Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Amygdala in 5 Minutes

The amygdala creates links between sensory input and reactions to that input. Think Pavlov's dogs. While associating the sound of a bell to the body's hunger responses, like salivation, is fairly benign, the amygdala is also the structure that associates the kaboom of a bomb to the emotional response of seeing the horror wreaked by that bomb. Worse, while the dogs took a little training to make the association stick, trauma burns that connection into the amygdala in an instant. This is how it happens that a person who was eating a banana when they got shattering news that made them throw up can end up turning green at the smell of a banana.

Neuroscience professor Joseph LeDoux explains the amygdala:

Meditate to Avoid Unnecessary Failure

Current research is showing meditation to be the ultimate Swiss Army Knife of neurological tools. The prevention of choking (the "screwed up something you should have done well" kind, not the "ohmygod, hit me on the back" kind) is one more application of this marvelous tool.


Social Awareness, Not Brainpower, Determines Group Smarts

"An early effort at defining general intelligence in groups suggests that individual brainpower contributes little to collective smarts.

"Instead, it’s social awareness — the ability to pick up on emotional cues in others — that seems to determine how smart a group can be."

Very interesting. I wonder if that's because the folks with lots of brainpower but little in the way of social awareness aren't as good at kicking the ball around, so to speak - allowing improvements suggested by other team members, letting the conversation flow according to strengths, and accepting and being inspired by even off-the-wall suggestions.


xkcd: Truly a Beautiful Dream

I second the motion.

Wooden Watches

I haven't worn a watch since I trashed my hands years and years ago. If I did, though, it would be one of these.

Driveable Radio Flyer

Yeah, I always wanted to be able to drive the wagon from inside, but I don't think I'd have gone this far...

Amazing Leaf Carvings

Nice work!

Never Mind the Cool View of Earth, Go For the Beer

Yup. Space beer.

A Girl and Her Torch: Artist Cal Lane

Wow! What amazing work. I love the wheelbarrows.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

For Best Results, Be Medium Detached

I can definitely attest to the rejuvenating power of detaching from work at the end of the day. So much better for health and well being. Interestingly, the benefit of detaching is moderated by the negative effects of getting so detached that you have a hard time getting back into work mode. Like everything else, moderation is key.


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Order in Chaos Clock

What a great idea! Where did I put those clockworks....

Giant Drivable R2D2

I'm just sure I need one of these...

Monday, September 27, 2010

Power Corrupts...

We knew that, right? The infamous Stanford Prison Study by Zimbardo showed us the horrible things people will do when handed a little power. This study digs into one of the mechanisms behind the horrible things. Power over others inclines us to dehumanize them. Something to watch for if you're a manager, a health care provider, a teacher, a parent, or find yourself in any other position where you have power over others.


Yet More Proof Happy Employees => Successful Companies

"It’s just as important to keep in mind you have employees and they are your business," she told McClatchy. "The most important asset is human capital. Financially strong companies know that."

It amazes me that there are still companies out there that haven't gotten it through their thick heads that every single thing they do comes from their people. And just like you need a strong foundation for a grand building, you need healthy happy people for a strong company.


Hey, I Really Am The Devil... And So Are You!

We've all heard the proverb, "An idle mind is the devil's workshop." Well, "during these moments of errant thought, the brain is forming a set of mental rules about our world, particularly our social world, that help us navigate human interactions and quickly make sense of and react to information — about a stranger's intentions, a child's next move, a choice before us — without having to run a complex and conscious calculation of all our values, expectations and beliefs."

Hmmm.... So, my view of the world comes from the devil, my sense of self comes from the devil... The devil always lies... So, there is no self in my self. Yo, Buddha, good job!


Sunday, September 26, 2010

"Wherever you put the mind, the body will follow."

"Wherever you put the mind, the body will follow." - Ellen Langer

The other day I had a conversation with a friend about another friend who is recovering from some physical injuries. Said other friend has made great improvements recently and attributes them to a new supplement she's taking. I mentioned to my friend that the ingredients of the supplement have not been scientifically proven to be helpful (so far?) and are quite controversial. This led to a discussion of the placebo effect and the power of the mind in healing.

I told my friend about the amazing improvements I saw in myself after I stopped identifying myself as "the partially disabled person" and started seeing myself as "the person working to become more capable." Just opening the mental door marked "possibility of healing" made a huge change in my physical abilities. I wondered how much of our mutual friend's improvement might be due to her opening that mental door vs. the supplement composed of much-tested but not proven ingredients.

Ellen Langer's monastery study gives direct evidence of the power of mindset to affect physical ability. Elderly participants pretending to be 22 years younger suddenly had more physical ability.

It's easy to limit ourselves based on age or information gleaned from media or even doctor visits. Don't forget to leave that "possibility" door open at least a crack at all times. You may just get to walk through it.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Six Fixable Reasons You Can't Sleep

Not surprisingly, caffeine and alcohol made the list. Caffeine is still hanging around in your system 15 HOURS after consumption. Yowza. And alcohol completely hoses your sleep cycle. Read on...

Move Towards Conflict

Most of us like to avoid conflict even though that tends to make the issues simmer, not vanish. This article has a nice description of why we avoid and why we should really be moving the other direction.

"To lower the volume of a conflict, you move towards it, not with the intention to soothe but with the intention of increasing mutual understanding."


Adventure Through Inner Space Updated and In a Browser Window

Grab the slider to zoom in and out. This is very cool!

Hello Kitty Meets R2D2

Not sure whether to cringe or smile at this one.

Smart People More Likely to Be Victimized at Work

Wow. The study found a relationship between cognitive ability and being victimized. The moderating factor seems to be the team factor. Smart loners are worse off than smart team players.

We Get Worse At Predicting a Partner's Preferences Over Time

Gotta think this relates to how much attention we pay to partners in the beginnings of relationships vs. later.

A Tizzy of Fairies and Other Collective Nouns of the Supernatural

These are hilarious.

Dinosaur Bones Made of Pancakes!

Pancake art! I love it!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Speed of Fear

"And this unconscious processing of frightening stimuli happens much more quickly than our conscious processing of it. To become consciously aware of a particular stimulus takes 250-300 milliseconds, says LeDoux. But a fear-evoking stimulus can reach the amygdala in a mere 12 milliseconds, which is evolutionarily advantageous if one's response time means the difference between life and death."

This is so important to keep in mind when dealing with someone with PTSD, for example. By the time their conscious mind gets its hands on the information in the stimulus, the fear response is already well on its way.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Seriously Geeky Joke

This one totally cracked me up. Your mathiness may vary...

(Don't miss the comments.)

Is Our Definition of Happiness Extrovert-centric?

I like that someone has posed the question. As an introvert myself, I have often noticed, like the author of this post, that our definitions of happiness tend to involve extroverted words - "talkative, enthusiastic, assertive, bold, energetic, adventurous." Definitely not the words I would use to describe my experience of happiness, since mine would be all about peacefulness, grounding, spacious, and other rather quiet experiences.


Extra Harvest-y Moon Tonight - 9/22/10

Here's a reason to go outside this evening. "For the first time in almost 20 years, northern autumn is beginning on the night of a full Moon. The coincidence sets the stage for a "Super Harvest Moon" and a must-see sky show to mark the change of seasons."

Stress Ruts In the Brain

This article describes a study of the brain's response to stress (and the removal thereof). We've all seen people under stress lose their ability to step back and reassess a problem, instead repeating the same unsuccessful actions over and over again. Turns out, there's a good reason for that. For the brain under stress, regions of the brain associated with executive decision-making and goal-directed behaviors had shriveled, while, conversely, brain sectors linked to habit formation had bloomed." The good news is that taking a break from the stress undoes the neural changes. It's not just the extra sleep that makes you feel better on vacation.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Spanking Begets Aggressive Kids

"Data from almost 2500 children shows that 3-year-olds who are spanked twice a month are one and half times more likely to be aggressive at age five than children who are not spanked."

I do remember hitting my mother back once...


Walking is Good for the Brain

"Research shows that walking can actually boost the connectivity within brain circuits, which tends to diminish as the grey hairs multiply."

This is good news for me. Walking is my favorite activity.


All Chicken is "All Natural"

Some good points about misleading food labeling in this one. Like the author, I was surprised to find that there is no difference between chicken labeled all natural and regular chicken.


Long-Exposure Photo of the Northern Lights

Very cool shot!

Pop Psychology Loses to Real Research Once Again: Meyers-Briggs

The article concentrates mostly on showing that the ever-popular Meyers-Briggs test should not be used in career counseling, but the problems he uncovers with the test point to much deeper problems. One very experienced psychologist of my acquaintance refers to the test as "A bunch of crap. Complete crap. Based on nothing. No research to support it. Well-marketed crap." So, for all of us who have felt either trapped in our four-letter classification or have used it to feel good about certain strengths and relieved of the responsibility for certain weaknesses... The future is once again in our hands.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Amazing Driving

Wow! If you got even a little bit of the car gene, this is a must see.

Another Reason Guys Should Take Up Meditation?

New research shows that men with lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol are judged more attractive. Wanna be better looking without working out or plastic surgery? Get your Zen on!


Right Brain Left Brain Loses Its Footing

Wow. For how many years have people been claiming that creativity lives in the right brain? Recent studies undermine this assertion.

"Taken together, creative thinking does not appear to critically depend on any single mental process or brain region, and it is not especially associated with right brains, defocused attention, low arousal, or alpha synchronization, as sometimes hypothesized."


Even Dim Light at Night Can Mess Up Your Clock

I was so hoping only bright light would tweak my inner clock. No such luck.

"The study results are important because they indicate that prolonged exposure to dim or low light at night (such as that in homes and office buildings) can influence mammals' biological clocks and "throw off" their sleep-wake cycles."


A Roadkill App... Seriously

It's a brilliant use of crowdsourcing, but I still think the idea of a roadkill app is hilarious. And maybe just plain wrong....

Still Calling Mom to Clean Up the Mess

It's interesting to play the "Why would that be?" game on this one. This study found that people were more likely to choose a female leader for a company in crisis. The article suggests that people see men as lacking the attributes required to get a company through a crisis. The cynical part of me wants to say something about being able to blame a woman if the crisis proves fatal. This is the first study I've personally read about on the topic, though, so I freely admit that my inner cynic has no ground to stand on other than its own cynicism.

Happiness is a Work Ethic

"Ultimately, Achor wants people to understand that happiness should not be kept on our cognitive horizons; it is not something that will magically appear after reaching a certain level in a company or a school. "Happiness is a work ethic," Achor says. "It's something that requires our brains to train just like an athlete has to train.""


So true. Happiness is something you practice and train. So much of our culture is caught up in "I'll be happy when..." How different life looks when you approach it as "I choose to be happy." Or, like my new T-Shirt, I Choose To Be Amused.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Great Pencil Vs. Camera From Ben Heine

All of his stuff is great. If you haven't checked it out yet, do. This one made me say, "Wow!"

Friday, September 17, 2010

Handling Surprise Criticism

Love the advice to look beyond the delivery. Whether the person is nervous or thrilled to be giving you negative feedback, focus on the content of the message, not the emotion of the delivery.

Younger Kids 60% More Likely to Get Labeled ADHD Than Older Classmates

This horrifies me. The rush to drug kids into not acting like kids is abhorrent.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Inconstant Constants

"A team of astrophysicists based in Australia and England has uncovered evidence that the laws of physics are different in different parts of the universe."

Ya just can't count on anything anymore...

Transparent Aluminum

Wow. Did I have to choose a two-word headline in which *both* words are hard to spell?

Anyway, transparent aluminum (phew! typed it again!) is very cool. On the other hand, how many aluminum things can you think of that you really really don't want to see through?

Chopping Wood in Slow Motion: Video

Chopping wood has never looked so cool.

A Reason to Spring for the Room With the View?

Peaceful views are good for your brain. That's not really news to any of us, is it? While playing the same sound, scientists exposed people to pictures of traffic and tranquil scenes. Not surprisingly, the tranquil scene made the brains happy.

I kinda wish they'd done the opposite too, since in the iPod age, we have so much more control over what we hear than what we see.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Disappearing Car Door

What a great idea!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

For the Guys: Dance Moves Women Find Attractive

I'm loving the dancing avatars. I wish they'd gone into more depth describing what was good and bad about the two videos. I mean, I can tell which one is a better dancer. I'd just like to know more about why...

Once Again, Language Gets the Jump on Science

I love it when common sayings that describe our reality get validated by science. Have you ever seen someone using a tool or an instrument and thought, "Wow. It's like it's an extension of his/her hand"? Well, you were right.

"While we think of our body as a fixed feature of our lives, the brain displays a surprising ability to accept as part of ‘me’ whatever I happen to be touching and using at any given time."


The Times Blames Biology and Misses the Boat

The study shows that one element of male-female parenting differences is oxytocin. The original article and the press release state that while they have discovered the existence of the chicken, it may be that it came from the egg. The NY Times, however, is so focused on promoting the chicken that they blow off the egg completely.

"For instance, maybe the connection works like this: In both parents, higher levels of oxytocin increase feelings of attachment toward a child. Perhaps more intense feelings of attachment prompt each parent to engage in more behaviors that he or she views as central to his or her parenting role, spurring women to exhibit more affection and men to get involved in more stimulating play."


Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Animated Words

This little short is a guaranteed smile for fans of words and animation.

Another Swing and Miss For Pop Psychology

The theory of learning styles has been widely published and swallowed whole by students and teachers alike. Well, guess what...

"Take the notion that children have specific learning styles, that some are “visual learners” and others are auditory; some are “left-brain” students, others “right-brain.” In a recent review of the relevant research, published in the journal Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a team of psychologists found almost zero support for such ideas. “The contrast between the enormous popularity of the learning-styles approach within education and the lack of credible evidence for its utility is, in our opinion, striking and disturbing,” the researchers concluded. "

And all that advice about picking a study spot and sticking to it? Bzzzzt!


Lack of Sleep Leads to the Kitchen

This is from the "I could have told you that" department, but it's nice to have my personal observations validated. Teens who don't get enough sleep, snack more and eat fattier foods. I know I find myself eating like crazy when I don't get enough sleep. Does that make me a teen? :)

Pure Silliness: Parallel Parking

This is just plain funny.

Creepy "speed bumps"

I have to agree with the folks in the comments. Once people get used to running over virtual children, how long will it be before they ignore the real ones and run them over too?

Subarashii Desu Yo: Precision Walking

The crowd noises between 1:57 and 2:08 are SOOOOO Japanese. :)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Micro Giant Pandas

Hard to believe they'll grow up to be huge.

Tertium Non Data

Tertium non data translated from Latin means "the third is not given." In alchemy, it refers to combining two elements to create a third distinct element. How this comes about is unknown.

I just like the sound of the phrase and wanted to store it somewhere. in a blog post.

Pluses and Minuses of a Lazy Brain

Our brains love to make snap judgments based on past experiences. On the one hand, making the snap judgment that the lion charging you is dangerous could save your life. On the other hand, assuming your significant other is hurting you on purpose because their behavior maps onto things your parents did is gonna cause trouble. It's good to remember that what we actually experience is not reality, but our brains' fill-in-the-blanks picture based on the past.

"That filled in perception is what you actually experience, and it's based largely on your past experiences."


World's Largest Swimming Pool

Wow! Can you imagine swimming laps in this thing?

Cats and Gravity: a New Avenue of Scientific Inquiry?

This cracks me up. There are so many things my cat does that make me think she should be studied. In this blog post, the author sets up a fun experiment to determine what her cats know about gravity.

Spirals in the Sky

Is it still "the sky" when it's that far away? Probably not, but spirals in the sky sounds so much catchier than spiral in the galaxy.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Unraveling Wall Calendar

Wow! What a great calendar.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Rocking Piano

This is very cool. I'll bet the periodicity of the rocking makes certain pieces very hard to play.

How to Find Joy

Current research shows that happiness is an effect not a cause, a symptom, not the disease, so to speak. This article is right on the money. If you want to be happy, don't focus on yourself and how to improve your happiness, focus outside on other people and getting things done.

Explosions and Bursts of Light

This is a very cool example of how big explosions work. We usually think of shrapnel as the thing to watch out for, but it's the light/energy that gets to the target first.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Persuasive Food


"The consumption of proferred food induces a momentary mood of compliance toward the donor that is strongest at the time the food is being consumed and that decreases in strength rapidly after the food has been consumed."

Is this the real reason the way to a man's heart is through his stomach?


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

PRL Tired of Crappy 1959!

This cracks me up 'cuz I used to edit and format physics papers being submitted to the various Phys Revs. Evidently, the papers being submitted were no more readable in 1959 than they were when I was trying to make sense of them in the early `90s.

Does Your Boss Care?

I'm a big Bob Sutton fan. He's the author of the excellent book, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn't, which everyone should read. I haven't yet gotten to his new book, Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best... and Learn from the Worst. It's definitely on my list.

In this post, he talks about how to tell your boss cares about you. Nice list!

Defining Intelligence

The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination. - Einstein

I know that I am intelligent, because I know that I know nothing. - Socrates

Gotta love those guys.

I love that humans have been around a zillion years and still don't have a definition of intelligence. The philosophers and psychologists have weighed in. Here come the neuroscientists...

It's Not Just a Joke

To everyone who ever said, "Relax. It's just a joke." Bzzzzt! Wrong. It's not just a joke. And it does matter. This particular study is on sexist jokes, but I'm sure the same applies to jokes bashing any segment of society.


Overt and Covert Perfectionism

Interesting. Before I read this, I would have said that I am no longer a perfectionist, or at least no longer a perfect perfectionist. :) I definitely was at one time. Maybe even more than a little OCD. (Do I get extra points for turning the noun into an adjective when the noun itself is a TLA?) But now I see that it's only the overt perfectionism whose hold on me was loosened. The internal voices of my covert perfectionism continue to administer beatings.

Dang. Every time I think I have something cleaned up, I find a new layer. Oh, wait. Is wanting to clear things perfectionism? Is it perfectionism to want to clean out perfectionism? Will I ever catch my tail?

But Is It Really Love?

This post starts with a scenario involving a guy falling for a completely fictional image of a woman and being crushed when the real woman to whom he has attached said fiction dumps him. The information about how brain chemicals set people up to do such "crazy" things and how to recover when your brain does it to you is decent, if somewhat obvious. Personally, I wouldn't have used the word love to describe the emotional state depicted in the scenario. Crush, obsession...yeah. Something along those lines.

I'm also fascinated by the fact that the author gives practical advice for how to recover, but says nothing about how to navigate the chemical bath more successfully. Wouldn't it be nice to have less to mop up? Has spending day in and day out helping people mop up blinded the author to door number three? Is there a door number three?

Rainbow Roses

I am NOT a rose girl. They smell good (the ones that still smell after all these years of breeding for looks), but...meh. These, however, would make me smile for days.

Doesn't look like they're available commercially at this point, though, so my current flower favorites are safe for now.

Complexity and Creativity

Interesting article on causes and aspects of creativity.

"Creative people are complex, meaning that they see the world from multiple perspectives. This is an adaptive response to complex inputs during childhood. We are all constantly trying to make sense of the world we live in and the more complex our experiences, the more challenging this proves to be."

So... If you want a creative kid, make his childhood hell?

The bulk of the article is devoted to recognizing the creativity of square pegs - immigrants, homosexuals, people with a non-traditional yin/yang mix, and so on.

I definitely relate to being a square peg in many ways (I plan to title my autobiography, "A Woman of Excess Yang".), will happily hold diverging viewpoints (makes voting a good challenge!), and had a very, ahem, complex childhood. And I definitely have lots of grand ideas for the infamous brick in Guilford’s Alternative Uses Task. The most difficult part of the test is convincing my brain that it can STOP. Guess that's a yes in the creative column.

Still wondering about the coincidence-causality thing. Did being a weird kid in weird circumstances lead to all of those useful bricks?