2008-11-21 Spike activity

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

The Situationist has a fantastic video example of a classic experimental philosophy set-up.

The TSA’s ‘behavior detection‘ is wrong more than 99 percent of the time, reports USA Today. Maybe that’s because it’s based on some rather dodgy techniques, as we reported in August last year.

Science Daily reports on an elegant experiment allows who said what to whom to be worked out from the brain scan data. Only from very limited stimuli, but an intriguing study none-the-less.

Can everyone be an Einstein? No, is the short answer, but The Times has a longer one in a nicely balanced article on brain improvement techniques.

Neuroskeptic says Freddie Starr ate my hamster, sorry, it should be Prozac made my cells spiky.

To the bunkers! BBC News reports IBM to build computers that work like brains. Although I’d be more impressed if we could get Microsoft to build software that works like software.

New Scientist reports that coping-with-stress related brain changes occur during menstruation.

Atypical antipsychotics no better than older antipsychotics. We should be used to this headline by now, but this time, it’s a study in kids reported by The Psychiatric Times.

BBC News reports heavy drinkers lie to their doctors about how much they drink. Pope still Catholic (and probably still claiming he doesn’t masturbate).

There’s an excellent interview with Mary Roach, one of my favourite science writers, over at Neuronarrative.

Oprah Magazine has an OK article about neuroscience. Yes, Oprah Magazine. That’s it, we’re mainstream. Neuroscience is over. What else is cool?

Does involving parents really help students learn? Depends on how they’re involved, reports Cognitive Daily.

Science News reports that the brain reorganizes to make room for maths. Which is lucky, because in my brain the space has always been occupied by Batman.

Fred Goodwin, one of the world’s leading bipolar researchers has his radio show pulled over undisclosed payments from drug companies, reports Furious Seasons

Not Exactly Rocket Science has an excellent piece on evidence that graffiti and litter strewn environments encourage crime.

A video lecture on the brain’s visual system is featured by Channel N.

An interpretative dance inspired by the cerebral activation patterns induced by the inflection of regular and irregular verbs, found by the wonderfully eclectic Frontal Cortex. With video of said dance.

The Guardian has an excellent excerpt from Malcom Gladwell’s new book.

The excellent Cognition and Culture blog

Cognition and Culture is a fantastic new group blog by a distinguished group of writers who include some of the leading figures in neuroscience, psychology and anthropology.

It’s from the International Cognition and Culture Institute and contains articles on everything from whether ‘cold’ and ‘warm’ are universal metaphors for relationships to the unexpected impact of pop-cognitive science on British schoolgirls (isn’t that just a Carry On film waiting to happen?).

There’s also plenty of great neuroscience coverage and it’s updated regularly. Good stuff.

Link to Cognition and Culture blog.

All together now

If there were prizes for sheer genius, this would get the top spot. Psychologist Alan Reifman teaches psychology and he also writes song lyrics. When he sees something psychological that particularly inspires him, he writes a song about it to the tune of a popular hit and posts it on his social psychology lyrics blog. The results are sheer joy.

In honor of a talk I attended at UCLA on May 15 by Jean Twenge, on changes in college students’ personality traits and attitudes over time, I’ve written the following song….

Dr. Jean Twenge
(May be sung to the tune of “Eleanor Rigby,” Lennon/McCartney)

Dr. Jean Twenge, spends her time looking at journals and computer screens,
What are the means?
Temporal contrasts, how are today’s youth different from three decades ago?
Are they high or low?

Look at all the samples,
That used the same measure,
The data are ample,
Historical treasure,

Starting with gender, she noted patterns in females’ masculine scores,
Found that they’ve soared,
So many more traits, so many statistics, reside on libraries’ shelves,
Into which she delves,

Look at all the samples,
That used the same measure,
The data are ample,
Historical treasure…

And there’s plenty more where that came from.

If you want the best in social psychology research distilled into the musical magic of the last century’s pop (and I know you do), you need look no further.

Link to SocialPsych Lyrics blog.

How synaesthesia grows in childhood, and dies out

Synaesthesia is well studied in adults and is thought to be a result of unusual connections created during brain development, but it has been hardly studied in children – until now.

A new study published online in Brain searched for letter-colour synaesthetes in 6-8 year old children and found not only are they relatively common, but that the condition changes as the children grow.

Synaesthesia is where the senses are crossed, so perceiving something in one sense triggers a perception in one of the other senses. The type targeted by this study was letter-colour synaesthesia where people perceive colours when they see certain letters.

Synaesthesia is known to be partly inherited and there is brain imaging evidence that people with the letter-colour type have greater number of white matter connections between brain areas known to be involved in word and colour perception.

A popular theory is that synaesthesia results from an unusual form of brain development where certain connections in the brain are not ‘cut’ or ‘pruned’ during the early months of life.

However, letter-colour synaesthesia requires that the person can read and understand letters, which usually doesn’t happen until much latter, so it is likely that there is something going on throughout the critical learning period when children begin to learn to read.

This new study, led by psychologist Julia Simner, tested over six hundred six to seven year-old children with a computerised test that showed them letters and numbers and asked them to select a colour which best fitted the character on screen.

After 10 seconds, the test was repeated. One of the hallmarks of people with letter-colour synaesthesia is that their associations remain constant, so this helped pick out who was the most consistent.

Children who did better than average on this were tested again with a surprise test at 12 months, and those who were more consistent at 12 months than the average child at 10 seconds were classified as having synaesthesia.

Using this, admittedly strict, criteria 1.3% of children had letter-colour synaesthesia and the total number of children with any form of synaesthesia is likely to be greater owing to the fact that the researchers only tested one for one type.

The study also allowed the researchers to see how synaesthesia had developed over the year. Interestingly, the synaesthetic children showed an average of 10.5 stable letter-colour associations aged 6-7 years, but 16.9 aged 7-8, suggesting that the condition is developing and growing over time.

Although not able to confirm it statistically, the study hinted that some people may actually lose synaesthesia over time.

The researchers note that in anecdotal reports adults have described synaesthesia in childhood that died out, while the reverse pattern – synaesthesia spontaneously appearing in adulthood that didn’t exist in childhood, is not reported. A further hint is that in the study, the number of children who had synaesthesia at ages six and seven outnumbered those who had it at ages seven and eight by 2.5 to 1.

Link to study.
Link to PubMed entry for same.

Shaking the foundations of the hidden bias test

The New York Times takes a look at the ongoing controversy over one of the newest and most popular tests in psychology that claims to be able to detect hidden ‘implicit’ biases.

The test is the Implicit Association Test or IAT and we’ve discussed in it more detail before but it essentially relies on the fact that if you have a pre-existing association between two concepts, say, the concepts ‘blonde’ and ‘stupid’, making similar associations, by categorising words or pictures for example, will be faster than associating ‘blonde’ and ‘clever’ – because you’re going to be quicker doing whichever classification best matches associations you already have.

The test has famously found that automatic negative associations with minority groups are rife in society, even among people of those groups themselves.

However, a recent study looked at the real world effect of this and found something quite curious:

The doctors who scored higher on the bias test were less likely than the other doctors to give clot-busting drugs to the black patients, according to the researchers, who suggested addressing the problem by encouraging doctors to test themselves for unconscious bias. The results were hailed by other psychologists as some of the strongest evidence that unconscious bias leads to harmful discrimination.

But then two other researchers, Neal Dawson and Hal Arkes, pointed out a curious pattern in the data. Even though most of the doctors registered some antiblack bias, as defined by the researchers, on the whole doctors ended up prescribing the clot-busting drugs to blacks just as often as to whites. The doctors scoring low on bias had a pronounced preference for giving the drugs to blacks, while high-scoring doctors had a relatively small preference for giving the drugs to whites — meaning that the more “biased” doctors actually treated blacks and whites more equally.

This has been one part of an ongoing debate that has suggested that the IAT is not all it’s cracked up to be, while the originators of the test have fired back with the heavyweight review [pdf] of over 100 studies, defending their position and the IAT’s credentials.

The debate is important because the IAT has become one of psychology’s central tools for separating conscious and unconscious associations and has been applied to pretty much everything from racism to diagnosing psychopaths.

Link to NYT article ‘In Bias Test, Shades of Gray’.

Still on the move

Scientific American has a fantastic gallery of visual illusions images created both by artists and scientists that produce dramatic false motion from still images.

There’s 12 images, but the one pictured is my favourite which is simply described like so: “This illusion is a contemporary variation on the Ouchi pattern, by Kitaoka”.

As with many illusory motion images, they are sometimes more striking if you move your eyes around the images to look at different parts.

Link to illusory motion image gallery (via MeFi).

An epidemic of depression?

Psychiatric News has a thought-provoking article criticising the current definition of major depression, suggesting that it has lead to normal sadness being diagnosed as a serious mental illness.

The authors give an abbreviated version of the argument they make in their book The Loss of Sadness: How Psychiatry Transformed Normal Misery Into Depressive Disorder.

They argue that the diagnosis contains no qualifications about whether the reaction is appropriate in the context of the person’s life, meaning that people who have suffered unemployment, relationship break up or other forms of personal tragedy are considered equally as ‘mentally ill’ as people who have similar mood disturbances but without a specific trigger.

Ample scientific evidence—ranging from infant and primate studies to cross-cultural studies of emotion—suggests that intense sadness in response to a variety of situations is a normal, biologically designed human response. Recent epidemiological analysis suggests that the consequences of stressors can be either normal or abnormal, similar to those for bereavement.1 In its quest for reliability via symptom-based definitions that minimized concern with the context in which the symptoms appeared, DSM unintentionally abandoned the well-recognized, scientifically supported, indeed commonsensical distinction between normal sadness and depressive disorder.

The blurring of the distinction between normal intense sadness and depressive disorder has arguably had some salutary effects. For example, it has reduced the stigma of depression and created a cultural climate that is more accepting of seeking treatment for mental illness. Many people with normal sadness might benefit from medication that ameliorates their symptoms. However, the usefulness of medication for normal sadness, and especially the trade-off between symptom reduction and adverse effects, has not been carefully studied—partly because the necessary distinctions do not exist within the current diagnostic system.

One of the most worrying effects of this trend has been a boom in the prescription of antidepressant medication and quotes the worrying figures that “Roughly 10% of women and 4% of men in the United States take antidepressant medication at any time. By 2000, antidepressants were the best-selling prescription drugs of any type”.

The debate over whether depression is being over-diagnosed hit the pages of the British Medical Journal last year with the both pro and anti positions being argued with full force.

Link to PsychiatricTimes article ‘An epidemic of depression’.

The eternal quest for the cut-and-dry brain injury

The annual Society for Neuroscience conference is currently underway in Washington DC and Technology Review has a couple of article that reports on some of the highlights.

One piece is particularly interesting as it focuses on the use diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), a type of MRI scan that identifies the white matter nerve pathways in the brain, to detect otherwise undetectable brain damage.

These white matter pathways are like cabling that runs through the brain and in some forms of head injury they can get twisted, pulled or suffer sheering injuries which may not be easily visible on standard MRI scans.

A minority of people who suffer head injury with no detectable injury on standard MRIs will suffer emotion and behaviour disturbance, memory difficulties, diffuse headaches and problems with concentration.

This is sometimes diagnosed as post concussion syndrome and the researchers hope that DTI scans will find that people with these sorts of complaints will be found to have clear white matter disturbance.

Actually, this is one of the oldest debates in head injury and stretches back to the time when soldiers were first returning from the First World War with ‘shell shock’.

One of the theories, largely championed by Maudsley psychiatrist Frederick Mott, was that the shock waves from the shells disturbed the brains of the individuals causing microscopic brain damage.

However, it soon became clear that some soldiers who had ‘shell shock’ had never been near a shell explosion, while others had genuine brain injury but had similar sorts of problems which weren’t easily explained by the physical damage they’d endured.

One of the key lessons from this time was that our expectations, beliefs, emotions and interpretation of experiences and injuries contributed as much to the actual symptoms and disability as the physical damage.

Interestingly, similar sorts of problems have been reported in soldiers returned from Iraq and, as echoed in the TechReview article, there is a big push to clearly separate cases of ‘genuine brain injury’ from ’emotional trauma’.

History tells us that attempting a clear separation is likely to be futile, because the same symptoms can be produced by either one, or a combination, and knowing that one definitely plays a part doesn’t rule out the other.

So it’s interesting to hear the people quoted in the article suggest that DTI imaging could help assess who is cognitively able or not, who has a ‘real injury or is faking’, or whether someone should be sent back to the battlefield, because it relies on a cut-and-dry distinction between ‘brain injury’ and ‘psychological problem’ which doesn’t exist in the real world.

As an aside, white matter isn’t invisible on MRI or CT scans, as suggested in the article, although some white matter injuries might be.

And if you’re still hungry for more SfN news, TechReview has another bulletin with several highlights.

Link to article ‘Detecting Subtle Brain Injuries’.
Link to latest SfN brain research write-up.

Mirror’s Edge as proprioception hack

mirrorsedge.jpgMirror’s Edge is a first person computer game in which you play an urban free-runner, leaping, sliding, and generally acting fly across the roofs of a dystopian city (see the trailer here). It looks good. In fact, it looks amazing. But, reportedly, to actually play it is even better, sickeningly better.

Clive Thompson, writing for wired.com, suggests that the total interactivity of the environment (if you can see something, you can jump on it, or off it) along with the visual cues about what your character’s arms and legs are doing (they appear in shot as you run and jump) makes the game a convincing proprioception hack. In other words, it remaps your body schema so that you feel more fully that you are the character in the game. When your character runs fast, you feel it is you running fast. When you character jumps across between two buildings and look down, you feel a moment of sickening vertigo.

Research into illusions of proprioception — your sense of where you body is in space — has shown that our body map is surprisingly flexible. It is possible to mislocate your hand, for example, coming to believe that it is directly in front of you when in fact out at the side, or behind you (see video here). Jaron Lanier has reported on an early virtual reality experience he had that made him feel like he had the body of a lobster, with 6 extra limbs. The important feature of all these illusions is that they rely on precisely timed visual feedback. Although visual input can reprogramme our body image, it only does so when there is a tight coupling between what we see and feel. The importance is not the level of detail in what we see, but in the fluidity of the interaction. If Mirror’s Edge makes you feel like you are really are doing Parkour then it is because it has the correct kind of visual feedback (your limbs, in a fully interactive world) with the correct timing.

A final thought: if a computer game really is immersive for something as visceral as free-running, isn’t that kind of surprising, given how complex free running is physically, and how simple the commands used to control a computer game are? Perhaps what this is because when we automatise an action such as a run, a jump or a roll part of the process of making it automatic is losing the experience of the component parts. So, when a computer game feels like real, it is because real feels like nothing — we just ask our brains ‘jump’ and the motor system sorts out the details without our any deep experience of how the jump is performed.

link Clive Thompson’s report on playing Mirror’s Edge
link YouTube trailer for the game

Jumping Brain

The Jumping Brain is a limited edition toy created by artist Emilio Garcia that is a detailed plastic model of the brain, with, erm… webbed feat.

It comes in traditional lab demo gray, as well as red, green and blue and even has its own MySpace page.

The development of the project is even documented online, so you can see how the curious idea went from drawing board to webbed wonder.

Link to Jumping Brain website.

Ganzfeld hallucinations

The cognitive science journal Cortex has just released a special issue on the neuropsychology of paranormal experiences and belief, and contains a fantastic article on hallucinations induced by the Ganzfeld procedure.

The Ganzfeld procedure exposes the participant to ‘unstructured’ sensations usually by placing half ping-pong balls over the eyes so they can only see diffuse white light and by playing white noise through headphones.

It is probably best known for its uses in parapsychology experiments, but it is also used to induce hallucinations and sensory distortions which are much more likely to occur in the absence of clearly defined sensory experiences.

The article reviews the sorts of hallucinations reported in during these experiments and discusses what electrophysiology (EEG or ‘brain wave’) studies tell us about what happens in the cortex when these perceptual distortions kick off.

Some of the descriptions of hallucinations are really quite striking:

“For quite a long time, there was nothing except a green-greyish fog. It was really boring, I thought, ‘ah, what a non-sense experiment!’ Then, for an indefinite period of time, I was ‘off’, like completely absent-minded. Then, all of sudden, I saw a hand holding a piece of chalk and writing on a black-board something like a mathematical formula. The vision was very clear, but it stayed only for few seconds and disappeared again. The image did not fill up the entire visual field, it was just like a ‘window’ into that foggy stuff.”

“an urban scenery, like an empty avenue after a rain, large areas covered with water, and the city sky-line reflected in the water surface like in a mirror.”

“a clearing in a forest [Lichtung], a place bathed in bright sun-shine, and the trunks of trees around. A feeling of a tranquile summer afternoon in a forest, so quiet, so peaceful. And then, suddenly, a young woman passed by on a bicycle, very fast, she crossed the visual field from the right to the left, with her blond long hair waving in the air. The image of the entire scene was very clear, with many details, and yes, the colours were very vivid.”

“I can see his face, still, it’s very expressive… [I could see] only the horse that comes as if out of clouds. A white horse that jumped over me.”

“A friend of mine and I, we were inside a cave. We made a fire. There was a creek flowing under our feet, and we were on a stone. She had fallen into the creek, and she had to wait to have her things dried. Then she said to me: ‘Hey, move on, we should go now’.”

“It was like running a bob sleigh on an uneven runway right down… [There] was snow or maybe water running down… I could hear music, there was music coming from the left side below.”

“In the right side of the visual field, a manikin suddenly appeared. He was all in black, had a long narrow head, fairly broad shoulders, very long arms and a relatively small trunk…. He approached me, stretching out his hands, very long, very big, like a bowl, and he stayed so for a while, and then he went back to where he came from, slowly.”

You can simulate the Ganzfeld procedure in your own home by taping two half ping-pong balls over your eyes and listing to the radio tuned to static in an evenly lighted room.

The other articles in the special issue are also fascinating, and range from a study finding greater body asymmetry is related to higher levels of unusual beliefs – likely reflecting asymmetrical brain development, to an experiment looking at the cognitive psychology of people who believe they’ve been abducted by aliens.

Needless to say, there’s many more fascinating studies and Cortex has the advantage of not only being a leading neuropsychology journal but also making its material freely available as open-access articles. Enjoy!

Link to Cortex special issue.

New psychiatric diagnoses developed in secret

The LA Times has an op-ed piece on the current arguments over whether the new version of the DSM, the influential diagnostic manual of mental illness, should be developed transparently or whether decisions should continue to be made in secret as is currently the case.

The DSM-V is due out in May 2012, and all mental illness and proposals for the classifications of new mental illness are currently under review by the DSM-V committee.

While the manual tends only to be used clinically in North and South America (Europe uses the World Health Organisation’s ICD-10 manual), it has a far greater reach because psychiatric research all over the world has a tendency to use DSM diagnoses for consistency.

However, it will have a particularly strong impact in the United States, owing to the health insurance-based health care system that tends only to recognise ‘official’ diagnoses as worthy of funding.

Needless to say, both the pharmaceutical industry and pressure groups have a vested interest in getting specific disorders recognised and there is apparently a great pressure on the committees to include certain concepts.

One of the psychiatrists (former editor Robert Spitzer) wanted transparency; several others, including the president of the American Psychiatric Assn. and the man charged with overseeing the revisions (Darrel Regier), held out for secrecy. Hanging in the balance is whether, four years from now, a set of questionable behaviors with names such as “Apathy Disorder,” “Parental Alienation Syndrome,” “Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder,” “Compulsive Buying Disorder,” “Internet Addiction” and “Relational Disorder” will be considered full-fledged psychiatric illnesses.

Spitzer, a key figure in the development of the current diagnostic system, is pushing for transparency so everyone can see the minutes and correspondence to keep an eye on the potential pressures brought to bear on the members.

Indeed, one of the criticisms of the past committees has been that large numbers of the central decision-makers have had financial ties to the drug industry, a trend which is apparently not much different for the DSM-V committee.

There’s also a good commentary over at Furious Seasons if you’re interested in some more background to the controversy.

Link to LA Times article.
Link to Furious Seasons follow-up.

An unusual and poignant brain injury

Sometimes, medical case studies are powerful as much because of what they leave out as what they contain, as in an uncomfortably moving 1935 case report of a young lady who attempted suicide with a hand gun.

It’s available online as a pdf and the point of the article is to report the remarkable fact that she survived and was apparently neurologically normal afterwards, despite losing a considerable amount of blood and brain tissue.

Scientifically, this is indeed remarkable, but perhaps more striking is the photo, ostensibly of the wound, but haunting because of the what it captures of the young woman.

Her photo is painfully personal, showing a bleak, listless expression and suggesting a difficult life undescribed. It’s a stark contrast to the stripped clean case study that contains only one line of personal detail:

On July 25, 1934, at 1pm, Mrs A., age about 30, attempted suicide at her home in Truckee, California, by shooting herself through the head with a 32-caliber automatic revolver.

Presumably the case report was published before the days when it became customary to anonymise patient photos to protect personal privacy. But these images remind us that this requirement protects the reader as much as it protects the patient, because while tragedy is important to understand in the abstract, it remains difficult to absorb in the personal.

Being able to abstract the data from the tragedy is one of the most important skills of working with people facing difficult situations, but it is barely mentioned in textbooks or training programmes. It’s just something people are expected to develop and discuss if they find challenging.

Occasionally, even the most seasoned professional is caught off-guard, where the full impact of unchecked emotional engagement outflanks the abstraction process.

This 1930s case study reflects that same experience, where the medical facts are drowned out by the immediacy of the human emotion.

pdf of case study ‘An Unusual Brain Injury’.
Link to PubMed Central entry for same.

The dance of consciousness

Edge has a fascinating video interview with philosopher Alva Noë who discusses his work on the philosophy of consciousness, arguing that we will be led astray if we think of consciousness solely as a brain process that happens within us without reference to how we act in the world.

Noë is primarily arguing for a form of embodied cognition which argues that the mind and brain can only be understood as situated in the world in which we interact. The function of the mind is inherently connected to the sorts of tasks we need to do to survive on a day-to-day basis.

This view has been bolstered by experimental work which has shown that we perceive the world differently depending on the task we are doing or how we intend to act.

For example, in one of my favourite studies, psychologist Dennis Proffitt and his colleagues found that we perceive distances as shorter when we have a tool in our hand, but only when we intend to use it.

Noë uses the fantastic analogy of dance to highlight how we can only understand this practice by considering the dancers, the world and the mind together. Dance does not exist solely between our ears.

Consciousness is not something that happens in us. It is something we do.

A much better image is that of the dancer. A dancer is locked into an environment, responsive to music, responsive to a partner. The idea that the dance is a state of us, inside of us, or something that happens in us is crazy. Our ability to dance depends on all sorts of things going on inside of us, but that we are dancing is fundamentally an attunement to the world around us.

And this idea that human consciousness is something we enact or achieve, in motion, as a way of being part of a larger process, is the focus of my work.

Experience is something that is temporarily extended and active. Perceptual consciousness is a style of access to the world around us. I can touch something, and when I touch something I make use of an understanding of the way in which my own movements help me secure access to that which is before me. The point is not that merely that I learn about or achieve access to the world by touching. The point is that the thing shows up for me as something in a space of movement-oriented possibilities.

Noë goes on to talk about how perception represents meaning, how we can be led astray in neuroscience if we artificially separate action and perception, and how our definition of ‘life’ can help us understand consciousness.

Link to video interview and transcript of Alva Noë interview.
Link to previous Mind Hacks post on embodied cognition.

She Blinded Me with Science

It’s an age old story. Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy is psychoanalysed, psychologically tested, strapped into a brain machine and plays the girl like a giant cello before escaping on a motorbike and throwing the wheelchair-bound doctor into the river.

Yes, it’s the video for Thomas Dolby’s 1982 synth-pop hit She Blinded Me with Science, which presumably doesn’t refer to the psychoanalysis part.

The mad scientist featured in the video was actually real life British scientist Magnus Pyke, who was best known for educating the UK public about science during the 80s and 90s.

Thomas Dolby is an eccentric synth-pop pioneer who seemed to have a bit of a thing about beautiful Japanese women, psychology and barely comprehensible videos.

Link to She Blinded Me with Science video.

2008-11-14 Spike activity

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

Do women get bitchier as they get older? Only if they’re faced with research like this, says Dr Petra.

Cognitive Daily ask another one of their compelling questions: can a blind person whose vision is restored understand what she sees?

Temporarily open-access special issue of Criminal Justice and Behaviour discusses pseudoscientific policing practices and beliefs.

Wired asks what Facebook and steroid use have in common. I thought it was acne but apparently it’s social networks.

What makes the human mind asks Harvard Magazine. At Harvard, about $10,000 a term I would say.

BBC News reports on a new analysis of UK Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s speeches suggesting that Alzheimer’s had started to take effect before his shock resignation.

Can we have consciousness without attention? Asks philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel.

Psyblog reports on gift-giving experiments that suggest women react more positively than men to rubbish gifts – at least at first.

At addiction centres longer treatment programs are proving key to ending the relapse-rehab cycle, reports the LA Times.

USA Today reports on new research suggest that being physically punished as a child may lead to sexual problems later, although I’m not sure I’d classify a preference for S&M as a problem alongside coercion and risky sexual behaviour.

Does religion make you nice? asks Slate who consider friendly atheist Scandinavians.

Neurophilosophy finds a beautiful image of the brain from St Paul’s Cathedral architect Sir Christopher Wren.

I think this is a working torrent of The English Surgeon possibly the greatest brain documentary ever made.

The Wall Street Journal discusses new research which highlights the importance of forgetting. The French Foreign Legion have advertised this for years of course.

Stanley Fish for the New York Times blog discusses why it took US psychologists so long to ban participation in torture.

Frontal Cortex discusses new research finding that a bad night’s sleep can increase the chance of false memories.

The excellent Somatosphere discusses the culture changes that have meant social anxiety disorder is now more widely diagnosed in France.

Boo Yaa! Karl Friston drops some Bayes-heavy block-rocking maths in an article for PLoS Computational Biology on hierarchical models in the brain.

Speed daters shallow, reports New Scientist.

The BPS Research Digest discusses research on the negative effect of pregnancy on memory for future events.

Late stage Huntingdon’s disease includes better auditory signal detection, according to research covered by The Neurocritic.