Category Archives: Psychology

Evolutionary and Developmental Precursors for the Human Mathematical Mind

Now that summer is starting to fade, here is something else to look forward to: The 2010-2011 American Scientist Pizza Lunch speaker series returns next month.

Join us at noon, Tuesday, Sept. 21 here at Sigma Xi to hear Duke University cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Brannon give a talk entitled: “Evolutionary and Developmental Precursors for the Human Mathematical Mind.” In other words, Brannon studies what we all take for granted: our ability to do the numbers. She does it, in part, with studies of human babies and other primates.

Thanks to a grant from the N.C. Biotechnology Center, American Scientist Pizza Lunch is free and open to science journalists and science communicators of all stripes. Feel free to forward this message to anyone who might want to attend. RSVPs are required (for the slice count) to

Directions to Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society in RTP, are here:

The Primal Power of Play (video)

Science Café Raleigh – The Human-Animal Bond

Hi Café Friends,
Our June Science Café (description below) will be held on Tuesday 6/15 at the Irregardless Café on Morgan Street. Our café speaker for the evening will be Dr. Dianne Dunning from the NCSU School of Veterinary Medicine. Join us for a thought provoking discussion with Dr. Dunning about the relationships humans have with animals in our increasingly crowded world.
The Human-Animal Bond
Tuesday June 15, 2010
Time: 6:30 – 8:30 pm with discussions beginning at 7:00 followed by Q&A
Location: The Irregardless Café, 901 W. Morgan Street, Raleigh 833-8898
Animals touch our daily lives — from the pets we keep, to the food we eat, to the health care advances we enjoy. Current animal welfare concerns include pet overpopulation, rescue and care of animals in disasters, treatment of food animals, biomedical research involving animals, and the affects of global urbanization and environmental change on wildlife. Our evolving human-animal bond and the mandate to be good stewards of animal welfare are at the heart of these concerns. Join our discussion about how the integration of veterinary medicine and animal science, as well as ethics and public policy, can dictate how successfully these concerns are addressed, and how the diverse needs of humans and animals are met on a local and global scale.
About the Speaker
Dr. Dianne Dunning is a clinical associate professor and the director of the Animal Welfare, Ethics and Public Policy Program (AWEPP) at the NC State College of Veterinary Medicine. Through professional education, public service, research and public policy development, AWEPP seeks to explore and address issues including pet abandonment, animal abuse and fighting, companion animal loss and grief, and the link between animal health and human well being.
Please RSVP (Katey Ahmann: kateyDOTahmannATncdenrDOTgov ) if you are able to come – As always, I will be communicating with the restaurant so that we can have a good set-up for our group.
Looking forward to seeing eveyone on the 15th – hope you can come.

Going Mad The American Way

New podcast and forum at PRI World Science:

Listen to a story by reporter Laura Starecheski, followed by our interview with Ethan Watters.
Our guest in the Science Forum is journalist Ethan Watters.
His latest book is Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche.
“America is homogenizing the way the world goes mad,” Watters writes. He contends that Americans are exporting their view of mental illness to the rest of the world.
Watters says culture influences not only how people deal with mental disorders but how mental disorders manifest themselves. Yet those cultural differences are disappearing as Western notions of mental health become popular worldwide.
Some examples Watters cites in his book:
• Anorexia nervosa, the eating disorder, is now common in countries with no history of the disease.
• Modern biomedical notions of schizophrenia are replacing the idea of spirit possession in places like Zanzibar.
• By selling pills for depression, pharmaceutical companies have caused a rise in the diagnosis of depression in Japan.
Bring your thoughts and questions about culture and mental illness to Watters. The discussion is just to the right.
* Is America’s view of mental health reflective of the nation’s individualistic culture?
* Have you or a family member been diagnosed with mental illness? Has your ethnic or religious background influenced your response?
* Would Americans benefit from importing ideas of mental health from other countries?

Related reading: The Americanization of Mental Illness.

Rubber hand illusion (video)

The Piano Stairway (video)

An awesome experiment in Stockholm, Sweden where students changed stairs in a subway station into a piano:

And? More people started using the stairs than the escalator! It’s just more fun!

Cognitive Monthly #2 is out

And it is good. Much longer than #1 and interesting to all of us who have kids heavily involved in playing computer games:

Whenever kids are involved in a violent crime, speculation about their upbringing inevitably takes center stage. Were they abused or neglected? Could their parents have prevented the tragedy? Most recently, video games have been targeted as the possible root of the problem. But are video games really to blame for horrific massacres like the shootings at Columbine and Virginia Tech? This month’s report considers the growing role video games play in our kids’ lives–and whether the playing violent games might really cause kids to be violent themselves. We assess the latest research on violent games and how it impacts kids. Researchers have found that playing some violent games does result at least temporarily in aggressive behavior, but it can also be beneficial. Do the benefits of gaming outweigh the many potential harms? We also describe how we’ve managed video games in our family, and offer some guidelines on how parents can approach gaming in their own homes.

Duke Nukem Comes to Dinner: Do Violent Games Make Violent Kids?” can be downloaded for only $2 at and it’s worth the price 😉

Do a quiz, help shape research

It will not take more than a couple of minutes. Just go to this Sheril’s post and follow the directions. She will use the results of the quiz to inform experimental design for an interesting project on the neuroscience of kissing. This will then be included in her next book.

Cognitive Monthly

I am pretty much on record that I would not pay for anything online (to be precise, to pay for content – I certainly use the Web for shopping). But with some caveats. I have been known to hit a PayPal button of people who provide content and information I find valuable. And I would presumably pay, though not being happy about it, if the information behind the pay wall is a) unique (i.e., not found anywhere else by any other means) and b) indispensable for my work (i.e., I would feel handicapped without it).
But I am not subscribed to, or paying for, anything right now and haven’t been in years. Not even Faculty of 1000 which, one can argue, is important for my work. If I need a reprint of a paper for personal use (or perhaps to consider blogging about) I get it from the author, or if that does not work, from a friend with access.
So, I am intrigued by the announcement of ‘Cognitive Monthly’, a $2 per issue publication by Dave and Greta Munger. I got the reviewer copy of the first issue. I read it. I loved it. Would I pay $2 for something like that every month? I had to think about it long and hard, but my final answer is, actually, Yes. Why?
This is not an easy question to answer. I think a big part of my decision is the fact that I know Dave and Greta very well, in person, so I am positively predisposed to help them in this endeavor.
I am also a long-time regular reader of ‘Cognitive Daily’ – I know from experience that their posts are interesting to me. I am personally very interested in cognitive psychology of sensory perception, human behavior in traffic (driving, biking, etc.), human behavior in respect to social norms, ideology and fashion, etc. Even in busiest weeks, I’ll read at least the Science Friday post (and often participate in their research polls). Thus, I am wondering if I would have said Yes if I was unaware of Cognitive Daily from before.
The first issue, about the way theatrical productions use various illusions (light, sound, etc.) to draw the audience in, so the audience gets transported into a different place and time, is absolutely fascinating. Also, the production level of the issue is much greater than any one of their blog posts – it is longer, has a great introduction to the historical context, lots of interesting information, is written really well – this is a full-blown article that could appear in any reputable (popular science or general interest) magazine. And yet they say that this one is just a trial and that the future issues will be even more thorough. So, it is definitely an extremely high quality product, not just a quick blog post that comes and goes.
So, this is definitely fulfilling my criterion a) – it is unique. But is it b) as well? I can function professionally just fine without it, so why would I buy this every month anyway? I don’t know. I just feel that the personal education and enrichment I got from reading this article was worth $2 to me. It is hard to be rational about this – I just liked reading it and it was worth it to me. And I can’t wait for the next issue. I am actually – gasp – excited about it.
Perhaps they can do a Science Friday poll and post about this – are you more likely to pay for something if you are told in advance to think about this question? I read a lot of stuff online and never think “would I pay for this?”. But I did this time because I was asked to keep that question in the back of my mind while reading it. Did this make me more predisposed to try to give the piece a monetary value and, in comparison to $2 they are asking the deal looked good?
Give it a try yourself – you can get their stuff at (here is the first issue) in color, or on Amazon for Kindle (first issue) in black and white. Take a look and decide for yourself.
I am going to be watching this experiment with interest. If someone as jaded as I am got excited and is willing to pay for more of that “fix”, I am wondering if that will work for others as well. What will be the numbers of buyers on any given month, what percentage of those will be return customers, how will the word-of-mouth affect sales of any given issue (e.g., if one of them gets a lot of play on Twitter etc., and another one not so much), etc.? Definitely an interesting experiment.

How Obama uses Behavioral Economics to change our habits

In TIME, a couple of days ago – How Obama Is Using the Science of Change:

Two weeks before Election Day, Barack Obama’s campaign was mobilizing millions of supporters; it was a bit late to start rewriting get-out-the-vote (GOTV) scripts. “BUT, BUT, BUT,” deputy field director Mike Moffo wrote to Obama’s GOTV operatives nationwide, “What if I told you a world-famous team of genius scientists, psychologists and economists wrote down the best techniques for GOTV scripting?!?! Would you be interested in at least taking a look? Of course you would!!”
Moffo then passed along guidelines and a sample script from the Consortium of Behavioral Scientists, a secret advisory group of 29 of the nation’s leading behaviorists. The key guideline was a simple message: “A Record Turnout Is Expected.” That’s because studies by psychologist Robert Cialdini and other group members had found that the most powerful motivator for hotel guests to reuse towels, national-park visitors to stay on marked trails and citizens to vote is the suggestion that everyone is doing it. “People want to do what they think others will do,” says Cialdini, author of the best seller Influence. “The Obama campaign really got that.” (See pictures of Obama taken by everyday Americans.)
The existence of this behavioral dream team — which also included best-selling authors Dan Ariely of MIT (Predictably Irrational) and Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago (Nudge) as well as Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman of Princeton — has never been publicly disclosed, even though its members gave Obama white papers on messaging, fundraising and rumor control as well as voter mobilization. All their proposals — among them the famous online fundraising lotteries that gave small donors a chance to win face time with Obama — came with footnotes to peer-reviewed academic research. “It was amazing to have these bullet points telling us what to do and the science behind it,” Moffo tells TIME. “These guys really know what makes people tick.”
President Obama is still relying on behavioral science. But now his Administration is using it to try to transform the country. Because when you know what makes people tick, it’s a lot easier to help them change…

Read the whole thing.
Yes, Obama is doing science. Behavioral economics.
Sure, Republicans also used science. Cognitive Psychology.
But Rupublicans used focus groups to learn how to make voters fearful, in order to switch off rational thinking and turn on emotional responses. They trained the people, for decades, to respond with fear and unthinking negative emotions, to words like “government”, “taxes”, “environment”, “welfare”, “progress”, etc, in order to trigger the primitive animalistic fears that the GOP candidates could then capture and turn into electoral victories. The entire generation grew up thinking those are bad words. They trained people to believe that black is white, and up is down, and left is right, because they knew that liberal ideas are both in sync with reality and what people want, so people needed to believe the Orwellian language in order to vote for the conservative, long-ago debunked ideas.
Obama is doing something different – using science to get us to curb our emotions and start using reason, to see the world as it is and not the way we would like it to be, and then to, by changing our behaviors, do something to make the world a better place.
But in order to be able to do this, he has to go slow. This is how he won – appealing to the moderates whose frames can be switched back and forth as long as they don’t appear “too radical” to begin with. People who are already progressives did not then, and do not now, think that Obama’s ideas are good enough (and I am one of those for sure). But he has to turn many more millions of Americans onto his proposals if they are to work. In the meantime, the progressives will have to suck it up, or bitch about it, and wait until the Overton Window has moved sufficiently enough – and that takes time and patience.

Try to get strangers to talk using objects on April 5th

Sorry, Nina, but I think I need to copy and paste the entire thing here:

Spring is here and it’s time to talk to strangers. On Sunday April 5, I’ll be conducting a collaborative experiment with 15 intrepid University of Washington graduate students, and I’d like to invite you to join in from your own hometown. April 5 is the first day of a class I’m teaching called Social Technology, in which we are focusing on designing an exhibition that features social objects, that is, exhibits or artifacts that inspire interpersonal dialogue.
To kick off the course, we’re doing a simple exercise at the Seattle zoo (but you can do it anywhere). The experiment requires you to go to a public space and do three things:
1. Talk to a stranger.
2. Get two strangers talking to each other.
3. Make and install an object or condition which motivates two strangers to talk to each other without your intervention/involvement. That is, you should be able to watch the strangers talk to each other about the designed social object you have created without being directly involved in the action.
The point of this experiment is to play with design conditions that support both facilitated and unfacilitated engagement with strangers. This is something I am obsessively curious about. And while I’ve been exploring venues, situations, and apparel that serve as social objects, I’ve found few examples of explicitly designed social objects. Most social objects that mediate conversation among strangers are incidental. For example, my dog, while a highly evolved social matchmaking device, is not deliberately designed for that task. I believe that focusing specifically on the social capacity of an object, rather than its content or interpretation, yields new design techniques for museum exhibits and other participatory spaces.
There are three reasons you might value this activity:
1. It will be fun and kind of unusual.
2. It will help you understand the challenges involved in supporting user self-expression.
3. It will help you develop ways to encourage inter-visitor dialogue and engagement around objects in your institution.
And there are three reasons I’d really value your participation:
1. I want to suck your brain and revel in your inventiveness.
2. I want to aggregate all the data, synthesize it and share it. More data means more interesting, nuanced conclusions for everyone.
3. I want to connect these students to a larger group of people interested in exploring topics around social technology in museums.
If you want to participate, please leave a comment here or send me an email at You don’t have to be a museum person or have any qualifications beyond your interest in participating and documenting your experience.
I recommend performing the experiment with friends or family to enhance both the fun and safety of the activities. Do not use plunk your cute baby down in the park, walk away, and call it a social object. You have to actually design something–a sign, an incident, an object, an environment. It’s ok if you fail as long as you try. We’ll learn as much from the social objects that don’t work as from the ones that are astounding successes.
Participants will be asked to write up their experiences (photos/video enthusiastically supported!), which will all be featured on a dedicated website. We’ll also be live-twittering the experiment on April 5 using the hashtag #strangemuse.
I’ll produce a report that will be shared here on the Museum 2.0 blog. And if you happen to be in the Seattle area, I invite you to join us for a post-experiment dinner on April 5, location TBD (suggestions welcome).
So how about it? Ready for a stranger April?

Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology


Thursday, March 5
7 p.m.
What Good is it to Feel Good? The Science of Positive Emotions
From our “what the world needs now” file, Dr. Barbara Frederickson, head of the Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab at UNC will share thoughts from her new book, Positivity. You can strengthen relationships, relax the mind and relieve stress by thinking positively. Part of the Current Science Forum at Morehead Planetarium, UNC.

Innovation in education

A sixth of a GCSE in 60 minutes?:

Later this year, pupils from Monkseaton high school will file into their new lozenge-shaped school and take their seats before a giant video wall in a multipurpose hall. Here, they will receive a unique lesson: an intense PowerPoint presentation, repeated three times, and interspersed with 10-minute breaks of juggling or spinning plates. After one hour of this study, the pupils will be primed for one sixth of a GCSE. In theory, following this “spaced learning” method, a teenager could sit a GCSE after just three days’ work.
It is a vision of the future that may horrify many parents, teachers and the educational establishment. It challenges how we teach our children and casts doubt on GCSEs and, perhaps, the validity of our entire school system. But teachers and thinkers from around the world are making a pilgrimage to Monkseaton to investigate spaced learning, which has been devised and tested in this tatty state comprehensive over the last four years.
A series of careful trials yielded fascinating results: 48 year 9 pupils who had not covered any part of the GCSE science syllabus were given a complete biology module in a 90-minute spaced learning lesson. A week later, they took the relevant GCSE multiple-choice exam (a year earlier than normal). Twelve months on, the same set of pupils took another GCSE science paper after a conventional four months of study. While average scores for the second paper were higher (68% versus 58%), more than a quarter of the pupils scored higher after spaced learning than through conventional study. Despite studying for just 90 minutes with spaced learning, 80% of the class of 13- and 14-year-olds got at least a D grade.
Monkseaton’s futuristic new school opens in September. It will be where Kelley hopes to expand spaced learning, in classrooms that won’t be square (“We don’t have to have schools built in squares,” he says) and will feature special intensive lighting to boost teenagers’ concentration and wakefulness. Kelley has studied research on teenagers’ circadian rhythms that shows they get going later in the day than adults – hence those epic teenage lie-ins – and hopes to start lessons at the more teen-friendly hour of 10.30am.
I’m inclined to believe that there must be more to making memories stick than findings derived from dissecting a rat’s hippocampus. Scientists would probably say that is because – despite my GCSE refresher – I don’t fully understand the complex advances in neuroscience. Whatever the truth of it, something special is happening at Monkseaton. And if other teachers and academics open their minds to it, this may be just the beginning of a revolution in our classrooms.

Essentialism beyond just animals

How religion generates social conservatism:

You could make a reasonable case that pencils have a purpose, but pencil shavings just exist. But what about elephants? Religious people and children are, of course, more likely than non-religious adults to say that animals exist for a purpose. But what about men and women? Black people and whites? Rich and poor? Arab and Jew? Do these exist for a purpose? And is it possible for one to become another? Gil Diesdendruck and Lital Haber of Bar-Ilan University in Israel decided to find out what children think.

The Psychology of Cyberspace

The Psychology of Cyberspace is a course taught by John Suler in the Department of Psychology at the Science and Technology Center at Rider University. The website is a collection of a large number of thought-provoking essays on various aspects of human behavior online:

This hypertext book explores the psychological aspects of environments created by computers and online networks. It presents an evolving conceptual framework for understanding how people react to and behave within cyberspace: what I call “the psychology of cyberspace” – or simply “cyberpsychology.” Continually being revised and expanded, this hypertext book originally was created in January of 1996. See the article index which indicates the articles most recently added and revised.
In order to make these readings accessible to as many people as possible, I have written them in a style that is not overly abstract or technical. Important concepts in psychology and psychoanalytic theory appear throughout the book, but I try to present them in an “experience-near” rather than “experience-distant” way that I hope makes them useful in understanding everyday living in cyberspace. The emphasis is on practical concepts rather than purely academic ones. Other versions of these articles appear in various professional journals. These publications are indicated within the articles and in the article index.

The course/website also has a blog which, though not updated lately, contains some gems in the archives. Worth reading and bookmarking – all of it.

Evolutionary Psychology – why it is fundamentally wrong

Larry, Amanda, John, Mike and others are comenting, quite positively, on the recent Scientific American article – Evolution of the Mind: 4 Fallacies of Psychology by David J. Buller. And I agree – this is an excellent, well-deserved and well-thought smack-down of Evolutionary Psychology and I am happy that it appears in a popular magazine and is spreading around the blogosphere.
The Fallacy 1 – Analysis of Pleistocene Adaptive Problems Yields Clues to the Mind’s Design – is my favourite counter-argument when I hear someone offering an EvoPsych-style Just-So-Story, but the other three just as interesting and important:

Of course, some speculations are worse than others. Those of Pop EP are deeply flawed. We are unlikely ever to learn much about our evolutionary past by slicing our Pleistocene history into discrete adaptive problems, supposing the mind to be partitioned into discrete solutions to those problems, and then supporting those suppositions with pencil-and-paper data. The field of evolutionary psychology will have to do better. Even its very best, however, may never provide us knowledge of why all our complex human psychological characteristics evolved.

James Holland Jones wrote an interesting commentary on the article that in some details disagrees with Buller and, if anything, makes an even more potent criticism of EvoPsych:

I happen to think that the whole sex-differences in sexual preferences thing is the most overplayed finding in all of evolutionary science. In class, I refer to this work as Men-Are-From-Mars Evolutionary Psychology. The basic idea is to take whatever tired sexual stereotype that you’d hear in a second rate stand-up comedian’s monologue, or read about in airport bookstore self-help tracts and dress it up as the scientifically proven patrimony of our evolutionary past. Ugh.

Read both the Buller article and the Jones post in their entirety – they are excellent and provide a food for thought as well as ammunition for your next duel against one of the ‘true believers’ in EvoPsych.

Kinesthetic learning online?

Tina writes – Kinesthetic Learners: Why Old Media Should Never Die:

…..Many classrooms, however, don’t offer this type of kinesthetic learning. The hands-on learner is left to fend for themselves and more often than not the only physical interaction they get is with the learning material itself.
You’ve seen them before. Sometimes, it’s a student whose fingers trace the words as they read them. Or the highlighter: the student who makes a colored mosaic of their text as they try to physically interact with the material. Even note-taking is a kinesthetic activity. In a variety of subtle ways, the kinesthetic learner can physically interact with their learning material.
Now, imagine these same students trying to physically interact with ‘new’ media. The method of consuming learning material is physically no different than consuming entertainment material. Your fingers and eyes make the same motions, there is no easy way to physically differentiate material, much less to physically interact with it.
Obviously, there are ways that new media can be superior. Video offers the best chance to reach all learning types. For example, a step-by-step video of a science experiment caters to visual and auditory senses while leaving the hands free to actually perform the experiment.
But for straight information consumption, new media leaves the kinesthetic learner out in the cold.

Videos. Like JoVE and
What about joysticks and Wii?

Talk on cognitive and motivational differences between liberals and conservatives

From the Science Communication Consortium:

“Ten Lessons from the Political Psychology”
A talk by John Jost
The Center for Science Writings
Stevens Institute of Technology
October 29, 4:00pm, Babbio Center Room 122
Jost is an authority on the “cognitive and motivational differences between liberals and conservatives,” the “social and psychological consequences of supporting the status quo, especially the members of disadvantaged groups”, and other topics relevant to the upcoming election.

I wish I could go to this….I have previously mentioned one of his interesting papers – The Secret Lives of Liberals and Conservatives: Personality Profiles, Interaction Styles, and the Things They Leave Behind (pdf)

What kind of personality predisposes one to start blogging?

That is an interesting question, an answer to which was attempted in this paper:
Who blogs? Personality predictors of blogging:

The Big Five personality inventory measures personality based on five key traits: neuroticism, extraversion, agreeableness, openness to experience, and conscientiousness [Costa, P. T., Jr., & McCrae, R. R. (1992). Normal personality assessment in clinical practice: The NEO Personality Inventory. Psychological Assessment 4, 5-13]. There is a growing body of evidence indicating that individual differences on the Big Five factors are associated with different types of Internet usage [Amichai-Hamburger, Y., & Ben-Artzi, E. (2003). Loneliness and Internet use. Computers in Human Behavior 19, 71-80; Hamburger, Y. A., & Ben-Artzi, E. (2000). Relationship between extraversion and neuroticism and the different uses of the Internet. Computers in Human Behavior 16, 441-449]. Two studies sought to extend this research to a relatively new online format for expression: blogging. Specifically, we examined whether the different Big Five traits predicted blogging. The results of two studies indicate that people who are high in openness to new experience and high in neuroticism are likely to be bloggers. Additionally, the neuroticism relationship was moderated by gender indicating that women who are high in neuroticism are more likely to be bloggers as compared to those low in neuroticism whereas there was no difference for men. These results indicate that personality factors impact the likelihood of being a blogger and have implications for understanding who blogs.

You can also read a brief summary here: Dear World: What kind of a person blogs?

Around 20 per cent of the students blogged, mostly about their personal experiences. Among female students only, those who scored highly on neuroticism (i.e. anxious, insecure characters) were more likely to blog. This is consistent with work on internet usage that also found an association with neurotic personality types, but only among women. The researchers surmised that nervous women may blog to “assuage loneliness or in an attempt to reach out and form social connections with others.”
Among both men and women, those who were more open to experience were also more likely to blog – perhaps unsurprisingly given that blogging is a relatively new phenomenon and given that this personality dimension is associated with creativity.
The researchers cautioned their findings may only be applicable to college students in America and called on future research to look at why people blog. “It is important for social scientists to continue to examine this phenomenon to fully understand its affects on psychological processes that differentiate it from other similar forms of self-expression,” they said.

You can take your own peronality test used in this study here (my results are under the fold).
Of course, as they warn, this is not a representative sample. These are very young people, mainly writing personal journals. If the sample was taken at a typical BloggerCon, where most people are 30 or older writing about technology or politics, they would probably get different results. If they polled academic bloggers, including science bloggers, they would probably find something else again. But it’s a good start with interesting results.

Continue reading

The Human & The Humanities

From The National Humanities Center:

The National Humanities Center will host the third and final conference on “The Human & The Humanities,” November 13 – 15, 2008, once again attracting scientists and humanities scholars to discuss how developments in science are challenging traditional notions of “the human.” Events will begin on the evening of November 13 with a lecture from noted neurologist and author Oliver Sacks at the William and Ida Friday Center in Chapel Hill, NC.
This event is free, but guests must register in advance to guarantee seating.
Other speakers and special guests confirmed for Friday and Saturday’s sessions at the National Humanities Center include:
Anthony Appiah, Princeton University
Patricia Churchland, University of California, San Diego
Michael Gazzaniga, University of California, Santa Barbara
Michael Gillespie, Duke University
Katherine Hayles, Duke University
David Krakauer, Santa Fe Institute
Jesse Prinz, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Peter Railton, University of Michigan
Robert Sapolsky, Stanford University
Raymond Tallis, University of Manchester
Holden Thorp, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Mark Turner, Case Western Reserve University
The entire conference is open to the public. A registration fee of $30 provides admission to all sessions along with meals during Friday and Saturday’s events.
To register for either the Oliver Sacks lecture or the ASC conference, please click here or visit to learn more about the ASC initiative.

I hope you don’t faint while reading this post….

…but if you do, I hope it was enjoyable! And edifying, of course. Kind of science that is amenable to experimentation at home.

The Beautiful Mind: Making Memories

Science Communicators of North Carolina:

Thursday, August 7
7 p.m.
The Beautiful Mind: Making Memories
Dr. Kelly Giovanello of the UNC-CH Cognitive Neuroscience of Memory Lab. Part of the Morehead Planetarium Current Science Forum.
250 E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill, (919) 962-1236

Time Perception news

Carl Zimmer: How Your Brain Can Control Time:

For 40 years, psychologists thought that humans and animals kept time with a biological version of a stopwatch. Somewhere in the brain, a regular series of pulses was being generated. When the brain needed to time some event, a gate opened and the pulses moved into some kind of counting device.
One reason this clock model was so compelling: Psychologists could use it to explain how our perception of time changes. Think about how your feeling of time slows down as you see a car crash on the road ahead, how it speeds up when you’re wheeling around a dance floor in love. Psychologists argued that these experiences tweaked the pulse generator, speeding up the flow of pulses or slowing it down.
But the fact is that the biology of the brain just doesn’t work like the clocks we’re familiar with. Neurons can do a good job of producing a steady series of pulses. They don’t have what it takes to count pulses accurately for seconds or minutes or more. The mistakes we make in telling time also raise doubts about the clock models. If our brains really did work that way, we ought to do a better job of estimating long periods of time than short ones. Any individual pulse from the hypothetical clock would be a little bit slow or fast. Over a short time, the brain would accumulate just a few pulses, and so the error could be significant. The many pulses that pile up over long stretches of time should cancel their errors out. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. As we estimate longer stretches of time, the range of errors gets bigger as well.

Chris Chatham: Impulsivity Due to Distortions in Time: Hyperbolic Discounting and Logarithmic Time Perception:

New research from Wharton and the Carlson School shows that a methodologically-appealing measure of impulsivity – hyperbolic discounting rate – may actually reflect a systematic “skew” in the way people perceive time.
Previous work has shown that people tend to decreasingly discount the usefulness or appeal of a reward with increasing delays; that is, a reward provided now is more appealing than a reward provided 1 week or 1 month from now, but that change in appeal is nonlinear (hyperbolic) across time. In other words, people prefer to behave impatiently now, but prefer to act more and more patiently in the future – suggesting that this “hyperbolic discounting rate” might be related to impulsivity.

Vaughan: The future is nonlinear:

These are quite different concepts – for example, we know logically that waiting four weeks is exactly four times as long as waiting a week, but it might not feel exactly four times as bad.

What is the Internet doing to our brains?

The article is here, but it is too long for me and my attention span to read through. I got a snippet, though:

But that boon comes at a price. As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.
I’m not the only one. When I mention my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances–literary types, most of them–many say they’re having similar experiences. The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing. Some of the bloggers I follow have also begun mentioning the phenomenon. Scott Karp, who writes a blog about online media, recently confessed that he has stopped reading books altogether. “I was a lit major in college, and used to be [a] voracious book reader,” he wrote. “What happened?” He speculates on the answer: “What if I do all my reading on the web not so much because the way I read has changed, i.e. I’m just seeking convenience, but because the way I THINK has changed?”
Bruce Friedman, who blogs regularly about the use of computers in medicine, also has described how the Internet has altered his mental habits. “I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print,” he wrote earlier this year. A pathologist who has long been on the faculty of the University of Michigan Medical School, Friedman elaborated on his comment in a telephone conversation with me. His thinking, he said, has taken on a “staccato” quality, reflecting the way he quickly scans short passages of text from many sources online. “I can’t read War and Peace anymore,” he admitted. “I’ve lost the ability to do that. Even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I skim it.”

Then I skimmed the rest quickly, and copied and pasted (without reading, of course, who has the time?) this:

The human brain is almost infinitely malleable. People used to think that our mental meshwork, the dense connections formed among the 100 billion or so neurons inside our skulls, was largely fixed by the time we reached adulthood. But brain researchers have discovered that that’s not the case. James Olds, a professor of neuroscience who directs the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at George Mason University, says that even the adult mind “is very plastic.” Nerve cells routinely break old connections and form new ones. “The brain,” according to Olds, “has the ability to reprogram itself on the fly, altering the way it functions.”
As we use what the sociologist Daniel Bell has called our “intellectual technologies”–the tools that extend our mental rather than our physical capacities–we inevitably begin to take on the qualities of those technologies. The mechanical clock, which came into common use in the 14th century, provides a compelling example. In Technics and Civilization, the historian and cultural critic Lewis Mumford described how the clock “disassociated time from human events and helped create the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences.” The “abstract framework of divided time” became “the point of reference for both action and thought.”
The clock’s methodical ticking helped bring into being the scientific mind and the scientific man. But it also took something away. As the late MIT computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum observed in his 1976 book, Computer Power and Human Reason: From Judgment to Calculation, the conception of the world that emerged from the widespread use of timekeeping instruments “remains an impoverished version of the older one, for it rests on a rejection of those direct experiences that formed the basis for, and indeed constituted, the old reality.” In deciding when to eat, to work, to sleep, to rise, we stopped listening to our senses and started obeying the clock.
The process of adapting to new intellectual technologies is reflected in the changing metaphors we use to explain ourselves to ourselves. When the mechanical clock arrived, people began thinking of their brains as operating “like clockwork.” Today, in the age of software, we have come to think of them as operating “like computers.” But the changes, neuroscience tells us, go much deeper than metaphor. Thanks to our brain’s plasticity, the adaptation occurs also at a biological level.

Can someone out there read all that and summarize it in, like, two sentences?

Sex On The (Dreaming) Brain

Sex On The (Dreaming) Brain (First posted on February 5, 2007) Last week I asked if you would be interested in my take on this paper, since it is in Serbian (and one commenter said Yes, so here it is – I am easy to persuade):

Continue reading

NIH getting serious about brain doping

There have recently been several articles in the media about brain enhancers, so-called Nootropics, or “smart drugs”. They have been abused by college students for many years now, but they are now seeping into other places where long periods of intense mental focus are required, including the scientific research labs. Here is a recent article in New York Times:

So far no one is demanding that asterisks be attached to Nobels, Pulitzers or Lasker awards. Government agents have not been raiding anthropology departments, riffling book bags, testing professors’ urine. And if there are illicit trainers on campuses, shady tutors with wraparound sunglasses and ties to basement labs in Italy, no one has exposed them.
Yet an era of doping may be looming in academia, and it has ignited a debate about policy and ethics that in some ways echoes the national controversy over performance enhancement accusations against elite athletes like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

And here is a recent article in the Baltimore Sun:

Despite the potential side effects, academics, classical musicians, corporate executives, students and even professional poker players have embraced the drugs to clarify their minds, improve their concentration or control their emotions.

It is apparently used in business:

I’ve long thought that the use of performance enhancing drugs, typically associated with professional sports, would spread to other endeavors as science progresses. Arguably, many professionals already use chemicals to improve their performance. Constant nicotione and caffeine consumption has been endemic in the business world for a long time, and more recently prescription drugs such as Adderall have been used and abused by white collar professionals to improve focus and concentration. Chemical-assisted performance is by no means a panacea. It carries with it a host of medical and ethical questions. Yet as we gain deeper insight into the way the human brain works, we’ll inevitable be confronted with new opportunities and dilemmas such as these.

Nature also recently had a discussion on the use of brain enhancers by the academics:

Barbara Sahakian and Sharon Morein-Zamir from the Department of Psychiatry at Cambridge University argue that the increased usage of brain-boosting drugs by ill and healthy individuals raises ethical questions that cannot be ignored. An informal questionnaire Sahakian and Morein-Zamir sent to some of their scientific colleagues in the US and UK revealed fairly casual use by academics, and we now want to hear your views on the topic..

The problem is getting serious enough that an international organization has recently been founded, the World Anti-Brain Doping Authority:

The agency works to help individual academic federations implement testing procedures in the fields of academic research. It also produces a list of prohibited substances that academics are not allowed to take and maintains the World Anti Brain-Doping Code.

This is pretty scary stuff. On one hand, these drugs have not been tested very well, so nobody knows what nasty side-effects they mat have with repeated and prolonged use, so this is certainly a worry. But I thought that it was a little bit too much, or at least premature, that the NIH is jumping in on this bandwaggon, with, IMHO, quite drastic proposed measures:

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) today announced three new initiatives to fight the use of brain enhancing drugs by scientists. The new initiatives are (1) the creation of the NIH Anti-Brain Doping Advisory Group (NABDAG), a new trans-NIH committee, (2) a collaboration with the World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA) and the European Commission to create the World Anti-Brain Doping Authority (WABDA) and (3) the adoption by the NIH of the World Anti-Brain Doping Code – a set of regulations on the use of brain enhancing drugs among scientists.
“These new initiatives are designed to level the playing field among scientist in terms of intellectual activities,” said NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D. “These three activities are designed to get NIH ahead of the curve in terms of performance enhancing drug use among scientists.”
NABDAG will serve to coordinate activities across different NIH agencies in terms of regulating the use of brain enhancing drugs. The trans-NIH group will be directed by internationally renowned doping authority Jonathan Davis, Ph.D., current director of research at WADA.
“The priority of NABDAG will be to seek out input from the scientific community and from within NIH,” Davis said. “The availability of tremendous expertise and the remarkable infrastructure at NIH will make our activities more robust and will allow us to tackle questions about brain doping that were not possible to address in the past. For example, new testing procedures will need to be developed and we will be able to bring the entire NIH infrastructure to this task.”
While “doping” is now accepted as a problem among athletes, it is less widely known that so-celled “brain doping” has been affecting the competitive balance in scientific research as well. It is for this reason that NIH is collaborating with the World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA), which has led the fight against doping in athletics, to create the World Anti Brain Doping Authority (WABDA). “Because brain doping is not just an American problem,” said Richard Pound, the current Director of WADA and acting Director of WABDA until a permanent head can be found, “we are working with the European Union’s research funding agency, the European Commission Research, to make sure WABDA is effective.
NABDAG will be established within the NIH Office of Intramural Research and administered by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Additional support for the center will come from the NIH Office of the Director, the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the Center for Scientific Review (CSR). The research activities of NABDAG will take place on the NIH Bethesda campus. An additional focus of NABDAG will be to provide training opportunities for students and established scientists from developing countries and from minority groups in the United States.
Together with WABDA, NABDAG will work to develop the international rules for the use of performance enhancing drugs among scientists as well as testing and punishment procedures. Most importantly they will administer the World Anti Brain-Doping Code, a set of uniform anti-brain doping rules. The NIH and European Commission have formally adopted this Code for the conduct of all scientists which receive funding in any form (intramural or extramural) from these agencies. The Code includes regulations on which drugs are prohibited, what the recommended testing procedures should be, and what the punishments should be for positive tests. More information on the WABDA Code can be found at We note that the implementation will include testing of all NIH funded scientists both at the time they receive funding as well as at random times during the course of working on an NIH funded project. Testing will also be implemented at all NIH-funded or NIH-hosted events such as conferences and workshops and at grant review panels.
NIMH, NIDA, and CSR are among the 27 institutes and centers at the NIH, an agency of the Department of Health and Human Services. The NIMH mission is to reduce the burden of mental and behavioral disorders through research on mind, brain, and behavior. More information is available at the NIMH website The National Institute on Drug Abuse is a component of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIDA supports most of the world’s research on the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction. The Institute carries out a large variety of programs to ensure the rapid dissemination of research information to inform policy and improve practice. Fact sheets on the health effects of drugs of abuse and further information on NIDA research can be found on the NIDA web site at The Center for Scientific Review organizes the peer review groups that evaluate the majority of grant applications submitted to the National Institutes of Health. CSR recruits about 18,000 outside scientific experts each year for its review groups. CSR also receives all NIH and many Public Health Service grant applications — about 80,000 a year — and assigns them to the appropriate NIH Institutes and Centers and PHS agencies. CSR’s primary goal is to see that NIH applications receive fair, independent, expert, and timely reviews that are free from inappropriate influences so NIH can fund the most promising research. For more information, visit
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation’s Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

That’s pretty harsh, don’t you think? And if egalitarianism is the goal, this will backfire due to inherent differences between people – an insomniac like me can certainly get more done than someone else who actually gets 8 hours of sleep every day. Back in the day I did experiments that lasted 24 hours, sometimes 36 hours, a couple of times even 72 hours straight. Not everyone’s physical and mental constitution would allow for such exertion. This would actually favor people like me. And the others? Let them eat Provigil!
Then, is the next step going to be to force morning people to work only in the morning and the evening types only in the evenings?
Will research that involves mental rotation of 3D objects be limited only to female researchers, or will the men have to be handicapped in some way, perhaps by having more than 0.08% blood alcohol so the 3D objects spin faster?
There is also a dangerous potential for going down the slippery slope. Will they start adding new chemicals to the list? In my long experiments, I was also aided by copious amounts of chocolate, Coca Cola and junk food from the vending machine (and who knows what chemicals are in those!). If NIH bans caffeine, the entire business of science in the USA will grind to a halt. No coffee, no data, sorry, sir.
Environment is known to affect our cognitive abilities as well. A factor that probably helped me the most during my long experiments was the radio tuned to a local station specializing in reruns of the Rush Limbaugh show. Our technician thought it was great that Rush was speaking the Truth to the Power, while I was inclined to scream but held back as I did not want to stress my birds and thus get unreliable data (hmmm, in retrospect, does listening to Rush affects a bird directly?). Will NIH ban radios? iPods? If it does try to completely control the environment, say Good Bye to all the field work, not to mention all the research going on up on the Space Station.
But all of this is besides the point – who ever said that science should be egalitarian!? Scientists are selected and self-selected for their intelligence, curiosity and overall geekiness. It is in the interest of scientific progress that scientists always do their best, so if they want to use brain enhancers, that’s fine, its their own choice and their own sacrifice for the greater good.
I think that NIH thinks of science like running. On an even playing field, the best runner will win. But why limit oneself to running speed. Give runners additional equipment and they go faster and soon enough you will have another exciting sport – NASCAR! I think of science as NASCAR! The spoils go to the one with the best brain enhancer! And next, we will have people racing their small personal spaceships, just like in Star Wars!
And that is just how it should be. The competition should not really be between scientists, but between Science and Nature (not talking about the journals here, as anyone knows there PLoS wins, of course). And Nature is powerful, autonomous from NIH, and as we all know, loves to play dirty. So, we should use everything we can come up with to speed ourselves up. As Nature tries to hide her secrets from us, we need to deploy all our armamentaria to snatch them from her.
And that is why we need Open Access. Just sayin’ (they pay me to do this, you know?). And I even did not have my coffee yet!
Hat-tip to Jonathan who has more.


Anna has more….
Blake puts it in proper context.
Chris has a good point.
Update 2: There is more from:
Genome Technology

Can teenagers be scared away from illicit drug use?

In 1986, 22-year-old Boston Celtics forward Len Bias died of a cocaine overdose. This week, DrugMonkey argued that Bias’ death–as opposed to educational programs like DARE–was the major reason why self-reported rates of cocaine use by 20-year-olds dropped from 20% in the mid-1980s to 7% in the early 1990s.

Now go and do the survey and check back in a week for the results.

Animal Cognition

Thanks to John Wilkins, I want to point you to an excellent review on the current state of research (both scientific and philosophical) in Animal Cognition.

Holocaust Children, part III (guest post by Mom)

This is the third post in the series. I mentioned before that my Mom taped her story for the Shoah project. You can access the tapes through the RENCI site.
Also, regulars here know that my Mom reads this blog and sometimes comments. I assume that she would not object to answering a couple of polite questions from readers.

Do the hidden Children Differ from the Others?
Saturday, November 10th

I liked the lecture of Robert Krell he gave this morning. He told us his “story”. He comes from Holland, was hidden from 1942-1945 and after the war he reunited with his parents, who were also in hiding, while distant relatives parished in Aushwitz. A psychologist by profession, he devoted his research to the problem of hidden children. From his experience, he found out that children were not hiding only during the war. Many needed a long period of time to come out from their shelters and stop keeping silent. Only about 25 years later they began to talk. Those who made it, saild Krell, are here today, with us.
There were children who got so strongly connected to their foster families that they did not want to return back to their own parents. It took them quite a long time to make up their minds and decide to leave their rescuers. They were thankful to the people for what they have done for them.
I talked of the undertaking of the Belgrade Jewish Historical Museum, which printed a series of books under the title “We survived”. I showed the group the first two volumes in English. Further, I explained that this is being done by elderly volunteers of the Jewish Community in Belgrade. They busily collect testimonies of people who had survived the war. So far, 180 testimonies were published in four volumes. I also spoke about camps, places of execution and suffocation. On mentioning Jasenovac, the terrible concentration camp Jasenovac, I could hear few voices loudly pronouncing:”Yugoslav Auswitz”. Krell himself showed interest in the books and I gave them to him.
Another “workshop” dealt with our relationship with our rescuers. It is well known that everyone who saved a Jew has got an Israeli medal “The Righteous Among The Nations”. There is a garden planted in honour of the Rightous near the Museum.
Of course, there were unpleasant experiences. Not all children were lucky. Not all were treated in the same way. Some were maltreated and used for hard work.
Very moving stories were told about individual destinies and the way how contacts are being kept with foster families, how the children and grandchildren continue the ties – so strong and deep. Some were in a position to help and “pay back” in different ways. I pointed out my case. I told them of my intention to spend several days not with a member of my large family who live in Israel, but with the daughter of dr.Schmuckler who rescued me during the war. I wanted to go back to our memories.
Holocaust Children, part I (guest post by Mom)
Holocaust Children, part II (guest post by Mom)

Video Games and Aggression

My son is working on a paper for school and he picked the topic of video games and how they affect behavior. He primed himself by playing Assassin’s Creed for a couple of days, so he could aggressively look for sources and he found these:
Most Middle-school Boys And Many Girls Play Violent Video Games
Children’s Personality Features Unchanged By Short-Term Video Play
Study Examines Video Game Play Among Adolescents
Surgeons With Video Game Skill Appear To Perform Better In Simulated Surgery Skills Course
Online Multiplayer Video Games Create Greater Negative Consequences, Elicit Greater Enjoyment than Traditional Ones
How Violent Video Games Are Exemplary Aggression Teachers
In Video Games, Not All Mayhem Is Created Equal
Violent Video Games Can Increase Aggression
In Which Art Intimidates Life
This is your brain on violent media
Repeated Exposure to Media Violence Is Associated with Diminished Response in an Inhibitory Frontolimbic Network
Brain Changes When Viewing Violent Media
Media violence and the brain: when movies attack
This is Your Brain on Violent Media
Now he can start furiously typing his essay.
If only this image (from here) was not photoshopped, but reflected the real excitement of doing science instead of shooting at everything that moves….

Brain, Symmetry and Sleep

Hmm, I did not know this – apparently the left hemisphere of the human brain falls asleep first, and the right one a little bit later in most people.
I wonder if that has any connection with the reason we tend to focus on the right side of the face when someone is talking to us – checking the vigilance/sleepiness state of the person?

Have you hugged your horse today?

The other day, Kate wrote an interesting post about inter-species relationships, in particular the cases of inter-species adoption and parenting. In her post, she mentioned a paper that immediately drew my attention – Influence of various early human-foal interferences on subsequent human-foal relationship. by Henry S, Richard-Yris MA and Hausberger M. (Dev Psychobiol. 2006 Dec;48(8):712-8.).
In the paper, the newborn foals were either handled by humans (e.g., brought to the teat), or left completely alone with their mother, or just had humans standing by. Then, a few weeks later, they tested the foals as to their response to human handling. Those that were handled immediately after birth responded less positively than the controls and those that had just a presence of humans had a better response than the controls (in a nutshell – the study is more complicated than that, but this will suffice for now).
As someone who has spent my life around horses, I grokked this intuitively. The idea of “imprinting”, as I understood it at the time it was popular a couple of decades ago, did not mean, in my mind, force-handling newborn foals. It just meant ‘being there’. Letting the mare and foal do their stuff for the first few hours. Then, instead of letting the mares and foals out in the pasture for two years before trying to handle the semi-wild youngsters, making sure that the foals get used to the daily presence of humans, and gradually more and more interaction with humans, including touching and handling.
The paper is described as a test of “imprinting” but I am not sure – has anyone actually tried to imprint by force-handling foals at birth? Was that what imprinting ended up meaning? Or is the paper misinterpreting the idea?
I have raised a foal. My good friend and colleague, a veterinarian, was there when my horse was born. He let the nature take its course. For the first month, the dam was handled daily and they both spent time outside in the presence of humans, but nobody touched the foal. When I got him at six months of age, I spent the first night sitting in his food-trough, talking softly. He calmed down after a couple of hours, finally fell asleep, and later came over to me, sniffed me and nuzzled me. It never occurred to me to pat him as I never expected that to be a naturally soothing experience – “Yeesh, yuck, he…touched me!”.
But I spent hours every day with him afterwards. By the time he turned 1, I could catch him in the paddock (OK, the trick was to offer some tangerines), groom him, pick up his legs and trim his hooves, put a blanket on him, trim his whiskers with an electrical trimmer, lead him on the halter, lunge him, long-rein him, load him on the single-horse trailer and drive him around. At the age of 2, I had no problem putting the saddle on and getting on top myself. For the rest of his life he was a perfect gentleman in and out of the barn, easily handled by kids. He was not as easy to ride later on, I hear, which is surprising as I had no trouble riding him the first few months of his riding career. Last time I went home, back in 1995, I watched him do great at the Young Horse division of the showjumping championship of Serbia. I heard he started refusing to jump later and broke someone’s arm in the process. He subsequently won the dressage championship of Serbia with another rider. You can see a picture of him from his later years here.
I always thought that people patted horses because it feels good to the human, not the horse. The proper reward for work well done is rest – letting the reins long, walking the horse, taking him away from the noise of the show-ring to a quiet corner, giving him a bath, a stall full of fresh straw and some nice food, e.g., a warm bran-mash with apples and carrots (and garlic cloves – they LOVE it and their hair gets so shiny). The pat on the neck that a horse gets after running a good race or jumping a nice course is not in itself a reward. It is just a learned signal that the work is over and that the horse can now relax.


..that is adolescence. And the research on what adolescents find attractive. For a few years. Until they gain the gift of speech and hearing, look up, and find beauty in the mind. Unfortunately, some never do.

How to talk about Health Care

Rockridge Institute published a set of articles (and a video ad) that I found quite interesting about the way to frame health care. See for yourself:
Introduction to Rockridge’s Health Care Campaign:

Framing for Rockridge is about the honest expression of the progressive moral view based upon empathy and responsibility for oneself and others. It is about recognizing government’s role to protect and empower citizens. In other words, we want to communicate our moral view as directly as possible. We want to make sure the moral view is not lost in the fog of complex policy proposals.

The Logic of the Health Care Debate:

Most health care reports advocate a policy, describe it, and argue for it. We take a different approach. In this paper, we describe the logic of the overall debate over the U.S. health care system –the assumptions, the arguments, who makes them, and why. We do come out of this process with recommendations, but not of the usual sort.

Don’t Think of a Sick Child:

George W. Bush doesn’t want you to think of a sick child. Not Graeme Frost. Not Gemma Frost. Not Bethany Wilkerson. Not any of the real children affected. He wants you straining your eyes on the fine print of policies, puzzling over the nuances of coverage — whether you can afford premiums for basic, catastrophic, comprehensive or limited health insurance.

Don’t Think of a Sick Child: The Framing of the Rockridge Institute’s Health Care Security Ad:

The initial web ad in the Rockridge Institute’s campaign for health care security is intended to make a simple, emotional point: today’s profit-first, private, insurance-based health care system forces Americans to choose to exclude millions of Americans from adequate health care.

Could You Explain a Vote Against Children’s Health to the Children?:

For those in U.S. House or Senate inclined to sustain a presidential veto of a bill that will provide basic health care to more than 3 million additional American children, ask yourselves this question: Are you willing to explain your decision to a schoolroom of fragile young children who cannot afford treatment for whooping cough or measles, leukemia or juvenile diabetes? Are you willing to explain this to them, human to human?

Who’s Afraid of Sick Kids?:

When is a twelve-year-old boy with brain damage a threat? When he exemplifies the good a government program can do when it provides health security to middle-class Americans.

SCHIP and the Rigged Health Insurance Game:

The House on Thursday passed a modified version of the SCHIP bill, with a vote that was seven votes shy of a veto-proof majority. There were 142 members of Congress who voted against extending health care to more poor children. Behind their rhetoric, their intentions are clear: they want to protect the health insurance market and the huge profits that go with it.

Ask Rockridge: The Importance of Mental Health:

A Rockridge Nation member recently asked how we can reframe mental health as being necessary for health. We explore a key cognitive bias in how health is conceptualized to pave the way toward an effective alternative.

Ask Rockridge: The Meaning of Socialized Medicine:

Rockridge Nation members recently asked about the phrase “socialized medicine” and raised the deeper question of how to overcome resistance to an expanded government role in funding healthcare, prompting our response here.

You may not agree with the Lakoffian analysis, but reading these articles SHOULD make you think about the way you talk about health care.

Obligatory Reading of the Day (heck no – obligatory reading of the Week)

No Girrafes On Unicycles Beyond This Point

Parts, Wholes, and Context in Reading – add your thoughts!

As last week’s Journal Club on PLoS ONE has been a success (and no, that does not mean it’s over – feel free to add your commentary there), we are introducing a new one this week!
Members of the Potsdam Eye-Movement Group have now posted their comments and annotations on the article Parts, Wholes, and Context in Reading: A Triple Dissociation.
You know your duty: go there, read the paper, read what the group has already posted in their commentary, register, and add your own comments and questions. Rate the article. If you blog about it, send your readers to do the same. If your blogging platform allows it, send trackbacks.
The Postdam group has already done one Journal Club earlier – feel free to add more commentary on their first one as well.
If you are a member of a research group, or a graduate seminar, or an honors section of a college class, or you teach an AP Biology high-school class, and would like to do a Journal Club on one of the PLoS ONE papers, please sign up.
And if you want to know why you should do it, read this first.

There is no Soul. Deal with it.

Galilei kicked us out of the Center of the Universe.
Darwin kicked us off the Pinnacle of Creation
Freud kicked the Soul out of our Brains.
Few remain adherents of Geocentrism.
The opponents of evolution are legion and very vocal (in this country, and a couple of Middle Eastern ones), but they have been defeated so soundly so many times, they had to concede more and more ground, and though they are getting sneakier with time, their efforts are becoming more and more laughable and pitiful.
So, the last Big Fight will be about the Soul. The next area of science to experience a big frontal attack will be Neuroscience.
There is no Soul. Your mind is the subjective experience of what the molecules in your brain cells are doing. Period. But for many, that is the last straw. And the attack will, unlike Creationism, be coming from all sides of the political spectrum, as there are as many adherents of Spirituality crap on the Left as there are believers in the Soul on the Right. They just cannot bear the idea that there isn’t “something more to it” than “just materialism”!
Witness the new book “Spritiual Brain” which is so bad that it cannot even be fisked argument by argument as no arguments are actually presented (at least Creationists have their usual list of idiotic statements that can be effectively demonstrated to be wrong). Shelley Batts and PZ Myers tried hard, but there is just no ‘there’ there.
And even serious neurofolks, like Alvaro and colleagues who are organizing a meeting in Aspen on some of the coolest aspects of neuroplasticity – a hot area of neuroscience that studies how events in the internal and external environment modify the functioning of the brain, which affects the subjective experience, something that is potentially useful in treating people with mental or emotional problems, get slammed for being too materialistic.
If it is non-materialistic, then, by definition, it does not exist. Not just that it is not amenable to scientific study. It.Does.Not.Exist.

A kick-ass Conference: Autonomy, Singularity, Creativity

Unfortunately, due to the Murphy’s Law of conference dates, I will have to miss this fantastic meeting, because I will at the time be at another fantastic meeting, but if you can come, please do – registration will be open online in a few days.

Autonomy, Singularity, Creativity

The conference theme is about bringing scientists and humanities scholars to talk about ways that science is changing human life.

November 8th, 9th, and 10th, the National Humanities Center will host the second ASC conference.

And the program features a Who’s Who list:

Thursday, November 8th
Frans de Waal
Martha Nussbaum
Friday, November 9th
Dan Batson
Margaret Boden
Joseph Carroll
Frans de Waal
Evelyn Fox Keller
David Krakauer
William Lycan
Martha Nussbaum
Steven Pinker
Paul Rabinow
Margery Safir
Robert Sapolsky
Saturday, November 10th
Terrence Deacon
Daniel Dennett
Alex Rosenberg
Mark Turner

Of those, I have seen Sapolsky, Fox Keller and Deacon speak before, and I know Alex Rosenberg, and for each one of them alone, it is worth showing up!

Train your Brain

Over the past several months, Alvaro of SharpBrains blog interviewed eleven neuroscientists on the topic of the ability to use various techniques to affect the way our brains function – brain training. He has now put together a collection of key quotes from the eleven interviews, each quote linking to the interview itself. Interesting reading on the cutting edge of neuroscience.

Are you physically addicted to Harry Potter?

It is certainly possible. Compared to some people I know, I am definitely not. I have read each of the books once (more than halfway through the 7th – so do not give me spoilers yet!) and I have seen each of the movies once. I enjoy them, but do nothing on top of it: no speculations, no obsessions, no additional activity.

How NOT to think about human behavior

Echidne, Amanda Marcotte, Laelaps and Larry Moran beautifully destroy the “Ten Politically Incorrect Truths About Human Nature” article from the recent issue of ‘Psychology Today’, the latest garbage from the Evolutionary Psychology crowd. Much fun was had by all….

Why People Write?

I don’t know, but Grrrl and Archy tried to answer that question…

Conservatives, Animals and Cruelty

What Archy says…

Update on psychology of Creationism

Two ancient posts of mine, Why Creationists Need To Be Creationists and Creationism Is Just One Symptom Of Conservative Pathology are getting heavy traffic right now from Stumbleupon and Reddit. I posted a comment there trying to get people to come and see the much more recent update: More than just Resistance to Science, from which I’d like to promote a recent comment by Tree:

Thank you for drawing attention to the importance of understanding Phatic Language. While I was raised in a very formal family and as a youngster had an intuitive grasp that the purpose of protocol and etiquette is to establish hierarchy (and safety within that hierarchy), it never occurred to me that transmitting information would be mistaken for attempting to establish hierarchy. This explains to me the rage that some people demonstrate when someone with a perceived lower social rank uses technical language. For example, traditional males seem to Freak Out whenever they hear a female expressing herself in technical language. Well yeah, if they equate technical expertise with social dominance, they’re going to rush to defend their social status, no matter how politely the female expresses herself.
Perhaps the same people who mistake technical language as an expression of social dominance also mistake uncertainty as an expression of social submission. I think we should consider that if our technical expertise makes us threatening, no matter how carefully we state our case, and we’re too careful stating our case, we’ll be considered submissive, that we should take our authority as given, take our dominance as granted and act as the responsible social leaders that the rest of the herd expects. My intuition is that if we act as authorities, we will attain the authority required to formulate reality-based policy.

More than just Resistance to Science

In the May 18th issue of Science there is a revew paper by Paul Bloom and Deena Skolnick Weisberg. An expanded version of it also appeared recently in Edge and many science bloggers are discussing it these days.
Enrique has the best one-sentence summary of the article:

The main source of resistance to scientific ideas concerns what children know prior to their exposure to science.

The article divides that “what children know prior to their exposure to science” into two categories: the intuitive grasp of the world (i.e., conclusions they come up with on their own) and the learned understanding of the world (i.e., conclusions they absorb from the adults around them):

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If the (description of the) Beginning was wrong, so is the End

A must-read by Sara Robinson. You can use it to understand the persistence of Creationism. Or the lack of Internal Locus of Moral Authority in people belonging to Moral Majority.

How many things are wrong with this study?

Here, have a go at it. Even better, if you can get the actual paper and dissect it on your blog, let me know so I can link to that. Have fun!
Good Behavior, Religiousness May Be Genetic:

A new study in Journal of Personality shows that selfless and social behavior is not purely a product of environment, specifically religious environment. After studying the behavior of adult twins, researchers found that, while altruistic behavior and religiousness tended to appear together, the correlation was due to both environmental and genetic factors.
According to study author Laura Koenig, the popular idea that religious individuals are more social and giving because of the behavioral mandates set for them is incorrect. “This study shows that religiousness occurs with these behaviors also because there are genes that predispose them to it.”
“There is, of course, no specific gene for religiousness, but individuals do have biological predispositions to behave in certain ways,” says Koenig. “The use of twins in the current study allowed for an investigation of the genetic and environmental influences on this type of behavior.”
This research is another example of the way that genes have an impact on behavior. “Society as a whole assumes that home environments have large impacts on behavior, but studies in behavior genetics are repeatedly showing that our behavior is also influenced by our genes,” says Koenig.

Framing Science – the Dialogue of the Deaf

Blog%20Against%20Theocracy.jpgMy SciBlings Chris Mooney and Matt Nisbet just published an article in ‘Science’ (which, considering its topic is, ironically, behind the subscription wall, but you can check the short press release) about “Framing Science”
Carl Zimmer, PZ Myers, Mike Dunford (also check the comments here), John Fleck, Larry Moran, Dietram Scheufele, Kristina Chew, Randy Olson, James Hrynyshyn, Paul Sunstone and Alan Boyle have, so far, responded and their responses (and the comment threads) are worth your time to read. Chris and Matt respond to some of them. Matt has more in-depth explanations here, here and here (pdf) that are worth reading before firing off a response to the whole debate.
This is not a simple topic, but I will try to organize my thoughts in some way….

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The Power of Emoti(c)ons

Energy Use Study Demonstrates Remarkable Power Of Social Norms:

Most people want to be normal. So, when we are given information that underscores our deviancy, the natural impulse is to get ourselves as quickly as we can back toward the center. Marketers know about this impulse, and a lot of marketing makes use of social norms. This is especially true of campaigns targeting some kind of public good: reducing smoking or binge drinking, for example, or encouraging recycling.

This tendency may not always be used for good. This is, after all, the idea behind the Overton Window, which the Right wing has abused for about three decades now – moving the ‘window’ of what is socially and politically acceptable further and further to the Right, to the extent that extreme Right-wing rhetoric and ideas, bordering on fascist, are acceptable, while anything left of center is deemed unpalatable (“socialist”, as if that was a bad word or something).
I have noted before that neither Clinton nor Obama understand the concept and thus play straight into the conservatives’ hands, allowing or even helping them to keep moving the “center” further to the right (while only Edwards understands this and wants to move it back to the Center where it belongs). This also explains why people with a Compulsive Centrist Disorder, including the pundits, keep moving to the Right and keep calling it the Center.
But, perhaps the study linked above can give us some ideas:

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When Yes means No.

When I ask a guy for something, I may get Yes as an answer half the time and No half the time. Yes mostly means Yes and No means No. If the answer is “Let me think about it”, that means usually that within 24 hours or so I will get a definitve Yes or No answer.
If I ask a woman for something, I rarely ever get a No. I may get Yes half the time and “Let me think about it” the other half. And moreover, Yes need not necessarily mean Yes, and “Let me think about it” ALWAYS means No – as in: I never hear about it again from that person.
On the surface, that sounds like dishonesty and playing games, and sure is inconvenient not to know what the real answer is. But I am aware of the deeper psychological reasons for not being able to say No to anyone, as I was once like that (and learned through persistence and hard work not to be). It is a matter of politeness mixed with a dose of fear (of being ostracized or something).
And it is certainly much more ingrained in – or inculturated into – women than men. How? Check this post and the 85 comments in the thread under it.