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Life sciences/Neuroscience/Clinical neuroscience/Neurology

On the final day of the 2013 Emerging Researchers National (ERN) Conference in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, Ashli Allen, a senior at Fort Valley State University in Georgia, stood smiling beside her poster and began to summarize her research to two scientist judges.

The phrase “nature versus nurture” still heavily influences perceptions of human behavior, at least in the minds of the public. But gene researchers and neurobiologists also grapple with the concept, speakers said at a recent AAAS event, when they explore how biology and environment shape human personality.

Well before young children arrive for the first day of school, their brains have undergone an extraordinary process of development. At birth, the brain weighs about 400 grams and has 100 billion neurons. By the age of 2, at 1100 grams, it is about 80% the size of an adult brain. At some early stages of development, the brain is adding up to a half-million neurons per minute, and by age 3, it in will have 1000 trillion neuron connections.

For three years as science adviser at the U.S. State Department and USAID, Nina Fedoroff urged the world research community to collaborate on “truly global problems that do not respect political boundaries or political positions.”

A specific region of the brain appears to be larger in individuals who are good at turning their thoughts inward and reflecting upon their decisions, according to new research published in the journal Science. This act of introspection—or “thinking about your thinking”—is a key aspect of human consciousness, though scientists have noted plenty of variation in peoples’ introspective abilities.

The new study is published in the 17 September issue of the journal Science. Science is published by AAAS, the nonprofit science society.

Teens are fascinated by their brains, the way they work, change, and even “freeze” sometimes. The AAAS Science Inside Alcohol Project recommends that parents, teachers and caregivers use that fascination to engage middle- and high school students this holiday season in a discussion of why they shouldn’t drink alcohol.