Category Archives: Hearing and Language

From under-hearing to ultra-hearing

The BBC World Service has a fascinating radio programme on hearing loss and how it’s spurring the move towards auditory enhancement technology for everybody. The documentary, called Hack My Hearing, was created by science writer Frank Swain who is suffering hearing loss. He explores different forms of hearing disturbance and looks at technologies that aim […]

Listening for the voices of the dead

I’ve got an article in The Observer about our tendency to perceive meaning where there is none and how this inadvertently popped up in one of the strangest episodes in the history of psychology. The article discuss the work of psychologist Konstantīns Raudive who began to believe that he could hear the voices of the […]

With every language, a personality?

The Medieval Emperor Charlemagne famously said that “to have another language is to possess a second soul” but the idea that we express different personality traits when we speak another language has usually been left as anecdote. But The Economist takes this a step further and examines the science behind this idea – which may […]

The deafening silence

All silences are not equal, some seem quieter than others. Why? It’s all to do with the way our brains adapt to the world around us, as Tom Stafford explains A “deafening silence” is a striking absence of noise, so profound that it seems to have its own quality. Objectively it is impossible for one […]

The Mystery of The Cuckoo’s Calling

One of the computational linguists who applied forensic text analysis to JK Rowling’s books to uncover her as the author of The Cuckoo’s Calling describes the science behind his investigation in a post for Language Log. It seems Rowling’s authorship was originally leaked by her law firm and a UK newspaper turned to two academics […]

A world of swearing

The Boston Globe has a short but fascinating interview on the history of swearing where author Melissa Mohr describes how the meaning of the act of swearing has changed over time. IDEAS: Are there other old curses that 21st-century people would be surprised to hear about? MOHR: Because [bad words] were mostly religious in the […]

The uncertain dance of the spoken word

Stanford Magazine has a wonderful article by a writer who relies on lip-reading and experiences speech through this subtle movement-based language. Rachel Kolb skilfully describes how this works, and more importantly, feels. The part where she describes how she experiences accents is just amazing: Accents are a visible tang on people’s lips. Witnessing someone with […]

Deaf police to monitor security cameras in Mexico

Deaf police officers have been recruited to monitor security cameras in the Mexican city of Oaxaca because of their ‘heightened visual abilities’. There’s a brief and somewhat clunky English-language news article from the local paper that describes the project: Ignacio Villalobos Carranza, Deputy Secretary for the Ministry of Public Security of Oaxaca, said most of […]

An unplanned post-mortem

My latest Beyond Boundaries column for The Psychologist explores the space between he we study suicide and the experience of families affected by it: Suicide is often considered a silencing, but for many it is only the beginning of the conversation. A common approach to understand those who have ended their own lives is the […]

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 […]

Sound trip

A fascinating excerpt about a hallucinogenic drug called DiPT that only causes hearing distortions – from p310 of the book Hallucinations: Research and Practice: A member of the tryptamine chemical family, diisopropyltryptamine (DiPT) is a fascinating substance because, unlike most hallucinogens, its effect are predominantly auditory. It is also probably less sensitive than other hallucinogens […]

Buried words

I’ve just found a fantastic video that explains the speech-impairing disorder aphasia to children of all ages. Its called ‘The Treasure Hunt’ and was created by speech pathologist Shiree Heath and it went on to win first place in the Society for Neuroscience’s video competition. The video combines a cartoon treasure hunt with recordings of […]

Mixing up a decade of All in the Mind

The amazing ABC Radio National programme All in the Mind is ten years old and is celebrating by mixing up some specially themed editions from its extensive archives. First up is the psychology and neuroscience of sex that tackles everything from gender myths to the neuroscience of female orgasm. The following edition, to hit the […]

I am yours for 2 coppers

I’ve just found a wonderful 1973 study on the psychoanalysis of graffiti that discusses how unconscious desires might be expressed through public scrawlings. It has a completely charming table that compares graffiti from A.D. 79 Pompeii with 1960’s Los Angeles to demonstrate the similarity of themes across the centuries.     The author concludes that […]

Ten years of the language gene that wasn’t

It’s now ten years since mutations in the FOXP2 gene were linked to language problems, which led to lots of overblown headlines about a ‘language gene’, which it isn’t. The actual science is no less interesting, however, and Discover Magazine has a fantastic article that looks back on the last decade since the gene’s discovery […]

The secret life of the inner voice

Don’t miss the latest RadioLab short, a programme about a guy whose world has been unevenly slowed down. Psychological fascinating but also a beautiful piece of storytelling. When Andy first met Kohn, he saw a college freshman in a wheelchair who moved slow and talked slow. But it only took one conversation for Andy to […]

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