Friday, February 06, 2009

Encephalon #63

Of Two Minds has just put up the 63rd edition of Encephalon. A nice round-up as usual, with congratulations of course going to Omnibrain on his good fortune... :-p My three highlights as usual:

- Brain Blogger brings us a short piece on serotonin: specifically, how the genetic basis of the serotonin system, and the natural variation in the system as a result of individual genetic differences, results in different susceptibilities to anxiety, depression etc. Possibly also responsible for certain differences in personalities (seems sensible to me, but then I imagine that there are many drivers for ones personality). The interesting question then arises though of whether medicine should be used to make up for some of these individual differences. A fascinating question, whose answer has wide ranging consequences.

- Are birth defects the result of traumas that the mother has been subject to? This question with a seemingly obvious negatory answer is tackled by Vaughan over at Mind Hacks. The theory known as 'maternal impression' was well known in the 19th century, but passed out of use in the late 19th century. However, in the second half of the 20th century, a number of studies showed that severe maternal stress did have an effect on the children's brain development. Vaughans article is well worth the read.

- And finally, the question of Free-Will! PsyBlog reviews three fascinating studies on how manipulating people's views on free-will (by getting them to read statements either for or against the concept of free-will) led to their behaviours being modified. A decreased belief in free will led to people being less helpful towards others, and even increased agression! Which leads to a view that a belief in free will is beneficial to society. The concepts free-will and determinism (as promoted by science) must however be reconciled since our society is fundamentally based on the former, and increasingl on the latter.

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