The automated phrenologist

I’ve just discovered the excellent This Week in the History of Psychology podcast series which has a particularly good episode on the ‘psycograph’, an automated phrenology device created in 1905.

The idea is that it would ‘read’ the bumps on your head by the use of mechanical plungers and it would then print a profile of your ‘character’ in a matter of seconds.

There’s a remarkable amount of information about this device on the web (and yes, “psycograph” is the correct spelling) including a fantastic page of original advertising.

You can download the relevant podcast as an mp3 and the others are also well worth checking out.

They are written and presented by mind and brain historian Christopher Green, who you may know from the Classics in the History of Psychology website, or his involvement with Advances in the History of Psychology blog.

Don’t be put off by the headache-inducing website, unlike many other special podcasts, is very well produced with high quality audio and an impressive line-up of researchers.

Link to This Week in the History of Psychology podcasts.

To the scent side

Photo by Flickr user SteffanyZphotgraphy. Click for sourceThe New York Times covers an interesting study finding that if you smell different odours in each nostril the brain doesn’t blend the scents, instead, your experience of smell alternates between the two.

This nostril rivalry, as the researchers describe it in a paper in Current Biology, is similar to what happens when the eyes are presented with different images, or the ears with different tones.

The researchers experimented with 12 people using two chemicals, one that has an odor like a marker pen, the other that smells like a rose. All 12 experienced switching between the two odors, with no pattern as to when and how often they switched.

And as with hearing and vision, smell sensitivity is related to the general tendency for left or right hemisphere activation in the brain.

Because this general tendency is also related to a bias for magical thinking and unusual perceptual experiences, we know that differences in nostril sensitivity can be found between people who have high numbers of paranormal-like experiences and those who don’t.

Link to NYT piece ‘How the Nose Copes With Nostril Rivalry’.
Link to PubMed entry for study.

I’ll give you a piece of my printed mind

We occasionally thrown down a few mind and brain t-shirts for you here at Mind Hacks but I’ve recently discovered a whole t-shirt label dedicated to the stuff between your ears.

The Printed Mind has a number of fantastic big graphic t-shirts dedicated to the mind and brain, and because they look so great, I think we can ignore the occasional lapse (*cough* total disregard) for anatomical correctness.

I mean, you wouldn’t want a naked lady tattoo where someone had got the anatomy wrong, so why would you want it on a t-shirt?

Maybe if it was glow in the dark?

Now you’re talking.

Link to The Printed Mind online shop (via Coty Gonzales).

2009-09-04 Spike activity

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

Neuroskeptic reports on a study finding that antidepressant use in the USA has doubled in the last decade. Interestingly, peak use is in 50-64 year-olds.

There’s some organic robot art inspired by Rorschach inkblots over an Seed Magazine.

The New York Times has an excellent piece about the role of guilt in regulating behaviour in children.

The effect of our beliefs and expectations on the taste of <a href="
“>wine is explored in the Sensory Superpowers blog.

Science News covers a study on how baby girls more quickly associate fear with snakes and spiders than boys.

There are some interesting talks on culture and neuroscience from the Neurocultures Workshop despite the audio being a bit poor. See left hand side bar for links to video and mp3.

The New York Times has a fascinating article on projects that crawl the web and look for indicators of people’s mood, creating global emotion maps.

A new antipsychotic, named lurasidone, is likely to be hitting the market shortly, according to Furious Seasons. Promises to improve treatment of psychosis, probably won’t.

The Economist covers a study on the role of female testosterone levels in financial risk taking.

Continuing on the testosterone theme, a study covered by New Scientist finds that men with higher levels of the hormone spend less time with their children.

Neuronarrative has a fantastic post on a study finding that during a simulated crime, researchers were able to induce false confessions in nearly everyone using faked video evidence.

Another interesting study into the remarkable self-organising properties of crowds is covered by the ever excellent BPS Research Digest.

Technology Review blog covers an interesting paper arguing that measuring the entropy of reaction times within a psychology experiment may be a better way of inferring cognition.

Neuroscientist Nancy Kanwisher recently gave a keynote talk to the Association for Psychological Science and you can read or watch it via The Situationist.

New Scientist covers an absolutely fascinating study that looked at how different types of dementia break down the small world network of the brain’s neural architecture in specific ways.

There’s an interesting review of studies on how written language style earlier in life can predict the chance of getting Alzheimer’s disease when older at Language Log.

Culture Matters has an interesting post about cultural differences in attitudes to sexual aids like Viagra and penis enlargers in the Arab world.

The not so grateful dead

Photo by Flickr user Zach K. Click for sourceIf you suddenly find your web filter is blocking Mind Hacks, it’s because this post is about necrophilia. A paper just published in the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine has proposed the first classification of sexual attraction to death and the dead.

I maintain an amateur interest in the forensic psychology literature because there is nothing that lays out the full range of human behaviour in such stark contrast and nothing which will challenge your assumptions about the things society feels least comfortable talking about.

This paper is a good example. You can probably think of nothing more revolting than necrophilia but the review makes clear that the link between sexual arousal and death can include consenting adults acting out B-movie fantasies to people who are unable to get aroused except by anything corpses, with almost everything in between.

Apparently, there was previously too little research in the area to allow a coherent classification of the different types and this is the first paper that attempts to map the range of sexual attraction to death.

There is nothing gratuitous in the article and it is a seriously scholarly piece, but if you’re not comfortable with some of the darker corners of human existence you may find it hard going.

Link to paper on the classification of necrophilia.
Link to PubMed entry for same.


I was told of this funny bit of medical jargon yesterday by a psychiatrist friend of mine, which, apparently, is occasionally used by physicians when they want a medical sounding way of saying that the patient’s symptoms exist only in their imagination.

Luckily I found a great definition on Urban Dictionary:


A word used by doctors and nurses to imply that a patient’s problems are all in their mind. The tentorium is a membrane just under the brain, so “supratentorial” refers to what is above that, namely the brain. This term can be used in front of the patient or patient’s family because it sounds like technical jargon.

Patient: “Every time Dr Phil comes on TV, my arms and legs start twitching!”

Doctor, quietly to nurse: “Seems to be a supratentorial problem.”

Then to patient, condescendingly: “Sorry, dear, we’re just talking shop. Go on.”

Link to Urban Dictionary definition (thanks Quinton!)

Zombie brain cupcakes

Photo by Flickr user xsomnis. Click for sourcexsomnis is a Flickr user with a passion for the patisserie who has made these wonderful brain cupcakes for the next time you have some distinguished zombies round for afternoon tea.

She’s even created a Flickr set that explains how to make the sweet brain toppings.

They almost look too good to eat. Unless you’re undead of course.

Link to zombie brain cupcakes.
Link to brain topping instructions.