The Frontal Cortex

Archives for June, 2008

Rumor and Politics

Humans are exquisitely social animals, and yet we’re vulnerable to some pretty stunning flaws in social cognition. Unfortunately, most of these flaws are on full display during a presidential campaign. Consider the false rumor, which can influence our beliefs even when it has been debunked. The most powerful example of this phenomenon, of course, is…

It’s been recognized for a few years that drinking diet sodas can actually cause weight gain, since the phony sweetness of artificial sweeteners disrupts the “predictive relationship” between a sweet taste and caloric satisfaction. In other words, people drink a diet Coke when they are craving a sweet pick-me-up. However, because the soda doesn’t actually…

Religious Ritual

Allegra Goodman is a marvelous writer. Intuition, her last novel, was an uncannily accurate depiction of the slog of a science lab. It captured the epic tedium of empiricism, the way experiments are ambiguous even when they work. (And they so rarely work!) I bring her up now because she just wrote a gorgeous few…

Remote Tribes

Sometimes, when I walk through international airports, I get a little sad about the homogeneity of homo sapiens. I guess it’s an inevitable by-product of globalization and modernity, but I can’t help but wish that we didn’t all drink Starbucks and wear Nike shoes and listen to Rihanna on our iPods. So when I see…

Art and Ethics

Last year, some drunken teens decided to trash the house of Robert Frost. The teens are now being required by a judge to take poetry classes focusing on the verse of Frost: Using “The Road Not Taken” and another poem as jumping-off points, Frost biographer Jay Parini hopes to show the vandals the error of…

Your Brain is a Messy Desk

Or so I say on the Bryant Park Project. We talk about tip-of-the-tongue moments, metacognition and why seeing a picture of a motorcycle will make you think about biopsies.

Neurogenesis and Depression

Over at Neurophilosophy, Mo has an excellent summary of a drug in Phase II clinical trials that tries to treat depression by up-regulating neurogenesis. In other words, it wants to ease your sadness by giving you more new brain cells. What these new brain cells do, exactly, remains a mystery, but numerous studies have found…

Air-Conditioning

The latest Wired features a list of contrarian environmental facts (organically raised cattle emit more methane gas than conventionally raised cattle, nuclear power is great, the Prius battery takes a lot of energy to make, etc.) but I was most surprised by this factoid: Cooling a home in Arizona produces 93 percent few carbon dioxide…

The Anatomy of Sarcasm

Is your right parahippocampal gyrus feeling a little tired? Then maybe you should stop being such a sarcastic smart ass. It turns out that this obscure brain area, tucked deep inside the right hemisphere, is largely responsible for the detection of sarcasm, a rather sophisticated element of social cognition: Dr. Rankin, a neuropsychologist and assistant…

Birth Order

What psychological phenomenon do you believe in but cannot prove? I’d have to go with birth order. Having grown up with three siblings, I can’t help but be convinced that my birth order (I’m the second oldest) has had a profoundly important influence on my personality. That said, birth order is mostly bunk. Numerous scientific…