Monthly Archives: May 2011

It came from the Amazon

The Guardian has a curious report about “the latest drug to emerge from South America” which is supposedly “twice as powerful as crack cocaine at just a fraction of the price”. What the journalist doesn’t know, I suspect, is that this is a common form of cocaine paste that is widely known around the region. […]

A reflection of the greatest

A surprising study has just appeared in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology about whether narcissists realise what others think about their egotistical self-image. Narcissism is a trait where people are more concerned about themselves than others and tend to think they are better and more important than their peers. This has often been […]

Human nature is a moving target

I just caught up with a fascinating discussion on ABC Radio’s Future Tense on what artificial intelligence showdowns like the Turing Test tell us about the evolution of human nature. It sounds like a bit of clichéd subject but the interview with author Brian Christian is full of novel, thoughtful insights into how human nature […]

A mind of our own

The New York Times has an amazing article on conjoined twins Tatiana and Krista Hogan who share part of their brains and seem to be aware of each others’ minds at work. It’s a long read but worth it both for how the piece captures both the scientific interest in the possibility of shared consciousness […]

Empathy in shades of grey

Scientific American has an insightful and beautifully written article asking whether it is possible to make sense of empathy using brain scans. Neuroscience studies are increasingly focusing on what science calls ‘high level’ concepts and what those outside the field might just call ‘vague’. Empathy is probably not in the ‘vague’ category although it is […]

Face to face with psychopathy

The Guardian has a curious article where journalist Jon Ronson investigates what it means to be a psychopath and meets a patient diagnosed with psychopathy at one of Britain’s highest security psychiatric hospitals. In popular culture, ‘psychopath’ refers to a crazed killer but in psychiatry it refers to someone with anti-social personality traits along with […]

The psychology of the end of the world

I’ve written an article for Slate on tomorrow’s predicted doomsday and how believers cope with the non-arrival of the apocalypse. Although many people are familiar with When Prophecy Fails, a book by psychologist Leon Festinger that charted how a flying saucer cult dealt with the non-arrival of the Armageddon, it’s less widely know that it […]

Grief, mental illness and psychiatry’s sad refrain

Scientific American covers a coming shake-up in how grief is defined in relation to mental illness as the forthcoming DSM-5 diagnostic manual aims to radically redefine how mourning is treated by mental health professionals. It’s worth saying that the DSM-5 has yet to be finalised and will not appear until 2013 but the changes to […]

The testing of Alan Turing

The Providentia blog has a brilliant three part series on Alan Turing, focusing on how his homosexuality was treated at the time both as a mental illness and a criminal act. As with all of the posts of Providentia it’s wonderfully written and captures the sad circumstances leading to the death of one of the […]

X-rated neuroanatomy

Slate has a curious article on how many of the anatomical names for parts of the brain are based on the nether-regions of the human body or bawdy allusions to sex. Régis Olry, of the University of Quebec, and Duane Haines, of the University of Mississippi, brought the whole sordid tale to light in an […]

Is free will spent by a knock-out drug?

I’ve got a brief article in Wired UK about whether the knock-out drug burundanga could help us understand the neuroscience of free will. The drug is actually an extract of plants from the brugmansia family with the active ingredient being scopolamine. The urban legend goes that when you’ve been spiked with the drug you do […]

An anatomy of The Anatomy of Melacholy

BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time tackled one of the most important books in the history of psychology, psychiatry and literature – Robert Burton’s classic 17th Century text The Anatomy of Melancholy. Although the book is commonly referred to by its abbreviated title it actually has the far more wonderful name of ‘The Anatomy of […]

The return of BBC All in the Mind

I’ve just realised the latest series of BBC Radio 4’s excellent All in the Mind has started and has been running some fantastic shows. So far, the programmes have covered everything from portable baby labs to psychopaths to mirror-touch synaesthesia where people feel the sensations that they see in other people. If you want the […]

Diamond in the rough

We’ve covered a few cases of people swallowing unusual things before, although this is probably one of the strangest cases we’ve yet come across in the medical literature. A diamond thief was caught by a security guard during a burglary and needed a free hand to fight him off, so he swallowed the precious stone. […]

Burying your head in the sand

A video of people making beautiful anatomically correct sand sculptures of the brain on the bank of the River Thames in London. The slightly surreal event was organised by neuroscientist Zarinah Agnew. Why? I have no idea. But why not?   Link to brain sand sculpture video.

The psychology of the dead in the Amazon

Anthropologist Anne Christine Taylor lived with the Achuar people of the Northern Amazon and described the traditional beliefs about how death causes specific psychological impairments to the deceased although their presence can be experienced through drug-induced visions that form a part of a boy’s voyage into manhood. In an article on the mourning practices of […]


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