Nine-way love

rose_girl.jpgResearchers claim to have identified nine different types of love. In reality, it is more likely that they have simply classified love in nine different ways.

For the curious however, the types include:

The “Cupid’s dart” variety, in which couples – think Antony and Cleopatra or even Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity – are swept away by blind passion.

Hedonistic love, concerned with personal and perhaps fleeting pleasure, the theme of much Hollywood film noir.

Love as the ultimate connection: an essentially romantic view.

I’m not sure whether it is the reporter or the researchers who are getting carried away there.

Call me a cynic, but I think that maybe they’ve just watched too many movies. Be thankful it wasn’t Dawson’s Creek.

Link to article ‘How do I love thee? Which of the nine ways?’

2005-06-17 Spike activity

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:


RedNova reviews Plotkin’s book Evolutionary Thought in Psychology.

There’s been a recent flurry of reinterest in the effect of the cat parasite toxoplasma gondii on human personality – see also PDF of related SciAm article.

Cornell lawyers discuss the legality of using brain scans in suspect interrogation (via BoingBoing).

Kid’s asthma may be linked to mothers’ depression.

Buddhist monks can control perceptual rivalry suggesting they have exceptional control over certain mind and brain processes.

Deep brain stimulation (a brain ‘pacemaker’) is being trialled to help untreatable depression (via PsyBlog).

Discussions and deliberations continue about the classification of mental disorders.

Radio programme The Connection discusses the ethics of creating consciousness – including Marvin Minsky discussing IBM’s new Blue Brain Project.

Electronic voice phenomena: A history


The Fortean Times has published an online article about EVP, or electronic voice phenomena, the experience of hearing ‘voices’ in the background of sound recordings.

The author of the piece has experienced EVP and believes the sounds to be spirits of the dead trying to communicate through the static.

Whether you believe this explanation (or think that EVP is more likely due to apophenia) the article remains a fascinating description of the history of the phenomena, most associated with parapsychologist Konstantin Raudive.

Link to article ‘Distant voices’.
Link to wikipedia entry on EVP.

NewSci on autism, free will and homo florensis

ns20050618.jpgThis week’s New Scientist has a slew of articles relevant to the mind, brain and behaviour.

The most notable is on the developing ‘autism rights’ movement, which aims to reframe autism and Asperger’s syndrome as a normal (if perhaps, less common) human variation.

This is championed by groups such as Aspies for Freedom, but has caused controversy, particularly with carers of people with autism who are more severely disabled by their condition.

New Scientist also tackles the ongoing implications of the discovery of the remains of homo florensis, the small humanoid nicknamed the ‘hobbit’.

Finally, there is an article on whether the universe is deterministic, i.e. purely ‘mechanical’ in nature, and whether this is compatible with notions of free will.

Sadly, none of these are available online, although occasionally they do appear in the days following publication. If any become available, we’ll be sure to link to them here.

Link to New Scientist table of contents.

The cognitive basis of good and evil

Michael Shermer, who writes the Skeptic column for Scientific American, and who is normally right on the mark has this to say about the concepts of Good and Evil:

‘The myth of good and evil is grounded in Christian theology and the belief that such forces exist independently of their carriers,’

You can read the full article – byline ‘It is too simple to blame evil people for horrifying acts of terror’ – <a href="
“>here. I don’t want to disagree with Shermer’s conclusions, but just nit-pick on this specific point. In effect, I think i totally disagree with the above statement – let’s call it the ‘Cultural Invention of Evil Theory’. Rather, and readers of Mind Hacks might have guessed, I believe seeing Good and Evil in the world is the result of a basis cognitive process which we we all share.

The myth of good and evil arises from a psychological bias we all have, and which in the social psychology biz is called the ‘the fundamental attribution error’. This is simply that when looking at other people’s behaviour we tend to over-emphasise inherent characteristics (eg “he didn’t do the washing up because he’s lazy”), while when looking at our own we tend to over-emphasise situational variables (“i didn’t do the washing up because i had to go to work and do lots of marking”). Why this exists is probably because although it is often wrong, it is an adaptive way to think about the causal world. When trying to understand your own behaviour it is easiest to look at the things that vary (ie the situation) and try and control that, but when looking at other people’s behaviour the major variable is which other person you are looking at. It doesn’t make it right, but it is just easier to see other people as Good, or Evil, or Lazy, or Clever than it is to take full account of the complexity of both their situation and their personality.

Surely that is sufficient reason to explain the persistence of notions of good and evil, and also helps avoid the problem of how non-Christian cultures come also to use the concepts. The cultural background just flavours a universal, a universal which arises from the information-mechanics of our cognitive apparatus.

Consciousness as a life / death decision maker

Slate has an insightful article on the possible legal consequences of developments in the neuroscience of consciousness, including implications for issues such abortion and right-to-die cases.

It also discusses some of the history and disparities between how different groups define life and death.

Religious conservatives want the law to define life as the existence of a single living cell containing human DNA. Yet their Schiavo campaign bolstered both the acceptance of consciousness as the boundary between life and death and the authority of neuroscience to measure it.

Link to article ‘The Consciometer’ via Metafilter.

Minsky slams modern AI

minsky.jpgMarvin Minsky, one of the founders of artificial intelligence research, has slammed modern AI as “brain dead”.

Quoted in Wired magazine, he lambasted the last 30 years of work in the area, particularly the focus on creating AI driven autonomous robots.

However, the article finishes on a throwaway comment about the ‘moving goal posts’ problem in the perception of artificial intelligence, that belies much of the problem with how AI is perceived.

It is illustrated by the success of chess computers. In the 60s, it was said that computers will never beat people at chess, because that requires intelligence and computers aren’t capable of intelligent thought.

When computers regularly started winning matches in the 80s, it was claimed that playing chess wasn’t a test of real intelligence because computers could do it.

As there is no widely accepted definition for intelligence, this is often an example of the No true Scotsman fallacy.

Link to Wired article.
Link to Minsky on ‘Smart Machines’ from
Link to Wikipedia page on Minsky.

Art and the altered mind

wain_cat.jpgRolldance is a blog started by artist Laurie Buenafe that highlights the intersections between art, the mind and mental illness.

Creativity and mental illness have often been linked. A number of prolific artists who have been mentally ill, sometimes leading to some truly striking artwork, and many people suffering mental distress find relief in art and art therapy.

More recently, scientific evidence is now emerging to show that many of the same psychological attributes are associated with both psychosis and creativity.

Rolldance aims to keep the reader up to date on interesting news items relevant to understanding and coping with mental illness, as well as noting where art and the altered mind meet to good effect.

Link to Rolldance blog

Psychosis and modern-day hysteria

natasham.jpgMind Hacks favourite All in the Mind had a split edition on Saturday, discussing the topics of hysteria (otherwise known as conversion disorder) and the neuroscience of psychosis.

Conversion disorder is a poorly understood condition where physical symptoms, sometimes as severe as total paralysis, seem to be caused by psychological problems and have no basis in detectable damage to the nervous system or other parts of the body.

It is now thought that these sorts of problems occur on a continuum of medically unexplained symptoms and that milder forms are a significant part of a doctor’s caseload.

The second part of the programme discusses the dopamine hypothesis of psychosis, that argues that delusions and hallucinations can be largely explained by dysfunction to the dopamine systems in the brain.

My impression is that the discussion is a little uncritical of this over-simplified theory of the complex experience of psychosis, but is valuable as a clear explanation of the approach none-the-less.

mp3, Realaudio or transcript of 11th June “All in the Mind”.

Link to editorial from Canadian Journal of Psychiatry on conversion disorder and related conditions (see side panel for further articles).

The madness of Batman

batman_mask.jpgA story from NY Newsday queries professional psychologists about the mental health of Batman and the likely causes of his mental instability.

Batman is a fascinating character, not least because his mind and motivations have become an integral plot device in many films and graphic novels.

In fact, the portrayal of madness in the Batman universe is a topic I have tackled myself, in a past article for

Almost uniquely for such a popular genre, the plots of Batman revolve around mental illness, because, in addition to Batman’s own troubled thoughts, almost all the criminals are depicted as insane.

It is likely that Batman is both a mirror for our own stereotypes of madness, as well as a medium through which children get some of their first impressions of mental illness.

Link to ‘Is he really batty?’ from NY Newsday
Link to ‘Madness in Gotham’ from

Behavioural and Brain Functions journal

Open access journals are good. Not only do they mean that the copyright on publicly funded-research doesn’t end in the hands of private companies, and that scientists don’t have to pay to read their own research, but it also means that everyone can read scientific research as it is communicated directly by scientists to their peers. There aren’t that many open access journals in psychology, so it great to hear about Behavioral and Brain Functions is a new, open access journal from biomedcentral, edited by Terje Sagvolden. Well done guys

A critical look at the genetics of orgasm

PsyBlog has done a great job of tracking down some critical views on recent reports that suggest there may be a genetic contribution to women’s ability to orgasm and whether this relates to an evolutionary role for sexual climax.

The comments are from psychologist Dr Petra Boyton and bear reading in full.

She criticises both the original research findings, and the subsequent way the media have reported the results.

Some criticisms are more telling than others – the fact that the research “wasn’t published in a recognised sex journal” seems a little circumstantial to me – but overall, it’s a well needed analysis of the recent media frenzy.

Link to article ‘ Women, orgasm and genetics’.
Link to article ‘Women! Don‚Äôt orgasm so easily’

2005-06-10 Spike activity

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:


A widely reported story suggests that Ashkenazi Jews may be genetically more likely to be highly intelligent. Full text of research paper here.

Psychometrics, the science of measuring the mind, has a long tradition in Maori culture.

Cool demonstration of the rapid afterimage effect. Doesn’t seem to work in Firefox though.

In the USA, about one in four adults have the symptoms of at least one mental illness every year, and nearly half suffer disorders during their lifetimes, says new government report.

Cognitive Daily has a fascinating article on how children learn to walk.

A short article discusses sites on the internet that seem to promote eating disorders.

BBC Radio 4 has a news story and a radio programme (archived as a realaudio stream) on controversial psychiatrist and alien abductee researcher John Mack.

Also on BBC Radio 4:

1) Leading Edge discusses IBM’s project to simulate the brain, mentioned previously on Mind Hacks.

2) Material World discusses the science of film and emotion.


brainmeta.pngI’m not quite sure what BrainMeta is exactly, but it sure is interesting.

It bills itself as

a community site that was established for the purpose of accelerating the development of neuroscience through web-based initiatives, which include the development, implementation and support of a wide range of neuroinformatics tools, services, and databases. BrainMeta also functions as an internet hub for fostering communication between individuals involved with the neurosciences.

It certainly has a mass of useful links and resources online that would pique the interest of the most hardened of academic neuroscientists.

But then has essays about “The Consciousness Singularity” when “history as we know it, will cease” and “our consciousness will be expanded beyond the confines of an egocentric sense of self”.

If anything, it’s great fun to explore, even if some of the the blue sky thinking (blue universe thinking maybe ?) is a little puzzling at times.

Link to

Mixed gender pornography boosts sperm production

Science journal Nature is reporting on a study which has found that sperm production is boosted when men view pornography including images of both men and women, rather than pornographic images of women only.

Although this seems to go against common perceptions about male sexual preferences, it is consistent with the theory of sperm competition, says study leader Leigh Simmons of the University of Western Australia, Perth. This states that males (of many species, including humans) should produce better sperm when faced with a female who has other mates, because this stimulates them to boost their chance of procreation.

It seems all this week’s science news is about sex. I guess summer is officially here, even in the world of science.

Link to story from

The genetics of female orgasm

New Scientist is reporting on a study into the <a href="genetics of the female orgasm. This is timely, as its evolutionary role is now a subject of much debate, as mentioned previously on Mind Hacks.

Spector’s team asked more than 6000 female twins to fill out a confidential questionnaire about how often they achieved orgasm during intercourse and masturbation. They received 4037 complete replies, which included answers from 683 pairs of non-identical twins and 714 pairs of identical twins.

According to a study published this week, up to 45% of the differences between women in their ability to reach orgasm can be explained by their genes.

There are two common ways that researchers compute genetic influence from twin studies however, one known as ‘pairwise concordance’ the other as ‘probandwise concordance’ (some details here).

Probandwise concordance typically suggests much higher levels of influence from the same data.

I’ve not been able to read the full text of the article, so can’t find out what method has been used to calculate concordance, but if anyone has, please get in touch.

Link to New Scientist story.
Link to summary from
Link to abstract of study from Biology Letters.