Taking Sponge Bob to heart

1 Feb


An X-ray from a  Saudi child who swallowed a SpongeBob SquarePants pendant. Hat tip to BoingBoing.


Ask Ariely: On Putting off Procrastination, Selling Sherlock, and Feeling the DICE

1 Feb


I have found this to be true: “Perhaps the best tool we have to fight procrastination is to set rules for ourselves.”

Originally posted on Dan Ariely:

Here’s my Q&A column from the WSJ this week  and if you have any questions for me, you can tweet them to @danariely with the hashtag #askariely, post a comment on my Ask Ariely Facebook page, or email them to AskAriely@wsj.com.


I love my job, and I want to be successful and get promoted—but I seem to be my own worst enemy. I procrastinate a lot, and I don’t know how to stop. Any advice?
You aren’t alone. Think of procrastination as just one more example of how we fail to do things that are in our long-term interests. Much of life is about fighting such temptations. 
Perhaps the best tool we have to fight procrastination is to set rules for ourselves. As William O’Donohue and Kyle Ferguson note in their book “The Psychology of B.F. Skinner,” the famous psychologist had a rule of waking up…

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Dr. Greger on diet and dementia

31 Jan

Skepticism about transcranial direct current brain stimulation

30 Jan

I have been following research about  transcranial direct current stimulation with great interest.  A number of papers have reported on the cognitive enhancing effects of this simple intervention. But now we are seeing skepticism emerge.

The New Scientist reports:

“In recent years tCDS has been shown to improve everything from memory to mathematical ability in healthy volunteers and has even found its way into commercial, performance-enhancing products. But according to Jared Horvath and his colleagues at the University of Melbourne in Australia, it might not be all that.”

You can read the abstract of the original paper here and a related paper here. From its conclusion:

“Our quantitative review does not support the idea that tDCS generates a reliable effect on cognition in healthy adults. Reasons for and limitations of this finding are discussed. This work raises important questions regarding the efficacy of tDCS, state-dependency effects, and future directions for this tool in cognitive research.”

There is a recurring pattern in research on cognitive enhancement: initial enthusiasm followed by failure to replicate and declining effect sizes. These papers suggest that tCDS may be following this pattern. Stay tuned.


The cognitive effects of meditation

29 Jan

Peter Lewis describes his investigation of the cognitive effects of meditation. He does a good job of describing the difficulties of meditation research.

Could a widely used class of over the counter medications contribute to dementia?

28 Jan

There is a class of drugs called cholinesterase inhibitors that are prescribed to slow a patients decline into dementia. Cholinesterase is an enzyme that breaks down the neurotransmitter acetylcholine. Thus, a cholinesterase inhibitor has the effect of increasing the level of acetylcholine in the brain.

This raises an interesting question, a number of widely used over the counter medications work by decreasing acetylcholine. Could these drugs contribute to dementia?

An article published by the BBC reports on research suggesting that this might be the case:

“All of the types of medication in question are drugs that have an “anticholinergic” effect.

Experts say people should not panic or stop taking their medicines.

In the US study in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, higher doses and prolonged use were linked to higher dementia risk in elderly people.

The researchers only looked at older people and found the increased risk appeared when people took drugs every day for three years or more.”

The drugs in question are:

“Tricyclic antidepressants for treating depression
Antihistamines used to treat hay-fever and allergies
Antimuscarinics for treating urinary incontinence”

I will post more information on this as it becomes available.

Questions about a supposed brain tonic

27 Jan

Wired raises questions about a product called NeuroSonic.

“The students gave half their 35 participants (average age 24; 27 men) a cup of NeuroSonic (roughly equivalent to one bottle); the other half had a placebo drink designed to taste and look similar. The placebo was a concoction of coconut-pineapple flavored water and strawberry-flavored vitamin supplement. Crucially, the placebo had none of the psycho-active ingredients of NeuroSonic, and no-one was able to identify which drink was which based on appearance or taste.

After a 20-minute wait to allow the NeuroSonic drink to exert its claimed effects, the participants engaged in a battery of six cognitive tests. On reasoning ability, visual-spatial memory, reaction time, control of one’s own brain waves, and executive function (the ability to ignore irrelevant information), there were no differences in performance between the two groups. However, on short-term memory – measured via the ability to recall lists of numbers – the placebo group actually out-performed the NeuroSonic group.”



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