Scientific American Mind
Cover; October/November 2006; Scientific American Mind; by Staff Editor; 1 Page(s)
From the Editor; October/November 2006; Scientific American Mind; by Mariette DiChristina; 1 Page(s)
Each of us has a rich inner mental life, one that seems inaccessible to everyone else. To others, we believe, we represent a kind of human terra incognita. After all, how can anybody really know what is on our mind?
As it turns out, however, our feelings and thoughts are only too visible to those who know how to look. You will learn why in our special report, "The Body Speaks." Tiny "microexpressions" involuntarily flit across our face, revealing our emotions, as Siri Schubert explains in "A Look Tells All." In "Gestures Offer Insight," Ipke Wachsmuth describes how we make hand or other motions to add shades of meaning to words as we converse. And when we fib, our very physiology can give us away, Thomas Metzinger details in "Exposing Lies."
Table of Contents; October/November 2006; Scientific American Mind; by Staff Editor; 2 Page(s)
Letters; October/November 2006; Scientific American Mind; by Staff Editor; 2 Page(s)
Regarding Ulrich Kraft's "Burned Out": Herbert J. Freudenberger may have coined the term "burnout syndrome" in the 1970s, but he was not the first to notice the phenomenon. In The Wealth of Nations in 1776, Adam Smith observed that many people could only work at full output for a small number of years and that it was the bosses' job "rather to moderate, than to animate" their workers. George Combe in 1827 wrote that work must be enjoyable, which it could not be if it was too hard or too long: otherwise the only happiness is retirement.
Early in the 20th century the Yerkes-Dodson Law related increasing stress and motivation to an inverted U-shaped curve for work output; at the highest level of stress, output dropped to zero. Behavioral researcher B. F. Skinner discussed how a bricklayer could "burn himself out" in 1953. He called it "abulia," or absence of behavior, and described it as the consequence of too much work being expected.
Head Lines; October/November 2006; Scientific American Mind; by Jonathan Beard, Nicole Branan, Jamie Talan, Temma Ehrenfeld, Brie Finegold, Mark Fischetti, JR Minke; 6 Page(s)
The average person can focus on only three objects at once, yet he or she can follow a soccer game and accurately estimate, in just half a second, how many players from each team are on the field. Justin Halberda, a Johns Hopkins University psychologist, explains that "people can focus on more than three items at a time if those items share a common color." The color coding enables them to perceive separate individuals as a single set.
Halberda showed volunteers arrays of colored dots for 500 milliseconds--too brief for counting--then asked how many dots of a given color they had observed. Even with scenes of 35 dots in several colors, participants were 87 percent accurate, which indicates the human brain can carry out parallel processing of sets in a short time. Color, Halberda says, seems to be the easiest "sorting tool," but he is now looking at arrays differing in size, shape and brightness. If another feature holds up, perhaps Italy's il Azzurri and France's les Bleus can both wear their blue home uniforms in the next World Cup soccer final.
Determining Nature vs. Nurture; October/November 2006; Scientific American Mind; by Douglas Steinberg; 2 Page(s)
Psychologists, psychiatrists and neuroscientists have jousted for years over how much of our behavior is driven by our genes versus the environments in which we grow up and live. Arguments have persisted because there has been little hard evidence to answer basic questions: How exactly do genes and environment interact to determine whether someone will become depressed, say, or schizophrenic? And can environmental interventions such as drugs or psychotherapy really alleviate disorders that are largely determined by genes?
A field called epigenetics has finally begun to address some of these issues. Its practitioners study how tiny molecules stick to, or become unstuck from, two main targets in a cell's nucleus: the DNA in and around a gene and the histones--the proteins around which chromosomes spool. These tiny molecules are known as methyl and acetyl groups, and their presence or absence at target sites controls whether particular genes can generate proteins, the workhorses of most physiological processes.
Illusions: The Neurology of Aesthetics; October/November 2006; Scientific American Mind; by Vilayanur S. Ramachandran and Diane Rogers-Ramachandran; 3 Page(s)
What is art? Probably as many definitions exist as do artists and art critics. Art is clearly an expression of our aesthetic response to beauty. But the word has so many connotations that it is best--from a scientific point of view--to confine ourselves to the neurology of aesthetics.
Aesthetic response varies from culture to culture. The sharp bouquet of Marmite is avidly sought after by the English but repulsive to most Americans. The same applies to visual preferences; we have personally found no special appeal in Picasso. Despite this diversity of styles, many have wondered whether there are some universal principles. Do we have an innate "grammar" of aesthetics analogous to the syntactic universals for languages proposed by linguist Noam Chomsky of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology?
Calendar; October/November 2006; Scientific American Mind; by Staff Editor; 1 Page(s)
Gestures Offer Insight; October/November 2006; Scientific American Mind; by Ipke Wachsmuth; 6 Page(s)
Our body movements always convey something about us to other people. The body "speaks" whether we are sitting or standing, talking or just listening. On a blind date, how the two individuals position themselves tells a great deal about how the evening will unfold: Is she leaning in to him or away? Is his smile genuine or forced?
The same is true of gestures. Almost always involuntary, they tip us off to love, hate, humility and deceit. Yet for years, scientists spent surprisingly little time studying them, because the researchers presumed that hand and arm movements were mere byproducts of verbal communication. That view changed during the 1990s, in part because of the influential work of psycholinguist David McNeill at the University of Chicago. For him, gestures are "windows into thought processes." McNeill's work, and numerous studies since then, has shown that the body can underscore, undermine or even contradict what a person says. Experts increasingly agree that gestures and speech spring from a common cognitive process to become inextricably interwoven. Understanding the relationship is crucial to understanding how people communicate overall.
A Look Tells All; October/November 2006; Scientific American Mind; by Siri Schubert; 6 Page(s)
We do it automatically. As soon as we observe another person, we try to read his or her face for signs of happiness, sorrow, anxiety, anger. Sometimes we are right, sometimes we are wrong, and errors can create some sticky personal situations. Yet Paul Ekman is almost always right. The psychology professor emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco, has spent 40 years studying human facial expressions. He has catalogued more than 10,000 possible combinations of facial muscle movements that reveal what a person is feeling inside. And he has taught himself how to catch the fleeting involuntary changes, called microexpressions, that flit across even the best liar's face, exposing the truth behind what he or she is trying to hide.
Ekman, 72, lives in Oakland, Calif., in a bright and airy house near the bay. As I talked with him there, he studied me, his eyes peering out from under bushy brows as if they were registering each brief facial tic I unknowingly exhibited. Does his talent make him a mind reader? "No," he says candidly. "The most I can do is tell how you are feeling at the moment but not what you are thinking." He is not being modest or coy; he is simply addressing the psychological bottom line behind facial expressions: "Anxiety always looks like anxiety," he explains, "regardless of whether a person fears that I'm seeing through their lie or that I don't believe them when they're telling the truth."
Exposing Lies; October/November 2006; Scientific American Mind; by Thomas Metzinger; 6 Page(s)
The body does not lie. So stated William Moulton Marston, a psychology professor who devised components for the polygraph and in 1938 published The Lie Detector Test. Marston and his co-inventors maintained that regardless of how well a person could control his voice and face, other signs such as blood pressure, heart rate, respiration and skin conductivity would betray him when he told a lie. The physiological changes, they said, were triggered by the anxiety an individual feels when he knows he is fabricating information. Marston's own work with the machine convinced him that women were more trustworthy than men, and he went on to champion the female's role in society, in part by creating and writing the comic strip "Wonder Woman" (who wielded a "truth lasso," among other gadgets).
The trouble with the polygraph, scientists found later, was that a person could become anxious simply by being hooked up to the machine and even more so when asked probing questions. After years of controversy, evidence gleaned from lie detectors remains inadmissible in most court room.
The Eureka Moment; October/November 2006; Scientific American Mind; by Guenther Knoblich and Michael Oellinger; 6 Page(s)
Albert Einstein finally hit on the core idea underlying his famous theory of relativity one night after months of intense mathematical exercises. He had given himself a break from the work and let his imagination wander about the concepts of space and time. Various images that came to mind prompted him to try a thought experiment: If two bolts of lightning struck the front and back of a moving train at the same time, would an observer standing beside the track and an observer standing on the moving train see the strikes as simultaneous? The answer, in short, was no. The floodgates in Einstein's mind opened, and he laid down an ingenious description of the universe. With his sudden insight, Einstein turned our conceptions of time and space inside out.
Certainly Einstein would not have reached his brilliant notion without his vast knowledge of physics and his ability to think clearly. But the decisive moment arose from his capacity to imagine physical reality from a perspective no one else had ever tried. Einstein was a master at restructuring problems.
Can We Talk?; October/November 2006; Scientific American Mind; by Annette Lessmoellmann; 6 Page(s)
Poetry, perfumed love notes, intimate e-mails and latenight phone messages have been the choice forms of communication for humans in love. Stags, on the other hand, have to rely on a simple, full-throated roar to convey their desire. True, the stag's primitive bellow is effective--smitten females approach while rival males look for cover. Likewise the cries of dogs, cats and birds all serve these animals well as simple forms of communication.
Even so, it does not take a degree in linguistics to realize that a massive gulf in complexity exists between a male deer's amorous cry and "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways." Not surprisingly, then, humans have long felt a sense of superiority as the planet's only masters of language arts. But for scholars of language evolution, this apparent singularity was a source of confusion. If other animals can roar, bark or squawk but cannot talk--or do anything remotely similar--then the many characteristics required for language appear to have evolved in humans from almost nothing.
Verbal Bottleneck; October/November 2006; Scientific American Mind; by Katrin Neumann; 6 Page(s)
Greg K. was only three when the problem began. During a family vacation he saw two crashed cars burning. Soon after that, his parents recall, the boy began stuttering. Even today, at the age of 40, Greg is more likely to order lasagna in a restaurant and forgo his favorite pizza, capricciosa, because he cannot manage words that begin with explosive sounds like the letter "k."
Speaking is precision work, yet most people merely have to open their mouths and a well-ordered flow of words pours out. In scant milliseconds, the brain coordinates our speech apparatus so that it makes all the appropriate sounds. The muscles of the larynx, tongue and lips work in unison, while air is metered out in exactly the right amounts. But for the approximately 1 percent of all individuals who stutter, verbal communication requires more than a little willpower.
The Electrical Brain; October/November 2006; Scientific American Mind; by Rolf Dermietzel; 6 Page(s)
Too hot! As our fingertips graze the hot stove, their thermal receptors sound an alarm. The message races at 300 kilometers an hour through the nervous system to the brain, where it gets immediate attention. The muscles receive an order to pull those fingers away from the surface.
Such messages--encoded as electrical impulses--constantly stream through our nervous system. They not only prevent us from burning our fingers on the hot stove but also enable our very survival.
When the Nose Doesn't Know; October/November 2006; Scientific American Mind; by Eleonore von Bothmer; 6 Page(s)
Magdalena Fluegge is devoted to her exercise routine, and she has been training hard for months now. Every morning and afternoon, without fail, she hefts four small brown glass vessels. They contain gauze strips saturated with different fragrances. She opens each flask in turn and inhales deeply. She hopes for a scent--any scent--to register in her brain.
Fluegge, who lost nearly all her ability to smell after striking the back of her head in a bicycle accident, is a volunteer in a study at the Ear, Nose and Throat Clinic at the University of Dresden Medical School in Germany. The goal is to see whether people with smell disorders can regain their abilities through training, similar to the way perfumers and sommeliers can learn to discern expertly among samples.
Detecting Autism Early; October/November 2006; Scientific American Mind; by Ulrich Kraft; 6 Page(s)
Anyone who has spent even a little time with an autistic boy or girl soon becomes familiar with the behaviors that set these children apart: lack of eye contact, trouble verbalizing, overreacting or underreacting to activities around them, difficulty in expressing their feelings and in understanding the emotions of others. But how do parents and doctors know if a baby, who is too immature to be gauged on any of these traits, has autism? Early diagnosis has proved difficult.
Inability to detect autism until a child is two or three years old is a terrific disadvantage. It "eliminates a valuable window of treatment opportunity, when the brain is undergoing tremendous development," says David G. Amaral, professor of neurobiology and psychiatry at the University of California, Davis.
Don't Count on It; October/November 2006; Scientific American Mind; by Annette Lessmoellmann; 4 Page(s)
Daniel L. Everett, professor of phonetics and phonology at the University of Manchester in England, spent seven years with the Pirah¿ (pronounced pee-ra-HA), a hunter-gatherer tribe of 200 who live in groups of 10 or 20 along the Maici River in the Lowland Amazon area of Brazil. These people call themselves Hi'aiti'ihi': those who stand straight. Everett studied their culture and language--and stumbled on an oddity: the Pirah¿ have no numbers or clear words for quantities, have no differentiated words for familial relationships, and only a few to describe time. They do not read or write, do not talk about abstract subjects, do not use complex sentences and do not learn Portuguese, even though they are in constant contact with the outside world.
Everett's colleague Peter Gordon, professor of speech and language pathology at Columbia University, also carried out speech tests in the Pirah¿ villages. He found the members had a quantification system with terms for "one," "two" and "many." He has argued that the Pirah¿ have only a few numerical words because they cannot count higher. Everett takes a very different view, which he outlined during an interview with Annette Lessmoellmann.
Do Self-Help Books Help?; October/November 2006; Scientific American Mind; by Hal Arkowitz and Scott O. Lilienfeld; 2 Page(s)
Have you ever purchased a self-help book? If so, you are like most Americans. In 2003 alone, publishers put out more than 3,500 new self-help titles, ringing up more than $650 million in sales. Many of the buyers cannot or will not seek psychotherapy, but surveys by John C. Norcross of the University of Scranton and others indicate that 80 percent or more of psychotherapists recommend such books to their patients, too. How well are self-help books fulfilling their purpose?
Authors of self-help books often make grandiose promises that invite a skeptical look. Consider the title of a best-seller by Anthony Robbins: Awaken the Giant Within: How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical and Financial Destiny! (Free Press, 1992). The dust jacket describes Robbins as an "acknowledged expert in the psychology of change." Yet he lacks any formal mental health credentials. Elsewhere, Robbins has made eyebrow-raising claims, such as that he can cure any psychological problem in a session, make someone fall in love with you in five minutes and even revive brain-dead individuals. (If he can do this with enough people, he might sell even more books.)
Mind Reads; October/November 2006; Scientific American Mind; by Richard Lipkin, Brie Finegold, Jonathan Beard; 2 Page(s)
Everyone knows that music can calm a savage beast, rouse a marching platoon or move lovers to tears. But no one knows exactly how. Daniel Levitin, a professional musician, record producer and now neuroscientist at McGill University, explains the latest thinking into why tunes touch us so deeply. He also speculates about whether specific pathways have evolved in our brain for making and listening to music.
Using brain imaging, Levitin has documented neural activation in people as they listen to music, revealing a novel cascade of excitation that begins in the auditory system and spreads to regions related to planning, expectation and language as well as arousal, pleasure, mood and rhythmic movement. "Music listening, performance and composition engage nearly every area of the brain that we have so far identified and involve nearly every neural subsystem," he notes.
Ask the Brains; October/November 2006; Scientific American Mind; by Peter Pressman, Roger Clemens and Mark A. W. Andrews; 1 Page(s)
Hankerings for certain foods are not linked to any obvious nutrient insufficiency. But other biological factors appear to be at work.
Researchers have employed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to explore the neural basis of such appetites. The imaging data suggest that when somebody is pining for a certain fare, components of the amygdala, anterior cingulate, orbital frontal cortex, insula, hippocampus, caudate and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex are activated in the brain. A network of neural regions may be involved with the emotion, memory and chemosensory stimuli of food yens.
Head Games; October/November 2006; Scientific American Mind; by Abbie F. Salny; 1 Page(s)
Figure out the logic in the lines below and fill in the missing number.
An interesting point is coiled in the grid below. Start at the correct letter and move in any direction to find the saying.