How the brain creates the ‘buzz’ that helps ideas spread?

How do ideas spread? What messages will go viral on social media, and can this be predicted?


UCLA psychologists have taken a significant step toward answering these questions, identifying for the first time the brain regions associated with the successful spread of ideas, often called “buzz.”


The research has a broad range of implications, the study authors say, and could lead to more effective public health campaigns, more persuasive advertisements and better ways for teachers to communicate with students.


“Our study suggests that people are regularly attuned to how the things they’re seeing will be useful and interesting, not just to themselves but to other people,” said the study’s senior author, Matthew Lieberman, a UCLA professor of psychology and of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences and author of the forthcoming book “Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect.” “We always seem to be on the lookout for who else will find this helpful, amusing or interesting, and our brain data are showing evidence of that. At the first encounter with information, people are already using the brain network involved in thinking about how this can be interesting to other people. We’re wired to want to share information with other people. I think that is a profound statement about the social nature of our minds.”


The study findings are published in the online edition of the journal Psychological Science, with print publication to follow later this summer.


“Before this study, we didn’t know what brain regions were associated with ideas that become contagious, and we didn’t know what regions were associated with being an effective communicator of ideas,” said lead author Emily Falk, who conducted the research as a UCLA doctoral student in Lieberman’s lab and is currently a faculty member at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg School for Communication. “Now we have mapped the brain regions associated with ideas that are likely to be contagious and are associated with being a good ‘idea salesperson.’ In the future, we would like to be able to use these brain maps to forecast what ideas are likely to be successful and who is likely to be effective at spreading them.”


In the first part of the study, 19 UCLA students (average age 21), underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans at UCLA’s Ahmanson–Lovelace Brain Mapping Center as they saw and heard information about 24 potential television pilot ideas. Among the fictitious pilots — which were presented by a separate group of students — were a show about former beauty-queen mothers who want their daughters to follow in their footsteps; a Spanish soap opera about a young woman and her relationships; a reality show in which contestants travel to countries with harsh environments; a program about teenage vampires and werewolves; and a show about best friends and rivals in a crime family.


The students exposed to these TV pilot ideas were asked to envision themselves as television studio interns who would decide whether or not they would recommend each idea to their “producers.” These students made videotaped assessments of each pilot.


Another group of 79 UCLA undergraduates (average age 21) was asked to act as the “producers.” These students watched the interns’ videos assessments of the pilots and then made their own ratings about the pilot ideas based on those assessments.


Lieberman and Falk wanted to learn which brain regions were activated when the interns were first exposed to information they would later pass on to others.


“We’re constantly being exposed to information on Facebook, Twitter and so on,” said Lieberman. “Some of it we pass on, and a lot of it we don’t. Is there something that happens in the moment we first see it — maybe before we even realize we might pass it on — that is different for those things that we will pass on successfully versus those that we won’t?”


It turns out, there is. The psychologists found that the interns who were especially good at persuading the producers showed significantly more activation in a brain region known as the temporoparietal junction, or TPJ, at the time they were first exposed to the pilot ideas they would later recommend. They had more activation in this region than the interns who were less persuasive and more activation than they themselves had when exposed to pilot ideas they didn’t like. The psychologists call this the “salesperson effect.”


“It was the only region in the brain that showed this effect,” Lieberman said. One might have thought brain regions associated with memory would show more activation, but that was not the case, he said.


“We wanted to explore what differentiates ideas that bomb from ideas that go viral,” Falk said. “We found that increased activity in the TPJ was associated with an increased ability to convince others to get on board with their favorite ideas. Nobody had looked before at which brain regions are associated with the successful spread of ideas. You might expect people to be most enthusiastic and opinionated about ideas that they themselves are excited about, but our research suggests that’s not the whole story. Thinking about what appeals to others may be even more important.”


The TPJ, located on the outer surface of the brain, is part of what is known as the brain’s “mentalizing network,” which is involved in thinking about what other people think and feel. The network also includes the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, located in the middle of the brain.


“When we read fiction or watch a movie, we’re entering the minds of the characters — that’s mentalizing,” Lieberman said. “As soon as you hear a good joke, you think, ‘Who can I tell this to and who can’t I tell?’ Making this judgment will activate these two brain regions. If we’re playing poker and I’m trying to figure out if you’re bluffing, that’s going to invoke this network. And when I see someone on Capitol Hill testifying and I’m thinking whether they are lying or telling the truth, that’s going to invoke these two brain regions.


“Good ideas turn on the mentalizing system,” he said. “They make us want to tell other people.”


The interns who showed more activity in their mentalizing system when they saw the pilots they intended to recommend were then more successful in convincing the producers to also recommend those pilots, the psychologists found.


“As I’m looking at an idea, I might be thinking about what other people are likely to value, and that might make me a better idea salesperson later,” Falk said.


By further studying the neural activity in these brain regions to see what information and ideas activate these regions more, psychologists potentially could predict which advertisements are most likely to spread and go viral and which will be most effective, Lieberman and Falk said.


Such knowledge could also benefit public health campaigns aimed at everything from reducing risky behaviors among teenagers to combating cancer, smoking and obesity.


“The explosion of new communication technologies, combined with novel analytic tools, promises to dramatically expand our understanding of how ideas spread,” Falk said. “We’re laying basic science foundations to addressimportant public health questions that are difficult to answer otherwise — about what makes campaigns successful and how we can improve their impact.”


As we may like particular radio DJs who play music we enjoy, the Internet has led us to act as “information DJs” who share things that we think will be of interest to people in our networks, Lieberman said.


“What is new about our study is the finding that the mentalizing network is involved when I read something and decide who else might be interested in it,” he said. “This is similar to what an advertiser has to do. It’s not enough to have a product that people should like.”


Co-authors of the study are Sylvia Morelli, a former graduate student in Lieberman’s lab who is now a postdoctoral scholar at Stanford University; Locke Welbourn, a UCLA graduate student in Lieberman’s laboratory; and Karl Dambacher, a former UCLA undergraduate research assistant.


UCLA is California’s largest university, with an enrollment of more than 40,000 undergraduate and graduate students. The UCLA College of Letters and Science and the university’s 11 professional schools feature renowned faculty and offer 337 degree programs and majors. UCLA is a national and international leader in the breadth and quality of its academic, research, health care, cultural, continuing education and athletic programs. Six alumni and six faculty have been awarded the Nobel Prize.



Shared Decision Making in Prostate Screening Holds Lessons for Primary Care.

A trio of articles on shared decision making in prostate screening — although arguably rendered moot by the 2012 USPSTF recommendation against PSA-based screening — points to better ways of engaging patients. The articles appear in the Annals of Family Medicine.

One study, using 2010 National Health Interview Survey data, found two thirds of men between 50 and 74 had had no discussion with their physicians on the pros, cons, and uncertainties of PSA screening. Another study found that physicians who’d completed a 30-minute interactive educational program were more likely to engage their patients in screening discussions. A third study found that physicians who’d undergone the interactive training were more likely to mention no screening as an option and to encourage seeking advice from others.

Looking at these results, the journal’s editorialists suggest that “rather than implementing a series of disease-specific shared decision-making interventions, it would make sense to approach shared decision making developmentally, as a learned skill.”

Source: Annals of Family Medicine


Mystery space flashes detected.

CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope in eastern Australia has detected mysterious ‘flashes’ of radio energy from the distant Universe that may open up a whole new area of astrophysics. The surprising finding, made by a team of scientists from ten institutions in Australia, the USA, UK, Germany and Italy, is published in the journal Science.


“A single burst of radio emission of unknown origin was detected outside our galaxy about six years ago but no one was certain what it was or even if it was real.”

Dan Thornton, PhD student with the University of Manchester and CSIRO.

“Staggeringly, we estimate there could be one of these flashes going off every ten seconds somewhere in the sky,” said research team member Dr Simon Johnston, Head of Astrophysics at CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science.

Four flashes were detected, each from a different direction and each lasting for only a millisecond (a thousandth of a second).

The characteristics of the radio signal — how it is ‘smeared out’ in frequency from travelling through space — indicate that the flashes came from up to 11 billion light-years away.

No gamma rays or X-rays were detected in association with the flashes, and the astronomers have ruled out the flashes being from phenomena such as gamma-ray bursts, the merger of two neutron stars, merging black holes, or evaporating black holes.

Dan Thornton, a PhD student with the University of Manchester and CSIRO, is the lead author on the Science paper. “A single burst of radio emission of unknown origin was detected outside our galaxy about six years ago but no one was certain what it was or even if it was real,” he said. “So we have spent the last four years searching for more of these explosive, short-duration radio bursts.”

That original radio flash, known as the ‘Lorimer burst’ after its discoverer, was also found with CSIRO’s Parkes telescope.

“Finding these things requires both a sensitive telescope and spending enough time looking, and that’s what we’ve done with Parkes,” said Dr Johnston.

CSIRO’s Australian SKA Pathfinder telescope, now under construction in Western Australia, will be running a major survey for transient radio sources like the ones just found with Parkes.

“With the ability to detect these very fast sources we are opening up a whole new area of astrophysics,” said Dr Johnston.




Some ARBs May Outperform Others in Lowering CV Risk in Diabetes.

The angiotensin-receptor blockers telmisartan and valsartan might help prevent major cardiovascular events better than other ARBs in patients with diabetes, according to a CMAJ study.

Using Canadian databases, researchers identified 54,000 older adults with diabetes who were first-time users of ARBs. After multivariable adjustment, both telmisartan and valsartan were associated with about a 15% reduction in risk for hospital admission for acute myocardial infarction, heart failure, or stroke, compared with irbesartan. The risk was not significantly reduced for candesartan or losartan.

The authors conclude that “a class effect may not be assumed when using angiotensin-receptor blockers for the prevention of diabetes-related macrovascular complications or heart failure, and that telmisartan and valsartan may be the preferred drugs for this indication.” Meanwhile, a commentator concludes, “without appropriately designed randomized controlled trials, there is scant evidence to support preferring one drug in this class over another for patients with type 2 diabetes.”

Source: CMAJ

Commentaries Highlight the Clinician’s Role in Preventing Gun Violence.


Two commentaries in the Annals of Internal Medicine examine clinicians’ roles in preventing gun violence.

The author of the first commentary calls for greater physician attention to firearm safety in elderly people’s homes. Noting that self-inflicted gunshot wounds occur more often among geriatric people than younger individuals, he says physicians “have a legal right to engage in firearm-related inquiries.” If there’s a gun in the home, the physician should assess whether the patient’s physical and mental status pose increased risk for gun-related injury — and should take steps to limit risk, such as advising relatives to remove the gun from the home.

In the second commentary, two physicians express concern that rhetoric “too often portrays people with mental disorders as more dangerous or a greater part of the problem of gun-related violence than they actually are.” They urge clinicians “to thoughtfully consider the facts when discussing the role of mental illness in gun violence.”

Nine Foods You Should Never Eat Again.

With so much misinformation out there about food and how it affects human health, making healthy food choices for you and your family can be difficult and confusing. There are a number of specific foods; however, that you will want to avoid in almost every circumstance because they provide virtually no health benefits while posing plenty of health risks.

Nine Foods You Should Never Eat Again

Here are nine foods you should never eat again if you care about preserving your long-term health:

1) White bread, refined flours. By definition, white bread and refined flours in general are toxic for your body because they have been stripped of virtually all vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other important nutrients. Because of this, the body does not know how to properly digest and assimilate these so-called foods, which can lead to health problems. Refined white flour has also been bleached with chlorine and brominated with bromide, two poisonous chemicals that have been linked to causing thyroid and organ damage. (

2) Conventional frozen meals. Most conventionally-prepared frozen meals are loaded with preservatives, processed salt, hydrogenated oils and other artificial ingredients, not to mention the fact that most frozen meals have been heavily pre-cooked, rendering their nutrient content minimal at best (especially after getting microwaved again at home). With the exception of a few truly healthy frozen meal brands such as Amy’s and Organic Bistro, most frozen meals are little more than disease in a box, so avoid them in favor of fresh foods. (

3) White rice. Like white bread, white rice has been stripped of most of its nutrients, and separated from the bran and germ, two natural components that make up rice in its brown form. Even so-called “fortified” white rice is nutritionally deficient, as the body still processes this refined food much differently than brown rice, which is absorbed more slowly and does not cause the same spike in blood sugar that white rice does. (

4) Microwaveable popcorn. This processed food is a favorite among moviegoers and regular snackers alike, but it is one of the unhealthiest foods you can eat. Practically every component of microwaveable popcorn, from the genetically-modified (GM) corn kernels to the processed salt and preservative chemicals used to enhance its flavor, is unhealthy and disease-promoting. On top of this, microwaveable popcorn contains a chemical known as diacetyl that can actually destroy your lungs. If you love popcorn, stick with organic kernels that you can pop yourself in a kettle and douse with healthy ingredients like coconut oil, grass-fed butter, and Himalayan pink salt. (

5) Cured meat products with nitrates, nitrites. Deli meats, summer sausage, hot dogs, bacon, and many other meats sold at the grocery store are often loaded with sodium nitrite and other chemical preservatives that have been linked to causing heart disease and cancer. If you eat meat, stick with uncured, nitrite and nitrate-free varieties, and preferably those that come from organic, grass-fed animals. (

6) Most conventional protein, energy bars. By the way they are often marketed, it might seem as though protein and energy bars are a strong addition to a healthy diet. But more often than not, these meal replacements contain processed soy protein, refined sugar, hydrogenated fat, and other harmful additives that contribute to chronic illness. Not all protein and energy bars are bad, of course — Thunderbird Energetica, Organic Food Bar, Boku Superfood, Vega Sport, PROBAR, and Zing all make healthy protein and energy bars. Just be sure to read the ingredient labels and know what you are buying.

7) Margarine. Hidden in all sorts of processed foods, margarine, a hydrogenated trans-fat oil, is something you will want to avoid at all costs for your health. Contrary to popular belief, butter and saturated fats in general are not unhealthy, especially when they are derived from pastured animals that feed on grass rather than corn and soy. And if animal-based fats are not for you, stick with extra-virgin coconut oil or olive oil rather than margarine.

8) Soy milk and soy-based meat substitutes. One of the biggest health frauds of modern times, the soy craze is a fad that you will want to skip. Besides the fact that nearly all non-organic soy ingredients are of GM origin, most soy additives are processed using a toxic chemical known as hexane, which is linked to causing birth defects, reproductive problems, and cancer. Soy that has not been fermented is also highly estrogenic, which can throw your natural hormone balance out of whack. (

9) “Diet” anything. Many so-called “diet” products on the market today contains artificial sweeteners like aspartame (Equal) and sucralose (Splenda), both of which are linked to causing neurological damage, gastrointestinal problems, and endocrine disruption. Many diet products also contain added chemical flavoring agents to take the place of fat and other natural components that have been removed to artificially reduce calorie content. Instead, stick with whole foods that are as close to nature as possible, including high-fat foods grown the way nature intended, and your body will respond surprisingly well. (

Sources for this article include:

Source: Natural News


Why Being Bilingual Can Actually Make You Smarter.

What if you were told there was a way you may avoid dementia, strengthen your cognitive skills, and heighten your intelligence, and all you had to do was learn another language? 


It probably sounds great, because if you’re like most you would love to be able to speak a second language.  But then, you recall your experience in high school foreign language – boring rote memorization and long hours with little progress – and perhaps it doesn’t sound so good any more.

But, what if you were told it would take only 10 days to be on your way to becoming bilingual? Most people recognize the many benefits of learning a foreign language:  You can travel to foreign countries and feel comfortable, be a more productive and enticing employee in today’s competitive job market, and immerse yourself in the vast cultures that surround you.

But now, the collective evidence from a number of recent studies suggests that the bilingual experience improves the brain’s so-called executive function — a command system that directs the attention processes that we use for planning, solving problems, and performing various other mentally demanding tasks.*

These processes include the ability to ignore distractions to stay focused, switching attention willfully from one thing to another, and holding information in the mind — like remembering a sequence of directions while driving.

Even better, new approaches to learning mean you can learn a new language without the endless repetition, homework, and memorization. One of the most powerful, The Pimsleur Approach, actually trains people to start speaking a new language in as little as 10 days!  In fact, it’s so powerful, even the FBI has purchased it!

What is the Pimsleur Approach?

The Pimsleur Approach aims each lesson at teaching you to use the core vocabulary of the language, so you can speak the most in the least amount of time.  It’s not how many words you know, but rather, which words you can use.

Each Pimsleur Approach lesson has been scientifically sequenced to rapidly lock language material into your brain after just one listen.  Let the audio guide you; the program is based on what language learning should be: Quick, fun, and easy. You’ll absorb your new language without any reading, writing, or computer use.

The Pimsleur Approach has a 100 percent guarantee: Speak in 10 days or you don’t pay.

And, if that doesn’t tempt you, the benefits to learning a new language just keep adding up. In addition to keeping your mind sharp and your reflexes quick, it also may ward off the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.




Never Considered a Cruise – Here’s Why You Should Think Again.

A luxury cruise is one of life’s pure joys.  Today’s modern cruise liners are engineering marvels; floating 5-star hotels that offer the best service, accommodation, cuisine, and activities.  They visit exotic locales, with non-stop relaxation or stimulation, depending on your pleasure.


Over the past few years, cruise companies have spared no expense and literally invested billions in jaw-dropping super ships.  Even if you’ve cruised before, you probably have not experienced anything like these new marvels.

But, the best news is that due to the slowdown in travel caused by the recession and significant overcapacity in the industry, savvy travelers can now book once-in-a-lifetime cruises at insanely low prices.

How does 80 percent off the brochure price sound?  Believe it or not, it’s possible through a company called Vacations To Go, one of America’s Largest Cruise Agencies.

Founded more than 25 years ago, Vacations To Go realized that taking a cruise vacation was a new experience for many.  They set out to build an online service to help people learn everything they need to know to find the best possible cruise vacation, at the best possible price.

Vacations To Go is now home to an extensive selection of top-brand cruise vacations, and in-depth information about every cruise line and cruise ship.  Customers can browse the latest in new promotions and offers, shop by category, and compare prices at a glance.

But, what about the discounts?

Because of the huge costs involved in building and operating today’s luxury ships, cruise lines want their ships to sail with as few empty cabins as possible.

So, they turn to trusted partners like Vacations To Go to sell this “excess” inventory at deep discounts, allowing the cruise companies to still get full fare on the travel packages that they sell directly.

The discounts they authorize Vacations To Go to offer can be as much as 80 percent off the full price fare.  What it means for you: Simply put, it is the opportunity to take a once-in-a-lifetime luxury cruise for a price that makes it affordable on any budget.

Vacations To Go has also developed a Best Price & Service Guarantee that guarantees they will meet any other authorized price–so, if getting the best deal is important, look no further.

If you are not ready to book your cruise immediately, signing up for Vacations To Go’s free newsletter can help you stay informed of all the spectacular discounts that become available, as cruise lines seek to fill their remaining empty cabins before their cruises depart.

This year, it seems like everyone is cruising–and, for good reason.  After several years of austerity, people are realizing that a cruise vacation is now one of the great values in travel.




Life in super slow-motion.

A hummingbird hovers almost completely still in their air, feeding on nectar.

With every flap, its wings bend, flex and change shape. These subtle movements precisely control the lift its wings generate, making it an excellent hoverer.


That is why hummingbirds are a biological inspiration for engineers who want to make similarly diminutive robots capable of precision flight. Such micro-robots could be useful for the military or for search and rescue.

But a hummingbird flaps its wings up to 80 times every second. The only way to truly capture this motion is with cameras that will, in effect, slow down time.

That is why high-speed cameras have become such a mainstay of biology. And atthis year’s Society for Experimental Biology (SEB) meeting in Valencia, Spain, scientists presented some striking examples of its use.

Research teams are now using it to unveil the hidden information in a hummingbird’s wingbeat, tracking the damage a single bullet does to a strand of natural silk and even to work out how dinosaurs moved.

Slowing down bullets

While the pictures on our televisions deliver 24 frames per second, high-speed cameras can capture hundreds and even thousands of frames in that same period.

Playing the resulting video back in super-slow motion reveals details that would otherwise be invisible to us.

“The idea of using high-speed cameras to resolve fast biological movements goes back more than a century,” explained biologist Nicolai Konow, who presented his own work on flying bats.

Dr Konow’s work combined X-rays with high-speed cameras to produce images of flying bats that (as well as making very creepy viewing) revealed the secrets of how the bats powered their flight.

Probably the earliest example of cameras revealing animal behaviour that was too fast for us to see was English photographer Eadweard Muybridge, who, in 1872, solved the mystery of whether all four of a horse’s feet left the ground when it galloped.

With only glass plate cameras at his disposal, he used several in a carefully planned set-up where each camera was triggered by the horse itself as it galloped through and broke a thread.

Seeing each stride of a horse’s gallop was revolutionary. But today a single high-speed camera can allow us to see events as fast as a speeding bullet – literally.

 “Start Quote

We will be provided with the blueprints for stronger, tougher, sustainable fibres using nature’s secrets”

Dr Clive SiviourUniversity of Oxford

Beth Mortimer from the University of Oxford designed an experiment to fire plastic bullets into single strands of silk from a silkworm’s cocoon.

Firing such fast projectiles into material is a technique engineers use regularly to see how jet engine components stand up to a mid-flight bird-strike.

“We’re interested in seeing how the properties of the silk change as you deform them at very fast rates,” explained Ms Mortimer.

“We can learn what kind of structures lead to what kind of properties. And that’s important in terms of bio-inspired design – designing materials that have the same properties as the silk, which is incredibly strong and flexible.”

Her Oxford colleague, Dr Clive Siviour added: “Our experiments have shown that silk is far superior to man-made fibres at absorbing energy under these conditions.

“By understanding how silk has evolved, we will be provided with the blueprints for stronger, tougher, sustainable fibres using nature’s secrets.”

Walking fish and dinosaurs

Even studying natural behaviour of animals that have been extinct for millions of years does not preclude researchers from using high-speed cameras.

Sandy Kawano and Richard Blob from Clemson University in the US have been trying to solve a mystery that is more than 300 million years. They have filmed the bizarre mudskipper fish, an amphibious creature that can move on land using its specially adapted limb-like fins.


“We’re interested in understanding how [four-legged animals] were able to move onto land millions of years ago,” Dr Kawano told BBC News. “The mudskipper fish is a useful animal because it shares many similarities to the fossil species that were important during this period of time.”

As the strange little fishes dragged themselves along, the scientists filmed their movements and measured the forces their fins generated when they came into contact with the ground.

“High speed video has allowed us to reach new heights in understanding how the world works because it provides us the opportunity to look at movement at a finer scale,” Dr Kawano added.

“It’s important that we are able to properly capture what the animals are doing because even the slightest movement can influence how the animal behaves, whether it be moving across land or trying to catch its next meal.”

Moving forward by a few hundred million years, British researchers are using the cameras to examine how dinosaurs might have walked.


Dr Peter Falkingham from the Royal Veterinary College in London hopes eventually to extract information about dinosaurs’ gait from their fossilised footprints.

“Making a footprint sounds really simple,” said Dr Falkingham.

“But we really don’t know what happens when a foot goes underneath the sediment surface, so we’re using these high speed X-rays to understand sub-surface foot motion.”

The team have filmed guinea fowl as they walked through sandy sediment. Matching the features of their gait to features in the resulting footprints, will enable to scientists to look for those same physical features in dinosaur tracks.

The scientist pointed out that there were engineering lessons that could be learned from how the dinosaurs – especially the very largest of the dinosaurs – moved around.

“T. rex was a nine-tonne biped (an animal that moved on two legs),” he told BBC News.

“That pushes biomechanics way beyond anything that’s around now.”

Studying birds, the modern descendents of dinosaurs, could help recreate the movements of these prehistoric giants.

Source: BBC