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New Website!

Hi everyone. I’ve just launched a new website called The Daily Brain.  We’ll be providing daily doses of science and tech news … please come by and visit!



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If You’re Looking for Me…

Here’s where to find me:

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John Cleese on Creativity

In this remarkable short talk, comic genius John Cleese explains what he has learned about the creative process.  Be ready to take notes, because he passes along insights worth remembering every day.


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Going Live on ‘Psychology Today’

Wanted to let everyone know that Neuronarrative is now officially a Psychology Today blog, here.   Please subscribe to the RSS feed for updates.

Best,                                                                                                                                                David

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Does a Sweet Tooth in Youth Really Make for a Dangerous Adult?

candy_2Every time you see news about a study claiming that “kids who [fill in blank with behavior X] are likely to develop [fill in blank with psychological malady Y] later in life”–or some variation on that theme–the link between X and Y often seems inexplicable.  It’s as if by some cruel stroke of fate, children who do ostensibly innocent things are dooming themselves to disorders they can’t even spell yet. 

News in this category comes out all the time, and I’m about to contend that the answer is almost always the same.

Here’s an example: A study just came out of Cardiff University in the UK indicating that children who eat candy every day are more likely to become violent adults.  Researchers looked at cumulative data on 17,500 people and found that 69% of the participants who were violent at the age of 34 had eaten candy and chocolate nearly every day during childhood (around age 10), compared to 42% who were non-violent.

The link between candy and violence remained constant even after controlling for other factors such as parenting, geography, lack of education after the age of 16 and (oddly) whether they had access to a car when they were 34.

Now, first of all, this is a cohort study that uses droves of health and lifestyle data on large groups of people and attempts to identify linkages.  I’m not saying that the methodology alone calls the findings into question, but fishing for correlations in oceans of data has its perils. You’re liable to find several bizarre connections and not all are worth talking about.

Having said that, let’s assume that this finding is accurate.  What’s the explanation?  Researchers at Cardiff suspect that certain additives in candy may contribute towards aggression.  I think it’s fairly easy to rule that out, because the sheer number and variety of additives in candy makes correlation impossible.  Do Skittles make kids more violent than Snickers?  Is Red #5 a worse contributor to barbarism than Yellow #8?  This can get really silly. 

We’re also faced with not knowing if eating more of a particular type of confection makes a child become more aggressive than another.  If Bobby eats three Hershey’s Kisses every day, will he become more violent than Sandy who eats four Swedish Fish and a Cadbury bar?  Again, silly.

Non-chemical explanations are of two varieties, and they’re essentially flip sides of the same coin.  Either the kids who ate more candy did so because they didn’t delay (defer) gratification, or because they were difficult personalities to begin with and their parents gave them more candy to appease them.  These are not mutually exclusive categories, and I strongly suspect that the answer lies somewhere in the overlap. 

And it stands to reason, as a long list of research indicates, that failure to delay gratification combined with parental indulgence are the culprits.  The Stanford Marshmallow Test in the 1960s kicked off this line of study. Psychologist Walter Mischel gave each child in a group of 4-year olds a marshmallow and told them that if they didn’t eat it and wait for him to return after 20 minutes, he would give them another as a reward for being patient. Some children ate the marshmallow right away and some of them were able to resist the temptation.

Fourteen years later, Mischel followed up on the children. Those who couldn’t wait suffered low self-esteem and were generally regarded by their teachers and parents as “stubborn, prone to envy and easily frustrated.” Meanwhile, those who did not eat their marshmallows were self-motivated, educationally successful and emotionally intelligent.

There’s some debate about the exact details of the marshmallow study, but the general result has been born out by other studies over the years (as documented in this excellent New Yorker piece  by science writer Jonah Lehrer).  Further studies have also gone on to link delayed gratification to varying levels of  intelligence.

I’d argue that nearly all of these results, similar to candy correlating with violence, link back to delayed gratification.  Why they do is the real question, and I’m not sure anyone has sufficiently answered it yet.  Perhaps failing to delay gratification impairs learning, or triggers indulgent habits that grow harder to change with time, or short-circuits impulse control networks in the brain.  Maybe all of the above, and likely more.  Whatever the case, it seems clear that the problems start early in life, and left unchecked the path of least resistance leads to a difficult adulthood.


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Never Underestimate the Power of Conformity

Apologies for the radio silence – I’m traveling this week and net time has been limited.  For now, take a look at the video below made by a social psychology student at Mississippi State University for an experiment on conformity to gender roles.  What’s amazing isn’t just that person after person does exactly what the signs tell them, but some of them actually stop and go through the other door when they see that they’re about to violate the rule.  Below that is a video updating the famous Asch conformity test. 



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And Now for Something Completely Different: Encephalon 74

circusI’ve been following the Encephalon blog carnival for many moons, so I was honored to be asked to host the 74th edition of what has become the premiere showcase for the best of the best in brain and mind blogging.  We’re rabid Monty Python fans here at Neuronarrative, so this edition is crafted in the tradition of that estimable show without equal.  And here we go…

One, being the number of the first section.

Cognitive Daily starts off the carnival with an excellent post called Even non-musicians can express musical intentions with just one note, which addresses the question: Does it take a music expert to convey emotion through music, or can anyone do it?  Per usual, Cognitive Daily does a thorough job of pointing us to the answer, and you’ll come away knowing you’ve definately learned something.

john_cleeseAnd while we’re talking about emotion, let’s silly walk on over to Generally Thinking where we find a post entitled Six Success-Enhancing Behaviours that Good Moods Bring You, which discusses research that teases out six quite pragmatic results of maintaining a sunny disposition. Leaves me thinking that it’s mighty important to always look on the bright side of life.

Over at Brain Stimulant, you’ll discover a trenchant discussion of Free Will and the Brain, which doesn’t only delve into the neuroscience behind one of humanity’s perennial questions, but also a bit of quantum mechanics and a generous portion of philosophy of mind. Weighty stuff this, indeed. 

Before we go on, one question…is this the right place for an argument?

Good. Now, where were we? Ah yes…

I shall now taunt you a second time! 

The Neurocritic comes in with two entries, and both warrant mention.  The first is called  None of Us are Saints that discusses the case of Albert Fish, serial child killer and cannibal who was executed in 1936. He planned a notorious kidnapping and murder in a meticulous fashion but suffered from religious delusions. Was he sane or insane? 

silly walkThe second entry is entitled A New Clitoral Homunculus? (you read that correctly) about a serious fMRI study that mapped the somatosensory representation of the clitoris in 15 healthy women. The study involved electrical stimulation of the dorsal clitoral nerve (all very clinical, no sexual arousal involved. At least none that we can mention here).

For stimulation of a completely different sort, take a wander over to AK’S Rambling Thoughts and read Concepts, Cognition, and Anthropomorphism, an erudite exploration into how the use of symbols and concepts significantly predated the development of language.  Fasten your seatbelts because it’s a solid read.   

Right!  By the way, with all the reading we brain and mind bloggers do, have I mentioned how much my brain hurts? I could really use a good Brain Specialist!

Three shall be the number of the section that you shall count, and the number of the counting shall be three.

Neuroanthropology brings us an excellent post called In Praise of Partial Explanation (and Flowcharts), a stalwart defense of the use of flowcharts and diagramming.  Let me tell you something fellow readers, you’ll not find a more thorough and readable discussion of flow charts and diagrams and how they enable us to make sense of complicated topics. Quote me on that.

Monty_Python-Spot-The-Looney-FCAt Sharp Brains, we’re treated to a piece entitled Preparing Society for the Cognitive Age that’s reprinted with permission from the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience.  Discussing the latest questions in the brain fitness field, the article suggests that advances in brain health in the 21st century are not unlike the remarkable advances in cardiovascular health in the 20th century.  Good stuff.

Also from Sharp Brains, we have a worthwhile interview with the CEO of the AAA Foundation on a new cognitive based driver safety program called DriveSharp. Cutting edge and immensely relevant.

Now here’s a question you don’t hear every day: Why do schizophrenics smoke cigarettes? That’s the topic on tap at Brain Blogger,  and it’s addressed splendidly.  Dopamine, attention, memory and sensory gating all cross paths in this well-referenced piece. You’ll finish wanting to learn more, and the author has provided the sources to get you there.

Here’s another question: What sort of delusion, do you think, leads one to want to become a lion tamer? 

And now onto the last scene. A smashing scene with some lovely acting.

Neurospeculation brings us a post entitled A new test for semispatial neglect about an article in the Annals of Neurology that originated from a question asked in a high school classroom.  I won’t give away the punchline, but let me say that they’ve got some smart students at Eastchester High. 

Channel N Video gives us a video submission called Schizophrenic Man Terrifies Kids at Party, below.

You can read more about the video at the excellent site, Channel N, right here.

Finally, the always engaging Dr. Shock brings us a brief but informative post entitled Motives for Online Gaming  that covers a study focused on, as the title suggests, why young adults play online video games.  Here’s a hint: it’s more than just about wearing cool headsets and virtually pistol whipping noobs.


Thanks to everyone who submitted entries for this edition — it has been my distinct pleasure to host. The next edition of Encephalon will be hosted by Ionian Enchantment on September 14th, back on its regular fortnightly schedule. Send your entries to

rabbit_2Now, carry forth with your search for the Grail. Just remember, don’t risk another frontal assault from the rabbit…it’s dynamite! (nudge, nudge, wink, wink, know what I mean?)


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