Posts Tagged ‘psychology’


On the importance of quotation marks

May 18, 2017

It was refreshing to see the word “spiritual” surrounded by quotation marks in this post from the British Psychological Society Research Digest on the effects of psychedelic drugs. As I have previously argued, there is a lot of nonsense written about drugs generating “spiritual” experiences, most of which can simply be explained by the pre-existing beliefs of the participants. If you experience a wild trip you are going to interpret it in religious terms, or not, based on whether you are religious, or not. What does this tell us? Probably not much.

The research used magneto-encephalography, which records magnetic fields at the brain’s surface. By Emma Young

via Neural changes after taking psychedelic drugs may reflect “heightened consciousness” — Research Digest


Publish (a list of your publications) or perish

March 17, 2014

I probably should have done it a lot earlier, but life in the private sector goes a mile-a-minute and I simply haven’t had time in between the seven – count them – trips to south-east Asia that I’ve made in the last 18 months. Anyway, here it is: I’ve finally got around to collecting together a list of my publications, replete with links, and you can find it here.


My first book chapter!

September 27, 2012

A few months ago I wrote my first book chapter along with the very talented Ben Thompson, one of my ex-colleagues from McGill. Writing a book chapter is worlds away from writing a journal article. Your average academic journal articles, especially regarding anything halfway controversial can end up as a pretty dry, compromised effort after the obstacle-course of peer-review has been navigated. A book chapter, on the other hand, allows you to survey your field from a reasonable height and be a bit more opinionated (anyone who knows me even a little bit will realise my attraction of this aspect of the process!). There is also room for that rarity in scientific publishing, humour.

InTech is an open access publisher of scientific books and journals and the book in question, Visual Cortex: Current Status and Perspectives is available FOR FREE in it’s entirety. It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and I am very pleased with the resulting chapter Visual Motion: From Cortex to Percepts.

Open access books? Quick-buck-making enterprise or future of scientific publishing? Since I had such fun writing it, I’m not sure I care right now!



Neuroscience for the Soul article published

July 3, 2012

As promised in an earlier post, my article on the field of neurotheology Neuroscience for the Soul is published this month in The Psychologist.

The synopsis follows:

The burgeoning field of ‘neurotheology’ or ‘spiritual neuroscience’ attempts to explain religious experience and behaviour in neuroscientific terms. Research in this field can swing erratically between the extremes of rigorous science and the fringes of pseudoscience in a perplexing and sometimes downright odd way. This lack of quality control stems mainly from the fact that it is a field that polarises opinion – due to the cosmic significance attached to each and every research finding, no matter how trivial, that emerges from the confines of the laboratory. This article plots a course through such research, asking whether there is a ‘neuroscience for the soul’.

Of course, you will need to be a member of the BPS to read it before July 2013. Or you can always contact me. Or watch me in action courtesy of The Chris Worfolk Foundation Lectures


Science proves Sarah Palin is stupid or evil (but which..?)

February 28, 2012

Sarah Palin: Corrupt politician, boon to the cosmetics industry, reality-TV star, alleged adulterer and cocaine-user, jaw-dropping ignoramus regarding matters of historical record or just actively anti-Semitic… she is all this and more. A headline-writer’s dream and cash-cow rolled into one. And now science has proved she’s either stupid or dangerous… or both.

During the 2010 mid-term elections in the US, Mrs. Palin published a map of the United States with the home districts of Democrats who had voted in favour of Obama’s progessive health-care bill targetted with crosshairs. The text on one version read, disturbingly, “we’ve diagnosed the problem… help us prescribe the solution.” Was this an attempt at humour or was it just shockingly stupid? I guess we’ll never know, but it all backfired terribly for Palin when one of the members of Congress “targetted” by Palin’s map was promptly shot. It isn’t obvious to anybody living outside of the US, where socialised medicine is so vigorously defended exactly how an attempt to extend medical care to an extra 32 million Americans might provoke the venom of Republicans, libertarians and Fox News anchors. It is, however, perfectly understandable that Palin’s proposed “solution” might be misinterpreted by a mentally unstable, anti-abortion, sexist, conspiracy theorist.

So what does science have to say to all this gun-crazy nutjobbery? Having spent three years in Montreal myself at the time of the Dawson College shootings, I have always thought that the North American media’s handling of these events is a little, um… insensitive. As an North American TV viewer you are constantly exposed to graphics like this:

Gun and cross-hairs graphic from Chicago News Report

Even news channels who were critical of Palin’s map shennanegins are guilty of the over-use of violent imagery. So, is this a problem? Opinion is still very much divided almost a century after the invention of television, but a recent study from the Netherlands and Germany has looked at exactly this issue. The study created a fictional scenario involving an epidemic of foxes across the Netherlands. Having diagnosed the problem, researchers asked subjects to prescribe the solution by indicating to what extent they would agree with two different proposals: a) a cull of fox numbers by shooting, or b) capture and relocation of the offending canines.

Here comes the experimental manipulation. The subjects were given a map of the Netherlands showing the “problem areas” indicated by either crosshairs a la Palin, or more neutral circles. That’s it. That’s the whole experiment. Amazingly, this small manipulation had a huge effect. 26% of the subjects shown the neutral map with circles favoured shooting first and asking questions later, while 43% of the subjects shown the crosshairs map preferred to let God sort ’em out (U = 1356, z = 1.67, p = < .05).

Respondents were asked afterwards whether they were familiar with Palin's map and the subsequent controversy and, if they were, their results were excluded to control for the effects of previous media influence. The results show that the subtle use of visual imagery can have a profound effect on perfectly ordinary folks' opinions. A disturbing finding considering the relaxed attitude that broadcast news has developed with regards to showing violent images.


Neuroscience for the Soul (teaser)

February 7, 2012

I recently became interested in the neuroscience of religion, a field that in more journalistic circles is referred to by the complete misnomer “neurotheology”. I have written a feature article on this topic that should see publication in a fairly popular venue soon. But for the moment, here’s me in action:

Neuroscience for the Soul courtesy of The Chris Worfolk Foundation

Enjoy, its only 48 minutes long.

%d bloggers like this: