Discovered: Emotional engagement with fiction boosts real-world empathy; a new MRI video of a fetal brain; Siberia's permafrost is thawing too quickly; a microchip that restores vision.
Fiction as an empathy workout. What makes bookworms such bleeding hearts? A new study led by P. Matthijs Bal of VU University in the Netherlands finds that readers who emotionally immerse themselves with written fiction for weeklong periods can help boost their empathetic skills. The researchers discovered this by having university students read either fiction by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and José Saramago or items from a newspaper. Gauging the participants' empathetic abilities and self-reported emotions before and after such reading sessions, they found that the fiction readers got more of an emotional workout than the nonfiction readers. And they became noticeably more empathetic after a week of such experiments. [PLoS Blogs]
This is the first fMRI video of a human fetal brain. The video below, taken by Wayne State University's Moriah Thomason, is the first fMRI footage we have of a human fetus' brain as it develops in the womb. Such technology allowed Thomason to determine the timeline of neural development for fetuses. Researchers think such information could help doctors diagnose conditions like schizophrenia and autism before birth, opening up a whole can of bioethical worms. The new footage follows last year's unveiling of the first MRI video to capture a baby's brain while the baby was being born. [New Scientist]