Applied sleep science

nuria_sleep.jpgScience has an engaging article on how to apply the science of sleep in the service of improving your own night’s sleep, with plenty of clear advice and links to the research.

A bit bizarrely, it’s in their ‘Career Development’ section, presumably based on the idea that getting a good night’s sleep is good for your career.

Despite the slightly awkward spin, it’s useful look at how sleep research can be directly applied to optimising your downtime.

Link to ‘Forty Winks: Science and Sleep’.

Parasite culture

Toxoplasma_gondii_from_wp.jpgCould a wide-spread brain infection account for differences in cultures across the world? Possibly, is the surprising answer from a new research paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London.

If cognitive parasitology isn’t your thing (and it may not be, as I just made that up) the research is expertly discussed by Carl Zimmer.

The disease caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii is called toxoplasmosis and has been linked to ‘personality’ changes in rats and mice.

Although controversial, some suggest that this infection may also be linked to personality changes in humans, suggesting that different rates of infections in different countries may lead to differences in ‘national character’.

You’re best going to Zimmer’s write-up for a concise take on the major implications, but I’ll leave you with an intriguing point he finishes on:

“[This] raises another interesting question: what about other parasites? Do viruses, intestinal worms, and other pathogens that can linger in the body for decades have their own influence on human personality?”

Link to Zimmer’s article ‘A Nation of Neurotics? Blame the Puppet Masters?’.

Mark Steel lectures on Freud, Aristotle, Descartes

aristotle_mark_steel.jpgSomeone has put a series of the brilliant Mark Steel Lectures online which are an informative and hilarious romp through some of the most important historical figures in history.

They were created by the BBC for the Open University to both educate and enthuse people about history and contain wry insights into both the work and lives of the people featured.

The programmes on Freud, Aristotle and Descartes are likely to be of most interest to Mind Hacks readers, although the whole of this series has some fantastic gems.

Link to YouTube archive of the Mark Steel Lectures.

Drug dangerousness ranked by UK advisors

The UK goverment commissioned psychopharmacologist Professor David Nutt and neuroscientist Professor Colin Blakemore to rank recreational drugs by their dangerousness.

The list has just been published in today’s The Independent and gives some surprising results. Unusually, the list contains both legal and illegal drugs.

The drugs were ranked by ratings which took into account a combination of their physical damage, social harm and addictive properties.

In rank order of harmfulness:

1. Heroin
2. Cocaine
3. Barbituates
4. Street methadone
5. Alcohol
6. Ketamine
7. Benzodiazepines (e.g. Vallium)
8. Amphetamines
9. Tobacco
10. Buprenorphine
11. Cannabis
12. Solvents
13. 4-MTA
14. LSD
15. Methylphenidate (Ritalin)
16. Anabolic steroids
17. GHB
18. Ecstasy
19. Alkyl Nitrites (poppers)
20. Khat

I would like to point out to my ex-girlfriend that Red Bull is not listed among them.

There’s more information on each drug here and an article about the consultation here.

Apparently, the government were a little reticient to publish the report, considering the legal clasification is completely out of whack with this analysis.

SciAm on the expert mind

chess_at_the_park.jpgThis month’s Scientific American has a fantastic article on the psychology of expert skills which they’ve made freely available online.

It discusses how research into the cognitive processes and neuropsychology of chess masters is informing wider questions of how experts differ from novices and what mental skills underlie the mastering of a subject.

…much of the chess master’s advantage over the novice derives from the first few seconds of thought. This rapid, knowledge-guided perception, sometimes called apperception, can be seen in experts in other fields as well. Just as a master can recall all the moves in a game he has played, so can an accomplished musician often reconstruct the score to a sonata heard just once. And just as the chess master often finds the best move in a flash, an expert physician can sometimes make an accurate diagnosis within moments of laying eyes on a patient.

But how do the experts in these various subjects acquire their extraordinary skills? How much can be credited to innate talent and how much to intensive training? Psychologists have sought answers in studies of chess masters. The collected results of a century of such research have led to new theories explaining how the mind organizes and retrieves information.

Link to SciAm article ‘The Expert Mind’.

Neurosurgery: Live!

or-live_lobectomoy.jpgOR-Live is a website that carries videos of surgical procedures, including a section where you can watch neurosurgery in action.

A brain clipping and coiling procedure to repair an aneurysm will be broadcast live today, and if that doesn’t take your fancy, there’s plenty more in the archive.

One of my favorites is a temporal lobectomy (removal of part of the temporal lobe) that was completed to remove the source of untreatable epileptic seizures.

It has a winning combination of a fascinating surgical procedure and a slightly uncomfortable professor of neurosurgery looking a bit awkward in front of the camera.

The site is a little confusing in that you need to use the ‘Watch Live Webcast’ link to launch an archive recording as well as see a live broadcast.

Link to neurosurgery at OR-Live (via Neurocontrarian).