2005-08-19 Spike activity

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


Erotic or gory images prevent the processing of other images for a (very) short time.

The mysterious “junk DNA” may have an important role in guiding brain development.

Mobile brain-scanner proposed to detect possible stroke in an ambulance.

A piece in The Herald asks the question why do we believe in aliens?

Money might bring happiness, but only relatively.

Numenware on a recent paper that discusses the neuroscience of why mystical experiences often happen on mountaintops.

Interesting analysis of Sherlock Holme’s cocaine habit.

Developmental psychologist Rebecca Saxe describes theories about how we understand other people’s minds.

Evolutionary psychology: The fightback

red_cave.jpgA piece by Amanda Schaffer on Slate charts the growing opposition to evolutionary psychology. Although this opposition has always been present, it is being increasingly based on scientific rather than political arguments.

Previous criticisms of evolutionary psychology (EP), such as Rose and Rose’s ‘Alas Poor Darwin’, have not always been received well, with some reviews suggesting they were attacking a straw-man version of EP and using politically motivated arguments.

Defenders of EP have sometimes relied on the angle that critics are not well-versed in biology (notably, not a criticism that could be used against ‘Alas Poor Darwin’) and misunderstand the scientific evidence.

A recent book by David Buller (mentioned previously on Mind Hacks) has gained most publicity for dissecting the evidence used to back up EP, and showing that it is not as strongly supported as some of its champions claim.

One recent review, by philosopher Jerry Fodor, applaudes Buller’s careful analysis of the data, but disagrees with some of Buller’s conclusions.

In particular, Fodor feels his acceptance of a form of evolutionary adaptation for mental states is misguided, a finished with some advice for would-be gamblers on successful theories:

Over the years, people keep proposing theories that go: “what everybody really wants is just . . .” (fill in the blank). Versions fashionable in their times have included: money, power, sex, death, freedom, happiness, Mother, The Good, pleasure, success, status, salvation, immortality, self-realization, reinforcement, penises (in the case of women), larger penises (in the case of men), and so on. The track record of such theories has not been good; in retrospect they often look foolish or vulgar or both. Maybe it will turn out differently for “what everybody really wants is to maximize his relative contribution to the gene pool”. But I don‚Äôt know any reason to think that it will, and I sure wouldn‚Äôt advise you to bet the farm.

Link to article ‘Cave Thinkers: How evolutionary psychology gets evolution wrong’.
Link to review of ‘Adapting Minds’ by Jerry Fodor.

Dalai Lama controversy continues

dalai_lama_small.jpgAs previously reported on Mind Hacks, neuroscientist Jianguo G. Gu started an online petition protesting the Dalai Lama’s forthcoming lecture on neuroscience and meditation to the Society for Neuroscience’s Annual Conference.

Now, the case for supporting the Dalai Lama’s appearance has been made, with an online petition supporting the invitation of the Buddhist religious leader.

The new petition has been by neuroscientist and autism researcher Matthew Belmonte.

The biology of sexual arousal and orientation

pride_flag.jpgThe Boston Globe has an exceptionally well researched article on the biology and neuropsychology of homosexuality.

While the search for a single ‘gay gene’ in humans has pretty much been abandoned, a substantial amount of work is now being conducted into the role of genetic factors and the time spent in the womb on sexuality.

One study, conducted by biologist Alan Sanders, is recruiting gay men with gay brothers to investigate any molecular genetic contributions to sexual orientation.

Other research is beginning to find a difference between sexual preference and sexual arousal. Early results suggest that for males, sexual arousal and sexual preference is strongly correlated (men prefer the sex that is capable of arousing them), whereas women are more capable of being aroused by either sex, despite the fact that they may be attracted to only one.

Some studies have found differences in brain structure between gay and straight men. In particular, a small area of the hypothalamus (known to be involved in sexual motivation) was found to differ in size in a controversial 1991 post-mortem study by neuroscientist Simon LeVay.

Link to Boston Globe article ‘What Makes People Gay?’.

PTSD and combat stress


The BBC have created an in-depth website dedicated to understanding war-related PTSD and combat stress.

In retrospect, there are accounts of combat stress from as far back as ancient times, although the long-term effects of combat-related trauma were first taken seriously as ‘shell shock’ during World War One.

The psychiatrist W. H. R. Rivers was one of the pioneers in understanding and treating these extreme combat reactions. His real-life treatment of the war poet Seigfried Sassoon was the subject of Pat Barker’s the Booker prize winning novel Regeneration.

The BBC website charts the history of the conditon, and includes audio, images and stories from those affected by PTSD, including soldiers and their doctors and relatives.

Treatments for the combat trauma are also discussed, and several people have added their own experiences of combat stress to the website, illustrating the journalists angle with real-life accounts.

Link to BBC World Combat Stress website.
Link to information on PTSD.

Co-operative mind-brain weblog

neurodudes.jpgNeurodudes is a psychology and neuroscience blog with a difference – it allows readers to login and post their own stories.

The site’s regulars, Neville Sanjana and Bayle Shanks, make sure there’s always a wide variety of new material on the site, while significant additions from guest contributors provide pointers to some of the more obscure and interesting stuff in the online brain science world.

Recent posts include a breathless post from a guy inviting people to discuss the classic neuroscience text Ion Channels of Excitable Membranes and an elegant synopsis of a paper on the interaction between action and vision in the brain.

Link to neurodudes.com

2005-08-12 Spike activity

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


Threaten a man’s masculinity, and he’s more likely to support the war in Iraq, want to ban gay marriage and buy an SUV. Makes you wonder what George Bush’s homelife is like…

New York Times reviews Clancy’s book on the psychology of self-confessed alien abductees.

Meanwhile, the The Guardian asks where have all the aliens gone?

An audience participation play at the Edinburgh Festival about a traumatic therapy session has employed a psychologist in case anyone gets traumatised!

Thoughts reads‘ via brain scans (should be ‘Journalists’ bamboozled via brain scans).

Simon Baron-Cohen outlines his systematising / empathising theory in the New York Times.

The Register report on the recent artificial intelligence conference in Edinburgh.

Mixing Memory on how word gender affects how people think.

Remote control humans!