A history of the mind in 25 parts

BBC Radio 4 has just kicked off a 25-part radio series called ‘In Search of Ourselves: A History of Psychology and the Mind’.

Because the BBC are not very good at the internet, there are no podcasts – streaming audio only, and each episode disappears after seven days. Good to see the BBC are still on the cutting edge of 20th Century media.

The series looks fantastic however and it aims to cover psychology, psychiatry, neuroscience and the diverse history of dealing with mental distress.

The first episode is already online so worth tuning in while you can.
 

Link to In Search of Ourselves: A History of Psychology and the Mind.

Detecting inner consciousness

CC Licensed photo by Flickr user hernán. Click for source.Mosaic has an excellent in-depth article on researchers who are trying to detect signs of consciousness in patients who have fallen into coma-like states.

The piece meshes the work of neuroscientists Adrian Owen, Nicholas Schiff and Steven Laureys who are independently looking at how to detect signs of consciousness in unresponsive brain-injured patients.

It’s an excellent piece and communicates the key difference between various states of poor response after brain injury that are crucial for making sense of the ‘consciousness in coma’ headlines.

One of the key concepts is the minimally conscious state which is where patients show signs of fleeting and impaired consciousness but which is nonetheless verifiably present.

However, MCS is still a very impaired state to be in and this is sometimes missed by news reports.

For example, lots of coverage of a recent Lancet study suggested that ‘one third of patients in persistent vegetative state (a state with no reliable signs of consciousness) may be conscious’ as if this meant they were fully conscious but trapped in their bodies, when actually they just reached criteria for minimally conscious state.

My only point of contention with the Mosaic article is that it’s a little too enthusiastic about sleeping pill zolpidem, which has been reported to lead to a ‘miraculous’ recovery in some case reports but where results from early systematic studies still look bleak.

Nevertheless, an excellent piece that’s probably one of the best accounts of this important and innovative area of research you’re likely to read for a long-time.
 

Link to Mosaic article ‘The Mind Readers’.

Spike activity 18-04-2014

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

Wired has a fascinating interview with psychopath researcher Kent Kiehl. He of the mobile brain scanner.

Scanning brain energy could help predict who will wake from vegetative state. Interesting piece on preliminary research covered by The Conversation

Contrary to news stories, a recent study did not tell us that smoking weed damages your brain, reports The Daily Beast.

Gay genes? Yeah, but no, well kind of… but, so what? Excellent piece from Wiring the Brain. You guys all read Wiring the Brain right?

The Association for Psychological Science has an archive of interviews with legends of psychological science. Harlow’s wire monkey, the Bobo doll, Mischel’s uneaten marshmallow…

In Search of Ourselves: A History of Psychology and the Mind. An extensive 25-part radio series on the history of psychology kicks off on Monday 21st April on BBC Radio 4.

The United Nations release a report that has everything you ever wanted to know about your chance of being murdered. Pro-tip: don’t be male.

The evolutionary psychology of facial furniture. Scicurious on the behavioural science of beards.

Scientific American Mind reports on highlights from the recent Cognitive Neuroscience Society Annual Meeting.

Irrationality ninja Dan Ariely has a kickstarter to make a documentary on dishonesty. 20 days left, a few more backers and it could make it. Looks fascinating.

Bloomberg on the booming business in behavioral finance. Although why not apply it to bankers rather than consumers to stop them fucking the economy? You can put the economics Nobel in the post.

A fascinating piece on the social and biopolitical role of bleach in a Nicaraguan community from the ever excellent Somatosphere.

Indie reports on surprising structure of artists’ brains

Artists brains are ‘structurally different’ according to The Independent, who report on a small, thought-provoking but as yet quite preliminary study.

The image used to illustrate the article (the one on the right) is described as showing “more grey and white matter in artists’ brains connected to visual imagination and fine motor control”.

This could be a bit alarming, especially if you are an artist, because that’s actually a map of a mouse brain.

Whether artists have ‘different brains’ or not, in any meaningful sense, is perhaps slightly beside the point, but you can be rest assured that they’re not so different that they will give you a sudden desire to scamper around looking for cheese.

It’s your own time you’re wasting

CC Licensed photo by Flickr user alamosbasement. Click for source.British teachers have voted to receive training in neuroscience ‘to improve classroom practice’ according to a report in the Times Educational Supplement and the debate sounded like a full-on serial head-desker.

The idea of asking for neuroscience training at all sounds a little curious but the intro seemed like it could be quite reasonable:

Members of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) at the union’s annual conference narrowly voted for a motion calling for training materials and policies on applying neuroscience to education and for further research on how technology can be used to develop better teaching.

Now, this could be just a request to be kept up-to-date with the latest educational neuroscience developments. Sounds fascinating but probably not that practically useful as neuroscience doesn’t really have much to offer your average classroom teacher.

Enter Julia Neal, a member of the council for the union’s leadership division and leading member of the head-desk working group:

“It is true that the emerging world of neuroscience presents opportunities as well as challenges for education, and it’s important that we bridge the gulf between educators, psychologists and neuroscientists.”

Neuroscience could also help teachers tailor their lessons for creative “right brain thinkers”, who tend to struggle with conventional lessons but often have more advanced entrepreneurial skills, Ms Neal said.

Entrepreneurial skills being a well known function of the ‘right brain’. It’s why Bill Gates always veers slightly to the left when he walks. So why this sudden interest in neuroscience in the classroom I wonder?

Earlier this year, the government-backed Education Endowment Foundation and the Wellcome Trust launched a £6 million scheme that will fund neuroscientific research into learning.

Kerching! But the best bit of the debate is where a neuropsychologist stands up and goes ‘well, I don’t think it’s as simple as you’re making out’:

However Joanne Fludder, a classroom teacher in Reading with a doctorate in neuropsychology, opposed the motion.

She told the conference that the field was “very complicated” and theories were “still in flux” as research was carried out.

Boo! Get her off!
 

Link to article in the Times Educational Supplement

The biases of pop psychology

I just found this great piece at Scientific American that makes a fascinating point about how pop psychology books that inform us about our biases tend not to inform us about our most important bias – the effect of making things into stories – despite the fact that they rely on it to get their message across

The piece starts by quoting economist Tyler Cowen:

“There’s the Nudge book, the Sway book, the Blink book… [they are] all about the ways in which we screw up. And there are so many ways, but what I find interesting is that none of these books identify what, to me, is the single, central, most important way we screw up, and that is, we tell ourselves too many stories, or we are too easily seduced by stories. And why don’t these books tell us that? It’s because the books themselves are all about stories. The more of these books you read, you’re learning about some of your biases, but you’re making some of your other biases essentially worse. So the books themselves are part of your cognitive bias.”

The crux of the problem, as Cowen points out, is that it’s nearly impossible to understand irrationalities without taking advantage of them. And, paradoxically, we rely on stories to understand why they can be harmful.

‘Great story!’ you might say, instantly causing a cognitive bias loop from which you might never emerge.
 

Link to ‘The Paradox of Popular Psychology’ (via @JNNP_BMJ)

Spike activity 11-04-2014

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

Things I’ve learned since being sectioned. Good piece on the appropriately named Sectioned blog.

The New York Times covers the latest in rising fads in proposed psychiatric diagnoses: sluggish cognitive tempo.

Don’t Throw Out The Baby With The Dead Salmon. Neuroskeptic discusses critiques of fMRI.

Slate has a eulogy to a man with amnesia taught us how memories become personal through scientific studies where he was known as ‘KC’ – now known to be Kent Cochrane.

Suspect in the disturbingly weird ‘selling stolen human brains on eBay’ case faces new charges, reports The Courier Journal.

The Independent reports on the recent release of new 3D maps of genes expression and pathways in the… yes, yes, you can just check the pretty pictures.

Here’s How Neuroscientists in the 1800s Studied Blood Flow in the Brain. Clever, clever study covered by The Smithsonian Magazine.

Aeon Magazine has an excellent piece on soldiers, guilt and post-deployment trauma.

‘Brain cells linked to autism’ reports the Star Tribune who should fire their headline writer.

Gizmodo has an excellent new visual illusion.

Creativity and the Brain: What We Can Learn From Jazz Musicians? asks KQED. Practice, collaborate and stay off the smack?