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Jonah Lehrer

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January 26, 2010
Cable news is not good for the soul. People make fun of Jersey Shore, but at least those randy kids don't reinforce our deep-seated political biases. A new paper by Shawn Powers of USC and Mohammed el-Nawawy of Queens University of Charlotte looked at the effect of international cable news on the…
January 25, 2010
The Economist reviews an interesting new study that investigates the immorality of power: In their first study, Dr Lammers and Dr Galinsky asked 61 university students to write about a moment in their past when they were in a position of high or low power. Previous research has established that…
January 20, 2010
There's an interesting new paper on how the brain makes sense of music by constructing detailed models in real time. The act of listening, it turns out, is really an act of neural prediction. Here are the scientists, from the University of London: The ability to anticipate forthcoming events has…
January 18, 2010
Time Magazine has an interesting profile of Magnus Carlsen, the youngest chess player to achieve a number one world ranking: Genius can appear anywhere, but the origins of Carlsen's talent are particularly mysterious. He hails from Norway -- a "small, poxy chess nation with almost no history of…
January 14, 2010
There's a new and very timely paper out this week that looks at the cortical mechanics of charitable giving. While it's been known for a few years that giving away money activates the dopamine reward pathway - that's why doing good feels good - this latest paper attempted to investigate the…
January 13, 2010
The news out of Haiti this morning is hellish; the Earth slips and thousands die. The early reports have the same feel as the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, in that every bulletin brings more awful news. I already find myself dreading tomorrow's newspaper, which will outline the full scope of the…
January 12, 2010
In a recent New Yorker, John Cassidy spends time with a number of influential economists at the University of Chicago, home to the Chicago School and its emphasis on the productive efficiency of free markets. Obviously, the financial maelstrom of the last few years has led many to question this…
January 11, 2010
The paperback of How We Decide is now shipping from your favorite online retailers and should be in local bookstores. To celebrate the occasion, I thought I'd repost an interview I conducted with myself when the hardcover was published last year. If you'd like more, there's also this interview on…
January 7, 2010
I've written before about the importance of daydreaming and the so-called default, or resting state network, which seems to underlie some important features of human cognition. Instead of being shackled to our immediate surroundings and sensations, the daydreaming mind is free to engage in abstract…
January 5, 2010
Via Tyler Cowen, comes this graph of demographic shifts in NIH grants, which show a clear trend: older scientists are getting more money. Cowen also cites the eminent economist Paul Romer, who worries about the effect of this shift on innovation: Instead of young scientists getting grant funding…
January 4, 2010
I loved Avatar. Sure, I chuckled at the schmaltzy dialogue and found the neon color scheme a little garish and could have done without all the pantheistic moralism...But the movie was still mesmerizing. For 150 minutes, I vanished into the screen, utterly absorbed in the stereoscopic world…
January 3, 2010
In the Boston Globe Ideas section, Kevin Lewis highlights a new paper on "the restraint bias," or the dangers of overestimating self-control: One way to enhance self-control is to avoid tempting situations. The irony, according to a recent study, is that people who think they have more self-control…
December 28, 2009
Apologies for the light blogging: I'm enjoying a little vacation from my computer. But here is a recent little article about willpower in the WSJ: Willpower, like a bicep, can only exert itself so long before it gives out; it's an extremely limited mental resource. Given its limitations, New Year's…
December 22, 2009
My latest Wired article is now online and on the newsstands. It's about the messiness of experimental science, the blind-spots created by knowledge, Thorstein Veblen, European Jews and the background static created by the Big Bang.
December 17, 2009
Earlier this week, I wondered if all of our new knowledge about the brain, which is too often presented in a lazy causal fashion - if x lights up, then we do y - might undermine our sense of self and self-control. I've since riffled through the literature and found some interesting and suggestive…
December 15, 2009
James Surowiecki has the smartest take I've read on the Woods sex scandal: Woods's appeal was based, ultimately, not on his physical abilities but on his mental toughness, his extraordinary capacity for focus and discipline. He was the man who always made the key putt, who never cracked under…
December 15, 2009
The always fascinating Ed Yong, over at Not Exactly Rocket Science, highlights a recent study on testosterone, aggression and the placebo effect. If ever a hormone was the subject of clichés and stereotypes, it is testosterone. In pop culture, it has become synonymous with masculinity, although…
December 14, 2009
I recently learned that many professional graduate schools - law schools, business schools, even medical schools - continue to provide "test accommodations" to students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD. These accommodations usually take the form of extra time on the exam, when…
December 10, 2009
The latest McSweeney's production is a marvel. It's in the form of a daily newspaper - The San Francisco Panorama - and is yet another reminder that the newspaper remains an essential literary form, a potent mixture of breaking news and obscure stories. (If your local indie bookstore stocks the…
December 8, 2009
In the latest Mind Matters, Adam Waytz (an old college friend, co-author of my favorite book on basketball, The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac, and now a post-doc at Harvard) writes about a fascinating new paper by PJ Henry on social status and aggression. If you've read Gladwell's…
December 7, 2009
I found this minor anecdote, from Peter Baker's authoritative NY Times article on Obama's decision-making process for Afghanistan, to be quite fascinating: On Oct. 9, Mr. Obama and his team reviewed General McChrystal's troop proposals for the first time. Some in the White House were surprised by…
December 3, 2009
Jon Stewart on the stolen Climategate emails: I have two responses to the release of these admittedly unflattering emails. Firstly, they shed virtually no light on the actual climate science. Tyler Cowen says it best: I see science, including climate science, as very much a decentralized process…
December 3, 2009
The WSJ reports that the Fed is considering getting serious about popping financial bubbles: Not so long ago, Federal Reserve officials were confident they knew what to do when they saw bubbles building in prices of stocks, houses or other assets: Nothing. Now, as Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke faces a…
December 1, 2009
A new paper by Paola Giuliano, an economist at UCLA, and Antonio Spilimbergo, an economist at the International Monetary Fund, looks at how severe recessions, depressions and other "macroeconomic shocks" influence the political beliefs of young adults. Here's the abstract: Do generations growing up…
November 30, 2009
There was no sentence in How We Decide that I regretted more than this one, which was first written in the fall of 2007, when Vince Young was the starting quarterback for the Tennessee Titans: Vince Young ended up excelling in the pros. I was discussing the statistical disconnect between a QB's…
November 23, 2009
Via Vaughan Bell, comes this wonderful essay by Tom Stafford on confabulation and creativity: In those patients with frontal damage who do confabulate, however, the brain injury makes them rely on their internal memories--their thoughts and wishes--rather than true memories. This is of course…
November 22, 2009
Last week, a team of computer scientists led by Dharmendra S. Modha announced what sounded like an impressive breakthrough for neuroscience-inspired computing: Using Dawn Blue Gene / P supercomputer at Lawrence Livermore National Lab with 147,456 processors and 144 TB of main memory, we achieved a…
November 20, 2009
I've got a review of Stanislas Dehaene's new book, Reading in the Brain, over at the Barnes and Noble Review: Right now, your mind is performing an astonishing feat. Photons are bouncing off these black squiggles and lines -- the letters in this sentence -- and colliding with a thin wall of flesh…
November 19, 2009
Saks and Barneys and the rest of those luxury retailers have discovered that nothing destroys a luxury brand like a sale: All around Saks Fifth Avenue, merchandise is sold out. The $2,520 Marni shearling vest? Gone. The $5,295 Brioni leather bomber jacket? Only one left. The $1,995 over-the-knee…
November 17, 2009
Bill Belichick has never been the most popular coach in the NFL, but his Sunday night decision to go for it on 4th and 2 on his own 28 with two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter has even his fans crying foul. I bring up this football decision not because I'm interested in a debate - as a Pats…