Monthly Archives: August 2009

The dark matter of the brain

Discover Magazine has an excellent Carl Zimmer article on glial cells. They make up the majority of the brain’s volume but they get relatively little attention from the neuroscience community who would rather focus on the seemingly more lively neurons. There’s a traditional format for these stories, that says that we used to think that […]

Empty glass, empty promise

There’s a neat study in the August edition of the Journal of Abnormal Psychology on how alcohol can make us feel fully committed to goals we know we have no chance of achieving. Alcohol breeds empty goal commitments J Abnorm Psychol. 2009 Aug;118(3):623-33. Sevincer AT, Oettingen G. According to alcohol-myopia theory (C. M. Steele & […]

Footage of neurosurgery from 1933

The Wellcome Trust is putting its archive of medical films online which includes some fascinating footage of some 1933 neurosurgery to remove a tumour from the frontal lobe. The film says the tumour is a tuberculoma. While we typically link tumours to cancer, the name also refers to other types of abnormal growths. In this […]

Weaponized drugs: armed and delirous

Today’s Nature has a fantastic article about how psychoactive drugs are being developed into a new generation of chemical weapons design to have specific psychological effects on the enemy. This has long been part of military research (see the famous and unintentionally hilarious footage of British troops being given LSD presumably from the 1950s) but […]

The vibratory chair for Parkinson’s disease

There’s a curious historical snippet in the latest edition of Neurology about how the famous French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot designed a shaking chair for patients with Parkinson’s disease after they reported sleeping better after a train or carriage ride. The most obvious symptom of Parkinson’s disease is tremor and name first given to the condition, […]

Booze memory of waiters in Buenos Aires

The Guardian’s Improbable Research column covers a clever study on the incredible memory of waiters in Buenos Aires who can take orders from a large table of customers without writing anything down. Instead of coming up with some abstract computerised lab task, the researchers tested their drink ordering skills and then swapped places to test […]

No one expects Encephalon 74

Edition the 74th of the Encephalon psychology and neuroscience writing carnival has just hit the net, this time hosted by Neuronarrative with a Monty Python twist. A couple of my favourites include one from Neurospeculation on a clever clapping test for hemispatial neglect that originated from class of high school students and another from Sharp […]

The chill of the bass

I’ve just found this wonderful short paper on emotional peaks and ‘chills down the spine’ in response to music. I didn’t realise the area had been investigated and apparently there is a small literature on these most sublime of experiences. The paper is brief, accessible and is available online as a pdf but the abstract […]

Standing together against combat trauma

There is probably no more hostile environment to mental health treatment than the military. Recently, a new treatment method has been widely adopted by the UK Armed Forces and, perhaps for the first time in history, officers are requesting it in droves. In major wars since the 20th century more fighters have been lost to […]

Sulci against the head bangers

One of the mysteries of the human brain concerns why the surface is wrinkled into ‘ridges’ and ‘trenches’. We covered some of the theories a couple of weeks ago but a new study in the Journal of Biomechanics suggests a completely different take – the rippled surface protects against the effects of head injury. The […]

Time to face the muzak

Newsweek has an interesting article about the science behind the infuriating muzak that plays while you’re on hold in a telephone queue. The article made me realise what probably should have been obvious, that telephone queuing systems are a multi-million dollar industry and psychologists have been employed to research the best way to stop you […]

Desperately seeking something

Slate magazine has an article on “how the brain hard-wires us to love Google, Twitter, and texting” which has become remarkably popular but buys into the dopamine myth and misapplies it to the nebulous concept of ‘information’. The piece is, on the surface, quite appealing because it seems to give a more sophisticated account of […]

On the extremes of eminent reasonableness

I’ve just come across a brilliant 1966 sketch about a psychiatrist from Peter Cook and Dudley Moore’s classic comedy series Not Only… But Also. Peter Cook plays a psychiatrist who takes his reasonable acceptance of his patient’s behaviour to the extreme with Dudley Moore as his comic foil. It’s actually a parody of a technique […]

2009-08-14 Spike activity

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news: Why do ethicists steal more books than other people? ABC Radio National’s Philosopher’s Zone talks to Eric Schwitzgebel about his brilliant philosophical research project. The New York Times has an article on delusions of identity after brain injury. Doesn’t say very much except they […]

The archaeology of language

ABC Radio National’s Ockham’s Razor has a short but thoroughly fascinating programme on how human pre-history and cultural change can be uncovered through the study of languages. It’s an eye-opening insight into how patterns in our language are relics of our past and how they can be a window into the interplay of societies. The […]

Seeing what we want to see in our friends

The Boston Globe has an interesting piece on how bad we are at judging our friends’ beliefs, opinions and values but why we tend to assume they match with our own. The article covers various examples of this effect, but it mentions a finding from a shortly to be published study finding that the most […]


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