Synapse #5 and new BPS Research Digest

bpsrd_tablets_image.jpgMind and brain writing carnival Synapse has just released issue #5 and is hosted on this occasion by Shelley Batts’ Retrospectacle. There’s articles on everything from sleep disorders to moral development to keep you glued to the screen.

Also recently released is the new BPS Research Digest which tackles recent research on the effect of drugs on intuition and medically unexplained symptoms; as well as the psychology of love letters, sickies, cats and war.

Female frequency error

BrainOfOnesOwnImage.jpgThe Washington Post has a review and the first chapter of neuropsychiatrist Dr Louann Brizendine’s book ‘The Female Brain’ (ISBN 0767920090).

Brizendine is founder of the Women’s and Teen Girls’ Mood and Hormone Clinic in San Francisco and her book tackles how biological sex differences have a significant impact on thought and behaviour.

However, the psycholinguists over at Language Log were a bit suspicious about the book repeating a common claim that ‘a woman uses about 20,000 words per day while a man uses about 7,000’.

In a series of posts [one, two, three] Mark Liberman looked for the relevant scientific studies and found that, on average, men use slightly more words per day than women.

Link to Washington Post review of ‘The Female Brain’.
One, two, three links to Language Log analysis (thanks Mageriane!).

Home by Rupert Brooke

Rupert_Brooke.jpgWar poet Rupert Brooke describes an unsettling experience of apophenia in this 1913 poem.

I came back late and tired last night
  Into my little room,
To the long chair and the firelight
  And comfortable gloom.

But as I entered softly in
  I saw a woman there,
The line of neck and cheek and chin,
  The darkness of her hair,
The form of one I did not know
  Sitting in my chair.

I stood a moment fierce and still,
  Watching her neck and hair.
I made a step to her; and saw
  That there was no one there.

It was some trick of the firelight
  That made me see her there.
It was a chance of shade and light
  And the cushion in the chair.

Oh, all you happy over the earth,
  That night, how could I sleep?
I lay and watched the lonely gloom;
  And watched the moonlight creep
From wall to basin, round the room,
  All night I could not sleep.

Brooke seems to have been interested in the scientific investigation of anomalous experiences, as one of his poems (‘Sonnet‘), was inspired by reading the journal of the Society for Psychical Research.

Pursuing pleasure

happy_smile.jpgDr Lionel Tiger, an anthropologist who investigates the interaction between the biological basis of pleasure and how it is experienced in different cultures, is interviewed on ABC Radio’s In Conversation.

He talks about the numerous ways in which pleasure can be sought (including food, art and sex) and how it is regarded and experienced in animals and humans.

But as for the extended pleasure, I think here we see something that nature has given females as an opportunity to evaluate the care and thoughtfulness of a male, and it provides some sense of the decency of a mate, to be able to provide pleasure as well as to receive it. And I think we underestimate the skill with which, if we look at the Karma Sutra and all the Japanese stuff, the skill with which both men and women have been more than happy to spend as much time in the sack as they possibly could. It happens to be one of the exhilarating features of the species and we’re just better at a lot of things than other animals.

Link to webpage (with audio and transcript) of In Conversation.

Poverty on the brain

1st_floor_bw.jpgNeurocritic has just published a fantastic summary of Professor Martha Farah’s recent work on the effects of poverty on mind and brain function.

For example, it is known that poor diet alone can restrict the development of certain skills and abilities.

However, one of Farah’s main findings is that those from poorer backgrounds do not usually show a global impairment in mental function.

The main differences between children from a poor background, and those from a wealthier background were in tests of language, working memory, cognitive control and memory. No difference was found for reward processing, spatial cognition, or visual cognition.

With the functional brain-scanning data the researchers also collected, the evidence suggests that poverty can have varying effects on brain development.

Neurocritic notes that the this is quite a complex picture but is a refreshing change to the raft of poorly designed (and usually well-publicised) studies which simply correlate IQ with [something] and argue that [something] must therefore be linked to intelligence.

Link to ‘Childhood Poverty and Neurocognitive Development’ from Neurocritic.

interested in words

A classic quote from R.D. Laing of anti-psychiatry fame:


I am very interested in words, and what we have words for and what we haven’t got words for. For instance, the word “paranoia.” It always seems very strange to me that we have this word which means, in effect, that someone feels that he is being persecuted when the people who are persecuting him don’t think that he is. But we haven’t got a word for the condition in which you are persecuting someone without realizing it, which I would have thought is as serious a condition as the other, and certainly no less common.