Monthly Archives: January 2009

Simulating hysteria for fun and profit

I’ve just found pages from a 1941 French hypnotism manual on the (tastefully NSFW) Au carrefour √©trange blog that has some wonderful illustrations of hypnotism ‘in action’. A few are particularly curious because they seem to be directly mimicking famous images of hysteria from the 1800s. Hysteria is the presence of neurological symptoms without any […]

The cutting edge of robotics

Singularity Hub has reviewed the best commercial and research lab robots from 2008 and has videos of each and every one. It’s a fantastic collection that has everything from exoskeletons, to violin playing humanoids, to ultra-lightweight robots that fly by flapping gossamer-thin wings. The most curious is probably the robot self-reassembling chair or maybe the […]

The shock of the few

Monsters existed in the 1800s. They were not mythical creatures, but children born with birth defects who were widely discussed in the medical literature and sometimes cruelly paraded in the travelling freak shows of the time. Curiously, one of the most popular explanations for these congenital deformities concerned the psychology of the expectant mother. If […]

Cocaine nights, moral relativism, orgasms and gangs

BBC Radio 4’s wonderfully eclectic and vastly under-rated social science programme Thinking Allowed has had some fascinating programmes lately, covering the concern of ‘cocaine girls’ in 1915 London, the history of the orgasm, moral relativism, gang culture, the social meaning of scents and the culture of detectives, to mention just a few of the topics. […]

Encephalon 62 – the straight dope

The 62nd edition of the Encephalon psychology and neuroscience writing carnival has just appeared on The Mouse Trap as a remarkably well-written guide to the latest in the last fortnight’s online mind and brain discussions. A couple of my favourites include a nuanced look at the neurobiology and culture of addiction from Neurophilosophy and a […]

The mind has a distorted reflection

Our perception of how mentally sharp we are has more to do with how we’re feeling emotionally than how our cognitive functions are actually working. In other words when someone says, ‘I think my memory has become much worse recently’, research suggests that this tells us almost nothing about how their memory is working, but […]

Learning Should Be Fun

Learning can and should be fun. This is not just a moral position, but a scientific one too. When you learn a new thing, or get a surprise, there is a shot of a chemical messenger in your brain called dopamine. Dopamine is famous among neuroscientists for its involvement in the reward and motivation systems […]

Bullshit Blue Monday is here

Happy Bullshit Blue Monday! Yes, today is the day where everyone feels down and gloomy about the fact that we’re assaulted with lots of completely made up news stories masquerading as psychology and misinforming everyone about science. Methods suggested for relieving the nonexistent tosh have included everything from petting a pig to knowing that Al-Qaeda‚Äôs […]

Lycanthropy in Babylon

An interesting case series from the Babylon region of Iraq, reporting eight patients who had clinical lycanthropy where they had the delusional belief that they had changed into an animal. Seven believed they had changed into dogs, one believed he had changed into a cow. Lycanthropy alive in Babylon: the existence of archetype. Acta Psychiatr […]

Caffeine, hallucinations and an odd ghost obsession

A recent study hit the headlines reporting a link between caffeine intake and susceptibility to hallucinations. I’ve just read the paper and it’s an interesting well-conducted correlational study, but what struck me was the wackiness of the headlines it generated. The study, led by researcher Simon Jones, was inspired by previous scientific work that has […]

I don’t care about the bruises, just mind the clipboard

Psychologist Jesse Bering has an interesting article in Scientific American about dangerous psychology studies where researchers have risked life and limb to carry out some of the more extreme experiments in psychology. Some of the investigations are quite unethical by today’s standards – two researchers simulating a sexual assault in the street to see how […]

2009-01-16 Spike activity

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news: A third US Army ‘Human Terrain’ researcher has died after injuries sustained in the field, reports Wired. Scientific American Mind Matters discusses the neuroscience of noisy eyeballs – a curious synaesthesia-like condition. The BPS Research Digest discusses research finding describing wine’s flavours helps people […]

Voodoo accusations false, reply ‘red list’ researchers

Some of the researchers under fire from the recent ‘Voodoo Correlations in Social Neuroscience’ article have responded to the accusations of misleading data analysis by suggesting that the accusers have misunderstood the finer points of brain imaging, leading them to falsely infer errors where none exist. In an academic reply, available online as a pdf, […]

Beyond hysteria

I’ve just discovered that the eScholarship Editions site that has 500 academic books freely available online, several psychology and psychiatry books among them, including the excellent book ‘Hysteria Beyond Freud’ which takes a historical look at this fascinating and curious condition. ‘Hysteria’ has meant many things in medical history and originally the Ancient Greeks used […]

How psychiatrists think

An article just published in Advances in Psychiatric Treatment called ‘How Psychiatrists Think’ discusses how mental health physicians are susceptible to cognitive biases and how it’s possible to reduce the chance of error. The article was inspired by a Jerome Groopman book we discussed in 2007 called How Doctors Think in which he tackles cognitive […]

Unusual forms of drug addiction, 1933

I’ve just found a curious paper from 1933 on unusual forms of drug addiction that contains some charming old-world views on the diversity of intoxication. It was apparently presented at the wonderfully named ‘Society for the Study of Inebriety’ and uses the term ‘addiction’ synonymously with general drug use but does describe a number of […]


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