Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Encephalon #31

The thirty-first edition of Encephalon is up at Dr. Deb. It has been since Monday, but I've only just got round to reading it. A good one as usual, and this one even starts with a picture of Spock... :-) There are three contributions to this edition which I found particularly interesting:

- Vaughan at Mind Hacks brings us a look at the psychology of believing news reports. Case studies are reviewed in support of the view that if false information is presented first it is likely to be believed, even in the face of subsequent corrections - indeed, these corrections may even embed the incorrect initially provided information (perhaps through the effect by which repeated information is more likely to be believed). The implications of this effect is quite wide ranging as pointed out by Vaughan: "As I'm sure these principles are already widely known among government and commercial PR departments, bear them in mind when evaluating public information."

- From Neurobiotaxis comes a review of the "Triune brain" theory, espoused by Paul MacLean. This theory of brain evolution proposes the well known three "layers" (for want of a better word on my part) of brain organisation, from the evolutionary primitive structures of the spinal cord and brain stem, through the midbrain structures of the limbic system, to the cerebral cortex, which is proposed as the most advanced structure in evolutionary terms. The post deals with it in terms of affective neuroscience, and asks the question whether the "triune brain" view is appropriate and relevant as a major theory. The conclusion after very detailed discussion (it took me a while to take in all the information) is essentially no, but it is noted that in the area of emotional behaviour, it is still defended by some (though at times as a useful conceptualisation rather than a prediction-producing model). A good read.

- Finally, a post on Synaesthesia by Mo at Neurophilosophy, particularly the recently discovered mirror-touch synaesthesia. After a review of the neuropsychological basis of synaesthesia (possibly by excess cross-modal neural connectivity, or by impaired inhibition across regions), MTS is introduced as a condition whose 'carriers' experience tactile information when they see another person being touched. Synaesthesia has long been something I have been interested in, partly as an example of how (if one ascribes to the cross-modal connections view) an 'error' in the development of the brain doesn't lead to impaired performance of any sort, and in some cases quite the opposite - demonstrating the amazing flexibility of the system that is the brain.

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