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Author: Psycasm | Views: 3500 | Comments: 2
Last by Psycasm on Sep 29, 2011, 8:33pm
So I've been thinking about religion and beliefs again. More specifically, souls...

I'll get to writing a full-length post, and explaining my recent interest, early next week.

In the mean time here's an episode of Radiolab with a reading of the story 'Metamorphosis'. It's written by a neuroscientist by the name of David Eagleman. If there's ever a version of the afterlife I could get on board with, it's this.

[Skip to 6:30; The reading lasts only 4 minutes]


If you're feeling a little bummed out by the last story, try this next one. It's written by the same guy, and is a little more light-hearted and whimsical...


. . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 10792 | Comments: 6
Last by Leighton on Jul 11, 2012, 6:23am
Normally I avoid writing about things I learn in class. I try to use this blog, and the associated podcast, to research topics outside of the boundaries of my normal schooling.

This topic struck me, however.

There's a phenomenon called the False Consensus Effect (FCE) which basically states that we, as individuals, view our own preferences, behaviours and judgements as being typical, normal and common within a broader context; it also suggests we find alternative characteristics as being more deviant and atypical than they actually are.

I asked my tutor, 'Is this a kind of logical fallacy?', being new to the topic and a little surprised I'd never heard of it before...

He responds, 'No, not really. It's basically just a cognitive error. Once you know about it, you really won't ever feel confident in offering an opinion again'. Or something to that effect.

And he's right.

As a self-identified Skeptic, a member of the campus Skeptic's group, and a consumer of the Skeptic media (SGU, Skeptically Speaking, . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 285 | Comments: 1
Last by yannisguerra on Sep 22, 2011, 9:14am
In my last post I asked you to take a brief survey. Many of you did, in fact, within about 13 hours I had nearly 150 responses. However, the survey host, Surveymonkey, only provides the first 100 responses. This is not really a big deal, and given that the survey itself was a bit rough-and-ready, it got the job done.

I asked 10 questions in total on four different topics. The topics themselves were arbitrary. They were simply accessible constructs which most people have an opinion about.

. . . More
Author: Whitney Krueger | Views: 2324 | 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: Psycasm | Views: 1521 | Comments: 0
A paper published by Zietsch and Santtila (2011) has recently caused a bit of a stir in the science-blogging community. Heavy-weights such as PZ Meyers, Scicurious and Greg Laden have posted regarding the paper with various levels of criticism. The paper, published in Animal Behaviour, and entitled 'Genetic analysis of orgasmic function in twins and siblings does not support the by-product theory of female orgasm' was published by a scientist I have come to know over the past year or so.

It's always exciting to see someone you know make a splash, and I've had some interesting conversations with Dr. Zietsch regarding the criticisms. I'm a small-fry in the blogging community, but I offered Dr. Zietsch this forum to respond (if he felt so inclined).

The following are not my words, it is the work of Dr. Zietsch. I suspect he'll be paying attention to comments, but I would like to stress that the author of the post that . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 6698 | Comments: 1
Last by Matej Jasso on Jan 10, 2013, 7:15am
I was first exposed to this paper via Radiolab with their episode on 'Cities'. I wasn't quite sure how accurately Radiolab was portraying the finding (this was the very first episode I had listened to), but it certainly captured my attention.

A few months later the same paper was brought up again (in class, I think), and re-ignited my interest.

More recently still, a film-student friend of mine was searching for a documentary topic, and this paper jumped to the fore of conversation.

When I finally sat down to find the primary source I was surprised to find that one of the authors, Ara Norenzayan, was someone who's research I had profiled in a previous blog post.

The paper looks at the idea of profiling cities. Not in a GDP kind of way, not in a population density kind of way, not even on size or any other measures you're probably used to. It's a strange kind of behaviour-level analysis. It measures the Pace of Life* that each of its inhabitants are subject to. If those that live in a city can b . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 970 | Comments: 3
Last by Psycasm on Sep 04, 2011, 6:41am
Usually it takes me a few days to write a post after I've done all my research. I've been trying (not very successfully) to sit on a post and read it cold some time after it's been written. I'm told this is called 'drafting', but I don't do it very often (or well).

So I'm going to try something new that will hopefully help me with this.

Here's what I'm going to do. If I find an interesting graphic relating to an up-coming entry, I'm going to post it for some initial thoughts a few days before the post-proper. The idea is that people can throw around some ideas regarding what it's about, what kind of questions could be worth asking the research, etc,... just to open up a forum and give myself a reason to sit on an entry before posting it.

So here's number one:




Wirtz, P. & Ries, G. (1992) The Pace of Life - Reanalysed: Why Does Walking Speed of Pedestrians Correlate with City Size? Behaviour, 123, 77 - 83.

. . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 1494 | Comments: 9
Last by Psycasm on Aug 30, 2011, 9:14am
So this has been floating around twitter this morning - People Who Doodle Learn Faster. The primary source is this document, published in Science [Fulltext unavailable, Abstract here]. The original document is less than two pages long and very easy to read.

I really want to take the 'Doodle' article to task. It's just plain wrong.

At no point does the Science article make the claim that 'People Who Doodle Learn Faster'. The Author of the 'Doodle' post, Tim Barribeau , should be embarrased. The title of the original paper is 'Drawing to Learn in Science'. I suppose if that's all you read then you might be mistaken for thinking that doodling leads to learning (if drawing = doodling); but really? Faster learning? The word 'Fast*' is not even in the original article.

The paper in question is completely theoretical. In saying that, I'm being generous. It is theoretical inasmuch as it presents no data; but as far as theories go, there's not mu . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 9674 | Comments: 3
Last by Alchemystress on Sep 04, 2011, 9:06am

A few weeks ago I approached the student radio people on campus and proposed getting Psychobabble on the air. I had been toying with the idea for a while but hadn't seen the full potential of the idea until someone mentioned that, if we were on the air, we would have access to their studio...

And so I'm pretty excited to announce that Psychobabble will now be recording on professional equipment. No more static scratches and p-p-pops. Not only that, but having four people in the studio at the same time (instead of skyping from different places) should help build some excellent banter and rapport.

As it stands we'll just be pre-recording and releasing as normal (plus being on the radio 3 times a week). However, they did ask if we'd consider a live-show too. The crew has expressed interest in the idea, but that's a while away yet (if at all).

At any rate I'm excited to be bringing much higher production values to the show, and I'm hoping this will pull more listeners, more reviews, and some more word-of-mouth recommendations.

Thanks to everyone who continues to download and support the show!

Stream the student radio here - JACradio

. . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 379 | Comments: 1
Last by Brian Krueger, PhD on Aug 22, 2011, 1:52pm
Last week I reported on a strange illusion I had in the middle of the night. Upon waking early in the morning I experienced a sensation where I felt as though I had been asleep for 5 or 6 hours, but had actually only been asleep for an hour and a half. The experience disappeared for about a week, and returned for a single night 8 or 9 days later. I'm pretty sure no-one was sneaking LSD into my milo, so I wanted to figure out what was going on.

I asked people what they thought in my last post. Commenter Beauness said that our timekeeping was regulated by our circadian rhythms. Commenter Kate pointed me in the direction of an article about the Suprachiasmatic Nucleus (wiki link). The SCN plays a role in regulating the circadian rhythms.

Now every school kid knows we have Circadian Rhythms, and that they are basically our 'body clock'. But knowing that isn't very useful. What is a Circadian Rhythm? How does it work? and is it grounded in something beyond our biology?

In my last post I posed three questions that I thought would help illuminate my strange sensation. I'm addressing them here, briefly, as be . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 4314 | Comments: 4
Last by Kate on Aug 16, 2011, 7:11pm
Does anyone else get this? They find themselves in a habit, where for a few days running, they wake up at roughly the same time each night and need to go to the toilet?

Maybe it's not even needing to go to the toilet, but simply looking at the time and realizing that you woke up at this time last night, and the night before, and the night before again. Then, having noticed this, it's quite difficult to get back to sleep...

Sure, it may be partly confirmation bias where we only happen to notice and remember the act when there's a perceived pattern. But my question, and my story, go a touch further...

For three nights in a row I got up thinking it must be quite close to morning (around 4am-ish...) only to find it's actually ~1:30am. That is, I woke up thinking I'd been asleep for 5 or 6 hours, when I'd only actually been asleep for 90 minutes. On the fourth night - having noticed this pattern - I got up expecting this strange sensation, only to be completely baffled by the concept of time. It's kind of hard to explain, but I could equally believe that it was some time in the mid-afternoon, as I could that it was 2am. I was genuinely confused. Naturally, I just went back to sleep.

Problem. Solved.

This got me thinking. How do we measure . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 2941 | 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: 281 | Comments: 3
Last by Psycasm on Aug 09, 2011, 1:11am
Just a quick catch-up.

The Freewill series is currently on hold. Denise, one of the contributers, has had her computer stolen. It contained everything. So for both pragmatic and academic reasons, she has had to withdraw (temporarily) from the project.

As for my blogging, I'm a bit quiet this week due to some personal stuff. I've also been reconsidering the format of my blog. I've noticed my posts are getting longer and longer, and so I'm trying to figure out how I want to fix this (or even if it's such a bad thing). My personal thoughts are 'long posts are good' but I'm not sure this view is widely held. So I'm working on some topics and formats that bring the individual posts lengths down without sacrificing all the things I want to share. This may take a little bit of time, and input would be greatly appreciated. If you read any blogs with novel/interesting formatting and presentations styles I'd be very interested in reading them.

I should have a post up in the next few days (with lots of pictures, hopefully).

Until then.

. . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 2464 | 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: Psycasm | Views: 1445 | Comments: 9
Last by becca on Jul 27, 2011, 7:40pm
This is a conversation I just had. With a robot.

User: Hey.

Cleverbot: Hey what?

User: Just saying hello.

Cleverbot: My name is Cleverbot.

User: I know. Do you know my name?

Cleverbot: No.

User: Cleverbot, can I ask a question?

Cleverbot: Yes.

User: I'm writing a blog. I need a topic.

Cleverbot: That is incredible!

User: I know, right! Do you have any ideas?

Cleverbot: I like Dexter. Do you know that?

User: Never watched it, but I don't want to write about tv.

Cleverbot: What did you hear about it?

User: That's beside the point.

Cleverbot: Why?

User: I just need some help, ok?

Cleverbot: I need somebody... I-I need somebody.

User: Weird.

Cleverbot: True.

User: So, I need an idea.

Cleverbot: What kind of idea?

User: For something I'm writing.

Cleverbot: So your name is Scot?

User: No.

Cleverbot: Sorry.

User: What do you know about psychology?

Cleverbot: Nothing.

User: What do you know about science?

. . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 7150 | Comments: 6
Last by Taurus on Mar 19, 2012, 8:04am
What is this all about?

See Part 1

See Kate's response, Part 2

See Denise's response, Part 3

See Psycasm's response, Part 4


Kate's response, Part 5.


If Free Will is an Illusion, What Sort of Free Will is it That We Think We Have?

Before I launch into another defence of free will, let’s get back to basics. Let’s check Wikipedia. According to the good sustainers of Wiki, free will is:

“The apparent ability of agents to make choices free from certain kinds of constraints.” – Wikipedia

The word “apparent” is an important one. Free will, everybody agrees, is something we’re all convinced we have, although it may or may not be real. Both the popular and academic discussions of free will have lately consisted of people taking one side or the other towards the proposition “free will is an illusion.” One of the best-selling books . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 5549 | Comments: 1
Last by Happy Quotes on Jan 06, 2012, 6:53pm
A little while ago a friend pointed out I had made a mistake in one of my previous posts.... it was the post What You Might Not Know About Psychology: A Student's Perspective. It was basically me, with my student hat on, attempting to explain some of the nuances and pitfalls of interpreting news and blogs about psychology. Having re-read it, it's a bit of a brass-tacks approach, something I would like to think I would soften if I wrote it again (if only intone, but not content)

In one section of this post I wrote the following:

All Psychology studies are confounded and unreliable because they use university students to test participants!

That's true. The exceeding majority of results are based on populations of students and standardized onto everyone, everywhere (particularly by the media). Additionally, students tend to be WEIRD (White, Educated, from an Industrialized nation, Rich and Democratic). That looks really bad on paper, but most psychologists tend to interpret these finding in a WEIRD context. Additionally, every person I've encountered that objects to a finding because it's WEIRD are WEIRD themselves....

That was a pre . . . More
Author: Dangerous Experiments | Views: 2104 | 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
Author: Psycasm | Views: 50443 | Comments: 4
Last by Alchemystress on Jul 12, 2011, 1:42pm
So a friend, and Psychobabble regular, Matt, has recently co-authored a serendipitous little finding.

When two faces are presented side-by-side and flipped through in a series at high-speed they suddenly appear grotesque and disfigured.

Check it:

The tagline so frequently associated with this is 'pretty girls turn ugly'; it dominates the first page of google and has nearly 1.2 millions hits on youtube (an increase of 400,000 in 12 hours. That's fracking insane. [12/7/11]). See Matt's UQPsychblog post here, where he discusses the finding first-hand.

The effect was discovered when a member of their lab programming faces into a series and aligning the eyes. In spot-checking they flipped through the series at high speed to check that the faces were aligned as intended. Viola - ugliness.

Given the way the effect was discovered it's no surprise they have no sure clue as to the mechanism. They suggest, however:

"Relative encoding seem . . . More
Author: Alchemystress | Views: 2686 | 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