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Jonah Lehrer

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June 10, 2009
A fascinating YouTube video, from the Sasquatch Music Festival: This reminds me of the classic Milgram study on social conformity. (No, I'm not talking about that Milgram experiment.) In this study, Milgram had "confederates" stop on a busy city street and look upwards at the sky. He demonstrated…
June 10, 2009
Here's a question I get quite a bit, which usually goes something like this: Is ADHD (Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) real? Or is it a made-up diagnosis for misbehaving kids? The short answer is that ADHD (and its precursor, ADD) are absolutely real disorders. They have real neurological…
June 9, 2009
What happens to the brain when we drink alcohol? In recent years, scientists have discovered that booze works by binding to and potentiating a specific GABA receptor subtype. (GABA is the main inhibitory neurotransmitter in the mammalian brain, which means it helps to regulate and quiet cellular…
June 5, 2009
I'm answering a few questions from readers over at PRI's The World. They've just started a new science forum, which aims to provide a sorely needed international perspective on science issues. Check it out.
June 4, 2009
Americans love alternatives. One of the benefits of modern capitalism, after all, is that we're free to consume products that perfectly match our preferences - if you want to wear skinny jeans with a Black Sabbath t-shirt, flip flops and a fedora (I saw such a person yesterday - he looked very…
June 3, 2009
Daniel Engber has a very interesting series of articles over at Slate on Pepper the Dalmation and the use of stolen pets in biomedical research. In 1965, the theft of Pepper from a Pennsylvania farm - she ended up dying in a Bronx lab, sacrificed so that scientists could experiment with cardiac…
June 2, 2009
Over at Neurophilosphy, there's a wonderful post on "confabulatory hypermnesia," or severe false memory syndrome: In the journal Cortex, researchers describe the case of a patient with severe memory loss who has a tendency to invent detailed and perfectly plausible false memories (confabulations)…
May 29, 2009
Apologies for the radio silence - I've been traveling and away from a reliable internet connection. (Taking a break from Google is one of the true pleasures of travel. I'm afraid, however, that it's an endangered pleasure, like train travel. I'm always impressed by all the places, from airplanes to…
May 22, 2009
Over at the New Yorker website, I've answered a few questions from readers about the marshmallow task: Do you think the future results of success would be different for a sample of kids born in the twenty-first century considering the decades of behavioral, economical changes in the society? Hassan…
May 20, 2009
The Economist summarizes a new study looking at the link between living abroad and increased creativity: Anecdotal evidence has long held that creativity in artists and writers can be associated with living in foreign parts. Rudyard Kipling, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Paul Gauguin, Samuel…
May 19, 2009
Robert Krulwich has a fascinating piece on NPR about the binding problem and the speed of nerve transmission. In essence, it takes a split-second longer for sensory signals to reach the brains of tall people, which means that their "now" is actually a little less timely. (This explains a lot about…
May 16, 2009
Matthew Yglesias advocates for the free movement of sports franchises, so that they can hop from city to city with ease and thus follow the movement of population: Right now, the New York City Designated media area contains 6.5 percent of households. LA has 5 percent. Chicago has 3 percent.…
May 15, 2009
An interesting new study on mind-wandering and the default network was recently published in PNAS. The scientists, led by Kalina Christoff of UBC and Jonathan Schooler of UCSB, used "experience sampling" in an fMRI machine to capture the moment of daydreaming: essentially, subjects were given an…
May 14, 2009
One question that came up yesterday during the radio show was whether or not Americans can learn, once again, to delay gratification and save money. Can we get back the thriftiness of earlier generations? Or are we destined to be a nation with a negative savings rate? I certainly wouldn't want to…
May 14, 2009
1) The Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac, by Freedarko. This book is perpetually on my coffee table, if only so I can read through it (again and again) every time there's a commercial break during the NBA playoffs. It's a really hard book to describe, but if you think you might enjoy Langston…
May 13, 2009
I was on On Point today with Walter Mischel, the subject of my recent New Yorker article. As usual, he was incredibly eloquent. One thing we both got a chance to emphasize was the plasticity of personality - as I mention in the article, Mischel has found a significant subset of subjects who,…
May 13, 2009
I've got a short column for the Seed website on the neuroscience of improvisation. I begin with one of my favorite stories of improv, which is Al Kooper's organ playing during the studio sessions for "Like A Rolling Stone": Al Kooper didn't know what to play. He'd told some half-truths to get into…
May 11, 2009
I've got a new article in the New Yorker this week on the pioneering work of Walter Mischel and the science of delayed gratification: In the late nineteen-sixties, Carolyn Weisz, a four-year-old with long brown hair, was invited into a "game room" at the Bing Nursery School, on the campus of…
May 8, 2009
In his review of State of Play, David Denby laments the rise of incoherence as a filmmaking technique: "State of Play," which was directed by Kevin Macdonald, is both overstuffed and inconclusive. As is the fashion now, the filmmakers develop the narrative in tiny fragments. Something is hinted at…
May 6, 2009
John Stewart had some fun the other night mocking conservative politicians and talking heads for criticizing Obama's desire for an "empathetic" Supreme Court justice, who will make legal decisions, in part, by "identifying with people's hopes and struggles." The Daily Show With Jon Stewart M - Th…
May 6, 2009
The NY Times has a kind review of the Bruce Adolphe/Yo Yo Ma/Antonio Damasio performance that I was lucky enough to hear in person. (I also got to ask the collaborators a few questions afterwards, as moderator.) Most composers would shy away from depicting the evolution of consciousness. Well,…
May 1, 2009
Evan Lerner has a quite interesting article on seedmagazine.com about physical performance and exhaustion. That painful lactic acid throb? It's mostly in your head: The finish line is in sight, but you're not going to make it. Your lungs are burning and deeply in oxygen debt. The muscle fibers in…
April 30, 2009
There's no way in hell I deserve to be on the stage at this incredible event, but I'm so honored to be included: Yo-Yo Ma performs the world premiere of Self Comes to Mind, a musical composition by Bruce Adolphe, composer in residence at the Brain and Creativity Institute and resident lecturer of…
April 30, 2009
Over at Mind Hacks, Vaughan finds a fascinating review of recent books on the history of the senses. He highlights a short section of medieval theories of perception, which hypothesized that the eyes actively sent out "rays" that illuminated what we saw. (This view of visual sensation is what made…
April 29, 2009
Margaret Talbot has a thorough and thought-provoking article in the New Yorker on the potential pitfalls of "neuroenhancing drugs". At this point, enhancement essentially consists of taking uppers (Adderall, Ritalin, Provigil, etc.) to improve concentration and focus. These drugs might have fancy…
April 27, 2009
Here's a fascinating new study demonstrating that it's good to get exposed to multiple languages even as a preverbal infant: Children exposed to bilingual input typically learn 2 languages without obvious difficulties. However, it is unclear how preverbal infants cope with the inconsistent input…
April 26, 2009
My latest article for the Boston Globe Ideas section is now online. This piece was inspired by my brand new beautiful nephew, Jude Lehrer - may this blog post increase your Google presence! What is it like to be a baby? For centuries, this question would have seemed absurd: behind that adorable…
April 25, 2009
Just when you thought people couldn't get any sillier or more confused, psychologists uncover yet another innate foible. This one is called "choice blindness," and it refers to the ways in which people are utterly blind to their own choices and preferences. We think we want X, but then we're given…
April 23, 2009
I've always been fascinated by traffic. (I grew up in LA, so I had plenty of time to indulge my interest.) City streets are a complex system in which seemingly insignificant changes - a broken street light, a stalled car, a poorly designed highway merge - can have dramatic consequences. In this…
April 22, 2009
I was doing my grocery shopping yesterday when I stumbled upon a discount that I assumed was a clerical mistake: some fancy olive oil had been reduced from $23 to $9. Needless to say, I immediately put a bottle in my cart, even though I didn't need another bottle of olive oil. But then, just a…