Monthly Archives: July 2011

Not Spike Activity

I often get emails asking why we don’t do Spike Activity posts any more. The simple answer is they take time and I now have a somewhat more unpredictable job where I am frequently ‘on the road’. So until I return to a more predictable pace of life, I’m afraid they’re going to be taking […]

Interfacing with the brain

ABC Radio National’s All in the Mind has just broadcast a fantastic edition on neural prosthetics – the science of creating artificial limbs that are controlled through direct interfaces with the nervous system. The programme looks at the some of the cutting-edge research motivated by the US Military’s need to replace lots of limbs blown […]

Patients and power struggles

Medical History has a brief but good article on the political wranglings and scientific battles between psychiatry, psychoanalysis and clinical psychology in 20th Century America. It’s by history of psychiatry ninja (not his official title) Andrew Scull, who tracks the events behind the waxing and waning of mental health fashions and how they have played […]

Musket to a brain surgeon

Phineas Gage is famous for having an iron bar being blown through his frontal lobes. Although his case is usually described as the first of its kind, this month’s edition of The Psychologist has a surprising article on many lesser known cases from the 1800s, usually due to mishaps with early firearms. The piece is […]

Diagnostic dilemma, innit bruv

I’ve just been directed to a wonderful 2007 case study from the British Medical Journal that reports how middle aged doctors can mistake street slang for symptoms of schizophrenia. Detailed and repeated assessment of [the patient’s] mental state found a normal affect, no delusions, hallucinations, or catatonia, and no cognitive dysfunction. His speech, however, was […]

The princess who swallowed a glass piano

The Glass Piano is a wonderful BBC Radio 3 programme about Princess Alexandra of Bavaria who thought she had swallowed a glass piano. The programme was created by writer and poet Deborah Levy who “considers the true story of Princess Alexandra Amelie of Bavaria, 1826-1875 who at the age of 23 was observed awkwardly walking […]

The scent of the past

The Boston Globe has a fascinating piece on the growing movement to incorporate smells into the historical record and the technology that is allowing us to ‘record’ scents. To put smells in a historical context is to add a whole dimension to how we understand the world. Boston’s Back Bay, for instance, has at different […]

Writing on cocaine, literally

The New York Times reviews a new book about the early enthusiasm for cocaine among the medical community and particularly how it affected two of the world’s most influential doctors. The book is called ‘An Anatomy of Addiction’ and looks at how psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and pioneering surgeon William Halsted became heavily dependent on the […]

Subtle word change affects election participation

A subtle word change to refer to the self on a pre-election survey seems to significantly boost the number of voters in national elections. A new study led by psychologist Christopher Bryan and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences investigated how the sense of self motivates the public act of voting. […]

Google, memory and the damp drawers Olympics

If pant-wetting were a sport, the recent study on how memory adjusts to the constant availability of online information would have launched the damp drawers Olympics. ‘Poor memory? Blame Google’ claimed The Guardian. ‘Internet search engines cause poor memory, scientists claim’ said The Telegraph. ‘Google turning us into forgetful morons’ wibbled The Register. If you […]

The buried story of Los 33

The Guardian has an insightful and moving article on how the thirty three Chilean miners and their families have coped with their post-disaster world, many under the beguiling spotlight of the global media. The article looks at the largely unknown story of the how the men’s families dealt with the days leading up to their […]

Antipsychotics and the profit panacea

Aljazeera has an interesting if not worrying article about the fact that antipsychotic drugs have become “the single top-selling therapeutic class of prescription drugs in the United States, surpassing drugs used to treat high cholesterol and acid reflux.” The huge rise in prescriptions has been sparked by the availability of a relatively new class of […]

Book review: Crazy Like Us

‘Cultures become particularly vulnerable to new beliefs about the mind and madness particularly during times of social anxiety or discord’, notes Ethan Watters in this compelling book. Watters sees social discord as making cultures ‘vulnerable’ to new beliefs, rather than simply ‘receptive’, and this sentence captures both the depth of insight in Crazy Like Us […]

Two weeks of hell, forty years ago

It’s been forty years since the Stanford prison experiment and the university’s alumni magazine has asked the participants and researchers for their reflections on their role in the notorious events of 1971. It makes for a fascinating read as it not only gets Zimbardo to comment on the eventually out-of-control study but also talks to […]

Couch of desire

‘Sleaze’ books were cheap exploitation paperbacks written in the 1950s and sold to anyone with 50 cents to spare. A popular subgenre was psychiatrist’s couch bodice ripper that revealed the secrets of sexually frustrated patients or the lurid downfall of predatory doctors. They often turn up on eBay searches or can be tracked down through […]

They’re Made Out of Meat!

“They’re Made Out of Meat” is a short story by Terry Bisson. It’s a great riff on the improbability of the human situation, and particularly relevant to psychologists (e.g. “So … what does the thinking?”) The full text is here. The story has its own wikipedia page, and there’s a YouTube film here. Now, for […]


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