Monday, October 23, 2006

Know thyself - avoid depression

A high sense of self-worth can prevent depressive actions, but it appears that simply having an accurate picture of self-worth may also prevent depression.

I would be interested to see more of how they isolated that factor. Accurate by who's standards? Wouldn't it have to be accurate by your own standards? And if you have a positive indication of "accuracy" of self-worth, isn't that kind of the same thing as positive self-worth?

From the news release it's hard to see what the finding implicates.

Ethnic Happiness!

Apparently, having a good perception of your ethnic background, and taking some pride in it, can give you a little shot in the arm of happiness.

Essentially this is just taking ethnic regard and plugging it into a larger issue of self-worth. If you have a high sense of self-worth, you're more likely to be happy. By incorporating ethnicity into that equasion you have one more source of positive self-worth

Beyond Pavlov

This story sounds better than it actually is. They've found a cicadian gene that seems to regulate eating time.

Really though, it's just a genetic/neurological look at how scheduled activities are accounted for. Basically taking Pavlovian conditioning down to a genetic level.

I'm not terribly impressed.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Gender difference perception matters

The perceived differences in gender abilities in the domain of math, apparently affects women's performance in math.

The study says that if women believed that men were naturally better at math than women, they performed more poorly than women who thought there were no inherent differences across gender.

This is broaching on fairly established theories on trait vs. entity theory, but this is the first study that I've seen that specifies the performance of women in the math domain.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Work that Brain!

Don't let your concept of fitness just be from the neck down.

The new term "cognitive fitness" is becoming popular in neuropsychological as well as geropsychological researchers. They're starting to discover that regular "workouts" for the mind can keep your cognitive ability in shape as well.

Pair that with the finding recently (posted below) that physical fitness was the single largest contributor to determining cognitive fitness in old age, and you kind of have to come to the conclusion that you need to develop a lifelong fitness regimen for your body and your mind.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Laptops for a whole country

How freaking cool is this story:

Libya to buy laptops for all nations kids

A former(?) terrorist nation that is seemingly reformed is now spending its considerable oil money on 1.2 million laptops for the school-age children of the nation. That is just plain awesome. Seriously, I'm geeking out here.

Cognitive psychology "books"

Hat tip via The Mouse Trap - check out this particular post - I recommend reading the whole thing (and even more highly recommend reading The Mouse Trap on a regular basis). But here are the basics.

There is a free online Cognitive Psychology textbook.

Or, if you want to, you could submit proposals for books about cognitive neuroscience

Or, you could check out an online collaborative project similar to Wikipedia: the "Citizendium" - which looks to be a more purely academic/official expert contributed online resource. I look forward to seeing it as it develops.

Mind Mapping game

A couple of recent discoveries around the very cool concept of "Mind Mapping" - first, go here to find a company that makes software that uses the mind-map method to record stuff. You have to see it in action to appreciate it.

Second, check out this totally cool mind-map game of word association: Funny Farm

You start out on a mostly blank board that has one box labeled "On the farm" and a few blank boxes connected to it. The blank boxes conceal words that are related to the words connected to it, and guessing a word reveals it and more connected boxes. In this way, you fill out an ever-growing network of words. Some will give you access to other parts of the map, until you get to the far corners of the map, which give you clues to a larger riddle. (hat tip: Download Squad)

Listening for more than sound

Sensory feedback during speech: The brain attunes to more than just sound

When we speak, our ability to effectively produce words is dependent not only on auditory feedback signals to the brain, but also on so-called somatosensory information that informs the brain of the relative positioning of different parts of the body--a process known as proprioception. Cues of this sort that might be relevant during speech include those that inform the brain of the openness of the jaw or the changing positions of the tongue or lips.

Our brains pay attention to more than we give them credit for.

I did a little experiment with this a few weeks ago. I had a class I'm teaching do a group exercise. When they began talking I closed my eyes and tried to pick out conversations. I had only limited success, my ability to do so was limited to who spoke the loudest, and even then my perception was not very clear. However, when I opened my eyes and looked at one person I could (with very few exceptions) pick out exactly what they were saying, almost to the point of drowning out all surrounding conversations.

So, pay attention when you listen.

Playing games with your mind

A St. Louis area teenager can play Space Invaders using his mind.

My first comment is: Space Invaders?

Second comment: this is pretty cool.
The Washington University subject mastered the first two levels of play, using just his imagination.

The teenager, a patient at St. Louis Children's Hospital, had a grid atop his brain to record brain surface signals, a brain-machine interface technique that uses electrocorticographic (ECoG) activity - data taken invasively right from the brain surface. It is an alternative to a frequently used technique to study humans called electroencephalographic activity (EEG) - data taken non-invasively by electrodes outside the brain on the scalp. Engineers programmed the Atari software to interface with the brain-machine interface system.

What I really want to see is brain control fed by PET scans or something similar. The technology probably isn't mature enough, but it would still be way cool to get 3-D interactivity. Cause, let's face it, it could have been Space Invaders, or Pong; they both involve the same principle: back and fort, shoot. Three basic commands. I wonder what the increase in difficulty is at a programing level to be able to move from that 1 dimentional movement (side/side) to being able to control an object in two directional planes (forward/backward/side/side). Then how much more complicated is it to move an object in a "3D" environment such as you find in Quake for example?

Still, despite limitations, you have to take baby steps, and this was a pretty big baby step.

Old people are smart too!

An interesting report based on a very long term study (started in 1932) that says that childhood IQ and physical fitness are good indicators of cognitive ability in old age. But physical fitness was found to be the biggest contributor to those results.

Quoth the article:

In determining whether physical fitness is associated with more successful cognitive aging, the study examined 460 men and women who had been participants of the Scottish Mental Survey of 1932. The participants were tested using the same cognitive test at age 11 and age 79.

Results show physical fitness contributed more than three percent of the differences in cognitive ability in old age after accounting for participant's test scores at age 11. Physical fitness is defined by time to walk six meters, grip strength and lung function.

"The other remarkable result was that childhood IQ was significantly related to lung function at age 79," said study author Ian Deary, PhD, FRCPE, with the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. "Participants with a high IQ as a child were more likely to have better lung function at age 79. This could be because people with higher intelligence might respond more favorably to health messages about staying fit."

However, the study found physical fitness has a greater impact on cognitive ability in old age than childhood IQ.

Now get out there and exercise!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Play, children! Play like the wind!

Report: Kids need more time for play

More here.

I've been intensely interested with play as a form of education, and while this isn't strictly in line with that subject, it still gives information that is invaluable. Kids need to play. They need time to create and to explore on their own. While it may not be structured learning, it is one of the best environments to help with learning in general.

Train to be a party-goer

Yep, now we have techniques to help us [url=]train our brain to listen for your friends at a party[/url].

Wow, and here I was worried that I'd go to a party and not be able to talk to my friends.

Well, that's not quite fair. More accurately the area of the brain that helps us pick out specific audio signals amongst noise was identified, which is actually pretty cool. It's a trick that we can't quite figure out how to get computers to do yet.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Zapping your selfishness

No really. Read this story:

Study Spots the Brain's Selfishness 'Off-Switch'

The fun part about that story is that they "disabled" the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex to test the effect that portion of the brain had on "selfishness."

It's a fairly recent technique but you can use low level electric currents or strong opposing magnetic fields to temporarily "disable" areas of the brain. It's a pretty interesting way of doing, essentially, on-demand "deficit" research. Call me crazy, but I'm not signing up anytime soon to participate in a study where someone zaps my brain.

I'm just paranoid that way.

Your digital brain...

Okay, so maybe some of those analogies of our brain being like a computer aren't so far off after all.

Map your kid's brain

C'mon - go ahead and map it, it's safe! No, really!


Another fantastic article at the newly discovered BPS Research Digest (not so much a blog as a site for articles with an RSS feed) - seems that a lot of research shows that if you want to be happy, you need to get out and do stuff that will make you happy.

Lot's of cool info in the article on diverging opinions on the matter.

Quantity or timing?

Seems that the amount of time you spend gaming isn't the issue, it's when you spend your time gaming that counts.

Go outside!

This isn't exactly new news, and I'm pretty sure I have blogged it already, but here is a great article on the benefits natural sunlight can have on cognition.

So, put down the keyboard/mouse/joystick/game-controller/remote and get yourself outside already.

Free will - by way of food

Here is an absolutely fascinating story. I'm linking to a synopsis post that has 3 links in it. I highly recommend following each of the three links and reading each of the articles.

Now, I'm not up on the current research of "free will" - but it has become a hot topic recently.

As a strange aside, there has been quite a bit of pot stirring by Scott Adams on his Dilbert blog - just read this sample post, his opinion is a bit extreme (and I'm fairly certain he doesn't have a full grasp of all the neurological research on the subject either), but the comments on any of his posts about "wet robots" are incredibly fascinating to read to see the general reaction.

Anyway, this seems like a subject that really hits hard at the grey area between philosophy and science. As I said, I'm not versed enough in the most current research on the subject to form a truly well reasoned opinion, but it is absolutely fascinating.

It has some of the form of the creation vs. evolution debate in it, in that it is a clash of what science can observe and what individuals feel or "know" - but this one has a little less of the religious edge to it.

I need to do some reading.

Psychology and Neuroscience

A nice article on trying to link psychology and neuroscience.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Mmmm....[insert food item]....

Well, I would think that Pavlov's dog proved this particular theory long, long ago. But hey, if you want to put it more concretely into the neuroscience realm, more power to ya'.

Only friends can stop friends...

...from going on a bender.

So, if you have friends who are booze-hounds, you're more likely to be one, and vice versa.

Don't stare at this post!

Seems that the harder you look at something, the less you actually see.

The theory is that by looking too hard we exhaust our vision resources.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Avoiding peer-review

A good article on the rise of non-peer reviewed online journals.

Basically, it is "Pay to publish" on the non-peer reviewed journals, and they rely on online critiques by peers.

The fun part of the article is that for nearly every "minus" they chalk up to non-peer-reviewed journals the exact same argument is used against peer-reviewed journals.

It's all a question of content and conversation. Jeff Jarvis has it right when he says it's all about the conversation. If you have good material, and it stands up to scientific scrutiny then it really doesn't matter where you publish it.

Resistance against new ways of doing things is not really an answer - or a solution. If traditional peer-reviewed journals feel threatened, then make your system better so that you take the market share back. Debasing and bringing someone else down to elevate yourself doesn't work. It never has, and even if it has short term gains, in the long run it will kill you.

No, the best answer is to respond to market changes by either taking away the need for a shift in the market by improving your product, or to change with the shifting landscape. Peer-reviewed jornals do not hold any moral high-ground - so we'll see how this whole thing shakes out over the next decade or so.