The Frontal Cortex

Archives for August, 2007

Smaller Engines

The new Honda Accord comes out next month and, like virtually every new car, it boasts a bigger frame and bigger engine than last year’s model. So I thought it might be worth revisiting some of the earlier generation Accords. It turns out that they were signifcantly more fuel efficient. For example, the 1982-1985 model…

Solving the Subprime Mess

A few weeks ago, I put up a post on the neuroscience of subprime mortgages. A significant percentage of subprime loans get customers by advertising low introductory teaser rates, which trick the brain into making an irrational decision. In essence, we are duped into using our short-sighted emotional mind to make a long-term financial decision.…

Baseball and Dopamine

Christopher Vrountas, of Andover, sent in a very astute letter to the Boston Globe in response to my recent article on dopamine and gambling: I read Jonah Lehrer’s article “Your brain on gambling” (Ideas, Aug. 19), about how gambling hijacks the brain’s pleasure centers. The gambler’s brain remembers and desperately seeks a repeat of unexpected…

Contradictions

Two examples of blinkered thinking: 1. Jeff Lewis, the incredibly entertaining lunatic at the center of Flipping Out, the real-estate reality television show on Bravo, fires his psychic because she wasn’t doing a good job of predicting the future. So what does he do? He goes and hires a different psychic. I’m fascinated by this…

The Psychology of Hotness

Here’s Megan McArdle on our self-perceptions of attractiveness: A late night conversation last night brought me to the inescapable conclusion that neither I, nor anyone else, is as hot as they think they are. You hate photographs of yourself, don’t you? A tiny minority of people are terribly photogenic (I recall one girl in high…

Fixing Ourselves

Ten years ago, neuroscientists were bullish about pharmaceuticals. It sometimes seemed as if every tenured professor was starting his own drug company or consulting for someone else’s drug company. But virtually none of those drugs have come to market, at least not yet. The brain is an exquisitely complicated machine, and every beneficial effect seems…

I Love Paper

Last week, we discussed the differences between reading text printed on dead trees (paper) and reading on a computer screen. I confessed that I’m wedded to my laser printer, since I can only edit when I’ve got the tactile page in my hand. It turns out I’m not alone. William Powers, the media critic for…

Vick and Animal Cruelty

For me, the most depressing aspect of the Michael Vick dog-fighting case is that I can’t draw a bright moral line between his acts of sadism and the publicly acceptable forms of animal cruelty that we all support in the supermarket. (I’m talking about the cheap meat from big poultry farms and slaughterhouses.) Why is…

Is Deep Blue Human?

Daniel Dennett, in the latest Technology Review, argues that there’s no meaningful difference between the chess cognition of Deep Blue and that of Gary Kasparov. Both are functionalist machines, employing mental shortcuts to settle on an optimal strategy: The best computer chess is well nigh indistinguishable from the best human chess, except for one thing:…

Cigarettes and Poetry

The Best Cigarette, a poem by Billy Collins: Don’t forget that cigarette addiction seems to be modulated by the insula, a brain area that secretes aversive emotions. Earlier this year, a team of scientists at the University of Iowa found that cigarette addicts with damaged insulas were 136 times more likely to have their addictions…