In Conversation on the psychology of dreams

marinela_sleep.jpgABC Radio National’s In Conversation has an interview with psychologist Susan Gilchrist who has been studying the psychology of dreams and emotion.

As part of her research, she’s been asking people to record and rate and emotional content of their dreams, as well as the emotional impact of the events during the week.

One interesting finding is that the emotional theme of a dream may be more influenced by the average emotional experience during the past week, rather than just the day before.

Gilchrist seems to be taking an empirical approach to an area that was traditionally tackled by Freudian analysis, and was subsequently
ignored as unresearchable.

Link to transcript and audio of Susan Gilchrist interview.

Will someone please muffle Cliff Arnall

Petra Boyton has an article on yet another piece of useless pop psychology from Cliff Arnall – the guy who specialises in making up ‘formulas’ about the happiest day of the year and other such banalities.

These press releases are usually on behalf of a PR company and usually make the headlines, despite being complete nonsense.

Cliff, stop it.

Brain-based ‘lie detection’ now commercially available

hidden_shadows_face.jpgBrain Waves is reporting that two companies are now advertising brain-based lie detection services based on fMRI brain-scanning technology.

This technology works differently from traditional polygraph-based techniques which measure arousal in the body and are based on the idea that we become more stressed (and hence, more aroused) when telling lies.

Polygraphs are notoriously unreliable and are known to be easily fooled.

In contrast, newer ‘lie detection’ technology typically uses an approach called the Guilty Knowledge Test (pdf) which relies on recognition.

It is known that there are distinct patterns of brain activation when someone recognises a previously seen piece of information, compared to when they do not.

In the Guilty Knowledge Test, a suspected murderer might be shown items from the crime scene to see whether these particular patterns of activation are found. If a recognition pattern is found, this might suggest that they were present at the scene.

The potential use of this technology has raised some serious ethical concerns, however, (see this pdf on neuroprivacy) as it has been touted for use on people without their consent, such as in cases of terrorism or goverment intelligence gathering, and it is still not known exactly how accurate or how easily fooled such tests are.

UPDATE: I’ve just discovered Brain Ethics also has an engaging post on this topic.

Link to Brain Waves on fMRI ‘lie detection’ services.
pdf of paper on Guilty Knowledge Test.
pdf of paper on ‘neuroprivacy’.

Even paranoids have enemies

telco_tower.jpgOhio’s Free Times has an article on people who believe they are being targeted by top-secret mind-control technology. They regularly lobby government to legislate against such technology, while others claim they are, in fact, experiencing psychosis.

Although distressed, many of the people who have such experiences do not seem particularly disabled by them and are able to run their lives quite effectively, even creating complex websites to make their case.

This, and the fact that many believe that these experiences are due to top-secret technology (which, by it’s nature, can’t be checked out) means that these experiences are not clear-cut signs of psychosis, despite the fact that they resemble some experiences found in people with schizophrenia.

To muddy the waters further, people who are very likely to be mentally ill and experience similar things are likely to be also part of online ‘mind control’ communities (as mentioned previously on Mind Hacks).

Meanwhile, proponents of the existence of mind-control technology point to the CIA’s MKULTRA project which genuinely did test (mainly drug-based) mind manipulation techniques on unsuspecting members of the public.

This leaves a huge grey area for the DSM diagnostic manual, that defines a delusion as a belief that is (among other things) false. In this case, it is difficult, if not impossible, to find out whether beliefs in secret mind-control technology are true or not.

Link to Ohio Free Times article ‘Insanity, Defense’ (via anomalist).


Brain Ethics has just picked up on the recent development of “evolutionary psychiatry” (evo-psychiatry for short) that aims to understand mental disorder in terms of how we have evolved to become susceptible to disabling thought and behaviour patterns.

Evolutionary approaches to disease – including mental disease – is an attempt to describe and explain the design characteristics that make us susceptible to the disease (from Nesse & Williams, 1996). The evolutionary trajectories of humans is far from a travel towards perfection. We are full of errors and somatic and mental shortcomings – and the appendix, near-sightedness, and a bottleneck attentional system and the like are examples of this.

Another important issue is that the border between normal and abnormal psychology is becoming increasingly muddled. That may sound as a problem, but it’s actually caused by a change in our understanding of how our minds come to be, and especially how normal variation extends into pathological domains. In this sense, it’s hard to draw waterproof boundaries between normal and abnormal psychology. We work on a continuum, and the branch of modern evolutionary psychiatry makes a good case for such an approach.

The post discusses a recent special issue of the journal Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry (snappy title!) that discusses the various approaches in the field, and how they could help better understand mental illness.

Link to Brain Ethics on evo-psychiatry.

2006-06-23 Spike activity

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


Science reports that researchers have found an inhibitor for the most potent known neurotoxin.

Brain-scanning for the effect of car brands. Brain Ethics casts a skeptical eye over the research.

Rare nerve disease gene found to be caused by mutation in a single gene.

Interesting new blog on psychology and neuroscience seems to be going strong.

Neuroscientist Shelley Batts analyses Red Bull’s effect on the brain.

New study suggests that the antidepressant paroxetine (also known as Seroxat or Paxil) doesn’t seem to increase birth defects as previously thought.

Cognitive Daily look at the psychology of love, happiness, and arranged marriage.

Scientific American on the suprising ability of young babies to predict the actions of others.

Wonderful posts from Pure Pedantry on the genetics and heritability of mental attributes and a follow up from Gene Expression.