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Neuroscience For Kids

Treasure Trove of Brain Trivia

A collection of trivia about the brain and nervous system from the archives of the Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter. For more trivia about the brain, see brain facts and figures.

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January, 2005

A. Bhutan will be the first country to ban the sale of tobacco. (Source: BBC news, "Bhutan to stub out tobacco sales," November 15, 2004, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4012639.stm)

B. January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness for people over 60 in the US. About 3 million people in the US have glaucoma, although up to half may not know it yet, as there are no warning signs. (Source: Parade magazine, January 5, 2003.)

C. There are approximately 6,800 languages spoken in the world today. (Source: Douglas Whalen, President of the Endangered Language Fund, in "Group working to preserve nearly extinct languages," by Fern Shen, The Washington Post, January 2003.)

D. In 1987, only 2.5% of kids and teens were taking at least one psychiatric drug; in 1996, 6.2% were. This rate of use nearly matches that of adults. (Source: Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, in Science News, February 1, 2003, page 77.)

E. Ritalin and other psychiatric drugs for treating attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder were the most commonly prescribed psychiatric drugs for kids and teens in 1996, followed by antidepressants and anticonvulsants for mood disorders. (Source: Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, in Science News, February 1, 2003, page 77.)

February, 2005

A. Every day, people worldwide light up 15 billion cigarettes. (Science News, July 5, 2003.)

B. Some fish (e.g., sharks, sturgeon), lampreys, salamanders and the platypus can detect weak electrical fields. (Source: Rose, G.J., Insights into neural mechanisms and evolution of behavior from electric fish, Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 5:943-951, 2004.)

C. Several types of beetles are attracted to forest fires. These beetles detect the heat of forest fires with receptors for infrared radiation. Eggs from the beetles are laid after the fire so that larvae can feed off of dead wood. (Source: Bleckmann, H.J., Schmitz, H. and von der Emde, G., Nature as a model for technical sensors, J. Comp. Physiol. A., 190:971-981, 2004.)

D. In 2004, the Society for Neuroscience had 36,183 members. (Source: http://www.sfn.org.)

E. Squid and cuttlefish have eye with W-shaped pupils. (Source: Land, M.F. and Nilsson, D-E., Animal Eyes, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.)

March, 2005

A. Swordfish have special tissue (a "brain heater") behind their eyes that warms their brains as much as 14 degrees centigrade above the temperature of the water they live in. (Source: Carey, F.G., A brain heater in the swordfish, Science, 216:1327-1329, 1982.)

B. Although stroke is the third most common cause of death in the US, its death rate has declined 65% since 1950. (Source: National Center for Health Statistics, 2004, http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/hus.htm)

C. Depression occurs in 2% of elementary school-aged children and 4-8% of adolescents. (Source: National Center for Health Statistics, 2004, http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/hus.htm)

D. A staff or wand with either one or two snakes wound around it is often used as a symbol of medicine. The single snake staff is attributed to the ancient Greek God Asclepius (Aesculapius or Asklepios); the two snake wand, called a caduceus, is attributed to the mythological character Hermes (Mercury). The logo of the American Medical Association uses a staff of Asclepius while that of the US Public Health Service uses a caduceus. (Source: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/greek/greek_asclepius.html)

E. A "Mickey Finn" is a drink made with alcohol and chloral hydrate. This drink was developed in the 1870s by a group of tavern owners to make customers unconscious. Customers were robbed after they became unconscious. (Source: Bethard, W., Lotions, Potions, Deadly Elixirs. Frontier Medicine in America, Lanham: Taylor Trade Publishing, 2004.)

April, 2005

A phobia is an irrational fear or dread of a place, object, activity or situation. Phobias are fairly common and can affect anyone. Here are some well-known people and their fears:

A. Napoleon Bonaparte (French ruler) had ailurophobia, the fear of cats.

B. Donald Trump (billionaire) has chirophobia, the fear of shaking hands.

C. Howard Hughes (billionaire) had mysophobia, the fear of germs.

D. Andre Agassi (tennis player) has arachnophobia, the fear of spiders.

E. Cher (singer), Aretha Franklin (singer), John Madden (former football coach) and Whoopi Goldberg (comedian) all have aviophobia, the fear of flying.

(Reference: US News and World Report, December 6, 2004, page 761.)

May, 2005

A. The preying mantis has been called an "auditory cyclops" because it has only one ear. The ear of this insect is located in the middle of its underside, between its legs. (Source: Yager, D.D. and Hoy, R.R., The cyclopean ear: a new sense for the praying mantis, Science, 231:727-729, 1986.)

B. Americans rate the jobs as scientist and doctor as having the highest prestige. (Source: http://www.harrisinteractive.com/harris_poll/index.asp?PID=494)

C. The stapedius muscle is the smallest muscle in the body. This muscle, 6.3 mm in length, helps move the stapes bone in the middle ear. (Source: Gelfand, S.A. Hearing: An Introduction to Psychological and Physiological Acoustics, 4th edition, New York: Marcel Dekker, 2004.)

D. A one-year subscription (institution rate) to the journal Brain Research costs $22,386. (Source: http://www.elsevier.com.)

E. Emil Kraepelin coined the term "Alzheimer's disease" in 1910. (Source: Maurer, K. and Maurer, U. [translated by N. Levi and A. Burns], Alzheimer: The Life of a Physician and the Career of a Disease, New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.)

June, 2005

A. Sleepwalking affects 2-14% of all children and 1.6-2.5% of all adults. (Reference: Guilleminault, C., et al., Adult chronic sleepwalking and its treatment based on polysomnography, Brain, 128:1062-1069, 2005.)

B. Ears can be found on the thorax, abdomen, legs, wings and mouths of different insects. (Source: Fullard, J.M. and Yack, J.E. The evolutionary biology of insect hearing, Trends Ecol. Evol., 8:248-252, 1993.)

C. The brain of a 136 kg (300 pound) swordfish weighs only 2.2 grams (0.005 pounds). An adult human brain weighs approximately 1,400 grams (3 pounds). (Source: Carey, F.G., A brain heater in the swordfish, Science, 216:1327-1329, 1982.)

D. Caffeine is the most widely used behaviorally active drug in the world. (Source: Juliano, L.M. and Griffiths, R.R. A critical review of caffeine withdrawal: empirical validation of symptoms and signs, incidence, severity, and associated features. Psychpharmacol., 176:1-29, 2004.)

E. You can often hear doctors on television shows yell "Stat!" The word "stat" is a shortened version of the Latin word "statim" that means immediately or at once. (Source: Haubrich, W.S., Medical Meanings. Glossary of Word Origins, 2nd edition, Philadelphia: American College of Physicians, 2003.)

July, 2005

A. In the United States, July 4th is the day of the year with the most motor vehicle crash deaths--41% of these deaths involved a driver who had been drinking alcohol and had a high blood alcohol content. (Source: Farmer, C.M. and Williams, A.F., Temporal factors in motor vehicle crash deaths, Injury Prevention, 11:18-23, 2005.)

B. In 2003, there were 871,535 physicians in the United States. Of these doctors, 5,140 were neurosurgeons, 13,293 were neurologists, and 40,334 were psychiatrists. (Source: Pasko, T. and Smart, D.R. Physician Characteristics and Distribution in the US, 2005 edition, Chicago: AMA Press, 2005.)

C. In 1895, Wilhelm Konrad Roentgen discovered X-rays. He used the "X" in X-ray because he did not know how his discovery worked.

D. In 1998, the US government required breads and grains sold in the US to be fortified with folic acid. Since then, the number of children at risk for birth defects (such as neural tube defects) caused by folic acid deficiency has decreased by 32%. (Source: "For Babies, Going with the Grain," by John O'Neil, The New York Times, March 2, 2004.)

E. It is estimated that 62% of people in the US over the age of 53 have olfactory impairments (trouble smelling). (Source: JAMA, November 2002.)

August, 2005

A. Two out of six (33%) adult female chimpanzees yawned significantly more often after they watched videos of other chimpanzees yawning. (Source: Anderson, J.R. et al., Contagious yawning in chimpanzees, Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B., 271: S468-470, 2004.)

B. The highest blood levels of caffeine are reached in 30-45 minutes after it is consumed. (Source: Juliano, L.M. and Griffiths, R.R. A critical review of caffeine withdrawal: empirical validation of symptoms and signs, incidence, severity, and associated features. Psychpharmacol., 176:1-29, 2004.)

C. In 1998, the US government required breads and grains sold in the US to be fortified with folic acid. Since then, the number of fetuses at risk for birth defects (such as neural tube defects) caused by folic acid deficiency has decreased by 32%. (Source: "For Babies, Going with the Grain," by John O'Neil, The New York Times, March 2, 2004.)

D. "The Scientist" magazine asked scientists what they'd like to be, if they were not a scientist. The survey results:

(Source: The Scientist, February 10, 2003.)

E. Do you know what causes "red eye" when you take a flash photograph? The choroid is a layer of tissue at the back of the eye that contains a large number of blood vessels. Red eye usually happens when a flash photograph is taken in dim light. In dim light, the pupil of the eye is dilated and allows plenty of light to enter the eye. Red eye is caused when the choroid reflects the light of the flash. The pupil does not constrict fast enough to reduce the amount of light that enters the eye. Therefore, the flash of light reflects back out of the eye and is recorded on film. Some cameras use red eye reduction methods that send out a short burst of light before the film is exposed. The brief burst of light allows the pupil to constrict and thus reduces red eye.

September, 2005

All trivia for this month come from the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse Report, "Serious Mental Illness Among Adults" at:

http://www.oas.samhsa.gov/2k2/SMI/SMI.cfm

A. Mental disorders account for 4 of the 10 leading causes of disability in the United States.

B. In 2001, approximately 15 million Americans aged 18 or older were estimated to have a serious mental illness (SMI) during the past year.

C. Less than one half of adults with a serious mental illness received treatment or counseling during the past year.

D. Adults with a serious mental illness were more likely to smoke cigarettes or use an illicit drug during the past year compared with those without a serious mental illness.

E. Women (9%) were more likely than men (6%) to report having had an SMI within the past year.

October, 2005

A. There are approximately 1 billion neurons in the human spinal cord. (Statistic from Kalat, J.W., Biological Psychology, 6th Edition, 1998, page 24.)

B. Ivan Petrovich Pavlov is best known for his work on conditioned reflexes ("Pavlov's dogs"). However, his 1904 Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine was awarded for his work on the physiology of digestion.

C. Thirty percent of older Americans between the ages of 70 and 80 have a problem with their sense of smell. Two out of three people over 80 have a problem with their sense of smell. (Source: http://nihseniorhealth.gov/)

D. Agenesis of the corpus callosum (ACC) is a birth defect in which the structure that connects the two hemispheres of the brain (the corpus callosum) is partially or completely absent.

E. Thomas Willis coined the term "neurology" in 1681.

November, 2005

Folk remedies to cure or prevent neurological problems include:

A. Roman emperors believed that eating lettuce would help a person sleep.

B. Placing a goat's horn under a person's head would cure insomnia.

C. Rubbing a person with a live pig would cure epilepsy.

D. Wearing rings of lead mixed with mercury would prevent headaches.

E. Anxiety caused by bad dreams would be eliminated if a person told the dreams to the sun.

(Sources: Black, W.G., Folk-medicine, New York: B. Franklin, 1970; Bauer, W.W., Potions, Remedies and Old Wives' Tales, Garden City (NY): Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1969.)

December, 2005

A. The giant axon of the squid can be 100 to 1000 times larger than a mammalian axon. The giant axon connects to the squid's mantle muscle. This muscle is used to propel the squid through the water.

B. Mice, cats, dogs, horses, whales, humans and most other mammals have only seven neck bones (cervical vertebrae), but there are exceptions to this rule. Manatees and two-toed sloths have only SIX cervical vertebrae and three-toed sloths have NINE cervical vertebrae.

C. Giulio Cesare Aranzi coined the term "hippocampus" in 1564.

D. The first Ph.D. with "Psychology" in its title was given to Granville Stanley Hall at Harvard University in 1878.

E. When Santiago Ramon y Cajal was 11-years-old, he destroyed a neighbor's gate with a homemade cannon and spent three days in jail. Cajal went on to become a neuroscientist and won the Nobel Prize in 1906 for his work on the structure of the neuron. (Reference: Rapport, R., Nerve Endings. The Discovery of the Synapse, New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2005.)


More trivia from other years:

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