Monthly Archives: January 2010

Animal mind reading

RadioLab has a fantastic programme on what animals can understand about the minds of humans, their own species, and other creatures. When we gaze into the eyes of our beloved pets, can we ever really know what they‚Äôre thinking? Is it naive to assume they might be experiencing something close to the emotions we feel? […]

The hazards of injecting toad venom

The Journal of Forensic Sciences has an interesting, if not tragic, case of a death after the injection of toad extract. The injector apparently though he was injecting MDMA (‘escstasy’) but the substance he was sold turned out to contain lethal levels of bufotenine, a toad venom, which is occasionally used as a hallucinogenic drug. […]

American madness

The New York Times has a thought-provoking article on culture and mental illness, arguing that the American view of the disordered mind has been exported around the world and has influenced how other cultures actually experience mental distress. It’s probably worth saying that none of the examples are solely ‘American’, although clearly it has had […]

The temperance pill

New Scientist has an excellent article looking at current attempts to develop a pill that will treat alcoholism or help people reduce their cravings for booze. It’s a really well-rounded piece that captures the problems with the ‘cure in a pill’ method as well as the neuroscience behind attempts to alter the chemistry of craving […]

The case of the haunted scrotum

This is quite possibly the oddest example of an illusory face I have ever discovered. Seeing meaningful information in meaningless data is a psychological effect known as pareidolia or apophenia and this is an example that was published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine in 1996: The case of the haunted scrotum […]

Motivated reality

Neurophilosophy has a great piece on a new study finding that the perception of distance to an object was altered by how much someone wanted it, with a greater desire leading the people in the study to perceive the object as closer. This a summary of one of the several experiments that demonstrated the effect: […]

The Year in Robotics

MIT’s online magazine Technology Review has a good short article reviewing the year in robotics, giving the highlights of the latest developments from 2009. The piece has loads of links so you can read up, and sometimes see, the robots in action and it looks like giving robots ‘social skills’ to interact with humans has […]

2010-01-08 Spike activity

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news: New Scientist looks at a new theory of synaesthesia that goes beyond the ‘crossed senses’ idea. Looking younger may be a matter of looking less masculine, according to a study covered by the Psychology of Beauty blog. The Psych Files show interviews psychologist Scott […]

The evolution of projectile weapons

American Scientist has a fascinating podcast on the evolution of the human capacity for killing at a distance – in other words, the cultural evolution of projectile weapons. The talk is by anthropologist Steven Churchill who looks at what motivated the development of projectile weapons – initially rocks, slings and spears and – and what […]

The chopstick: reloaded

The New York Daily News reports on a 14-month old Chinese boy who survived brain surgery to remove a chopstick that accidentally ended up in his brain after entering through the nose. If your jaw has dropped, amazed at such a freaky and unusual accident, you may comfortably close your mouth – there is a […]

A clarion call for a decade of disorder

This week’s Nature has an excellent editorial calling for a greater focus on the science of mental illness and summarising the challenges facing psychology and neuroscience in tackling these complex conditions. It’s generally a very well-informed piece, but it does make one widely repeated blunder in the last sentence of this paragraph: Frustratingly, the effectiveness […]


The Fortean Times has a delightful article about a period at the turn of the 20th century where there was a brief but intense interest in the possibility of ‘the psychic project¬≠ion of images directly onto film’. This was sort of thing was much less of a fringe interest then and it drew in some […]

Not your usual memento

Probably not everyone’s definition of what might be included in the “personal effects” of a recently departed loved one. From a brief article in Las Cruces Sun-News: ALBUQUERQUE – Members of a New Mexico family are suing an Espanola funeral home after their grandmother’s brain was sent home in a bag of personal effects given […]

Fighting fatigue

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) makes people angry. Not so much the condition itself, which is associated with diffuse body pain, persistent tiredness and loss of concentration, but the science around it. After an American team announced last year that they had found a novel virus in 68 of 101 CFS patients, a UK team just […]

Psychiatric drug combining on the rise

A study just released in the Archives of General Psychiatry has found that the prescription of multiple psychiatric drugs to individual patients has increased greatly in recent years despite their being little hard evidence about the benefits and risks of combining medication. The practice of prescribing multiple drugs is called ‘polypharmacy‘ and usually occurs because […]

Tough on trauma, tough on the causes of trauma

Clinical psychologist and US Congressman Tim Murphy has volunteered to treat soldiers traumatised by the war he voted for. From January’s APA Monitor magazine: Clinical child psychologist Rep. Tim Murphy (R-Pa.) has consistently voted to continue America’s military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan while appreciating the deepening psychological toll the repeated deployments and combat experiences […]


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