I See Psychology… Everywhere

Multitasking Limits in the Popular Press

I was pleased to see this article in the NYTimes about the limits of multitasking.  Psychologists have long known that the brain can handle only so much taxation at once before performance declines.  Of course it depends on the nature of the task, but many people think certain things (e.g., driving, watching out for other people) are less effortful than they are.

Part of the problem is that we don’t see the problem until it’s too late.  If I’m making a phone call while I’m driving, and other people are able to avoid an accident with me, I don’t realize that I’ve been a hazard, so I’m reinforced with the belief that I can multitask just fine.  Wait until one of those other people is on the phone and hits me, and then I’ll blame his or her lack of ability!


25 March 2007 Posted by | Cognitive, Physiological | Leave a comment

The Neuroscience of the Gestalt–More Face Science

face1902.jpgThe Times has a nice piece on the science of face recognition. They do a nice job discussing the neuroscience behind the tendency to see faces in things. (if you’re interested, see my earlier post on a similar topic.)

Researchers know that we’re predisposed to recognize facial patterns for some obvious reasons, but those faces can become so convincing that many of us interpret them as a miracle. We often see what we want to see, but more often, we see what our brain thinks we should see–it’s working overtime to make sense of meaningless patterns.

It’s a good read, and I think articles like this can go a long way to help people think critically. It’s not that it means people have to abandon their religious beliefs or faith, but they also need to know what the science says might explain such phenomena. Might even be liberating!

13 February 2007 Posted by | Cognitive, Evolutionary Psychology, Physiological, Sensation & Perception | Leave a comment

The Science of Beer Goggles

All the fun research takes place in Scotland! Seems researchers there have explored the neuroscience of the effect that alcohol has on the perception of attractiveness in other people. Here’s the formula:

β =

(An)2 x d(S + 1)

√L x (Vo)2

      • An is the number of servings of alcohol

      • S is the smokiness of the area on a scale of 0 – 10

      • L is the lighting level of the area, measured in candelas per square meter, in which 150 is normal room lightning

      • Vo is Snellen visual acuity, in which 6/6 is normal and 6/12 is the lower limit at which someone is able to drive

      • d is the distance between the observer and the observed, measured in meters

The formula works out a “beer goggle” score ranging from 1 to 100+. When β = 1, the observer is perceiving the same degree of beauty he or she would perceive in a sober state. At 100+, everybody in the room is a perfect 10.

h/t Billy, who asks how this works if you’re too drunk to do the math!

9 February 2007 Posted by | Physiological, Sensation & Perception | Leave a comment

Wow, You Look Great! Are You Ovulating?

Interesting article here about some research suggesting that women look better–and put more effort into looking good–when they are ovulating.

A study of young college women showed they frequently wore more fashionable or flashier clothing and jewelery when they were ovulating, as assessed by a panel of men and women looking at their photographs.

Although the finding makes sense, it also says a lot about the continuing influence of evolutionary factors in human behavior, even though most of us aren’t consciously contemplating our reproductive viability when we get dressed in the morning!

10 October 2006 Posted by | Evolutionary Psychology, Physiological | Leave a comment

Finger Length Ratios & Athletic Ability

Here‘s an interesting correlational conclusion. It appears that the length of the ring finger is a solid predictor of women’s athletic ability. Perhaps men’s too, but it is somewhat tied to testosterone levels in the womb. Athletic ability is better when the ring finger is longer than the index finger, which is more likely in men than in women. Interestingly, the research seems to be based very little on finger-relevant sports (such as baseball) but running, suggesting that the testosterone link makes sense.

Note that the authors of the article say that finger length is largely inherited, thus effectively explaining why athletic parents have athletic kids. They don’t, however, point out that the socialization of sports is not necessarily inherited, so we could genetically produce particular finger lengths, but not an interest in sports.

Here‘s a more descriptive article on the study, although you can’t access the primary source without a username and password.

28 September 2006 Posted by | Evolutionary Psychology, Physiological, Social | 1 Comment

Paul Allen’s New 3-D Brain Map

This is pretty impressive. Paul Allen (the almost-richest-man-in-the-world Gates collaborator) has launched an amazing new 3-D brain map that can give you information about the brain based on a specific gene that you enter. It’s based on scans of a mouse brain, but the researchers are confident that we’ll enhance our understanding of the human brain through their work.

via BoingBoing

27 September 2006 Posted by | Comparative, Evolutionary Psychology, Physiological | Leave a comment

Brain Stimulation Creates Creepy Sensation

Interesting report on specific brain stimulation producing the sensation of being watched or followed.  Here’s an excerpt from the news release of the finding, reported in Nature:

When they electrically stimulated the left temporoparietal junction in her brain, which is linked to self-other distinction and self-processing, she thought someone was standing behind her.

If they repeated the stimulus while she leaned forward and grabbed her knees she had an unpleasant sensation that the shadowy figure was embracing her.

I wasn’t really familiar with the temporoparietal junction being associated with self-other distinctions, but there you go.  I’m curious to know what purpose this might serve evolutionarily, and why we may sometimes be accurate in those perceptions.  As they say, you’re not really paranoid if they really ARE out to get you.

21 September 2006 Posted by | Physiological, Sensation & Perception | 1 Comment

Can a Sedative End PVS?

Wow! It appears, anecdotally, at least, that sedatives such as Ambien may be able to reverse a persistent vegetative state. I’m eager to hear more about this kind of discovery, but the timing of the “awakenings” appears uncanny. This could be huge medical news!

via BoingBoing

12 September 2006 Posted by | Physiological, Psychopharmacology | 3 Comments