An influential psychologist

time mag.jpgPsychologist Richard Davidson (pictured below) of the W.M. Keck lab for Functional Brain Imaging and Behaviour at the University of Wisconsin has been named one of the world’s Top 100 most influential people by Time magazine. He’s most famous for researching the neural correlates of meditation and for collaborating with the Dalai Lama:


“East and West not only meet in Richard Davidson’s laboratory; they are also starting to exchange a great deal of useful information about human experience and human potential”.Read more

Freakonomist Steven Levitt also features in the list, with a brief eulogy by Malcolm Gladwell.

Hey Mind Hacks readersWhich psychologists or neuroscientists do you think should have made the list, and why? Comments are open.

Link to Richard Davidson’s website.
Link to article in Time magazine.

What got you going where

biomapping.JPGBy combining a hand-held global positioning system with a galvanic skin response sensor (that measures the sweatiness of your fingers), London-based artist Christian Nold has created a gadget that measures your arousal as you walk around. Superimposing the data onto your route, using something like Google Earth, allows you to see a kind of ’emotion map‘ for where you’ve been.

Nold has tested the device on over 300 people so far (his data is publicly available), and is looking for academic and commercial research partners to explore the project’s potential.

Link to Bio-mapping website.
Link to Bio-mapping documentary download.

The Architecture of Happiness

de botton.jpgWe’re probably going to be seeing a lot of Alain de Botton in the coming months, as he’s out and about promoting his new book ‘The Architecture of Happiness’.

I’m a huge fan of de Botton, whose books such as ‘The Consolations of Philosophy’ have won widespread critical acclaim for making philosophy accessible and relevant to modern life.

But I felt he went off the boil with his last book Status Anxiety and after reading Jonathan Glancey’s review of his new book in The Guardian, I’m worried he may not have found a return to form.

However, I am going to read the new book (partly because I‚Äôm researching a feature on the role of psychology in Britain‚Äôs current building boom) so if there are any magazine or newspaper editors out there who‚Äôd like me to review it, please do get in touch 😉

Also, while we’re discussing de Botton, I should point you to his Times review of Cordelia Fine’s book ‘A mind of its own’, in which he discusses whether the experimental approach to understanding the human psyche – that is, psychology – really is the right one:

“Expecting to study the mysteries of the mind, [psychology] students soon realise that they have set off down a far less glamorous and unusual path, for their field requires them not so much to explore new insights as to test old and quite simple ones according to a rigorous and patient scientific method. Psychology emerges as, depending on your point of view, either a gloriously or horrifyingly pedantic discipline”.

PS. I virtually bumped into de Botton at Edinburgh airport once, but I’m (a) not that good with faces and (b) shy, so I persuaded my girlfriend to go and ask him if he was who I thought he was. Anyway, apparently he was utterly charming and self-effacing.

UPDATE: Alain de Botton appeared on Monday’s edition of Start the Week on BBC Radio 4. And he’s got his own TV series on Channel 4/ More 4.

Link to Alain de Botton’s website, which includes full details of all his books, plus reviews, audio clips and much more.
Link to Guardian review of his new book.
Link to article on Britain’s building boom.
Link to de Botton’s review of ‘A mind of its own’.

The Happiness Formula

the happiness formula.gif
There’s a new six-part series starting on BBC 2 this week called The Happiness Formula, and the companion website has all sorts of features including on-line video clips, happiness tests, and an article about the science of happiness.

Glancing through, it looks like among the key contributors are well-being psychologist Ed Diener, positive psychologist Martin Seligman, and Emeritus Professor of Economics Lord Layard, who’s been making a lot of noise recently in an effort to get the UK government to provide more therapists. Layard also wrote a book a few years ago called Happiness: Lessons from a new science.

The series comes at a time when there are increasing calls for the population’s happiness, rather than it’s prosperity, to be used as the main measure of the government’s success.

Link to The Happiness Formula Website.
Link to article on the science of happiness.
Link to happiness test.

Phantom paralysis

prospect mag.gifThis month’s brilliant Out of Mind column in Prospect magazine, written by psychiatrist Robert Drummond and Alexanader Linklater, deputy editor of the mag, is about a cambonian woman with phantom paralysis.

The woman’s husband died recently following a massive stroke. They’d been married 42 years. An earlier stroke had left him with a weak arm and leg. Now his widow is complaining of similar symptoms – a completely limp arm, and a weak leg, but crucially, scans have revealed no physical explanation for her paralysis.

“The young psychiatrist asks if Kim Sieng feels depressed. She says she doesn’t. He asks if she wants to talk more about her husband. Again she doesn’t. Suddenly, he is conscious of a poignancy that Kim Sieng does not herself express. He can’t resist the impression that she has somehow embodied her grief, telling him about it with her body”.

The article describes how the psychiatrist was finding himself in the murky world of ‘hysterical paralysis’, part of Charcot’s 19-th century notion of a dynamic neural lesion.

human traces.jpgHere’s how, at a public lecture at the Salpetriere, Charcot describes hysterical paralysis in a male patient, taken from Sebastian Faulks’ outstanding novel Human Traces:

“This is an example of what an English colleague, Mr. Reynolds, referred to as ‘paralysis by idea’ – not imagined paralysis, for this man is as physically afflicted as any of my multiple sclerosis patients – no, paralysis by idea. An experience has been held out of conscious thought in such a way that it has been able to exert its influence directly upon the nervous system and thus upon the muscles of the patient. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the peculiar interest of this condition”.

Link to this month’s Out of Mind column (which unfortunately isn’t free this time).
Link to last month’s column (free access) on different perspectives of alcoholism.
Link to earlier Mind Hacks post on A Beautiful Madness, highlighting an earlier Prospect article by Drummond and Linklater.

Mind and brain on Research TV

research tv.gif

I’ve just discovered ‘Research TV’ which features loads of free videos, or ‘vodcasts’, including several on psychology and neuroscience:

Link to Scanning brainwaves to read the mind, about combining MEG and fMRI brain imaging techniques.
Link to Hemianopia: looking into the dark.
Link to A happy marriage helps beat flu.
Link to Fit to fight depression.
Link to Brain Scans show ADHD differences.
Link to Not exactly brain surgery, about a virtual reality simulator for surgeons.
Link to Older and Wiser?: Tackling problems of the ageing brain.
Link to Magnetic milestones in children’s brain tumour treatment.
Link to Job satisfaction depends on happiness.

There are probably others that I’ve missed too. I just watched the first one on ‘Scanning brainwaves’ and it includes some excellent shots of what a MEG scanner looks like with somebody in it (I’ve seen a fMRI scanner loads of times but not a MEG one), and in another clip you can also hear just how noisy an fMRI scanner is.

Warwick University are apparently behind Research TV, with Birmingham uni, Nottingham uni, King’s College and Durham University as partners.

Link 1 and link 2 for previous Mind Hacks posts about online neurosci videos.