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November 17, 2009
Success is intimidating. When we compete against someone who's supposed to be better than us, we start to get nervous, and then we start to worry, and then we start to make stupid mistakes. That, at least, is the lesson of a new working paper by Jennifer Brown, a professor at the Kellogg school.…
November 16, 2009
The WSJ discovers the unreliability of wine critics, citing the fascinating statistical work of Robert Hodgson: In his first study, each year, for four years, Mr. Hodgson served actual panels of California State Fair Wine Competition judges--some 70 judges each year--about 100 wines over a two-day…
November 13, 2009
Ed Yong has a typically excellent post on a new paper that looks at how manipulating dopamine levels in the brain can change our predictions of future pleasure: Tali Sharot from University College London found that if volunteers had more dopamine in their brains as they thought about events in…
November 10, 2009
David Dobbs has a fantastic new article on behavioral genetics at The Atlantic. He adds an important amendment to the vulnerability hypothesis, which holds that certain genes make people more vulnerable to psychiatric disorders. While these snippets of DNA aren't deterministic per se, when they are…
November 9, 2009
A new paper by scientists at the Weizmann Institute documents the primal connection between whiffs of smell and episodic memory. This nasal nostalgia is mediated by the hippocampus, the manufacturer of long-term memory in the brain. Here's the abstract: Authors, poets, and scientists have been…
November 6, 2009
This is absolutely fascinating, yet another reminder that the structure of language infects everything. Here's Nell Greenfieldboyce, at NPR: The distinctive sounds of a newborn's first cries may be influenced by the mother tongue of its parents. A new study of over a thousand recorded cries from 30…
November 4, 2009
As a chronic insomniac, I'm always a little disturbed when I learn about the lingering cognitive effects of a bad night sleep: In a study at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in 2003, for example, scientists examined the cognitive effects of a week of poor sleep, followed by three days of…
November 3, 2009
This is excellent news. Dan Delong will be back in the classroom today. I'm so relieved.
November 3, 2009
Why are we so dishonest? Why do we bad things, even when we know we're doing something bad? Ever since Adam and Eve ate that apple, we've assumed that there is something inherently tempting about sin. If left to our own devices, we'd all turn into men at a Vegas bachelor party, indulging in sex,…
November 2, 2009
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 and pills that claim to…
October 30, 2009
I still don't have any additional details, but the initial newspaper report from the Jacksonville Journal-Courier is disturbing: A Southwestern High School English teacher has been suspended after reports he had students in his classes to read an article about homsexuality in the animal kingdom.…
October 29, 2009
In the latest N+1, Marco Roth takes a critical look at the rise of the "neuronovel": The last dozen years or so have seen the emergence of a new strain within the Anglo-American novel. What has been variously referred to as the novel of consciousness or the psychological or confessional novel--the…
October 27, 2009
Natalie Angiers profiles dopamine, which isn't just about rewards: In the communal imagination, dopamine is about rewards, and feeling good, and wanting to feel good again, and if you don't watch out, you'll be hooked, a slave to the pleasure lines cruising through your brain. Hey, why do you think…
October 26, 2009
In a recent NY Times Magazine, Mark Bittman (aka the Minimalist) waxes enthusiastic on the potential of online grocery shopping: That's why, to focus on things that could happen in our lifetimes, we should take a look at improving online grocery shopping. The one time I tried shopping online I was…
October 22, 2009
In the latest Mind Matters, the psychologists Henry L. Roediger and Bridgid Finn review some interesting new work by Nate Kornell and colleagues, which looked at the advantages of learning through error. Conventional pedagogy assumes that the best way to teach children is to have them repeatedly…
October 22, 2009
David Brooks has written yet another wonderful column on the mind. This time he explores the nagging gap between our intuitions about personality - we each express a particular set of character traits, which can be traced back to our early childhood - and the scientific facts, which suggest that…
October 20, 2009
Via Felix Salmon comes this amusing anecdote about Robert Parker's blind tasting of 2005 Bordeaux, which he has declared the best vintage since 1982. Parker has previously rated all of these wines, and even given them exact point scores, so his public blind taste test was an interesting natural…
October 16, 2009
The New York Times wonders if E-Books are inherently less pleasing for the brain that ink on a page. They canvass a diverse group of experts, most of whom focus on the nature of attention during the reading process. They see old-fashioned printed books as a distraction-free medium, stark and pure…
October 15, 2009
I've got a new article in Nature this week on the growing number of learning and memory enhanced strains of mice, and what these smart rodents can teach us about the human mind. I also discuss Luria's The Mind of A Mnemonist and the stunning research demonstrating that the cognitive deficits of…
October 14, 2009
In light of my recent post on the difficulty of changing our decision-making habits - even when we're aware that our habits are biased and flawed - I thought it might be interesting to look at two examples from professional football. Why sports? Given the intense competitive pressure in the NFL -…
October 13, 2009
Over at Mind Matters, Chadrick Lane reviews a fascinating experiment that revealed the rewarding properties of information, regardless of whether or not the information actually led to more rewards: In the experimental design, monkeys were placed in front of a computer screen and were trained to…
October 12, 2009
Over at the BPS Research Digest, a number of researchers respond to a very interesting question: "What's one nagging thing you still don't understand about yourself?" All of the replies are intriguing, but my favorites answers concerned the limitations of self-knowledge. Here, for instance, is…
October 6, 2009
The closing of Gourmet magazine is a sad event. I won't just miss the lush pictures and Paris travel tips - what I'll really miss is the food journalism, from DFW on the suffering of lobsters to Daniel Zwerdling on the tragic life of an industrial chicken. I hope other magazines can fill the void,…
October 6, 2009
A new study reveals that all those unappetizing calorie counts on New York City menus - do you really want to know how much sugar is in a Frappuccino? Or that an Olive Garden breadstick contains hundreds of calories? - don't lead to more responsible food decisions. Here's the Times: The study, by…
October 5, 2009
An interesting new study looks at how being able to count your own heartbeats - the most elemental form of biofeedback - correlates with better decision-making, at least when playing the Iowa Gambling Task. Here's Kevin Lewis in the Boston Globe Ideas section: A team of psychologists in Germany…
October 1, 2009
I've written before about the powerful mental benefits of communing with nature - it leads to more self-control, increased working memory, lower levels of stress and better moods - but a new study by psychologists at the University of Rochester find that being exposed to wildlife also makes us more…
September 30, 2009
Over at Mind Matters, we've got a wonderful new column on the cognitive benefits of falling in love by Nira Liberman and Oren Shapira. It turns out that serious romance - but not short-sighted lust - leads us to think in a more abstract manner, attuned to the subtle connections that we often…
September 29, 2009
Yesterday was Yom Kippur, the Jewish holiday of atonement. It's traditional to fast on Yom Kippur for all the usual religious reasons - not eating is a way to elevate the spirit and purify the mind (or so says the Talmud). It makes the sacred day feel a little less ordinary. I have to confess: I'm…
September 28, 2009
In my essay on social networks and research of Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler, I describe a few of the striking medical effects produced by social networks: By studying Framingham as an interconnected network rather than a mass of individuals, Christakis and Fowler made a remarkable discovery…
September 23, 2009
Over at GQ, the excellent Paul Tough* profiles Gregg Gillis, the madcap mixer behind Girl Talk. For those of you who aren't cool enough to know - and I'm only cool enough because my younger sister is cool enough - Girl Talk is a mash-up artist par excellence. He's taken the concept of sampling -…