Thursday, September 30, 2010

Still more on the Placebo effect

It's finally entered the public consciousness, but here is a good discussion of the academic background.

Neuroskeptic: Deconstructing the Placebo

Playing with your kids

I'm all about fostering play as a medium for learning. When we play with our kids are we really fostering learning, or are we simply "playing"? Is there a difference?

Parenting: The Lost Art of Play | Psychology Today

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bad Leadership

Here is a trio of articles that talk about the same thing: recent findings that self-doubt and the need to maintain authority and control make managers into bullies:

The Psychology of Good and Bad Leadership | Psychology Today

Incentives: they aren't what you think they are

Motivation experts have known about this stuff for some time - but yet it still has yet to permeate the collective consciousness of the public, or even the narrower field of business.

How Rewards Can Backfire and Reduce Motivation — PsyBlog

Culture and the brain

This has been a long-time interest of mine. Some anthropologists and sociologists say that culture has no effect on our brains. I call BS. Shared cultural experience shapes different kinds of cognitive bias we may have. If you're talking about if there is a difference in the structure or general function of brains, then yes - culture makes little difference. But on a cognitive level it surely makes some differences.

How Culture Shapes Our Mind and Brain | Brain Blogger

Brain doping - negative effects

Brain doping, just like anabolic steroids, can have negative effects (which should not be a surprise to anyone).

The downside of cognitive enhancement | The Mouse Trap

But more drugs and even gene therapies are being discovered all the time. It's the long-term use where you pay the price.

Brain Gene doping

Speaking of which - yes, there may be a way to get some brain-doping effects from gene modification.

The Perfect Cram Drug? Scientists Identify Single Enzyme To Fix The Memory Of a Tired Brain | Popular Science

More on study habits

There is just all kinds of stuff that we teach people about how to effectively study that is straight-up wrong. Good thing it's still a topic of research:

Getting It Wrong: Surprising Tips on How to Learn: Scientific American

Schizophrenia is contagious?

Six diseases you never knew you could catch - New Scientist

Apparently a type of parasite can cause schizophrenia-like symptoms.

Who knew?

The crux of the current Free Will debate

The big kerfuffle recently over whether or not we have free will centers on recent findings using various types of brain scans that show our brains making a decision (or indicating action) before we are cognitively aware of such decisions.

This article does a great job in explaining all of that:

BPS Research Digest: The speed of free will

Good news for the netizens

‘Net Surfing Is Good for the Any Age | Psychology Today

I should clarify and say that it is good for the brain in specific domains.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Socially based intelligence?

The introductory paragraph of this article is what has my brain spinning right now. The author is entirely correct, every objective measure of an individual's intelligence is based entirely on that: the individual.

Creative pairs | Dan's blog

The ensuing research example only seems to highlight the idea. Does social interaction boost intelligence or creativity? I think he's on to something. Introspectively I completely agree with him, but I'd LOVE to see some experimental or observational data on the subject.

Milgram experiment on TV

If you're not familiar with Stanley Milgram's experiments on obedience to authority, go hit up YouTube and educate yourself.

For those that are familiar with the experiment - check this out:

Lisa de Moraes - Reality show contestants willing to kill in French experiment -

Apparently the Milgram experiment has been used as the basis for a Reality show. Honestly, I think this is genius. I can't believe this hasn't been done sooner.

Nature vs. Nurture - what effect do genes have?

Turning off a particular gene in mice makes them smarter. Cool.

Genes May Not Make You Smart, They May Make You Dumb

Thursday, September 16, 2010

How to antidepressants really work?

I wouldn't necessarily go so far as the title of the article suggests, but now we have a better understanding of the vector the drugs take to affect the neurons. If we really understood how they work we would be able to create drugs that were more effective than a meager 30% of the time.

At last scientists finally understand what makes antidepressants work

The Zen of Yoda

Striving for success, not attempting with the expectation of failure is the key to success. "Do or do not. There is no try."

How Trying Versus Doing Limits Potential | Psychology Today

Guilt and Shame

Excellent article discussing the differences between two emotions that people seem to confuse all the time.

Guilt and Shame: What's the Difference? : Guilty Planet

Learning in different modes

This is not an article about the now thoroughly debunked "visual-auditory-kinesthetic" learning theories. This more about how different techniques have greater or lesser effects on specific types of memory.

Self-regulation: a critical skill

For all you students out there, remember this: self-regulation is the key to success in ALL your endeavors, so learn it while your in school and the pressure is still reasonably low.

Developing self-regulation at school | SharpBrains

Free will studies are wrong?

Nice article that looks a little more critically on the Libet experiments on motion control that have proven so inflammatory on the whole free will debate:

Conscious Entities - Blog Archive: Libet was wrong…?

How to be a hottie!

For all you lonely hearts out there, here are some things you can do right now!

Seven Simple Strategies to Effectively Attracting Others | Psychology Today

More on positive psychology

Deric Bownds' MindBlog: A new positive psychology website

Another site to add to my list to research.

Work sucks your willpower away...

Well, not literally, but this study seems to indicate that there might be something to that:

FuturePundit: Doing Tasks Depletes Willpower

EVERYTHING is controlled by your brain

The headline itself should make you want to read this article:

Everything Has a Neurobiological Correlate | World of Psychology

Zimbardo's test of future succes

Dr. Deb: The Marshmallow Test

The marshmallow test is one of the more famous experiments in psychology, not for the experiment itself, which is rather uninteresting, but in the follow-up studies that tracked behavior over the long term.

One of the most fascinating subjects you'll ever study.

Can you see magenta?

I would be doing a disservice to try and describe this article - but for sake of a headline, our visual receptors shouldn't be able to record the color magenta, and there might be some people out there with the genetic ability to see MORE colors than the average person.

Calamities of Nature - Blog Archive: Magenta is Only in Your Mind and Other Colorful Facts

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sounds of the office....

The Best Sounds for Getting Work Done

Most people have a really poor sense of how effective they are with "background" music.

Brain doping

Deric Bownds' MindBlog: More on Brain Boosters

Great infographics at the link.

Eyewitness testimony: not very effective

FuturePundit: Half Of Eyewitnesses Can Be Fooled By Doctored Video

Again, not really new, but the result is pretty intriguing.

Turning education on its ear...

Moving toward a new vision of education

I like what they have to say. I also like this article about a $99 a month college education as well.

Night owls last longer

Morning Types Crash Faster Than Night Owls, Study Says

As a night owl, I'm gratified by this finding.

Pretty Women Make Guys Dumber

This is certainly not news:

FuturePundit: Pretty Women Make Guys Dumber

Still, it is interesting nevertheless.

I. Can't. Forget!

Scientists Prove Your Brain Still Contains Forgotten Memories

So this means that my memory of every embarrassing act I've ever performed is lurking about in there somewhere.


Still more on free will

Bargh and Baumeister and the Free Will Debate – Part II � The Situationist

Another great addition to the debate.

More on the Placebo effect

Deric Bownds' MindBlog: The placebo effect is hard wired into the brain

The placebo effect just gets weirder and weirder.

Money won't buy happiness

Well, this is a fine thing to tell me: Money won't buy happiness

We've known this for years, but academic research is starting to catch up to what many have thought for a long time.

Monday, September 13, 2010


Sugar: in many ways it is more addictive than cocaine. True story. I prefer it in the form of Dr. Pepper and Dark Chocolate.

Sugar's Power Over Humans Traced : Discovery News

Nature vs. Nurture: the debate rages on

Great new research on the intersection between genes and environment on determining intelligence.

How Hereditary Can Intelligence Be?: Studies Show Nurture at Least as Important as Nature - SPIEGEL ONLINE - News - International

We can zap your brain!

Magnetic stimulation of your brain is ultra-cool. Seriously, there is very little brain research that compares with it for sheer freaky-coolness.

Check it out:

Paired-pulse Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation For Smarties : Developing Intelligence

It just CAN'T be a coincidence!

Astrology, graphology, conspiracy theories in general....all have an attractive force cognitively because of this very simple, yet very powerful principle:

The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy: You Are Not So Smart

There are variations of this same principle such as Confirmation Bias and Hindsight Bias, but they all have the same root in our cognitive predisposition to look for patterns that fit our expectations.

Also, if you're not subscribed to "You Are Not So Smart" - you should be.

Are you offended?

If you are, don't worry! Your mind has its own way of defending you against offensive ideas so that you can continue on your merry way:

How the Mind Counteracts Offensive Ideas — PsyBlog

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Why do we sleep?

It is actually a very complex, and incompletely understood subject. Here is a fantastic primer on the subject.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Young minds

After reading the previous article by Benedict Carey I looked at the list of articles he's written for the NYT, wherein I found another little gem:

Brain Power - Studying Young Minds, and How to Teach Them - Series -

Mr. Carey does a good job in summarizing many of the leading theories and highlighting the history of where we were or are and where we are going. The only critique I have is that it is just that, summaries. As with most journalistic writing he is obliged to stick with short sound-bites of information and therefore leaves a great deal of detail out of the narrative.

Nothing he presents should be regarded as "truth" or even as a dominant position. Still, the information causes you to think...and that's a good thing.

Study habits: not what you think

With a hat-tip to my colleague Suzy Horton who passed this excellent article along:

Mind - Research Upends Traditional Thinking on Study Habits -

I have to say that this caught me a little off-guard. I teach some of these "wrong" techniques to my students! However, there are some assumptions that have been made based on prior studies. Such as the environment in which you study. Prior studies have shown that recall in an environment that is similar to where the learning occurred helps boost recall. It is interesting that the article points out a subtle variation of that principle that, when considered, makes sense.

Excellent article that should be read by students, teachers, parents and administrators.

Friday, September 03, 2010

More on free will

"Free choice" may not be as free as it seems : Cognitive Daily

There are times when this particular argument starts to sound a lot like the "Chicken or Egg" quandary.

Reward, don't punish

Carrots are better than sticks - life - 03 September 2009 - New Scientist

Again, not really news. But, any new research that acknowledges or reinforces this idea can only be a good thing.

Your mind colors perception

This is far from newsworthy: Believing is seeing

We've known for years that expectations in particular can color perceptions. The article is still pretty good though.

Placebo effect is getting stronger?

Why Are Placebos Getting More Effective? - The Consumerist

This is something I highlight in my class. It strikes right at the heart of the mind/body dilemma: how big of a role does our mind play? The placebo effect says lots, but current trends in medical care as well as psychological care (psychopharmacology anyone?) are trending the opposite direction.

Multitasking - more bad news

If you think you're a good multitasker, not only are you wrong, but you probably lack other cognitive controls as well:

Deric Bownds' MindBlog: Multitasking - bad for the brain?

And yet, in our technologically oriented society it is the ne-plus-ultra to declare yourself as an effective Multitasker. Heck, it's practically a requirement! Just look at nearly any job posting out there and they all say something like "must be good at multitasking." Maybe the new standard should be "must be good at focused attention" - you'd certainly get better cognitive results.

Video Game Players both stereotypical and not

I'm very interested in seeing the methodology of the study referenced in this article:

The Surprising Situation of Video Game Players � The Situationist

The greater value is in the list of "related posts" that are linked at the bottom. That is a whole lot of information that I need to go and read. I'm excited just thinking about it.

Planning and reviewing in the brain

First of all, this is an excellent article that highlights how animal research can inform how our own brains operate:

The Mouse Trap: Common mechanisms for learning (past), navigation(present) and dreams (future?)

However, there is one thing I want to know: how did they know the mice were daydreaming? or reviewing? I'm not doubting the results, I am genuinely interested to know the answer to questions like that.

Is Tetris good for the brain?

There is a very large budding industry around the idea of "training" your brain (and an excellent blog that is a proponent of the idea at - but the idea needs a lot more research.

Is Tetris good for the brain?

As with most things brain related, at first blush the idea of training your brain sounds perfectly reasonable, but there is quite a bit of research out there that says it is a non-starter at best. I'm still on the fence.

Child's play

As a BIG proponent of the use of Play in learning and education in general, I absolutely love to hear stories like this:

Child's play may revolutionize video gaming, police work

It's not specifically related to play, but the idea that "gaming" is not just a throw-away pass-time is an idea I've been promoting for a long time. It's good to see research that shows how we can learn from gaming (an incredibly complex and difficult activity).

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Brain Power

Check out this very fun infographic about the abilities of the human brain:

Superhuman: the Incredible Savant Brain

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Supercharge your study habits

Just in time for the start of the semester, here is something for all of you students out there:

BPS Research Digest: 9 evidence-based study tips

Psychoactive drugs in medical use

There have been a few articles about this popping up recently.

Psychoactive drugs: From recreation to medication - health - 01 September 2010 - New Scientist

It seems that there is a resurgence in the interest around using "recreational" drugs as a part of psychiatric medication. LSD, for example, was used in the 1950s and 60s as a drug to help aid in Freudian psychotherapy both here and in Europe.

Apparently current experiments are finding that there are indeed practical uses and in fact potential medical benefits for using psychoactive drugs in certain types of disorders.

Email’s Dark Side

This was just too good to pass up.

Email’s Dark Side: 10 Psychology Studies — PsyBlog

Who knew? Well, everyone knows if you sit down and really think about it.

Good news for all you doodlers out there

FuturePundit: Doodling While Listening Improves Memory Recall

Good news indeed! Although, the caveat is that the doodling was as "non-conscious" as possible, so distracted doodling is better than directive doodling of specific designs as drawn from an individual's imagination.

Bring a coloring book to class!

US Life Expectancy Up To 77.9 Years

In a growing trend the current life-expectancy for people in the United States has gone up:

FuturePundit: US Life Expectancy Up To 77.9 Years

The rate of increase is about 1.5 years increase every decade. That means that for todays college students they will potentially have a life expectancy of 86 years or so.

BUT, if you add on that the rate will probably increase at a faster rate as medical advances progress, you might be looking at an average life expectancy rate of over 90.

I even saw one author who projected the life expectancy rate for todays 20 year olds could be will into the century mark.

Multitasking: I don't think it means what you think it means

I've posted plenty about this before, but a good reminder now and then doesn't hurt.

Can You Multitask? Probably Not Well | World of Psychology

What we actually engage in could be better described as "switch-tasking". Cognitively speaking our brains simply aren't wired for handling what most people define as "multitasking" - and only a very small minority of people are capable of efficient switch-tasking.

Changing education

Here is a wonderfully thoughtful article by the truly essential Zen Habits blog authored by Leo BaBauta:

Education Needs to Be Turned on Its Head | zen habits

I wish everyone gave the kind of careful consideration he gives to the needs and outcomes of education. What he is describing is a model of cognitive education that has been theorized about and put into limited practice in a number of places over the years since at least the 1960's (Jerome Bruner was one of the early advocates of this type of learning). There are even a limited number of universities that use this model.

I'd love to see it implemented to a larger degree but that is a fight against a culture that is resistant to change, and a system that is even entrenched and even more resistant to change.

Cognitive Enhancement via Pharmacology AND Neuropsychology

The debate rages on: would you willingly take drugs to enhance your cognitive ability if it meant getting a significant edge over the competition?

Cognitive Enhancement via Pharmacology AND Neuropsychology, in The New Executive Brain | SharpBrains

It is absolutely no different from the steroid debate. We're not 100% sure of the side-effects of most of the psychoactive drugs out there, and they differ dramatically between individuals as well. How big a price are you willing to pay later for that extra edge now?

Is religion good for your health?

The author is correct: there is not a clear "Yes" or "No" answer to this question:

Is religion good for your health? | Psychology Today

As with most things it depends on the type of behavior you engage in. Fanatical religious behavior probably leads to unhealthy behavior in most cases, whereas a moderate approach to religion probably leads to more overall health.

The moderate behavior I'm speaking about is actually coming out more and more to be related to most health benefits as almost any activity, when taken to the extreme, leads to unhealthy behaviors or results. Moderation in all things seems to be a pretty healthy way to go.

No such thing as ethnic groups, genetically speaking

While not technically about psychology, this does speak to psychological behavior such as prejudice and racism. I always try to tell my students that between any given culture there are FAR more similarities than differences. We do, however, focus on the outward obvious differences which are generally superficial.

No such thing as ethnic groups, genetically speaking

It would be nice to be able to move past the superficialities.

Guilt and atonement in child development.

Most people look at guilt as a bad thing. Recent research points out that the development of guilt happens alongside other mechanisms of self-control and may, in fact, aid in the development of overall self-control

Deric Bownds' MindBlog: Guilt and atonement in child development.