science

‘When I don’t have red, I use blue.’ –Picasso

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Ivan Pavlov is best known as a founding figure of behaviorism who trained dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell. […] Pavlov didn’t use a bell, and for his real scientific purposes, couldn’t. English-speakers think he did because of a mistranslation of the Russian word for zvonok (buzzer). […]

Although one would expect that this investigator of reflexive reactions would think otherwise, he believed in free will. […]

He didn’t win his Nobel Prize (1904) for research on conditional reflexes, but rather for his studies of digestive physiology.

{ Oxford University Press | Continue reading | More: New Yorker }

‘I have no knowledge of myself as I am, but merely as I appear to myself.’ –Kant

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[P]eople who are depressed display some surprising advantages in their thinking skills. Depressed people:

1. process information more deeply.
2. are more accurate at complex tasks.
3. make better judgements on detail-oriented information.
4. make more accurate cost-benefit analyses.

The researchers developed a new questionnaire which measures ‘analytical rumination’, a mental process which is thought to be an ancient defence mechanism and the root of depression.

Analytical rumination is where people turn problems over in their heads to the exclusion of all else, trying to look for a solution.

They first examine the problem’s cause, then the things that need solving, any possible solutions plus the costs and benefits of each solution.

The symptoms of depression, which often include lethargy, difficulty sleeping, poor concentration and disinterest in other people or the external world, may actually be ways of saving energy while a person is focusing on the problem.

{ PsyBlog | Continue reading }

What are your unbreakable rules for yourself?

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Researchers in the US have used electrical brain stimulation to boost the vigilance of sleep-deprived military personnel working on an airforce base.

Experiments on 18- to 42-year old men and women on active duty found that half an hour of electrical brain stimulation improved their performance twice as much as caffeine, and the effect lasted three times as long.

{ The Guardian | Continue reading | via gettingsome }

‘What does a woman want?’ –Freud

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[T]he patient was a woman who, although she was being examined in my office at New York Hospital, claimed we were in her home in Freeport, Maine. The standard interpretation of this syndrome is that she made a duplicate copy of a place (or person) and insisted that there are two. […]

This woman was intelligent; before the interview she was biding her time reading the New York Times. I started with the ‘So, where are you?’ question. ‘I am in Freeport, Maine. I know you don’t believe it. Dr Posner told me this morning when he came to see me that I was in Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital. […] Well, that is fine, but I know I am in my house on Main Street in Freeport, Maine!’ I asked, ‘Well, if you are in Freeport and in your house, how come there are elevators outside the door here?’

The grand lady peered at me and calmly responded, ‘Doctor, do you know how much it cost me to have those put in?’ […]

Because of her lesion the part of the brain that represents locality is overactive and sending out an erroneous message about her location. The interpreter is only as good as the information it receives, and in this instance it is getting a wacky piece of information.

{ NeuroDojo | Continue reading }

‘Truth is always strange—stranger than fiction.’ –Lord Byron

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We all resist changing our beliefs about the world, but what happens when some of those beliefs are based on misinformation? Is there a right way to correct someone when they believe something that’s wrong? […]

The first thing their review turned up is the importance of “backfire effects” — when telling people that they are wrong only strengthens their belief. […]

If you try and debunk a myth, you may end up reinforcing that belief, strengthening the misinformation in people’s mind without making the correct information take hold.

What you must do, they argue, is to start with the plausible alternative (that obviously you believe is correct). If you must mention a myth, you should mention this second, and only after clearly warning people that you’re about to discuss something that isn’t true.

{ Tom Stafford/BBC | Continue reading }

The time is out of joint

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O’Brian oversees America’s master clock. It’s one of the most accurate clocks on the planet: an atomic clock that uses oscillations in the element cesium to count out 0.0000000000000001 second at a time. If the clock had been started 300 million years ago, before the age of dinosaurs began, it would still be keeping time — down to the second. […]

At the nearby University of Colorado Boulder is a clock even more precise than the one O’Brian watches over. […] This new clock can keep perfect time for 5 billion years.”It’s about the whole, entire age of the earth,” says Jun Ye, the scientist here at JILA who built this clock. […]

But this new clock has run into a big problem: This thing we call time doesn’t tick at the same rate everywhere in the universe. Or even on our planet.

Right now, on the top of Mount Everest, time is passing just a little bit faster than it is in Death Valley. That’s because speed at which time passes depends on the strength of gravity. Einstein himself discovered this dependence as part of his theory of relativity, and it is a very real effect.

The relative nature of time isn’t just something seen in the extreme. If you take a clock off the floor, and hang it on the wall, Ye says, “the time will speed up by about one part in 1016.” […] Time itself is flowing more quickly on the wall than on the floor. These differences didn’t really matter until now. But this new clock is so sensitive, little changes in height throw it way off. Lift it just a couple of centimeters, Ye says, “and you will start to see that difference.” […]

The world’s current time is coordinated between atomic clocks all over the planet. But that can’t happen with the new one.

{ NPR | Continue reading }

photo { Petra Collins }

‘We should not be upset that others hide the truth from us, when we hide it so often from ourselves.’ –La Rochefoucauld

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Flattery—the art of offering pleasing compliments—is one of the oldest and most commonly used of persuasion methods. Research in this area provides a reason for the popularity of this tactic. Put simply, flattery works. Various studies have shown that the target of the flattery evaluates the flatterer positively because human beings have a basic desire to believe in good things about themselves.

What happens, however, in situations in which the flattery is “bogus”—that is, when the recipient knows that the flatterer is offering an insincere compliment, presumably driven by an ulterior motive? Instances of insincere flattery abound in the marketing context, such as the salesperson who offers prospective customers profuse compliments on how an expensive outfit makes them look. […]

In cases such as these, in which the prospective consumer is aware of a clear ulterior motive underlying the compliment, both research and intuition suggest that recipients will discount the flattering comments and correct their otherwise favorable reactions. Though in partial agreement with this premise, the current investigation proposes that despite such correction, a positive impact of flattery may still be observed. […]

The authors show that even when flattery by marketing agents is accompanied by an obvious ulterior motive that leads targets to discount the proffered compliments, the initial favorable reaction (the implicit attitude) continues to coexist with the dis- counted evaluation (the explicit attitude). Furthermore, the implicit attitude has more influential consequences than the explicit attitude, highlighting the possible subtle impact of flattery even when a person has consciously corrected for it.

{ Journal of Marketing Research | PDF }

Gritted my teeth for ya, G-G-G-G for ya

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The 24th Ig Nobel prizes were announced on September 18. The prizes annually award scientific research that “first makes people laugh and then makes them think.” […]

The prize went to Kiyoshi Mabuchi of Kitasato University for his work “measuring the amount of friction between a shoe and a banana skin, and between a banana skin and the floor, when a person steps on a banana skin that’s on the floor”. Also tested were apple peels and orange skin – found to be less dangerous. […]

Creatures of the night are, on average, “more self-admiring, more manipulative and more psychopathic” than people who habitually wake up early in the morning, according to Peter Jonason of the University of Western Sydney and colleagues.

{ The Conversation | Continue reading }

image { Akiyoshi Kitaoka | more }

‘The freaks of chance are not determinable by calculation.’ —Thucydides

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An interesting idea is that the universe could be spontaneously created from nothing, but no rigorous proof has been given. In this paper, we present such a proof based on the analytic solutions of the Wheeler-DeWitt equation.

{ arXiv | Continue reading | more }

Just boob it

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In a series of 7 experiments we demonstrate that women perceive men to be more attractive and sexually desirable when seen on a red background and in red clothing. […] The influence of red appears to be specific to women’s romantic attraction to men: Red did not influence men’s perceptions of other men, nor did it influence women’s perceptions of men’s overall likability, agreeableness, or extraversion.

{ APA PsycNet | Continue reading }

‘Ce sceptre de Vénus, que tu vois sous tes yeux, Eugénie, est le premier agent des plaisirs en amour: on le nomme membre par excellence ; il n’est pas une seule partie du corps humain dans lequel il ne s’introduise.’ –Sade

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Based on a survey of heterosexual female college students in committed relationships, how often women experienced orgasm as a result of sexual intercourse was related to their partner’s family income, his self-confidence, and how attractive he was. […]

We also identified an ensemble of partner psychological traits (motivation, intelligence, focus, and determination) that predicted how often women initiated sexual intercourse. Their partner’s sense of humor not only predicted his self-confidence and family income, but it also predicted women’s propensity to initiate sex, how often they had sex, and it enhanced their orgasm frequency in comparison with other partners.

{ Evolution Psychology | PDF }

photo { William Eggleston }

related { Guy Ends Up In Hospital After Getting Girlfriend’s Strap-On Stuck Up His Bum }

James Bond: Miss Anders, I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on.

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Ghost illusion created in the lab

On June 29, 1970, mountaineer Reinhold Messner had an unusual experience. Recounting his descent down the virgin summit of Nanga Parbat with his brother, freezing, exhausted, and oxygen-starved in the vast barren landscape, he recalls, “Suddenly there was a third climber with us… a little to my right, a few steps behind me, just outside my field of vision.”

It was invisible, but there. Stories like this have been reported countless times by mountaineers, explorers, and survivors, as well as by people who have been widowed, but also by patients suffering from neurological or psychiatric disorders. They commonly describe a presence that is felt but unseen, akin to a guardian angel or a demon. Inexplicable, illusory, and persistent.

Olaf Blanke’s research team at EPFL has now unveiled this ghost. The team was able to recreate the illusion of a similar presence in the laboratory and provide a simple explanation. They showed that the “feeling of a presence” actually results from an alteration of sensorimotor brain signals, which are involved in generating self-awareness by integrating information from our movements and our body’s position in space.

{ EurekAlert | Continue reading | more }