The Loh Down On Science

Can thoughts literally be weighty?

Does your head feel heavy?  Don't think so hard!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science, reporting on an old experiment that put brains in the balance!  Literally!

Rewind to the 1880's, in Italy.  A physician named Angelo Mosso claimed that a thinking person's head gains weight from increased blood flow to the brain.  He showed it by asking people to lie flat on a teeter-totter table and think hard.  If the person's weight shifted, the teeter ... tottered.  Sure enough, people asked to think about difficult topics found themselves tilting headward. 

The weightier the topic, the tiltier the tilt.  So thinking about math caused a bigger change than, say, reading the newspaper.

Fast forward to now.  Neuroscientists at the University of Reading recently recreated Mosso's experiment.  They built a balance—using modern technology, of course—to detect even finer changes in the brain's blood volume.

They had their volunteers listen to music or watch video.  Lo and behold, when they were concentrating on those, the scale showed a gain in blood volume in the noggin.  So Mosso was right!  Thinking, concentrating, or paying attention does weigh heavy on the brain!

Dizzy yet?  Just.  Stop.  Thinking.

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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