Author Archives: vaughanbell

A misdiagnosis of trauma in Ancient Babylon

Despite the news reports, researchers probably haven’t discovered a mention of ‘PTSD’ from 1300BC Mesopotamia. The claim is likely due to a rather rough interpretation of Ancient Babylonian texts but it also reflects a curious interest in trying to find modern psychiatric diagnoses in the past, which tells us more about our own clinical insecurities […]

From the machine

A new film, Ex Machina, is released in the UK tomorrow and it is quite possibly one of the best sci-fi films of recent times and probably the best film about consciousness and artificial intelligence ever made. The movie revolves around startup geek turned tech corp billionaire Nathan who has created the artificially conscious android […]

pwned by a self-learning AI

Backchannel has a fascinating profile of DeepMind founder Demis Hassabis which although an interesting read in itself, has a link to a brief, barely mentioned study which may herald a quiet revolution in artificial intelligence. The paper (available online as a pdf) is entitled “Playing Atari with Deep Reinforcement Learning” and describes an AI system […]

A love beyond illusions

Articles on people’s experience of the altered states of madness often fall into similar types: tragedy, revelation or redemption. Very few do what a wonderful article in Pacific Standard manage: give an account of how a young couple learn to live with psychosis. It’s an interesting piece because it’s not an account of how someone […]

Spike activity 09-01-2015

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news: Game theorists crack poker according to a fascinating report from Nature. First nuclear war, now poker. Whatever next! Harvard Business Review has a genuinely interesting piece on the psychology of office politics. Child mental health services have been secretly cut by £50m according to […]

The scan says we add fries and call it a special

Marketing magazine has an interview with the marketing director of KFC who explains why he thinks neuroscience holds the key to selling deep-fried junk food. “Marketing as a whole is undergoing transformation,” he says. “We now know through neuroscience how people’s brains work and what affects their decision-making. So what we’re trying to do is […]

Excellent NPR Invisibilia finally hits the wires

A sublime new radio show on mind, brain and behaviour has launched today. It’s called Invisibilia and is both profound and brilliant. It’s produced by ex-Radiolab alumni Lulu Miller and radio journalist Alix Spiegel – responsible for some of the best mind and brain material on the radio in the last decade. The first episode […]

Bringing us closer to the blueprints of the brain

I’ve got a piece in today’s Observer about the amazing science of doing functional brain imaging and behavioural studies with babies while they are still in the womb to see the earliest stages of neurocognitive development. Brain development during pregnancy is key for future health, which is why it gets checked so thoroughly during prenatal […]

A new year with an old friend

I’ve just found a curious article in the scientific journal Clinical Anatomy which reprints a Victorian story called ‘Celebrating new year in Bart’s dissecting room’ where the corpses come to life. It finishes with some interesting observations about the psychological impact of dissecting a dead body as a rite of passage for medical students. The […]

Spike activity 19-12-2014

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news: MIT Tech Review has an interesting piece about ‘troll hunters’ – a new wave of internet abuse vigilantes. ABC All in the Mind has a good edition asking whether mirror neurons have been oversold. Spoiler alert: yes, they have. The New York Magazine’s Science […]

Economics against sexual violence

PBS has an article on ‘How economic theory can help stop sexual assault’ which despite its unappealing title is actually a genuinely thought-provoking piece on how game theory and social norms marketing could help prosecute and prevent sexual violence. Both approaches look at how people’s behaviour is shaped by their perception of other people’s beliefs […]

The celebrity analysis that killed celebrity analysis

Most ‘psy’ professionals are banned by their codes of conduct from conducting ‘celebrity analysis’ and commenting on the mental state of specific individuals in the media. This is a sensible guideline but I didn’t realise it was triggered by a specific event. Publicly commenting on a celebrity’s psychological state is bad form. If you’ve worked […]

Towards a nuanced view of mental distress

In the latest edition of The Psychologist I’m involved in a debate with John Cromby about whether our understanding of mental illness is mired in the past. He thinks it is, I think it isn’t, and we kick off from there. The article is readable online with a free registration but I’ve put the unrestricted […]

Spike activity 12-12-2014

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news: The new trailer for upcoming Pixar movie Inside Out is very funny and has a remarkably accurate depiction of brain function. Neurocritic covers hipster neuroscience. Is the ‘bilingual advantage’ in cognitive performance a result of publication bias? Maybe, suggests the Science of Us. The […]

Snake oil salesmen selling torture

The US Government has just released its report on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, aptly branded the “torture report”, which is available online as a pdf. It makes for appalling reading but sheds light on the role of two psychologists in the creation and running of what turned out to be genuinely counter-productive ‘enhanced […]

You won’t find the data in my pants

The journal contexts has an excellent article on the long history of exploring the sex lives of sex researchers as a veiled attempt to discredit their work. …these stories suggest a troubling pattern: they tend to focus on researchers’ alleged sexual proclivities, spinning them as deviant motivations which compromise the research. For example, James Miller’s […]

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