Mixing up a decade of All in the Mind

The amazing ABC Radio National programme All in the Mind is ten years old and is celebrating by mixing up some specially themed editions from its extensive archives.

First up is the psychology and neuroscience of sex that tackles everything from gender myths to the neuroscience of female orgasm.

The following edition, to hit the wires next week, is a special on consciousness and there’s plenty more gold on its way.

All in the Mind is one of the few programmes that is as interesting to professionals as it is to enthusiasts and if you’ve never had a listen, now’s a good chance to check out some of the audio.
 

Link to All in the Mind site.
Link to 10th Anniversary Special 1: Getting Sexy.

I am yours for 2 coppers

I’ve just found a wonderful 1973 study on the psychoanalysis of graffiti that discusses how unconscious desires might be expressed through public scrawlings.

It has a completely charming table that compares graffiti from A.D. 79 Pompeii with 1960’s Los Angeles to demonstrate the similarity of themes across the centuries.
 


 

The author concludes that “aggressive-destructive and incorporative wishes are similarly satisfied by the wall writer at the expense of the wall owner” although overtly sexual images should be considered as definitely expressing sexual themes.
 

Link to locked 1973 study the psychoanalysis of graffiti.

Ten years of the language gene that wasn’t

It’s now ten years since mutations in the FOXP2 gene were linked to language problems, which led to lots of overblown headlines about a ‘language gene’, which it isn’t.

The actual science is no less interesting, however, and Discover Magazine has a fantastic article that looks back on the last decade since the gene’s discovery and what it tells us about the complex genetics that support lingustic development and expression.

There’s also a fascinating bit about the history of attempts to explain how humans developed language, which apparently got so ridiculous that speculation was banned by learned societies in the 19th century:

Lacking hard evidence, scholars of the past speculated broadly about the origin of language. Some claimed that it started out as cries of pain, which gradually crystallized into distinct words. Others traced it back to music, to the imitation of animal grunts, or to birdsong. In 1866 the Linguistic Society of Paris got so exasperated by these unmoored musings that it banned all communication on the origin of language. Its English counterpart felt the same way. In 1873 the president of the Philological Society of London declared that linguists “shall do more by tracing the historical growth of one single work-a-day tongue, than by filling wastepaper baskets with reams of paper covered with speculations on the origin of all tongues.”

Like a 19th century reverse scientific X-Factor where people voted to ban people from speculating further. I think I may have found a gap in the market.
 

Link to Discover article on ‘The Language Fossils’.

The secret life of the inner voice

Don’t miss the latest RadioLab short, a programme about a guy whose world has been unevenly slowed down.

Psychological fascinating but also a beautiful piece of storytelling.

When Andy first met Kohn, he saw a college freshman in a wheelchair who moved slow and talked slow. But it only took one conversation for Andy to realize that Kohn was also witty and observant. They clicked so effortlessly over lunch one day that Andy went ahead and asked an audacious question: why was Kohn so slow? Kohn told him that when he was 8-years-old, he was hit by a car. He was in a coma for five months, and when he finally woke up, he everything about him was slowed down … except for his mind.

Do not miss.
 

Link to RadioLab short ‘Slow’.

Strong piano at high fruitiness

A wonderful graph which shows how strongly the sounds of the piano, strings, woodwind and brass instruments are associated with fruity smells, across smells of low, medium and high fruitiness.

From a recent study entitled ‘A Fruity Note: Crossmodal associations between odors and musical notes’.

The study also tests how strongly these instruments are associated with acrid, floral and spicy scents, in case you needed to know.
 

Link to abstract / DOI entry of study.

Auditory brain trip

If you’ve got 15 minutes to spare, you could do far worse than spending it listening to an excellent edition of the Guardian Science Podcast on the neuropsychology of hearing and language.

Perceptual and linguistic neuroscience has a tendency to bit a little technical and difficult to engage with but the programme is both wonderfully produced and totally brought to life by neuropsychologist Sophie Scott’s insightful enthusiasm.

From the brain structure of professional accent connoisseurs to human echolocation, the programme is full of surprising insights into the auditory brain. Great stuff.
 

Link to Guardian Science Podcast on language and hearing.

Reaching for the high notes

Science writer Emily Anthes has a fascinating interview with a speech therapist who works with male-to-female transsexuals to help make their voice sound more feminine.

It gives both an insight into a little known area of speech therapy as well as highlighting some of the often overlooked differences between male and female voices.

EA: So, how does speech therapy work for someone who’s transitioning? What does it involve?

EG: They go once a week, sometimes twice a week if they’re really eager to speed things up, and they do different vocal exercises. Pitch is one of the most important markers. Men on average speak at 110-120 [Hertz], gender neutral is 145-165, and women are 210-220. In most cases the goal is to try to get to gender neutral, which basically means that if you called somebody on the phone, and they speak in what’s known as the gender neutral pitch, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell if they were a man or a woman.

So that’s the first piece, but along with that, they have to learn other things, like posture and speech intonation. Speech intonation is how much your voice goes up and down in a sentence. Men tend to speak in a very monotone, even tone. Women speak in many, many different pitches; as they speak they go up and down, they go high, they go low. So that’s really important–a person who’s transitioning needs to learn how to use that range in their voice.

 

Link to ‘Learning to Speak Like a Woman’.