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Learning About the Brain by Staring at Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks

A new study out of Duke University searched for the part of the brain responsible for mental focus. If you've played the Cambridge Brain Sciences test Double Trouble, then you would probably agree that it requires intense focus to do well in. That's why these researchers used a variation of Double Trouble (aka the Stroop Test), except instead of coloured words, they used, um, this:

The task was to ignore the word and identify the celebrity face. Just like with Double Trouble, it's tricky if they're mismatched—either a face with the wrong name or a name with the wrong face.

It turns out that learning to mentally focus only on the face recruited a part of the brain called the caudate nucleus. There is a caudate nucleus in each hemisphere of the brain, located near the centre where the hemispheres meet. It has long been associated with motor functions, but it is becoming increasingly clear that it also plays a role in higher cognitive functions such as memory and focus as well.

Cool stuff. Let's all thank Tom Hanks for letting his face be used for science, and thank our caudate nuclei for helping us focus.

Learn more about the study here.