Monthly Archives: August 2009

Mercy machines

ABC Radio National’s excellent All in the Mind has just broadcast a two part programme on robots, morality and the edges of human well-being from the bedroom to the battlefield. The first programme focuses mainly on domestic robots while the second tackles military AI systems, which, as we discussed recently, are so common as to […]

Internet addiction storm breaks in China

For several years ‘internet addiction’ has been promoted by the Chinese government as a serious mental illness affecting large numbers of young people, but in recent months it has started to pull back, seemingly due to the growth of a widespread, poorly regulated and abusive system of internet addiction ‘treatment’ centres. Firstly, let me say […]

Interrogation Inc.

The New York Times has a profile of the two psychologists who developed the US ‘war on terror’ interrogations that were widely condemned as torture. The piece makes an interesting update to the 2007 Vanity Fair article that first fingered Bruce Jessen and James Mitchell, and has compiled additional information about the pair from interviews […]

An anthropologist as the President’s mother

The New York Times has an interesting piece about the work of anthropologist Ann Dunham Soetoro, most famous for being the mother of President Barack Obama. The article is by Yale anthropologist Michael Dove who knew and worked with Obama’s mother before she died in 1995. Dr. Soetoro‚Äôs most sustained academic effort was her 1,043-page […]

Happiness is not universal

The latest edition of the journal Emotion has a fascinating study comparing common concepts of happiness and unhappiness between Americans and Japanese people. While we tend to think that ‘happiness’ is a universal concept, it turns out that we think of it in quite culturally specific ways. Happiness and unhappiness in east and west: Themes […]

Redheads more sensitive to pain

The New York Times Well blog covers the growing amount of research on how the same genes that give rise to red hair also make red heads more sensitive to pain. This has knock-on effects for doctors and dentists in that greater levels of pain killers are needed for red haired patients: Researchers believe redheads […]

Yawning radiators

There are two intriguing cases studies in the latest edition of the journal Sleep and Breathing of people with persistent yawning. Normally, recurrent yawning might be put down to tiredness, but in these cases, both women slept well. They could, however, reduce their yawning by cooling themselves – suggesting that yawning and heat regulation may […]

Revisting the ‘Hawthorne effect’

The Hawthorne Effect is famous for showing that people will change their behaviour when observed, or that any change increases productivity, or perhaps that experimenters always influence their participants. It has become one of those legends of psychology that turns out to be not quite what we believe. It’s the subject of the second edition […]

Bang goes the bus top and still no tickle

Last night, I walked past a bus stop adorned with a poster advertising the new BBC science programme Bang Goes the Theory asking “Is it possible to tickle yourself?” and giving a number to text for an explanation. Fantastic, I thought. Neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore’s work on the role of action prediction in the sensory attenuation […]

2009-08-07 Spike activity

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news: I’ve just discovered the wonders of the Mental Nurse blog, which has a fantastically insightful piece on the dark cultural effects of nurse training. Harpers Magazine has six questions for Oliver Sacks on music and the brain. There’s a simple but genius demonstration of […]

How long is a severed head conscious for?

In 1905 a French doctor wanted to see how long consciousness remained in a severed head and so did a rather morbid experiment at the execution of a beheaded prisoner. The remarkable report is linked from the Wikipedia page on the guillotine. The observations were apparently made by a Dr Beaurieux who watched the execution […]

Sleep freeze

The August edition of The Psychologist has a fascinating article on the awareness during sleep paralysis, a state where we wake but can’t move and sometimes experience intense hallucinations. This form of awake sleep paralysis is remarkably common and has been explained throughout the world with a diverse and colourful range of cultural explanations. In […]

A nose for trouble

A selection of objects described in the medical literature that have ended up in the brain via the nose: A chopstick. A ball-point pen. A flying wire fragment. A plastic stick. A snooker cue. A miniature fencing foil. A gear stick.

Through gritted teeth

There’s an excellent article in the Boston Globe about ‘grit’ – the ability to stick with a task and persevere over a long period even when the going gets tough. The article riffs on the work of psychologist Angela Duckworth who became interested in what attributes outside of intelligence contribute to success. ‚ÄúI‚Äôd bet that […]

The whole body nervous system scan is here

The New England Journal of Medicine has a brilliant research paper describing the first MRI scan capable of imaging the whole nervous system, plus a little something extra. The technology is based on diffusion MRI, a technique which takes advantage of how water molecules move to separate out nerves from the rest of the body. […]

In the trenches

The Boston Globe has a short but interesting article on cerebral folding – the science of why the brain is wrinkled up like a damp walnut. The wrinkled surface of the brain folds into ‘ridges’ known as gyri and the ‘trenches’ known as sulci. This rippled landscape forms perhaps the most recognisable aspect of the […]


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