20 stories of human discovery

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In 2020, scientists attempted to answer some of the most profound questions about our species. Where — and whom — do we come from? Is there a seat of consciousness in our brains? Do we evolve, like other species? This year, we came a little closer to finally answering these questions and more. Below is a countdown of 20 breakthroughs Inverse reported on that changed what it means to be human.Shutterstock
2020 countdown
Mind and Body

Scientists discover the roots of consciousness in the brain

The "alternative activation" of two brain networks may be a signature of consciousness.

genetic intermingling

Archaic DNA stemming from ancient sex fundamentally influences health today

Thank you, ancient hominin cousins!


The iconic Pale Blue Dot image puts Earth into perspective

"To see it in that ray of light, it’s so incredibly special."

Family tree

An unidentified ancient human lives on in modern genes

"Super-archaic" gene regions have been passed down to some living people.

Reset button

Magic mushrooms might rebalance the brain — study

A new model can inform interventions for neuropsychiatric disorders.

Eye to eye

Tortoises and humans share this one unique trait

Animal research explores why children are drawn toward face-like shapes.

Family tree

Neanderthal DNA discovery solves a human history mystery

Scientists were finally able to sequence Y chromosomes from Denisovans and Neanderthals.


In death, one form of sensory perception persists

Talking to a loved one as they pass may indeed be give them some comfort.

Love on the brain

Neuroscientists reveal what it takes to make love last

A brain study offers insight into what ignites the romantic flame.


Amateurs discovered an ancient grave that rewrites history

"This the first burial of its kind."


Neanderthal study exposes a 'fist bump' kind of revelation

A piece of yarn is an insight into an ancient mind.


Monkey brain study reveals the 'engine of consciousness'

“There are many exciting implications for this work."

Gut check

Microorganisms in your gut may influence who you are

Research reveals how the gut may influence behavior.


Psychedelic study reveals how LSD changes the brain

"Now we know how psychedelic drugs work — finally!"


Sex between ancient humans fundamentally altered our modern perception

Modern-day humans may feel pain in a similar manner to a long-gone species.


Ancient stone tool rewrites a chapter of human history

"Every few years something remarkable turns up and we keep digging."

Mind and Body

The 25 most surprising stories of human potential in 2019

Here are the ways we learned to live better, happier, and longer in 2019.

Mind and Body

To master new skills, follow these 4 psychologist-backed tips

Expert musicians practice deliberately to master new skills. Their technique can be applied to anything. 

Mind and Body

Rat study hints at the benefits of psychedelic micro-dosing

Scientists are getting closer to unraveling the science behind all the hype.

Mind and Body

Study reveals why getting enough sleep may be critical to your health

A November 2019 study suggests seven hours may be the ‘magic number’ for ideal sleep.

Mind and Body

Before a panic attack strikes, stressed-out people can use this technique

This NAVY seal method could be the key to overcoming panic.


Study: Naps may actually save your life

This is how many naps you should take a week, according to science.

Mind and Body

Growing up in nature can offer lasting psychological benefits -- study

For children, spending time in nature might safeguard their later mental health.

Mind and Body

Why you should start talking to yourself, according to science

Talking to yourself can help you achieve your goals -- if you do it right.

Mind and Body

Study pinpoints the limit of human endurance -- and it's impressively high

"The limits of endurance appear to be non-negotiable."

Mind and Body

Studies: One daily habit may help your brain beat the effects of aging

You can't stop the passage of time, but you can do lots of crosswords.

Mind and Body

Taking this one supplement could help fight depression

Research reveals the brain-boosting power of one common supplement.

Mind and Body

Scientists traced procrastination's deep biological roots in the brain 

Procrastination is not just poor time management.

Mind and Body

Is intermittent fasting the longevity life hack we’ve been waiting for?

Diving into the science behind 2019's favorite diet. 

Mind and Body

This may be the fastest way to learn something new, according to science

Perfection is not the ultimate goal of learning, researchers say. 


This is the best time to work out to form a habit

Can you HIIT it in the morning?

Mind and Body

Study exposes anxiety's roots in the brain -- and points way to treatment

"We are getting closer to defining the cells and molecules producing or preventing anxiety."


Climate Change Is Damaging Human Mental Health, and It Will Continue To

We have a "catastrophic" problem.

Mind and Body

Why Don't Humans Have a Penis Bone? Baculum Study Shows Where Ours Went

For better or for worse, we may no longer need it.

Mind and Body

Anti-Aging: Lifespan May Be Determined by the Size of a Tiny Part of the Cell

You're going to wish you paid attention in high school biology. 

Mind and Body

A "New Type of Depression" May Explain Why Some Treatments Don't Work

For the 30 percent of people struggling to find effective treatment, this research could be life changing.

Mind and Body

Consciousness: Number of Times We're Conscious per Minute Is Not That High

We're "wired to be distractible." 

Mind and Body

Why Do You Feel Sad After Sex? Scientists Say It Affects Both Women and Men

"I get a strong sense of self-loathing."

Mind and Body

Aging: 25 Genes Responsible for Extending Human Lifespan Identified

Long live these genes!


DNA Twisted Into a Never-Before-Seen Shape in a Living Cell: The i-Motif

Move over, double helix.


Infertility Isn't the Only Problem for Men With Low Sperm Counts

Sperm counts can indicate other health issues.

Mind and Body

Genes for "Good" and "Bad" Fat Come From Different Sides of the Family

Thanks, dad. 


Neanderthals Passed Down Life-Saving Genes to Their Human Hybrid Children

Neanderthals passed down an extremely important trait.


Scientists Discover That Matching Brain Waves Can Predict Friendships

"Friends process the world around them in exceptionally similar ways."

Mind and Body

Probiotics: Baby Poop Is a Gold Mine for Your Microbiome

If you can get over where it comes from, it's pretty useful. 


Can Alcohol Be Healthy? Study Claims No Amount of Booze Is Good for You

The best amount of alcohol to drink is no alcohol at all.


Are Depression and Insomnia Linked? Study Found a Connection in the Brain

It's not as simple as one causing the other.

Mind and Body

Teen Binge Drinking Can Have Lasting Impacts on Memory, Study Found

Binge drinking physically changes the brain.