science is sexy

16 posts
science is sexy is, to the apparent surprise of neanderthals on the internet, a lady.

Music is my hot hot sex? (And other neuroscientific hyperbole)

Music is highly valued across all human societies. The specific sounds vary widely, even within cultures. My mom loves to listen to Gregorian chanting; I’d rather be involved in an automobile accident, but I do love The Strokes. The concept is the same, though: an abstract stimulus invokes a pleasurable response.

So is music a drug? New research published last month in Nature Neuroscience(1) indicates a strong similarity. Drugs, sex, and eating have long been known to produce pleasure by releasing dopamine in the mesolimbic system, commonly thought of as the “reward pathway.” These are tangible stimuli that promote (or, our bodies think they promote) survival. Music, though, is abstract. It feels good to listen, but it doesn’t provide us with safety, nutrition, or reproduction.

To test what neural pathways are engaged during musical enjoyment, researchers first had their test group select their favorite music. A “musical frisson” test was used to identify moments of peak pleasure – if you get “chills” on hearing “DON’T STOP – BELIEVING,” you’re actually experiencing a measurable physiological response.

Brain activity was then measured as subjects listened to their chosen piece. Two types of brain imaging were used: PET scans were used for their precision over time, while fMRIs were used for their neural precision. The results were combined to accurately determine exactly what the brain was doing at what point in the listening experience.

Two different neurochemical responses were discovered. In the anticipatory stage – leading up to the subject’s favorite part of the song – dopamine was released in the dorsal striatum. In previous studies(2), the dorsal striatum has been linked to learning and action selection. Researchers at UPenn have specifically linked it to cocaine cravings in addicts.

During the peak pleasure stages (measured by the musical frission response), dopamine was released in the ventral striatum. A previous study(3) strongly linked the ventral striatum to sensations of euphoria associated with amphetamine use in non-addicted individuals .

This biological parallel between drug use and listening to music makes sense, especially if you’ve ever tried to turn off someone’s favorite song “right at the good part.” Only an addict could respond so violently to a 60-second pleasure delay.

1. Salimpoor, V. N., Benovoy, M., Et. al. (2011, January 9). Anatomically distinct dopamine release during anticipation and experience of peak emotion to music [Electronic version]. Nature Neuroscience.

2. Volkow, N. D., Wang, G., Et. al. (2006, June 14). Cocaine cues and dopamine in dorsal striatum: Mechanism of craving in cocaine addiction [Electronic version]. The Journal of Neuroscience, 26(24), 6583-6588.

3. Drevets, W. C., Gautier, C., & Et. al. (2001). Amphetamine-induced dopamine release in human ventral striatum correlates with euphoria. Biol Psychiatry, 81-96.

New Site Design for Crasstalk?

Hey gang,

There’s been some unrest about the site design. I, for one, find it difficult to navigate, and the lack or ability to search by topic/any real organization is frustrating. Plus, it sucks coming in after 12 hours and having no idea where to start/where you left off, etc.

So in that spirit, our lovely coffeeandcigarettes has suggested this one:

I like it a lot! But since Crasstalk is for all of us, let’s have a chat. What do you want? Like? What’s important to you in a site?

A NOTE: All three of the pictures below are of the SAME THEME. I just scrolled down the page, screen-capping as I went. If you click the link I posted, it will take you to it.

Life Science

Whenever I tell people I’m interested in biological research, I nearly always hear, “Oh, are you going to cure cancer?” There is a winking intonation in this question. We won’t hold you to it, they say with their friendly smiles. I either respond with my easy refrain – “I’m more interested in function than health” – or a laugh and a shrug that drips with faux-modesty. That mantra ignores, of course, that understanding of function leads to technology.

These days, the vast majority of biological research is designed to create product. A cancer drug, an anti-aging technique, a soybean resistant to disease. Why? Because research is expensive – wildly so. No corporation will waste billions on research without an eye toward application. It reminds me of a creation of Margaret Atwood: Crake, a genius whose pragmatism is beyond the reach of empathy towards individuals. “Grief in the face of inevitable death. The wish to stop time. The human condition.” This is what biotech sells. Only the rich can afford it. The rest of humanity is left praying for a trickle down, decades after initial production – AIDS drugs, vaccinations. Voodoo medicine.

“Oh, are you going to cure cancer?” When I was in high school – long before I had much in the way of scientific predilection – I volunteered quite a bit. I spent some time with an organization that worked with pediatric oncology patients and their families. I played with kids before and during their chemo – puzzles, block games, cards. Exhausted parents would thank me as other volunteers whisked them away to ask how they were holding up.

While with the kids, I usually forgot everything, but every once in a while something would jolt me back. A needle bruise on a tiny arm, tear tracks on a mother’s face, a spot of blood from a bloody nose on a pair of light-up sneakers that could fit in my hand. The phone calls telling me my scheduled visit would no longer be needed. I would leave and sit in my car in the parking lot, slumped with exhaustion. I still remember the numbing tingle on my hands from where the steering wheel stitching dug in.

“Oh, are you going to cure cancer?”

Roommate Wanted

Hey there! I’m a fun-loving girl (but not too fun!) living in the Boston metro area. I hardly drink at all, except for the rare Monday-Sunday when I’m stressed. I’m bit messy, but I definitely keep the common areas reasonably clean, and would like you to do the same. Unlike my last roommates! I’ve had some bad experiences, so I’m going to try and be very specific about what I want!


Some of my dislikes include:


Shooting animals and tanning them in the living room.

Last time this happened, we couldn’t get the smell out of the carpet for days. And I think there’s still bits of fat ground into the hardwood!




Letting your dog chew my things, and when I scold it, telling me “We’re only using positive reinforcement.




Inviting your crust punk friends to sleep on the couch, and then never asking them to leave.

Last time this happened, we couldn’t get the smell out of the carpet for days. And I think there’s still bits of fat ground into the hardwood!




Coming home drunk in the middle of the night and knocking on my door to tell me about your coworker who you’re worried you’ve started to think of as a mother figure, which is probably clouding your professional judgment, and also you’re so drunk haha, and hey did I hear you using your vibrator? Also you’re soooo sorry you let the 50 year old man you’ve been sleeping with walk into the kitchen naked, and oh, did you not tell me that before? Anyway, oh wow, I think I’m going to be sick. Bllerggggg




Forcing me to call the police on you, for any reason.

Just go ahead and use your imagination here.



Likes include David Bowie, 30 Rock, and roommates who have never possessed the phone number of a crack dealer. If you think we’ll get along, send me an email!





Science is sexy is a student in the Boston area. While all of these are true stories, photographs have been altered to protect the guilty. The very, very guilty. Add your roommate horror stories in the replies!

Testing one two one two

If You Can’t Teach It to Others, You Don’t Really Understand It

A few years ago, I decided to stop being a hopeless fuckup. “But SiS,” you might say. “You seem so smart! You know so much! You’re definitely a contributing member of society!”

Except when I wasn’t. I spent years being what might charitably called “a gigantic fucking mess.” A trainwreck, if you will. So when I discovered science – first molecular biology, and then neuroscience – it was a little like if dead John Candy dug himself out of the ground and decided to become a figure skater. My friends laughed that humoring, slightly sarcastic laugh you laugh when your couch potato friend announces she’s going to start going to the gym every day. A 1 in 10,000 chance. Maybe 1 in 100,000. Maybe lower.

But fuck those guys, and fuck my natural tendency towards intellectual sloth, and fuck my natural sleep schedule of 4 AM to noon, and fuck the fact that I’m so distracted I frequently forget to eat or shower, and fuck the fact that my hands used to shake so bad I could barely tie my shoes, let alone direct a miniscule pipet tip into a tiny well in a block of gelatin. Fuck difficultly. Fuck self-doubt. Fuck embarrassment over asking a dumb question, over showing up at a professor’s office hours to ask him if he believes in free will, over needing help, over failure, over crying from stress and exhaustion, over saying no to every offer to go out during the week, over lifting my legs up to let the library janitor vacuum under me at 1 AM.

I didn’t find Jesus. I didn’t get myself a boyfriend. I didn’t start with a new therapist. I didn’t do it for my family, or my friends, or my (theoretical) kids. I didn’t make excuses. I didn’t listen to anybody.

If I can go from a druggie waste of oxygen to a neuroscience student, then you can do anything. You just have to find what you love. It’s out there.

Amazon shuts down the Wikileaks site, Lieberman ejaculates in pants.

“The company’s decision to cut off Wikileaks now is the right decision and should set the standard for other companies Wikileaks is using to distribute its illegally seized material…I call on any other company or organization that is hosting Wikileaks to immediately terminate its relationship with them.”
-Joe “Immensely Punchable Face” Lieberman

Luckily for those of us who like government transparency and the reminder that the government doesn’t care about citizens or the UN, you can’t kill anything once it’s on the internet. Right, Tom?

Read more.

This is guaranteed to end well.

“The house just outside Escondido where massive amounts of explosive materials were found has been declared a public hazard and will be burned down, San Diego County officials told area residents Tuesday night…The house, dubbed the “bomb factory” house by officials, was found to contain amounts of materials of the kind used by terrorist bomb makers worldwide, as well as blasting caps, homemade grenades, and small-arms weapons. Bomb experts last week declared the one-story stucco house on Via Scott to be too dangerous to re-enter. On two occasions, they had entered the cluttered house and gathered evidence. Sheriff Bill Gore said at the meeting that burning the house is the only safe way to rid the neighborhood of the explosive materials.”

Momma always said, “Is it so highly explosive that it’s dangerous to be around? KILL IT WITH FIRE.”

Read more.

Meet the next Martin Amis, if Martin Amis couldn’t write and didn’t have a famous father. And was a girl. Who’s American.

Every six months, I decide that I am going to write something. This something is usually a short story. Occasionally, it is a novel. Always, it is basically autobiographical, because I am not good at making things up that aren’t lies to make my life easier, e.g., “No, Verizon customer service representative, I did not repeatedly drop my Droid on concrete, as that would be irresponsible. It vibrated off a slightly sloped, very low table, onto thick-pile carpet. What? Oh. I have no idea how that cracked the screen. Faulty product, obviously.”

The problem is, I am not good at writing like this. I don’t know why I keep trying. It is like Barney Frank deciding to sing opera or Britney Spears promising to wear underwear every day. Some people are not cut out for some things.

And yet. I try. I’m trying now. I have two pages – and that’s single spaced. It will be different this time. There will be a plot, instead of vague and morose character development lasting for ten pages before I get distracted and never come back to it. There will be some pretense of it not being a journal entry. I will not channel Holden Caulfield. I will not start every sentence with the words “I,” “they,” or “the.” And when I fail miserably, as I always do, I will shelve this foolishness and go back to the things I’m actually good at, like telling the internet about interesting scientific progress or what food products I woke up to find on my floor after a night of heavy drinking.

For six months or so.