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Author: Lab Mom | Views: 573 | Comments: 2
Last by Jennette Green on Mar 18, 2011, 4:02am
In light of my recent bout of an easily preventable illness, the topic of Haiti's cholera outbreak and what can be done to prevent it from becoming an epidemic seems timely.

It appears a debate has started over the effectiveness of a large scale vaccination program and whether or not it is worth attempting. Dr. Paul Farmer's commentary in The Lancet (as well as additional articles in this week's New England Journal of Medicine) pushing for the use of vaccinations is in opposition to the views of the Pan-American Health Organization who feel a vaccination program would be too difficult and costly.

The whole thing reminds me of the "Starfish" story where a little boy is throwing stranded starfish back into the sea, and although there are so many he will knows he will on . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 1051 | Comments: 0

[Wherein our hero looks at our general online credulousness, and why

So we recorded our second trial of the Psychobabble Podcast the other night, I'm yet to edit down into a nice ipod-size programme, but I thought I might make a post regarding an interesting paper, and series of points that came up.


But first, please help me help a PhD! She has half the data set she needs, but another 100 participants would be awesome. There's not much research in this particular area of decision making, and the results look to be really interesting, and really novel.


Back in the day, when I was studying business, a lecturer described the internet (pre-bubble) as a wild-west-like frontier, where you could pretty much get away with anything. People were still grappling with the technology, and bunch of really smart people took it by the reigns and made a killing. I think a lot of it had to do with novelty, but a lot of it had to do with the credulousness of people, too. Yet I'm not sure it was entirely their fault. We . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 986 | Comments: 5
Last by Psycasm on Dec 06, 2010, 5:56am

[Wherein our hero investigates why our eyes are frequently bigger than our bellies]

To welcome the new blogger to the LabSpaces line-up (JaySeeDub, here), I have themed my post accordingly. To Food.

My girlfriend has this rediculous (and infuriating) habit. When I pour her a glass of water it needs to be filled to within millimeters of the brim. It doesn't matter the size of the glass, just that the volume the fluid occupies must nearly be equal with the volume available. This is annoying on so many levels, but mostly because she never finishes her glass. This is especially frustrating when I give her a glass of my beer. She drinks only half of it, then apparently forgets about it completely. This is Beer - a vital fluid! It's not like water that flows freely from the tap. Arg!

But it raises an interesting question. How much truth is there to the statement that our eyes are bigger than our bellies? An ambiguous statement in the extreme, but what might it mean? Generally, it's taken to suggest that we overestimate the amount of food we want to eat.

But why?

Well, one possible explanation is that we desire the food in qu . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 2174 | 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: 1661 | Comments: 0

[Wherein our Hero seeks to understand the benefits of both reading and writing blogs]

How meta- of me. A blog about blogging. It was sure to happen, as surely as it has happened everywhere else.

In my defence at least it’s a researchblogging article about blogging.

I have to say that the decision to start a blog was one of unintended consequences, all positive, I assure you.

I had two motivations in doing so – the first was to combat the rash of opinion being passed off as fact. I was sick of reading how so-and-so says this, but you-who say that, and the meaningless, factless battles the followed. I know that my blog does not begin to make a dent in the wealth of opinion-as-fact out there, but at least I proved to myself that one can be a solid skeptic and student-of-fact when dealing with my own life.

The second goal was to self-educate. I could just as easily have blogged about any given field, any given hobby, or broaden my range to ‘what’s in the news’, but since I hope to make a career in Psychology it seemed prudent to self-educate in Psychology.

With regard to the second fact I must recount a story. I was in Lab Group the day, and we (there were about a dozen of us) we . . . More
Author: Lab Mom | Views: 687 | Comments: 8
Last by Tideliar on Nov 26, 2010, 4:14pm
Yes.. I am alive. I know it has been a while, and I want to apologize to all my LabSpaces cohorts for not stopping by sooner, but I didn't have it in me.

It turns out that I was one of the 17,000 cases of Pertussis (Whooping Cough) reported in the US this year. In case you weren't aware, adults need to be re-vaccinated for whooping cough with a DTaP booster at least every 10 years. (Frequently the Tdap booster is also called your "Tetanus shot" since it is also included along with Diphtheria.)

Unfortunately for me I was not (I thought I had been, but it turns out 10 years just fly by!)

Not only was my oversight stupid, but it was also dangerous. I have small children in my household (fortunately they have both been vaccinated, I'm not THAT stupid), and I constantly come into contact with other small children (some of which have not.) Don't even get me started about childhood vaccinations. If you really want my opinion, you can read it here, but I am not going to rehash that topic.

We aren't just talking about a . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 347 | Comments: 6
Last by Prabodh Kandala on Nov 24, 2010, 11:35pm
After months of blue-sky musings, and weeks of preparation I stand to make an announcement.

I am releasing a Psychology Themed Podcast.

Let me outline a bit of my reasoning:

I listen to a number of podcasts, as they're an excellent way to receive ongoing news and information, and are frequently accompanied by skilled dissection. I personally (and regularly) listen to Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, Astronomycast, Freakonomics, and Skeptically Speaking (as well as a number of others on a less regular basis).

You'll notice none of the mentioned are Psychology themed... and that's a big problem I've noticed. There's a lot of Psychology-themed podcasts out there but they all suffer from a number of problems (in my opinion). Mostly they're a lecture series delivered by smart and (no doubt) interesting people, but not an interesting way.

I aim to do what Skeptics' Guide does for Skepticism and Science News, and what Astronomycast does for Astronomy - make a big all-encompassing topic digestible by those interested in the area, but not formally trained. For instance, I've always loved Astronomy, but if I were ever to pick up a book on the topic I would be swamped by jargon, hit with maths, and experience a general sense of being overwhelmed. Astronomy . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 1943 | Comments: 3
Last by Psycasm on Nov 21, 2010, 11:15pm

[Wherein our Hero discusses a difficult conceptual problem, and explains why you're probably not as hot as you think]

So I’m dealing with a pretty big conceptual problem at the moment. It’s part of the study I’m currently conducting on behalf of another.

The study involves, in part, morphing a participant’s face with that of a more attractive target and with that of a less attractive target.

It follows the methodology of Epley and Whitchurch (2008) who found that, in a task where participants were asked to ‘estimate the likelihood that [a given] face is their own’ they were more likely to pick 20% more attractive than their actual face.

They conducted a number of other experiments within their paper, and generally found that 10% and 20% more attractive faces were routinely accepted as one’s own more readily than 20%+ and actual and ugly-morphed faces. For the astute, there was frequently observed a decline at 10% ugly that is not of the magnitude expected. In discussions we’ve concluded that this is likely due to the fact that morphing (to a small degree) stands to ‘average out’ a face. Thus features that might be anomalous (say, a big nose; a slight asymmetry) get w . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 919 | Comments: 2
Last by Psycasm on Nov 19, 2010, 9:02pm

[Wherein our Hero ponders what makes us dance, and why we might do it.]

Last night I was driving home from work and was stopped at a red light. Across the street, waiting to walk was a girl. And she was dancing to her ipod. For some reason, this always makes me smile.

I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of seeing someone dancing along in their own little world. It’s always a bit of a judgment call as to whether you think ‘what a dick’ or ‘good for you’. Can they just not control their impulses? Can they, but choose to ignore them? To ignore what everyone is doing around them? Are they not aware that there are people around them?

Now I’m not a dancer (and I don’t do karaoke, either) so I don’t really understand it. Dance is generally accepted as some kind of emotional expression, but I just don’t get it. I mean, I can watch someone else dance and understand what they’re trying to convey (I’m not completely a-cultural), but if you asked me to spend 30 seconds physically conveying some particular emotion I’d probably end up miming.

Interestingly, children can pick up what is being expressed in dance. Here’s an excerpt from the abstract of a paper by Lagerlof & Djerf . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 1087 | Comments: 3
Last by Pascal Wallisch on Nov 19, 2010, 6:25pm

[Wherein our Hero pops a question - What's so great about Marriage?]

I’m surrounded by marriage at the moment. In just the last three weeks I’ve had two cousins marry off (people my own age, I should add), and – most notably for LabSpaceCadets - Brian ‘Dear Overlord’ Kreuger has become happily married in the last day and a half.

One thing I’ve noticed about Weddings is that it becomes acceptable, if not customary, to harass established couples into getting married as well. For instance, my girlfriend and I have been together for 4 years, and no-on, not ever, suggests we ought to get married in anything more than jest. Yet at a wedding even my own brother is allowed to take a jab and suggest we ought to get married… My Brother, Father, Mother, Cousins 1 and 2, Auntie and probably a few more brought it up. They ask “Do I hear wedding bells?”, to which I respond “I hear nothing, perhaps you have a tumour.”.

Obviously marriage is an important social construct, but in my own little microcosm of white, middle-class first-world society I know no-one that feels actual pressure to get marriage. They do it for themselves, and out of love and commitment for the parties involved. And so I wo . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 619 | Comments: 0

[Wherein our Hero checks to see if he's the made of the right stuff for a Moon base or an Arctic Mission]

Did you hear? NASA and DARPA have announced the 100-year Starship project. Broadly speaking it aims to attract billionaire investors into a Starship Project, as well as creating a project that will inspire generations.

The thought of interstellar flight alone inspires me. My hand is officially up for crew. Yes, I know I’ll be 125 if it’s completed in exactly 100 years, but I figure we’re only 40 years away from stasis, or maybe even some magic drugs to reverse cell death. Whatever it takes, I’m there. Seriously, I would volunteer to do any such thing, including going to Mars. Even if it wasn’t a return trip - the idea of being a colonist is even more spectacular. More realistically however, I *might* find myself in Antarctica at some point. Maybe, in a future where I’m a rock-star academic and the government gives me a grant that involves ice, cold, or confinement or something…

And so that got me thinking – what’s the psychology behind confinement, behind isolation, behind the extremes of survival.

I would love to do such a thing, but the truth of the situation would be th . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 474 | Comments: 2
Last by Bashir on Nov 10, 2010, 3:14pm
As a kid people would ask (adults, mostly) who is your hero?

All the little boys would name some rugby player, and all the little girls would name some actress. Some of them might name a dancer, if they were into that kind of thing.

I played sport, I played music, I had access to the opportunity to form an opinion toward some target of admiration. I just never did. I never saw the point. Not in a "I'm going to be independent" kind of way, I just didn't; it kind of made me sad that I didn't have a hero and everyone else did.

In some sense I think that’s what a mentor is, for a child. Again, as a teenager and a growing adult I never really had a mentor either. I’m not sure why – I even signed up for a mentor programme. I’m not sure if it was my ‘mentor’s’ failing, my own, or the programme’s, but I never got much out of that.

Perhaps I’m defining ‘mentor’ in a fashion too rigid. I imagine a mentor-relationship to be 2-way street. I, the underling, working under the benevolent gaze of a wizened mind, knowing that even if I make a mistake I will not be reprimanded, but will be encouraged to learn from the experience. I imagine the relationship not to be too stressful, because the mentor should be able to handle it all. I don’t know . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 568 | Comments: 2
Last by Psycasm on Nov 07, 2010, 8:19pm
My post is light today because I have a rather large exam in a few hours. It's worth 50% of total course credit and it's on ef-off-sophisticated statistics. I really don't know what kinds of statistics other disciplines require, but this is the third and final statistics course for the undergrad component and it's getting worryingly difficult. I'm relieved to think it'll be over in a few hours.

Statistics is might ordinarily be a dry and boring subject, but I need to thank my lecturer, who most excellently taught the subject with personality and insight. Addtionally, I have been involved in a number of lab-groups where academics throw around statistical language with incredible ease. That blows me away, but thanks to this course I actually understand what they're talking about.

In order to celebrate how well this subject was taught I have compile a list of all the things my lecturer said that tickled me in the listening and re-listening of all 26 hours of content (that's 26 hours of stats content in the last week, excluding self-driven work...).


"…these green people are more beautiful, or score more highly on a test of existential worth…" 

"…here you see the structural model... You guys are like ‘I would be happier, frankly, had I n . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 2515 | 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: Psycasm | Views: 2864 | 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: 1605 | Comments: 8
Last by gwern on Nov 06, 2010, 1:06pm

[Wherein our hero considers how he might think himself smarter. Yet it appears Brain-Training might just be woo.]

At this time of year I start wondering how to get an edge in my exams. Is studying really the best way about it? Last exam period I examined the best way to use caffiene, and I ran a series of informal experiments to figure my own personal method out [here].

This time round I was thinking - how can I improve my working memory / fluid intelligence. I'd heard a bit in the pop media about some tasks that can improve some general capacities and I thought sounds reasonable.

Fluid intelligence / working memory is your capacity to hold things in mind and access them quickely and efficiently; it's the capacity 'to hold a representation active in the face of distraction and interference'. I may be using those terms [working memory, fluid intelligence] incorrectly, so please correct me if that's the case. For instance I have a heavily weighted multichoice stats exam coming up. It would be useful to be able to peruse the whole sheet and kind of keep a running log of here are the questions on x, here are the questions on y... and be able . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 472 | Comments: 9
Last by Will on Oct 26, 2010, 5:58pm
Welcome to Assassins' League.

The first rule of the Assassins' League is:

You know what, I don't have a punchy one-liner. But let me explain. Previously I've stated that I've adopted 'Be indispensable' as my personal motto. Well, this is part of the overall plan, but the story starts earlier than that.

I started studying psychology knowing I didn't like failure. As soon as I had a bit of knowledge under my, after my first semester (when I was technically a second-year), I began to network. I boot-strapped myself up by making sure I talked to all my lecturers and by getting to know other people who work hard. Fortuitously I met an acquaintance who was post-honours and working on campus who introduced me to a number of postgrads. I don't know how - but I managed to get to know and build rapport with them all (well, most) - after all, who am I? An undergrad with delusions of ambition?!*

With step 1 handled I moved on to step 2. I figured if I can make myself central to something, make myself indispensible to many people, to offer something that's hard to achieve alone, and make it easy for anyone to do the same as I did, I'd be in like Flynn. So I started the . . . More
Author: Psycasm | Views: 2382 | 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: 663 | Comments: 13
Last by Nikkilina on Oct 19, 2010, 8:31am
This post is at the request of Nikkilina. I welcome any and all suggestions for topics.

Infants are such simple little creatures. Their heads are too big for their bodies and they often smell. However, they do grow up and later become productive members of society, like bloggers or webcomics. However, while small and under-developed that are capable of doing some amazing things. Amazing being used in the sense that 'they amaze us', not in the sense that they are capable of impressing us.

Infants and toddlers all lack a Theory of Mind. All adults have ToM (though it might be argued some more than others). ToM is the capacity to infer states-of-mind of another, this encompasses beliefs, desires, intentions, pretence, attention, and knowledge. It is both the capacity to understand one's own mind in relation to others, and understand the mind of others in relation to the self (and others). It exists on a continuum where new-borns have an incredibly limited capacity for ToM and it develops, gradation by gradation, module by module, until, as adults, we can function in this highly cohesive, deceptive, co-operative, threatening, and engaging society.

To give quick preface on its development for those who are not familiar with it. Newborns develop the . . . More