Monthly Archives: April 2012

BBC Future column: earworms

From a couple of weeks ago, my column from BBC Future, about everyday brain quirks (as I’ve mentioned previously). Thanks to Maria Panagiotidi for help with this one. “Earworms”, some people call them. Songs that get stuck in your head and go round and round, sometimes for days, sometimes for months. For no apparent reason […]

Is the brain the centre of your universe?

The Observer has a fantastic debate between neuroscientists David Eagleman and Raymond Tallis about how much brain science tells us about free will and the unconscious. It’s a wonderful pairing as Eagleman is a broad-thinking wonderboy of neuroscience while Tallis is a veteran street-fighter of brain debates. The main point of contention revlves around whether […]

The delightful science of laughter

Neuroscientist Sophie Scott gave a fantastic talk on the science of laughter for a recent TEDx event that you can now watch online. Talks on the science of humour are famously humourless (usually made all the more dire by the desperate inclusion of some not very funny ‘funny cartoons’) but this discussion of laughter is […]

Mind Changers back for another series

BBC Radio 4′s brilliant psychology series Mind Changers has made a comeback and has a new season looking at some of the biggest ideas in cognitive science. It has kicked off with programmes on South African psychologist Joseph Wolpe and the treatment of anxiety as well as an edition on Julian Rotter and the idea […]

Snakes on a brain

The latest Journal of Neuroscience features a study on the neuroscience behind Akiyoshi Kitaoka’s famouse Rotating Snakes illusion and to celebrate they’re made a ‘Rotating Brain’ illusion for the front cover. This type of illusion, often called a peripheral drift illusion, was thought to occur due to slow drifting eye movements but this new study […]

Don’t tase my lobe

A case report in Forensic Science International describes a man who had a taser dart penetate his skull and damage his frontal lobes after getting in a drunken confrontation with police. Curiously, the man was unaware he had a taser dart in his brain and only went to hospital after he got home and noticed […]

A new symbol for epilepsy in Chinese

The Chinese character for epilepsy has been changed to avoid the inaccuracies and stigma associated with the previous label which suggested links to madness and, more unusually, animals. The new name, which looks like this just makes reference to the brain although the story of how the original name got its meaning is quite fascinating […]

BBC Future column: Personal superstitions

I’m writing a fortnightly column for BBC Future, about everyday brain quirks (as I’ve mentioned previously). My marvellous editor has told me I can repost the columns here, with a three day delay. There’s a bit of a backlog, including Why can smells unlock memories?, Why you’re bad at names and good at faces, and […]

Less thinking biases in a foreign tongue

A fascinating study just published in Psychological Science has found that solving problems in a foreign language reduces cognitive biases. The Foreign-Language Effect: Thinking in a Foreign Tongue Reduces Decision Biases Psychological Science, Published online before print, April 18, 2012 Boaz Keysar, Sayuri L. Hayakawa, Sun Gyu An Would you make the same decisions in […]

The lie detector paradox

I’ve got an article in today’s Observer about the unreliability of ‘lie detectors’ but why people still tend to spill the beans when wired up to them. It turns out that polygraphs have a sort of placebo effect, where people are more truthful because they believe that they work. In fact, studies show that people […]

How Ghostwatch haunted psychiatry

In 1992, the BBC broadcast Ghostwatch, one of the most controversial shows in television history and one that has had a curious and unexpected effect on the course of psychiatry. The programme was introduced as a live report into a haunted house but in reality, it was fiction. This is now a common plot device, […]

I predict a riot (based on a single study)

A group of black bloc researchers fed up with the lack of interest in replicating psychology studies has set up a strike force called the The Reproducibility Project that will recreate all 2008 studies from three major cognitive science journals. That sound you can hear. That’s shit hitting the fan. The Chronicle of Higher Education […]

An antidote to post-natal venom

Today’s Observer has a remarkably vicious article about post-natal depression in fathers that is quite breathtaking in both its ignorance and its venom: “One notices more talk of postnatal depression in fathers. I use the word “talk” advisedly, scientific proof still being in short supply. Were hormonal levels tested? Was postpartum bruising measured? How about […]

City flow

Slate has a wonderful article on the science of city walking that examines how pedestrians behave when moving through the city and how our behaviour is being captured to model the flow of people through the urban landscape. The piece is full of subtle observations of city psychology: Block by block, they emerge: The way […]

Hallucinating fairy tales

Two cases of hallucinated fairy tales from the medical literature. In this case [pdf] from The Bulletin of the Yamaguchi Medical School, a ballerina presents with magical hallucinations during an episode of psychosis: …she felt as if she had become the heroine of “The Sleeping Beauty” and this feeling started manifesting itself in her daily […]

Works like magic

The New York Times has a short but thought-provoking piece on the benefits of supersition and magical thinking. This part particularly caught my eye: For instance, in one study led by the psychologist Lysann Damisch of the University of Cologne, subjects were handed a golf ball, and half of them were told that the ball […]

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