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Jonah Lehrer

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March 16, 2010
Here's a moral scenario: A man is sitting near the side of the road when he sees a truck speeding along. It is headed towards a group of five men, who do not hear or see it, and if nothing appears in the road, it will certainly hit and kill them. Across the road is another man sitting in front of…
March 15, 2010
It sounds like President Obama and his communications staff are getting to know the research of Paul Slovic: After weeks of making his case for the legislation in broad strokes -- including two similar rallies last week in Philadelphia and St. Charles, Mo. -- Mr. Obama used Monday's appearance to…
March 15, 2010
Now that the social web is maturing - the platforms have been winnowed down to a select few (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.) - some interesting commonalities are emerging. The one shared feature that I'm most interested in is also a little disturbing: the tendency of the social software to…
March 10, 2010
In response to my post on the effects of mood on cognition, which also referenced the possibilities of self-medicating ourselves into the ideal mood, Andrew Sullivan offered up the following anecdote: I was talking with a fine artist the other day and he was telling me how blocked he was on a piece…
March 9, 2010
In recent years, it's become clear that much of our individual behavior depends on the dynamics of our social network. It doesn't matter if we're talking about obesity or happiness: they all flow through other people, like a virus or a meme. Last year, I profiled James Fowler and Nicholas…
March 8, 2010
One of the hazards of writing a book on decision-making is getting questions about decisions that are far beyond the purview of science (or, at the very least, way beyond my pay grade). Here, for instance, is a question that often arrives in my inbox, or gets shouted out during talks: "How should…
March 5, 2010
I thought it's worth addressing this article one last time. Dr. Ronald Pies (professor of psychiatry at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse) has written three eloquent and extremely critical blog posts about the article and the analytic-rumination hypothesis. Here's his latest riposte:…
March 4, 2010
The ultimatum game is a simple experiment with profound implications. The game goes like this: one person (the proposer) is given ten dollars and told to share it with another person (the responder). The proposer can divide the money however they like, but if the responder rejects the offer then…
March 3, 2010
One of the interesting subplots of this new research on the intellectual benefits of sadness - it seems to bolster our attention and make us more analytical - is that it helps illuminate the intertwined relationship of mood and cognition. For decades, we saw the mind as an information processing…
March 2, 2010
I've received a few emails along this line: "How does this new theory about depression enhancing problem-solving relate to all the studies that have shown cognitive deficits in people with depression?" That's a really good question. I tried to address this issue quickly in the article - I…
March 1, 2010
First of all, thank you to everyone who took the time to write and comment on my recent article on depression. I really appreciated all the insightful emails and I'm trying to respond to every one. In the meantime, I wanted to address some important criticisms of the analytic-rumination hypothesis…
February 28, 2010
I'm a terrible sleeper, which is perhaps why I got invited to contribute to a NY Times group blog on "insomnia, sleep and the nocturnal life". Here is my first contribution, which focuses on the work of Dan Wegner: My insomnia always begins with me falling asleep. I've been reading the same…
February 26, 2010
I've got an article on the upside of depression in the latest New York Times Magazine. If you'd like to learn more about this controversial theory, I'd suggest reading the original paper, "The Bright Side of Being Blue: Depression as an adaptation for analyzing complex problems," by Paul Andrews…
February 25, 2010
Sarcasm is a cognitive challenge. In order to get the sarcastic sentiment, we can't simply decode the utterance, or decipher the literal meaning of the sentence. Instead, we have to understand the meaning of the words in their larger social context. For example, if it's a beautiful day outside -…
February 22, 2010
In my recent WSJ article on age and creativity, I didn't have space to discuss the fascinating research of David Galenson, an economist at the University of Chicago who brings together a vast array of evidence to better understand the nature of creative production over time. Galenson divides…
February 22, 2010
A few weeks ago, I got an email wondering why people sometimes "break into uncontrollable laughter or smiling when faced with terrible situations, like death or illness." Where does this perverse emotional reaction come from? Why do we smile at the most inappropriate times? I looked into the peer-…
February 19, 2010
I've got a new article in the Wall Street Journal on the complex relationship between age and scientific creativity: When James Watson was 24 years old, he spent more time thinking about women than work, according to his memoir "Genes, Girls and Gamow." His hair was unkempt and his letters home…
February 18, 2010
I've been reading a number of papers on the "science" of consciousness - I'll let the quotes express my skepticism - and I thought this clever metaphor from Francis Crick and Christof Koch, in their influential 2003 Nature review, was revealing. They compare the competition among our sensations to…
February 15, 2010
Mark Bittman wonders if soda is the new tobacco, and explores the possibility of a tax on sugary, carbonated beverages: A tax on soda was one option considered to help pay for health care reform (the Joint Committee on Taxation calculated that a 3-cent tax on each 12-ounce sugared soda would raise…
February 15, 2010
In the latest New York Review of Books, Charles Petersen has an interesting and even-handed analysis of Facebook and social networking: What many find most enticing about Facebook is the steady stream of updates from "friends," new and old, which sociologists refer to as "ambient awareness." This…
February 11, 2010
One of the lingering questions in decision science is the extent to which game theory - an abstract theory about how people can maximize their outcomes in simple interactions - is actually valid. It's a lovely idea, but does it actually describe human nature? As usual, the answer depends. With few…
February 10, 2010
The amygdala is an almond shaped chunk of flesh in the center of your brain. It's long been associated with a wide variety of mostly negative emotions and behaviors, from the generation of fear to the memory of painful associations. (There's some suggestive evidence that sociopaths have a broken…
February 8, 2010
Sam Anderson, in New York Magazine, takes on ChatRoulette, that strange new site that connects you, via webcam, with a stream of strangers: The site was only a few months old, but its population was beginning to explode in a way that suggested serious viral potential: 300 users in December had…
February 5, 2010
The neuroscientist Rodrigo Quian Quiroga has written a lovely appreciation of Jorge Luis Borges in the latest Nature (not online). Quiroga focuses on Borges interest in neuroscience, which led him to write his classic short story Funes the Memorious, about a man who cannot forget: In the story of…
February 4, 2010
Megan O'Rourke has a really eloquent and important article on the history of grieving in the New Yorker. She spends a lot of time on the life and death of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who invented the five stages theory of human grief. (It turns out the stages don't really exist.) But I was most…
February 3, 2010
Sharon Begley has an excellent Newsweek cover story on the rise and fall of anti-depressant medications, or how a class of drugs that were once hailed as medical miracles are now seen as barely better than placebos: In just over half of the published and unpublished studies, Kirsch and colleagues…
February 3, 2010
Via Vaughan at MindHacks, comes this link to a preview of a documentary-in-progress on The Blue Brain, that epic attempt to create a conscious supercomputer. I was fortunate enough to profile the Blue Brain in 2008: In the basement of a university in Lausanne, Switzerland sit four black boxes,…
February 2, 2010
Ross Douthat reflects on the recent news that teenage birthrates inched upward during the Bush era, after more than a decade of decline: The new numbers, declared the president of Planned Parenthood, make it "crystal clear that abstinence-only sex education for teenagers does not work." In reality…
February 1, 2010
In response to my recent post on the neuroscience of musical predictions, Alex Rehding, the Fanny Peabody Professor of Music at Harvard, wrote in to offer a musical theorist perspective. He makes several excellent points, and complicates the neuroscience in useful ways, so I thought I'd reproduce…
January 27, 2010
For the most part, self-control is seen as an individual trait, a measure of personal discipline. If you lack self-control, then it's your own fault, a character flaw built into the brain. However, according to a new study by Michelle vanDellen, a psychologist at the University of Georgia, self-…