DailyDirt: Playing Tricks With The Mind

from the urls-we-dig-up dept

The human brain is a pretty interesting contraption. And generally, we learn about how it works when things "go wrong" with it. The results of brain mapping are pretty fascinating -- especially when we find out that many humans have common brain areas that perform the same tasks. Armed with this information, we can try to trick ourselves and hack our own thoughts. But even if we can't quite figure out how our brains work, the odd cases of various brains gone awry are interesting to see. Here are just a few examples:
  • A woman who knows no fear has been studied at the University of Iowa. Researchers say, "It is quite remarkable that she is still alive." [url]
  • One Vietnamese man hasn't slept in decades. Unfortunately, he doesn't like taking MRIs, so it's tough to say what's going on with him. [url]
  • A few people have really really good memories. Not being able to forget things doesn't quite seem like a comic book superpower, but maybe it should be. [url]
  • Harvard researchers show that the placebo effect works even when patients are told they're being given sugar pills. This study actually just proves how bad doctors are at running control experiments (... or maybe that some patients really don't trust anything a doctor tells them.) [url]
  • Transcranial magnetic stimulation sounds like a cool way to turn off parts of your brain. But becoming an idiot savant probably isn't as appealing as it sounds. [url]


  • Reader Comments (rss)

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    1.  
      identicon
      Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Dec 23rd, 2010 @ 6:05pm

      Placebo Issue

      Been reading about that in the last week’s New Scientist. The trouble is, placebos are typically insert substances, whereas real drugs usually have all kinds of side effects. Thus, the subjects in trials can usually work out whether they’ve been given a real drug or not.

      And then sometimes placebos have unintended side effects, which might exaggerate the apparent effectiveness of the drug by comparison.

      The only way around all this is to give placebos with carefully-determined side effects.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    2.  
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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 23rd, 2010 @ 10:09pm

      "One Vietnamese man hasn't slept in decades. "

      This sounds like an exaggerated lie.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    3.  
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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 24th, 2010 @ 4:49am

      Re: Placebo Issue

      "The only way around all this is to give placebos with carefully-determined side effects."

      But then they would not be placebos, would they be? Isn't the whole point of placebos that they have no effects at all, except the ones caused by you believing they have an effect?

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    4.  
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      Jimr (profile), Dec 24th, 2010 @ 5:09am

      Thanks!

      Well these are certainly interesting to read while I am stuck at work on Christmas Eve.

      I like the one about the women with really good memories. Reminds me of My daughter, at the age of 3, kept secret journal of he daily events and the weather. We discovered it when she was 5. She had recorded every day and since she could not write she drew the sun, clouds, rain, snow with happy faces, sad faces, etc. What I found remarkable is that she knew when the seasons should start to change as she commented that it snowed last year at this time and she was sad because of some event I had long forgotten. She still keeps a journal, she has a good memory, but no where near the lady in the article. Too good of a memory can be a bad thing when all you do is dwell on the past and never see the present or the future.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    5.  
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      Marcus Carab (profile), Dec 24th, 2010 @ 8:27am

      From the woman-with-no-fear article:


      One night in 1995, a strange man leapt from a park bench and pressed a knife to her throat, threatening to cut her.

      “If you’re going to kill me, you’re going to have to go through my God’s angels first,” she replied, looking at him coolly. She then walked away and returned to the park the next day.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    6.  
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      Marcus Carab (profile), Dec 24th, 2010 @ 8:29am

      Re: Thanks!

      That's pretty amazing and awesome that your daughter came up with the idea to keep a journal and developed a symbolic language at age 3... She must be one clever kid!

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    7.  
      identicon
      Lawrence D'Oliveiro, Dec 24th, 2010 @ 12:24pm

      Re: Placebo Issue

      The whole point of placebos is that you can’t tell whether they’re the real medicine or not.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    8.  
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      Polymath, Dec 24th, 2010 @ 4:45pm

      Confused by the placebo comment

      "This study actually just proves how bad doctors are at running control experiments." What evidence do you have for that slam? I don't see any, and that comment seems to me to miss the entire point of the study.

      BTW, the comment "Thus, the subjects in trials can usually work out whether they’ve been given a real drug or not" isn't even remotely true. Many who feel something will _think_ they are in the treatment group, even though a good proportion of those people will actually be in the control group, but they believe that a particular feeling is an effect of the drug.

      Is there really this much confusion about the placebo effect? Please, read the study. You'll learn a lot.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    9.  
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      Michael Ho (profile), Dec 25th, 2010 @ 1:19pm

      Re: Confused by the placebo comment

      "This study actually just proves how bad doctors are at running control experiments." What evidence do you have for that slam? I don't see any, and that comment seems to me to miss the entire point of the study.

      From the article:

      "People just assumed it was that belief was important, and that was never tested, and I don’t know why," said Kaptchuk, the lead author, in a telephone interview. "A lot of what we think we know about placebo was conjecture that got firmed up as truth."


      My comment is based on that statement... that the placebo effect has existed since the 1950s... and only NOW doctors are running this kind of control experiment? Perhaps I should be more forgiving and simply say that "people" (not just doctors) are bad at running control experiments....

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    10.  
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      Anonymous Coward, Dec 7th, 2011 @ 3:58am

      Re: Re: Placebo Issue

      The whole point of a placebo is so that you know *nothing* is changing in that group. It's called a control. If you start modifying the control, it's no longer a control.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    11.  
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      A Guy (profile), Jan 11th, 2012 @ 6:58pm

      Re:

      There is a real genetic diseases that causes this. Fatal familial insomnia eventually drives its victims completely insane, and then kills them.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

    12.  
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      A Guy (profile), Jan 12th, 2012 @ 7:02am

      Re: Re:

      but it looks like that kills you in 18 months at most...

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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