Monthly Archives: January 2013

Violating the prime directive

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an in-depth article that explores the controversy over social priming, which suggest that our behaviour can be changed by exposing us to certain concepts. The most famous study in the genre was led by psychologist John Bargh, who is the focus of the story and who found that people […]

Culture of the digital playground

Anthropologist Gabriella Coleman has spent several years researching hacker culture, hanging out with coders, geeks and cypherpunks to understand the beliefs and boundaries of the community they inhabit. If you want a flavour of what Coleman has been working on her interview in Wired is a good place to start but the best place to […]

Lives Scientific

The BBC Radio 4 programme The Life Scientific has just broadcast programmes on two of the most interesting cognitive scientists in the UK – developmental psychologist Annette Karmiloff-Smith and robotocist Noel Sharkey.     Karmiloff-Smith is a psychologist who has made an important contribution both to the deep theory of infant brain development and has […]

In the middle of a conflict

One of the things I quickly discovered while working for Médecins Sans Frontières in Colombia, was that while there is lots of research on people who have experienced armed conflict in the past, there was very little information on the mental health of people living in active conflict zones. With MSF colleagues, we’ve just published […]

2013-01-25 Spike activity

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news: The interesting concept of a ‘possession trance disorder’ diagnosis is discussed by Neurocritic. BBC News video reports on how Brazil is considering a law to forcibly remove crack addicts from the street into rehab. Goodbye PDD-NOS, hello Social Communication Disorder. A sneaked-out DSM-5 change […]

A retrospective editing of consciousness

A new study has found that conscious experience can be altered retrospectively, so that experience of visual information can be changed almost half a second later by manipulating where our attention is drawn. The research, led by cognitive scientist Claire Sergent, involved asking people to stare at a centre point of a screen with two […]

BBC Column: Are we naturally good or bad?

My BBC Future column from last week. The original is here. I started out trying to write about research using economic games with apes and monkeys but I got so bogged down in the literature I switched to this neat experiment instead. Ed Yong is a better man than me and wrote a brilliant piece […]

Back to the old school

New York Magazine has a fantastic article on the psychological impact of high school and how it affects you through your adult life. It’s a fascinating subject because so much of developmental psychology has focused on childhood and yet our adolescent school years are probably the most formative for our view of the social world. […]

Owner of Broca’s area identified

A patient who could only say the word ‘tan’ after suffering brain damage became one of the most important cases in the history of neuroscience. But the identity of the famously monosyllabic man has only just been revealed. Broca’s area was one of the first brain areas identified with a specific function after 19th Century […]

2012-01-18 Spike activity

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news: Yes, it’s the return of Spike Activity. As I no longer spend time in the jungle (no not that one) and 140 characters are just not enough for respectable levels of sarcasm, the weekly roundup is back. Cross-dressing meth priest liked sex in rectory, […]

A brain of warring neurons

A fascinating talk from philosopher of mind Daniel Dennett where he refutes his earlier claims that neurons can be thought of like transistors in a computational machine that produces the mind. This section is particularly striking: The question is, what happens to your ideas about computational architecture when you think of individual neurons not as […]

The search for a genetic killer

The medical examiner for the Sandy Hook shooting has requested a genetic analysis of killer Adam Lanza. Following this, a powerful editorial in the science magazine Nature has condemned the move suggesting it is “misguided and could lead to dangerous stigmatization.” But the request to analyse the DNA of Lanza is just the latest in […]

More than just bumps

Phrenology was the practice of reading someone’s personality from the bumps on their head based on the idea that the shape of the brain affected the shape of the skull. Contemporary neuroscience lectures often have a part where the professor puts up an image of a phrenology head and says “although this was a rediculous […]

Moving through the waters of human attention

The New Yorker has an amazing article on pickpocket and illusionist Apollo Robbins that is packed with gems about attention, misdirection and sleight-of-hand. Robbins is a self-taught but dedicated aficionado of human consciousness and has learnt the many ways in which our attention can be manipulated. The article discusses how Robbins does many of his […]

Intoxicating tendencies

The latest edition of BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed is a special on ‘intoxication’ looking at the uses, abuses and social function of drugs through the ages. It’s a fascinating programme in itself but it is peppered with vivid excerpts from how drugs, altered states and drug users have been described historically and are discussed […]

Fragments of identity

The Atlantic has a sublime article on identity, memory and amnesia – written as a reflection on meeting a friend who has lost much of his memory due to an advancing brain tumour. The author is neuropsychologist Daniel Levitin who is better known for his work on the cognitive science of music, but here he […]


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