Monthly Archives: August 2011

Got any Charlie?

A brief scene from the 1936 Charlie Chaplin classic Modern Times where he accidentally eats cocaine hidden in a salt shaker by a fellow jail inmate. The smuggled “nose powder” makes Chaplin go a bit strange and causes him to accidentally prevent a jailbreak, making him a hero. In fact, the episode is a central […]

It’s pronoun or never

Scientific American has a fascinating interview with psychologist James Pennebaker​ about how your use of pronouns can reveal a surprising amount about you. Much to my surprise, I soon discovered that the ways people used pronouns in their essays predicted whose health would improve the most. Specifically, those people who benefited the most from writing […]

Your face in every flower

Billie Holiday sings about the phenomenon of seeing meaningful patterns in vague or non-connected visual information in her well-known track The Very Thought of You Scientifically, these effects are known as pareidolia or apophenia. However, the song notes that the perceptual biases are induced by love and, of course, ‘The Very Thought of You’. I […]

Witch on a hallucinogenic flying broomstick

I’ve just found this fascinating discussion on the psychopharmacology of ‘witches ointments’, that supposedly allowed 16th century witches to ‘fly’. It’s from a fantastic 1998 Anesthesiology article about atropine containing plants, like belladona, deadly nightshade and hemlock, and their effects. De Laguna was not the sole commentator about the relationship of mind‐altering drugs and witchcraft […]

False confession fishing in the lab

We’ve covered false confessions and how surprisingly common they are several times before on Mind Hacks but a new article from The Economist updates us on the latest lab studies. DNA crime investigators The Innocence Project have discovered that about 25% of DNA exonerations have involved the accused making a false confession at the time […]

When explaining becomes a sin

As the cacophony of politicians and commentators replaces that of the police sirens, look out for the particularly shrill voice of those who condemn as evil anyone with an alternative explanation for the looting than theirs. For an example, take the Daily Mail headline for Tuesday, which reads “To blame the cuts is immoral and […]

Riot psychology

In the coming weeks we can expect to see politicians and pundits lining up to give us their smash-and-grab clichés for the recent urban riots in the UK. They’ll undoubtedly give a warm welcome to our old friends economic decay, disengaged youth and opportunistic crime, and those of a more psychological persuasion might name-drop ‘deindividuation’ […]

Psychology and its national styles

An interesting paragraph from a 2005 article on the history of psychological concepts. It tracks how different styles of psychology emerged in different countries depending on the social and political problems active at the time. In Britain, there was a noteworthy interest in individual differences, the distribution of these differences in the population and the […]

Inner visions of seven dimensional space

I’ve just found an amazing 2002 article [pdf] from the American Mathematical Society about blind mathematicians. I was surprised to learn that the majority work in geometry, supposedly the most ‘visual’ discipline, and fascinated to learn that they generally believe the experience of sight puts people at a disadvantage because it locks us into a […]

Flatline movement

I’ve just found another video of the Lazarus sign, the spinal reflex that triggers an arm raising and crossing movement in recently brain dead patients. We’ve covered the mechanism behind the somewhat disconcerting movement before, and have noted an earlier video, but this one seems to have been uploaded quite recently. The movement is triggered […]

Personality profile of a magical being

A 1993 study on the personality of Dungeons and Dragons players finds kinda what you’d expect. The personality of fantasy game players British Journal of Psychology Volume 84, Issue 4, pages 505–509, November 1993 Neil A. Douse, I. C. McManus Players of a fantasy Play-By-Mail game were compared with matched controls on personality measures of […]

Slogans trigger resistance while logos slip through

Language Log covers a fascinating study that found that commercial logos unconsciously encourage brand-compliant behaviour but slogans do the reverse and seem to trigger automatic resistance. It seems that while slogans are read as being deliberately persuasive, logos slip under our advertising radar and trigger a series of brain-friendly associations built up by the company. […]

The science of hot

I’ve just listened to a fantastic edition of the BBC programme Am I Normal? on libido and sex drive that covers pretty much everything you might want to know about wanting sex. Unfortunately, because the BBC isn’t normal, if you want to download the podcast you have to go to a different page or grab […]

The brain melting internet

Susan Greenfield has been wibbling to the media again about how the internet is melting the brains of young children. Quite frankly, I’ve become fed up with discussing the evidence that refutes such outlandish claims but The Lay Scientist has a brilliant parody that manages to catch the main thrust behind her argument. I thought […]


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