The one hundred most influential works in cognitive science

The Cognitive Science society has voted on The one hundred most influential works in cognitive science from the 20th century. Although we have tended to refer to the contents of Mind Hacks as ‘cognitive neuroscience’, much of what we’ve written about is classic cognitive science material. It was this discipline that first aimed to use a information processing view of mind to synthesise work in linguistics, artifical intelligence, ethology, biology and experimental psychology (and I’m sure a few others). The relevance to the more recent ‘cognitive neuroscience’, and to the spirit of ‘Mind Hacks’, should be obvious. So have a browse of the top 100. There’s quite a few that get cited here and there in the book, and lots of other gems that might catch your interest.

How to open the brain to everyone

The development of science needs the free flow of information, so scientists can both build on and test the work of others, and so the public can make informed democratic decisions about the role of science in society.

Most scientific journals are run by publishing companies that own the articles they publish. In fact, the results from the majority of publically funded science appears in these journals.

Why is so much science owned by private companies ? Part of the reason is that scientists jobs often depend on how many publications they produce, and there is a hierarchy of journals, so publishing in some journals (typically the more established and privately owned ones) counts for more in a scientist’s career.

Many scientists would like to publish in open access journals but don’t want their careers to suffer or to be out of a job.

The following suggests some ways in which you can support open access journals to boost their value in the science community, prevent career dilemmas, and help open up scientific research for the benefit of all.

Continue reading “How to open the brain to everyone”

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).

Hacking Consciousness

Susan Greenfield was on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, talking about a new ‘centre for the mind’ at Oxford (apologies if i’ve got the exact name wrong, but i can’t find a web reference) which she will be directing. The centre will carry out cross-disciplinary research into topics like consciousness, and Prof. Greenfield has some well put things to say about the whole topic – you can hear her again here.

Cross-disciplinary studies of consciousness must be a good thing – in the book see “Talk To Yourself” [Hack #61] for an example of some good work done by a philosopher (Peter Carruthers at The University of Maryland), based on the work of psychologists (most notably Elizabeth Spelke at Harvard)

One phrase Susan Greenfield used a couple of times jumped out at me: ‘hacking’! “You can’t just hack into someone’s consciousness”, she said. Well, maybe not in the sense she meant it….

Scientific American ‘Mind’ launches

Scientific American has launched a quarterly magazine on psychology and neuroscience called Scientific American Mind. I have the first issue in front of me which I just bought from the newsagent. It seems to be well put together and mercifully short on adverts, although isn’t cheap at 3.75ukp.

There’s some sample articles in full on the website and various bits and pieces that are worth checking out.

Link to SciAm Mind website.

First week shouts

Our heroic contributor Alex Fradera has a nice way with some kind words about the book here

Suffice to say that if you want to know about the brain, and the mind, and you want a bunch of mavericks to illuminate it using cognitive and visual illusions, pop culture and web-references, wrapped up in a very chic, sleek simple design, you couldn’t go far wrong

Need To Know give us a mention too (cheers guys) and we got our first review at which was four stars and said, amongst other things that the book is ‘unconventional in several ways’ – which i like!


It’s taken a couple of weeks to cross the Atlantic, clear customs, and get through the warehouses… Mind Hacks is now in stock at Amazon UK, with a dispatch time listed of 3-4 days. And if you order now, you get 30% off.

Buy Mind Hacks at Amazon UK, and get it in time for Christmas.

(Also available to purchase from, currently at 34% off. You’ll need to order soon if you want to get it as a gift.)

Read on for the sales bit.

Continue reading “UK-a-Go-Go”