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This section contains regularly updated highlights of the news from around The Johns Hopkins University. Links to the complete news reports from the nine schools, the Applied Physics Laboratory and other centers and institutes are to the left, as are links to help news media contact the Johns Hopkins communications offices.

 

Are You Smarter Than a 5-Year-Old? Preschoolers Can Do Algebra, Psychologists Find

Millions of high school and college algebra students are united in a shared agony over solving for x and y, and for those to whom the answers don’t come easily, it gets worse: Most preschoolers and kindergarteners can do some algebra before even entering a math class.

It’s All Coming Back to Me Now: JHU Researchers Find Caffeine Enhances Memory

For some, it’s the tradition of steeping tealeaves to brew the perfect cup of tea. For others, it’s the morning shuffle to a coffee maker for a hot jolt of java. Then there are those who like their wake up with the kind of snap and a fizz usually found in a carbonated beverage. Regardless of the routine, the consumption of caffeine is the energy boost of choice for millions to wake up or stay up. Now, however, researchers at the Johns Hopkins University have found another use for the stimulant: memory enhancer.

It Takes Two: Brains Come Wired for Cooperation, JHU Neuroscientist Asserts

When legal commentator Nancy Grace and her partner danced a lively rumba to Spandau Ballet’s 1980’s hit, “True,” on a recent “Dancing With the Stars,” more was going on in the legal commentator’s brain than concern over a possible wardrobe malfunction. Deep in Grace’s cortex, millions of neurons were hard at work doing what they apparently had been built to do: act and react to partner Tristan MacManus’s movements to create a pas de deux that had the dancers functioning together (for the most part) like a well-oiled machine. That is because the brain was built for cooperative activity, whether it be dancing on a reality television show, constructing a skyscraper or working in an office, according to a study led by Johns Hopkins behavioral neuroscientist Eric Fortune and published in the November 4 issue of the journal Science.

You Can Count on This: Math Ability is Inborn, Johns Hopkins Psychologist Finds

We accept that some people are born with a talent for music or art or athletics. But what about mathematics? Do some of us just arrive in the world with better math skills than others? It seems we do, at least according to the results of a study by a team of Johns Hopkins University psychologists. Led by Melissa Libertus, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, the study – published online in a recent issue of Developmental Science – indicates that math ability in preschool children is strongly linked to their inborn and primitive “number sense,” called an “Approximate Number System” (ANS.)

Social Acumen Equals Spatial Skills, Psychologist Finds

People who are socially skilled – who are adept at metaphorically putting themselves in someone else’s shoes – are also more proficient when it comes to spatial skills, according to a new study led by Johns Hopkins University psychologist Amy Shelton, of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.
The study, published online in today’s Journal of Experimental Psychology, found that the more socially accomplished a person is, the easier it is for him or her to assume another person’s perspective (literally) on the world.

Attention Please: “Rewarding” Objects Can’t Be Ignored, JHU Expert Says

Led by neuroscientist Steve Yantis, a team from the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences at the Krieger School has found that insignificant objects that have come to be associated with a “reward” of some kind inadvertently capture people’s attention. The research, published in this week’s Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, may eventually contribute to the development of more effective treatments for addiction, obesity and ADHD.

As Time Goes By, It Gets Tougher to “Just Remember This”

It’s something we just accept: the fact that the older we get, the more difficulty we seem to have remembering things. We can leave our cars in the same parking lot each morning, but unless we park in the same space each and every day, it’s a challenge eight hours later to recall whether we left the SUV in the second or fifth row. Or, we can be introduced to new colleagues at a meeting and will have forgotten their names before the handshake is over. We shrug and nervously reassure ourselves that our brains’ “hard drives” are just too full to handle the barrage of new information that comes in daily. According to a Johns Hopkins neuroscientist, however, the real trouble is that our aging brains are unable to process this information as “new” because the brain pathways leading to the hippocampus-the area of the brain that stores memories-become degraded over time. As a result, our brains cannot accurately “file” new information (like where we left the car that particular morning), and confusion results. A study on the subject appeared in the May 9 Early Online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Hard Work Improves the Taste of Food, Johns Hopkins Study Finds

It’s commonly accepted that we appreciate something more if we have to work hard to get it, and a Johns Hopkins study bears that out, at least when it comes to food. The study — led by Johns Hopkins psychologist Alexander Johnson — seems to suggest that hard work can even enhance our appreciation for fare we might not favor, such as the low-fat, low calorie variety. At least in theory, this means that if we had to navigate an obstacle course to get to a plate of baby carrots, we might come to prefer those crunchy crudités over the sweet, gooey Snickers bars or Peanut M&Ms more easily accessible via the office vending machine. The study appeared this week in the Proceedings of the Royal Academy B.

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