The problem of consciousness definition

25 04 2007

In most of the intro psych textbooks, the definition of consciousness is woefully inaccurate. I often hear the definition as something like “Awareness of our selves and our environment.” ACK! That is way to limited and vague. Of course, a reasonable treatment of consciousness requires more than a 40-page textbook chapter.

The blog Developing Intelligence offers a link to an article that provides an interesting taxonomy for defining consciousness.

Developing Consciousness: Are you conscious? 17 criteria for consciousness:

A recent article by Seth, Baars & Edelman argues for a core set of 17 properties that are characteristic of consciousness, and could be used in the “diagnosis” of consciousness in humans and other animals.

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Empathy in professional practice

24 04 2007

A New York Times piece explores the link between patients and doctors who can truly understand their experience. This connects to our discussion this week in Introduction to Psychology regarding empathy.

Understanding Empathy: Can You Feel My Pain? – New York Times:

Is shared experience really necessary for a physician to understand or treat a patient? I wonder. After all, who would argue that a cardiologist would be more competent if he had had his own heart attack, or an oncologist more effective if he had had a brush with cancer?

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Misrepresenting sex worker data

14 04 2007

Petra Boynton’s blog has an interesting piece on the effects of misrepresenting data at conferences. Seems a presenter claimed that regulating sex workers would save the government lots of money, and inferred that sex workers are a big part of the spread of STDs. It also made claims that recent immigrants are a source of HIV infection. The article has a link to a good response to the presentation.

Dr Petra Boynton I Blog I When evidence based approaches go out the window sex workers are the casualties :

What this conference presentation and subsequent media coverage does do is hark back to past approaches to the management of prostitution where sex workers, not clients or wider society, were blamed for spreading infection and aggressively targeted. And it certainly makes some very uncomfortable claims that expose already stigmatised community members to further racial prejudice.

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My Humps… On sexuality and women’s power

6 04 2007

So, I had heard the song “My Humps” by Black Eyed Peas, and thought it was pretty amusing, in a vaguely misogynistic way. In case you’ve not heard it, or seen the video, here it is, courteous of the ubiquitous YouTube:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/iHfs0GvoS-Q" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Anyway, the lyrics, if you listen closely, tell the story of a woman who enjoys the power she wields as an object of desire, and her need to control access to her sexuality, which keeps her in power. Women’s power in our culture is largely located in their sexuality. The irony, of course, is that realizing that women’s power through sexuality — though potent, yet limited — creates despair, the more it is realized.

So leave it to Alanis Morrisette to give us a rereading of “My Humps” that, I think, at once parodies “My Humps,” and also shows how the women’s power of sexuality also carries psychological costs.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://youtube.com/v/tZw-8RSyvh8" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

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Effects of portion size on eating and obesity

5 04 2007

Paul Rozin and Andrew Geier write an interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the powerful effect of smaller or larger portion sizes on our consumption of food. It is so often that when I go to a movie and order the small soda or the small popcorn, the cashier seems surprised I’d not want a larger size for pennies more. Why not? Cause I’ll CONSUME IT!

The Chronicle: 4/6/2007: Want Fewer Fries With That?: (requires subscription or password — talk to a PCC librarian for the password)

In a 2006 article with Gheorghe Doros in Psychological Science, we named that phenomenon “unit bias.” We demonstrated it in a number of ways. For instance, we left pretzels in the lobby of an apartment house as free snacks for the residents. When we offered full pretzels (containing 300 calories each), people consumed 71 percent more calories than when we offered pretzels cut in half. Of course, people could take a second half-pretzel, but most didn’t.

It is not only the food portion that is subject to unit bias, but also the serving instrument or receptacle: the size of the glass, plate, or serving spoon. At other times in the same lobby, we left out a big bowl of peanut M&M’s with either a tablespoon or a quarter-cup scoop tethered to the bowl. A sign urged individuals to serve themselves as much as they wanted. With the scoop, four times as large as the tablespoon, people took 75 percent more candy. Of course, they could have dipped the tablespoon in repeatedly, but they tended not to do so.

Citation for the original research:

Geier, A. B., Rozin, P., & Doros, G. (2006). Unit bias. A new heuristic that helps explain the effect of portion size on food intake. Psychological Science 17 (6), 521–525.

Link to the original article at Psychological Science (requires subscription).

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Normative Social Influence and the Smiley Face

4 04 2007

Over at the We’re Only Human blog (the Association for Psychological Science’s weblog), there’s a good post on application of normative social influence on energy use. Turns out that if you get merely information that you’re consuming more or less than the average household’s energy, you’re likely to move more toward the center — becoming more wasteful if you’re consuming less. But, if you’re consuming less than average, and you’re given a “smiley face” icon instead of the information, then you’ll not become more wasteful…

We’re Only Human…: The Smiley Face Gambit:

Most people want to be normal. We’re not comfortable being on the fringe. (There are deeply disturbed exceptions to every law of human nature, of course.) So when we are given information that underscores our deviancy, the natural impulse is to get ourselves as quickly as we can back toward the center.

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Zimbardo interview on NY Times site

3 04 2007

A video segment of Phil Zimbardo’s interview with a NY Times interviewer is available in the Times site. It includes some backgrround on the Stanford Prison Experiment, and talks about its relationship to the Abu Ghraib prison debacle, and the capacity for good or evil present in all of us. Click here for the NY Times site.

EDIT: There is also a brief interview in print form — similar questions, but with some different responses. Click here to read that article. My favorite quote:

Q. You keep using this phrase “the situation” to describe the underlying cause of wrongdoing. What do you mean?

A. That human behavior is more influenced by things outside of us than inside. The “situation” is the external environment. The inner environment is genes, moral history, religious training. There are times when external circumstances can overwhelm us, and we do things we never thought. If you’re not aware that this can happen, you can be seduced by evil. We need inoculations against our own potential for evil. We have to acknowledge it. Then we can change it.

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BBC reports on mental health benefits of playing in the dirt

1 04 2007

A BBC article reports on a study linking immune system functioning to serotonin production, and mental health. The study is currently in press for the journal Neuroscience. Click here for the abstract.

To stimulate immune response, the researchers used Mycobacterium vaccae, a particular bacteria that is commonly found in dirt.

BBC NEWS | Health | Dirt exposure ‘boosts happiness’:

Lead researcher Dr Chris Lowry said: “These studies help us understand how the body communicates with the brain and why a healthy immune system is important for maintaining mental health.

”They also leave us wondering if we shouldn’t all spend more time playing in the dirt.“

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On female orgasm

1 04 2007

The excellent blog Mind Hacks pointed me to an interview with a researcher and author on female orgasm.

Mind Hacks: Science of the female orgasm:

discusses the brain functions and peripheral nervous system structures that support the female orgasm, as well speculating on possible evolutionary explanations for its existence.

The interview is wide-ranging and also tackles the effect of SSRI antidepressant medication (known to delay or prevent orgasm in both men and women), the role of desire in sexual satisfaction and the importance of communication in sexual relationships.

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