Archive for September, 2010


Dude, step back… you have diminished activation in your fusiform gyrus

September 28, 2010

After some flare-ups on campus this past weekend, I found this study interesting: Mara Mather and her collegaues asked are there gender differences in the ways that males and females respond to aggression? The ScienceDaily article provides an interesting summary of the study out of USC – men and women were shown faces, both when unstressed and when under acute stress. Women show increased processing of the facial information available when they become stressed –  the “face area” (fusiform gyrus) and connected areas involved in emotional processing were more active when stress was increased. Men showed an opposite response – they showed less activation of those areas associated with facial and emotional processing.

What does this mean? Well, I guess when someone, especially a male, gets upset, it is best to not rely on their ability to process relevant emotional information available when deciding what the proper next step is. According to this type of result, it would not be safe to assume that they can accurately gauge the emotional state of others – so it is less likely they could recognize that someone else is stepping back or not provoking further aggression. Sure enough, a little article  found on-line written by a bouncer with many years of experience suggests stepping between possible aggressors and stating explicitly “take it easy” or “it’s not worth it” – in a sense providing just the kind of information that is being shut out of the decision making loop at that point in time…


busy day of psychology at the NYT…

September 21, 2010

Much of what I post here comes from articles that catch my eye as I browse the news. Obviously, the New York Times takes it’s science reporting seriously (they have a science section in both their print edition and on-line), and they pay attention to the emerging ideas in psychology and neuroscience. Just this morning, I read two very different, and both interesting, articles related to psychology on the NYT website. Not too much to say about them, but I thought they were worth sharing:

A Perk of Our Evolution: Pleasure in Pain of Chilies: Two things. First, I spent five years in New Mexico in the mid 90s and I developed a love for roasted chilies – just thinking of them seems to bring back the pleasure that accompanied the burn. Second, the author of the article interviews Dr. Paul Rozin who visited Denison in the spring of 2010 as our Kantor lecturer. The article does little to articulate exactly why (some) people enjoy spicy foods, but it does address some interesting issues about the relationship of pain and pleasure (and even what it means to be human…).

Just Me and My Pessimism in the ‘Race of Truth’: Ok, this one is from the health section as opposed to the science section. However, it deals with issues related to motivation, particularly motivation to compete in sports. No real science here, but they did get some ideas from a couple of sports psychologists. The story made me think about a study done by Norman Triplett in 1898* – his study involved bicyclists attempting a bicycle time trial individually or in groups and examined a phenomenon Triplett described as social facilitation. It is recognized as one of the first experiments in social psychology.

* Triplett, N. (1898). The dynamogenic factors in pacemaking and competition. American Journal of Psychology, 9, 507-533.

how would you decide?

September 20, 2010

A brief article in the New York Times (click here) caught my eye. It focuses initially on the recent case of a college football player that committed suicide – the autopsy revealed a particular kind of brain damage (“early stages of chronic traumatic encephalopathy”) that has been found in individuals who have suffered multiple concussions (i.e. boxers and ex-professional football players). This particular brain damage has been linked to depression and decrease in impulse control (a deadly combination), and this case suggests that a lifetime of trauma is not necessary for the condition to manifest itself. So, it may not be only professional football players at risk, but any child that plays through high school… The article then poses the question as to what parents should do – pull little Johnny off the football field or subject him to the possibility of a crippling neurological disorder?

Instead of answering the question, the article dove tails into some good old-fashioned cognitive psychology (with the requisite nod to evolutionary theories thrown in for good measure). It provides a brief summary of the short-comings related to our ability to make decisions, and how issues related to making decisions for our children only complicates the situation. Anyhow, the article raises a few interesting points (e.g. the risk involved in driving our children everywhere is much higher than letting them walk, but out of fear of abduction and the like overwhelms the more abstract sense of the risk involved in driving), and is worth reading if only to reinforce the notion that it is a real challenge to get people to make good decisions based on the evidence we have to work with.



September 14, 2010

Definitely worth checking out – a podcast from This month (Sept. 2010) features a segment on our old friend William James, some commentary on the use of psychedelics in the treatment of mental disorders, anxiety in monkeys, and more…

You can visit the podcast site here – they have past podcasts archived as well through this site. Each podcast can be listened to via streaming or downloaded in an portable friendly mp3 format. They also provide an appropriate reference for each of the stories, so you can read up on the material if it really grabs your attention.

Very cool stuff. Enjoy.


the forces of science fight back… with an editorial

September 10, 2010

In an editorial in Nature, one of the most highly regarded scientific journals in the land, the topic of the “growing” (or in my humble opinion, more recently visible) anti-science rhetoric is addressed (read here). The editorial traces this shift to the rise of the Tea Party and associated politically conservative allies. Although much of their views are intended to demarcate themselves as fiscally and politically conservative, the language that they use, and the topics and individuals they choose to attack (e.g. global warming), is creating a very anti-science climate (no pun intended). I see this as going far beyond being a “simple” political issue, and I agree with the editorial that this denial of the value and critical importance of science is dangerous. There are far more eloquent and knowledgeable individuals out there in the internets who have examined why political conservatives take this stance, I just hope that it is not an inevitable trend and instead reflects a temporary shortsightedness on the part of some… Regardless of where one sits on the political spectrum, value should be placed in science as a way to understand the world around us (although, I fully recognize it is not the only way to reach such an understanding).

UPDATE: By the way, reading the comments for this editorial is an amusing (and very frustrating) way to spend a few moments. This is science in context at its finest.


if you can see it, you can think it…

September 9, 2010

A TED talk all about the power of visual design in communicating information about data. Interesting. Engaging. Worth a look.

David McCandless “The Beauty of Data Visualization”

In Research Methods, we spend some time talking about the relationship between the type of graphs we use and the information in the data we are trying to convey, but we never get to the point that we would identify the data as “living” as David McCandless does. Just some interesting ideas to consider in terms of how we can come to understand all the information that is contained in the “beautiful, lovely data” we encounter on a regular basis.


go science!

September 3, 2010

Yesterday was the 2010 Summer Science Research Symposium. I was quite proud of both Amy Milewski (’11) and Avi Baranes (’11) as they talked about their summer research projects with finesse and aplomb. Nice work. The entire session was an impressive display of the commitment to research across the sciences here at Denison.

Amy Milewski – supported by a DURF grant

“The effects of use-relevant information and diagnosticity on conceptual organization”

Avi Baranes – supported by the Laurie Bukovac Hodgson and David Hodgson Endowed Fund

“Affect, working memory, and decision making: A look at the somatic marker hypothesis”