Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Miracle Fruit, a Tease for the Taste Buds

The Miracle Fruit, a Tease for the Taste Buds -

Not much to do with brain science - but this is seriously cool. I'm now trying to think if I have any friends who would want to participate in a "taste trippin'" experience.

On a slightly brain-related note: what, I wonder, is the motivation behind the feeding frenzy as described in the article? Once people discovered the effects of the "miracle berry" they went into a type of experimental frenzy. Is this something that only foodies would engage in? Or would those of a more pedestrian culinary palate want to indulge in the same kind of experimentation?

I'd love to host a party and find out though.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Gender differences

The freedom to say 'no' - The Boston Globe

I wouldn't call the research they're referring to as "new" - but it certainly has been hard to come by until fairly recently. There has been quite a bit of similar research for a very long time (Larry Summers even lost his job at Harvard for referring to it).

At issue with whether or not this is a good or bad thing depends on how you look at it. Anyone with any kind of sense realizes that statistics don't define an individual. Statistics describe broad swaths of a population - composed of a lot of individuals. While individuals need to be assessed as individuals, there is nothing wrong with looking at population data to derive trends. The problem most people have with it is the use of statistics in policy-making. Which, when you come down to it, is the only tool that policy-makers have to work with. It would be awfully hard to legislate on an individual level. So, how do/will these studies influence policy? That's where the political/ideological debate comes into play.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Critics Miss Benefits of ‘No Child Left Behind’

Pajamas Media » Critics Miss Benefits of ‘No Child Left Behind’

Sorry for the semi-political posts, but they seemed relevant to the overall topic of my blog.

The author does indeed make some excellent points of the benefits of the NCLB policy. I don't think it's a good policy by any stretch, but the vehemence against it in some circles seems a bit misplaced. It is really not much worse or better than any other major education initiative. Not to mention the fact that it will probably go away in a few years once legislators pick up on some other 'hip' new way of hammering the educational system of the U.S. with more regulations designed to "improve" education.

See previous post on endowments for my feelings on the effectiveness of such endeavors.

The Brain Is Not Modular: What fMRI Really Tells Us

The Brain Is Not Modular: What fMRI Really Tells Us: Scientific American

I'll have to look some of them up and post them as addendum's to this article, but this follows on the heels of some very interesting research on the effect that brain imaging has on interpretation and attention devoted to neurological or psychological studies. Basically, the conclusion is that brain imagery is the new sexy for mind research. We love looking at it and it draws our attention away from other more traditional (and potentially more effective) research.

My hope is that someday we can actually produce some kind of useful result (apart from surgical interventions) from brain imagery. Right now it is most definitely cool to be able to understand the "where" happens for certain brain functions - but ultimately it doesn't give us much insight regarding how to affect that function on a practical level.

Sexy as hell - but not terribly useful in day-to-day affairs.

The Neural Buddhists

The Neural Buddhists - New York Times

Some interesting points here that converge on the (for lack of a better term, and drawing from the article) atomic theory of being (i.e.: atheistic, materialistic) and some arguments that don't necessarily refute the idea, but point to some difficulties that have to be overcome in order to draw closer to the atomic/molecular approach to mind and self.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Cross-cultural procrastination

How much do they procrastinate in other countries? - By Heather Smith - Slate Magazine

Fantastic stuff here. I've mentioned in many of the studies that are linked to here that more cross cultural work needs to be done in order to develop a better understanding of whether or not certain principles of brain behavior are "human" (nature) or "cultural" (nurture). I applaud any research that works to show similarities or differences across cultures.

Video games and violence

Video games and violence

This is exactly what I've been saying for some time. The studies that "prove" the link between video games and violence do a lot of extrapolating to create a tenuous link, the research is generally done in a way that will be most likely to drive the conclusion they want to reach, and there is no comparative research with similar but socially acceptable and benign activities that might cause similar effects.

The Bachelor's Degree Is Obsolete?

The Bachelor's Degree Is Obsolete? :: Inside Higher Ed :: Higher Education's Source for News, and Views and Jobs

I've posted something similar earlier which put forth the view that the general education that is supposedly provided by institutes of higher learning is designed to produce well rounded individuals. The point being that education is something beyond just learning a trade. While I would never tend to argue against that philosophical position, I also have to agree broadly with the sentiments of Mr. Sloane. The cost of education is definitely higher than it ought to be and seems to be increasing faster with each passing year. The access that students have to more prestigious institutions is extremely limited with cost being the primary barrier.

Unfortunately, neither I, nor anyone else I have read has a good solution for the problem beyond something short of total revolutionary change. Which might be more harmful than productive.

More thoughts along a similar line here.

I'm not sure how it came about so suddenly (or appeared to), but big endowments to colleges and universities are quickly becoming a hot topic. I tend to agree with the general sentiment - why should practically everything under the sun get taxed except endowments to institutes of higher learning. It may have made sense long ago, but now it's kind of ridiculous not to. And I also agree with the general sentiment - the endowments should be used to lower tuition, not just to increase the potential wealth of the institution. The proposal that schools should be required to use a certain percentage of their endowments each year has a certain appeal, but I'm certain that there would be just as many loopholes in that proposal as there are in the current (overly complex) tax code.

The next time the government (or bureaucracy in general - institutions of learning included) creates a simple, fair, effective solution to any problem will be the first time.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Music reduced to beautiful math

Music reduced to beautiful math - LiveScience-

I posted about this once before, but here it is again - an exceedingly cool take on the visual representation of music.

Procrastination vs. flow experiences

Procrastination and flow experiences: A tale of opposites | Psychology Today Blogs

I've been quite interested in "flow" experiences for some time as it relates to my favorite pet topic: play. Flow and play can have very similar profiles from both an observational and a experiential POV.

More thoughts and a reference to the point of origin of "flow" here.

Solving age-old questions

Does the brain control muscles or movements?

And, according to the research the brain controls muscles.

Monday, May 05, 2008

The psychology of networking

The psychology of networking | Psychology Today Blogs

Social networking is a fantastic new trend, and people are still figuring out how to harness it properly. I have admired the work of Hugh MacLeod at who, in my opinion, has been quite visionary in some aspects of how the psychology of social networks can be employed in marketing and advertising. His ideas could easily be incorporated into other aspects of knowledge or information management.

Figuring out how to incorporate social networks productively into corporate environments is still a challenge, but I believe as the medium becomes more accepted overall into society (generational gaps, as always when dealing with technology, are clearly in effect) we will see social networking evolve into something that will be as indispensable as the cell-phone has become today.

The Zen of attention

Taking Out The Trash: Mindfulness in Action | Psychology Today Blogs

The concept is a little Zen for me, but the idea is sound - focus your attention on ONE thing at a time. Cognitively speaking it's the only way to go.

Oh, for crying out loud.....

FuturePundit: 10 Year Cooling Break From Global Warming Predicted

So, the news that's been skipping around lately (that this last year was the coolest in over 40 years) seems to have percolated down through the ranks and now people are hedging their bets.

I've said before that I would LOVE for the general science concerning global warming (namely that it's all caused by greenhouse gases) to be wrong. Primarily for the reason that I would SO love to see the "consensus" be completely wrong. The ensuing scramble for the saving of reputations would be some of the best scientific entertainment ever.

However, although I give the chances of the consensus being wrong only a 10 to 20% chance at this point, I do find this kind of academic behavior really quite annoying. It also just proves that you can make a computer model do just about anything you want it to do provided you give it the right kind of input.

Never completely believe a computer model. They are only as good as the information going in and the effectiveness of the programming that went into it.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Crossing Cultures in Free Will (by Guest Blogger Hagop Sarkissian)

The Splintered Mind: Crossing Cultures in Free Will

This is PERFECTLY in line with many of the arguments that I have made regarding almost all experiments that are performed in the realms of psychology. It basically stems from the nature/nurture argument. No matter how much weight you put on either side of the equation there is definitely an effect from the nurture side - and acknowledging that fact makes it imperative to not discount it in drawing conclusions.

Just as it is nearly impossible to fully derive general psychological principles down to the level of the individual, it is more seldom acknowledged that there could be significant differences in psychological research when compared across cultures.

Granted, the cost involved in getting that type of comprehensiveness in research is nearly impossible to address, but still - a little humility in recognizing the difference are there would be nice to see once in a while.

Instant messaging is a new language

This Nip Is Not a Bite :) | Psychology Today Blogs

This is the second post I've seen on this subject (too bad I didn't post the first one here).

I do think it's kind of funny that there are a bunch of uptight folks out there who are so adamantly against the "shortcuts" that the IM/Text culture has created. And they treat their opinion like some kind of philosophical grounding point instead of the vague neurosis that it is.

I see it somewhat like answering machines from back in the day. People would refuse to leave messages on machines and act like it was some sort of philosophical objection rather than just the minor uncomfortableness with talking (seemingly) to yourself.

As with any new trend in technology there will be some aspects of it that will bleed over into general culture. TV, Phones, Faxes, computers in general, e-mail - each has wrought on our collective cultures in some way that has forever changed the way we interact with each other and with the world around us. Why would the IM/Text culture be any different and why should we be afraid of it? The English language isn't some precious artifact that must be preserved at all cost. It has always adapted and changed with the times.

We're just watching it change faster.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Delay as a self-handicapping strategy

Delay as a self-handicapping strategy: I can protect my self-image by procrastinating? | Psychology Today Blogs

A commonly known aspect of self-handicapping. Still, not a bad article.

Magnetic Brain Boost

Magnetic Brain Boost: Science Videos - Science News - ScienCentral

So, to recap: magnetic stimulation can cause forgetfulness, or decreased cognitive performance, or it can cause enhanced cognitive function.

I think I'll wait for a little more research before I give it a shot.

Follow the money: Pet Projects

The Spending Side of the Equation :: Inside Higher Ed :: Higher Education's Source for News, and Views and Jobs

Does this sound like the college equivalent of congressional Pork to anyone else? And is it surprising? If it is, then you have no sense of how politics in general operate, or any sense of just how political higher education really is.

Crazy new illusion

Cognitive Daily: Fantastic new illusion blog by Arthur Shapiro

Too, freakin' cool.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Harvard's baby brain lab

Mind Hacks: A rattle around Harvard's baby brain lab

Pretty darned good article that gives you a sort of tour of the Harvard baby brain lab - one of the places I would MOST want to work for my post-grad research.

Does Listening to Eminem Make People Sexist?

Does Listening to Eminem Make People Sexist? | Psychology Today Blogs

Are you people trying to make me crazy? Reading studies like this make me absolutely insane. My beef is probably the largest with all the brouhaha around the supposed "Mozart effect" (listening to Mozart supposedly gives a temporary boost in intelligence). Now we have a study saying rap music may cause people to have bad attitudes toward women.

Now, I'm not going to call the studies crap - they were done using a fairly robust methodology and the statistics show that there is an effect. So far so good.

My problem is with the completeness of the study and the conclusions drawn. The same problem exists with both of the "music" studies mentioned above, namely: did you try any OTHER types of music? With the "Mozart effect" - did you try out jazz, new age, country, easy listening, R&B, or possibly even try a composer? (Mozart is always associated with genius - mostly due to the absolutely NON-historical movie Amadeus, so it's hard to divest the idea of "music derived from genius" from the notion that said music should resonate with intelligence, but that's a different story). With the rap study, did you try hard rock, country, punk, grunge, opera, contemporary atonal music? Maybe it's not the words but the beat of the music or the tonal arrangements.

There is so much complexity in music and it is a shame that people perform such perfunctory studies and draw immediate conclusions.