured Researcher: D. Magdalena Sorger
North Carolina State University
Research Interests: Ants! She initially graduated from the University of Economics and Business Administration in Vienna, Austria, and even took an MSc in International Business Administration, before she fell in love with biology. Her story is quite an inspiration for everybody to follow their dream – her dream is now following a PhD in entomology, focusing on ants.

Scientists develop an “unfeelability cloak”

Tiemo Bückmann Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

Scientific Paper
Featured Researcher: Tiemo Bückmann
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology
Research Interests: His main research focus is on metamaterials and the exciting optical and acoustical properties which can be obtained through them. He has published a paper on invisibility cloaking in a diffusive light scattering medium, and of course, on the “unfeelability cloak”.

Strict diet doubles lifespan of worms

David R. Sherwood Duke University

Scientific Paper
Featured Researcher: David R. Sherwood
Duke University
Research Interests: His research is directed at elucidating mechanisms underlying morphogenetic processes in development. His lab primarily uses the model system C. elegans in research, and combines powerful genetic and systems biology approaches with live-cell imaging to address three main topics: Tissue Remodeling and Connection, Stem Cell-Niche Interactions and Nutritional Regulation of Late Larval Development.

Pesticides threaten bees, birds and worms alike

Scientific Paper: Worldwide Integrated Assessment.
Featured Researcher: Jean-Marc Bonmatin 
National Centre for Scientific Research (France)
Research Interests: I couldn’t find much info about mister Bonmatin outside for his published papers. Judging by those, his main research interest is honeybees, and in particular elements which have a negative impact on honeybees – be it pesticides (neocotinoids) or parasites.


Not only do fish feel pain, but they also multi task and even have cultural traditions

Do you still think that fish don’t feel pain? That we shouldn’t really care how we catch or treat them? If so, then you’re terribly wrong. In a new article published in Springer’s journal Animal Cognition, Associate Professor Culum Brown from Macquarie University concludes that not only do fish feel pain and are conscious of it, but they can also multi task, and exhibit cultural behaviour.

Culum Brown uses Pavlovian conditioning.

Brown says that most people think of fish as food, or at best, pets. Not much is put in the way of fish cruelty, even though they are second only to mice in terms of the numbers used in scientific research, and the more than 32,000 known species of fish far outweigh the diversity of all other vertebrates combined. Basically, people chose to think that fish simply aren’t smart enough to consciously feel pain, and therefore should be protected from cruelty.

“Fish are one of the most highly utilised vertebrate taxa by humans; they are harvested from wild stocks as part of global fishing industries, grown under intensive aquaculture conditions, are the most common pet and are widely used for scientific research. But fish are seldom afforded the same level of compassion or welfare as warm-blooded vertebrates.”, the study reads.

His research focused especially on bony fish, and showed that fish are, in fact, far more intelligent than previously believed; contrary to the cliche, they have quite good memory, live in complex social communities where they keep track of individuals, and can learn from one another. They even develop cultural traditions, use tools, and in many ways behave similar to primates – except for the fact that they don’t imitate.

This raises serious problems; basically, at the moment, there is no protection against cruelty for fish – and this has to change. The level of mental complexity fish display is on a par with most other vertebrates, and just because an animal isn’t cute and fluffy or you can’t pet it doesn’t mean we should protect it any less.

“The implications for affording the same level of protection to fish as other vertebrates are great, not least because of fishing-related industries.”

But will the fishing industry actually start doing something about this? That’s highly doubtful. They don’t seem interested even by the hugely diminished fish stocks in the global oceans, so they probably won’t stumble on a bit of ethics and animal cruelty.

Scientific Reference: Fish intelligence, sentience and ethics