I’ve written a piece for the BPS Research Digest about a fascinating study that caused people to feel their thoughts were being controlled by outside forces.
It’s a psychologically intriguing study because it used the psychology lab to conduct the study but it also used the psychology lab as a form of misdirection, so participants wouldn’t realise that the effect of having their ‘thoughts read’ and ‘thoughts inserted into their mind’ was in fact a common trick used in stage mentalism.
The interesting bit came where the researchers recorded whether participants reacted differently when they thought their thoughts were being read (they did) and asked about their experience of it happening (when it never actually did).
They reported a range of anomalous effects when they thought numbers were being “inserted” into their minds: A number “popped in” my head, reported one participant. Others described “a voice … dragging me from the number that already exists in my mind”, feeling “some kind of force”, feeling “drawn” to a number, or the sensation of their brain getting “stuck” on one number. All a striking testament to the power of suggestion.
A really wonderfully conceived study that may provide a useful tool for temporarily inducing the feeling of not controlling your own thoughts – something that occurs in a range of psychological difficulties and disorders.
Link to piece on BPS Research Digest.
BBC Radio 4 is currently running a fascinating four-part series called The Borders of Sanity on the interaction between culture and mental illness.
It’s been put together by cultural historian Christopher Harding and takes an in-depth look at four particular instances where culture and mental health interact, perhaps in seemingly curious ways if you weren’t familiar with the culture.
It includes episodes on Depression in Japan, Sweden’s Adolescents, Hearing Voices in the UK, and the one to be broadcast next week Healing in Ghana.
The only downside is it’s one of BBC Radio’s occasional programmes that they only make available as streamed audio from their website – presumably to give it an early 2000s internet feel.
However, well-worth a listen. Genuinely fascinating stuff so far.
Link to BBC Radio 4’s The Borders of Sanity.
Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:
The New York Times has a fascinating piece on the online community of people who believe they are being ‘gang stalked’.
Completely destroy the immune system with chemotherapy and rebuild it with stem cells. A radical experimental treatment that seemed to halt multiple sclerosis with 1 death in 23 out of 24 patients people. One died. Reported by BBC News.
Aeon has a piece on the social function of human sacrifice.
Using image processing to improve reconstruction of movies from brain activity. Remarkable but trippy extraction of video from brain activity from Jack Gallant’s lab. Deep dream esque.
The Washington Post has an interesting piece on the history of seeing racism as a mental illness and its problems.
A New Theory Explains How Consciousness Evolved. The Atlantic has a good piece on Attention Schema Theory.
Mosaic has an excellent balanced piece on the effect of screens, smartphones and devices on young people.
There’s a good obituary for recently deceased legendary psychologist Jerome Bruner in The Washington Post.
Time reports that most violent crimes are wrongly linked to mental illness.
The widely-reported link between older fathers, spontaneous DNA mutations in sperm, and chance of offspring with autism may be due to a confound: men who carry risk factors tend to have children late in life. Good reporting from Spectrum.
Researchers from the Bjork Learning and Forgetting Lab at UCLA have created a fantastic video on the cognitive science of how to study.
Despite the fact that we now know loads about what makes for optimal learning, it’s rarely applied by students who are trying to learn a subject or ace a test.
This is a short, clear, helpful video on exactly that.
It looks like the video is set so it can’t be embedded but you can watch it at the link below.
Link to Pro Tips: How to Study on vimeo
If you’re in the UK this Saturday, London’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience is celebrating 20 years of peering into the brain with an all-day £5 conference that gathers leading researchers to cover everything from the neuroscience of cannabis to embodied cognition.
By looking at the talks (warning: pdf format programme), it seems they’re pitched half way between BBC documentary and academic talk, so if you are suitably caffeinated, they should perfectly hit the spot.
You can buy tickets online but if you’re not walking through central London trying to pipe energy drinks directly into your bloodstream at 9.30am on Saturday, you can watch it via a livestream which is being hosted on the information superhighway.
Link to Mind the Brain conference details.
Neuropsychologist Suzanne Corkin, most well known for her work with profoundly amnesic patient HM, has passed away and The New York Times has a fitting obituary and tribute.
Although Corkin did a range of work on memory, including testing various medications to treat Alzheimer’s disease, she is in many ways synonymous with amnesic Patient HM, later revealed to be Henry Molaison, who she studied and worked with for most of both of their lives.
Corkin not only took a scientific interest in HM, she also ensured his well-being and appropriate care.
HM had perhaps one of the profoundest amnesias reported in the scientific literature but there is a lovely description in The New York Times obituary that describes how HM formed an emotional memory of Corkin, even though a conscious memory wasn’t present.
But it was her relationship with H.M. that was defining. His profound deficits made their relationship anything but normal — every time she walked in the room, she had to reintroduce herself — but that repetition bred a curious bond over time.
“He thought he knew me from high school,” Dr. Corkin said in an interview with The New York Times in 2008.
Link to Suzanne Corkin obituary in The NYT.
Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:
One of the earliest hominin constructions ever found hundreds of metres deep into a cave. Fascinating piece in The Atlantic.
Aeon has a fascinating piece on how we come to have knowledge of our own minds.
PET brain metabolism linked to return of consciousness in vegetative state patients. The ‘predict’ headline on the article is a bit misleading in everyday terms – it’s only one study so not good enough evidence to make clinical predictions – but fascinating work covered by Stat.
The Guardian has a piece on psychology’s study pre-registration revolution.
ABC Radio’s The Science Show has an excellent hour-long tribute to Oliver Sacks – in his own words.
How do we choose a romantic partner? Interesting review of studies from The Conversation.
Social Minds has a fascinating post on arguing that it’s about time we identified cognitive phenotypes for the social deficits in autism.