Pinky and the Brain sing neuroanatomy

pinky_brain.jpgBrainBlog discovered a video clip from the cartoon show Pinky and the Brain online, where the mousey duo sing about neuroanatomy.

They do a surprisingly good job of it. If it wasn’t for the fact that Pinky is bouncing around on a piece of elastic shouting “Brainstem! Brainstem!” it would be fine academic material.

And it’s probably the only lecture you’re ever likely to see that includes an impromptu tamborine solo.

Link to page with embedded video clip.

Malcolm Gladwell profiled

gladwell.jpgSunday’s Observer featured an in-depth profile by Rachel Donadio of Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point and Blink.

“With a writerly verve and strong narrative powers, he leavens serious social science research with zany characters and pithy, easily digestible anecdotes.”

Gladwell’s publishing success – Tipping Point has sold 1.7 million copies in N. America and Blink has sold 1.3 million – has led to a lucrative career as a public speaker for which he is apparently now paid about $40,000 per lecture. On top of that he’s also a columnist at the New Yorker.

“Gladwell’s dazzling arguments ultimately offer reassurance. Indeed he seems a contemporary incarnation of a recurring figure in the American experience, one who comes with encouraging news: you can make a difference, you have the capacity to change.”

Update: Malcolm Gladwell has a blog; via Marginal Revolution.

Link to book tickets to see Malcolm Gladwell in conversation with Robert McCrum, The Observer’s literary editor, on Weds 15 March at the South Bank Centre in London.
Link to profile as it appeared in the NY Times before the Observer.
Link to first audio clip from the interview.
Link to 2nd audio clip.
Link to 3rd audio.

3D rooms

Perception is a fundamentally underconstrained problem. You get information in through your senses, but not enough information to be absolutely sure of what is causing those sensations. A good example is perception of depth in vision. You get a pattern of light falling on your retinas (retinae?), in two dimensions, and from that you infer a three dimensional world, using various clever calculations of the visual system and some assumptions about what is likely. But because the process remains fundamentally underconstrained, there is always the possibility that you will see something that isn’t really there – that is, your visual system will take in a pattern of information and decide that it is more likely to be produced by a scenario different from the real one.

Which is a all a long winded way of saying: “Look, cool! Illusions rooms!” (thanks Yalda)


They’re painted so that from one particular angle the shapes line up and your visual system flips into thinking that it can see a flat, 2D, pattern when the reality is a disjoint 3D one. Awesome.

There’s plenty more here

Continue reading “3D rooms”

The ‘painful realism’ of eating disorders

mannequin_parts.jpgEating disorders, such as anorexia, are traditionally thought to be driven by a distorted body image, so affected people see themselves as excessively overweight (and therefore unattractive) despite being very thin.

A recent study by psychologist Anita Jansen and colleagues has challenged this theory, by showing that women with eating disorders are actually more accurate at judging how attractive they are to others, whereas unaffected women typically over-estimate their attractiveness.

Jansen’s team asked women with and without eating disorder symptoms to have their picture taken, from the neck down, in their underwear. They were then asked to rate their own body for general attractiveness, and say which was the most attractive and unattractive part of their body.

These anonymised photos were then shown to two panels, consisting of both males and females, who were asked to make the same ratings.

The women with symptoms were generally in agreement with the panels, whereas those without rated themselves as more attractive and typically did not agree on which were their most and least attractive body parts.

This shows a lack of a ‘self serving attribution bias’ which is a normal tendency to over-attribute positive things to ourselves and negative things to other people or situations.

A recent review of the research suggested that this bias is usually strongly present in most people. It has been suggested that this may be useful, as it might emotionally cushion us from some of life’s hardships.

People with certain forms of mental illness, particularly depression, tend not to have this bias, however, meaning they actually view the world more accurately – an effect coined ‘depressive realism‘.

Jansen’s study suggests a similar ‘painful realism’ effect may be present in people with eating disorders, although it’s not clear whether this is specific to body perception, or whether it is primarily associated with emotional difficulties that often accompany conditions like anorexia.

UPDATE: World of Psychology has interesting commentary on this research (and post).

Link to abstract of study.
Link to eating disorder information from mental health charity Mind.

Changing people’s behaviour

the scientist.jpgIf you were designing an advert to encourage university students to drink less alcohol, which wording do you think would work better?

“Most university students drink too much, with dire consequences for their future health”.


“University students are healthier than you think, most have fewer than four drinks when they go out”.

A growing body of research on the misperception of norms suggests the second type of statement may work better. University students consistently overestimate how much their peers drink, and importantly, it’s this misperception that correlates with how much they choose to drink themselves.

“In point of fact, the norm among college students is to drink moderately if at all. And promoting this good news is an essential element of the health promotion strategy known as the social norms approach”.

From an article in The Scientist magazine on the science of encouraging healthy behaviour. (Note, to celebrate their relaunch, all 20 years of content is currently accessible for free at The Scientist website).

Brain Ethics Blog

I’m currently enjoying reading the Brain Ethics Blog that aims to discuss the consequences of brain science amd the ethical issues that arise from it.

It is run by two Danish neuropsychologists, Thomas Zoëga Ramsøy and Martin Skov, who give their own take on the current hot topics of mind and brain science.

The most recent post, analysing a recent study that claims to have made inferences about cognitive evolution from a brain scanning experiment, particularly caught my eye as an insightful look into a recent controversial finding.

Link to Brain Ethics Blog.