Category Archives: Remembering

A memory of shifting sands

The New York Review of Books has a reflective piece by Oliver Sacks on the swirling mists of memory and how false recall has affected authors and artists throughout history. [Science] is startling to realize that some of our most cherished memories may never have happened—or may have happened to someone else. I suspect that […]

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 […]

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 […]

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 […]

Rita Levi-Montalcini has left the building

Nobel-prize winning neuroscientist Rita Levi-Montalcini has passed away at the age of 103, just a few months after publishing her last scientific study. She won the Nobel Prize for the discovery of nerve growth factor along with her colleague Stanley Cohen and continued worked well past the time when most people would have retired. Her […]

Darwin’s asylum

Shrewsbury School is one of the oldest public schools in England and it makes much of being the institution that schooled Charles Darwin and introduced him to science. While the famous naturalist was certainly a pupil there he probably never set foot inside the building that the famous school now occupies because during Darwin’s time […]

A very psychological chocolate

A familiar sight amid the Christmas supermarket shelves is the box of Black Magic chocolates. It’s a classic product that’s been familiar to British shoppers since the 1930s but less well known is the fact that it was entirely designed by psychologists. The chocolates were produced by Rowntree’s who were a pioneer in using empirical […]

Relax ladies, I’m a scientist

A while ago I wrote a column in The Psychologist on why psychologists don’t do participant observation research – a type of data gathering where you immerse yourself in the activities of those you want to study. In response, psychologist James Hartley wrote in and mentioned a remarkable study from 1938 where researchers hid under […]

A devil of a headache

A man suffering from headache in the form of devils. A coloured etching by noted Victorian cartoonist George Cruikshank, 1835. An image from the Wellcome Collection catalogue. via @ChirurgeonsAppr

The relative consuming disease

The Global Mail has an amazing story about how the last treks to find cases of kuru – a cannabalism-related brain disease – have been completed. Kuru was passed on by eating the brains of dead relatives – a long finished tradition of the Fore people in Papua New Guinea – and it infected new […]

Letter from the mental states of America

Alistair Cooke presented the longest running radio show in history. The BBC’s Letter from America was a weekly report, where Cooke reflected on life and news in the United States. It ran for just shy of 58 years. Despite the massive ‘psychologisation’ of society during the years Cooke was broadcasting, from 1946 to 2004 no […]

Interviews with interrogators

Author Dominic Streatfeild interviewed many trained military, intelligence and police interrogators for his book Brainwash and I’ve just realised he’s put the full text of the interviews online. They’re in equal measures fascinating, disturbing and sometimes worryingly relevant, as the ‘war on terror’ still relies on many of the same physical coercion techniques used in […]

Let slip the coins of war

A fascinating short excerpt from a new study that estimates war and population change in Ancient Rome from finds of stashed coins. It turns out that the coin hoards are a surprisingly good guide to human behaviour: The reasons for this correlation are not hard to fathom. People tend to hide their valuables in times […]

The luxury of hindsight

“It’s no secret” says the promotional material “that several professional footballers live in Repton Park”, presumably unaware that one of London’s most luxurious housing developments used to be a psychiatric hospital. Repton Park is the new name for what was originally called the London County Lunatic Asylum and was eventually renamed Claybury Hospital before the […]

Growing up in Broadmoor

Novelist Patrick McGrath talks about his childhood as the son of a psychiatrist growing up in the grounds of Broadmoor – one of Britain’s highest security psychiatric hospitals – in an article for Intelligent Life. Broadmoor Hospital has a special and undeserved place in the British psyche – stereotyped as ‘the real-life equivalent of Arkham […]

The inner object

The Lancet has a wonderful article on how medicine has understood how strange objects have ended up in the body and how this has influenced our understanding of the body and behaviour. The piece notes that cases where people have swallowed or inserted foreign bodies into themselves have been important for surgery and even anatomy […]

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