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Why we make resolutions and why they fail Research shows that timing is important in determining whether or not we succeed.
Why does music aid in memorization? A memory expert explains how songs get stuck in your mind.
Doctors and teens both avoid talking about sex and sexuality Almost half of high-schoolers have had sexual intercourse, but teens almost never ask their doctors about sexual health.
Dogs Recognise Familiar Human Faces in Eye Tracking Experiment A new study suggests that, like humans and some primates, dogs have the complex skills required to recognise faces.→ Jeremy Dean is a psychologist and author of PsyBlog. His latest book is "Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick"
Why Do Small Dogs Have So Many Psychological Problems? Why do little dogs exhibit more behavior problems than big dogs? Is it a matter of bad genes, over-indulgent owners, or basic insecurity?read more
Scientists tell us their favourite jokes: 'An electron and a positron walked into a bar…' Science is a very serious business, so what tickles a rational mind? In a not very scientific experiment, we asked a sample of great minds for their favourite jokesPhysicsâ–  Two theoretical physicists are lost at the top of a mountain. Theoretical physicist No 1 pulls out a map and peruses it for a while. Then he turns to theoretical physicist No 2 and says: "Hey, I've figured it out. I know where we are." "Where are we then?" "Do you see that mountain over there?" "Yes." "Well... THAT'S where we are."I heard this joke at a physics conference in Les Arcs (I was at the top of a mountain skiing at the time, so it was quite apt). It was explained to me that it was first told by a Nobel prize-winning experimental physicist by way of indicating how out-of-touch with the real world theoretical physicists can sometimes be. Jeff Forshaw, professor of physics and astronomy, University of Manchesterâ–  An electron and a positron go into a bar.Positron: "You're round."Electron: "Are you sure?" Positron: "I'm positive."I think I heard this on Radio 4 after the publication of a record (small) measurement of the electron electric dipole moment – often explained as the roundness of the electron – by Jony Hudson et al in Nature 2011.Joanna Haigh, professor of atmospheric physics, Imperial College, Londonâ–  A group of wealthy investors wanted to be able to predict the outcome of a horse race. So they hired a group of biologists, a group of statisticians, and a group of physicists. Each group was given a year to research the issue. After one year, the groups all reported to the investors. The biologists said that they could genetically engineer an unbeatable racehorse, but it would take 200 years and $100bn. The statisticians reported next. They said that they could predict the outcome of any race, at a cost of $100m per race, and they would only be right 10% of the time. Finally, the physicists reported that they could also predict the outcome of any race, and that their process was cheap and simple. The investors listened eagerly to this proposal. The head physicist reported, "We have made several simplifying assumptions: first, let each horse be a perfect rolling sphere... "This is really the joke form of "all models are wrong, some models are useful" and also sums up the sort of physics confidence that they can solve problems (ie, by making the model solvable).Ewan Birney, associate director, European Bioinformatics Instituteâ–  What is a physicist's favourite food? Fission chips. Callum Roberts, professor in marine conservation, University of Yorkâ–  Why did Erwin Schrí¶dinger, Paul Dirac and Wolfgang Pauli work in very small garages? Because they were quantum mechanics. Lloyd Peck, professor, British Antarctic Surveyâ–  A friend who's in liquor production,Has a still of astounding construction,The alcohol boils,Through old magnet coils,He says that it's proof by induction.I knew this limerick when I was at school. I've always loved comic poetry and I like the pun in it. And it is pretty geeky ... Helen Czerski, Institute of Sound and Vibration Research, SouthamptonBiologyâ–  What does DNA stand for? National Dyslexia Association.I first read this joke when I was an undergraduate as a mature student in 1990. I'd just come to terms with my own severe reading difficulties and neurophysiology was full of acronyms, which I always got mixed up. For example, the first time I heard about Adenosine Triphosphate it was abbreviated by the lecturer to ATP, which I heard as 80p. I had no clue what she was talking about every time she mentioned 80p. And another thing, how does Adenosine Triphosphate reduce to ATP? Where's the P? Peter Lovatt, lecturer in psychology of dance, University of Hertfordshireâ–  A new monk shows up at a monastery where the monks spend their time making copies of ancient books. The new monk goes to the basement of the monastery saying he wants to make copies of the originals rather than of others' copies so as to avoid duplicating errors they might have made. Several hours later the monks, wondering where their new friend is, find him crying in the basement. They ask him what is wrong and he says "the word is CELEBRATE, not CELIBATE!"I first heard this maybe more than 10 years ago in conjunction with the general theme of "copying errors" or mutations in biology.Mark Pagel, professor of biological sciences, University of Readingâ–  A blowfly goes into a bar and asks: "Is that stool taken?"No idea where I got this from! Amoret Whitaker, entomologist, Natural History Museumâ–  They have just found the gene for shyness. They would have found it earlier, but it was hiding behind two other genes. Stuart Peirson, senior research scientist, Nuffield Laboratory of OphthalmologyMathsâ–  What does the 'B' in Benoit B Mandelbrot stand for? Benoit B Mandelbrot.Mathematician Mandelbrot coined the word fractal – a form of geometric repetition.Adam Rutherford, science writer and broadcasterâ–  Why did the chicken cross the Mí¶bius strip? To get to the other... eh? Hang on...The most recent time I saw this joke was in Simon Singh's lovely book on maths in The Simpsons. I've heard it before though. I guess its origins are lost in the mists of time. David Colquhoun, professor of pharmacology, University College Londonâ–  A statistician is someone who tells you, when you've got your head in the fridge and your feet in the oven, that you're – on average - very comfortable.This is a joke I was told a long time ago, probably as a high school student in India, trying to come to terms with the baffling ways of statistics. What I like about it is how it alerts you to the limitations of reductionist thinking but also makes you aware that we are unlikely to fall into such traps, even if we are not experts in the field.Sunetra Gupta, professor of theoretical epidemiology, Oxfordâ–  At a party for functions, ex is at the bar looking despondent. The barman says: "Why don't you go and integrate?" To which ex replies: "It would not make any difference."Heard by my daughter in a student bar in Oxford. Jean-Paul Vincent, head of developmental biology, National Institute for Medical Researchâ–  There are 10 kinds of people in this world, those who understand binary, and those who don't.I think this is just part of the cultural soup, so to speak. I don't remember hearing it myself until the mid-90s, when computers started getting in the way of everyone's lives! Max Little, mathematician, Aston Universityâ–  The floods had subsided, and Noah had safely landed his ark on Mount Sinai. "Go forth and multiply!" he told the animals, and so off they went two by two, and within a few weeks Noah heard the chatter of tiny monkeys, the snarl of tiny tigers and the stomp of baby elephants. Then he heard something he didn't recognise... a loud, revving buzz coming from the woods. He went in to find out what strange animal's offspring was making this noise, and discovered a pair of snakes wielding a chainsaw. "What on earth are you doing?" he cried. "You're destroying the trees!" "Well Noah," the snakes replied, "we tried to multiply as you bade us, but we're adders... so we have to use logs."Alan Turnbull, National Physical Laboratoryâ–  A statistician gave birth to twins, but only had one of them baptised. She kept the other as a control.David Spiegelhalter, professor of statistics, University of CambridgeChemistryâ–  A chemistry teacher is recruited as a radio operator in the first world war. He soon becomes familiar with the military habit of abbreviating everything. As his unit comes under sustained attack, he is asked to urgently inform his HQ. "NaCl over NaOH! NaCl over NaOH!" he says. "NaCl over NaOH?" shouts his officer. "What do you mean?" "The base is under a salt!" came the reply.I think I heard this when I was a student in the early 1980s. Hugh Montgomery, professor of intensive care medicine, University College Londonâ–  Sodium sodium sodium sodium sodium sodium sodium sodium Batman!This is my current favourite. It comes from my daughter, who is a 17-year-old A-level science student. Tony Ryan, professor of physical chemistry, University of Sheffieldâ–  A weed scientist goes into a shop. He asks: "Hey, you got any of that inhibitor of 3-phosphoshikimate-carboxyvinyl transferase? Shopkeeper: "You mean Roundup?" Scientist: "Yeah, that's it. I can never remember that dang name."Made up by and first told by me. John A Pickett, scientific leader of chemical ecology, Rothamsted Researchâ–  A mosquito was heard to complainThat chemists had poisoned her brain.The cause of her sorrowWas para-dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane.I first read this limerick in a science magazine when I was at school. I taught it to my baby sister, then to my children, and to my students. It's the only poem in their degree course.Martyn Poliakoff, research professor of chemistry, University of NottinghamPsychologyâ–  A psychoanalyst shows a patient an inkblot, and asks him what he sees. The patient says: "A man and woman making love." The psychoanalyst shows him a second inkblot, and the patient says: "That's also a man and woman making love." The psychoanalyst says: "You are obsessed with sex." The patient says: "What do you mean I am obsessed? You are the one with all the dirty pictures.''I have no idea where I first heard this joke. I suspect when I was an undergraduate and was first taught about Freudian psychology.Richard Wiseman, professor of public understanding of psychology, University of Hertfordshireâ–  Psychiatrist to patient: "Don't worry. You're not deluded. You only think you are."I heard this joke from my husband, my source of all good jokes. It is a variation of the type of joke I particularly like: a paradoxical twist of meaning. Here the surprising paradox is that you can at once be deluded and not deluded. This links to an aspect of my work that goes under the label "mentalising" and involves attributing thoughts to oneself and others. It's a mechanism that works beautifully, but the joke reveals how it can go wrong.Uta Frith, professor in cognitive neuroscience, University College Londonâ–  After sex, one behaviourist turned to another behaviourist and said, "That was great for you, but how was it for me?"It's an oldie. I came across it in the late 1980s in a book by cognitive science legend Philip Johnson-Laird. Behaviourism was a movement in psychology that put the scientific observation of behaviour above theorising about unobservables like thoughts, feelings and beliefs. Johnson-Laird was one of my teachers at Cambridge, and he was using the joke to comment on the "cognitive revolution" that had overthrown behaviourism and shown that we can indeed have a rigorous science of cognitive states. Charles Fernyhough, professor of psychology at the University of DurhamMultidisciplinaryâ–  An interviewer approaches a variety of scientists, and asks them: "Is it true that all odd numbers are prime?" The mathematician rejects the conjecture. "One is prime, three is prime, five is prime, seven is prime, but nine is not. The conjecture is false." The physicist is less certain. "One is prime, three is prime, five is prime, seven is prime, but nine is not. Then again 11 is and so is 13. Up to the limits of measurement error, the conjecture appears to be true." The psychologist says: "One is prime, three is prime, five is prime, seven is prime, nine is not. Eleven is and so is 13. The result is statistically significant." The artist says: "One is prime, three is prime, five is prime, seven is prime, nine is prime. It's true, all odd numbers are prime!"Gary Marcus, professor of psychology, New York Universityâ–  What do scientists say when they go to the bar? Climate change scientists say: "Where's the ice?" Seismologists might ask for their drinks to be "shaken and not stirred". Microbiologists request just a small one. Neuroscientists ask for their drinks "to be spiked". Scientists studying the defective gubernaculum say: "Put mine in a highball", and finally, social scientists say: "I'd like something soft." When paying at the bar, geneticists say: "I think I have some change in my jeans." And at the end of the evening a shy benzene biochemist might say to his companion: "Please give me a ring."Professor Ron Douglas of City University and I made these feeble jokes up after pondering the question: "What do scientists say at a cocktail party". Of course this idea can be developed – and may even stimulate your readers to come up with additional contributions.Russell Foster, professor of circadian neuroscience, University of OxfordBiologyChemistryPsychologyMathematicsPhysicsThe Observertheguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds
'Shelf-help' books set to fill publishers' coffers in 2014 New 'intellectually credible' self-improvement books set to outsell celebrity biographies in 2014Sir Alex Ferguson may have the coveted Christmas number one spot with the record-breaking sales of his memoir, My Autobiography. But not even celebrity memoirs are likely to match the publishing sector predicted to grow exponentially in 2014: self-help books.Next year is set to be the one when self-help gains intellectual credibility. This Thursday will see the paperback release of a surprise British bestseller of 2013, The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves by psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz. Chosen as a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week, it is an extraordinary exposé of the human condition, gleaned from 25 years of listening to patients on the couch.Grosz's publisher, Vintage, is launching a series called Shelf Help, a list of 12 titles that aim to improve our lives, "because, as we all know, one of the best ways to feel better about life is through a good book". Its list includes Jeanette Winterson's memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?; Far From the Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity, a study of family life by Andrew Solomon; and Julian Barnes's Nothing to be Frightened Of, an examination of "the fear of death, God, nature, nurture and the author's childhood". The list launches in London next week with the Shelf Help Sessions, an event featuring Grosz and Winterson, chaired by the series' curator, literary reviewer Alex Clark, who is a former Booker prize judge.The expression "self-help" emerged 155 years ago as the title of a book by the Scottish author and government reformer Samuel Smiles. With chapters on "Money – Its Use and Abuse" and "Application and Perseverance", it sold 20,000 copies in 1859. By the time of Smiles's death five decades later, it had sold 250,000 copies, spawning an industry that traditionally has a big boost in January, when even readers who claim to detest the idea of transformation are tempted into buying life-altering guides.Although the biggest story in the publishing industry for 2014 continues to be the unstoppable rise of the ebook and digital self-publishing, self-help remains the world's bestselling genre.Out next week, Promise Land: My Journey Through America's Self-Help Culture, by Jessica Lamb-Shapiro, celebrates this $11bn, largely American industry. "While there may be plenty of derision for today's self-help books," says Lamb-Shapiro, "they are part of an ever-expanding self-betterment market showing no signs of neglect." However, she adds, publishing statistics suggest that 80% of self-help book consumers are repeat buyers, "which could indicate they are not helping".Under the guise of modern philosophy and psychology, the self-help market has taken over the bestseller lists. In recent months, Malcolm Gladwell's David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants (about our perception of risk) has capitalised on the reputation of his earlier Blink (about the dangers and benefits of making snap judgments) and The Tipping Point (about how ideas go viral).The success of academic and "vulnerability researcher" Brené Brown's Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead has seen her elevated to host her own TV show on the Oprah Winfrey Network in the US.These books are not overtly marketed as self-help, but on the sly that is what they are: they are manuals on how to live your life, and how not to. US publisher William Shinker of Gotham Books has called this "self-help masquerading as 'big-idea' books".There is a complementary trend too: for self-help in fiction. The Novel Cure: An A to Z of Literary Remedies by Susan Elderkin and Ella Berthoud prescribes Ernest Hemingway for a headache and Daphne du Maurier for low self-esteem. This guide grew out of the London-based School of Life's bibliotherapy course, a session with a cross between a librarian and a therapist who compiles "an inspirational reading prescription that's tailor-made for you". Berthoud and Elderkin describe fiction as "the purest and best form of bibliotherapy".The self-help industry shows no sign of imploding, though some literary reviewers would like it to. New York magazine's Kathryn Schulz bemoaned the inherent paradoxes of the genre: "In the 1,600 years since Augustine left behind selfhood for sainthood, we've made very little empirical progress towards understanding our own inner workings. We have, however, developed an $11bn industry dedicated to telling us how to improve our lives. Put those two facts together and you get a vexing question: can self-help work if we have no idea how a self works?"PublishingPsychologyPhilosophyVanessa Thorpetheguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds
Can you be too intelligent? | Julian Baggini Our brains are incredible but you can be too smart for your own good. History often warns against what reason alone commendsI once had a friend whose life was being ruined by a powerful and irrational fear. He went to see his doctor about the physical tremors that he had become convinced were the first stages of a nasty terminal condition. The GP recognised the illness as hypochondria but he decided the usual treatment would not work. You see, my friend was too intelligent for cognitive behavioural therapy.Now before readers who have themselves tried and benefited from CBT protest, let me explain that I tell this story because it reveals several things about how fraught the concept of intelligence is. In many ways, my friend was very far from intelligent. Most obviously, why on earth did he not consider the possibility that nothing more sinister than his huge caffeine intake was giving him the shakes, which did indeed turn out to be the case? And if he was so smart, why the obviously irrational fear in the first place?When the GP diagnosed excessive intelligence, he clearly had a very specific form of it in mind. Most of us would call it cleverness: the ability to work through very complex and convoluted chains of reasoning, irrespective of whether it leads to truth or not. Cognitive therapy works by challenging our irrational automatic negative thoughts. But if you're clever, this won't work, because all you do is come up with ever more elaborate rationalisations for why they are in fact rational after all.This is just one way in which you can be too clever. Another is to choose a complicated solution over a simpler one, because the complex one all fits together in your head, where it also leads to a better outcome. Central state-planning is one such historically disastrous example. Truly smart people, however, learn from bitter experience that what is logically consistent in theory often doesn't work in practice. History often warns against what reason alone commends.You could, of course, say that intelligence, properly understood, is a combination of wisdom, good judgment, logical dexterity and factual knowledge, and by definition you can't have too much of that. I'd like to agree, but I fear it is already too late to reclaim the word "intelligence" for this well-rounded cognitive amalgam. Intelligence has been broken down into small parts, and we can rely on each one to excess.It started with IQ, which measures what we might call the processing power of the brain. In reaction to this, people started to claim all sorts of abilities IQ left out as forms of intelligence. Howard Gardner led this multiple intelligences movement, which has generated the somewhat useful concept of emotional intelligence (EQ), as well as the more dubious spiritual and environmental varieties.Strange though it may seem, you can have too much emotional intelligence. Consider the person who has a very heightened ability to understand the mental states of others, but uses this to manipulate or deceive them. Or the engineer who relies too much on her ability to judge people's characters and not enough on their technical competence.There is one other way in which we can have too much intelligence. We kid ourselves if we think that the highest form of human life is one which leaves our brutish nature behind and devotes itself entirely to matters intellectual. Our brains are incredible things, for sure, but without the motivations, desires and preferences generated by our animal natures, they would have nothing to do. At this time of the year, for example, we celebrate good food, good drink, good friends, and family – good or otherwise. From a purely rational point of view, none of these things would have any value, because reason alone distinguishes only true and false, not good and bad, better or worse.Needless to say, the question of whether someone can be too intelligent in any sense is entirely hypothetical in my own case. And lack of intelligence is a much more serious and common problem than too much of it. Nonetheless, it's worth remembering that even intelligence can be excessive, as a reminder that just because something is good, that does not mean more of it is always better. Bear that in mind as you contemplate yet another leftover mince pie.PhilosophyPsychologyJulian Bagginitheguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds
The Midas Touch Babies born prematurely who were held for an hour daily for two weeks had better executive function--impulse control, planning and focus--than preemies who were kept in an incubator 24 hours a day. The brain has critical windows for development, and the time soon after birth has disproportional weight. The benefits of quality care extend at least to age 10.read more
Stroke researchers report improvement in spatial neglect with prism adaptation therapy Stroke rehabilitation researchers report improvement in spatial neglect with prism adaptation therapy. This new study supports behavioral classification of patients with spatial neglect as a valuable tool for assigning targeted, effective early rehabilitation with prism adaptation.
7 Relationship Resolutions Worth Keeping As the sun sets on 2013, use these resolutions to help you renew the spark in your relationship in 2014.read more
Researchers point to digital gains in human recognition Human beings are highly efficient at recognizing familiar faces, even from very poor quality images.
Concussion history associated with risk of alzheimer's disease A new study suggests that a history of concussion involving at least a momentary loss of consciousness may be related to the buildup of Alzheimer's-associated plaques in the brain.
Too Much Crystallized Thinking Lowers Fluid Intelligence In a digital age"”that puts a premium on facts, figures, and data"”crystallized intelligence has become disproportionately valued over fluid intelligence. A wide range of new studies are finding that motor skills, hand-eye coordination, aerobic conditioning, and daily physicality are important for maintaining working memory and fluid intelligence.read more
Surprising causes of winter depression Lack of sunlight isn't the only reason that people feel down during the winter months.
E.R. costs for mentally ill soar, and hospitals seek a better way An experiment in Raleigh is helping mentally ill patients without admitting them to emergency rooms.
What does compassion sound like? "Good to see you. I'm sorry. It sounds like you've had a tough, tough, week." Spoken by a doctor to a cancer patient, that statement is an example of compassionate behavior observed by a research team in a new study published.
5 Mind Tricks to Help Keep Your Resolutions Many of us think about what we want to accomplish at the beginning of a New Year. At the same time, we also know that most New Year resolutions don't stick. What are some effective ways to succeed? Below are five fun and easy tips to help keep your New Year's resolutions...read more
Therapy used to treat vets with PTSD helps teen rape victims Study shows "exposure" therapy that helps combat veterans also works for traumatized sexually abused teens with similar symptoms.
Can you be too happy? | Philippa Perry Jane Austen understood that the search for meaning in one's life may be more satisfying than the pursuit of happinessIs it possible to be too happy? When faced with such an existential question I usually go to my favourite psychologist, Jane Austen. "'Tis too much ... by far too much ... Oh! Why is not everybody as happy?" says Jane Bennett on first seeing her sister after Mr Bingley had proposed in Pride and Prejudice. Jane is a caring person, very mindful of others' feelings and at this moment she is very happy indeed. But Jane is aware that others around her may not be as happy and that it may be possible that she is too happy for them.We may sometimes make a brave show of pretending not to care what others think, but who would not, like Jane, be mindful if their mood was substantially different, was too happy, for others in their group? The things that make us happiest are our social relationships – happiness is a good friend. And the more empathetic we are to others the better friendships we are likely to have. This means we need to be able to relate to others' states of being when they are less than happy and if we are unable or unwilling to do this then that is what I would call being too happy.Jane, of course, has nothing really to worry about. She may have feared being too happy, but others are so happy for her that her happiness is neither too much for them nor is it for us.We might also be so happy that we are not worrying enough about everyday concerns. When Jane's father, Mr Bennett, makes a joke about the personalities of Jane and Bingley he could be hinting at the disadvantages of too much happiness brought about by being so easy-going. "You are each of you so complying, that nothing will ever be resolved on; so easy, that every servant will cheat you; and so generous, that you will always exceed your income."Psychologists from the University of Virginia in 2007 seem to be of the same mind as Mr Bennett. Their paper suggests that, although happiness generally leads to success, higher levels of happiness do not lead to more success, at least not in a material sense. They found that people with the highest level of happiness are the most successful in terms of close relationships, but those with slightly lower levels of happiness are the most successful in terms of income, education and political participation. This suggests that in order to strive we need to feel a lack of some kind.Emily Esfahani Smith used the phrase: "There's more to life than being happy."She was examining research carried out at Stanford University in the US looking at the differences between leading a happy life and a meaningful one.Of course, there are many overlaps, but there are also distinct differences between the two groups. People who emphasised having a happy life more than a meaningful one tended on the whole to be takers who lived mainly in the present, whereas those who valued meaning over happiness tended to be givers who also thought about the past and the future as well.Jane Austen again: this is Anne Elliot, the heroine of Persuasion, thinking about her sisters-in-law, the Musgrove sisters: "Anne always contemplated them as some of the happiest creatures of her acquaintance; but ... she would not have given up her own more elegant and cultivated mind for all their enjoyments."Yes, Austen definitely understood that there is more to life than being happy.Health & wellbeingPhilosophyJane AustenPsychologyPhilippa Perrytheguardian.com © 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds