Fantasy friends

While most children believe in Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny at some point, researchers are now starting to discover that children’s fantasy worlds are more subtle than previously suspected, and may even last into adulthood.

An in-depth article from Science News Online examines a child’s understanding of fantasy characters and how imagination is being used to help children cope with traumatic and painful medical procedures.

One surprising finding is that although one third of 7-year olds seem to have imaginary friends, similar experiences can last into adulthood. Some professions may even rely on this experience to help their work.

Psychologist Marjorie Taylor interviewed 50 fiction writers ranging from an award-winning novelist to scribblers who had never been published. Of those authors, 46 provided vivid examples of made-up characters who had taken over the job of composing their life stories and who sometimes resisted their creators’ attempts to control the narrative. Some fictional folk wandered around in the writers’ houses or otherwise inhabited their everyday world.

Link to article from Science News Online.
Previously on MindHacks: Imaginary friends are linked to positive psychological development in children.

More cartoon fun

comich.jpgFurther to the dinosaurs Vaughan speaks of below, there is a Flash-based dynamic comic* at Neuroscience for Kids which is a nice intro to the entire nervous system, with Sam and his friendly neurons. In addition, there are also suggestions for a number of neuroscience-based fun lesson plans, like synaptic tag.

Sam’s brainy adventure: link

*No, a cartoon this does not make. Although action within panels, rather than dynamic transitions such as Scott McCloud’s The Right Number (click where it says to preview the work, unfortunately the full deal does cost an imposing 50c to view), does start to push the boundaries somewhat. But speech bubbles and panels maketh the medium – at least, McCloud would argue that.

Banishing depression with exercise

This week is Mental Health Action Week, and a major attempt is being made to highlight the beneficial effects of exercise in treating depression.

Depression is commonly treated with antidepressant drugs, and for some people, these may be the most effective treatment.

For mild or moderate depression however, regular excercise is known to work as well as medication in some people.

Exercise is also known to complement the use of antidepressant drugs, may prevent further relapses, and could help counter the slightly increased risk of heart problems recently linked to depression.

Although doing exercise may seem daunting during a period of depression, a gentle start is a good way to ease yourself into the habit.

If you live in the UK, you may be able to get referred to a tailored exercise programme, prescribed by your GP.

Link to more information from

Tyrannosaurus reflex

In a wonderful comic strip, dinosaurs explain the neural mechanism of why locking the hands together can release the knee jerk reflex.

dinosaur.jpgIt’s not often the finer points of neurological examination are explained by cartoon dinosaurs, but may this be the first in a long line of comic book / neuroscience fusion spectaculars.

Link to dinosaur / neurophysiology comic strip (via
Link to information about the reflex examination.

Turn on, tune in, spin out

lcd_monitor.jpgPsychiatrist Edward Hallowell studies attention deficit disorder (ADD) and is becoming increasingly concerned that using information technology is causing an acquired form of the condition.

He argues that the constant task-switching required when using the likes of mobile phones, email and instant messaging can lead to an effect he has called ‘Attention Deficit Trait’ or ADT.

This shares some of the same features of ADD, such as impaired concentration, restlessness and increased distraction, but seems to improve when individuals are away from the workplace.

In contrast, ADD is usually thought to be a relatively fixed condition, presumably present from birth, although not diagnosable until about 6 years of age.

As outlined in a recent Scientific American article (PDF), it is known that simple television viewing can have both short and long term effects on the mind, including impairments in basic cognitive functioning.

Cynics might suggest that the same parallels might not apply to other technology and this might be Hallowell’s attempt to make a name for himself in the lucrative world of business psychology.

It is unlikely however, that information technology is entirely neutral with regards to psychological function, although there is relatively little hard evidence to judge how positive or negative these effects might be.

Link to interview with Dr Halliwell on ADT.
Link to summary from
PDF of Scientific American article on the psychological effects of television.

2005-03-23 Spike activity

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news, with internet radio easter special:

An archive of old advertisements for hypnotism books and training guides.

Researchers argue Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was inspired by the hallucinogenic effects of ergot.

Scientists link gene to dyslexia (again).

A specialist in the psychology of trauma recounts his own experience of being in a near-fatal car crash and his view on the psychological effects of post-trauma stress.

New York Times article on people who have a compelling desire to have a limb amputated.

Recent work in the field of neuroeconomics (the neuropsychology of economic decision making) is challenging traditonal notions of rationality.

People tend to fancy others with differing facial features, but trust those with similar features.

Terri Schiavo case highlights lack of knowledge in certain areas of neurology.

25% of US adults have received mental health care over a two-year period.

Article from Psychology Today on the co-option of psychological terms into everyday language.

Easter radio special

A few things to relax with over the easter holiday… Mind and brain radio programmes from around the world, broadcast over the last week and archived for your listening pleasure:
BBC Radio 4 had a series of five 15-minute programmes on the work of Sigmund Freud.

An edition of Check Up, also on Radio 4, tackles obsessive compulsive disorder or OCD.

And one more from Radio 4… This week’s edition of Material World discusses the neurobiology of body clocks and circadian rhythms.

ABC Radio National edition of All in the Mind discusses the neuroscience of movement and dance (transcript, realaudio).

Another Radio National programme, Ockham’s Razor, takes a critical look at mental illness and society (transcript, realaudio).

Scientists who decoded movement signals from an awake human with brain-implanted electrodes are interviewed on the SETI Radio Network’s science show Are we alone ? (mp3).

Do you really want to quit?

I have a question about dialog boxes on my computer. This is something I mentioned last night, and I’d appreciate some help.

Below is a picture of a well-assembled dialog box. UI folks say that dialog box options should be verbs, not nouns, but that’s not important here. (ie, you should have options “Don’t save” and “Save” for the question “Save this document?” instead of the buttons “OK” and “Cancel.”) I’m going to talk about why it’s well-assembled, but first:

Mac trivia! While the Mac (actually, the Lisa, but the Lisa informed the Mac) was being designed, the “OK” button did used to be an action: it used to be labeled “Do It.” But the space between the two words was too small, and the users read the button label as “dolt” and got kind of offended and wouldn’t push it. True fact!


Back to that dialog box…

Continue reading “Do you really want to quit?”