Why Tononi is wrong

In a recent NY Times article, Tononi chooses to propose a rather sketchily-described “Shannon informational” model to supplant a gamma synchrony model partly on these grounds;

“Dr. Tononi sees serious problems in these models. When people lose consciousness from epileptic seizures, for instance, their brain waves become more synchronized. If synchronization were the key to consciousness, you would expect the seizures to make people hyperconscious instead of unconscious, he said. “


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Re-examining neurosexism

My dad brought this interesting book review to my attention: Peeling Away Theories on Gender and the Brain (NYT)

In her book Delusions of Gender (which I have not read though am intrigued to do so), cognitive neuroscientist Cordelia Fine places several modern studies of early differences in brain anatomy/function into a long line of sexist explanations for supposed differences in male and female behaviors.

The basic argument is that there has been no convincing connection made between any measured structural differences (which she argues might not exist) to behavioral differences. Just another case of correlation (maybe) and not causation.

Here’s a description of study that you might already be familiar with and Fine’s take on it:

Dr. Baron-Cohen’s lab conducted research on infants who averaged a day and a half old, before any unconscious parental gender priming. Jennifer Connellan, one of Dr. Baron-Cohen’s graduate students, who conducted the study, showed mobiles and then her own face to the infants. The results showed that among the newborns the boys tended to look longer at mobiles, the girls at faces.

Dr. Fine dismantles the study, citing, among other design flaws, the fact that Ms. Connellan knew the sex of some of the babies. Because it was her face they were looking at and she was holding up the mobile, Dr. Fine says, she may have “inadvertently moved the mobile more when she held it up for boys, or looked more directly, or with wider eyes, for the girls.”

Although I am unsure about the scientific merits, it is refreshing to see a new viewpoint in this debate. It provides some food for thought on this interesting topic:

Summarizing the research, she writes, “Nonexistent sex differences in language lateralization, mediated by nonexistent sex differences in corpus callosum structure, are widely believed to explain nonexistent sex differences in language skills.”

What all this adds up to, she says, is neurosexism. It’s all in the brain.

The evolutionary psychology of war

Nothing too shocking here for students of evolutionary psychology but it’s always interesting to see real world examples of how our shared behavior. There is a new book by Sebastian Junger called War, in which he recounts how men do not fight for larger ideological goals (eg. “a safer Iraq”, “finding Bin Laden”) but instead they can overcome fears because “they’re more concerned about their brothers than what happens to themselves individually”. Here’s Junger on Good Morning America:

After the jump some more from Junger and a nice talk from Robert Sapolsky about similar behaviors in chimps.

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The Moral Life of Babies – NYTimes

The Moral Life of Babies – NYTimes.com.

Paul Bloom talks about research on the morality of small children, and ways in which their morality is similar to and different from adults. Concise descriptions of supporting experiments is given throughout.

Basically, babies prefer nice people over mean people, but prefer people who punish mean people over people who reward mean people. But babies are not impartial; for example, they give favorable treatment to other babies who are wearing the same tee-shirt as themselves.

Also has some content about the cognition of babies in general. Experiments show that, at various young ages, “..babies think of objects largely as adults do, as connected masses that move as units, that are solid and subject to gravity and that move in continuous paths through space and time,” and “…expect people to move rationally in accordance with their beliefs and desires…”, and “…know that other people can have false beliefs”.