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Jonah Lehrer

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May 13, 2010
Reposted from last year: Michael Posner and Brenda Patoine make a neuroscientific case for arts education. They argue that teaching kids to make art has lasting cognitive benefits: If there were a surefire way to improve your brain, would you try it? Judging by the abundance of products, programs…
May 12, 2010
Here's a post from last summer*: I went jean shopping this weekend. Actually, I went to the mall to return a t-shirt but ended buying a pair of expensive denim pants. What happened? I made the mistake of entering the fitting room. And then the endowment effect hijacked my brain. Let me explain. The…
May 11, 2010
Here's an old post from July 08: The devious slogan for the New York State lottery is "All you need is a dollar and a dream." Such state lotteries are a regressive form of taxation, since the vast majority of lottery consumers are low-income. The statistics are bleak: Twenty percent of Americans…
May 10, 2010
I'm going to be away on vacation for the next week or so. I'll be putting up some old posts in the meantime. Here's one from 2009 on "Boredom": The great poet Joseph Brodsky, praising boredom: A substantial part of what lies ahead of you is going to be claimed by boredom. The reason I'd like to…
May 6, 2010
I'm always fascinated by the ways in which societal issues impact the research program of modern neuroscience. (After all, the virtue of studying the brain is that it can be made relevant to just about anything, from the formation of financial bubbles to internet searches.) We're still living…
May 4, 2010
Over at Slate, Daniel Engber has a fascinating (and thorough) investigation of why we root for the underdog. There are numerous factors at work, from the availability heuristic to our deep desire for equality. But I was most intrigued by this research, which tries to explain why we associate…
May 3, 2010
Gary Wolf has a fascinating and really well written article in the Times Magazine on the rise of the "quantified self," or all those people who rely on microsensors to measure discrete aspects of their lives, from walking speed to emotional mood: Millions of us track ourselves all the time. We step…
April 29, 2010
Here's a new interesting new paper on the emotional deficits of the psychopathic brain, via sarcastic_f: The understanding that other people's emotional states depend on the fulfilment of their intention is fundamentally important for responding adequately to others. Psychopathic patients show…
April 27, 2010
The process of enculturation doesn't just afflict middle-aged scientists, struggling to appreciate a new anomaly. It's a problem for any collection of experts, from CIA analysts to Wall Street bankers. Let's stick with Wall Street, since Goldman Sachs is in the news. The question for senators and…
April 27, 2010
I just discovered (via Tyler Cowen) a fascinating economics paper on the changing dynamics of scientific production over the 20th century. A few months ago, I wrote about the tangled relationship of age and innovation, and why different fields have different peak ages of creativity. In general,…
April 25, 2010
I spent a fair amount of time hanging out with professional poker players while writing How We Decide. For the most part, these players have exquisite control over their facial expressions, so that those micro-muscles around the eyes and mouth rarely betrayed their inner thoughts. (The players…
April 23, 2010
Ed Yong has a typically great post on a new Current Biology paper that investigates the link between dreaming and memory consolidation: The last decade of research has clearly shown that sleep is one of the best aide memoires that we have. During this nightly time-out, our brain can rehearse…
April 22, 2010
Prozac (aka fluoxetine) is one of the most successful drugs of all time. Since its introduction as an antidepressant more than 20 years ago, Prozac has been prescribed to more than 80 million people around the world. Currently, approximately one in ten Americans are on an anti-depressant, with the…
April 21, 2010
Experience changes everything. That, at least, is the lesson of a new study of Navy SEALS led by scientists at UCSD. Their experiment was an investigation into the anatomy of emotional perception, or what happens inside the brain when we glimpse angry, fearful or happy faces. The results were…
April 19, 2010
The lure of instant gratification is hard to resist: when we want something, we want it right now. Of course, maturity and reality demand that we learn to wait, that we postpone our pleasures until tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. And so we stash money in our savings account, and forgo the SUV…
April 15, 2010
I'm pretty fascinated by this chart from the McKinsey Quarterly, which is a great demonstration of the optimism bias. The chart captures the earnings estimates of equity analysts for S&P 500 companies. The downward slope of these yellow lines is what happens when our hopeful projections meet…
April 15, 2010
A forthcoming paper by Michael Kraus and Dacher Keltner at UC-Berkeley investigates the correlation between "tactile communication" and success in the NBA. In essence, the paper demonstrates that "touchier" teams - and this includes everything from pats on the ass to high-fives - are also more…
April 13, 2010
I've gotten a lot of emails from people about my recent WSJ article, which looked at the superstar effect, choking and performance anxiety. Most of the letters ask a similar question: Can anything be done to prevent choking? Or are we destined to sabotage ourselves when it matters the most? Let's…
April 12, 2010
Everybody wants a creative child - in theory. The reality of creativity, however, is a little more complicated, as creative thoughts tend to emerge when we're distracted, daydreaming, disinhibited and not following the rules. In other words, the most imaginative kids are often the trouble-makers.…
April 8, 2010
The 2010 NFL Draft is later this month, and there is already plenty of speculation about which QB will go first, and which DT is a better choice, and which teams will trade up for a higher draft pick. The stakes for the teams are huge, as a failed draft pick will not only waste millions of dollars…
April 6, 2010
There's a neat list of variables that reliably (at least reliably in the lab) increase certain forms of creativity. There is, for instance, the blue room effect, and the benefit of spatial distance, and the bonus of living abroad, and the perk of thinking like a 7-year old. Here's a new creative…
April 5, 2010
Jon Mooallem had a really interesting article in the Times Magazine yesterday. It reviewed some recent research on animal "homosexuality," with an emphasis on scientists who argue that same-sex behavior is not a single adaptation or mutation, but rather reflects a panoply of different instincts,…
April 4, 2010
I've got a new essay in the WSJ about Tiger Woods, the hazards of playing against a superstar, and why we choke in high-pressure situations. The subplot of the piece is the positive feedback loop of success, or why winning in the past makes us more likely to win in the future. Every underdog, it…
April 2, 2010
Let's begin with this recent experiment by neuroscientists at Rutgers, which demonstrated that general intelligence (at least in rodents) is mediated by improvements in selective attention. Here's the abstract: In both humans and mice, the efficacy of working memory capacity and its related process…
March 31, 2010
My uncle describes Costco as the place "where you go broke saving money". That certainly describes my experience of the warehouse store - I walk in for some toilet paper and leave with a new television, a tub of cashews and a lifetime supply of chapstick. ABC News recently had an interesting…
March 30, 2010
David Brooks, summarizing the current state of happiness research: The daily activity most injurious to happiness is commuting. According to one study, being married produces a psychic gain equivalent to more than $100,000 a year. In other words, the best way to make yourself happy is to have a…
March 29, 2010
I've always been fascinated by tip-of-the-tongue moments. It's estimated that, on average, people have a tip-of-the-tongue moment at least once a week. Perhaps it occurs when you run into an old acquaintance whose name you can't remember, although you know that it begins with the letter "J." Or…
March 25, 2010
Pablo Picasso once declared that "Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." The solution to Picasso's problem is startlingly simple, at least according to the psychologists Darya Zabelina and Michael Robinson of North Dakota State University: We just need to…
March 22, 2010
Over the weekend, I had a little essay in the Times on some new research on why dream at night. When I can't sleep, I think about what I'm missing. I glance over at my wife and watch her eyelids flutter. I listen to the steady rhythm of her breath. I wonder if she's dreaming and, if so, what story…
March 17, 2010
The world is a confusing place. Correlation looks like causation; the signal sounds like the noise; randomness is everywhere. This raises the obvious question: How does the human brain cope with such an epistemic mess? How do we deal with the helter-skelter of reality? One approach would be to…