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Date: Wednesday, 01 Jul 2009 16:29

I'm teaching about opponent processes in color vision today and thought I'd share one of my favorite examples. This is how you use the human visual system to turn a black and white photo into color. Try it out:

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Author: "--" Tags: "Vision"
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Date: Tuesday, 16 Jun 2009 21:34

I'm in the middle of my qualification exams and ran across this interesting paper:

Liu, Z Kersten, D Knill, DC Dissociating stimulus information from internal representation--a case study in object recognition. Vision research. 1999; 39(3): 603-12.

However, I'm very confused about them calling the figure on the left an object. This is a collection of objects in 3D space - making it a scene. I'm not sure that this nullifies their model - but this is not object recognition.


People should really start using ideal observer analysis with scene perception...

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Author: "--" Tags: "Psychology"
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Date: Thursday, 30 Apr 2009 19:42

I think it's a bit like terrorism. It scares the shit out of you but there's next to zero chance it will actually happen to you. Seriously... you have a much much higher chance of choking on a twinky (even if you've never eaten one) than catching the swine flu and dying or being or even seeing a terrorist attack. Talk about a great case of the Availability Heuristic...

Here's a demo for you to try out (I use this to teach Psych 100). The correct answers are below the fold.

Which is the more common cause of death in the USA?

A) Asthma
B) Meningitis

A) Breast Cancer
B) Stomach Cancer

A) Lung Cancer
B) Motor Vehicle Accidents

A)Influenza (the flu)
B) Stomach Ulcer

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Author: "--" Tags: "Psychology"
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Date: Thursday, 30 Apr 2009 19:34

Go here to tell with 100% accuracy.

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Date: Wednesday, 01 Apr 2009 17:51

Jason, a graduate student at USC, shot me an email asking for more information about my blogging experiment and I thought I'd post some of the things I sent back to him. Totally unpolished and stream of consciousness but here it is...

Hi Jason,

This is really the first time around that I've tried the blogging thing. I've been thinking about doing it for a while but having 2 classes with 50 people in each meant a blog would be a bit unwieldy. If there are that many people in the class a discussion board is a much better choice (like on blackboard or something). If you have under 20 people or so it becomes more manageable. The most straight forward way to do the blogging is to create a post each week (or at some other interval) and then that's it. You then need to hope that students comment on each others posts or actually require them to do so (which now that I'm writing this I realize I should have done that). I'm actually a bit unhappy about this style since it isn't really collaborative and that's a big benefit of the blog. Something you might consider is having some portion of the class write posts and the other portion comment on them - and then switch it around the next time. This would work particularly well for a larger class. With my 3 honors students it wouldn't be that great.

As far as their instructions for posts they were just told to pick a peer reviewed journal article and start by summarizing it and then criticizing it in some way (alternative explanations, better experiments, etc.). This didn't always happen though since they don't have a great idea of what a good peer reviewed journal is. Next time I would have more oversight into what they are posting about to make sure its quality science. On the other hand they have written about some interesting things. I also have them doing something different for a couple posts and you can see that assignment here:

Now that you have each explored a number of aspects of each of your topics I have some more specific things for you to do for the next couple posts.

For your next post would like each of you to find a popular press article about a journal article that you are interested in and read both the press article as well as the primary source. You should give a general summary and then discuss what the press article gets right & wrong (or misrepresents). For the primary article find something that the press article has missed that you think is important and discuss it.

If you have problems finding something checkout The New Yorker, the NYTimes science section, LATimes, Salon, The Atlantic, anything by Malcolm Gladwell or Oliver Sacks (though they usually write about more than 1 article). I'm also here if you need any help.

For the post after that I would like each of you to attempt to write a short popular press article about another cool journal article (preferably one that doesn't have something already written about it). Try to find something 'sexy' (well at last as sexy as science can be). This doesn't have to be any longer than your usual posts.

Finally, for your last post of the semester (Friday April 24th - or really anytime during that following weekend) I would like you to write a summary post of what you've learned (overarching themes, as well as specifics). It would also be great if you'd offer any suggestions as to what would have been a more valuable experience for this James Scholar project.

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Author: "--" Tags: "Academia"
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Date: Wednesday, 01 Apr 2009 17:28

Ok ok.. how about 'Using science to kill the fewest people while seeking world domination'... hmm... maybe not that either, how about 'Using science to protect our way of life'

There we go!

Now that you know what we're talking about you can check out a podcast that I'm particularly interested in called Armed With Science.

Here's the schtick:

Research and Applications for the Modern Military, is a weekly webcast that discusses various applications of science and technology to military operations, and the cutting-edge scientific research and development sponsored by various defense offices. We will be interviewing scientists, administrators, and operators to educate and inform our listeners about the importance of science and advanced technology to the modern military.

I always consider the usefulness of my research in the real world and what I keep coming back to is military applications... I feel a bit guilty for that. Maybe this podcast will convince me otherwise.

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Date: Tuesday, 31 Mar 2009 19:12

I'm currently teaching Introduction to Psychology which has a number of university honors students who are required to do extra work in a certain number of their courses each semester in order to get 'honors credit.' The University leaves it up to me as to what they students should do to get this credit. I decided, along with my students, to let them explore the psychological literature through blogging. Each week they pick a relevant piece of literature (in this case - aggression, attractiveness, and political psychology) and write a short blog post about it.

I've found the blog to be a very wonderful way of getting students to explore the literature. It gets them writing as much as the standard end of the semester term paper as well as allowing a constant communication between me and the blog poster as well as the other honors students. This is great - both peer review and guidance by me. It allows students to both explore the literature broadly (which is perfect for psych 100), it also allows me to offer guidance in both the literature they are looking for as well as their thought processes. There are clearly areas that I would have to work on in the future - perhaps integrating the rest of the class into the commenting or offering credit for posting, even if they aren't honors students. I would also like to have more interaction between the different honors students - maybe even in person. This has most definitely been an experiment that I've given very few guidelines for the students on. In the future I'll create more specific guidelines after I do a complete review of how this semester went.

One guilty pleasure of mine though with this blogging thing is that it is less perceived time spent (both for me and the students) since it is split across many weeks as well as the opportunity to do the blogging anytime and anyplace.

If you are interested in reading some of the posts of my students I would very much encourage you to head on over to thoughtsonpsychology.blogspot.com and do some reading and even better...commenting!

I would also appreciate any comments you have on the value of this kind of writing vs. straight up term paper writing as well as comments on how to make this better in the future.

Here's some highlights of the student writing:

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Author: "--" Tags: "Academia"
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Date: Friday, 20 Mar 2009 18:44


From Jimmy Fallon:

Last night, Michael Showalter (from Stella, Wet Hot American Summer, The State, your dreams) made a cameo on the show. He and our head writer, A.D. Miles, played a couple of Columbia grad students on spring break. Things got pretty scandalous!

Really funny... but totally off base. It's more like Girls Gone Wild... I promise!

-via everyday scientist-

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Author: "--" Tags: "Academia"
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Date: Friday, 20 Mar 2009 18:34


Straight from XKCD...

I had this exact same reaction.

Now that we're on the topic. I don't like federal money going to pay bonuses but seriously... this money was promised long ago and it's already been given out. Using the tax code to take it back? Wow this is seriously a real cluster @#$!

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Author: "--" Tags: "Popular Culture"
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Date: Friday, 20 Mar 2009 18:27

I'm not sure what this whole thing is about since at no point did Obama make fun of the Special Olympics as an organization - he straight up made fun of retarded people (or whatever the P.C. term is nowadays).

Here's a little snippet from People:

President Barack Obama's lighthearted Thursday night appearance on NBC's Tonight Show didn't leave everyone clutching their sides with laughter.

Obama's comments to Jay Leno about his low bowling score - in particular, an off-the-cuff remark that it was "like Special Olympics or something"
In a statement issued Friday, White House spokesman Bill Burton said, "The President made an offhand remark making fun of his own bowling that was in no way intended to disparage the Special Olympics. He thinks that the Special Olympics are a wonderful program that gives an opportunity to shine to people with disabilities from around the world."

Seriously... give me a break. Mentally challenged people (is that the right term?!) bowl much better than Obama if they are in the Special Olympics. People's sensitivity to this kind of thing appalls me. I appreciate a president who can sit down and be a real (well as real as one can get as a person on national television who is the leader of the free world). I also bet that some of the things that Obama and his wife say in the bedroom is much more offensive than this ;)

Stop holding presidents to some unrealistic standard. They are people as well.

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Author: "--" Tags: "Popular Culture"
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Date: Wednesday, 04 Mar 2009 17:00

Why in the world does my hospital/doctor need to know what my religious beliefs are?
I was running through this check-in form where they asked the usual questions like, what did your parents die of, etc. But then I got to the social section where they asked my education then my religion. WTF?! I guess I should have stopped even at the education but I'm so used to filling that out.

Seriously WTF?!

I did write "REALLY?!!" as my response to the question though.

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Author: "--" Tags: "Health"
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Date: Monday, 09 Feb 2009 15:59

I love 'I told you so' moments...Brain games don't do shit.
BrainGamesBox.jpg(this is totally going to come back and bite me in the ass though)

A number of months ago, I made a claim that paying for brain games was a waste of money. I got jumped on pretty hard for that claim - even though there isn't much evidence of their benefits except for perform the brain game itself better after a lot of practice (and maybe a couple other semi-related ones). I've been vindicated now by a meta-analysis of the relevant literature by Peter Snyder of the Brown med school.

Check this out from the press release:

Through a systematic review of literature using established techniques to analyze randomized controlled trials of cognitive interventions in the healthy elderly, the researchers found a very small number of studies that met their criteria. What studies did meet their criteria they found to be limited in their methodologies or were often lacking in follow-up. Based on this quantitative literature review, called a meta-analysis, they concluded that there was no evidence indicating that structured cognitive intervention programs had an impact on the progression of dementia in the healthy elderly population.

And this snippit hinting at my opinions of some of the brain training crowd (dishonest business people taking advantage of the elderly).

Snyder and the researchers conclude, "Evidence-based information regarding cognitive intervention in healthy elderly needs to be gathered and presented clearly to both the scientific community and our vulnerable elderly population. More random clinical trials in cognitive training need to be conducted with sufficient follow-up time that can actually measure changes in daily functioning. Only in that way will we know if such exercises are effective in slowing the progress of MCI."

Anyway... check out the press release and let me know what you think.

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Author: "--" Tags: "Brains and Stuff"
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Date: Friday, 06 Feb 2009 15:55

In preparing for this issue of Encephalon I got access to the submission email account and realized that I had won 500,000.00 euro! I am in no way going to share this wealth with anyone else since it is my turn to do Encephalon. Here's the proof:

Dear Email ID Owner, This is to notify you that you have won 500,000.00 euro in our online email Promo Draw in which email ID´s are picked randomly by computerized balloting, Your email address was amongst those chosen for this period.

contact: Dr. Mike Mejia, Accu Online Promotion.
With the following info: Full Names, Address, Tel No, Age & Occupation.
Ticket Nr:18457SP. Ref.Nr:5687SPL876.Batch Nr:SPYU6868
Congratulations from our Management & Staff.
Yours Truly,
Mr. Kate Raul(Coordinator)
Accu-Online Promotion.

Now that I've won a prize and am now rich, here's the best, most interesting, and greatest Neuroscience related blogging of the last few weeks. Enjoy.

Unfortunately the first post from Neuroskeptic is rather bothersome since it suggests that I may be depressed very soon since I've become obsessed with money, AKA Afluenza. Also from Neuroskeptic comes this touching story of Autism and testosterone starring Borat's cousin.

All I've got to say is that I teach this story from Podblack in one of my lectures and that I might just use this classic line:

In short, no, Ninja Kitties do what they like and don't need no moon to swipe sardines. They are usually more influenced by iPod tunes, especially when driving fast!

Psyblog asks "Do you believe in Free Will?" and I answer a resounding "NO!" Our alien overlords control us. the question should be, "Do our alien overlords have free will"

On the other hand those alien overlords might be the cause of many birth defects since when they come down to earth they always scare the pregnant women. Check out an interesting Mind Hacks article about Maternal Impression and some crazy old docs who actually believed that scaring the shit out of someone could make your fetus go all weird.

Is that a tumor? Check out Evil Monkey's brain Scicurious' hot hot brain (1,2,3) and she'll tell you all about that weird looking tumor, or is that the virgin mary?

Smoking is bad! Drinking (a lot) is bad! and especially don't do both together! Check out Channel N for the full story. And in honor of the old blog Omni Brain, RIP: court-ordered dysfunctional family psychotherapy parodied in The Bird Family in Therapy. From the vintage Canadian sketch TV show Codco.

All this writing has got me alllll hot and sweaty! Holy shit... there's women lining up at my door right now! Hey... I gotta go.

Ok I'm back and I've discovered why there was such a HUGE line outside my door. According to The Neurocritic women dig men's sexual sweat over regular sweat (ok maybe the n.c. doesn't actually believe it)... I don't believe it either since the ladies were clearly lining up for my normal blogging sweat. weird...

Jennifer Gibson asks, "Is sugar the new cocaine" and she also has the answer... helllz yeah! lets go out and blow some lines of sugar!

I'm depressed now.... PTSD is terrible. Maybe reading this article about Serotonin will help me feel better.

Check out this cool interview at Sharp Brains... here's the setup:

In 1993, Paramount Pictures released Searching for Bobby Fischer, which depicts Joshua Waitzkin's early chess success as he embarks on a journey to win his first National chess championship. This movie had the effect of weakening his love for the game as well as the learning process. His passion for learning was rejuvenated, however, after years of meditation, and reading philosophy and psychology. With this rekindling of the learning process, Waitzkin took up the martial art Tai Chi Chuan at the age of 21 and made rapid progress, winning the 2004 push hands world championship at the age of 27.

I very much enjoyed this Neuroanthropology article about throwing like a girl. I actually used it in one of my classes the other day. Unfortunately one of the girls wanted to prove that she didn't throw like a girl and she broke my nose with a bottle of water... ok ok I lie.

I don't know what this means "Pessimism correlates with leukocyte telomere shortness and elevated interleukin-6 in post-menopausal women." But it sounds scary. Maybe if I got involved in brain doping I could understand this a little better.

And last, but certainly not least, Coturnix shows us why he is one PISSED OFF Crayfish lacking in sleep.

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Author: "--" Tags: "Brains and Stuff"
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Date: Wednesday, 28 Jan 2009 17:27

I always get a kick when people see patterns in noise - especially when it's of the paranoid conspiracy religious type. Pareidolia is an amazing thing!

So onto this peach of a story...

KNIGHTSVILLE, Ind. (WTHI) - Months ago, Rachel Jones was shocked to discover her 4-year-old's baby doll seemed to have a hidden message: Islam is the light.

Imagine her surprise when a game for her 8-year-old daughter's Nintendo DS had the same message.

Rachel said she bought the Nintendo game, Baby Pals, as a gift for her 8-year-old daughter after a good report card.

She had no idea the game also contained the hidden message "Islam is the light."

"We were sitting in the kitchen, and she was playing it," said Jones. "All of a sudden she looked at me, and I looked at her and she said, 'Mom, I think my baby said something.' And so I played it back, and it says 'Islam is the light.'"

The message on the doll and in the Nintendo game sound exactly the same.

Not only does this person have a conspiracy thing going she also has the religion thing going! Here's a hint... If you are constantly hearing religious messages coming from you children's toys you might want to reevaluate some things in your life. For example, how much time you spend in a church that hates Islam and how much time you sit reading conspiracy newsletters on the internet.

Honestly, making sense out of random patterns of noise is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. After all, if we didn't do this all the time we would have a very hard time interpreting ambiguous speech sounds and ambiguous visual stimuli in our environment. However, if you interpret many things in a paranoid way you might want to visit a psychotherapist (I also can't believe I'm actually suggesting psychotherapy).

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Author: "--" Tags: "Brains and Stuff"
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Date: Tuesday, 20 Jan 2009 16:05

From the syllabus:

Why Psychology?! Psychology 100 is the most popular course at nearly every university and there's a reason why. The science of psychology covers an amazing range of topics. After all, the mind can do many amazing things! Oh yeah, it also fulfils a GenEd requirement ;)

Nearly everyone probably has a different idea of what psychology actually is. That's not surprising since even people who have been in the field for many, many years still disagree what should be a part of psychology and what should not. Psychology covers topics ranging from depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia to how we generate and understand language, to why we have a particular cell in our brain dedicated to Halle Barry. Some 'psychologists' even study things like extra sensory perception (ESP) - although we won't be studying that in this class (or probably any other class in the psych department).

Our goals for this class will be for you to explore two basic ideas:

1.) What do Psychologists study?

2.) How does Psychology impact my day to day life?

By investigating these two ideas through the course readings, attending and participating in class, and being diligent in your studying I hope that you will be able to both get a great grade in this course and understand what Psychology is. You will be able to critically explore its place in society as well as the media which so awfully messes it up most of the time.

Is this way too much hand wavy b.s.?

Or... would you rather see this as a replacement?

General Information: This course is a general survey of the field of psychology. Topics include perception, learning, memory, thinking, motivation, emotion, personality, development, intelligence, therapy, psychopathology, and other areas of psychology.
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Author: "--" Tags: "Academia"
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Date: Tuesday, 20 Jan 2009 15:34

It seems that a brilliant doctor in the UK has come up with an amazing piece of machinery and convinced a famous author to wear it in order to stave off the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Here's the machinery... looks like a mind control device or something - too bad It's not going to work.


According to the news article about this amazing technology:

The prototype anti-dementia helmet, which must be worn for ten minutes each day, was designed by British GP Dr Gordon Dougal.

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Author: "--" Tags: "Brains and Stuff"
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Date: Thursday, 11 Dec 2008 01:47

steve_icon_medium.jpgIn the never ending quest for death gadgets Mercedes has come up with a specialized screen that will show the driver one thing and the passenger another. Just think, now in addition to a driver watching a movie while they are going 70 mph they will be leaning all the way over into the passenger seat to see it. Unfortunately Mercedes hasn't created a system to keep stupid drivers from doing stupid things... like driving off a cliff while following the GPS directions on the screen they're allowed to see. Ok.. I jest - this seems like a pretty damn cool system and I totally want one. I'm just jealous of the rich folk - stupid grad school :(


Well anyway here's the all exciting details straight from Mercedes:

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Author: "--" Tags: "Humor"
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Date: Wednesday, 10 Dec 2008 04:34

steve_icon_medium.jpgI've always joked around about girls who would walk into a tattoo parlor and ask for a Chinese character that means something to them... like love, hope, or faith. Of course the tattoo artists don't know one damn character in Chinese so they just pick a random character from the internet and the girl ends up with something that actually says slut, pink slippery Christmas tree, or something else random. I never imagined a scientific magazine would fall prey to something absolutely ridiculous like this.

Science journal mistakenly uses flyer for Macau brothel to illustrate report on China.

A respected research institute wanted Chinese classical texts to adorn its journal, something beautiful and elegant, to illustrate a special report on China. Instead, it got a racy flyer extolling the lusty details of stripping housewives in a brothel.... There were red faces on the editorial board of one of Germany's top scientific institutions, the Max Planck Institute, after it ran the text of a handbill for a Macau strip club on the front page of its latest journal.


So can someone tell us exactly what this says?

-via Improbable Research-

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Author: "--" Tags: "Humor"
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Date: Monday, 08 Dec 2008 16:31

steve_icon_medium.jpg Seriously... I'm totally amazed. I've seen pigeons play ping pong (well more like real life pong). But this is amazing.

Check it out:

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Author: "--" Tags: "Animals"
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Date: Sunday, 07 Dec 2008 21:54

steve_icon_medium.jpg Oh pareidolia. I mean I understand seeing something that maybe looks like something else in the clouds or one time I accidentally peeled an orange that looked like a penis. But thinking that there is something actually significant and spiritually meaningful in seeing a pattern in randomness is ridiculous. This is my favorite example so far. It was only a matter of time until someone saw something like Jesus or in this case the Virgin Mary in an MRI scan. After all the Hippocampus is named after the sea horse since it vaguely looks like one.

Anyway here's the image - and if you want you can bid on it @ ebay (obviously).

Clicks for larger pic

Evidently you can make anything you want become a physical reality in your brain by just thinking about it a lot:

Latrimore, a 42-year-old wife and mother without insurance, hadn't ever really looked at the results of a 2002 MRI scan of her brain. So she didn't know what her Catholic sister-in-law was talking about a few weeks ago when she said, "Oh my gosh, Pam, you have Mother Mary in your head."

But then she looked.

And it did look like Mary, the bent head a dark spot nestled between the two hemispheres of the brain. Lightened areas look like wings of light rising on either side of her.

"I know this is where it sounds crazy," Latrimore said. "But I pray, I'm fighting for my life, so every time I go into these machines I pray."

-via Mind Hacks-

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Author: "--" Tags: "Weird"
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