Well, here I am.
Where, you ask?
Well, I’m not really sure, either. Existentially, I mean.
Geographically, I am on the move, too. The London chapter of my life is coming to a close. I got the keys to my new place last week, and spent the most part of a week sleeping alone on an inflatable mattress. It’s made it really sink in that everything is changing.
I have been finding this whole “finish full time education, move house, start work” thing more stressful and emotionally challenging than I ever could have predicted. Maybe it’s because it’s the unknown. Maybe because it’s all at once. Maybe because I’ve never been good at growth, or change, or being out of my comfort zone. Maybe because, whilst I’ve been offered bank/part time roles at four different organisations, not one of those have started formal training, or told me when I’ll start. But I know part of it is that I’ve never been out of full-time education for more than 6 months at a go, I’ve never lived alone (even if this is going to be for 2 months, at most), and I’ve never ever lived this far away from my whole family. Yes, Ben’s family live close, and they are great, and supportive, and better than being completely in the wilderness, but they are still that: potential in-laws. Not my parents, my brothers, my… you get the idea.
I relish the freedom of all this. But I’d relish it all the more if it was a bit more certain.
August 22, 2011 | Categories: Britain, car, debate, family, jobs, London, mental illness, philosophy, sociable, Suffolk, university | Tags: comfort zone, complaining, debate, dissatisfaction, dissertation, education, excitement, family, humans, inflatable mattress, London, me me me, mental illness, optimism, philosophy, rant, sociable, time, UEL, university | 2 Comments »
I’ll say it again: Sorry for the recent dearth of posts. I’m actually in the process of trying to relocate, find a job, finish my dissertation… It’s madness. Here, here’s my busy face:
BUT! I have guest blogged over at SWCraftClub. So it’s not all bad. Take a look: Streatham Knit Wits
June 20, 2011 | Categories: brain, Britain, crafts, guest post, jobs, knit, London, mental illness, Psychology, sociable, university | Tags: crafts, dissertation, diy, excitement, humans, I love, London, me me me, optimism, psychology, shiny, sociable, university | Leave A Comment »
Dissertation hell. OK, I say hell – it’s not that terrible. I could probably have made it a bit easier on myself by starting work in earnest a bit earlier in the year, but what’s done is done and I might as well just have a long hard slog now.
If you’ve read previous blog posts, then you will be aware that I’m writing my dissertation about a rare brain disorder called prosopagnosia – prosopagnosia is an inability to recognise people’s faces. I’ve been designing a battery of tests to test the extent of my patient’s deficits, including some face recognition tests, but also some voice and semantics tests, to see if her recognition problems run further than faces.
Designing the famous faces tests were fairly straight forward – google image search is a wonderful thing, and I am a dab-hand with photoshop (for cutting out the oval of the face – not for warping anything!). The only thing I struggled with there was actually just thinking up the names of enough famous people. I am useless with names.
The semantics test was a little harder, although almost done – for that, the same problem applies, in that I’ve had to think up the names of 48 of each politicians, musicians, actors and sports personalities.
Finally, voice recognition. This is proving a real pain in the neck. Firstly, audio manipulation is not my “bag” – if anyone knows of a simple way to cut out a snippet of a sound clip, please let me know.
The second problem with finding suitable sound clips is the content of those clips – if I wanted the participant to identify a clip of Arnold Schwarzenegger speaking, I would want them to identify him by his VOICE, not by what he’s saying – it might well be that they know his films well, and could recognise the quote “I’ll be back”, but not necessarily by his own unique voice. So I have to be careful of the content of the clip – if I have a clip of Gordon Brown talking about the financial crisis, the participant might deduce “politics – Scottish male speaker – must be Brown”. That’s not the skill I’m looking to identify.
But on the bright side, once my tests are designed, the fun begins (ha ha). I can start running tests – I have one case study to test, and then I need preferably 10 age-matched female controls. In case you’re keen to help me with my research, you need to be between 37-47, female, white British and able to meet me in London for testing some time over the next couple of weeks. No time wasters
Then the write-up begins, then I submit the draft for marking, then the re-write, then (hopefully!!) I graduate and then…? Then, ladies and gentleman, I likely have a nervous breakdown. Ha ha.
I’ll keep you posted.
June 6, 2011 | Categories: brain, debate, London, mental illness, music, neuroscience, Psychology, science, sociable, university | Tags: debate, dissertation, excitement, humans, I love, London, me me me, mental illness, neuropsychology, neuroscience, optimism, philosophy, psychology, science, sociable, UEL, university | Leave A Comment »
I feel very proud to be able to say that my friend Becky works here as an editor. Incredibly cool.
Oxford is intensely pretty, by the way. Making my way back to the Big Smoke now – ugh.
I’m free! Had my last exam yesterday, and now all that stands between me and MSc-dom is a lengthy research project. But that’s fine. That’ll be fine.
Sorry about the lack of post yesterday (and you might want to get used to the idea of a post every other day, or so, rather than every single day: things are only set to get busier). But obviously, I was cramming in the morning, and drinking in the evening.
Well, not strictly true. I shared a few drinks with classmates (and my supervisor – he definitely is a social creature) after the exam and then headed back home to… the Streatham knitting group. Arguably, it was a very subdued way to celebrate exams-over, but I don’t care. I love knitting. And the people in that group are super lovely.
But yes. Research now. It’s going to be a shockingly short 10 weeks…
June 1, 2011 | Categories: books, brain, Britain, holiday, London, Psychology, sociable, university | Tags: debate, dissertation, excitement, funny, humans, I love, London, me me me, new, optimism, psychology, sociable, UEL, university | Leave A Comment »
I hate deadlines. This is the time of year where lots of people I know are stressing about coursework, essay deadlines, dissertations, and final exams.
I am no different. Luckily my dissertation is not due for several months yet, but that doesn’t mean I’m not busy – I have a project deadline next week, and seen exam questions to plan, as well as general revision for my finals. Oh, and did I mention I have to have a game plan for what lies after my MSc? Hmm. I have a few things in mind, but nothing certain yet, so you’ll have to wait on that front.
Yes, I do have Brian Cox on my wall.
Don’t panic, folks – we’ve been working hard for this, and there’s no point losing your head. If you’ve been attending lectures and doing at least SOME reading, then it only takes a bit of knucking down now to make it all pay off.
Set yourself a revision timetable if you’re crap at “finding the time” – that way you’ll have no excuse.
Remember to take breaks – there is no point studying solidly and making yourself miserable.
At the same time, remember when to say “no” – you can’t drop everything every time a friend rings you up and invites you for a drink. This is especially true of your friends who are NOT in full time education – they may have forgotten how important these next few months are for you. Remind them that this studiousness is only temporary, and you’ll catch up another time! It’s not the end of the world.
And finally: it’ll be over soon! Your hard work WILL pay off, I swear. You’ll feel good once it’s all over.
If you’re worried about exams, or are suffering with study stress, take a peek at TheSite.org – they offer some simply and practical advice about looking after yourself over the exam season.
May 3, 2011 | Categories: books, brain, debate, jobs, London, neuroscience, philosophy, Psychology, science, sociable, university | Tags: complaining, debate, dissertation, humans, London, me me me, neuropsychology, neuroscience, optimism, philosophy, psychology, science, sociable, UEL, university | 2 Comments »
On Facebook a few days ago, I mentioned that my life had changed inconceivably in the past few years. So it was lovely to have the chance to catch up with a group of old friends yesterday, and pretend I’m not almost, basically, an adult.
I hadn’t gotten together with Beth, Naseeb and Sarah (not as a group, anyway) for about four years, so the chance to have lunch and a proper catch up was awesome. I don’t think we’ve changed much at all (a conversation I had with Beth & John’s friend Gareth last week – do we change much at all over our lifetimes? Intrinsically, I mean?)
Sure, our circumstances have changed a fair bit (in a few months time, they’ll join me in the wonderful world of being graduates) but we’re still the same people. Which is reassuring. And awesome.
I have awesome friends <3
April 16, 2011 | Categories: debate, food, London, philosophy, sociable, university | Tags: excitement, food, funny, humans, I love, London, optimism, philosophy, shiny, sociable, university | 3 Comments »
At the moment, I am designing various person recognition tests for my dissertation. I’ve almost finished designing a “familiar faces” test (with 20 highly familiar faces, 20 faces of low familiarity, and 20 complete strangers to the participant). And then, it’ll be the harder job of producing a voice recognition test – they’ll have to be famous voices, but not saying something obviously attributable to them (i.e. no Arnie saying “I’ll be back”).
Image from the Sun
This all links in with my research into prosopagnosia and other person recognition deficits.
Fancy testing your own facial recognition skills? This is a pretty neat website.
Sorry to be brief – lots of work to crack on with!
OK, first of the series of Synaesthesia Conference lectures that I’ll be writing up. Today, I’ll be talking about a four year study conducted by Julia Simner (of University of Edinburgh) and her team. In their study, Simner and her colleagues looked at grapheme-colour synaesthesia, comparing the experiences of English synaesthetes (which are hugely studied) to the experiences of Chinese synaesthetes (who are barely studied at all).
Where to start? Some general factoids about grapheme-colour synaesthesia. About 1% of the population are estimated to have it. This phenomena is where letters and numbers illicit a colour experience in the synaesthete. These experiences follow non-random rules – the same letters seem to always illicit the same colour experience, like “A” always being green, for example.
As for words, many synaesthetes find that whole words are coloured as a whole, rather than each individual letter being coloured. The way words are coloured seems to vary in three main ways:
- Some synaesthetes simply see each letter coloured individually (as per their own internal consistencies) – for example, “CAT” would be seen as BLUE-GREEN-RED (or whatever)
- Some synaesthetes find words are coloured by their initial letter – e.g. “CAT” would be BLUE, as “C” is blue for them
- Some synaesthetes have their words coloured by their initial vowel – again, “CAT” would be GREEN, as the initial vowel is usually green
There are two main theories as to what influences the colours of different letters and words. One is the semantic influence – this is where the unconscious meaning pinned to words and therefore letters determines what colour the letters will be. For example, we might associate “D” with dogs (A is for apple, B is for bird… I’m sure you were taught the alphabet in a similar fashion). Well, dogs are brown (usually), so maybe this is why some synaesthetes experience D as being brown.
The other theory is the frequency effect – more common letters are more common colours. For example, A is often red or green, whereas X is often something exotic like purple or gold. This isn’t too much of a surprise, either.
Hmm, what next…? Maybe a bit of info about Chinese languages (assume we’re talking about Mandarin throughout, but the rules probably cross over to Cantonese). Bear with me – my knowledge of Chinese is not great.
Chinese languages are ideographic (well, almost. We won’t get into that argument here) - they don’t have alphabets, so no letter units. They consist of word unit characters. There are two phonetic spelling systems (Pinyin and Bopomo), which Chinese children may be taught, in order to help them to speak the language before learning to write the script (which is intensely complicated). Pinyin uses a combination of Westernised spellings (for pronunciation) and a number (that indicates tone – Chinese languages are tonal, which means, depending how you say a word, it can have multiple meanings. Phew.)
Simner and her team wondered if this Pinyin system could function in a similar way to English in terms of its effects on synaesthetes – does the initial “letter” (or sound) or vowel sound effect the overall consistency in colour experience?
Well, yes and no. Their study showed that if native Chinese speakers were given the Pinyin phonetic spelling of a word character, they would experience the colours in a consistent manner similar to English synaesthetes – words beginning with a “y” sound would all be green, etc. etc. However, if they were given just traditional Chinese characters to look at (with no Pinyin) these consistencies did not carry over. Hmm. Back to square one.
Chinese script itself is made up of morphemes called “radicals”. Each character contains a semantic radical (which conveys meaning) and a phonetic radical (which tells you how the word should be pronounced). These radicals can be on either side of the character, and again, location affects meaning (I think you’re beginning to understand why Chinese script is so hard to learn…)
So, does the semantic or phonetic radical colour the character overall? Or do neither of them do this?
Simner and her colleagues found three variables – hue, saturation and brightness of colour experience. It seems that Chinese synaesthetes have a more subtle colour experience than Western synaesthetes – the radical on the left accounts for the hue, the semantic radical accounts for saturation, and the radical on the right for brightness. Weird.
The frequency effect occurs in Chinese, too – common characters (and radicals) are more common colours.
And that… is about all that I can compute. If you want to know more, please head on over to Julia Simner‘s profile page on Edinburgh Uni’s website, and feel free to send her your questions!
March 31, 2011 | Categories: brain, Britain, debate, London, mental illness, neuroscience, philosophy, Psychology, science, Scotland, sociable, statistics, university | Tags: art, biology, debate, dissertation, excitement, humans, I love, London, mental illness, neuropsychology, neuroscience, optimism, philosophy, psychology, science, shiny, sociable, UEL, university | 2 Comments »
Yesterday saw the first day of the annual UK Synaesthesia Association‘s conference, this year hosted by UEL. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend today’s half of the conference (and my Sunday didn’t go to plan anyway, but that’s another story). However, I intend to give you a taster of what I experienced yesterday.
As a foreword: I won’t go into the details of the various talks here. I intend to write up the main ideas of my favourite talks over the next few days, so look out for those. This post is more intended to impart a general overview of the atmosphere of the conference.
Well, to start with: synaesthesia. I’ve done a brief overview of this fascinating neurological anomaly before, but just as a refresher:
Synaesthesia is estimated to affect about 2% of the population. It comes in many different forms, all of them mind bloggling. Synaesthetes have a notoriously hard time explaining or describing their experience of the world to others. And yet, despite all this, there is very limited research done into synaesthesia.
Maybe, simply, because it’s not a problem. It’s really, really interesting, but it needs no cure. In fact, I have had many synaesthetes say to me that they can’t imagine living without it.
Synaesthesia is a crossing of the senses. The most commonly known types are grapheme-colour synaesthesia and sound-colour synaesthesia. To explain: grapheme colour synaesthesia is usually where an individual will experience a certain colour whenever they see a certain colour, letter or word. Read more about it here.
The UKSA conference gave the opportunity for people with an interest in synaesthesia (many of them synaesthetes themselves) to discuss research and network. Throughout the day, poster presentations (summarising studies) were on display in a downstairs room at UEL (pictured above), and a series of talks were given throughout the day. The talks I attended ranged from the very “sciencey” to the more phenomenological discussion of synaesthesia in art.
I can’t speak for others, but I think synaesthesia draws me because it is a wonderfully romantic idea – some unique individuals can see music in colour, taste colour, experience sounds as textured. This is beyond metaphor: this is a very real experience. And it’s not trained association: it’s very much automatic, internally consistent and unconsciously processed.
As always, if you reading this and it sounds familiar, please let me know – I’d love to hear about your own experiences.
March 27, 2011 | Categories: art, brain, Britain, debate, London, music, neuroscience, philosophy, Psychology, sociable, statistics, university | Tags: art, biology, debate, dissertation, excitement, humans, I love, London, music, neuropsychology, neuroscience, philosophy, psychology, research, science, shiny, sociable, study, synaesthesia, UEL, UKSA, university | 1 Comment »
Yesterday, the University of East London had the pleasure of welcoming Ed Hubbard from Vanderbilt University, USA to give a talk about synaesthesia. It was a free public lecture, lasting about 90 minutes, and we had a pretty great turn out.
The lecture signalled the start of the annual UK Synaesthesia Association conference (this year hosted by UEL) – whilst the conference is still open to the public, they need to be paying public, so this free lecture was a bit more accessible to armchair psychologists.
Here’s the blurb from the talk:
What do David Hockney, Richard Feynman, Nabokov, Messiaen and Stevie Wonder all have in common? They all experience synaesthesia, a “union of the senses”.
For some synaesthetes, listening to a piece of music may also cause them to see specific colours while for others letters or numbers are always tinged a certain colour. Although synaesthesia has been known about for over 100 years, interest in synaesthesia has undergone resurgence in the past decade. This talk will discuss recent research, showing what synaesthetes already know: synaesthesia is real, and synaesthetes are neither telling stories, nor are they “crazy.”
More information about synaesthesia can be found here: www.uel.ac.uk/psychology/research/synaesthesia
I really enjoyed Ed’s talk – he’s a great speaker, and was very obviously passionate about his area of research. He’s also keen to get all you American synaesthetes involved with his research, so please don’t hesitate to get in contact with him: edhubbard [at] gmail [dot] com
More about synaesthesia to follow tomorrow, as I am, at this moment in time, at the conference. Need to rush off now – lectures to attend. Exciting stuff!
March 26, 2011 | Categories: art, brain, Britain, debate, London, music, neuroscience, philosophy, Psychology, science, sociable, statistics, university | Tags: art, biology, debate, dissertation, excitement, funny, humans, I love, London, me me me, neuropsychology, neuroscience, optimism, philosophy, psychology, science, shiny, sociable, UEL, university | Leave A Comment »
Recently, I’ve been back and forth to Goldsmiths College is New Cross. This all began when I got an email in my uni mailbox, asking for participants in a study looking at the cognitive ability of gamers. The only requirment was that I play >7 hours of computer games a week. Easily fulfilled.
And what was this? A £5 reimbursement for my time? Oh lovely – that’ll buy me lunch!
So the reward for me was threefold:
- provide vital data for a study into the psychology of gaming (and thus flesh out research AND help someone progress with their phD)
- actively see how other people conduct their research, in order to make sure mine is even better (i.e. see what works and what doesn’t, from a participant’s perspective)
- get a fiver!
Obviously, not all of these points will be relevant to everyone. I would hope point 1 is important to us all (yay, science + altruism), and point 3 is fab, as long as you don’t need to pay for travel to and from New Cross (which I don’t). Point 2 is great for anyone doing research now or in the future – for the rest of you, it can just be from the perspective of curiousity.
So what makes a good research participant?
Fellow researchers and students aren’t traditionally a good choice – they have a predisposition to “second guessing” the tests, and are thus preoccupied. Pay attention! You need to provide good and accurate data, and if you’re thoughts are elsewhere, you can’t do that.
Then there are money grabbers – people who are there purely for the reward (or students who need to participate in order to receive credits to pass their course). They will try to get the tests done ASAP, and therefore (again) will provide crappy data.
Next: it’s not a competition. This is especially important in self-report questionnaires – be HONEST, don’t try and show off how fabulous you are as a person (particularly if it’s not true). Data is always anonymised (unless the researcher tells you otherwise), so no one will know it’s you anyway, so just tell the truth.
What can you expect from psychological research? Well, it’s not that exciting, if I’m going to be perfectly honest. Most of it is infront-of-the-computer stuff, looking at shapes and colours, testing reaction times, short term memory, that sort of thing. Then there are the questionnaires – studies that involve self-report (you know the type – on a scale of 1-7, how muchdo you agree/disagree with this statement…)
Yes, it can be tedious, and yes, you ARE just a number in a spreadsheet, but without those numbers, we can’t do the research, and without the research, psychology can’t progress. Do YOU want to be resposibile for halting the progress of SCIENCE? Oh, and did I mention the fiver?
If you want to help out in the world of psychological research, get in touch with your local uni or college’s psychology department to see if they’re looking for participants. If you’re in London, drop me an email – I know of some fun ones!
March 22, 2011 | Categories: brain, debate, London, money, philosophy, Psychology, rats, science, sociable, statistics, university | Tags: debate, dissertation, excitement, humans, I love, London, optimism, philosophy, psychology, science, sociable, university | Leave A Comment »
Wow! What a night!
Brain Awareness Day 2011 was a roaring success. I had a bit of a rough night’s sleep on Tuesday evening, sweating over the impending event, thinking about all the things that could go wrong. But you know what? I needn’t have worried. It all ran seamlessly. The organisations all arrived, they set up beautiful stalls, my committee and my volunteer stewards were all WONDERFUL and waaaaay more calm than I was.
We had an audience of over 300. I was thrilled, as was Ash. The last time he ran this event (two years ago) it was to an audience of about 200.
We began with Ash’s lecture – a whistlestop tour of the brain, and the history of brain research. Cognitive neuropsychology is the love of Ash’s life, and his enthusiasm for the stuff came over wonderfully. We started off with the basic FAQ style fun facts (the brain is 77% water, it weighs only 2.5% of our total body weight but uses 20% of our body’s energy while we’re at rest). Next came a potted history of brain research – from a brief mention in a 3000BC papyrus scroll, through to a sudden flurry of activity at the end of the 19th century.
But the most interesting parts of Ash’s lecture came towards the end, when he discussed brain damage, and subsequent neurological research (i.e. his area of interest). The effects of brain damage can completely alter people’s lives – and this introduction lead us wonderfully into the drinks reception and info stalls.
Downstairs, two rooms had been beautifully set up with promotional materials for our various organisations and charities, as well as drinks and nibbles to keep everyone going. We had wonderful charities turn up: SANE, Encephalitis Society, Epilepsy Action, the Epilepsy Society, UKABIF and Headway East London. We also had some promotional material sent through by the Stroke Association and Mind to put on display and some great goodies from the Dana Foundation to give away – which were much loved by all!
This session allowed members of the public to find out more about the charities, and possibly offer their support by way of donations, or even volunteering. I know from my friends at SANE that they had a great number of people sign up to receive more info about volunteering - so a brilliant night for all those involved.
Finally, we had a great panel discussion, lead by Ash, with three of his study participants (and friends). All three have suffered some form of brain damage (with two of them surviving herpes simplex encephalitis, and one surviving a massive brain hemorrhage), which has completely changed their lives. Whereas Ash’s lecture gave us a clean cut text-book definition of prosopagnosia (or face blindness), here we had a chance to hear firsthand the life experiences of people with severe facial recognition problems. They related beautifully how their experiences had changed their lives, but how it had also changed their outlooks – it made them realise not that life is cruel (described as the “why me, why me” mentally by one of our guests), but more made them be grateful that they were alive. That you have “one life – live it”. An important message for everyone.
All in all, a fantastic, enlightening, thoroughly enjoyable evening.
Now, if you don’t mind, I have some sleep to catch up on…
Did you come to Brain Awareness Day at UEL? What did you think? Please share you thoughts, and photos if you have any! We’d love to hear your feedback.
March 17, 2011 | Categories: brain, charity, debate, London, mental illness, neuroscience, philosophy, photography, Psychology, science, sociable, university | Tags: brain, debate, dissertation, excitement, humans, I love, London, me me me, mental illness, neuropsychology, neuroscience, optimism, philosophy, psychology, science, sociable, UEL, university | Leave A Comment »
OK, so you know about the Brain Awareness Day at UEL now.
But that is not all I have to share with you, oh no.
UEL will also be hosting a public lecture about synaesthesia this month! You remember synaesthesia – the phenomenon of sense-crossing? I’ve talked about it before, you know… Plus, there’s heaps of info available on the UEL synaesthesia research lab webpage.
Friday 25th March 2011 6pm
Synaesthesia as a window into human nature
by Edward Hubbard
Venue: CC1.01, Stratford Campus
Oh look, a pretty poster!
So, I hope as many of you can make it as possible. It’s set to be a really interesting event (if any of you have ever read any Ramachandran or Sacks before, you’ll know how intriguing synaesthesia is!)
March 4, 2011 | Categories: art, books, brain, debate, London, neuroscience, philosophy, Psychology, science, sociable, university | Tags: art, colour, cross-modal, debate, excitement, humans, I love, lecture, London, neuropsychology, neuroscience, optimism, psychology, research, science, shiny, sociable, synaesthesia, UEL, university | Leave A Comment »
Ooh, look, shiny official Brain Awareness Day poster!
February 14, 2011 | Categories: brain, jobs, London, mental illness, neuroscience, philosophy, Psychology, university | Tags: biology, brain, debate, dissertation, excitement, humans, I love, London, mental illness, neuropsychology, neuroscience, optimism, philosophy, psychology, science, shiny, UEL, university | 3 Comments »
As part of International Brain Awareness Week (14-20th March 2011), my supervisor Dr Ashok Jansari will be hosting a Brain Awareness Day at the School of Psychology at our UEL Stratford campus. My part in all this is quite exciting – I get to be his personal assistant in the proceedings. Which means I am figuratively representing the event online!
Well, what’s involved? The event will start with a public lecture entitled ‘The Life of Brian (the Brain)’, giving a tour of the history of our understanding of the brain. This will begin with the first written documentation of the word ‘brain’ in a 3000 year old Egyptian papyrus and move towards how modern neuropsychologists are beginning to unravel the mysteries of an organ that is more complex than the most advanced computer known to man. By using examples from his own work, Dr Jansari will demonstrate how we can understand the devastating consequences of some forms of brain damage but also about the preserved abilities following trauma.
This information can then be used to help understand how the healthy brain functions and then this information can be used to develop rehabilitation to help the lives of the patients. For example, David cannot recognise any faces (including his wife’s), but can tell you what whether someone is happy or sad and whose vision is good enough to look at a football shirt and tell you which premiership team it belongs to. Then there is Nicola, who is so profoundly amnesic that she makes the hero of the classic film Memento look like he has a good memory! However, by capitalising on unconscious forms of memory, Dr Jansari’s team taught Nicola to use a complex Palm Top electronic device to remember to take her medication – despite this remarkable learning, each time she saw the Palm Top, she claimed never to have used it before.
After the public lecture, there will be a reception between 7 and 8pm with information displays by organisations that work with individuals with brain-related issues (e.g. Headway and the Encephalitis Society), posters about research at the School of Psychology and even models of the brain that the audience can take apart. The evening will conclude with Dr Jansari chairing a panel discussion about ‘living with brain damage’ where two of his research patients will discuss both what it means to live with this terrible life-changing event but also that it certainly is not the end of the world…..
Dr Jansari’s Brain Awareness Day’s have been really popular in the past – you don’t need to be an academic to get something out of this. If you are simply just interested in brains and what they do (and who wouldn’t be?!) then come to Stratford and enjoy an evening of exploration.
If you fancy coming along, it’s FREE and open to all – Wednesday 16th of March, 6-9pm, at UEL’s Stratford Campus
You can also find Brain Awareness Day listed on the Dana Foundation’s website.
February 7, 2011 | Categories: brain, Britain, charity, debate, jobs, London, mental illness, neuroscience, Psychology, science, sociable, university | Tags: biology, brain, debate, dissertation, excitement, humans, London, mental illness, neuropsychology, neuroscience, psychology, science, sociable, UEL, university | 3 Comments »
Wow. I honestly don’t want to say too much, because I really think you should go and read this book yourself. All of the reader reviews are right: it’s fascinating, it’s educational and most importantly, it is very very readable.
I’ve seen Ramachandran talk live (at the Royal Institution) and the enthusiasm and showmanship that he presented then really comes through in this book.
I actually got two copies for Christmas – one from Ben and one from my dad. Confusion over Amazon wishlists – Ben obviously doesn’t know how to use them! Bless him. So rather than send the book back, we gave one copy right back to my dad (as he is all about consciousness, phenomenology, and the mystery of the mind).
Now, it took me three weeks to read this. It took my dad one flight back to Dubai. He reads insanely fast! But he says he couldn’t put it down. He’s a very brain-modular sort of person, and his favourite chapters were towards the end, when Ramachandran discusses qualia, and the source and purpose of consciousness.
Personally, I’m all about the earlier chapters, when Ramachandran looks at a variety of different neurological phenomena. He presents us with a variety of case studies, each with very particular forms of brain damage, leading to very unusual problems. There are his famous “phantom limb” patients – people who, following an amputation, can still feel sensation in their absent limb. Later, he returns to the subject of phantoms, by discussing the mindboggling (but increasingly rare) phenomenon of pseudocyesis, or false pregnancy.
But I don’t want to discuss this book at length – I feel it would detract from your own experience when reading it.
If you like Oliver Sacks, you will love this. If you like “unusualness” and maybe even mystery stories, this is for you. Go get it. There are even some optical illusions you can play with (just don’t do them on the train – you’ll look like an idiot).
Don’t fancy reading? Ramachandran has also presented his cases in a two-part BBC4 documentary.
January 28, 2011 | Categories: books, brain, debate, family, mental illness, neuroscience, philosophy, Psychology, science, university | Tags: agnosia, anasognosia, biology, blind spot, books, brain damage, consciousness, dad, debate, excitement, holiday, humans, I love, me me me, mental illness, mind, neuropsychology, neuroscience, optimism, phantom limb, philosophy, prosopagnosia, pseudocyesis, psychology, qualia, Ramachandran, science, university | 4 Comments »
I’m freeeeee! Well, for now, anyway. My January exams are over!
And to celebrate, I met Ben and his workmate Kasia for lunch on Tuesday (after my final exam). We met up at the Boat House Café in Regents Park
I was at the café last Friday, too, when I had a slightly overpriced, but very lovely, bowl of pumpkin and orange soup, with toasted rye bread on the side.
Then, on Tuesday, I pushed the boat out – for just a couple of pounds more, I got myself a large pizza, freshly made (or should I say, freshly assembled? They had the base there, but that looked handmade. But the ingredients were fresh) and ready for me in less than 15 minutes. At under £7, it was utterly fantastic, and the first meat (i.e. not fish) I’d had in a fortnight. I had ham, onions, peppers, olives, mushrooms and capers. Sadly, they had no anchovies (my no. 1 favourite pizza topping), but it was still awesome.
In fact, it was so awesome, I ate 5 slices before I even remembered to take a photo of it for you lot.
I let Ben have the other 3 slices.
And oh yes: look! it comes in a pizza box, so if you can’t finish it all, you can just walk with it, without having to awkwardly ask for a doggy bag.
Nom nom nom. I love pizza. I also love tea and chocolate cake, so I had that too. Woops. (I’ve lost 7lbs since the start of the diet, a week and a half ago. Yay!)
The Boat House café isn’t really for a special meal out, but it does make for a relaxing spot for a light lunch whilst you’re out in Regents Park. Especially lovely when it’s sunny (as it was on Tuesday). Wait for the summer, and you can even hire a pedalo for the lake. Hurrah for London!
Image credits: the café from http://www.flickr.com/photos/catdonnelly/240492521/ ; the others are mine.
January 20, 2011 | Categories: food, London, sociable, statistics, university | Tags: cafe, cake, food, fox, I love, lake, London, optimism, pizza, Regents Park, sociable, tea, UEL, university | 2 Comments »
OK, at time of writing, I am taking a very short break from furiously revising for a research methods exam. It’s my last exam, so I’ll be working hard for this one.
Bearing that in mind, I have not much to offer you today except this photo of a squirrel, taken with my phone, in Regent’s Park last Friday.
Normal service will be resumed shortly; watch this space.
January 18, 2011 | Categories: art, brain, London, mental illness, photography, Psychology, university | Tags: animals, art, complaining, dissatisfaction, London, mental illness, optimism, philosophy, photography, psychology, Regents Park, revision, squirrel, study, UEL, university | Leave A Comment »
Ever feel like there is just too damn much going on, and your head feels like it’ll pop? I get it every now and then. I’ll be going along just fine, making plans, keeping busy, meeting people, doing things – LOTS of things – and then suddenly, out of the blue, I’ll feel the overwhelming sense of dread, that I Can’t Cope.
At the moment, I’m blaming the exams that I’m currently sitting. Yesterday was the first, and a lot better than I was expecting (on Monday night, I was – for some reason – convinced that all the questions were going to be on topics I hadn’t revised. This nearly led to meltdown) but I still have two more to go, and they will be harder.
I am slowly learning how to deal with mental meltdown, but it is certainly an ongoing thing. I think the best thing you can do when faced with the overwhelming threat of failure/embarrassment/painful reality is to take some time out, to step back and get some perspective, and most importantly, do something that reminds you how to have fun. This is what I like to call my Mental Floss (oh, aren’t I witty?).
You see, this is where my New Year’s Resolution #7 comes in – to forgive myself. You know what? You don’t need to be doing something practical and productive 24/7. It is OK to take some “you time” to muck about for the sheer hell of it.
From now on, when I feel the pressure mounting up, I’ll be on here, drafting a Mental Floss post: I’ll be naming 5 different things that are keeping me grounded at the moment: some ways that I’m keeping my mental health in good shape.
So, without further delay:
1) My Wii. As a New Year’s gift to myself, I finally got a Wii, and Wii Fit Plus to go with it. Yes, that is my Body Test result for yesterday, and yes, I do currently weigh in at a mighty 12 stone. I don’t regret it – the festive binge felt amazing, and I do love food. However, I am well aware that I am not in the healthiest of places right now, and as a long-time supporter of the British Heart Foundation, this is not good and it’s not right. Before you start: yes I KNOW Wii Fit doesn’t really come close to proper exercise, but the yoga and muscle exercises I find really focussing and relaxing. And that’s why it’s Mental Floss.
2) Talking of supporting charities, I can’t wait to get back to SANE on Thursday – I haven’t been in to volunteer for a couple of weeks now (due to holiday), and I’ve really missed it. They do wonderful work, and it’s really life-affirming to know that I’m a part of it. That’s there brand new website, by the way – went live only yesterday.
3) My dear, dear books. Whilst I haven’t yet finished reading my first book of 2011, I’ve been reading bits and pieces where and when I can. Obviously, my priority reading is revision for exams, but it’s nice to escape with a non-curriculum book once in a while…
4) The Oatmeal. Discovered this the other day, and it has been making me chuckle heartily. Very similar to Hyperbole and a Half (in terms of whimsical drawing style vs. cynical text), which certainly tickles my funny bone.
5) Staying indoors. It may be no surprise to you (or maybe it is?) that I’m a bit sociophobic. I love to leave the house when it means going for a walk in the countryside, but when it means enduring the bustle of thousands of London strangers, most days I’d just rather not. And at the moment, I have no reason (aside from exams) to leave the house. That is just dandy by me. I know it’s unhealthy in the long term, but for a few days, I think it’s fine to keep your own company.
January 12, 2011 | Categories: books, brain, charity, debate, exercise, food, holiday, London, mental illness, music, neuroscience, philosophy, Psychology, sociable, university | Tags: books, debate, exercise, food, gluttony, holiday, humans, London, me me me, Mental Floss, mental illness, neuropsychology, neuroscience, new, optimism, philosophy, psychology, sadness, shiny, sociable, UEL, university | 2 Comments »
Well, at the start of 2010, I resolved to read more. And I think I’ve done pretty damn well. Here, as we stand at the edge of the abyss, and the last dregs of 2010 filter away, I can happily say that I have read quite a few books this year.
It’s been tricky, too: throwing myself into a scientific discipline at the last minute (shut up, physicists: psychology so is a science. It has ology and everything) meant that I faced a lot of academic reading, in the form of text books and journal articles. But in between all of that, I have managed a grand total of 39 books this year – 23 non-fiction, and 16 fiction (where I’ve listed text books, that’s where I have actually read them, cover to cover). And this is what they were:
- 30.01.10 – Nicky Hayes – A First Course in Psychology (nf)
- 09.02.10 – Matt Ridley – Nature Via Nurture (nf)
- 01.03.10 – James Hogg – The Three Perils of Man (f)
- 07.03.10 – Adam Phillips – Monogamy (nf)
- 22.03.10 – John Marzillier & John Hall – What is clinical psychology? (nf)
- 24.03.10 – Aldous Huxley – Brave New World (f)
- 30.03.10 – Terry Pratchett – Nation (f)
- 22.04.10 – Walter J. Freeman – How Brains Make Up Their Minds (nf)
- 15.05.10 – G. K. Chesterton – Father Brown Stories (f)
- 19.05.10 – Russell L. Ackoff, Herbert J. Addison & Sally Bibb – Management f-Laws (nf)
- 20.05.10 – Lewis Carroll – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (f)
- 26.05.10 – Siri Hustvedt – The Shaking Woman or A History Of My Nerves (nf)
- 29.05.10 – Terry Pratchett – Thud! (f)
- 02.06.10 – Oliver Sacks – The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat (nf)
- 23.06.10 – Wilkie Collins – The Woman in White (f)
- 29.06.10 – Joseph Conrad – Heart Of Darkness (f)
- 02.07.10 – David Hume – On Suicide (nf)
- 05.07.10 – *Iain Banks – Complicity (f)
- 22.07.10 – Jonathan Weiner – Time, Love, Memory (nf)
- 26.07.10 – Christopher Fowler – Spanky (f)
- 14.08.10 – Robert Winston – Human Instinct (nf)
- 22.08.10 – Iain M. Banks – Consider Phlebas (f)
- 28.08.10 – American Psychological Association – Concise Rules of APA Style (nf)
- 08.09.10 – Andy Field & Graham Hole – How to Design and Report Experiments (nf)
- 13.09.10 – Nick Braisby (ed.) – Cognitive Psychology: A Methods Companion (nf)
- 20.09.10 – Ken Kesey – One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest (f)
- 07.10.10 – Steven Pinker – The Language Instinct (nf)
- 12.10.10 – *Paul Broks – Into The Silent Land (nf)
- 21.10.10 – Daniel Levitin – This Is Your Brain On Music (nf)
- 31.10.10 – Oliver Sacks – Musicophilia (nf)
- 07.11.10 – The Poetry and Short Stories of Dorothy Parker (f)
- 10.11.10 – Alain de Botton – Status Anxiety (nf)
- 11.11.10 – Richard Bach – Jonathan Livingstone Seagull (f)
- 14.11.10 – Richard P. Feynman – The Meaning of it All (nf)
- 29.11.10 – *Andrew Solomon – The Noonday Demon (nf)
- 04.12.10 – Iain Banks – The Bridge (f)
- 26.12.10 – Axel Scheffler – How to Keep a Pet Squirrel (f)
- 27.12.10 – Dr Liz Miller – Mood Mapping (nf)
- 29.12.10 – Michael S. Gazzaniga – Nature’s Mind (nf)
And I’ve just started the first one for 2011. How about you? Did you chomp through some good reads this year? Which were your favourites? I’ve put an asterisk by my three absolute favourites this year, and massively recommend them.
December 31, 2010 | Categories: books, brain, charity, holiday, London, mental illness, music, neuroscience, philosophy, Psychology, science, statistics | Tags: Banks, biology, books, brain, classics, dissatisfaction, evolution, excitement, fiction, fox, funny, holiday, humans, I love, London, mental illness, music, neuropsychology, neuroscience, optimism, philosophy, Pinker, Pratchett, psychology, reading, Ridley, Sacks, science, shiny, squirrel, university | 3 Comments »
I made it. This is officially my 100th blog post. I have managed to blog every day since mid-September, and nearly all my posts have been useful or interesting (yes? No?)
This has come at a perfect time as well, because today I need to concentrate all my efforts on finishing a lab report that I have barely started – so I thought today’s post could be a good excuse to do a bit of a round up of the last few months. And share some pretty pictures, yay!
Well, on the topic of my lab report: the most obvious milestone for me in the last few months has been starting my Psychology MSc. Since then, it has been non-stop – most of it fun, a lot of it stressful but all of it fascinating.
Unfortunately, starting my MSc has meant that I’ve had to leave some things behind, such as my beloved Horniman museum, but I still get a chance to go back and visit. And of course, there are little reminders of the Horniman all around me…
I haven’t lost all my fun though: I still sing quite frequently, and even got a couple of double bass concerts in this season (although one had to be cancelled last week due to snow). I managed to go clubbing once or twice, did a lot of cooking and baking, and had several wonderful meals out (including finally trying out Time&Space for Ben’s birthday).
I have to interrupt myself briefly, just to say that doing this round up is making me realise that I have actually been quite busy over the last few months, which is reassuring and also quite emotional. Ignore me.
I have been to visit friends, I have had friends come to stay with me, I have been to soooo many extra-curricular lectures, and had wonderful cultural days out. I even had a silly day out sledding with Ben when the snow hit.
In amongst all the shenannagins of having my brain scanned but not zapped, all the cocktails and the pottery painting, and even my first trek to IKEA via public transport, I have still managed to sit back and relax.
I have read a huge amount (by my usual standards) of books this year (so far! I aim to read a few more before 2010 is out) – 37 is the count so far, and that’s excluding all the text books and journal articles I’ve had to read for uni. I’ve dabbled with Kesey, Banks, Parker, a very special seagull, and then a whole bunch of NON-fiction (madness!) – Music from Sacks and Levitin, Language with Pinker, Neuropsych with Broks and a mammoth book on depression.
I’ve been busy, you’ve been busy – we’ve all been busy bunnies. Maybe it’s time to chill out and enjoy the holiday season? I have a wedding to go to this weekend (my eldest brother got married in August, and now it’s my other brother’s turn!), and that pretty much heralds the time for festivities. I best get this lab report out of the way, then…
Thanks for indulging me – it’s been a fun 100 posts. Here’s to many more!
December 9, 2010 | Categories: art, books, brain, clubbing, crafts, English Arts Chorale, food, holiday, Horniman, London, mental illness, museum, music, neuroscience, philosophy, photography, Psychology, Royal Institution, science, sociable, university | Tags: art, books, Christmas, crafts, excitement, food, fox, funny, holiday, I love, London, me me me, mental illness, museum, music, optimism, philosophy, psychology, recipe, reflection, science, shiny, sociable, tea, UEL, university | 5 Comments »
Most of us recognise people we’ve seen before. We recognise our friends, our family, our enemies, famous faces like politicians and musicians, we recognise the different characters in TV shows and films. Yes, we all have those days when we’re useless at recognising people, and some of us (like Tallulah from Bugsy Malone) are fine with faces, it’s just names we have a problem with. But how confusing would like be if every face we saw was a new face to us: if people we’d met before, or known for years, had an unrecognisable face?
This isn’t science fiction: this is prosopagnosia, or “face blindness”. Prosopagnosia is not new: it’s been researched for many years (some reports go back as far as the 19th century, with case studies from Hughlings Jackson and Charcot), but there has been a surge in studies in recent years.
Usually, prosopagnosia has been observed in people who have had some form of acute brain damage (from localised head injuries such as a bullet wound, or from a virus such as encephalitis), which results in this loss of face recognition. However, a developmental version of the condition has recently been discovered: people who are born without an ability to recognise faces. A recent article that was brought to my attention relates what appears to be this latter form of prosopagnosia.
Prosopagnosia even got a bit of prime-time publicity on BBC’s The One Show when my supervisor (Dr Jansari) talked about David, with whom he works, who suffers from profound face blindness. He simply does not recognise faces at all, no matter how many times he’s seen it before. He has no problems recognising other things, and frequently uses these other cues to recognise people: he can recognise people by their hairstyle, clothes or (once they start talking) their voice. This suggests something that many cognitive psychologists have suspected for a long time: faces are special.
So where do I fit in to all of this? Well, it’s the subject of my dissertation. I know, I know, I previously talked at length about synaesthesia, and that is still a huge interest for me (in fact, I’ve been recruiting synaesthetes for the UEL research team, and I will hopefully be involved in the research process as an extra curricular activity). However, having discussed it with Dr Jansari, we decided the face recognition study would have a greater value for me as an aspiring clinician.
And here we are. On Monday, I met the lady (SE) with whom I shall be working over the next year. It was a purely a meet-and-greet, a discussion over a cup of tea. I’m glad that I’m working with her, as she is lovely, and very enthusiastic about the study. SE is particularly interesting, because she can recognise faces that she has known for a long time (at least 6 months), but won’t recognise people out of context (i.e. if she saw a work colleague in town, she wouldn’t recognise them). However, she did recognise someone as “Mr Angry” – she had never met this man, but had seen his photo in an article about him in a newspaper. So what is it that makes her recognise some faces and not others? Well, hopefully my study can cast some light on the subject. We’ll have to wait and see.
November 25, 2010 | Categories: brain, London, neuroscience, Psychology, science, sociable, university | Tags: brain damage, dissertation, encephalitis, excitement, face blindness, face recognition, humans, neuropsychology, neuroscience, prosopagnosia, psychology, recognition, science, sociable, UEL, university | 10 Comments »
Phew. OK, my first lab report of the semester is away, out of my hands, done.
It was a tricky one to churn out: not because it was difficult to write, but because I have been rather busy. From Cambridge to Hastings, I have been running around a lot the last few weeks. But no matter – that’s what laptops are for, right?
I love my laptop. It means I can work pretty much everywhere. I have a little HP number (with a missing Alt key, but it’s still my baby). I hear stories of people’s laptops (particularly Macs) breaking down, but I have always used HP and they have never failed me (touch wood!)
I’ve been writing on the tube, in cafés, in museums, in bed. I tend to get a lot of work done “on the run” – I’m sure a lot of students do, even if it’s “just” reading. I always have a book in my bag.
Recently, I’ve adopted the bed for doing work at home, because my desk in the living room is simply too close to the kitchen, and I find myself procrastinating. So, I prop myself up with four pillows, and arm myself with a cup of tea, and get a lot done.
Outside the house, I’ve been spending quite a lot of time at the Wellcome Collection, sitting in their café/restaurant. Not only do they have free wifi, but their caterers, Peyton and Byrne, produce delicious, wholesome food. I finally tried one of their Mainly Frosting cupcakes the other day…. Yum.
But where is your favourite place to get work done? Where do you usually study? What’s the WEIRDEST place you’ve set up in to get your work done? Maybe I’m not the only one who writes lab reports in museums!
Image credits: I took it. ME. MY cake.
November 18, 2010 | Categories: books, brain, food, London, Psychology, science, university, Wellcome Collection | Tags: books, cafe, cake, cupcake, dissertation, food, gluttony, lab, laptop, London, museum, psychology, report, tea, UEL, underground, university | 5 Comments »