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The Effects of Toxins on the Developing Brain

27 Mar

(Hat tip to Monitor on Psychology)

William Sheldon and bariatric surgery

30 Dec

William Sheldon was a piece of work. A psychiatrist who worked on the margins of the American academy. Famously difficult to get along with, prone to wild assertions, personally eccentric, and largely forgotten.

If he is remembered at all, it is for his involvement in the Ivy League posture photo scandal. Yet, Sheldon’s system of body classification still lives on in exercise physiology. His categories of endomorphy, ectomorphy, and mesomorphy are still used by some physicians to describe human physique.

Central to Sheldon’s system was the assertion that body type is correlated with personality. Sheldon thought that differences in body composition drove human psychological differences, an idea largely rejected by main stream psychology. However, while reading this fascinating article in the New York Times about bariatric surgery, I came across this:

Most people believe that the operation simply forces people to eat less by making their stomachs smaller, but scientists have discovered that it actually causes profound changes in patients’ physiology, altering the activity of thousands of genes in the human body as well as the complex hormonal signaling from the gut to the brain.

It often leads to astonishing changes in the way things taste, making cravings for a rich slice of chocolate cake or a bag of White Castle hamburgers simply vanish.

Here is a paper I wrote on somatotypes in 2008.

A (counter-)revolution in linguistics?

14 Sep

This week I will have to introduce my students to language development. This usually involves describing Chomsky’s theory, the standard in all textbooks. However, a serous challenge to Chomsky’s views has begun to emerge. You can read about it here in this Scientific American piece:

At the time the Chomskyan paradigm was proposed, it was a radical break from the more informal approaches prevalent at the time, and it drew attention to all the cognitive complexities in­­volved in becoming competent at speaking and understanding language. But at the same time that theories such as Chomsky’s allowed us to see new things, they also blinded us to other aspects of language. In linguistics and allied fields, many researchers are be­­coming ever more dissatisfied with a totally formal language approach such as universal grammar—not to mention the empirical inadequacies of the theory.

I wonder if there will be any renewed interest in Skinner’s ideas on this topic?


Chess: victory to the young

27 Jun

A wonderful piece by Tom Vanderbilt in Nautilus about learning chess with his four year old daughter:

“It wasn’t long before it struck me that chess seemed to be a game for the young. When my daughter began doing scholastic tournaments, I would chat up other parents and ask whether they played—usually the reply was an apologetic shrug and a smile. I would explain that I too was learning to play, and the resulting tone was cheerily patronizing: Good luck with that! Reading about an international tournament, I was struck by a suggestion that a grandmaster had passed his peak. He was in his 30s. We are used to athletes being talked about in this way. But a mind game like chess?”

Read the whole piece, it’s a good reflection on how our brains change with age. I particularly like this sentence:

“As we get older, there is one thing at which we get worse: Being a novice.”

I always found it depressing that my phone, even set to the lowest level, can beat me at chess.

“Flame Retardant Pollutants and Child Development”

22 Jul



Adult memories of imaginary companions

23 May

A paper on children;s imaginary companions:

“Adults in this exploratory study usually recalled that their childhood imaginary companions faded away or were dismissed as other options for social interaction became more appealing. However, eight participants reported that their IC had died. Analysis of these deaths offers a glimpse of the child’s talent for transitional thought processes that navigate between the emerging constraints of logic and the continuing appeal of fantasy. It is suggested that young children are testing the limits and possibilities of what it means to be “real” at the same time they are trying to puzzle out “alive” and “dead.””


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