Monthly Archives: May 2010

Don’t throw the baby out with the cortisol

I have a bullshit switch. It gets triggered when I hear certain phrases. ‘Neuroplasticity’ is one, ‘hemisphere’ is another and ‘raises dopamine’ is a regular button pusher. That’s not to say people can’t use these phrases while talking perfect sense, but I find it useful that they put me on my guard. Most recently, I’ve […]

The ups and downs of smouldering talent

In Touched with Fire psychologist Kay Redfield Jamison argued that history’s great artists were more likely to have experienced mood problems and especially the ups and down of ‘manic depression’ that fuelled their intense creativity. The idea is attractive, although her book relied on a case by case interpretation of often long-dead figures. Nevertheless, a […]

Lost letter days

One of the most delightful ways of testing social opinion has got to be the ‘lost letter’ technique, where researchers ‘lose’ paid up letters addressed to various controversial organisations to see how many get dropped back in the post box. A new study, led by psychologist Tracey Witte, used exactly this technique and suggests that […]

Clutter blindness

NPR has an interesting interview on the phenomenon of compulsive hoarding where people will be almost unable to throw out used items and will collect mountains of clutter in their houses to the point where they can no longer see the walls. The discussion is with psychologists and hoarding researchers Randy Frost and Gail Steketee […]

Carrot junky

I originally thought that this might be one of the traditionally light-hearted articles about medical problems in fictional characters published around Christmas but it appeared in a October 1996 edition of the Australia and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. I don’t have access to the full text of the article so I can’t say for […]

The sexploitation psychosis

Sex Madness was a curious 1938 sexploitation film that claimed to warn of the dangers of syphilis but was really an excuse to show risqu√© sex scenes that would have otherwise been banned by the film censors of the time. As you might expect, watching the film now it seems remarkable that anyone would see […]

Eight minutes of incompetence

ABC Radio National’s Science Show has a fantastic short segment on the ‘unskilled and unaware of it’ effect, also known as the Dunning-Kruger effect, where people with low levels of ability in a certain field vastly over-rate their talents because they lack the skills to judge their own competence. It is my second favourite cognitive […]

Ego tripping the Freud fantastic

I just got sent this fantastic article from The Guardian in 2006 where neuropsychologist Paul Broks discusses Freud’s legacy in light of the burgeoning brain sciences. As always, Broks writes brilliantly, and the piece starts with a wryly observed domestic scene. One Sunday morning, when he was four years old, my son climbed into bed […]

2010-05-07 Spike activity

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news: Wired Science covers a rather nasty case of the consequences of long-term laughing gas abuse. Washing your hands reduces cognitive dissonance according to a new study covered by the Brainstorm blog. Scientific American has another one of Jesse Bering’s excellent columns – this time […]

An online museum of mental health and turmoil

The UK’s Science Museum has a special online exhibit about the history of mental health and illness that is packed full of fascinating photos and stories. This rather unpleasant photo from the ‘mental institutions’ section particularly caught my eye. It is labelled “Elderly man in restraint chair, from a series of photographs taken of patients […]

It’s hot in here

The Neuroskeptic blog has done a fantastic analysis of the popularity of different areas of the brain among neuroscientists by looking at how many scientific papers have been published on them since 1985. It’s like Vogue magazine’s hot styles, but for neurobiology. I’ll leave you to check out the wonderful graphs, but here’s the punchline. […]

Gilles de la Tourette’s strange story

As well being one of the most influential neurologists in the history of medicine, Georges Gilles de la Tourette, led a very colourful life. The journal Clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery has an engaging article about his work on hypnotism and how he became involved in a debate over the possible criminal uses of hypnotism. At […]

The moral intuitions of babies

The New York Times has a fascinating article by psychologist Paul Bloom on how babies may have a far more developed sense of justice and moral behaviour than we assume. The piece starts by discussing the difficulties of doing psychology experiments on babies and goes on to explain how these problems have been overcome in […]

fMRI lie detection and the Wonder Woman problem

Wired Science has covered a legal case where fMRI brain scan ‘lie detection’ data was offered as evidence. While the lawyer was initially hopeful, it was ruled inadmissible by the judge on the basis that judgements of witness credibility by the jury should be based on their impression of the witness. It not clear from […]

The slow disappearance of Agatha Christie

RadioLab discusses how the final novels of Agatha Christie subtly reflected the early stages of dementia as her written vocabulary and her ability to use the nuances of language slowly began to diminish. The discussion is based on a linguistic analysis of her books by English professor Ian Lancashire who found in his study [pdf] […]

Paradise learnt

The journal Memory has a remarkable case study of a man who began memorising the whole of John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost at the age of 58. The researchers tested him at age 74 and found they could pick any part of the 10,565 line poem and he could successfully remember the next 10 […]


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