February 2012 Archives

Lacuna Co- Fact or Fiction?

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In the 2004 move Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Joel Barish attempts to undergo a quick procedure to erase his failed relationship with his lost love Clementine from his memory after she had already erased him. The company which does this work, Lacuna, performs this task with a machine and in a single night while the patient sleeps. They claim that though this is in fact brain damage, it is only to the extent of a heavy night of drinking. The promise of healing wounds with voluntary, specific, retrograde amnesia may seem like a glorious idea, but realistically this could never happen in real life.
Because of the complexity of the brain and its structures, finding and correctly destroying the areas and only the areas which deal with an ex-lover would be impossible. Inducing a retrograde amnesia would require greater destruction and deterioration of the brain, and could never be nearly so specific. A traumatic enough event may induce a certain level of repression, but unlikely would it erase the complete memory of a person. The complete erasure of painful memories is not possible especially due to their emotional nature, however there is a drug called propranolol which blocks the effect of adrenaline on receptors and consequently inhibits the emotionally arousing part of memories. In a study where a control group was given propranolol after a car crash while the others were given the placebos, those who took the actual drug had little response to tapes recreating the accident. Forty-three percent of those who had taken the placebo still showed a physical reaction.
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind we are lead to ask ourselves whether it is better to have loved and lost or to erase both the pain and the joy of the experience completely - this question is also often pondered by researchers and philosophers. I believe, as this film also expresses at its core, that it is better to remember the hurt and the happiness than to exist as a stoic shell of a human.

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^Lacuna's machine erasing Joel's memories of Clementine

Dog training

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Dog training is something very essential to a family who has a dog. I personally had to train my dog, because she is mine, and I did alright, but there are some things that she does that I wish that she wouldn't. Such as, not coming when she is called and getting in her kennel when she is supposed to. Training dogs is a difficult task, especially when you are not familiar with any training tactics. Dog training varies from encouraging your dog to sit, use the bathroom outside, not bite, not bark, and others. But there are even cooler tricks like making your dog dance, shake your hand, catch a frisbee, and more. Dogs also can be trained to guide blind people or to work for cops and find illegal substances which can be helpful. The coolest thing I think dogs can be trained to do is what the dogs trained to help blind people do, they can answer the phone, move things, guide them, and grab them things. It is spectacular what a dog can do for a human being and how much help they can be. Each dog owner trains their dog differently whether it be rewarding them each time or only sometimes, and what they teach them, it is all up to the dog master.

Advertisments and Emotions

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Advertisements have been used for many years to get consumers to buy a certain product. So what makes a good ad? Advertisements use classical conditioning in order to make connections between a brand and some sort of positive emotion. The video of the Cheerios commercial is an example of classical conditioning in an advertisement. The advertisement tries to make the viewer feel joyful and positive in order to make them, hopefully, buy and eat Cheerios. In the commercial, the conditioned stimulus is the Cheerios; the unconditioned stimulus the use of the smiling, happy children, upbeat music, bright colors, and other factors that add to the positive feeling of the ad; the unconditioned response is the viewer feeling happy; the condition response is when we see or eat Cheerios, we get the same happy feeling. We see millions of advertisements throughout our life time, with emotions attached to every single one. The next time you see an advertisement, stop and think about what type of emotion the advertisement is appealing to, and if that emotion is strong enough to make your buy that brand.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1INWchcksyY

What makes us conscious?

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In the documentary "The Secret You" they address the idea of consciousness. Consciousness is created in the brain in the cortex, which is the outside part of the brain. Humans have a highly-developed cortex which makes us so complex compared to other animals. The cortex allows us to be self-aware. The constant stimulation of the cortex is what keeps us conscious. Many studies are being done to define consciousness.
It is very intriguing how psychology has advanced with the aid of technology so that psychologist are able to see how our brain interacts. The psychologists do simple tests to see what parts of the brain react to a shock when the patient is awake. In these tests you can see how in a span of a couple of seconds all different parts of the brain become active. They all start communicating with the other parts and the activity in the brain is widespread. When the psychologist duplicated the shock when the patient was asleep and there was a distinct difference. Instead of various parts of the brain becoming active, the brain's response was more localized in one specific area. This is a huge break through because now these psychologist believe they know the difference being consciousness and being asleep. The key thing they have witnessed is the interconnectedness and communication of the different parts of the brain. The integration is crucial to being conscious.

Sex Sells

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Every day the American population is exposed hundreds of advertisements aimed to manipulate their emotions. The advertisers reason for manipulating views emotions is to persuade theirs viewers into purchasing that product. One very memorable ad campaign was the "Got Milk" ads (See picture). These ads use attractive celebrities like Angelina Jolie to invoke the emotions of desire while promoting the consumption of milk. The emotion of desire for the model is meant to be transposed from the model to the milk. I dare someone to Google milk ads and try and find someone who isn't considered to be attractive. If this were the case I find that this infamous set of ads would not be so infamous. In conclusion, these ads employ the old saying, "sex sells".


Dog Training in Action

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Dog training is very vital in the real world. There are a lot different uses for it. The most common type of dog training that we see every day is in-home training. It is very important for keeping your pet in check. People can also use it for teaching their pets tricks and other things for agility races. There are also a lot of dog owners that just teach their dogs tricks just so that they can do cool things. Here's a video of a dog pushing a shopping cart.
Click here
There are other uses for dog training as well. It isn't just used for dogs in-home. The police also train and use dogs to help out with law enforcement. A couple well known uses of dogs in law enforcement are the drug/bomb sniffing dogs and the search and rescue dogs. The police sometimes also use dogs to chase down criminals.
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The Power of Light and Classical Conditioning

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After watching the Superbowl a few weeks ago, I came across a lot of funny commercials that reminded me of the psychological underpinnings that advertisers use to entice people to buy their product. The commercial I decided to use was for a new Audi car, and there are many different things going on in this commercial. Here is a link to the commercial:

http://youtu.be/lw9ZeXB2uKs

At the beginning of the commercial, there is a vampire-guy driving his Audi in the forest to an outdoor party where all his vampire friends are at. I think the advertisers are trying to use the power of classical conditioning in this part of the commercial to show that people who buy Audi cars are cool and bad-ass. In this case the unconditioned stimuli are the party with all the friends and the good-looking vampire guy who is driving the Audi car. The unconditioned responses are feeling cool and bad-ass. Then the conditioned stimulus is the Audi car, and the conditioned response is feeling cool and bad-ass. The purpose behind classical conditioning is that when people are shopping for a car and come across the new Audi car they will get that same feeling of cool and bad-ass when they see the car and will want to buy it.

At the end of the commercial, when he finally arrives at the party, he has his LED headlights on which unfortunately kill all of the vampires that are at the party. In this case, the advertisers are using the idea that these new LED headlights are so powerful that they can kill a vampire. That gets you to think that this car is not only cool and bad-ass to drive but it also has very powerful headlights that are good for driving at night. Finally, the advertisers use comedy in this commercial to keep people engaged in the commercial. I have come across a lot of car commercials that are just really boring and that is usually the time I go and get some food or go to the bathroom. This commercial, on the other hand, really kept me engaged and I appreciated the use of humor in their commercial.

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The Ocean Horse

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Matthew Cusick is a popular artist who creates his masterpieces by cutting apart old maps and recombining them in a mosaic to form creative and colorful portraits, landscapes, and animals. This piece of artwork by Matthew Cusick is a prime example of how artists, especially unconventional artists, use perspective in their pieces. Cusick chose the pieces and colors he used very carefully in order to get the image to look almost as if it were drawn onto the paper, and not pasted together from various old maps.

Cusick uses Interposition and puts the image of the horse at the forefront of this image to draw the viewers' eye straight to it, instead of lingering upon the background. Also, Cusick chooses brighter, more vivid colors for the parts of the horse which are closer to the front, and darker colors for those in the back, like the rear right leg, so that the viewer perceives a shadow and is given a sense of a three-dimensional image.

Cusick, in his clever use of the tools of perception, creates a three-dimensional, almost picture like image of a horse using only cutouts from old maps. I'm sure that if you or I tried this, it would look as if a third grader brought it home from school for his mother. I'm sure your mother would enjoy your artwork though, so don't worry.
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Superhuman Abilities

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Although the average human being has average senses like sight, hearing, and taste, there are exceptions to this. Some individuals carry the trait of having higher than normal human abilities relating to their senses.Taste is one of the five senses for determining the flavor of food and other substances. One of the two chemical senses, taste is stimulated through the contact of certain chemicals in substances with clusters of taste bud cells found primarily on the tongue. However, taste is a complex sensing mechanism that is also influenced by the smell and texture of substances. An individual's unique sense of taste is partially inherited, but factors such as culture and familiarity can help determine why one person's favorite food made be hot and spicy while another just can't get enough chocolate. However, a term known as a "supertaster", describes an entirely different idea.

A "supertaster" is a person who experiences certain tastes more powerfully than an average person. John Hayes, a professor, stated that, "Supertasters live in a neon taste world -- everything is bright and vibrant. For non-tasters, everything is pastel. Nothing is ever really intense." Supertasters do not need to add as much salt or sugar as a normal person would, because their taste buds intensify each substance that touches their tongues much more. Scientists believe that this may happen because of hereditary factors, or the fact that the individual's tongue may have a higher number of taste buds. "Supertasters" have entirely different experiences with food, and those factors continue to fascinate humans around the world due to their "superhuman" abilities.

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Déjà Vu

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Déjà Vu is defined as eerie flashes and familiarity to a situation or occurrence. One thing you have to take into consideration is that Déjà Vu cant be accounted for an event that you perceive to have know was coming. To predict an event to occur can be due to many factors. One factor, in which is clearly discussed, is the actuality of dreaming or imagining an event to occur in the future. To predict an event to occur due to previous sightings is possible.

To different people and different theories Déjà means different things. This feeling of familiarity could be contributed to many unconscious processes that you don't even know is occurring. Take for example the human ability to process information unconsciously without us realizing it. Driving past a certain landmark many times without totally noticing it but then realizing its familiarity. Small human processes that we are not aware of can be contributing factors to this feeling of familiarity.

Sense of familiarity, or Déjà Vu, can also stem from social interactions and early child hood. Certain events, lessons, and experiences as a child hood can spark a sense of familiarity to new events or situations.

For me, the weirdest event that I would classify as Déjà Vu, was with my brother. For weeks before my brother being deathly ill, I dreamed of him getting a bad cold and being very sick. So to get that sense of familiarity and acknowledgment that I dreamed about this situation was very strange.

This is a funny cartoon noting out the concept Déjà Vu:

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BBC Horizon: The Secret You

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I watched part of the video BBC Horizon: The Secret You, where a man tests scientific experiments on himself. The part I watched was about a brain activity test that showed the differences in consciousness verses unconsciousness. He had something on his head that looked like a shower cap that recorded his brain activity. The question was, "What does the difference in consciousness between waking and sleeping tell us about our sense of self?" When we are awake and one part of the brain is activated, that starts many other responses throughout the brain. But when we are asleep, or unconscious, only the part of the brain that was stimulated is activated.
Here is a screen shot of the awake and asleep brain and the amount of brain activity. They show how the activity around a waking state brain is all around, the in a sleep state, just focused around the area.

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I thought the findings were interesting. I thought when we were unconscious, more parts of the brain would still be activated from a stimulation. But as they explained it in the video, it is like the channels have shut down for the night.

Who Really Calls the Shots?

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When you decide what to eat for breakfast or what to wear today, are you the one calling the shots or is there something else making decisions before you're even aware your making one? This is one idea brought up in the BBC Horizon video, "The Secret You". Marcus de Sautoy is curious to know if the decisions he thinks he makes are really made by him at all, so he agrees to be part of a study to try and find the answer to this question. He simply chooses whether to click a button in his right hand, or one in his left while the experimenter watches his brain activity. The results intrigued me. The experimenter, by looking at Marcus' brain activity, could determine what button he would click up to 6 seconds before he actually did it. While your brain is a part of your self, 6 seconds is a very long time when you think about how quickly you make a decision. Think about how quickly you answer the telephone when it rings. Its a decision you make sometimes in less than a second, but 6 seconds before that your brain already is aware that you will be making that decision. What I learned through this study is that while it is ultimately "you" or part of you that makes a decision, there is more to each decision we make then we tend to think there is.brain-book-460x307.jpg

Are you Mentally Competent?

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Are you mentally competent enough to make vital decisions? Moreover, who gets to say if you are? These are some the questions I and other students in my neuroethics class were faced with while reading the case of man who had survived a life-threatening fire which had burned over 60% of his body. The wounds left by the accident left Don Cowart with in excruciating pain, so excruciating that he asked for his treatment to be stopped so he could die. Despite all his pleas, his request was rejected on the grounds that he was mentally incompetent. But really how do you judge if a person is capable of making, and be held accountable for certain decisions?


Turns out that a mere mental or physical diagnosis in and of itself is not sufficient to deem a person mentally incompetent. Rather, according to the Due Process in Competency Determinations Act, the proof of a cognitive impairment in either alertness or attention, information processing, thought processes, the ability to modulate mood and affect, should first be diagnosed by a neuropsychologist. However most psychometric tests used by neuropsychologist compare individual results to the general population's, which speaks to relativeness of the definition of mental competency. How mentally competent you are simply depends on how well you measure up to others. So should a child, obtaining scores comparable to an adult's, be held accountable for his/her actions and decisions? Could this child be considered an adult? These are some of the questions this process raises to my mind.

Can we control our dreams?

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The idea of being able to control your own dreams may seem like just a plot from a recent Hollywood movie to some people, but it is actually a very real thing. Lucid dreaming, or the ability to control your dreams, is a skill that can actually be learned. However, it is known to be difficult and requires training. Less than 100,000 people in the United States are estimated to have this ability.

True research into lucid dreaming began taking place in 1959 at Johann Wolfgang Goethe University. In 1989 Paul Tholey wrote a paper about a technique he used to induce lucid dreams called the reflection technique. Current dream researchers have expanded on this technique, which they call reality testing. It involves practice at recognizing odd occurrences or "dream signs" that are indicators of being in a dream. Another current technique for inducing lucid dreams is called the MILD (Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams) technique. If you want to know more about this technique check this website out. http://www.world-of-lucid-dreaming.com/mnemonic-induction-of-lucid-dreams.html

The most interesting part about lucid dreaming is that it can have real world applications. For example, lucid dreaming can help people in overcoming nightmares, increasing self-confidence, improving mental health, and more. Lucid dreaming is basically a simulation of the real world so the possibilities for the future of this practice are endless.

Nurture > Nature

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Nature vs. nurture the great debate. Does the environment around you shape who you are or is it heredity that predetermines who you will be? Many argue that one tops the other but in my opinion both play crucial roles in shaping a person. Even if there was a break through that either nature or nurture was more influential they both play such huge roles that it wouldn't settle the debate. The nurture's argument is that the environment determines how a person will turn out so if they are raised in an environment filled with positive reinforcement they will turn out better than a person who was raised in an abusive house hold. Though on the other hand the very experience molds the person into who they will turn out to be, so they could potentially walk away from an abusive home and turn into well shaped people. On the other hand the nature's argument is that a person's genes is what determines who they will turn out to be so say they are raised by an abusive parent who's been to jail they are more prone to violence then someone who was raised by a successful intelligent parent. If I had to pick which argument played a more crucial role I would say nurture because the environment around them shapes who they will turn out and the person themselves can determine who they want to be.

The Use of Genetic Designs (Ch. 3)

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How much do genes contribute to the human traits we all possess? How much does environment play a role? These are the basic questions which lead into further discovery by scientists who study heritability. I am not a biological science enthusiast by nature, and, thus, found myself struggling to scan the lengthy chapter three in the textbook on "Biological Psychology". However, I found myself interested in these particular questions that were brought up near the end of the chapter and how scientists answer them by employing the use of three different behavioral genetic designs: 1). Family Studies, 2). Twin Studies, and 3). Adoption Studies. (116) Then, I began to think about my own experiences with heritability and if I considered one of these studies to be less useful than the rest.

With the use of family studies, researchers discover how much a certain characteristic runs within intact families, or families in which all members are raised in the same home. This study has a particular shortcoming, however, and it is that members of a family often share a similar environment as well as a similar genetic makeup, so the clear winner in the battle of "nature vs. nurture" in these studies is never really established. (116) The last idea mentioned made me think of my own family and my older brother, Guy. Guy is a successful, passionate, thirty year old man who happens to be gay.

As a homosexual man, he disagrees with my conservative, Catholic parents on nearly every issue in nearly every walk of life. He grew up in the environment my parents built for all of us children. This was an environment my parents grew up in and continued to live in. With that said, I cannot envision how Guy's homosexuality could have been influenced by the environment we grew up in at all. My brother Dan, on the other hand, shares the same exact views as my parents, and it is likely that our environment of upbringing is responsible for this. Therefore, it is a challenge for me to know if the environment or genetic makeup plays a greater role in human characteristics through the family studies lens. I now seek answers for the following questions: Which genetic design is the most useful/relevant? How can other forms of studies related to heritability be developed in different categories other than twins, families, and adoption? Will there ever really be a clear-cut winner in the "nature vs. nurture" debate?

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Nature or Nurture?

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nature_vs_nurture2.jpg The debate between nature vs. nurture has been unsolved for some time. The debate is between whether nature (genes) or nurture (environment) have a greater affect on your health and lifestyle. In this article, they revisit the subject after doing a project on the issue. At first the project found that we as humans only have around 30,000 genes, which is only double that of your average fruit fly. This swung the momentum on nature vs. nurture to the side of nurture, due to us not having enough genes for it to be that much of a factor. By observing over 45,000 sets of twins, it was found that cancer is an environmental disease, although nature does have some factor in it. The real answer is that both have an affect on you, as certain genes that you inherit can make you more or less likely to get certain diseases. So between your hereditary genes and your environment, both have some role in how healthy you will be. If you are more likely to get a disease due to your genes, but live a healthy lifestyle, the two will be more likely to balance each other out. Personally, I think that there are some things that you can't avoid due to your genes, but your genes mostly just increase your chances to get certain diseases, they don't guarantee getting or not getting a disease. The same goes for your lifestyle, your chances of getting a disease are less likely if you are healthier, and more likely if you live an unhealthy lifestyle, but it still isn't proven either way. Hopefully one day the debate will be finalized and it will be an exact science. http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/body/nature-versus-nurture-revisited.html

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