08 Jan Brain Food – January 8, 2017
This week’s selection of stories on shaping our brains and wearable technology
Taming A Mammoth
Over-stating how much you make in a conversation at your high school reunion, exaggerating on how often you went to the gym over the holidays, Social Desirability Bias is one of the most common forms of bias we see in everyday life. Some of that may even be rooted in our biology, as fitting into social groups would have been a critical part of survival in primitive, hunter-gatherer societies.
But, as you’ve probably noticed, modern society no longer resembles the world of 50,000 B.C. In what was one of the most interesting articles we came across in 2016, Tim Urban lays out the case for why we should kick our “irrational and unproductive obsession with what other people think of us” and move toward finding our “Authentic Voice.”
Full story here.
PS – The cartoons are hilarious!
Your Brain Is Not A Computer
The metaphor that the human brain operates like a computer is one that has existed since their invention in the 1940s. But this metaphor doesn’t actually hold, it’s simply a metaphor – “a story we tell to make sense of something we don’t actually understand.”
Despite early scientific speculation about “brain algorithms” and data processing, the human brain doesn’t actually rely on the types of rules and systems that govern computers. In fact, the unlike a computer, the brain doesn’t actually store memory (your brain cells are not little miniaturized hard drives).
It’s a long but fascinating read, and you can check out the full story here.
If you’ve been following health-related news over the last couple of weeks, you’ve no doubt seen loads of headlines warning about the dangers of too much sugar in our diets. While we’ve long known that diets high in fat and sugar can have impacts on our waistline, the effects on mental cognition are still part of a growing field of study.
Recent research has shown that diets high in fat and sugar impacts the brain in a variety of ways, including our memory. This doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be able to succeed in your life’s endeavours, it just means you’ll “have a tougher go of it.” So, if 2017 resolution was to be more mindful about what you’re eating, it may just bring benefits that go beyond a number on the scale.
Full story from NPR here.
Apple Pay On Steroids
One of the many promises of wearable technology is it’s ability to make our lives easier….and many of them have. For example, EEG technology used to require a trip to a medical facility, shaving your head and glueing hundreds of electrodes to your scalp. Now, companies like Toronto’s own Muse allow you to track your meditation progress with a smartphone.
This week, Carnival Corp. announced a new wearable technology that will be coming to their cruise ships later this year. Guests will receive quarter-sized medallions when they board the ship. These medallions can be worn as a piece of jewelry or simply put in a pocket, but allow guests to do virtually anything on the ship. Staterooms will open automatically when a guest arrives outside the door. Guests can locate a spouse who took a mid-afternoon trip to the pool. They can even order a drink by simply going up to the bar (crew receive guest information from the medallions on tablets and verify guests by photo ID – payment information is already on file).
While other competing cruise lines already offer NFC-powered wearables to guests (like Disney’s MagicBand), what differentiates Carnival’s new technology is that it doesn’t require any physical action from the guest (no tapping, etc.). In addition to being able to instantly pay for souvenirs, machine learning will help crew members assist guests in other ways, like sending them information on your favourite drinks or alerting them to remind you of that yoga class you signed up for that starts in 5 minutes.
Full story here.
Political Identities Are Personal Identities
One of the biggest problems faced by social scientists is how to get someone to change their mind on political beliefs. While it’s easy to assume that the reason the person you’re arguing with can’t see things your way is because they’re stupid, science suggests that it has nothing to do with intelligence. “We’re simply more open to changing our minds on non-political topics.”
In a new study, psychologist Jonas Kaplan teamed up with neuroscientist and author Sam Harris on a fMRI-based study into political beliefs and the brain. The key findings were, in short: “Partisan identities get tied up in our personal identities. Which would mean that an attack on our strongly held beliefs is an attack on the self. And the brain is built to protect the self.”
This work, which was recently published in Scientific Reports, aligns with previous findings from studies on religious beliefs and the brain. Full story here.