Podcast: Visual Attention and Meaning

In this episode of the Three Minute Egghead podcast, I talk to John Henderson of the UC Davis Center for Mind and Brain about a new paper from his lab that overturns current thinking about visual attention.

It’s usually thought that our eyes are drawn to objects that are salient or “stand out” from the background. But this “magpie theory” of attention is wrong, Henderson says. He and postdoc Taylor Hayes show instead that our eyes are drawn by parts of a scene that have “meaning.”

Listen here.


More information

Visual Attention Drawn to Meaning, not What Stands Out (news release)

Brain areas responsible for “learning by watching” identified

By Nicole Gelfand

Children imitate our every action- from their very first words to even the most miniscule of habits they acquire from their parents. Children are a firsthand example of how human learning often takes place by observing other individuals, a term referred to as observational learning.  From a young age human brains associate observed actions with the rewards and consequences that follow, to subsequently “learn by watching” and change behavior.

Brain Modulyzer Software Provides Interactive Window Into the Brain

By Linda Vu, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Getting a better picture of connections between brain areas is the goal of a new tool developed by researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and UC Davis. Their “Brain Modulyzer” software allows researchers to visualize and explore brain activity, either  while a subject is  performing tasks or at rest.

Do Zebra stripes confuse biting flies?

Audio: Listen to this story on our podcast, Three Minute Egghead. 


Zebra stripes have fascinated people for millennia, and there are a number of different theories to explain why these wild horses should be so brightly marked. A handful of laboratories around the world – including one lead by UC Davis wildlife biologist Tim Caro – have been putting these theories to the test. A new paper from Caro’s group, led by Ken Britten at the UC Davis Center for Neuroscience, puts a hole in one idea: that the stripes confuse biting flies by breaking up polarized light.

“Love hormone” oxytocin, possible anxiety drug, shows different effects in male and female mice

By Kathleen Holder

Clinical trials are testing whether oxytocin, sometimes called the “love hormone” for its role in intimacy and social bonding, has potential as a treatment for anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. New research by behavioral neuroscientists Michael Steinman, Brian Trainor and colleagues at UC Davis suggests oxytocin may have different effects in men and women—and in certain circumstances the hormone may actually trigger anxiety.

In a series of experiments at the UC Davis Department of Psychology, the team administered doses of oxytocin with a nasal spray to male and female mice. Some of the mice were bullied by an aggressive mouse, an experience that reduces motivation to associate with unfamiliar mice. Consistent with previous studies, oxytocin increased the motivation for social interaction in stressed males.

Parenting style affects young voles’ brains

“Nature versus Nurture” is an old debate. How much behavior do you inherit from your parents, and how much from the environment where you grow up? A new study from the University of California, Davis shows that the amount of parental care a prairie vole gives its offspring affects the youngster’s brain structure and connectivity – probably working by changing levels of gene expression. The work is published online in the Journal of Comparative Neurology and will appear in print in a forthcoming special issue of the journal.

The prairie vole is one of the few mammal species in which both parents care for the young. Credit: Adele Seelke

The prairie vole is one of a few mammal species in which both parents care for the young. Credit: Adele Seelke

Psychology researchers build mind map of memories evoked by music

Contributed by Alex Russell

A snatch of music can evoke powerful memories. Now a team led by UC Davis psychologist Petr Janata is working to building a map of brain regions that react to music that triggers particular memories. The results will expand our knowledge on how the brain encodes memories. It could also provide a way to improve quality of life for those suffering debilitating conditions including Alzheimer’s disease.

Map of music in the brain

Brain scans show how different regions light up in response to familiar (green), memory-evoking (red) or “pleasing” (blue) songs. (Janata lab, UC Davis)

UC Davis graduate student to attend Lindau Nobel Laureate meeting

By Derrick Bang

Christopher Chapman, a Ph.D. student in the UC Davis Department of Biomedical Engineering, has been selected to attend the 65th annual Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting, taking place June 28-July 3 in Lindau, Germany. Chapman will join a U.S. delegation of roughly 55 “young researchers,” as they’re designated by the Lindau committee.

Christopher Chapman, a PhD student in the UC Davis Department of Biomedical Engineering

The U.S. delegation will be among the Lindau Meeting’s approximately 650 global student and postdoctoral researchers from all three natural science Nobel Prize disciplines: medicine and physiology, physics, and chemistry. They’ll meet and confer with the 65 Nobel Laureates who will gather to interact with this next generation of leading scientists and researchers.

UC Davis plans joint research with Brazil

FAPESP, the São Paulo Research Foundation and UC Davis announced May 12 the launch of a new program to strengthen collaborative research in physical sciences, engineering, biomedical sciences and agriculture within the framework of the cooperation agreement signed by the two institutions in 2012.

The announcement was made during the opening of FAPESP Week UC Davis in Brazil, a two-day event attended by 26 scientists from UC Davis and institutions in São Paulo State to present research findings in a range of knowledge areas. The event is a follow-up to FAPESP Week California, held in November 2014 at UC Davis and UC Berkeley in the United States.

Medicine Nobel: How the brain makes sense of place

The 2014 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has been awarded to three neuroscientists, John O’Keefe, May-Britt Moser and Edvard I. Moser, for their discoveries of brain cells that allow us to make sense of place and location and navigate our environment.

In 1971, O’Keefe, then working at University College London, identified “place cells” in an area of the brain called the hippocampus. In rats, specific place cells activated when a rat was in a specific location, making up a map of the room inside the rat’s brain.

More than 30 years later, the Mosers discovered “grid cells,” that allow our brains to create coordinates and navigate between points.