The Science of Why You Hate Ted Cruz

via Quartz.

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Why Ted Cruz’s Facial Expression Makes Me Uneasy

Note: This piece generated a lot of buzz, even getting me a mention on the Late Late Show with James Corden!

[Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today]

What message are the Senator’s atypical facial gestures sending?

Source: Gage Skidmore via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

It’s hard to look at Ted Cruz’s face. He’s said to be a brilliant orator with a sharp legal mind. But his expression unsettles me. I understand that my reaction is visceral and automatic, but as a neurologist it is my business to notice things out of the ordinary and probe them. The Senator’s atypical expressions leave me uneasy.

It’s remarkable how many colleagues and former associates say that they “loathe” Cruz. A Bush alumnus told The New York Times‘ Frank Bruni, “Why do people take such an instant dislike to Ted Cruz? It just saves time.” Former Senate Majority leader Bob Dole says, “Nobody likes him,” while Rep. Peter King sees “malice” behind his visage. According to The Washington Post, screenwriter Craig Mazin, Cruz’s former Princeton roommate, calls him a “huge asshole,” and “creepy.” He’s Tweeted, “Getting emails blaming me for not smothering Ted Cruz in his sleep in 1988.” The distaste for Cruz extends well beyond the US: Germans say Backpfeifengesicht, meaning a face in need of a good punch. Continue reading

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Is Organic Food a Scam?

[Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today]

Whole Paycheck Pauper? You’re Paying 47% More For Psychology.

organic purple grapes

Source: Pixabay

Here’s food for thought: Taste happens in your head, not your mouth. Color, for instance, is a strong influence on how we perceive flavor. Purple grapes don’t look quite right when served on a blue plate. Similar color contrast impressions operate at multiple levels both psychologically and in the brain. It may be that the term “blue plate special” became popular during the 1930s Depression when cooks noticed that customers were satisfied with smaller portions when meals were served on a blue plate. Shape affects gustatory judgments, too. An angular plate emphasizes the sharpness of a dish. Weight also matters: the more heft a bowl has the more satiated you’ll feel no matter how much or little you eat [1]. Continue reading

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Why Carl Sagan’s 1995 Prediction Seems So Prescient

[Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today]

We read into matters what we are primed to believe.

Source: Wikipedia Commons

Imagine yourself standing on a street corner choking on smoke and soot while fires leap from buildings overhead. Everyone panics, while someone asks you, “What does the future hold?”

“Better than this,” you say.

Seem unlikely? It’s a fact that human brains are predisposed to such sunny outlooks.

Psychology calls our skewed vision of the future “optimism bias.” It describes our innate propensity to see things in a positive light. Our hard–wired cognitive bias draws us toward information and beliefs that importantly keep us moving forward no matter how bleak our current situation. Optimism bias is an evolutionary survival tactic. Continue reading

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Another Limitless Pill Hits the Market. Does It Deliver?

[Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today]

Will brain-power in a bottle ever unlock your inner genius?

Source: Anya Vanece, with permission

News of a brand–new “Limitless pill” is making its way around the Internet. Claiming to “safely improve memory, focus, and mental performance,” the Neuro XR brain–booster has been garnering accolades from intrigued journalists.

It might be unwise to join in the excitement, however. First off, journalists are notoriously poor at weighing evidence and numerical data. But there are additional reasons to be skeptical of claims that promise cognitive enhancement. Continue reading

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The Pit In Your Stomach is Actually Your Second Brain

[Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today]

Gut feelings influence your mood and well-being.

The world is so much bigger and more interesting than we can see with our naked eyes. If we could, we could watch cells grow, morph, and split again over and over again on the backs of our own wrists–or the billions of foreign cells living in and among our own, forming what scientists are beginning to call our “second brain.

Second BrainAs researchers turn their microscopes to these hidden environments, they have discovered something remarkable: There’s an entire ecosystem of bacteria and a vast neural network operating in our guts. This ecosystem is our second brain, and comprises some 100 million neurons, more than the spinal cord. This is not a thinking brain–it does not reason, write poetry, or solve multi-linear regressions–but mounting evidence suggests that your gut’s health strongly influences your mood. Continue reading

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Kill the Next One

Here is my review of Federico Axat’s “Kill the Next One” at the New York Journal of Books:

Kill the Next One

“Move over Hitchcock, P. D. James, Ruth Rendell, and more. Here is a thriller to make others fade. Well-drawn characters, a devilish plot, and first-rate storytelling make this an emotional mystery that resonates and disturbs.”

In this superb translation of Kill the Next One, Argentinian author Federico Axat invites the reader to solve a most original and convoluted tale of suspense.

Ted McKay has an enviable family and every trapping of success. Yet the book opens with him holding a gun to his temple. The doorbell rings. A stranger has a proposition: Why not kill two deserving individuals before offing himself? The first would be a murderer who had mistakenly escaped justice, the second a terminally ill individual like himself. Continue reading

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Big Mistake: Small Kids Left to Their Own Devices

[Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today]

Relaxing rules for kids and screen tech is probably a mistake.

screens and babies

Source: Pixbay.com

Remember Baby Einstein? About a decade ago so–called educational DVDs for infants and toddlers made for a $500 million business. Plunk your little darling in front of a screen, press play, and soon enough your young one could explain the theory of relativity. Purchase Baby Mozart, and a full–blown symphony might emerge from the crib. Or how about a ‘lil playwright to dramatize the trials and adventures of being only 2? Why, buy Baby Shakespeare of course. Continue reading

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At Danceteria and Other Stories

Here is my review of Philip Dean Walker’s “At Danceteria and Other Stories” at the New York Journal of Books:

At Danceteria and Other Stories

“Walker’s stories intersect the tipping point when big city gay life went from carefree hedonism and glitzy self–indulgence to the moment when self–satisfied habitués of the demi–monde began to witness the wide scale decimation of their generation.”

“Men, women, children, dogs—they all stopped what they were doing in order to look at him.”

This is how Philip Dean Walker describes an arresting beauty in “The Boy Who Lived Next to The Boy Next Door,” one of seven stories in this slim volume of highly imagined tales that bring dead celebrities back to life, place them in unexpected settings, and time warp the reader back to 1980, a time of high camp and existential danger. Continue reading

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Can a TV Series Teach Us to Love Androids?

[Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today]

HBO’s “Westworld” challenges and changes our notions of love.

Westworld

Source: “Westworld,” HBO

Dolores and William cling to one another as they try to escape an encampment of Confederados, brutal mercenary soldiers.  Even as a contingent of these bandits closes in, the two characters gaze into each other’s eyes, and time seems to stop. William holds Dolores’ gentle and mechanical face, gazes at her soft blonde hair, and then kisses her. Continue reading

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The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter

Here is my review of David Sax’s “The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter” at the New York Journal of Books:

The Revenge of Analog: Real Things and Why They Matter

“What makes a tool superior to another . . . has nothing to do with how new it is. What matters is how it enlarges or diminishes us.”

Digital technology makes life easier in many ways, but the analog interactions we have ditched in the name of progress made life more meaningful if not substantial. Or so argues David Sax in The Revenge of Analog, his call to reexamine the first-hand, in-person experiences we have given up in the name of technological progress. Continue reading

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Thomas Murphy: A Novel

Here is my review of Roger Rosenblatt’s “Thomas Murphy” at the New York Journal of Books:

Thomas Murphy

“Everyone is disabled. Love exists for our disabilities. And forgotten things, though they remain forgotten, have a life of their own.”

Roger Rosenblatt is blessed with the ability to write in almost every literary genre, to elide different forms beautifully, and to step between them with grace. That skill is on dazzling display in Thomas Murphy, a memento mori that recalls two of Rosenblatt’s earlier books—Making Toast and Kayak Morning—each of which dealt with loss while appearing to be about something else. Continue reading

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Body Language Says it All: Hillary Hides, Donald Emotes

[Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today]

The best way to judge people trying to persuade you is with the volume off!

Source: Creative Commons DonkeyHotey https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/24564574914

Source: Creative Commons DonkeyHotey https://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/24564574914

I wrote about Ted Cruz’s repellent facial expressions to show how words and gesture often say different things. I also commented here and in The Washingtonian on the body language of the other presidential candidates.

During the surreal experience that was the first presidential debate each contender’s body language sent one consistent message:  Hillary hides and Donald runs on emotion. Continue reading

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Utopia Is Creepy: And Other Provocations

Here is my review of Nicholas Carr’s “Utopia Is Creepy: And Other Provocations” at the New York Journal of Books:

Utopia Is Creepy: And Other Provocations

“. . . Carr’s best hits for those who missed the last decade of his stream of thoughtful commentary about our love affair with technology and its effect on our relationships . . .”

For those who missed Nicholas Carr’s stream of thoughtful and thought–provoking commentary over the past decade, Utopia Is Creepy and Other Provocations is a handy collection of his best hits for readers who want to see what all the buzz was about. Continue reading

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$50m Judgment Says Brain Training a Sham

[Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today]

“Activate A Better You,” says Lumosity with “Brain games scientifically designed.”

Braing Training

“Activate A Better You,” says Lumosity with “Brain games scientifically designed.” Image source: Idealearning.co.uk

As a brain doctor, Lumosity’s sponsorship messages on NPR make me cringe. A welcoming voice invites listeners to play its brain–boosting games “based on neuroscience.” Tens of millions are already doing so, the ad informs you, cleverly playing on the fear of being left out: Here you are tuned in to All Things Considered hoping to stay merely informed while thousands of others are one step ahead working out in a secret brain gym.

So far Lumosity’s marketing has rattled more than 70 million target members who have flocked to it, registered an account, and ponied up for training in the belief that playing the company’s software games will stave off age–related mental decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even the pernicious side effects of chemotherapy.

Not so fast said the Federal Trade Commission, perhaps smelling snake oil. In a unanimous ruling its Bureau of Consumer Protection slapped a $50 million judgement against parent company Lumos Labs for deceptive advertising (because of the company’s precarious balance sheet it paid only $2 million to the Commission and had the rest suspended) [1, 2]. Continue reading

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A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age

Here is my review of Daniel Levitin’s “A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age” at the New York Journal of Books:

A Field Guide to Lies: Critical Thinking in the Information Age

Daniel Levitin wants us to eat our spinach, an unsavory chore for an increasingly innumerate society. Yet we need the critical thinking he advocates to cut through the tangle of mistakes, manipulations, and outright lies encountered in everyday life.

“Just because there’s a number doesn’t mean that the number was arrived at properly,” says Daniel Levitin, the prolific musician, neuroscientist, and educator at McGill University. His Field Guide to Lies lays out three kinds of misinformation: numerical, verbal, and scientific. It serves as a kind of Strunk & White for sloppy thinkers. Continue reading

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Muscle Memory—It’s In Your Head, Not Your Limbs

[Cross-posted at The Fallible Mind, my blog at Psychology Today]

Exercise can help you learn, but when you do it affects results.

2016-08-24-1472082126-1914888-PennStateU.jpgIf only we could jack in our brains and download new knowledge and skills the way The Matrix films depict. But learning — whether historical facts, musical mastery, or athletic aptitude — takes effort and time. The long duration of childhood is surely evidence enough of that. So sorry, would-be Einsteins, there are no shortcuts.

But if accelerated learning is the stuff of myth and science fiction, then are there any tricks that actually can help us master new material? There are, and here are four of them.

Repetition is important whether it involves textbook study, mentally going over your notes, or physically perfecting your tennis swing. But it’s not as important as you think. You may have heard Malcolm Gladwell’s claim that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master a given skill. That’s the equivalent of 90 minutes a day for 20 years, an extraordinary burden of time that makes Gladwell’s simplistic popularization suspect.

Professor Anders Ericsson at Florida State University, on whose work Gladwell based his claim, actually stressed that it was the quality of practice that mattered rather than its quantity [1]. Repetition and rote drills have their place but are hardly the whole story. Continue reading

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