The Frontal Cortex

Archives for April, 2007

Can Economic Utility Be Measured?

A friend of mine (who happens to be Ph.D student in economics) sent me a skeptical email regarding a recent article that sought to measure marginal utility: I’m really not convinced that marginal utility can be so easily correlated with activity in the midbrain. I think one of the virtues of the economic definition of…

Matsuzaka’s Genius

Matsuzaka looked impressive in his MLB debut. He had 10 strikeouts in 7 innings and only threw 108 pitches. I’m still not convinced he’s worth $103.1 million, but the weak Kansas City lineup looked pretty dazed and confused. Matsuzaka’s genius, I think, is to create as much batter uncertainty as possible. He’s one of the…

Poor People Learn Faster

Marginal utility can be measured. According to new research out of Wolfram Schultz’s lab, poor people are much quicker learners than rich people when playing a Pavlovian paradigm for small amounts of money. (Poor people took about 12 trials to figure out the game, while rich people took about 35 trials.) This behavior was then…

Psychology and Neuroscience

Dave and Greta Munger have posted an excellent reply to the following question: What’s the difference between psychology and neuroscience? Is psychology still relevant as we learn more about the brain and how it works? You have to be a pretty staunch reductionist to believe that neuroscience makes psychology obsolete. After all, according to scientific…

Visiting Iraq

There’s been a bit of controversy over John McCain’s recent remarks suggesting that Baghdad was much safer than conventional media descriptions suggest. “There are neighborhoods in Baghdad where you and I could walk through those neighborhoods,” McCain said, before castigating Baghdad reporters for not “getting out more”. McCain was part of a Congressional delegation visiting…

Power is Corrupting

Does power corrupt? And is absolute power absolutely corrupting? Here’s some suggestive evidence: Researchers led by the psychologist Dacher Keltner took groups of three ordinary volunteers and randomly put one of them in charge. Each trio had a half-hour to work through a boring social survey. Then a researcher came in and left a plateful…

Is Depression Overdiagnosed?

A recent study in The Archives of General Psychiatry suggests that 25 percent of all Americans diagnosed with depression are actually just dealing with the normal disappointments of life, like divorce or the loss of a job. Their sadness is being treated like a medical condition. They were given drugs, when what they really needed…

So I’m watching a DVD and the usual legal disclaimer – “The views expressed in the commentary do not reflect the views of the studio, etc.” – comes on the screen. Whatever. Such a warning label seems unnecessary, but what do I know? Maybe there’s been a rash of lawsuits over DVD extras. Then the…

Poetry and Memory

Why do we remember shards of poetry when we can’t remember anything else? After Tom Chaffin’s brain tumor was removed, he temporarily lost the ability to speak in coherent sentences. (He also lost the ability to move the right side of his body.) And yet, even when he couldn’t name more than two kinds of…

Dreams and Narrative Suspense

I had a very bizarre dream last night. I was driving to the gas station to buy milk. It was the middle of the night. (In case you were wondering, I don’t normally make nocturnal milk runs, or buy my dairy products at the local Exxon-Mobil station.) As I pull into the gas station, I…