Category Archives: Psychology

Bird Brains…

Eavesdropping Nuthatches Appear To Understand Chickadees In Distress:

If Dr. John Watson had been chronicling the work of Christopher Templeton rather than the exploits of Sherlock Holmes, he might have entitled the latest research by Templeton “The Adventure of the Avian Eavesdroppers.” The University of Washington doctoral student has found the first example of an animal making sophisticated decisions about the danger posed by a predator from the information contained in the alarm calls of another species.

Grrrrl explains.

The Importance of Words

Escalating Truth:

Words have meanings; they express ideas and ideas are important. The word “surge” came with the idea of a relatively small short-term increase in force that would be effective. Such previous troop increases had been ineffective and the joint chiefs saw no reason that this one would be effective either. The actual proposal called a “surge” was the opposite of what the word meant. In short, the very use of the word “surge” was a lie.
People all over the country noticed the “surge” framing immediately, and quickly — and accurately — reframed the President’s proposal as an “escalation.” Escalation is a strategy employed by an apparently superior power that is losing when it was expected to win. It is the strategy of raising the level of force and, hence, of violence, bringing in more troops, deepening one’s commitment to a strategy already in place, raising the bar for what is to count as “success” and for the removal of troops.

Fighting Words: Conservatives Stifle Progress on Iraq and Climate Crisis:

In recent years, many progressives have been learning that facts alone — without framing that conveys their context — are not enough. This lesson is forcefully demonstrated in cases in which conservatives tenaciously resist the use of language that reveals truth and lays bare their failed policies. The latest examples of this include a proposed non-binding Senate resolution opposing the deployment of greater numbers of troops to Iraq and an international report on the future of the world’s climate.

‘Spiral of Death’: How the Right-Wing Uses You to Attack PBS & NPR:

The $2.9 trillion budget that the Bush administration proposed this week cuts the budget for public broadcasting by nearly 25 percent. The cuts have already prompted the reaction that the Bush administration surely expected: progressive groups are asking their members to lobby Congress to protect PBS and NPR. Are progressives falling into a right-wing trap that reinforces the conservative framing of PBS and NPR as tools of a “liberal elite”?

Family Values:

Conservatives have long invoked family values to promote wedge issues and win elections, but the implications of family values on our politics and society run far deeper than campaigns and elections. In the Rockridge Nation video that we have just released, George Lakoff examines the extraordinary influence of James Dobson on parenting in America. He also discusses progressive and conservative conceptions of family values, and why progressives must overcome the conservative dominance of this subject.

Quality of Wakeful Life affects the Quality of Sleep

Slow-wave Activity During Sleep Affected By Quality, Intensity Of Wakefulness:

A study published in the February 1st issue of the journal SLEEP provides a first direct demonstration that the “quality” and “intensity” of wakefulness can affect slow-wave activity (SWA) during subsequent sleep.
According to Chiara Cirelli, MD, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of the authors of the study, the importance and novelty of the paper lies in the demonstration that the crucial factor linking physiological waking activity to sleep SWA is synaptic plasticity, notably synaptic potentiation, mediated by brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) signaling.
“Namely, the study shows that wakefulness associated with exposure to an enriched environment and with high levels of exploratory activity, a condition well known to trigger plastic changes in the brain, leads to increased BNDF expression and increased sleep pressure as compared to wakefulness with low exploratory activity,” said Cirelli. “More stringently, the study finds that the amount of exploratory behavior during wakefulness can predict the extent to which BDNF is induced in the cerebral cortex, as well as the extent of the SWA response during subsequent sleep.”

This feeds very nicely with the excellent paper I reviewed recently.
Also, what does it say about the erotic dreams? And yes, I will review the companion paper on the sexual content of daydreaming as well.

Sex On The (Dreaming) Brain

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research

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):

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Hooked on Hooking Up, Or What’s Wrong With Conservative View Of Marriage

Hooked on Hooking Up, Or What's Wrong With Conservative View Of MarriageThis is two years old (February 16, 2005) but still as provocative….(also my belated contirbution to the Blog For Choice Day) and I’ll repost the second part of it next Friday.

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Psychology of Political Ideology

There is a new manuscript online which I will undoubtedly find interesting, I bet, once I find time to read its 52 pages (OK, double-spaced TXT with a long list of references and an Appendix of stats):
The Secret Lives of Liberals and Conservatives: Personality Profiles, Interaction Styles, and the Things They Leave Behind (pdf) by Dana R. Carney, John T. Jost, Samuel D. Gosling, Kate Niederhoffer and Jeff Potter.

ABSTRACT: Seventy-five years of theory and research on personality differences between political liberals and conservatives has produced a long list of dispositions, traits, and behaviors. Applying a “Five Factor Model” framework to this yield, we find that two traits, Openness to Experience and Conscientiousness, parsimoniously capture many of the ways in which individual differences underlying political orientation have been conceptualized. In four studies we investigate the relationship between personality and political orientation using multiple domains and measurement techniques, including: self-reported personality assessment; explicit beliefs, values, and preferences; nonverbal behavior in the context of social interaction; and personal possessions and the characteristics of living and working spaces. We obtained consistent and converging evidence that personality differences between liberals and conservatives are robust, replicable, and behaviorally significant. In general, liberals are more openminded in their pursuit of creativity, novelty, and diversity, whereas conservatives seek lives that are more orderly, conventional, and better organized.

So, you read it before me and tell me what you think…
(Thanks to Chris for the heads-up)

Do You Like My Bass-Baritone, Baby?

According to this article (and the podcast of the NPR show linked there), you should like my deep voice. I got it from my Dad. He sang the deepest Bass in many choirs over decades, toured the world and cut records. His voice was absolutely amazing. His best friends’ voices (well, those were all the guys from the bass-baritone section of the choir) were also amazing. So, from very early on I was aware of the power of the human voice.
But, I recently realized that my voice appears to be higher-pitched when I speak and sing in English than when I speak or sing in Serbian, probably due to the way that vowels in Serbian are much more “open” than in English. You can sing in Serbian with your full lungs belting out the note, but not in English which constrains the airflow in almost all of its vowels.
That is why I thought that Kerry’s deep voice should sway people over Bush’s screechy, high-pitched noise of a voice. I guess I was wrong (at least it was less important than some other considerations people put in when they choose who to vote for). Or perhaps conservative sissies felt less threatened by a high-pitch voice? But, they like authority so they should go for the deepest voices, if the hypothesis above is correct! Dunno, but the whole notion of the importance of voice-quality in human communication is intriguing to me.
Added a litle later: Oh, I know this is silly EvoPsych and I assume that my readers know quite well what my stance is on it, so I initially decided not to insert the usual disclaimer. What I am interested in is the neuroscience/cognitive psychology explanations for the emotional responses to different qualities of voice and how that relates to the emotional responses to music. Once we understand that better, we are free to concoct silly evolutionary Just So Stories as much as we want.

The Science Of Driving And Traffic – the importance of breaking the rules

Let me state up front that this is not a topic I know anything about, but I have always had a curiosity for it, so let me just throw some thoughts out into the Internets and see if commenters or other bloggers can enlighten me or point me to the most informative sources on the topic. This is really a smorgarsbord of seemingly disparate topics that I always felt had more in common with each other than just the fact that they have something or other to do with traffic. I am trying to put those things together and I hope you can help me (under the fold).

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Why do we have sex?

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

You gotta be nuts to vote for Bush!

You know that Bush-apologists say crazy things. They get cited, chastized and mocked for it every day on the liberal blogs, after all. You may have also wandered, by mistake, onto comment threads on Little Green Foodballs, or The Corner, or other nasty Right-wing blogs and suspected that those people are not really ‘all there’. And you may be aware that there is actually quite a large body of scientific evidence that Conservatives are Crazy and Dangerous, er, that conservative/authoritarian ideology correlates strongly with a number of (environmentally induced, i.e., through upbringing and socialization) traits usually associated with at least deep emotional problems if not outright mental ilness. Bulk of that literature has been reviewed and meta-analyzed in these two nifty papers:
Conservatism As Motivated Social Cognition (pdf)
Exceptions That Prove the Rule–Using a Theory of Motivated Social Cognition to Account for Ideological Incongruities and Political Anomalies: Reply to Greenberg and Jonas (2003) (pdf)
The research did not stop in 2003, and new studies have cropped up here and there, e.g., this, this and this.
Still, most of those studies involved analysis of more-or-less normally functioning people, free to roam around, work, have families, run for office, or preach in church. Today, however, Archy discovered a brand new study of real psychiatric patients (OK, outpatients, but still):
Are George W. Bush lovers certifiable?:

A collective “I told you so” will ripple through the world of Bush-bashers once news of Christopher Lohse’s study gets out.
Lohse, a social work master’s student at Southern Connecticut State University, says he has proven what many progressives have probably suspected for years: a direct link between mental illness and support for President Bush.
Lohse says his study is no joke. The thesis draws on a survey of 69 psychiatric outpatients in three Connecticut locations during the 2004 presidential election. Lohse’s study, backed by SCSU Psychology professor Jaak Rakfeldt and statistician Misty Ginacola, found a correlation between the severity of a person’s psychosis and their preferences for president: The more psychotic the voter, the more likely they were to vote for Bush.
But before you go thinking all your conservative friends are psychotic, listen to Lohse’s explanation.
“Our study shows that psychotic patients prefer an authoritative leader,” Lohse says. “If your world is very mixed up, there’s something very comforting about someone telling you, ‘This is how it’s going to be.'”

And before you start weaving conspiracy theories about ‘liberal academia’, the findings emerged from data-mining and were not the reason the study was performed in the first place. Furthermore, the author is no flaming liberal:

For his part, Lohse is a self-described “Reagan revolution fanatic” but said that W. is just “beyond the pale.”

Update: As expected, many liberal bloggers took the press report of the study at face value. I hope you did not think I did – my point was to place it in the context of previous studies, alert teh blogosphere to its existence, and provoke a discussion hoping that, once the actual paper comes out we can get the opportunity to dissect it. Nobody has seen the actual study yet, so we cannot say if it is any good or not (although it is consistent with previous research) until it is released. Orac has already written some criticisms of the study from what it could be gleaned from the news article, although I think it is premature at this point. We can use his post as a guideline what to look for once the paper becomes accessible, though.

The Public Park Parable of Political Psychology

The Public Park Parable of Political PsychologyAnother one on psychology of political ideology (form April 08, 2005):

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The Power of Human Voice

Earlier today I was listening to The Story with Dick Gordon on WUNC91.5FM and it was about the persuasive power of the human voice. This is something I was always interested in.
The guest was Anne Karpf, author of Human Voice. It was one of those extra-long driveway moments because the topic was so interesting, she is so insightful (and has a great sense of humor), and had several clips of people like FDR, Churchill, Reagan, Bush and Blair with added analysis of their voices, as well as some cultural comparisons, the development of language, etc.
I am about to put the book on my wish list and will try to get it as soon as possible.

Aspergers under white hoods

Dave proposes
Sara disposes
You comment.

Elephants pass the mirror test

Humans do it, great apes do it, dolphins do it, now elephants (also here) have also been shown to do it – recognize themselves in the mirror, i.e., realize that the image in the mirror is the image of themselves and not a strange animal. That’s a biggie in the world of cognitive science and the study of evolution of consciousness:

When the mirror was unveiled in their yard, they immediately walked over and began poking and prodding and inspecting and playing. They used their trunks to inspect it and then themselves. Two got on their hind legs to look on top of the mirror. One got on the ground to inspect the bottom of it. They opened their mouths, exploring an area of their body they were familiar with but had never seen. They even brought their food over to eat in front of the mirror.
“All three of the elephants demonstrated this self-directed behavior,” said Joshua Plotnik, a co-author of the study and a graduate student at Emory. And like children inspecting their own bodies, the elephants put their eyes right up to the mirror, seemingly to figure out what it was and how it worked, he said. Then they investigated parts of their bodies they had never seen. They grabbed one of their ears and pulled it towards the mirror for inspection. “These are behaviors that they don’t normally do,” he added.
The scientists used a non-toxic paint to mark a small spot on one side of each animal’s forehead, which would be visible when it looked in the mirror. They also marked an identical spot on the other side of the forehead, but invisible paint was used to test whether the animals were seeing rather than feeling the mark.
Happy was the only one of the three who noticed the spot and used her trunk to examine it — over and over again. She did not go after the invisible spot on the other side of her forehead.

Framing research

Go help Chris do a study on framing in politics.

Obligatory Reading of the Day – Femiphobia

NOTE: Bumped to top to draw attention to added links:

Provocative and excellent post by Sara Robinson: There’s Something About The Men. Most definitely read the comments as well. Then come back here in half an hour and read an old post of mine that I have scheduled for republishing at 11am.
I know Sara likes Steven Ducat, so she may agree with my position, or perhaps not.
I am expecting responses by Amanda, Melissa, Lindsay, Jill and Echidne among others. This may become an interesting discussion over the next couple of days on feminist blogs and beyond.
Update: Shakespeare’s Sister responds. Many comments.
Update 2: Amanda Marcotte bit the bait and penned a good one (and a very thought-provoking one)!
Tigtag on Larvatus Prodeo has an interestingly dense commenter on this topic.
Yes, yes, we are going to have a fight! A blog war! I can just smell it in the air! Read Echidne for a very different take.
Another update: Melissa, JackGoff and Michael Bains have more.
Yet another update: More from Hugo Schwyzer and a comment thread on Metafilter.
Dave Neiwert provides some chilling scholarly historical background….
…to which Echidne, Amanda and Flea respond, all three absolutely brilliantly.

Evolution Project And A Truly Fair And Balanced Fox

Evolution Project And A Truly Fair And Balanced FoxMeandering Musings on evolutionary psychology and many other things (from February 15, 2005)…

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MRI getting smaller (and cheaper)

It’s looking good. Certainly much smaller than the roomful of metal we are used to seeing in hospitals.
Do you remember when computers used to fill entire rooms? Now take a look at your cell phone. Now think MRI in 10-20 years…
See what I’m getting at?
I am patiently waiting for the time when MRIs are small and light enough to be mounted on heads of freely behaving animals (in the wild or in captivity), at least large animals like elephants, dolphins, horses, crocs or sharks… Then you use radiotelemetry to get the info loaded on your computer and you observe the brain activity in real time as the animal is interacting with its environment.
I hope this happens while I am still young and active enough to use such technology in research…

Nicotine and Depression

Nicotine Lessens Symptoms Of Depression In Nonsmokers:

Nicotine may improve the symptoms of depression in people who do not smoke, Duke University Medical Center scientists have discovered.
The finding does not mean that people with depression should smoke or even start using a nicotine patch, the researchers caution. They say that smoking remains the No. 1 preventable cause of death and disability in the United States, and that the addictive hazards of tobacco far outweigh the potential benefits of nicotine in depression.
But the finding suggests that it may be possible to manipulate nicotine’s effects to safely reap its potential medical benefits, according to the researchers. As an example of the drug’s potential, they said, pharmaceutical companies already are developing compounds for treating other brain disorders by mimicking the beneficial properties of nicotine while avoiding its addictive nature.
“Our study also provides evidence that smokers may indeed smoke, in part, to improve their mood — a notion that has been quite controversial in the field,” he said.
Scientists have established that people prone to depression are twice as likely to be smokers, and are less likely to succeed in quitting smoking after taking up the habit, according to McClernon. The Duke study explored the theories behind the higher smoking rates among people experiencing depression.
“Smokers may be more prone to depression than nonsmokers,” said Edward Levin, Ph.D., a professor of biological psychiatry and researcher at the Duke center, who was senior investigator in the current study. “Or, people with depression may be self-medicating by smoking, albeit in a deadly way.”

This may be the reason why sleep-deprived adolescents are much more likely to take up smoking than their well-rested peers.

Hitler and other authoritarians

Obligatory Readings of the Day:
Amanda: Disney emerges from the grave, demands right wing propaganda so he can stop spinning
David Neiwert: Projecting fascism
Sara Robinson: Tunnels and Bridges: A Short Detour
RobertDFeinmanOvercoming the Authoritarian Personality
Archy: I break with Olbermann

Psychology of an Airplane Crash

This article looks into the possible causes of the recent crash in Lexington.

Dolphins Are Intelligent!

Where does one start with debunking fallacies in this little article? Oy vey!

Dolphins and whales are dumber than goldfish and don’t have the know-how to match a rat, new research from South Africa shows. For years, humans have assumed the large brains of dolphins meant the mammals were highly intelligent.

No, we knew dolphins were smart millenia before we ever looked at their brains. The ancient Chinese knew it. Aristotle knew it. And the idea that brain size has anything to do with intelligence is, like, sooo 19th century.

Paul Manger from Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand, however, says it is not intelligence that created the dolphin super-brain — it’s the cold. To survive underwater, these warm-blooded animals developed brains that have a lot of insulating material — called glia — but not too many neurons, the gray stuff that counts for reasoned thinking.

Wow! Since when are glia “insulating material”? A few years ago, for my Neuroscience class, I had to remember at least 10 functions of glia – not one of them having anything to do with insulation, or even structural support. It’s all about function – neurons and glia work together to process information. Anyway, I will blame this on the stupidity of the reporter as I doubt that anyone with such archaic ideas would ever be allowed to dissect a dolphin and publish a study in a decent journal.

Yet while dolphins aren’t as smart as people tend to think, they are as happy as they seem. Manger said dolphins have a ”huge amount” of serotonin in their brains, which is what he described as ”the happy drug.”

Sure, if you get your science from Cosmo and Glamour. Do I really have to start listing all the functions of serotonin now? Or try to define “happiness” in such simplistic terms that it can be explained with a single chemical?
It is not quite clear, but it appears that Alon Levy agrees with the study. But Lindsay is having none of it. She cites the self-recognition paper as well as some personal testimony of the researcher who did that study. When that paper came out I was teaching a “Readings in Behavioral Biology” graduate seminar and all the neuro faculty showed up for class and tried valiantly to destroy the paper – with no avail. It is good.
Dolphins are darn smart. They play (check this pdf). They have complex communication and complex social interactions.
So, how does this kind of argument ever show up? Because of anthropocentrism. Two types of anthropocentrism, to be precise.
First, the concept of “intelligence” is often defined in human-like terms. If an animal can do stuff we do, it is deeemed smart. If it can be easily trained like our immature offspring can, it is smart. If it can talk, it is smart. If it builds structures, it is smart. BS. Intelligence has to be defined from the vantage point of that species: what makes ecological and evolutionary sense for that species to be able to do. Bees are smarter than ants because they have a more sophisticated ability to orient in space and time, not because they speak English, French and Chinese.
Now, don’t get me wrong now. Since we are intelligent, looking for intelligence in other animals may benefit from comparison to humans. The trouble is, people go for specifics of human capabilities, instead of a general idea what intelligence is.
Writing “Hamlet” is an ecologically relevant ability for humans. It kept old Will fed and clothed for a few months, after which he wrote the next play. Why would an insect need to write theater plays? It is not ecologically relevant to it. It does not aid survival and/or reproduction.
Intelligence is the ability to learn fast and learn a lot of pieces of information relevant to one’s ecology. It is the ability to hold many of those pieces in one’s mind simultaneously, to juggle them and analyse them and notice patterns. It is the ability to play with that information, to get new ideas and test them, to note and remember the results of those tests. It is the ability to use this novel informaiton to invent novel behaviors – doing different stuff at different places at different times. In short, intelligence is the ability to do science! Behavioral flexibility is the hallmark of intelligence – not the specific types of behaviors.
The second anthoropomorphism considers the underlying anatomy. Why should unrelated species of high intelligence have brains similar to us? They evolved their high intelligence at different times, in a different lineage, with different raw materials to work with, and under different ecological pressures, for different purposes.
Many birds are very intelligent – but in their own way. Clarke’s Nutcrackers, African Grey Parrots, pigeons, and most corvids (ravens, crows, jays) are highly intelligent creatures with huge capabilities for episodic memory (remembering spatial and temporal aspects of personal experiences), play, problem-solving, spatial orientation and perhaps even insight (planning for the future). And their brains look nothing like ours.
Octopus is a very smart animal. Its brain looks nothing like ours.
Macs and PCs can do all the same stuff (roughly), but look nothing like each other under the hood. Many kinds of harware can run the same kinds of software and do same kinds of things, so why should brains have to be all built the same way in order to make an animal “intelligent”?
So, leave the dolphins alone, at least until the Startide Rising.
Addendum: I forgot to note that glia are not white matter. Axons are white matter while neuronal bodies are grey matter. Glia surround both. It is the color of Schwann cells (a type of glia) that makes axons look whitish.
Thus, more grey matter means more neurons. More white matters means more connections. What is more important: gazillions of scattered cells, or the complexity of their connections? I’d say connections.
Addendum II: Dave Munger wrote a valid criticism of what I wrote here (and somehow I missed his earlier post on this subject):

I agree that intelligence is tremendously difficult to define, but I’d suggest that the perspective of an individual species is a poor place to start. Based on that notion, every organism can be said to be intelligent, because every organism is highly adapted to its environment. When we say an animal is “intelligent,” we’re defining intelligence from our own perspective: the point is to identify animals that are similar to ourselves.

I’m not sure that the point is to identify animals that are similar to ourselves, but even if it is, similar in what way? The general mental capabilities (that we still need to define) or specific capabilities (which I argued here against)?
As for looking at each species individually, I agree that it is impossible to do it in isolation, but eahc species can be compared with other species in its own group, e.g., birds with birds, insects with insect, and then broader, all with all. If we define, provisionally, intelligence as fast learning, high processing power and flexibility of behavior, then we can compare species without looking at specific items that are learned, specific informaiton that is processed and specific behaviors that are flexible. For some species, being inflexible is a great adaptive trait – doing everything by the pre-programed schedule can work wonderfully for a long period of time. Other species evolve flexibility which allows them to spread on a broader spatial range and perhaps allow them to survive a longer geological time.

Another time-scale in insect brains

Bumble Bees Can Estimate Time Intervals:

In a finding that broadens our understanding of time perception in the animal kingdom, researchers have discovered that an insect pollinator, the bumble bee, can estimate the duration of time intervals. Although many insects show daily and annual rhythms of behavior, the more sophisticated ability to estimate the duration of shorter time intervals had previously been known only in humans and other vertebrates.
Bees and other insects make a variety of decisions that appear to require the ability to estimate elapsed durations. Insect pollinators feed on floral nectar that depletes and renews with the passage of time, and insect communication and navigation may also require the ability to estimate the duration of time intervals.
In the new work, the researchers investigated bumble bees’ ability to time the interval between successive nectar rewards. Using a specially designed chamber in which bumble bees extended their proboscis to obtain sucrose rewards, the researchers observed that bees adjusted the timing of proboscis extensions so that most were made near the end of the programmed interval between rewards. When nectar was delivered after either of two different intervals, bees could often time both intervals simultaneously. This research shows that the biological foundations of time perception may be found in animals with relatively simple neural systems.

Books: “The Good Father: On Men, Masculinity, and Life in the Family” by Mark O’Connel

The Good FatherIt is great when you write a blog post about somebody, then that somebody shows up in the comments and clarifies his position thus starting an interesting conversation (both in the comments and via e-mail), then you realize that his book-signing tour is bringing that somebody to your town, so you go there and meet that somebody in person and have a great conversation, which inspires you to write yet another blog post – the one under the fold….

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Books: “The Wimp Factor: Gender Gaps, Holy Wars, and the Politics of Anxious Masculinity” by Stephen J. Ducat

 FemiphobiaThis is not a real review – I never got to writing it – but it is about a book I mention quite often in my blog posts and think is one of the most insightful about the conservative mindset. Written originally on October 21, 2004:

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Cracks in the Wall, Part III: Escape Ladders

The third part of the series on authoritarian psychology by Sara Robinson is now up on Orcinus. It tackles the strategies for dealing with (and hopefully healing and converting) the victims of authoritarian upbringing who turned out authoritarian themselves. The whole series is a must-read.

Across the fruited plain

This is interesting:
Landscapes And Human Behavior:

On Arizona State University’s (ASU) Polytechnic campus, graduate student families in the cluster of six houses abutting lush lawns and ornamental bushes spend time together talking while their kids play outside. Meanwhile, the families in a nearby cluster of six homes barely know each other. But that may be in part because their homes sit on native Sonoran desert, not nearly as conducive to recreation as the lush microclimate researchers created in the first neighborhood. Social scientists and biophysical ecologists are finding that environmental surroundings may play a significant role in human social interaction, serving either as a social lubricant as in the first case, or as a barrier.
“Experimental approaches are rarely used in studies of human-environment interactions,’ says Casagrande. “By combining research approaches from both the social and biophysical sciences, we can gain new insights into how peoples’ surroundings affect them.”
The study will run until at least 2010, but the results thus far suggest that even those individuals who grew up in the arid environment of Arizona prefer a more lush landscape conducive to recreation and social networking. In addition to the social interactions resulting from the different landscape designs, the researchers are also looking into residents’ level of ecological knowledge, overall environmental values, and perceptions of landscapes. Yabiku and Casagrande hypothesize that residents’ knowledge of flora and fauna will increase more in the mesic than in the native desert cluster.

So, they built several different ‘landscapes’. I’d like to see also some mountains and seashore as well. Any thoughts?

New studies on Depression

New Depression Findings Could Alter Treatments.
Kids on antidepressants more likely to commit suicide? I have heard about this several times before, but I believe this is a first study directly asking this question:

“The researchers found no link between the antidepressant drugs and suicidal behavior in depressed patients 19 or older. But children and adolescents in the study who were taking antidepressants were about 50 percent more likely than those not on the drugs to try to kill themselves. And they were about 15 times as likely as those not on the medications to complete the act, although the number of suicides was too small to draw definitive conclusions, the authors cautioned.”

Also, a single shot of Ketamine lifts depression for a week in patients for whom no other treatment is effective. Kevin explains how. (snarl) So, in the good old days when IACUC still let me anesthetise my quail with a rompun/ketamine mix, my animals were surely not depressed for a week after surgery. Good to know, even if it is in retrospect (/snark)

What a minefield of correlations not being causations!

Sexual Lyrics Prompt Teens to Have Sex:

Teens whose iPods are full of music with raunchy, sexual lyrics start having sex sooner than those who prefer other songs, a study found.
Whether it’s hip-hop, rap, pop or rock, much of popular music aimed at teens contains sexual overtones. Its influence on their behavior appears to depend on how the sex is portrayed, researchers found.

The article does point out skepticism by a couple of other researchers, but the title and the lede suggest that they’d prefer the readers to ignore the skepticism.

Opening the can of worms – blogging politics again

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything about one of my pet topics – the way the changes in the society are resulting in the change in attitudes towards sex and gender, and the change in the institution of marriage, and how it all relates to politics of the moment.
I’ve been playing it pretty carefully since my move here to SEED scienceblogs, not firing away with my biggest artillery yet. I want to get back there again, gradually, so this is going to be just a summary and an opportunity to get you to read some of my older stuff to see where I stand. It is a also a test balloon to see how the new, expanded readership will respond to my political rants. Hopefully, this will get a lot of comments as well, and not all of them screaming insults at me:

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The Perils of Polls

Survey questions themselves may affect behavior:

Simply asking college students who are inclined to take drugs about their illegal-drug use in a survey may increase the behavior, according to a study that’s making researchers understandably nervous.
“We ask people questions, and that does change behavior,” study co-author Gavan Fitzsimons, a marketing professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, said Thursday. The provocative effect, he added, can be “much greater than most of us would like to believe.”

Read the rest, it is quite interesting. My first thought – can frequent polling during the election year, using, of course, conservative frames, influence the outcome of the election?

Nurturant is not Coddly!

Nurturant is not Coddly!
I wrote this on September 21, 2004, as a reaction to the misunderstanding of Lakoff’s term “Nurturant Parent”. Slightly edited (eliminated bad links and such).

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Sex On The Brain (of the science reporters)

Sex On The Brain (of the science reporters)

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research

This post was a response to a decent (though not too exciting) study and the horrible media reporting on it. As the blogosphere focused on the press releases, I decided to look at the paper itself and see what it really says. It was first posted on August 09, 2005. Under the fold…

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Talking Right

I just finished listening to Fresh Air on NPR. Terry Gross had an interview with Geoffrey Nunberg whose book, Talking Right: How Conservatives Turned Liberalism into a Tax-Raising, Latte-Drinking, Sushi-Eating, Volvo-Driving, New York Times-Reading, Body-Piercing, Hollywood-Loving, Left-Wing Freak Show just came out. As you know, I am interested in the way the Right has appropriated English language in the US so I listened carefully. You can also hear the podcast (a little later today, I assume) and read a little excerpt from the book on the link above.
While most of what he said is pretty much the same as his University-mate Lakoff says (and interestingly, I did not catch them mentioning Lakoff during the show), I was surprised when he stated that everything comes out of language. Everything else he says implies the opposite – its starts with the human mind, and is converted to language by political wordsmiths like Frank Luntz. Thus, language becomes the element in the feedback loop that reinforces what the mind already thinks, but it is not the starting point of that loop.
Anyway, I have placed the book on my wish list as I cannot afford it right now and I’d like to hear any comments from readers who get to read the book before I do.

Nationalism and Patriotism

OK, today I’d like you to superimpose a couple of very different articles that all look at the difference between patriotism and nationalism, but each from a different angle and see if, and how, they inform each other. First, I’d like you to read one of my old posts (which I may decide to re-post here one day, but for now, check it out on my old blog) – Nationalism is not Patriotism. That would be a bare-bone introduction to political psychology of patriotism and nationalism:

Why is there a widespread belief that the difference between patriotism and nationalism is one of degree: loving one’s country versus loving it even more? I think that the difference is not quantitative but qualitative – the phrase “love for one’s country” used by the two kinds of people (patriots and nationalists) is based on very different meanings of the words “love”, “for”, “one” and “country”.

Now, let’s move from bare bones to the results of some real research on the topic, ably dissected and distilled by Chris in Two Types of Patriotism:

To these people, the political landscape in the U.S. is composed of two villages, one populated by patriots, and the other by America haters. There doesn’t seem to be any room in between, and a patriot seems to be defined as adopting a less than critical attitude towards one’s country. For me, this raises interesting questions about what patriotism is, and as a psychologist, questions about the psychological makeup of a patriot. Since today’s the 4th of July, it seems like a good time to talk about a little of what I’ve learned.

Small Grey Matters responds to Chris’ post with one of his own – What are authoritarians like?:

One of the many interesting findings to come out of the behavioral genetics literature is that the heredity of political orientation (defined in terms of variables such as conservatism vs. liberalism, right-wing authoritarianism, etc.) is about as high as that of general intelligence and most major personality dimensions-typically around 50-65%. That’s to say, over half of the variance in questionnaires including items such as “Our country needs a powerful leader to overthrow the radical and immoral values that are present in today’s society” is attributable to genetic influences (most of the remainder is due to unique, or non-shared, environmental influences).

I think that the idea that psychological traits related to political orientation are heritable is true, but NOT VIA GENES! It is inherited via a developmental process. Conservatives raise their children in such a way that their emotional development results in them becoming conservatives when they grow up, thus perpetuating the trait across generations – that is the definition of inheritance. And it is not teaching conservatism directly – it is providing an environment in which a child will develop conservative traits.
Furthermore, ideologically like-minded people tend to live in the same place – thus the broader community (village, church, school, local media, etc.), not just parents, adds to the developmentally important aspects of the social environment. In a sense, it is niche-construction – a trait results in the modification of the environment in a way that favors the perpetuation of that same trait. Move to a different environment (e.g., college town, Europe), and different traits develop which build a different environment which favors that new (liberal) trait. No DNA is involved here at all. I have touched on this many times before on my blog (see, for instance this post).
Finally, once you have absorbed lessons from Chris’ post, apply his analysis to the symbolism in some ‘patriotic’ songs, provided to you by Josh in What isn’t clear about ‘This Land is Your Land’?:

My (least) favorite line: “I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free.” “At least”? Really? We could basically boil the song down to “America: sufficiently better than Russia.” This isn’t patriotism, it’s blind nationalism. And the difference is instructive. Why exactly Lee Greenwood wants God to bless America is really left to the imagination of the reader, and it’s not clear that Greenwood has a good idea beyond that it’s where he happens to live.

Now you have academic and instinctual all tied together and you really grok the difference between nationalism and patriotism, don’t you?

Nikola Tesla’s Personality

This is a quick, rough translation of an article that ran in a Serbian newspaper a few days ago. It is written by a professor of psychology at the University of Belgrade, Prof.Dr.Zarko Trebjesanin, whose book about psychology of Tesla just got published in Belgrade. Posthumous psychoanalyzing is always suspect, but it is usually harmless and fun:

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The Political Brain

The Political Brain
This post was initially published on September 16, 2004. It takes a critical look at some UCLA studies on brain responses of partisan voters exposed to images of Bush and Kerry:

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Creationism Is Just One Symptom Of Conservative Pathology

Creationism Is Just One Symptom Of Conservative Pathology
This is one a couple of posts about Creationism, written originally on May 1st, 2005.

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Obligatory Reading of the Day

Bush Is Not Incompetent by George Lakoff:

Progressives have fallen into a trap. Emboldened by President Bush’s plummeting approval ratings, progressives increasingly point to Bush’s “failures” and label him and his administration as incompetent. Self-satisfying as this criticism may be, it misses the bigger point. Bush’s disasters — Katrina, the Iraq War, the budget deficit — are not so much a testament to his incompetence or a failure of execution. Rather, they are the natural, even inevitable result of his conservative governing philosophy. It is conservatism itself, carried out according to plan, that is at fault.

The article is long and elaborate, but the core idea is exactly what I wrote back in September 2005: Stop Beating on Bush!

The Synapse

The Synapse, new carnival of neuroscience – from molecules to cognition and everything in-between – is the first carnival that originated here on SEED Today, the first edition saw the light of day, so you should go over to Pure Pedantry to check it out. The homepage of the carnival, with archives, instructions for submission, etc., can be found here.
In two weeks, on July 9th, 2006, the carnival will be held here, on A Blog Around The Clock. Please send your entries to me by July 8th at midnight (Eastern Time). You can send your entries to: the DOT synapse DOT carnival AT gmail, or straight to me at: Coturnix1 AT aol DOT com, or you can use the automatic submission form over on

Time is on my side…or behind me…or in front of me…or whatever!

Yes, I know that I am supposed to be the resident expert on all things temporal (check the name of this blog, after all), and I am actually very interested in the topic of subjective perception of time (in humans, among others), but I did not say anything about the latest study on the Aymara language in which the space-time metaphors are reversed in comparison to most/all (is it not all or is it really all?) other known languages. SEED just released an article on the topic as well.
Blogosphere covered the story quite a lot, but I was waiting for the real experts on this to chime in, and they delivered with gusto! Dave and Greta have written not one, but two posts on the topic (so far?).
Now Chris (of Mixing Memory blog) has written a post as well, as I just knew he would – how could he resist. After all, this is something that is up his alley and he has written two excellent posts on the topic before – I urge you to check them out here and here.