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Author: Psycasm | Views: 3005 | Comments: 20
Last by Lesley Fellows on Apr 29, 2011, 4:29am

If you're new to Psycasm, feel free to skip the following preamble. It's mostly just background. I'd like to think it does have some interesting links to past works, however (both mine, and of others).


The following post is in response to a comment made by Michael Blume (who has previously graced LabSpaces with a Dangerous Experiments post), who, in repsonse to my post regarding the Cognitive Differences Between Christians and Atheists suggested I might be interested in work done by Ara Norenzayan (at the University of British Columbia).

Though it may seem I tend to fixate on religion, I assure you this is not the case. Prior to this post I have made approximately 2 1/2 posts on religion (the 1/2 was on . . . More
Author: JaySeeDub | Views: 3100 | Comments: 10
Last by Gynecomastia on Oct 19, 2011, 4:38am
I was 3 years old. I didn't know what it meant, but I was 3. The next year, I'd be 4, and I would want an Atari 2600 for my birthday. But at that point in time, I was 3 and the world was going to change. I would later hear about how everything changed and the ensuing hard, uphill struggle to inform. To survive. But instead I was 3. Being filmed in the garage at my grandmother's house on my Uncle's old Betamax camcorder. Running around the small backyard in the Outer Sunset District.

. . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 2960 | Comments: 3
Last by Psycasm on Aug 11, 2011, 11:32pm
The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe does a show at the end of every year in which they make predictions for the following year. They do this to demonstrate that anyone can be a psychic, and amazingly, two of the crew have 'accurately' predicted the death of two famous people. Both Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse were picked to die, and lo, they died.

Psychics generally rely on two factors when making predictions:

1. Make a crapload of predictions. People forget the misses, and celebrate the hits.

2. Make educated guesses. Pick old people, sick people, unhinged people and your odds (arguably) improve considerably.

The first point is simple. If you make enough predictions then time and chance will prove you though - particularly if you're vague to begin with. Sure, we might consider Charlie Sheen is high chance for death but predicting that a 'famous out-of-work TV actor will die' sets the bar pretty low and almost guarantees a hit during whatever period one specifies.

The second point seems intuitive, but I'm not sure it is. Charlie Sheen may die, but is he any more likely to die than anyone else in a big enough sample? There's a lot of things going . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 2831 | Comments: 8
Last by Shelli on Jul 07, 2011, 1:23am
If you're new to this series, or new to Psycasm generally, Click Here for an explanation.


Do we have free will?

I know I chose to pose that question and write those words, but I’m equally comfortable attributing that sensation of certainty to illusion.

Though I’m not widely read in philosophy that which I have exposed myself to lead me to the conclusion that free will is probably an illusion. I don’t remember who I read, what arguments they used or why it seemed a reasonable conclusion to me, but it is the assumption I have been operating under for a fair period of time.

However, in considering this topic in light of a few more years of experience, and in light of a few years of scientific training… I’m no longer sure what I think.

I know enough to say that I don’t know enough about physics to take that into consideration; not in any meaningful way, at any rate. I could drop a ‘quantum’ here, or list the flavours of subatomic particles (my favourite being ‘Strange’), but it wouldn’t help me understand the problem at hand.

I can, however, parse the problem in terms I am familiar with. If freewill exists – illu . . . More
Author: Dangerous Experiments | Views: 2639 | Comments: 7
Last by Michael Blume on Mar 01, 2011, 1:20am
This week's guest blogger is Michael Blume who did his dissertation in scientific studies of religions (German: Religionswissenschaft) about brain sciences & religion(s). Since then, he has focused on evolutionary studies of religion and therein especially on the interactions of religious traditions and fertility as well as gender issues. Besides writing books and articles, he's blogging at (English) and (German). You can find him on Twitter @BlumeEvolution


The idea that the biological trait of religiosity and the cultural traditions of religion(s) are a result of evolutionary history still seems to be shockingly daring and new to many. But in fact, it has been there from the very start of evolutionary theory. Charles Darwin, a learned theologian, was pretty clear about it: If evolutionary theory turned out to be true, it had to be able to explain the evolution of "natural" religiosity as well as . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 2557 | Comments: 0
Did you know it's next to impossible to measure the cognitive impact of a hangover?

Yeah, think on that for a moment.

In preparation for an upcoming Psychobabble episode I decided to do a bit of research into what impact the hangover has on performance. I mean, we all know what happens when we're drunk - it makes us super sexy, super smart and super confident. Also, due to these three factors, we make excellent decisions.

But the next morning, in the throes of the hangover, these excellent decisions seem suspect. Was it really a sustained excercise in poor judgement? Or is the hangover merely darkening our outlook, recollection and judgement?

I certainly know which of those options I'd prefer to believe, no research required...

Physiologically the hangover sucks. The most common symptoms include headaches and nausea, typically associated with dehydration. Infrequently, though, we push it a little too hard and it gets much worse.

Sunday Morning. Source

Another reason I wanted to look into this was a conversation I had the other night . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 2858 | Comments: 58
Last by Psycasm on Nov 04, 2010, 6:54pm
[Wherein our Hero defends his skeptical stance regarding Psi, despite those with bigger brains than his own working on finding positive evidence. But is it even a legitimate domain of investigation?]

What the flip is all the fuss? See here (post) and (comment)

This particular post way an eye-opener. I’m not going to say a mind-opener, with all its implications, but it definitely made me more aware that important people are working on this topic.

First, I am humbled by some of the authors involved and by some of the organizations and journals endorsing such work.

Second, I stand by my initial mocking tone of the work I cited – and the field more generally.

Third, I believe the question itself is still (currently) without as much merit as Disgruntledphd might suggest.

I’m going to work my way backwards, from point three to one.

The Society of Psychical Research was indeed founded by some great Victorian minds – a most interesting point was that William James (the late, great) was involved in their American operations. I assume, too, that disgruntledphd is accurat . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 2615 | Comments: 7
Last by Psycasm on Oct 09, 2011, 12:57am
[Check out Post 1 if you haven't already.]

I was hoping to do a more science-based post, but I couldn't really find any research on the topic.... but I'm doing one anyway. What's life without a little whimsy?

Our campus Skeptical group has a fairly active Facebook group that discusses all kinds of things. One member posted the comic found here (Sorry, I can't post it. Plus this guy deserves the page it...).

The comic found at the link above had a very brief blog post which describes the actions of an Atheist group offering freshly baked cookies in exchange for one's soul. The comment was made on the skeptical facebook group that we should do the same.

Everyone took to the idea. A few of us discussed the nuances of how and why over lunch, and as a result a few changes were made. Our goal was not to alienate the devout, or offend anyone who holds that souls exist. Our goal is simply to make one question the concept. If one decides that they have a soul - then great; the point is they were actually confronted by the idea and devoted a few minutes of thought (at a . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 2623 | Comments: 0
A Psychobabble short. Occupy Wall Street and the Inner Primate.

My motivation for doing this particular research was to ask the question 'how deep does our sense of fairness run?'. There's a little bit of anthropomorphising going on, but I think some of the more interesting stuff comes through.

This short is less than 10 minutes long. Hope you enjoy it.

. . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 2495 | Comments: 2
Last by Marisa Hendrickson on Mar 11, 2012, 11:23pm

[This post is part of a larger blogging carnival addressing the questions What is Psychopathology. See The Thoughtful Animal for a full list]

What is psychopathology?

Really, give that question some thought.

It’s a big topic, where do you even begin? How do you start to understand such a thing?

Perhaps its worth starting, well, somewhere near the beginning.

Evolution is well established as a legitimate vehicle for biological change. But where does behaviour come from? Could it possibly be the same place? If not, where else? While biological function and form are readily accepted as evolutionary outcomes behaviour is less attributed to demands of fitness, survival, and the flourishing of the species (or of the individual therein).

Why not Psychopathology [Mental Illness] too? It is hereditary, and thus, genetic. It exists in the population in the context of environmental and social influences. It may render a sufferer unfit for procreation, or perhaps, as exceptionally so.

Here are a few points that might change the way you think about Psychopathology. I would love to give this a deeper treatment, but I expect the debate g . . . More
Author: Whitney Krueger | Views: 2405 | Comments: 2
Last by Carol on Sep 28, 2011, 7:39pm
With approximately 74.8 million owned in the United States and 38% of US households having at least one, dogs truly are man's best friend. And rightfully so, as the benefits of owning a pet are many, including decreased risks for stress and cardiovascular disease, as well as increased heart attack survival rates and improved psychological and physical well-being. Among children, owning a pet has been associated with reduced risk of asthma and allergies, and improved social skills, self-esteem, and empathy. But what most dogs owners don't realize is the potential dogs have to spread zoonotic diseases (a disease transmitted between animals and humans), and not just rabies, but parasites and pathogens such as roundworm, Q fever, brucellosis, and leptospirosis. Even more, novel canine zoonotic diseases continue to emerge.

Canine zoonoses can be spread by:

direct contact oral route of transmission (e.g. eating with contaminated hands) a fomite (object contaminated with an infectious disease that can then be transmitted, e.g. door knob) aerosol/respiratory transmission vector-borne (e.g. ticks and fleas) Recently canine influenza virus and canine respiratory coronavirus appeared on the scene. Historically influenza and corona viruses in other . . . More
Author: Alchemystress | Views: 2821 | Comments: 12
Last by Alchemystress on Jul 12, 2011, 1:51pm
I was inspired by @scicurious on twitter. (her original post here
Those of you with tattoos please chime in. Why is it that people touch me when they see a tattoo on me? And why in the hell is it ever ok? I get it that in the summer months some of my tats are visible, and they are interesting and invite questions. But questions are precisely where it should start. I have had people yank my arm to get a look with no hello first. I understand that someone may want to touch the pictures; it’s interesting how the skin looks different and feels the same. But ask first. I sometimes dress a little warmer than I would like because I don’t want people touching me. And I hate the remarks like “Well, why did you get it where people can see if you didn’t want attention?” So that takes away my rights of personal space?! I am sorry - I don’t mind the questions, I get it, but not the touching. They are “hideable,” but that shouldn’t be something I need to think about everyday. In the end, I got them just for me.

This one moment really took the cake. I have vines tattooed acro . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 2202 | Comments: 2
Last by Psycasm on Sep 24, 2010, 7:55am
In my last post [here] all were invited to make judgements about my personality variables based only on a photo of my head and shoulders, and (implicitly) the post associated with it.

It had been suggested by Neumann and colleagues (200) that people can accurately do this - according to their methodology. While my post was a far cry from lab conditions people still made predictions, which is interesting in and of itself. I took the following Big-5 test test - at what appears to be a reputable and academic free online hosting. It was posted by Dr. Tom Buchanan, Department of Psychology, University of Westminster, UK. Click here. A quick explanation as to what the Big-5 are (and my accompanying scores) lifted directly from Dr. Buchanan's site:

Factor I : Extraversion (AKA Surgency) This trait reflects preference for, and behavior in, social situations. People high in extraversion are energetic and seek out the company of others. Low scorers (introverts) tend to be more quiet and reserved. Compared . . . More
Author: David Manly | Views: 2331 | Comments: 0
First off, I would like to apologize for not posting as recently as I would have liked to on LabSpaces. I've been with LabSpaces blogs since the very beginning, and I would never stop posting ... but, life got in the way.

Over the past few months, I've been busy writing and working, and I let a few things fall away.
So, I apologize for my absence, but I'm back now and will post more frequently. And, I have a very interesting post to share. I hope you enjoy!

Fear is one of the most powerful emotions that a human can experience, and it can affect every human being on the planet. However, how do you categorize an emotion? People feel emotions in different ways, and some are more affected by them than others.

The etymology, or origin of the word, is not well known. According to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary, it comes from the Middle English fer or the Old English fǣr, which stands for sudden danger. This describes the event that caused the emotion, but not the emotion itself. The emotional state of fear was first noticed and defined in the late 12th Century, and is the same definition that we know of today. But is there a better one out there?

To define an emotion is a complex task, but to describe one . . . More
Author: Brian Krueger, PhD | Views: 2450 | Comments: 5
Last by microbiologist xx on Sep 26, 2010, 8:15am
I'm going to preface this by saying that I am not a medical expert. I don't even begin to pretend I know anything about medicine or how to cure diseases. I do watch those cheesy "Untold stories of the ER" shows on Discovery and TLC though, and sometimes I partially remember things they say about diagnoses.

This story begins back when I was finishing up my PhD at Iowa. I had successfully defended my thesis (thank god) and was out on a drinking excursion with "the boys" the weekend before I was moving down to Florida to start my new job. The evening started out just like any other, we pregamed at my buddy's apartment drinking cheap beer, cooking up some quick dinner and bullshitting about how much being a graduate student sucks. You know, the typical poor graduate student routine.

We finally got a cab and made it down to "downtown" which in Iowa City consists of 3 businesses and 75 bars filled with helplessly drunken co-eds. I swear it wasn't more than 15 minutes into the night when my buddy, who shall be referred to as "Dr. Millner" from here on out, started hiccuping. These weren't your normal "Hiccup for 10 minutes and be done with it" type of hiccups, these things were going to last for hours. Of course, being a medical student an . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 2316 | Comments: 20
Last by Pascal Wallisch on Nov 04, 2010, 1:10am

[Wherein our Hero considers the consequences of being Blonde. Notes for femme fatale bank-robbers...]

So this was a topic I received via twitter, or perhaps I was being alerted to a finding via twitter... in any event I've decided to run with it.

The tweet was referencing the degree of eye-contact men make with women who have different coloured hair. Though I couldn't find an article addressing that direct question it seems that the implication is that hair colour influences the perceived attractiveness of women in men. I think the folk wisdom is that, yes, it certainly does; but the bigger question is how might such a difference manifest in the real world. Ok, so men are nicer to women who they find more attractive? There are some good (evolutionary) reasons why this might be the case; and I would also suggest that women are nicer to men they find more attractive.

But again, so what?

Well, apparently there are some pretty big differences. Let's begin with those who receive tips during their work. It seems tips increase with breast size, and hip-to-waist ratio, but start to decline if the ratio is too large or the breasts are too far either side of some 'optimum' t . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 2377 | Comments: 6
Last by Nikkilina on Oct 28, 2010, 3:12pm

[Wherein our hero puts it off... but later returns and wonder how, and why, it could've been done better]

So I'm at the pointy end of the semester. My exams have all been turned in and now I'm left to deal with the rising spectre of exams. It's wierd - you can work as hard as you like all semester and earn up to 50% of your overall grade, but the final exam is the kicker often worth half or more of your overall grade. It makes you think - was that 8% piece worth the three days of effort, or could I have better used that time elsewhere? Could I have cut some corners? What if I just took a day off and went to the beach for some R&R, would that have had long-term gains?

And of course there are the despicable folk who complain 'Oh, I was up all night doing that assignment. I only started it yesterday afternoon'. Assuming they're telling the truth and assuming there were no influencing variables (like family problems, etc) my first reaction is Screw you, I don't care, you should've used your time better, my second reaction is I respect you just a little less for making that decision and complaining about it and third, so help me if you do better than me....

Natur . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 2168 | Comments: 5
Last by Evie on Dec 01, 2010, 9:16am

[Wherein our Hero discusses why you should be doing voice excercises as well as your morning push-ups]

The study I’m running is finally about to get underway. We didn’t completely solve the ‘true magnitude sexy’ problem, but we decided to add a few measures to try and explain it a little better.

How’d we do that? Well, we’re kind of employing the same methodology to participant’s voice. This particular little trick does have its own problems (you don’t hear your own voice as it actually is), but we can manipulate change in the voice to true and objective measures (i.e. percentage change in pitch).

What, might you ask, does voice have to do with it? We can all fairly readily accept that a guy with a strong jaw line and big hands is probably dripping with testosterone. They’re the kind of guy, nice as they might be, whom we quietly make the mental note: don’t get into a fight with him. Big muscles, too, we accept as a fairly decent sign of masculinity. Now you ladies might argue – no, muscles and big hands are passé and crass, I like my man to be sensitive and emotional – but, from everything I’ve read, . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 2480 | Comments: 4
Last by Psycasm on Jul 30, 2011, 6:18am
My girlfriend’s is a foody. She loves to cook, to talk, to read, and to critique food. I, on the other hand, am not.

I don’t particularly enjoy food and view its consumption as a ‘filling up the tank’ kind of exercise. It’s not that I don’t have a sense for food, or that I’m ignorant of what food is or what it should be. It’s just that eating seems to me a necessary provision for staying alive.

I’ve come to view this as an advantage over the years. Generally speaking I eat whatever I want, and don’t pay too much attention to my intake. I’m active and fit so I can work off the ‘bad stuff’ pretty easily, but I do go to fat rather quickly if I slack off for more than a week.

Why do I think of this as an advantage? Well, I eat what I want ‘cause I’m assuming that what I want to eat is guided by what my body is telling me I need to eat. This is, however, only a layman’s hypothesis. Until recently I’ve never looked into the topic because I’ve never felt the need (that is, I’ve never suspected my diet as the cause of any ailments).

Recently, however, the motivation has arisen. My girlfriend has been charging me to do a podcast on the topic for a few months now and I rec . . . More
Author: Dangerous Experiments | Views: 2235 | Comments: 3
Last by Alchemystress on Jul 14, 2011, 10:48am
This week's co-guest blogger is Zoonotica! She is a 1st year PhD student whose main interests lie in disease transmission, public health and science communication. She blogs about amazingly cool scientific research that is going on at the moment; current topics in public health and zoonotic diseases; and a little bit about life as a PhD student. You can find more from Zoonotica on her blog or by following her on twitter.


What suckered me into starting a PhD was learning about zoonotic diseases. I think they’re just so fascinating – they’re complex and dangerous and everywhere! According to the literature they’re hiding in our forests, our parks and gardens, they’re even lurking in our houses! But what the heck are they?

Well, a zoonotic disease, or zoonosis, according to the World Health Organisation is

any disease or infection that is naturally transmissible from vertebrate animals to humans and vice-versa

and there are a large and ever-growing number of them. (In fact, it’s been estimated that 3 out of every 4 emerging human disease comes from animals!)

I’m even fairly confident that you – yes, you, reading this post right now – will have come across a zoonosis at some point with you or a family member or friend suffering from one (obviously hopefully one of the less dangerous ones!)

Engraving of Little Red Riding Hood by Gustave Doré (1832-1883)
. . . More