Monthly Archives: June 2010

Fake smiles can be done with feeling

The ‘Duchenne smile’ is thought to be a largely unfakeable expression of pleasure that involves a signature ‘crinkling around the eyes’ caused by automatic muscles. A new study covered by PsyBlog pours cold water on this popular idea by reporting that most people can produce undetectable fake smiles that involve these supposedly involuntary movements. It […]

Junk brothers

The fascinating story of the Collyer Brothers, the ‘Hermits of Harlem, is recounted in an article the Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law. The two brothers became famous owing to them living in a chaotic home in New York City, although both met a tragic end as a result of their […]

Mickey’s amphetamine adventure

Drug information site Erowid recently posted a 1951 Disney comic where Mickey Mouse and Goofy take speed. In the strip, ‘Mickey Mouse and the Medicine Man’, Mickey and Goofy discover a new medicine called ‘Peppo’ which is clearly meant to represent amphetamine. Their enthusiasm for the chemical pick-me-up leads them to become salesman for the […]

Brain sand

Taken from the Wikipedia entry on ‘brain sand’: Corpora arenacea (or brain sand) are calcified structures in the pineal gland and other areas of the brain such as the choroid plexus. Older organisms have numerous corpora arenacea, whose function, if any, is unknown. Concentrations of “brain sand” increase with age, so the pineal gland becomes […]

Treating people like animals

The New York Times has an important article about how animal cruelty is being increasingly recognised as part of a wider pattern of behaviour including anti-social violence and criminality. Cruelty to animals has been implicitly recognised as being a sign of behavioural problems in children for some time as it forms part of the diagnosis […]

Take two there theres and call me in the morning

A curious definition from the Concise Medical Dictionary from Oxford University Press: pithiatism (noun) the treatment of certain disorders by persuading the patient that all is well.

Forced smile

Neurology journal Brain had a wide-ranging review of the book ‘Insomnia: A Cultural History’ last year which has this wonderful part about Darwin, Duchenne and how he electrocuted the face to study emotional expression. In the same era and acting on the same beliefs, many experiments were done to study the effect of electricity on […]

2010-06-11 Spike activity

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news: A new study finds that superstitions improve performance by increasing confidence. Some excellent coverage from Not Exactly Rocket Science and from Bad Science. Time magazine reports the counter-stereotype finding that men are more susceptible to emotional ups and downs after relationship break-ups than women. […]

A lucid insight into consciousness

New Scientist has an intriguing article on how the study of people who have been trained to have lucid dreams may help us understand the neuroscience of consciousness. Lucid dreams are where the sleeper becomes aware that they are dreaming inside the dream. My first thought was that the combination of these and consciousness sounded […]

Shamanic transit and the prehistoric hard-on

If you were ever wondering about the representation of the penis in prehistoric art and what this reveals about “the meaning of erection in Paleolithic minds”, wonder no more. The study has already been done. Male genital representation in paleolithic art: erection and circumcision before history. Urology. 2009 Jul;74(1):10-4. Angulo JC, Garc√≠a-D√≠ez M. OBJECTIVES: To […]

Winners wanted: lucky bastards need not apply

A delightful experiment in the Journal of Gambling Studies demonstrates how susceptible we are to social persuasion to the point where even our established cognitive biases yield to the influence of others. The illusion of control is the tendency to believe that we have influence over uncontrollable events. It has been well demonstrated in gamblers […]

Threatened psychopath articles suddenly appear

We recently reported on an academic article that criticised one of the most popular methods for diagnosing psychopaths and which had remained unpublished for four years due to legal threats by the designers of the interview. The article was by researchers Jennifer Skeem and David Cooke who had criticised the PCL-R, a diagnostic scale by […]

An attack of Open Mole

Stress, anxiety and depression are common terms used in the West to describe ways in which we become mentally distressed. We tend to think these are universal ways of experiencing mental strain but they are not. In fact, the words cannot be directly translated into many of the world’s languages because the concepts do not […]

Set adrift on mental bliss

Sleeping people are difficult to engage but easy to monitor, meaning that we know a great deal about what happens in the body and brain during our restful hours but little about the actual psychology of slumber. One of the most interesting stages is the transition into sleep, where we can sometimes detect that our […]

The Rat or the Couch

The picture is a wonderful kid’s drawing scribbled on the pages of the sole book on scientific psychology in Medell√≠n’s centre for Lacanian psychoanalysis. Jacques Lacan was a French psychiatrist who created his own branch of psychoanalysis through an extended post-modernist riff on Freud. I recently discovered I live in a barrio once famous for […]

Neuroplasticity is a dirty word

The latest refrain in popular science is that ‘your brain is plastic’, that experience has the potential to ‘rewire’ your brain, and that many previous mysteries in cognitive science can be explained by ‘neuroplasticity’. What they don’t tell you is that these phrases are virtually meaningless. Neuroplasticity sounds very technical, but there is no accepted […]


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