Volume 15, Issue 9 (September, 2011)

In this issue:

1. What's New at Neuroscience for Kids
2. Neuroscience for Kids Site of the Month
3. Back to School with the Brain in Mind
4. Backpacks Back at School
5. Earworms
6. Media Alert
7. Treasure Trove of Brain Trivia
8. Support Neuroscience for Kids
9. How to Stop Your Subscription


Neuroscience for Kids had several new additions in August including:

A. August Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter was archived
B. NO (Nitric Oxide) for Snakebite
C. Serbian Translations of Neuroscience for Kids Pages
Conduction Velocity
10% of the Brain Myth
Who, What, Where of Neuroscience

In August, 2 new figures were added and 30 pages were modified.


The Neuroscience for Kids "Site of the Month" for September is the "See All You Can See" at:

"See All You Can See" is a Web site created by the National Eye Institute to teach kids (7-10 years old) about vision and protecting the eyes. The site has some simple interactive, Flash games to help kids learn about the parts of the visual system and eye safety. The games can also be downloaded as PDFs. From the web site, adults can access a sports eye safety page and order printed copies of National Eye Institute materials.


Many of you have already started the new school. For others, school is just around the corner. Why not start with some brainy activities such as:

  1. A brainy activity-a-day
  2. Track neuroscience in the news
  3. Write a brainy poem
  4. Start the day with a brain joke or a brainy quote
  5. Learn where neuroscientific words come from
  6. Solve a brainy puzzle



How many of you carry a heavy backpack to school? Books, lunch, computers and supplies fill up backpacks that kids carry throughout the day. Many students complain of back pain and it is possible that heavy backpacks are one cause of this discomfort.

A new study by researchers at the University of California (San Diego) suggests that heavy backpacks may change the anatomy of the spine and contribute to back pain. The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanning to look at the spines of eight children (3 boys, 5 girls, average age 11 years) when they carried backpacks with 4, 8 and 12 kg loads.

As the weight of the backpack increased, the scientists found that lumbar disks in the kids' back became compressed. The heavier packs also caused curvatures in the kids' spines. As you might imagine, when the children carried heavier backpacks, they reported more pain.

The American Physical Therapy Association recommends that children carry backpacks no heavier than 15% of their body weight. Yet, 55% of the children in one survey carried packs that weighed more than this recommended amount.

How much does your backpack weigh? Weigh yourself on a scale with and without your backpack to determine the weight of the backpack. Does your backpack weigh more than 15% of your body weight?


1. Neuschwander, T.B., Cutrone, J., Macias, B.R., Cutrone, S., Murthy, G., Chambers, H. and Hargens, A.R., The effect of backpacks on the lumbar spine in children, Spine, 35:83-88, 2010.

2. Is Your Childs Backpack Making the Grade? (American Physical Therapy Association:


Last month, I woke up in the early morning hours with the same song playing over and over in my head. If you must know, it was a new song by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. And I couldn't get back to sleep because the tune was stuck in my head.

These sticky songs are called "earworms." Back in a 2004 Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter, I described the research of Dr. James Kellaris who studied earworms. Dr. Kellaris surveyed 559 people and found that almost all of them all (97.9%) had experienced an earworm. Women and musicians were found to suffer from earworms more frequently than men and non-musicians.

Researchers in the United Kingdom recently provided more details about earworms. In one study, C. Philip Beaman and Tim I. Williams surveyed 103 people (15-57 years old) in different public places. They wanted to know a) how earworms disrupted normal behavior, b) how earworms affected emotions, c) how often earworms occurred, d) how long earworms lasted, e) how easy it was to eliminate earworms, and f) what people thought caused earworms.

Beaman and Williams found that for the majority of people (88.2%), earworms lasted several hours, but people did not find these stuck songs to be too much of a problem. Earworms lasted longer, were more difficult to eliminate and were more troubling for people who said that music was important to them, but the researchers did not find any differences in the reported frequency of earworms between men and women. The most common way people got rid of earworms was by "specific musical displacement." In other words, people thought of a different song, listened to a different song, sang a different song, or played a musical instrument.

In a second study, Beaman and Williams had nine people keep diaries of their earworm experiences. Of the 269 reported earworms, 199 were caused by different songs. About one-third of the earworm episodes were reported as unpleasant and one-half of the episodes were reported as pleasant.

In my own experience, earworms are never pleasant: not even if they are placed there by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.


1. Neuroscience for Kids Newsletter article about earworms:

2. Beaman, C.P. and Williams, T.I., Earworms ('stuck song syndrome'): Towards a natural history of intrusive thoughts, British J. Psychology, 101:637-653, 2010.


A. The August 8, 2011, issue of Sports illustrated has a special report titled "Sports Medicine's New Frontiers" written by David Epstein. The article discusses advancements in medicine including new surgical methods, new artificial limbs, and the use of brain scans to examine neural activity.

B. The September 2011 issue of Scientific American Mind is on newsstands now. This magazine includes the articles "Splintered by Stress: The Good and Bad of Psychological Pressure" by Mathias V. Schmidt and Lars Schwabe, "The Many Faces of Happiness" by Suzann Pileggi Pawelski, "A Tale of Two Rodents" by Kelly Lambert, "Primal Brain in the Modern Classroom" by David Geary, "Fight the Frazzled Mind" by Robert Epstein and "Passion for Possessions: Mine!" by Bruce Hood.


What do people know about memory and how do these beliefs agree with those of expert memory researchers? This month's trivia are five misconceptions many people have about memory (based on a survey of 1,500 adults).

A. 82.7% of the people agreed with the statement: "People suffering from amnesia typically cannot recall their own name or identity." 100% of professors with more than 10 years of memory research experience (the expert group) disagreed with the statement.

B. 63.0% of the people agreed with the statement: "Human memory works like a video camera, accurately recording the events we see and hear so that we can review and inspect them later." 100% of the experts disagreed with this statement.

C. 54.6% of the people agreed with the statement: "Hypnosis is useful in helping witnesses accurately recall details of crimes." 87.6% of the experts disagreed with this statement.

D. 77.5% of the people agreed with the statement: "People generally notice when something unexpected enters their field of view, even when they're paying attention to something else." 81.2% of the experts disagreed with this statement.

E. 47.6% of the people agreed with the statement: Once you have experience an event and formed a memory of it, that memory does not change." 93.8% of the experts disagreed with this statement.

Reference: Simons, D.J. and Chabris, C.F. What People Believe about How Memory Works: A Representative Survey of the U.S. Population. PLoS ONE 6(8): e22757. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0022757, 2011.


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Eric H. Chudler, Ph.D.