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I write about the process of scientific discovery, peer review, funding for research and highlight selected new scientific articles in biomedical research and the social sciences.
Reading literary fiction can be highly pleasurable, but does it also make you a better person? Conventional wisdom and intuition lead us to believe that reading can indeed improve us. However, as the philosopher Emrys Westacott has recently pointed out in his essay for 3Quarksdaily, we may overestimate the capacity of literary fiction to foster moral improvement. A slew of scientific studies have taken on the task of studying the impact of literary fiction on our emotions and thoughts. Some of t........ Read more »
Johnson, D., Huffman, B., & Jasper, D. (2014) Changing Race Boundary Perception by Reading Narrative Fiction. Basic and Applied Social Psychology, 36(1), 83-90. DOI: 10.1080/01973533.2013.856791
A study of the prevalence of mental illness published in the Archives of General Psychiatry in 2005 estimated that roughly half of all Americans will have been diagnosed with a mental illness by time they reach the age of 75. This estimate was based on the DSM-IV criteria for mental illness, but the newer DSM-V manual will be released in 2013 and is likely to further expand the diagnosis of mental illness. The DSM-IV criteria had made allowance for bereavement to avoid diagnosing people who were........ Read more »
Kyaga, S., Landén, M., Boman, M., Hultman, C., Långström, N., & Lichtenstein, P. (2013) Mental illness, suicide and creativity: 40-Year prospective total population study. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 47(1), 83-90. DOI: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2012.09.010
Two scientific papers that were published in the journal Nature in the year 2000 marked the beginning of engineering biological circuits in cells. The paper "Construction of a genetic toggle switch in Escherichia coli" by Timothy Gardner, Charles Cantor and James Collins created a genetic toggle switch by simultaneously introducing an artificial DNA plasmid into a bacterial cell. This DNA plasmid contained two promoters (DNA sequences which regulate the expression of genes) and two rep........ Read more »
Geteiltes Leid ist halbes Leid ("Shared sorrow is half the sorrow") is a popular German proverb which refers to the importance of sharing bad news and troubling experiences with others. The therapeutic process of sharing takes on many different forms: we may take comfort in the fact that others have experienced similar forms of sorrow, we are often reassured by the empathy and encouragement we receive from friends, and even the mere process of narrating the details of what is troubling........ Read more »
High, A., Oeldorf-Hirsch, A., & Bellur, S. (2014) Misery rarely gets company: The influence of emotional bandwidth on supportive communication on Facebook. Computers in Human Behavior, 79-88. DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2014.01.037
Beware of what you share. Employers now routinely utilize internet search engines or social network searches to obtain information about job applicants. A survey of 2,184 hiring managers and human resource professionals conducted by the online employment website CareerBuilder.com revealed that 39% use social networking sites to research job candidates. Of the group who used social networks to evaluate job applicants, 43% found content on a social networking site that caused them to not hire a ca........ Read more »
DiLillo, D., & Gale, E. (2011) To Google or not to Google: Graduate students' use of the Internet to access personal information about clients. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 5(3), 160-166. DOI: 10.1037/a0024441
The recent study "The Impact of Sustained Engagement on Cognitive Function in Older Adults: The Synapse Project" published in the journal Psychological Science by the psychology researcher Denise Park and her colleagues at the University of Texas at Dallas is an example of an extremely well-designed study which attempts to tease out the benefits of participating in a structured activity versus receiving formal education and acquiring new skills. The researchers assigned subjects with a mean age ........ Read more »
Park DC, Lodi-Smith J, Drew L, Haber S, Hebrank A, Bischof GN, & Aamodt W. (2014) The impact of sustained engagement on cognitive function in older adults: the synapse project. Psychological science, 25(1), 103-12. PMID: 24214244
Temporal order can be assessed in a rather straightforward experimental manner. Research subjects can be provided sequential auditory clicks, one to each ear. If the clicks are one second apart, nearly all participants can correctly identify whether or not the click in the right ear came before the one in the left ear. It turns out that this holds true even if the clicks are only 100 milliseconds (0.1 seconds) apart. The threshold for being able to correctly assign a temporal order to such brief........ Read more »
von Steinbüchel N. (1998) Temporal ranges of central nervous processing: clinical evidence. Experimental brain research, 123(1-2), 220-33. PMID: 9835412
The recent study "Silent Listeners: The Evolution of Privacy and Disclosure on Facebook" conducted by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University monitored the public disclosure (information visible to all) and private disclosure (information visible to Facebook friends) of personal data by more than 5,000 Facebook users during the time period 2005-2011. ... Read more »
Fred Stutzman, Ralph Grossy, & Alessandro Acquistiz. (2012) Silent Listeners: The Evolution of Privacy and Disclosure on Facebook. Journal of Privacy and Confidentiality. info:/
Land grabbing refers to the large-scale acquisition of comparatively inexpensive agricultural land in foreign countries by foreign governments or corporations. In most cases, the acquired land is located in under-developed countries in Africa, Asia or South America, while the grabbers are investment funds based in Europe, North America and the Middle East. The acquisition can take the form of an outright purchase or a long-term-lease, ranging from 25 to 99 years, that gives the grabbing entity e........ Read more »
Research projects evolve in a fortuitous manner, often guided by a convergence of novel observations, intuition, helpful colleagues and unique personal circumstances. It is precisely this constellation that prompted two cardiologists to study the mitochondrial networks in lung cancer cells.... Read more »
Jalees Rehman, Hannah J. Zhang, Peter T. Toth, Yanmin Zhang, Glenn Marsboom, Zhigang Hong, Ravi Salgia, Aliya N. Husain, Christian Wietholt, & Stephen L. Archer. (2012) Inhibition of mitochondrial fission prevents cell cycle progression in lung cancer. FASEB Journal. DOI: 10.1096/fj.11-196543
When we observe an interaction between two other human beings (Person A and Person B), we sometimes draw conclusions about the personality traits or character of these two individuals. For example, if we see that Person A is being rude to Person B, we may be less likely to trust Person A, even though we are merely "third-party" evaluators. i.e. not directly involved in the interaction. Multiple studies with humans have already documented such third-party social evaluation, which can ev........ Read more »
Anderson, J., Kuroshima, H., Takimoto, A., & Fujita, K. (2013) Third-party social evaluation of humans by monkeys. Nature Communications, 1561. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms2495
The concept “superiority illusion” refers to the fact that people tend to judge themselves as being superior to the average person when it comes to positive traits such as intelligence, desirability or other personality traits. This is mathematically not possible, because in a normally distributed population, most people cannot be above average. The “superiority illusion” belongs to a family of positive illusions, such as the “optimism bias”, which is characte........ Read more »
Yamada, M., Uddin, L., Takahashi, H., Kimura, Y., Takahata, K., Kousa, R., Ikoma, Y., Eguchi, Y., Takano, H., Ito, H.... (2013) Superiority illusion arises from resting-state brain networks modulated by dopamine. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1221681110
Whether we cruise the internet, turn on the TV or simply open up our email Inbox, we are bound to encounter advice regarding obesity and weight loss. The problem is that a lot of the circulated opinions about obesity and weight gain are only poorly supported by medical and scientific evidence. The recent paper “Myths, Presumptions, and Facts about Obesity” published in the New England Journal of Medicine on January 31, 2013 by Krista Casazza and colleagues investigates popular notion........ Read more »
The researchers Jan-Emmanuel De Neve and Andrew Oswald decided to study the link between happiness and income from a very different angle. Instead of asking whether more money leads to more happiness, they reversed the question and asked whether more happiness leads to more money. In the paper “Estimating the influence of life satisfaction and positive affect on later income using sibling fixed effects” published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, De Neve and Osw........ Read more »
De Neve JE, & Oswald AJ. (2012) Estimating the influence of life satisfaction and positive affect on later income using sibling fixed effects. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 109(49), 19953-8. PMID: 23169627
Maintaining regular face-to-face contact with family members can be rather challenging because nowadays families are often geographically dispersed. It takes time, money and effort to travel and visit family members. The famous British anthropologist and evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar at Oxford University and his colleagues investigated how far people were willing to travel to see their relatives. Their results were published in the open access journal PLOS One “Going That Extra Mi........ Read more »
Pollet, T., Roberts, S., & Dunbar, R. (2013) Going That Extra Mile: Individuals Travel Further to Maintain Face-to-Face Contact with Highly Related Kin than with Less Related Kin. PLoS ONE, 8(1). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0053929
This study highlights the opportunities and pitfalls of using the internet to communicate medical information. The internet is providing an opportunity for patients and family members to obtain additional medical information that they did not receive from their physicians, as well as to address questions that may arise and do not warrant a visit to a physician. On the other hand, the study also demonstrates that the quality of medical information on the internet varies widely. Searches for certa........ Read more »
Chung M, Oden RP, Joyner BL, Sims A, & Moon RY. (2012) Safe infant sleep recommendations on the Internet: let's Google it. The Journal of pediatrics, 161(6), 1080-4. PMID: 22863258
In summary, the POSEIDON trial has shown that treating chronic heart disease patients with bone marrow derived stem cells is not yet ready for prime time. Bone marrow cells from strangers may be just as safe as one’s own cells, but if bone marrow stem cells are not very effective for treating chronic heart disease, than it may just be a moot point.... Read more »
Hare JM, Fishman JE, Gerstenblith G, Difede Velazquez DL, Zambrano JP, Suncion VY, Tracy M, Ghersin E, Johnston PV, Brinker JA.... (2012) Comparison of Allogeneic vs Autologous Bone Marrow-Derived Mesenchymal Stem Cells Delivered by Transendocardial Injection in Patients With Ischemic Cardiomyopathy: The POSEIDON Randomized Trial. JAMA : the journal of the American Medical Association, 1-11. PMID: 23117550
Humans who are faced with difficult choices are often tempted to simply opt out of making a choice, especially when they realize that they cannot easily resolve their uncertainty as to which choice is the better choice. Some researchers consider this ability to opt out as an indicator of “meta-cognition”, a term used to describe “thinking about thinking”. Instead of plowing ahead with a random choice, humans can recognize that they lack adequate information and choose not........ Read more »
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