Aliens are Just Like Us — Lazy

If extra-terrestial life is so probable given the amount of planets there are in the universe, then why haven’t we (SETI) made contact with any?

The answer is simple to Geoffrey Miller of SEED magazine, he says we’re lazy and so are the aliens (link). In a nutshell, he claims we’ve become so interested in virtual technology and self-stimulation that we’ve lost the “cosmic plot” and the motivation to search.

-Posted by Tyler

Note. I had scheduled an appointment to go skydiving over spring break but the weather thwarted me, rather than rescheduling, I got an iPod. Call me lazy.

Understanding the Brain

TIME magazine has a nice interactive feature about the various and oft parallel attempts to understand the brain. Ancient beliefs (e.g. trephination), to Anatomy (Phineas Gage), to Psychology’s contributions, to Disorders and Neuroscience are all included.


-Posted by Tyler

The Angry Face and the Socially Phobic Adult

The angry face and the socially phobic adult: The time course of attention


The above poster is based on the article “The time-course of attention to emotional faces in social phobia” (Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 41, p. 39-44). There were two groups in this study, SP (Socially Phobic adults) and NP (Non-phobic adults, the control group). Each group viewed faces and objects on  a computer monitor while an eye tracking device recorded their eye movement. Participants were instructed to look wherever they liked.

The hypothesis was that socially phobic adults would show an early bias toward negative faces on face-face trials and would avoid faces in favor of objects on face-object trials. Face-face pairs consisted of angry and happy faces paired with a neutral face, and the face-object pairs were angry, happy and neutral faces paired with objects (like a vacuum, phone, lamp, table).

The results indicated support for the hypothesis. Socially phobic adults show an early bias towards negative faces, which can clearly be seen in this graph:

The focus of the article was on the left half of the above graph compared to the right graph. You can see that socially phobic adults fixated on angry faces more than the control group.  It’s also clear that the socially phobic adults and the control group fixated on happy faces more equally.  So the question that Professor Arnell asked me was: do you think socially phobic adults fixate more on angry faces, or is it just that most people typically avoid looking at negative faces?  It’s clear from the article that they thought the most interesting part of their data was socially phobic adults fixating on the negative faces.  However, this might not be the case.

Something that was either missed or just not added in is that it’s more interesting to look at the control group data in this graph.  There’s such a huge difference between the control group’s number of fixations on the happy faces compared to the angry faces, that it’s probably more likely that most people just avoid looking at negative stimulus.

– Posted by Alyssa Pilkington

Arm Yourselves: The West is Not Won

The drug war in Mexico and the United States is too close to home for one town in West Texas, residents there were recently warned by the Sheriff to “arm themselves.”

Fort Hancock, Texas is a “sleepy agricultural town” near the Mexico border and looks like a set from No Country for Old Men (NPR story). The sherrif recently gathered the residents in a school gymnasium and told them to “arm themselves” and that it was “better to be tried by 12 then carried by 6.” Truer words were never spoken.

It’s stories like this that make me both discouraged and relieved that 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is in place. Discouraged because it’s needed and relieved because if violence like this came to my town, I would want to protect myself and my family.

There is no telling what kind of fear people along the border feel right now. There’s a nice post at Brain Blogger about excessive fear, its side effects, and treatments.  A new treatment that uses extinction during a critical window after exposure to fear stimuli is showing promise for longer lasting desensitization.

Lets hope Obama’s top priority on the Mexico agenda does some good (linklink).

-Posted by Tyler

Photic Sneezers

I am a photic sneezer and so is my mother, 1 in 4 people are like us because they sneeze when exposed to bright light. Langer, Beeli, and Jancke (2010) published what they say is the first scientific examination of photic sneezers in the open-access peer-reviewed journal, Public Library of Science (PLoS).

The authors used electroencephalogram (EEG) to compare photic sneezers’ brain activity to a control group. They found

“enhanced excitability of the visual cortex (mainly in the cuneus) to visual stimuli in ‘photic sneezers’ compared with control subjects,” and “a stronger prickling sensation in the nose of photic sneezers was found to be associated with activation in the insula and stronger activation in the secondary somatosensory cortex.”

A photic sneeze has been assumed to be a reflex, however with this new evidence showing cortical activation, this type of sneezing cannot be categorized as a ‘classical reflex,’ or one that originates in the brain stem or spinal cord.

-Posted by Tyler

Forget about the Small Talk

Studies don’t get much cuter than this. A new study in Psychological Science indicates that well-being is related to less small talk and more substantive interactions with others (link).

The first thing that I thought was interesting about this study was that it was a naturalistic study, not experimental. In my experience, there aren’t too many naturalistic studies published in such a high impact factor journal. As the title of the article implies, the researchers basically eavesdropped on participants, albeit with informed consent. Participants wore recording devices that captured their interactions with others periodically.

Any research methods text will describe the pitfalls of naturalistic studies. Namely they require people to rate whatever is being observed which is an inherently difficult process. One way to address this issue is to compute an inter-rater reliability. In this case, raters categorized the content of conversations as either small-talk or substantive. The inter-rater reliability is not mentioned in this paper, which is a definite mark against the study (unless it was omitted for the purposes of limited space).

Participants also completed a life satisfaction and a personality measure to correlate the content of the conversations with their overall well-being. They found that,

higher well-being was associated with having less small talk, r = –.33, and having more substantive conversations, r = .28.

Given the correlational nature of the study, the scientists were cautious not to argue having deep conversations caused happiness, but rather pointed out that future research would do well to explore this experimentally. My question is Why didn’t they?

Mehl, M. R., Vazire, S., Holleran S. E., & Clark C. S. (2010). Eavesdropping on happiness: Well-being is related to having less small talk and more substantive conversations. Psychological Science, doi:10.1177/0956797610362675.

Special thanks to Adam Schenck for pointing out this article.

-Posted by Tyler

Experiential Psychology and the Stream of Consciousness

Experiential, or introspective psychology, is a branch of psychology that attempts to study consciousness in its raw form, as well as through altered states of consciousness, and higher states of consciousness.  This field attempts to break away from the behaviorism’s view that psychologists should only study overt behavior. Experiential psychologists understand that just because something cannot be seen, it does not mean it does not exist or play an important role.

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