Monthly Archives: June 2010

Peering into the mind and brain

Neuroscientist Bradley Voytek discusses how brain damage and neurosurgery can be windows into the functioning of the mind in an engaging TEDxBerkeley talk. As well as being remarkably well-explained, the talk has a personal current running through it as Voytek reflects on his own motivations for becoming involved in brain research after experiencing his grandfather […]

99 problems but the rich ‘aint one

I’ve just picked up on this thought-provoking 2008 article from the Boston Globe on a psychological theory of poverty that suggests that traditional economic models just don’t apply to the poor. The article riffs on an apparently under-recognised book by philosopher Charles Karelis called The Persistence of Poverty: Why the Economics of the Well-off Can’t […]

The tools of language and the craft of understanding

Stanford Magazine has a fascinating article on how speakers of different languages think differently about the world. The piece focuses on the work of psychologist Lera Boroditsky and covers many of her completely intriguing studies about how the conceptual tools embedded within languages shape how we think. “In English,” she says, moving her hand toward […]

A cortical atlas of ghostly sensations

Frontiers in Neuroscience has an amazing scientific article that has collected all the studies that have recorded what happens when the brain is electrically stimulated in living patients. It’s like a travel guide to the unnaturally active brain. As you might expect, science generally takes a dim view of researchers cracking open people’s skulls just […]

Street football smarts

The successes of the South American teams in the World Cup have led to some speculation that years of street football may be responsible for the fast paced dexterity that powers the Latino players. The photo is of some lads playing street football in the Manrique barrio of Medell√≠n, Colombia. I took the photo a […]

HM’s memory lives on

ABC Radio National’s All in the Mind has a fantastic programme that looks back on how amnesic Patient HM was central to our understanding of human memory and how the study his post-mortem brain will continue to illuminate the neuroscience of remembering. HM became densely amnesic after experimental neurosurgery was performed to treat his otherwise […]

Missing the big picture in the faces of others

RadioLab has an interesting discussion between neurologist Oliver Sacks and artist Chuck Close about their experience of having prosopagnosia – the inability to recognise people by their faces. The condition is often called ‘face blindness’ but the discussion gives a great illustration of why the label is so inaccurate because Chuck Close is famous for […]

Rebranding PSYOPS

Wired Danger Room reports that the US Military are thinking of changing the name of their Psychological Operations or PSYOPS units to ‘Military Information Support and/to Operations’ that has the forgettable acronym MISO. Apparently the suggestion has not gone down well with the (dare we say) image conscious PSYOPS troops. Perhaps rather worryingly, one self-identified […]

I feel what you mean

Not Exactly Rocket Science covers a fascinating study on how touching different objects influences how we perceive the world – based on abstract associations between things like weight and seriousness. Weight is linked to importance, so that people carrying heavy objects deem interview candidates as more serious and social problems as more pressing. Texture is […]

2010-06-25 Spike activity

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news: Remember the study we covered on how a headache pill can ease the pain of social rejection? The Neurocritic has a skeptical look at the details. The Atlantic has a fascinating article on witchcraft and the legal system in Central Africa. The ‘Bloggers Behind […]

Military brain interfaces for sci-fi warfare

The latest edition of Neurosurgical Focus has an interesting article on the use of brain-computer interfaces in the military. One part talks about funded US military brain-computer interface projects and it seems someone in the rank and file has seen Avatar one too many times. Alongside therapeutic interventions, rapid advances in BCI technologies will also […]

Coming out of left field

The Health Editor of The Independent has written a baffling article where he seems to confuse transcranial magnetic stimulation, a technique used in cognitive neuroscience to induce current in the brain through the use of large electromagnets, and dodgy ‘magnet therapy’ which involves wearing magnetic pendants that are advertised as curing various ailments. Transcranial magnetic […]

Against narrativity

‘We understand ourselves through stories’ is a common, even fashionable, sentiment. Not everybody agrees. Philosopher Galen Strawson‘s 2004 article “Against Narrativity” is a both-barrels attack on this idea. Strawson identifies two theories which he wishes to emphatically reject. The psychological Narrativity thesis is the idea that it is unavoidable human nature to experience their lives […]

Holidays through rose tinted sunglasses

The Boston Globe has a counter-intuitive piece on the psychology of holidays, noting, among other things, that overall enjoyment is not what makes a break likely to feel better and that we often enjoy planning the vacation more than taking it. The article speculatively (but reasonably) applies findings from the behavioural economics of pleasure but […]

Cycling for the Insane

The delightful conclusion to an 1890 article on ‘Cycling for the Insane’ published in The Journal of Mental Science: For most of us the exquisite loveliness and delight of a fine summer’s day have a special charm. The very life is luxury. The air is full of sound and sunshine, of the song of birds, […]

The scientific method – lego robots edition

At the University of Sheffield we’ve been teaching psychology using lego robots. This isn’t as peculiar as it might sound. You can learn a lot about your theories by trying to build them into a machine or computer programme. But while teaching the course, I discovered that you can also learn a lot about the […]


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