Category Archives: television

Sookie Stackhouse on the Psychologist’s Couch!

Myths and monster’s stem from aspects of reality, trying to make sense of things that aren’t understood. The most distinctive and iconic of myths is that of the Vampire. A monster who dates back hundreds of years and crops up across continents, popularised by Bram Stocker and embedded into our culture almost as firmly as beliefs in the afterlife. The cross-cultural appearance of Nos Feratu has a lot to do with word of mouth certainly, but the variations in the legend stem from the possibility that these tales of ‘the dead becoming un-dead’ existed in their own right in each place, before they were embellished into a vampire through the sharing of tales. Before post-mortem knowledge had been developed the sight of a body after death would have shocked many. The receded gums, the bloated stomach, and the trickles of blood that came from the mouth would have easily have been misinterpreted. It  is therefore no surprise that tales of the recently departed roaming the night and drinking the blood of others soon developed after these corpses were seen; and thus the Vampire was born.

With the recent surge of popularity in vampires, werewolves and the like I thought it would be fitting to have a little ponder about possible explanations  that might be given if for example if these cases were looked at from a psychological view point. It is not difficult to come up with a couple of Freudian reasons as to why women in particular are fascinated with the myths, particularly the biting part, but what would a psychologist living in the world of Sookie Stackhouse make of Eric Northman the Viking Vampire, if they were unwilling to accept the existence of the mythological creatures in this fiction?

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OpEn YoUr EaRs aNd LiStEn! ComSci on the Radio!

My favourite source of information is the Radio. I can’t get enough of listening. And my newly named and invented genre what i just did make up this second ‘ComSci’ is my favouritist of things. Science meets comedy. I’m sure there’s a better merging of names to be found but it’s going to be Comsci for now. 🙂

I’d like to spend a few mins just recommending some brilliant, funny, and often very informative shows (by that I mean you may not learn facts and figures, but they will make you think!)

1) *New* The Infinite Monkey Cage. Why listen? Well ROBIN INCE! and sexy sexy science man Prof Brian Cox are the hosts, for one. And for another, they get some fantastic guest on board to discuss some mind bogglingly good shit each week 🙂

2) Genuis wacky creativity of the public, combined with the optimistic cynicism of Dave Gorman = Glorious.

3) Museum of Curiosity a brilliant show, with the sweet Jon Richardson taking over from Sean Lock, who replaced Bill Bailey as museum curator. Wonderfully interesting guests with genuine sincerity about thier donations to the museum. I always learn at least one new thing a week from this program. Best episode ever was one with Sir Terry Pratchet.

4) Science in Action – from BBC world service. Useful and playful look at the study mentioned in the Blind to Change blog post earlier.

Just type Science into Iplayer. Or browse around a bit you’ll find stuff. Some television programmes can be great too for this sort of thing, but have a tendency to be patronising, particularly if the involve richard hammond. I never find that with the radio shows.

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The Election Worm Told Me To Do It!

So prior to the election I took part in a study at my University being led by Dr. Colin Davis and Professor Amina Memon (from the Department of Psychology at Royal Holloway, University of London) and Professor Jeff Bowers (from the Department of Experimental Psychology at the University of Bristol). Which we were told was looking into memories for real world events such as the political debates. Clearly a very clever ploy by those sneaky scientists.. also known as a ‘deception’.

What happened is we were delegated to one of two lecture rooms, to watch the final live debate as it was streamed from the BBC website, we were watching it with a ‘worm’ on the screen which reflected the views of undecided voters. This worm moved either up towards agree or down towards disagree as the speeches went on. At hilarious moments, like when Gordon Brown smiled and the worm made a short sharp drop to ‘dislike’.. we all lol’ed. After the debate had finished we had to answer questions about the ‘worm’ and were informed it was in fact fake, that it wasn’t a ‘real worm’ showing undecided voters but was a manipulation of the experiment. We had to say how much we agreed with the worm, how much it might have influenced us, and who we now intended to vote for etc.

What a great fun experiment you may think, a nice simple clean design of two groups (I assume on was a control group) and two questionnaires pre and post debate, combined with a clever use of technology to manipulate a fake worm to play across the screen LIVE in time with the debate. And then we got this email a little while after (but before election Thursday)…

“Thought you might be interested to know that the experiment that you participated in last week was successful — that is, we were able to exert a strong influence on who you thought won the debate, and even on your choice of preferred prime minister. The majority of participants were unaware of our manipulation. We’re currently writing up the results, so  don’t want to say too much more, but you can check my website in the future to find out more:
I also want to make absolutely sure that everyone who participated is aware that the “worm” you saw was  manipulated by us and had no relationship to any undecided voters. Our results suggest that the “worm” is potentially quite dangerous for democracy!”
From Dr. Colin Davies.

So…. let me get this right…. what they are saying is that in their experiment they successfully falsely manipulated the political views of many of those who participated with the use of the ‘worm’?

Whilst this is good for them (pat yourselves on your scholarly jumper clad backs) as it supported their hypotheses, I have been left a little mildly concerned.

I want to know if that worm was in fact biased towards any particular leader (not that it apparently matters given the election result!) but if it was say biased positively towards Nick Clegg for instance (which I think it was, seemed to go towards agree more often with his points) AND they then were able to find results that apparently suggest this bias was influential over peoples beliefs about who they might vote for compared with their prior assumptions (I think..) doesn’t that mean that this experiement potentially changed peoples views… towards someone they weren’t planning on voting for, BEFORE election day!?

I suppose to make this fair, if we had watched the debate at home this would have happened arguably if we’d been seeing a ‘real’ worm, but the fact that the ‘worm’ we saw was manipulated by the experimenters and was potentially biased makes me a little suspicious all in all. At least a real worm reflects a group view right? WRONG. Some of those undecided voters being shown amounted to a grand total of only 8 people in some cases. I’m still not sure if the experiment was more or less influential than a real worm might have been. The experimenters just assumed after that the manipulation would be forgotten after we found out it was false, but what if it wasn’t forgotten?

There were some obvious draw backs to this experiement which I hope the experimenters will include in their report when they submit it for publication, such as..

1. When the internet feed for iPlayer went down, the worm continued to track across the screen (indicating it wasn’t part of the actual live feed from the BBC).

2. The worm often reacted before a leader had begun talking, indicating some sort of delay in our feed and the worms reaction. Not very believable. Most of the televised worms were multiple, in that there are 3 on a screen each a different colour reflecting the individual parties, the worm in the experiment was singular and white.

3. A large amount of equpiment used to create the worm on screen was visiable under the table, and the man they had working the laptop is a quite well known lecturer in the Media Arts department of the university… suspicious much?

4. Also there seemed to be a number of students present in the experiment who weren’t even registered to vote, either through not being british citizens or for other reasons, this surely would affect the overall impact of the opinions/views collected?

5. No one when deciding who to vote for will base that purely on a ‘worm’ on a screen, in this modern age there are ever increasing areas available to promote political influence over us, not just TV.

6. When asked after if anyone suspected the worm was a fake many people raised their hands, these bloody idiots then said ‘yes’ when they were asked, ‘even though you thought it was fake did it have an influence over your opinion when watching the debate?’. WTF. Morons.

So discounting the idiots from the sample, those who figured out the false worm, those who weren’t even going to vote/can’t vote and other’s who probably didn’t give a fuck and were only there cause they paid subjects £20 each to participate I think you’re left with a very small sample able to give a true representation of the influence of ‘the worm’. Surely a worm is no more influential to an undecided voter than the opinion of their Dad, or best friend, or the man in the shop who comes to buy a coffee and says he won’t vote lib dem cause they’re all a bit ‘hello, sailor’.. (a true fucking story, of another dickhead who didn’t deserve a vote!).

But my point being worms, friends, newspapers, families, twitter feeds and facing fuckbook, they are all just as bad in term of their potentially biased influence over your opinion. But these are all sources of information and if you didn’t know who to vote for then why not turn to the opinions of others through what ever medium you have available? Ultimatly though these sources should only be guidelines for YOUR own choice, which should have been based on what is most important to YOU as an individual living in this country. What choice was best for YOUR future, not your mates, or your mums. YOURS.

This is all the worms fault.

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Why I Love Nina and the Neurons.. yes I know it’s aimed at 4yr olds!

For anyone who hasn’t seen this show let me give you a little background:

It’s aimed at 4-6 year olds and it’s shown on Cbeebies on channel 1 in the UK. The official website for the show can be found here.

Nina is a bubbly, ponytailed, smiley neuroscientist who works at the Glasgow Science Centre. She has all the happy Scottish joy of a person from the wonderful town of Ballamory, combined with the smarts of Stephen Fry.  What more could you want really?

And I’m not implying in this that I am a regular viewer, honest…. (shhhhh) I wish only to make the point that it’s pretty awesome that a show like this even exists, (and even Pocoyo can be informative to an adult audience!). The theme tune is a great place to start with Nina and her neurons. Right away this tells us and the kids watching that there is a definite link between the neurons in Nina’s head and her ability to senses things, whilst also outlining the 5 senses. Not only does that teach the kids watching about sensory intake but the apparent friendship between the neurons implies multisensory integration.

The neurons are my favourite bit though, they live in Nina’s brain. Bizarrely she occasionally talks to them, indicate she’s suffering from delusions and other possible symptoms of schizophrenia, but beside that they rock and usually keep themselves to themselves and are observers of what’s going on from Nina’s head. You’ve got Felix the touch neuron (get it, like ‘feel’ix), Belle the sound neuron (ring ring) Luke the sight neuron (Any ideas? My guess is that’s based on LUminance, the main measure of the visual system and V1 receptive field sensitivities), Ollie the smell neuron (OLfactory I suppose)  and Bud the taste neuron (taste buds.. of course). Clever stuff already.

The neurons rather brilliantly behave in a way that is analogous to actual neurons, sending messages to different parts of Nina’s body that control her senses. (Implying that there is a one to one relationship between individual neurons and senses, something scientists might be a bit erm.. less convinced by). Still they also interact with one another showing network capabilities of the brain and emphasising its multimodal abilities to combine sensory inputs and form a unitary output.  Also the fact that Nina’s neurons learn from her experiences implies a fair amount of bottom up learning but sometimes the neurons help Nina implying a role of top down processing, wonderful. Most of the time it’s all to do with Nina trying to explain inventions, like ‘door handles’.

If anything the reason I love this show is cause it’s at least trying to give some of the basic information to children before they go off to proper big school and start learning about these things in a less fun, and more detached manner. I love how the show relates everything they do back to the neurons in Nina’s brain, making it clear that without the brain we’d be nothing!



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