Beating the poppy seed defense

During my PhD, one of the research projects I was involved in was a relapse prevention study testing individuals who had previously been addicted to alcohol, cocaine or heroin, but were no longer using any drugs.

One participant who took part in the study — I’ll call him Dave — was a young guy who was dependent on alcohol, but swore up and down he had never abused any drugs. Dave was three weeks into the study and doing well, staying abstinent and remaining cheerful and cooperative throughout the sessions. However, one morning when Dave came in and went through his usual drug screen, he tested positive for heroin, something he claimed (and I believed) he had never taken.

Can synesthesia in autism lead to savantism?

Daniel Tammet has memorized Pi to the 22,514th digit. He speaks ten different languages, including one of his own invention, and he can multiply enormous sums in his head within a matter of seconds. However, he is unable to hold down a standard 9-to-5 job, in part due to his obsessive adherence to ritual, down to the precise times he has his tea every day.

Daniel is a savantHe is also autistic.And he is a synesthete.

Sweet dreams are made of cheese

You’re running down a hallway; running away from someone? Running towards something? Your feet start to lift off the ground and the ceiling opens up. You float higher and higher, and you get the feeling you’re not alone. You turn to your left and it’s Bob Dylan, laughing and calling you “Mr. Tambourine Man”. Suddenly the balloon you were holding onto, carrying you up into the sky, turns into a tangerine and you start to plummet back to earth. Just before you slam into the ground you awaken; sweaty, sheets twisted, wondering what the hell that was all about.

Dreams are weird. Especially if you’ve eaten a lot of cheese the night before.

Is Oreo addiction a thing?

No. No it’s not.

I wrote last week on the idea of having an “addictive personality“. This was meant in the context of common drugs of abuse, like alcohol, cocaine or heroin, but what about addictions to things other than drugs? Like your iPhone. Or the internet. Or Oreos.

The idea of food addiction is not a new one, and I’ve written on this trend before, both onBrain Study and in real science journals. But a new study released last week takes this claim to a whole new (and unsubstantiated) level, claiming that Oreos – and especially that all-enticing creamy center – are as addictive as cocaine.

I’ve written a rant that’s been published in The Guardian today critiquing the study and stating what exactly is so wrong with the research. I’ve also provided some much better links to articles on the topic.

Do you have an addictive personality?

You’ll have to bear with me if this is a bit of a self-indulgent post, but I have some exciting news, Brain Study-ers: I’ve officially submitted my dissertation for a PhD in psychology!

In light of this – the culmination of three years of blood, sweat, tears and an exorbitant amount of caffeine – I thought I’d write this week on part of my thesis work (I promise to do my best to keep the jargon out of it!)

One of the biggest questions in addiction research is why do some people become dependent on drugs, while others are able to use in moderation? Certainly some of the risk lies in the addictive potential of the substances themselves, but still the vast majority of individuals who have used drugs never become dependent on them. This then leads to the question, is there really such a thing as an “addictive personality”, and what puts someone at a greater risk for addiction if they do choose to try drugs?

What do your hands say about you?

When I tell people that I ‘do psychology’ I typically get one of three reactions. 1) People ask if I can read their thoughts. No, unless you’re a drunken guy in a bar, in which case, gross. 2) They begin to tell me about their current psychological troubles and parental issues, to which I listen sympathetically and then make it clear that I got into experimental psychology because I didn’t want to have to listen to people’s problems (sorry). Or 3) they ask me a very astute question about the brain that 9 times out of 10 I can’t answer. This last option is by far the most preferable and I’ve had several very interesting conversations come out of these interactions.

One such question I received recently was where does handedness come from in the brain? While initially a basic-seeming question, I quickly realized that I had no idea how to answer it without dipping into pop psychology tropes about right- and left-brained people that I definitely wanted to validate before I started trotting them out.