Visual scanning: relaxed vs. systematic searches

31 10 2007

In my Introduction to Psychology classes, we’re studying sensation and perception. The excellent weblog Cognitive Daily covers new research on something related: cognition and visual searches:

Cognitive Daily: Can you “use the force” to find things faster?:

People who study visual search have found anecdotally that just “relaxing” and looking for objects based on “gut instinct” can often be more effective than actively directing attention to a search.

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Cognitive Daily’s optical illusions

26 10 2007

Since we’re talking about sensation and perception in my Intro to Psychology classes this week, it’s timely that the excellent psychology blog, Cognitive Daily, has some posted there.

Cognitive Daily: Optical illusions!:

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New Study Finds College Binge Drinking To Be A Blast

23 10 2007

PsyBlog pointed out a hilarious story on new research of binge drinking behavior. It has some great references to research methods:

New Study Finds College Binge Drinking To Be A Blast | The Onion – America’s Finest News Source:

According to [researcher Dr.] Greaves, much of the UMass team’s research was conducted at a party at this one guy Matt’s place. “My colleagues and I were doing beer bongs, keg-stands, Jell-O shots, Jager shots—you name it,” Greaves said. “We were totally binge drinking and just having a great f***ing time. The best part was the crowd—the study was packed, and there was this amazing random sampling of hot chicks. I was so drunk, I couldn’t figure out what the source of the unusually large hot-chick sample was, but by that point, I really didn’t care.”

When the keg was tapped, Greaves and his team went looking for a place to gather more data. “We heard there was this awesome study on Church Street, but we didn’t have the address, so we just went wandering around,” Greaves said. “We eventually wound up walking into this complete other study where we didn’t know anyone. Unfortunately, it turned out to be totally lame—most of the people there were in the non-drinking control group. We had fun for a little while busting on them, but pretty soon we split.”

Onion News1869

BBC gets it wrong on nerve regeneration research story

19 10 2007

We just finished talking about the nervous system. We discussed glial cells, the cells neurons depend on for support function. You may remember Schwann cells are a specific type of glial cell which seems to function for neuron maintenance and also the generation of myelin for the myelin sheath on axons.

We also are working on developing your critical thinking in reading secondary sources, and this article offers a great example of how you have to go to the source of the research to find out the real story.

The BBC is erroneously (ARGH don’t get me started on bad science reporting!) reporting on research in promoting the growth of nerve cells, using stem cells extracted from fat cells. Here’s a quote from the article:

BBC NEWS | Health | New nerves grown from fat cells:

The Manchester technique uses stem cells – immature cells which the body naturally uses to create different tissue types.

So far, the team has extracted stem cells from fat tissue taken from rats, and managed to coax the cells into becoming neurons – nerve cells – in the laboratory.

The last sentence is a broad overstatement, and a misrepresentation of the research. The stem cells are NOT being coaxed to become neurons! They are promoting the development of specific parts of neurons, when co-cultured with neuron cells. That is a long way from the BBC’s claim of “becoming neurons.”

Back in the world of reality, the researchers extracted stem cells from rat fat tissue, which then formed cells that seem to function like Schwann cells. These cells were then co-cultured with the neuron cells, and the researchers found an increase in the growth of neurites, which are immature cells that form either axons or dendrites in neurons. The implication of the research seems to be that if we can create these Schwann-like cells, they may be used to help damaged nerves in the peripheral nervous system repair and regenerate.

The research is preliminary, and has only been shown to work in rats, but humans are the next population to be studied.

If you’re a PCC student, try using this link to get access to the full text of the article (although it’s pretty technical). If you’re not a PCC student, here’s the link in ScienceDirect

Kingham, P. J., Kalbermatten, D. F., Mahay, D., Armstrong, S. J., Wiberg, M., & Terenghi, G. (2007). Adipose-derived stem cells differentiate into a Schwann cell phenotype and promote neurite outgrowth in vitro. Experimental Neurology, 207(2), 267-274.

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Using Cash to Treat Mood Disorders

15 10 2007

In Abnormal Psychology, we’re studying mood disorders this week. Mind Hacks pointed me to a parody article on the efficacy of cash payments in treating mood disorders. See, psychologists do senses of humor!

Bonkers Institute: Cash Efficacy :

Psychiatric medications relieve symptoms of depression and anxiety by restoring chemical balance within the brain, but exactly how these drugs restore the brain’s chemical balance while simultaneously wreaking havoc on every other organ in the body remains a mystery. Equally mysterious is the mechanism by which cash payments provide therapeutic benefit to depressed and anxious patients. The receipt of a large sum of money may somehow stimulate, increase, block, adjust or otherwise act upon the level, supply, transmission, inhibition, secretion or excretion of dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, gamma aminobutyric acid or some other chemical yet to be discovered.

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Evaluating the credibility of science information in secondary sources

13 10 2007

ScienceWoman had an interesting post on the issue of college students assessing credibility of the information they read in secondary sources. In my Intro to Psychology classes, we are covering this using the James Bell workbook, Evaluating Psychological Information. Nevertheless, it is an interesting read on the process of establishing the credibility of information in the media.

On being a scientist and a woman : What does it mean to assess the credibility of science reporting? (And can we expect students to do so?):

this post is intended to be a guide for my current and future students. I would greatly appreciate any feedback my readers have for me.

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Social phobia and the DSM

10 10 2007

The coincidences just keep coming. Today in Abnormal Psych we were discussing assessment and diagnosis, and the DSM criteria. PsyBlog has a posting about this very issue.

PsyBlog: Are You Just Shy or Do You Have a Social Phobia?:

Since 1980 the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders used by psychiatrists in diagnosis has included the categories of ‘social phobia’ and ‘social anxiety disorder’. This suggests that what would previously have been your particular way of being, has become a ‘disorder’ with a biological cause which needs some medication…

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Hormonal cycles affect stripper tips?

4 10 2007

In today’s 3pm Intro to Psychology course, we had a spirited discussion of evolutionary psychology, and how women’s behavior is affected by their menstrual phase. By coincidence, the excellent Mind Hacks blog had a posting about how fertility affected the tips given by male patrons of strippers! It’s a small-N study, but interesting nevertheless. Perhaps a basis for a more ambitious study of stripper tips and hormonal cycles.

Mind Hacks: Strippers’ earning potential affected by hormone cycle:

lap dancers in their most fertile phase of the menstrual cycle earned much more than dancers in the least fertile phase. In contrast, dancers who took the contraceptive pill, which ‘flattens’ the hormone cycle, earned much the same throughout the month.

This adds to the increasing evidence that women’s sexual behaviour changes during their monthly cycle, and that the external signs of this change are picked up by males.

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