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This page was published on 15/11/2004
Published: 15/11/2004


Published: 15 November 2004  
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How soundly do we really know our mind and body?

Ever wanted to know more about mental disorders or muscle formation? An interactive and entertaining website, produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), gives the low down on what makes us tick, from our bones and organs to our minds and mindset.

How much do you know about your organs, bones and nervous system? © PhotoDisc
How much do you know about your organs, bones and nervous system?
© PhotoDisc
So, you think you're a funny guy! You crack jokes at dinner parties and everyone around the table laughs. But are they laughing with you or at you? If this sort of question plagues you, the BBC interactive ‘Mind and Body' website is perhaps best avoided. But if you want to know more about mental disorders, our physical makeup, or even to learn how to pick a fake smile from a genuine one, then follow the link on this page.

“Most people are surprisingly bad at spotting fake smiles. One possible explanation for this is that it may be easier for people to get along if they don't always know what others are really feeling,” the BBC website explains once you have taken its ‘Spot the fake smile' test. People are asked to watch a short clip of 20 people smiling and then simply to choose if they think the smiles are genuine or not.

The thing is, the site continues, although fake smiles often look similar to genuine ones, slight differences can be detected because they are brought about by different muscles, which are controlled by different parts of the brain. Before reading how to pick a faker, we recommend you take the test yourself. Headlines staffers did and their scores ranged from 12 to 18 out of 20.

Are they faking it?
A fake smile can be performed at will because the brain signals it from the conscious part of the brain and prompts the zygomaticus major muscles in the cheeks – muscles that pull the corners of the mouth outwards – to contract, the BBC notes. “Genuine smiles, on the other hand, are generated by the unconscious brain, so are automatic. When people feel pleasure, signals pass through the part of the brain that processes emotion. As well as making the mouth muscles move, the muscles that raise the cheeks – the orbicularis oculi and the pars orbitalis – also contract, making the eyes crease up, and the eyebrows dip slightly.”

This is just one of many quizzes, games and activities on the site designed to stimulate interest in the functions of the body and the mind. One tricky test, provided courtesy of the Science Museum, London, can give you an idea whether your brain is male or female. It sounds weird, but apparently, while men and women are very similar in the way they think, some subtle differences exist between the sexes in the way they perceive information.

Clicking the ‘What sex is your brain?' button on the site, you will be guided through a set of pictures and instructed to pick out differences or similarities. Without giving too much away, the site declares at the end of the game that your brain sex-type is differentiated by certain characteristics. For example, it says, women are generally good at distinguishing between subtle hints and details, while men are generally good at seeing things in three dimensions.

If you are too spooked by all the mind tests, memory quizzes and emotional measurements, there is plenty more to learn about how the body works by playing the ‘Skeleton game' or the ‘Muscle game' which prompt you to drag and drop parts of the body onto a human sketch. You can learn about puberty, test your senses, or refresh your knowledge of the nervous system. The site is a fun way for people – young and not so young – to learn more about science, which complements very nicely some of the European Union's ‘Science and Society' objectives.


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BBC Science and Nature: human body and mind

Science and Society programme (FP6)

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