New Scientist review

New Scientist reviews Mind Hacks:


Which is nice. I’m pleased they picked up on all the links and references we give if you want to explore the phenomena further. Like another (very favourable) review said:

“Mind Hacks” is helpfully structured to take you just as deep as you want to go.

From which also contains this interesting suggestion:

[Mind Hacks] is totally overflowing with examples and simple exercises — the “hacks” — that you can do by yourself or with friends. Better yet, buy the book and give a “Mind Hacks” party! Ask your guests to open the book randomly, exclaim on the particular mental characteristic explained on that page, and then put everyone through the exercise or group discussion implied.

If you do have a Mind Hacks party and manage to get a group of people all doing one of the demos (I think some of the mood induction ones like “Make Yourself Happy” [Hack #95] would serve well for this) then make sure you take pictures and let us know how it goes!

Ivan Noble, dies at 37

BBC science writer Ivan Noble, who has been charting his battle with neurological illness since being diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour in 2002, died yesterday.

His online diary gathered thousands of readers as he recorded an ongoing and moving account of the personal, medical and emotional aspects of living with brain cancer.

The diary documented a personal journey not often reflected in the scientific and medical literature.

Thanks Ivan.

Link to announcement on BBC News.
Link to tribute and interview from BBC News.

The Noonday Demon

Andrew Solomon, author of the award winning book on depression, ‘The Noonday Demon‘, is interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Taking A Stand‘.

Solomon wrote the book after suffering from an intense clinical depression and managed to convey not only his own personal experiences, but much of the science and history of the disorder as well.

Approaches to depression vary, but Solomon believes that both medication and psychotherapy are worthwhile approaches.

He occupies the middle ground between Lewis Wolpert, the Nobel Prize winning biologist who wrote of his own depression in the book Malignant Sadness, and Pulitzer Prize winning novelist William Styron who recounted his experiences in Darkness Visible.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Wolpert tends towards an almost exclusively biological view of depression and treatment with anti-depressants, whereas Styron is less convinced by the physical explanations and medical treatments. Solomon however, maintains a strong belief in the biological reality of depression, but does not suggest that life events and emotional turmoil are unimportant either as a cause or a focus for treatment.

Either way, it’s an important debate which is shaping both how society understands depression and the most appropriate forms of care for people with mental illness.

All three books come highly recommended and Solomon is always worth listening to, as he is an articulate and knowledgable part of an ongoing discussion.

Link to ‘Taking a Stand’ webpage and audio archive (looks like the audio will be available until Tue 1st Feb)

Other links:

Realaudio stream or transcript of ABC Radio ‘All in the Mind’ show on evolutionary approaches to depression.
Link to excerpt of Malignant Sadness.
Link to review of little known but excellent book on depression called ‘Speaking of Sadness’ by David Karp.
Link to Mind factsheet on depression.

New Scientist on sensation

The 29th September issue of New Scientist is a particularly good one if you’re interested in the mind and brain.


It has a number of articles on sensation and the senses, and particularly challenges the idea that there are five ‘classical’ senses. Recent research suggests this may be a fairly artificial division, and more subtle distinctions, as well as cross-overs are common.

Unfortunately, New Scientist have been steadily making less and less of their content freely accessible, but there is an outline of the issue at the link below.

Nevertheless, it’s well worth a read, either if you grab a copy at the newsagents or pop into your local library for a browse.

Link to contents for 29th September issue of New Scientist.

UPDATE: One of the articles from the current edition (“The art of seeing without sight”) has appeared online.

Polygraph hacking

A report on the deception of polygraph tests (commonly called “lie detector tests”) has just been released by the British Psychological Society.


The section that most caught my eye was the discussion of polygraph countermeasures, and particularly a section on a fellow, who after being wrongly convicted for murder on polygraph evidence, took it on himself to hack the polygraph test to help prove his innocence, all while being wrongly imprisoned.

The most famous countermeasures test was probably conducted by Floyd ‘Buzz’ Fay, a man who was falsely convicted of murder in the USA on the basis of a failed polygraph examination. He took it on himself to become a polygraph expert during his two-and-half years of wrongful imprisonment. He coached 27 inmates, who all freely confessed to him that they were guilty, in how to beat the control question polygraph test. After only 20 minutes of instruction, 23 of the 27 inmates were successful in defeating the polygraph examination.

The report discusses empirical evidence on how well these tests detect potential mistruths (not brilliantly it seems) and contains summaries of research which shows the percentages of hits and misses each sort of test is likely to make.

For example, in a form of polygraph test known as the Control Question Test (where responses to direct questions about the crime are compared to responses to indirect questions) over 26% of innocent suspects were scored as lying, although in the Guilty Knowledge Test (where responses to items of information only a guilty person would know are compared to responses to other information) only 4% of innocent suspects were wrongly scored as lying, but guilty suspects were correctly identified only 59% of the time.

Link to BPS report on ‘Polygraphic Deception Detection’.

Oxford Companion To The Mind, 2nd Edition

companiontothemind.gifThe second edition of The Oxford Companion to the Mind has been published and I didn’t even notice. It’s been ten years since the first edition, and I’m sure that for the second editon editor Richard Gregory has preserved and nurtured all the breadth and good humour of the first. The book has it’s own site here, along with some sample PDFs of entries on everything from tickling to memes to attachment theory. This book will keep you company with wit and information as you explore all the myriad shores that make up psychological science. At ¬£40 it’s not cheap, but if you’ve got the money spare it is truly worth it.

Successful psychopaths at work

If you suspect your boss is a psychopath, you may be onto something.

Belinda Board and Katarina Fritzon of the University of Surrey compared personality traits of successful business managers and patients at Broadmoor Hospital, one of Britain’s highest security psychiatric hospitals.

The researchers found that the business managers scored, on average, more highly on measures of histrionic, narcissistic and compulsive personality than samples of former and current patients. These personality traits are thought to reflect characteristics such as superficial charm, lack of empathy and perfectionism. All of which could be potentially useful in the cut-throat business world.

However, unlike the Broadmoor patients, the business managers scored lower on antisocial, borderline and paranoid personality traits, reflecting lower levels of aggression, impulsivity and mistrust. Exactly the sort of personality traits that are likely to cause problems with senior managers and the law.

The authors of the study suggest that the business managers may be examples of ‘successful psychopaths’ – “people with personality disorder patterns, but without the characteristic history of arrest and incarceration”.

Link to study summary (via BPS research digest).