Thursday, September 29, 2011

The secrets of mind control

20 simple steps to the perfect persuasive message

This seems like incredibly useful information no matter what you are doing. Now...go forth and dominate the masses.

I have more free will than you!

We really do believe we've got more free will than the other guy

Humans are imminently self-delusional creatures. Among many, many other self delusions, we apparently also think that we have more free will than the next person. It is not dissimilar to how everyone, if asked, will feel they are "above average" - which is mathematically impossible. I'm not sure if it's self-delusion or underestimating others, but either way, we're probably wrong.

Be happy: learn something

Happy videos improve learning

Mood has quite a bit to do with learning. The evidence continues to mount.

Language controversy

Piraha: the world's most controversial language?

This is an absolutely fascinating language to study. That a version of anthropology is used in furthering psychology is straight-up geek cool.

Freud on film

Freud and psychoanalysis videos

Pretty fun stuff.

Learn how to learn

10 brain tips to teach and learn - ideas for new year resolutions

If learning that you can learn is essential, learning how to learn is just as essential.

Engage yourself in learning

Active learners learn more than passive learners

Engaging your active attention is always a good thing. Active learning is essentially a way to engage your selective attention.

Get better grades through exercise

Vigorous exercise boosts GPA

Um....has anyone told the student athletes this?

Happy people are psychotic

Only crazy people are happy

Apparently someone out there thinks that happiness is a psychiatric disorder similar to depression.

Okay...well....I"m not quite sure what to do with that information. Here's hoping you have a mood disorder? Have a psychic mood disorder affected day?


Tell this to a smoker

Kicking the habit: study suggests that quitting smoking improves mood

If you've ever met anyone that is trying to stop smoking you know this is a blatant lie. After (if?) they've managed to quit this might be true.

Meditation techniques

Meditation: different techniques, different effects on the brain

Try 'em all!

Don't blame the booze

How alcohol affects your decision-making process

It is very possible that people use inebriation as an excuse for bad behavior. You most likely retain most of your faculty for decision-making, but rather you rid yourself of your ability to care about the consequences. Which is just, you know, a great way to go about life. [/sarcasm]

Early intervention

Children with autism benefit from early intensive therapy

I'm a first-hand witness of how this is effective. Waiting to diagnose a child in either a refusal to believe there is something wrong or in a hope that they "grow out of it" is a HUGE mistake. Even if the do grow out of it, why take the chance? What harm can therapy do? The benefits are legion, the only stigma is the silliness associated with social normality.

Get over yourself.

Quantum memory

Millisecond memory

Memory isn't a continuous stream, but is instead made up of discrete memory packages, each 125 milliseconds long. This is sort of like a biological version of quantum electrodynamics.

Dyslexia is confusing

fMRIs show that dyslexia isn't a matter of IQ

Dyslexia is really one of the most baffling phenomenon in psychology. We're honestly not even sure what it is much less what it looks like. To make matters worse it seems to manifest slightly differently for each individual. It seems more and more like it might be some type of perception malfunction or cross-function.

Can you prove free will is an illusion?

Neuroscience vs. philosophy: taking aim at free will

If you need a primer on the basics behind the whole free will debate, this is the article for you.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Illusory free will?

Free will is not an illusion

One of these days I'll be able to resist posting about the Free Will debate, but that day isn't today.

Gardner's multiple intelligences

Exploring the seven different intelligences

This is a favorite "Intelligence" theory of mine. Completely un-measureable and therefore practically useless (in a literal sense, there is no practical application of the theory), but still - intuitively it feels right to me.

Top 10 illusions

Test your brain with these top 10 visual illusions

Yet another compendium of cool illusions.

Using the wrong kind of praise

The #1 mistake parents make with praise

I've posted about this before - but it never hurts to have a good reminder. Don't praise a child on their intelligence. Praise them on their effort.

Just how intelligent are you?

Take the ultimate intelligence test

It certainly isn't easy, and the validity is as questionable as any intelligence test out there, but hey...why not?

It's the little things that make you happy

Our brain's negative bias

Seems that to negate our brain's negative tendencies having a bunch of little things to make you happy will draw more attention more frequently, and therefore make us feel happier than having a few really big things.

It takes two to communicate

Two people cooperate intuitively; large groups need to make a conscious effort to communicate

For anyone that has ever been forced into working in groups for class assignments you know that this is a painful truism of life.

Electric brain math!

One milliamp stimulation to parietal lobe gave significant long lasting improvement to math puzzle solving performance

Wire me up man! I've blogged about this before, but here it should be noted that the language is very precise: math puzzle solving. That's much more specific and situational than "math skills" as has been reported elsewhere.

Brain training? Not so much...

Brain training games don't work

Not a new result by any means, but certainly goes against the grain of current cultural trends. Sudoku anyone?

Yoga chemicals

Yoga's ability to improve mood and lessen anxiety is linked to increased levels of a critical brain chemical

For all you Yoga practitioners. Myself....I can't abide the stuff. Feels like torture to my mightily inflexible frame.

Explaining optical illusions

Brainworks: explaining optical illusions and other mental tricks

This is fun stuff.

Singing in the.....stroke?

Singing after stroke? Why rhythm and formulaic phrases may be more important than melody

Singing does all kinds of things. People who stutter are often able to overcome the difficulty through singing, and there are other more unusual types of speech disorders that can be overcome the same way. Often speech disorders are caused not by physical problems with the musculature of the vocal chords, but in the mental control of speech. Singing uses a different pathway than "speech" and bypasses a lot of the issues, so the idea that it works for people suffering post-stroke is just more coolness to pile.

More here.


How do you refocus your mind after it's wandered off?

For all you students out there who have to read boring textbooks.

Brain development into adulthood

Some brain wiring continues to develop well into our 20s: U of A study

Since basically ALL learning and experience re-wires the brain to some extent, this is not news, but in the aspect of major brain development, this confirms what many developmental psychologists had already proposed: Adulthood doesn't really develop (mentally) until well into your 20s, and for some people, never.

Seeing what you're seeing through brain imaging

Scientists use brain imaging to reveal the movies in our mind and suggest a visual brain machine interface is feasible

There has been a TON of press about this recently in the geeksphere. While it is very cool, I'm a bit concerned that the methodology isn't exactly doing what the press seems to think. Key quote:
As yet, the technology can only reconstruct movie clips people have already viewed. However, the breakthrough paves the way for reproducing the movies inside our heads that no one else sees, such as dreams and memories, according to researchers.
The fact that it relies so heavily on movie trailers (on YouTube) I am slightly more inclined to ascribe a good deal of the results to an averaging of the look/feel of movie trailers in general. I mean, aren't they all basically the same? Shots of individual actors generally follow the "rule of 3rds" so placement on the screen is going to be similar. I'm guessing that simply averaging the predominant imaging would produce some slightly similar results.

I'm not completely questioning the results, but I am questioning if this is really a valid beginning to a true "interface" with the brain. I actually hope I'm wrong about my conclusions, because if this does pan out, it would be totally awesome.

More here.

UPDATE: and here is another article where the author generally agrees that this study is both more and less than it seems.

Impossible color perception

Impossible colors: see hues that can't exist

Since color perception is largely dependent on the interpretation our brain provides from cues supplied by the optical nerve and visual receptors, all kinds of craziness can result.

More here.

Worldwide Schizophrenia

Schizophrenia and the developing world

This is an absolutely fascinating article. I hadn't heard about these results of schizophrenia on the worldwide stage and they are amazing. The implications of this kind of research is just mind-boggling. The differences between psychological problems in "Western" vs. Developing countries is really quite dramatic.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Placebo...we just don't understand

What's in a placebo? Turns out we don't really know

Not really any new research here, but the article provides a good summary of current thinking. Placebos drive the medical community crazy. There is no explanation for it.

What motivates you?

What motivates us to do great work?

I can almost guarantee it isn't what you think it is. And I can definitively guarantee that it isn't what your employer thinks it is.

How much willpower do you have?

Need a study break to refresh? Maybe not, say researchers

The basic conclusion of this article is that we appear to have as much willpower as we think we have. Which, in some respects is a fairly new idea.

Punk your memory

How to punk memory: the brainworks of misrememberance, fals memories, and alternate realities

This is kind of a fun article. I had the other two articles prior to this one, but have since lost the links.

Birth control pills alter brains

Birth control pills shown to alter structure of women's brains

Let's see...chemicals, hormones, continuing brain development...yep, all the elements are there. This qualifies as unsurprising, but the interesting part is in how the brain structure is altered.

Actually, I say "this is not surprising" a lot, but really, that's not the point. As with most science you can look at potentially obvious outcomes and then try to figure out the origin, extent, cause, effect....whatever...of the effect, and that can be really unusual sometimes.

I can make you left-handed

Magnetic pulses to the brain could make you grow up left-handed

No commentary. This is just straight-up freaky.

Pain and negativity

Negative emotions influence brain activity during anticipation and experience of pain

Kind of a somewhat misleading headline, negative emotions would influence any activity, but in this case it seems to be a bit of a self-fulfilling prophesy. If you have negative emotions you tend to not cope as well with pain.

Music on the brain

Musical expertise boosts language perception

Intuitively, this makes a lot of sense. In music you get trained to listen carefully to all kinds of nuance that escape a casual listener. It makes sense that other aural-centric activities like language would receive a boost as well.

Bilingual brains are best!

Brain development through bilingual education and activities requiring self-control 

Lots of evidence out there shows that developing bi-lingual (or multi-lingual) abilities enhance cognitive abilities. However, I'd say it's just a nice thing to try for even if you live in a relatively homogeneous lingual environment.

Exercise boost brain...mitochondria?

Exercise increases mitochondria in brain cells

So, exercise does much, much more than just "help" - more here.

As a man thinketh...

Rewriting self-fulfilling prophecies about social rejection

There is much about social behavior that rests entirely in the perception of yourself and others.

Why sleep?

The mystery of sleep and the lucky few who don't need it

I think the sheer number of questions to which we really have absolutely no clue would astonish a lot of people. I'm not just talking about the "down the rabbit hole" types of questions that involve stuff like quantum mechanics - I'm just talking about the everyday stuff that happens around us.

In a related note, we still don't really understand why we yawn, and it is a topic of current research.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Teenagers are messed up....

Teenage brains

This is a very thoughtful and interesting article on the differences between the teen brain and what it later can potentially develop into. Remember to always keep in mind that not everyone develops all the characteristic traits of "adulthood" (whatever that means).

SpongeBob yen and yang

Two studies:

Spongebob found to impair preschoolers' thinking

Followed shortly thereafter by:

Spoingebob drains attention, but doesn't harm brains

The two stories are well paired this time because the first one is a great representation of the misdirected media blitz over an attention grabbing headline or a word that is fun to insert into a headline (SpongeBob!). The 2nd article points out the flaws of the interpretation of the exact same scientific study.

Yet another example of why you simply cannot trust everything you hear from the media, you need to see original research to understand it, and, finally - don't believe everything you hear from anybody.

Laugh it up, fuzzball!

Laughter is the best medicine

Yep - neuroscience proves it.

Positive psychology - huh?

What is positive psychology

It's a growing movement in psychology, and one I'm quite fond of and interested in. Acquaint yourself with it.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Brain development and fitness

Children's brain development is linked to physical fitness

You want a healthy brain - then be healthy as a whole person. This is not only logical, but it also is amply supported by evidence.

Enhancing learning

Best ways to enhance learning

Believe it or not, after hundreds and hundreds of years, we are still learning an awful lot about how we learn and how best to teach. There is even still active debate behind such "settled" concepts as reinforcement: Learning: is reinforcement required?

Creativity and insight - how does it work?

The neuroscience of creativity and insight

Very fun article. This is one that everyone should read. Neuroscience is just sexy.

Also, this is a great video of John Cleese talking about creativity (just for the fun of it).

What the heck is IQ anyway?

The confusing concept of IQ

I'm not a big fan, theoretically, of intelligence tests, but they're one of the few tools we have to come anywhere near measuring how intelligent someone is, so, flawed or not, they're here to stay for a while.

LSD Therapy - this was a real thing

Secret history of psychedelic psychiatry

True story. LSD was considered a wonder drug for fixing psychological problems back in the day. How wild would that be? "Doc, I am feeling pretty blue all the time these days." "Oh, no problem, here, drop some acid and you'll be right as rain!"

Don't be such a goody-goody!

Do-gooders are unpopular team members

....with other team members anyway. Popularity isn't everything though.

Why you can't trust news reports with statistics

Don't be fooled by scientists, data, statistics and sexy women

I cannot emphasize this enough: NOTHING you read anywhere should be taken at face value. Ever. For any reason. Especially if it comes from Journalism or Academia. There are so many ways that misinterpretation, lack of evidence, bias and perception issues can color any story/finding/experiment/opinion or experience. Nothing (outside of religious circles, and even then there is plenty of room) is absolute. Until you happen to be face-to-face with the creator of the universe and He's giving you the down-low - take everything else with a healthy sense of skepticism and decide things for yourself.

Improve memory the old fashioned way

8 tips for improving memory

Really, improving memory is NOT about practice, it's about strategy.

Zap your brain to improve it!

Electrically stimulating the brain can boost visual memory 110%

So, by my count through either magnetic or electrically stimulating your brain I can: improve memory (electrically stimulate), improve math ability (magnetic disruption), cause time perception distortion (magnet), improve attention (electric - duh!), cause visual impairment (magnet) and there are a few more I know I'm forgetting.

Music helps you learn

Music training helps learning and memory

I've posted about this before, but it is still worth mentioning. Music knowledge/education is always a good idea.

Plan to study

Studying? Great - but get a plan!

If you are a student, I really, really hope this doesn't come as a shock to you. Even if you're NOT a student, this should not be a foreign concept. Success in anything requires forethought and planning. Studying is no different. Most people I've met study pretty much the same way - and it's probably wrong. There are so many variations on how to study and no two people learn in identical ways, even the same person may learn better in different domains through different methods.

Experiment. Research. Find the best way to study FOR YOU and then plan for success.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Narcissus had it RIGHT!

Evolution of narcissism: why we're overconfident and why it works

There has been some active research on this in a few different channels - this article does a good job of wrapping up some of the salient points. And also points out that overconfidence isn't exactly a cure-all, but certainly helps in some situations. Which would be a nice lesson for some people I know to learn.

Meditation: different flavors for different effects

Are all meditation techniques the same?


Next question?

Seriously though, I tend to lump meditation techniques into a larger "meditation" category for simplicity sake, which is wrong in specifics, but there are still some very general benefits that are universal. I rarely go into the specifics of different techniques and their usefulness - maybe I should.

Video games: improving cognition, decisioning and vision

Do video games enhance cognitive abilities?


Next question?

UPDATE: More here: Video gaming prepares brain for bigger tasks and also take a peek at Do action video games make players better decision makers?  And still more: Video games improving vision

MORE: Then there is this - which, surprise! contradicts everything above. Just so we're all on the same page, there is no such thing as research on video games that isn't methodologically challenged. I have yet to see one, but the same argument could be made for nearly EVERY kind of research. So, take all the research findings I post here with a HUGE grain of salt. Always. It's kind of a good idea in for life in general as well.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE: yet another article explaining the study

Do you drink alcohol?

Your brain on alcohol

Everything you ever wanted to know about what alcohol does to your brain, but were afraid to ask. Classic picture for the lead-in.

More on violent video games

Violent video games harmless for most kids

This topic will continue to be a hot-bed of research for years to come. And, guess what? It will NEVER be conclusive. Just calling my shot.

Sleep to understand color swatches

Study suggests sleep may restore color perception

This makes sense to me a little. As our brains become more exhausted I could see how filtering out seemingly unnecessary information, like full processing of colors, could be beneficial for maintaining more critical functions. Still, whether I'm understanding it correctly, it is pretty freaky.

Teens are not morning people

Teen automobile crash rates are higher when school starts earlier

Every shred of research and evidence out there points more and more to the fact that high-school aged kids should NOT be starting their day too early. Let the poor little dweebs sleep for crying out loud! Which, if you can believe it I actually say in all seriousness. It is incredibly pervasive how much better teens do when they are allowed to sleep a little longer.

Fool your ears

Listening to illusions of sound

I'm a sucker for a good illusion. Auditory illusions are some of the most fun. Kinesthetic illusions are the absolute pinnacle of weirdness.

Singing in a metal tube

Opera singing in the brain scanner

As an (former) opera singer myself, this is totally cool. Your habits and your hobbies and interests shape your brain. Always.

Mozart Effect = BOGUS

The Mozart effect doesn't work

Anyone who paid attention to the original study knows that it is bunk. The only reason Mozart was chosen was because the head researcher liked it. They didn't do comparative studies using Jazz or Rock - just Mozart. But still, a nice rundown of the history and current findings is always good to see.

You don't know about vision

Everything we knew about human vision is wrong

Seriously, every time you turn around they are making some kind of crazy new realization about our capabilities as humans. It's truly astonishing how little disagreement there is about even seemingly simple things like "vision" - which is why it's so exciting to study the brain. It is what makes all the weirdness possible.

Go outside. Boost your self-esteem

Five minutes in the green can boost self-esteem

Hardly a surprising result, but still - a good reminder for everyone. Being outside occasionally is a good thing. So, if you live in the desert like I do, is it "five minutes in the tan/brown"?

Prayer shuts your brain down?

Study shows that listening to prayer halts brain activity

So, no - prayer doesn't halt brain activity, listening to someone else did specific areas of the brain "deactivate" - but I'm not sure they got the whole picture here. "Only in the devout volunteers did the brain activity...deactivate" If you've ever witnessed a prayer circle (or something similar) with devout religious people the whole point is that the people participating in the prayer allow the speaker to be the voice and unite their thoughts together. Of course you're going to shut down some of your skepticism and vigilance brain areas - that's the entire point.
The question should be, is that a bad thing? Also, would you see the same kind of deactivation in, for example, a choir performance as the choir acts in synchronicity with the choir director in a nearly hypnotic state? How about adults reciting the pledge of allegiance? Or singing the national anthem? There is a lot of room here for study of other similar effects in markedly different settings.

UPDATE: more here

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Brain-training bunk

No IQ boost from brain training

This is something that has been very popular lately - all of the "brain training" games and software. They're a big business. There is evidence that very specific types of brain training can increase things like selective attention skills, pattern recognition skills, some short-term memory enhancement - but that's about it. They certainly don't make you "smarter" - you may feel that way, but it's just because that's what you are being told.

Proactive or reactive brain?

Two views of brain function: reflexive/reactive or intrinsic/proactive?

This is an excellent article that actually feeds into the whole "Free Will" debate. It seems our brains are much more proactive than we give them credit for. Keep in mind that we still don't really understand what we mean when we say that we see "activity" in an fMRI - but the activity definitely is pointing towards a pattern that shows our brains as being prepared for action as opposed to simply reacting to stimuli.

Let them play

The criminalization of natural play

While not 100% true, it certainly is becoming more true every day. My wife works as an aide at our neighborhood elementary school. The stories she tells me of the increasingly limited amount of time kids are given to play or even relax, and the increasingly stringent rules regarding what kinds of play they can and cannot. And that's just at school. Society is equally restrictive in general.

Attention = Intelligence

Attention and Intelligence

Well, not exclusively, but our ability to more accurately use selective attention, the more we're able to focus on a problem and get better results. Intelligence is largely determined by problem-solving skills, so the better ability you have to pay singular attention to something, the more chance you give your brain to dedicate the adequate resources necessary to resolve the problem.

Decision Paralysis

With more information people make worse choices?

This is more than just decision paralysis (a very real thing) but goes to the idea that if you have too many choices you tend to choose short-term benefits with smaller rewards over long-term benefits with greater rewards that require more patience and fortitude.


Your mindset can determine genuine success

For anyone that studies motivation, this is seriously non-surprising. Your mindset determines all kinds of aspects of our lives, and it is surprisingly easy to manipulate those mindsets in some respects. This is not to say that the whole "You're a good person, and, darn it, people like you!" kind of pump-you-up-with-false-self-esteem thing. It goes much deeper than that, to things like mastery of fear-of-failure mindsets and other related core elements of personality.

You don't understand memory

Inaccurate beliefs about learning and memory

This is actually an incredibly true statement about most of our "common sense" knowledge about learning and memory. They don't function at all the way we perceive they do. The fun part is: once you learn how they actually do work you can do all kinds of things to make yourself more effective at either one.

Meditation = more willpower

Meditate your way to more willpower

I did mention that meditation is getting lots of attention lately didn't I? It's almost like a superpower or something.

Improvement through meditation

Cognition is accelerated by just 4 days of meditating 20 minutes per day.

That's a pretty astonishing result. Meditation is getting a lot of attention recently, and with studies like this it's not hard to see why.

Why do we dream?

A nice little essay on why we are interested in research on dreaming.

Race and empathy

Race and empathy matter on neural level

Not surprising really, but I would like to see if this was also tested for other racial profiles?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Stanley Milgram Game Show!

A French game show recreated the infamous Milgram experiments in the form of a game show. Participants and observers reacted much the same as the participants in the original experiment.

Personally I find it incredibly instructive and rather hilarious. Let's face it, this is just the (nearly) ultimate extension in the current trend in game shows. More risk, more life-threatening circumstance and/or violence. To have people shocked (pun unintended) by this is quite funny. Also, Darren Brown did a much more accurate re-creation of this experiment for one of his shows in England several years ago (a quick YouTube search will find a generous portion of clips).

Anyone paying attention to psychology over the past 50 years would have known exactly how this was going to go down. But they still pretend to be surprised. It's not unexpected that there would be cries about ethical concerns, there has been plenty of that since the first experiment by Stanley Milgram. Again, the studio must have been aware of the pitfalls so, whatever consequences befall them, they shouldn't be caught unawares.

Still, doing a variation of the experiment as a game show....brilliant. You could not hope for a more electric show (pun intended this time). Notice how I tried not to use the word shocked too much.

Facebook makes us productive

Social Networks can make us more creatively productive.

I, for one, welcome our new social networking overlords. New research like this is cropping up all the time. Turns out that we're social creatures and allowing us social and creative outlets enhance our sense of well-being and provide a better sense of autonomy which enhances our performance.

[sarcasm] Decades of research all pointing to the same thing. Who knew? [/sarcasm]

Relieving stress through spirituality

Spirituality and Prayer Relieve Stress.

Religion in general gets a bad rap. I won't go into the political or social aspect of it, but from a cognitive and health aspect science keeps finding more and more benefits to religious behaviors.

Do you believe you're smart?

Believing you can be smarter actually makes you smarter.

I see this all the time to greater or lesser degrees. People often think "Oh, I'm no good at that kind of thing" and then the effort to remember it or practice it goes away, and, guess what, sure enough, they're right.

The ability to learn is a mindset. With very few exceptions for genetic conditions or specific medical causes anyone who thinks they can learn generally will learn. Those who think they can't won't. It is one of the few truly self-fulfilling prophesies.

How to build a better life

Chess Masters show us the way.

the "10,000" hour rule is just the beginning if you want to become truly exceptional at something. You need to not just put in time, but put in cognitive effort at improvement and analysis of ways to improve. You have to do the right type of activity.

As a music teacher of mine once emphasized: Practice doesn't make perfect. Perfect practice makes perfect.

If you do it wrong, lots of practice might make you more effective, but you'll still be missing out on an opportunity to do it far better by learning the right technique.

Are you a visual, kinethetic, or auditory learner?

Doesn't matter: Learning styles are meaningless.

This article is back from 2009, but there has been even more recent research to back this up. As the article says, it has intuitive appeal because we want to believe it is true and it feels true. But, the evidence just doesn't back up the theory.

This, of course, will have zero effect on popular perception and general practice in the educational spaces. People will continue to emphasize learning styles because it feel like the right thing to do. It provides a convenient excuse for those that have difficulties.

UPDATE: more here

Good news for nap-time

Scientists find way to strengthen memories during sleep.

Now, if only nap-time could be incorporated into every classroom/workplace.....

Can you make that decaff?

Real vs. Placebo coffee

Seems that caffeine really does lead to some performance improvements.

For a slightly more blunt yet humorous take on the effects of coffee, go here: 7 Scientific ways coffee give you super powers.

I still can't abide the stuff. There is also very little research on the long-term effects of caffeine, as well as little to no discussion on the negative impacts of caffeine. So, take all this for what it's worth - narrow application of a single effect of caffeine on performance of a very specific task.

Recognizing emotion

Are older kids and adolescents really as good as adults at recognizing emotions in faces?

Nice re-cap and re-testing of some previously "settled" research. This is a great example of how thinking about something in just a subtly different way can yield surprising results.