Monday, August 10, 2015

Language, memory and aging: The words to say it

Reblogged from my post on
"Few memories from my first course in cognitive psychology have stuck with me over time. There was the time the time the professor was appalled when he learned how many drinks the young fraternity member who always sat in the front row downed every weekend. More relevant to the course material, I also remember thinking that serial position memory curves—the idea that, when given a list of words to remember, people perform much better on the earliest items (primacy effects) and the most recent items (recency effects)—were fascinating. And I remember when my professor went to the chalkboard and plotted age vs. accuracy for serial memory tasks, telling us to enjoy our nubile brains now, because it only goes downhill from here."
Keep reading here...

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Subtle sexism: Stereotypes and how they shape us

Reblogged from
Gender stereotypes are pervasive. Though Disney has recently come out with some kick-ass princesses (my personal favorites are the icy Elsa and fiery Anna, who don’t need a prince to save them in Frozen), enter any major toy store and you can still find row upon row of pink paraphernalia and sparkly tiaras.
Continue reading at

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A science of falling in love?

Reblogged from
“To fall in love with anyone, do this!” proclaimed the headline of a recent article from the New York Times’ Modern Love column. As a skeptic in everything (and what cognitive scientist wouldn’t be skeptical of such a statement?), it seemed shocking to discover that the secret to falling in love, according to the article, was to answer a series of 36 straightforward, yet personal, questions—with a stranger. And to gaze into their eyes (longingly?) for about four minutes.

Read more on ...

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Hearing voices: Social context influences psychosis

Reblogged from
“People are always selling the idea that people with mental illness are suffering. I think madness can be an escape. If things are not so good, you maybe want to imagine something better.”
These are the words of John Nash, Jr., the Nobel Laureate who inspired the book and the movie A Beautiful Mind and who suffered from schizophrenia, including paranoid delusions of grandeur during which he felt he could intercept secret messages with important content instructing him on how to rescue the planet.

How individuals experiencing psychotic symptoms come to interpret such messages is a fascinating question. In a recent academic talk, Stanford psychological anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann addressed this question by arguing persuasively for the influence of culture on the symptomatology of psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia (for a great recap of a similar talk by Luhrmann, see this blog post from PLoS). Strikingly, she claims, positive psychotic symptoms, in particular hearing voices, manifest differently in different cultures. 

Continuing reading here...

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Lithium: Wonder Drug? Part I

Reblogged from my post on
I’m so happy ’cause today
I’ve found my friends
They’re in my head
What comes to mind when you hear the word lithium? A drug used to manage life-threatening mood disorders? A potentially deadly toxin? A chemical found in trace amounts in many compounds in nature? (Or maybe just the Nirvana song?)

Any of these answers would be felicitous. A recent New York Times Sunday Review piece by psychiatrist Dr. Anna Fels touted the potential benefits of the naturally-occurring element, atomic number 3 on the periodic table. Dr. Fels’ primary argument was that lithium, widely known for its use as a mood stabilizer for individuals with severe mood disorders, also has a positive effect on mood and cognition in non-clinical populations in trace amounts.
Continue reading here...

Monday, September 1, 2014

Creativity and mood: the ups and downs of bipolar disorder

Reblogged from my post on
They who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.
–Edgar Allen Poe [1]
If the emotions are sometimes so strong that one works without knowing one works, when sometimes the strokes come with a continuity and a coherence like words in a speech or a letter, then one must remember that it has not always been so, and that in time to come there will again be hard days, empty of inspiration.

So one must strike while the iron is hot, and put the forged bars on one side.
Vincent Van Gogh
 “We of the craft are all crazy. Some are affected by gaiety, others by melancholy, but all are more or less touched.” These are the words of the poet Lord Byron, whom Kay Redfield Jamison quotes in her book Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament. In this book, Jamison explores the link between so-called creative “genius” and a predisposition toward mood disorders, such as depression and, in particular, bipolar disorder (also known as manic-depressive disorder).
Continue reading here...

Friday, August 22, 2014

Demilitarize the police

This summer, I wrote for a website called There, I've written about topics ranging from social-economic issues (salary caps for highly-paid CEOs) to medicine (e.g., the importance of changing patient-doctor relationships and the need for better care for patients with disabilities) to the environment (urging policymakers to increase taxes on gas and encouraging people to stop eating meat). But to my own surprise, the issue I was most compelled to write about this summer was a very basic human right: the right to exist freely in this country without regard to skin color.

Police militarization is on the rise in the United States, with a person of color (typically male) dying at the hands and guns of police officers at a rate of once a day, on average. Brutal treatment in and out of jail (as in the case of Nubia Bowe) and inconceivable treatment of individuals during arrests (as in the case of an elderly woman doing nothing wrong other than standing at the side of a highway) are also more likely to target people of color. Of course, some of these incidents make national news, while others don't (such as the death of 16-year-old Victor Villalpando earlier this summer).

What is equally striking is the incarceration rate of men of color compared to white men. In her book, The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander writes about the new system of slavery that abides in this country: incarceration. The mire of the U.S. law system makes it nearly impossible to argue that an arrest took place based on race, leaving victims of racism very few avenues to escape the maze of the jails and courts that await them. The so called "war on drugs" has been a huge player in this racist frenzy--since the 80s, law enforcement agencies have been incentivized to make drug arrests and have been given access to (guess what?) paramilitary equipment as their arrests for drug charges increased.

Some the issues are described in more depth in my most recent petition on Force Change. Check it out if you like (and please sign, if you agree!). I close that post with a snippet of a poem from Langston Hughes--I include it in its entirety here. I find the poem to hit deeply but to find a place of hope that may be difficult. The system is broken. We must take steps to change that.

Let America be America Again
Langston Hughes

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark? 
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!