Encephalon 26 – one year birthday

Issue 26 of psychology and neuroscience writing carnival Encephalon has just been published on the Neurophilosophy blog, returning to where it first started for its first anniversary.

It also coincides with the blog joining the ScienceBlogs fraternity and what better way to celebrate its new home.

A couple of my favourites include an 1880 article from The New York Times which claims that the right hemisphere of the brain is less developed than the left because babies tend to squash the brain by sleeping on their right sides, and one on the recent publication of the ‘cognitive health roadmap‘.

There’s a whole range of other articles, so check it out to see what else is on the menu.

Link to Encephalon 26.

Unconscious inspiration

I’ve just found an article from The Psychologist that examines historical accounts of sometimes world-changing ideas which have seemed to arrive during sleep or dreaming.

The article looks at inspirational slumber which has inspired everything from sewing machine designs to the theory of relativity.

The author, psychologist Josephine Ross, has discovered some great examples. My favourite being from horror writer Stephen King on how the plot for his novel Misery came to him when he fell asleep on a plane.

Ross notes that people’s own insight into whether the dream was genuinely the inspiration may not be entirely accurate.

They may just have been ‘incubating’ the idea (having it ‘at the back of the mind’) and because we sleep so often, it might be easy to attribute it to last night’s dreaming.

However, a study published in Nature in 2004 suggested that sleep might genuinely help in problem solving.

The researchers found that volunteers asked to complete maths problems were three times more likely than sleep-deprived participants to figure out a hidden rule for solving the problem if they had eight hours of sleep.

Link to Psychologist article ‘Sleep on a problem… it works like a dream’.

Psychologists accused of Geneva violations

Salon claims to have uncovered evidence that two psychologists have been involved in developing military and CIA interrogation techniques “which likely violated the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners”.

The online magazine has been investigating the role of psychologists in ‘war-on-terror’ interrogations for some time.

Last year they broke the story that the American Psychological Association endorsed the participation of psychologists in military interrogations when American medical associations had explicitly banned their members from taking part as they considered it against their ethical code.

The article caused a storm of controversy among psychologists, not least because the committee that drafted the guidelines had a majority of members with direct ties to the military.

Despite protests from members, the APA still fell short of bringing their code of conduct in line with their medical colleagues, although they did require their members to intervene and report abusive practices.

Now, Salon claim that two psychologists have been involved in a joint US military / CIA project to develop potentially abusive interrogation techniques by ‘reverse engineering’ a training programme to help special forces troops resist abusive interrogations.

There is growing evidence of high-level coordination between the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. military in developing abusive interrogation techniques used on terrorist suspects. After the Sept. 11 attacks, both turned to a small cadre of psychologists linked to the military’s secretive Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape program to “reverse-engineer” techniques originally designed to train U.S. soldiers to resist torture if captured, by exposing them to brutal treatment. The military’s use of SERE training for interrogations in the war on terror was revealed in detail in a recently declassified report. But the CIA’s use of such tactics — working in close coordination with the military — until now has remained largely unknown.

Furthermore, APA members have now written an open letter claiming that another psychologist has been involved in similar practices.

If the accusations turn out to be true, it makes for truly grim reading for a profession that usually prides itself on its ethical standards and robust code of conduct.

Link to Salon article ‘The CIA’s torture teachers’.

Shapes of thought

Neurofuture has picked up on a fantastic science-art project that is creating beautiful ‘thought images’ by visualising EEG readings in 3D.

The project is part of the Einstein’s Brain collaboration which involved two artists, Alan Dunning and Paul Woodrow, and medical researcher Morley Hollenberg.

The image on the left is the visualisation of anger. The image is described:

The shape of anger. Hypnotised participant’s thought form emerges as she recalls an incident in which she became uncontrollably angry. In this visualisation the elements are separated to show background of beta activity from 15 to 25 Hz from which emerges a dynamic form generated by wild swings between beta and alpha activity in the range 4 – 30 Hz, as she oscillated between meditative recall and consciousness.

Link to Neurofuture on the project.
Link to more ‘Shapes of Thought’.