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Thinking hard weighs heavy on the brain

Balance measures tiny changes in force due to blood flow behind thoughts

10:22am, January 17, 2014

BALANCING ACT  In the 1880s, Angelo Mosso used the human circulation balance illustrated here to measure the movement of blood to the brain during taxing mental tasks. 

When the mind is at work, the brain literally gets heavier.

That fact may be surprising, but it isn’t new: In the 1880s, Italian scientist Angelo Mosso built an intricate full-body balance and reported that mental activity tips the scales. Now, a modern-day version of Mosso’s “human circulation balance” backs him up. Compared with a brain at rest, a brain listening to music and watching a video is indeed heavier, David Field and Laura Inman of the University of Reading in England report January 9 in Brain.

While teaching a course about brain-imaging techniques, Field grew curious whether Mosso’s general approach would work. So he and some students decided to find out. “It was a bit of a mad idea, to be honest,” Field says.

At the heart of both balances lies a simple seesaw lever. As weight shifts in a body, presumably from

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