Monthly Archives: June 2009

Mass hysteria and dancing manias

The July edition of the The Psychologist has an absolutely fantastic article on the ‘dancing manias’ that swept through Europe in the middle ages and triggered an exhausting compulsion to dance. The piece looks at the history of these manias and discusses them in terms of dissociation, the ‘unconscious compartmentalisation of normally integrated mental functions’, […]

Like tears in the rain

Forbes magazine has an excellent special issue that is rammed full of diverse and interesting articles on artificial intelligence. It’s a large collection of short articles that covers everything from the mathematics of free will to the likelihood of there being a robot war in the future (see, it’s not just me). There are a […]

Stalkers and assassins of the US President

I’ve just found this fascinating 2006 article by a consultant psychiatrist to the US Secret Service that classifies the types of stalkers and assassins that have troubled the President of the United States. The piece, by psychiatry professor Robert Phillips, reviews past classifications of presidential harassers and cases from the literature to produce a list […]

Tooling up the body

Not Exactly Rocket Science covers an intriguing study that provides further evidence for the theory that the brain treats tools as temporary body parts. Using tools has lots of interesting effects on our perception. In one of my favourite studies, psychologist Dennis Proffitt found that we perceive distances as shorter when we have a tool […]

Into the ancient mind

Newsweek has an interesting critique of evolutionary psychology that tackles some of the main areas of contention. The article claims to question the whole field of evolutionary psychology but really only deals with specific studies, largely because has quite a limited view of the approach and is strangely wed to biological determinism. From the biological […]

March of the robot t-shirts

Dapper British t-shirt blog Hide Your Arms have collected 101 of the best robot t-shirts available anywhere on the net. It has every type of robot reference you can possibly think of and there are some genuinely beautiful garments hidden amid the torrent of mechanised irony. Enjoy them while you can because when the robot […]

Hushed thunder

ABC Radio National has a fantastic programme on El, a 27 year old woman with selective mutism – essentially a speaking phobia that enforces an anxiety-driven silence with everyone except her family. The documentary is deeply poignant but has several moments of sublime irony that really stopped me in my tracks. El stopped speaking to […]

Out of control decision-making

I’ve just noticed that TED has recently put another talk online by the entertaining and thought-provoking behavioural economist Dan Ariely where he discusses why our feeling of being in total control of our decision-making may be false. We mentioned an earlier and similarly interesting TED talk on the psychology of cheating previously, but this one […]

A phantom head

I’ve just been reminded of one of the most remarkable case studies in the psychiatric literature, of a patient who believed he had two heads and who seriously injured himself with a gunshot wound trying to remove the ‘second’ head. He described a second head on his shoulder. He believed that the head belonged to […]

2009-06-19 Spike activity

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news: PsychCentral awards its 2009 Online Mental Health Journalism Awards. Mind Hacks makes the list. Still no word from Shakira. The wonderful Dr Mezmer’s Psychopedia of Bad Psychology is released as a full free edition. The Economist on a study finding that repeating positive statements […]

Unloaded dice

A new edition of the beautifully produced RadioLab has just hit the airwires with an excellent programme on the science of randomness. The hour long science trip largely focusses on how we make sense of random or unpredictable events, from coincidences to statistical white noise. There’s a wonderful part where the presenters visit statistician Deborah […]

The holy grail of military psychiatry

Neuron Culture covers a new study on predictors of PTSD in deployed American combat troops. Predicting whether a soldier will break down through combat has been one of the Holy Grails of military psychiatry and the impressive results of this study suggest that this may be getting closer. World War One was the crucible of […]

Possession and trance

Neuroanthropology has collected videos of trance states in religious rituals, where intense movement, music and mental involvement lead to profoundly altered states of consciousness. Trance is a fundamental part of many (probably most) religions. Although it is typically associated in the popular mind with ‘voodoo’ it’s also common in many Christian denominations. Indeed, there’s a […]

Alien lipstick syndrome

I’ve just found this remarkable case study of a woman with an unpredictable form of ‘alien hand syndrome’ that was triggered when she had a seizure. The syndrome, where you lose conscious control of one of your hands while it carries out unbidden actions, is normally associated with permanent damage to the brain, often in […]

In vino veritas

Wine Psychology is a curious new website dedicated to the pleasures, analysis and cognitive science of our favourite grape-based booze. It’s been launched by psychologist Miles Thomas who has written a number of successful articles on the psychology of wine tasting, including one we featured last year. The website’s blog looks the most promising, and […]

Don’t stand so close to me

There’s a neat study in Perception finding that listening to music through headphones warps our comfort zone of interpersonal space. The researchers asked participants to walk up to another person from various angles until they reached the edge of their comfort zone. Without them knowing the researchers measured the distance, and this was compared between […]


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