Laura’s Psychology Blog

One Professor’s Observations of the World of Psychology….   

February 22, 2007

Amgen Tour of California Travels Through San Luis Obispo….

Filed under: Football,Hobbies — Laura Freberg @ 9:04 pm

My husband is used to my fascination with football and basketball, but he seemed nonplussed today when I suggested we walk the mile or so from our home to one of the points on the Amgen Tour of California route. He not only walked with me, but he also took some photos as well. As you can see, the group went by so quickly that even our digital camera couldn’t keep up.

Even though this group was just a couple of miles from the finish line, no clear leaders had emerged.

Being new to this business of cycling, we were not expecting to see how closely the support cars drove to the racers. It looked a little bit like NASCAR out there. Our favorite car was the Jelly Belly car.

The rest of Roger’s pictures can be seen here. Updates on the Tour can be found here. Read the AP account of Paolo Bettini’s win in the San Luis Obispo stage on ESPN. This may not be football, but it was an entertaining view of a new sport for us.


February 19, 2007

Gaze Into My Eyes……and you may learn a lot about my personality….

Filed under: Biological Psychology,Psychology — Laura Freberg @ 9:59 pm

Most biological psychologists are comfortable with the idea that at least some temperamental tendencies, later shaped by experience into personality, are present at birth and are largely determined by genetics. Now Mats Larsson of Orebro University in Sweden is claiming that the patterning of a person’s iris correlates with major personality traits such as warm/trusting versus neurotic/impulsive.

The Swedish team took close-up photos of the irises of their 428 participants, which they correlated with personality questionnaires. Apparently, the two features that define a person’s iris are “crypts” (pits) and “furrows” (curving lines around the outer edge). People with more crypts were likely to have personality test results indicating they are warm, tender and trusting, whereas people with more furrows are rated as neurotic, impulsive and prone to give in to their cravings.

Both iris development in embryos and personality traits such as impulsiveness and poor social skills have been linked to a gene known as PAX6. Consequently, the iris differences could act as a visible marker for other related traits. Personally, I am wary of most “single gene” explanations for traits as complex as neuroticism and impulsiveness, but further research should be able to sort this out. In the meantime, I’d be curious to know what eyes like mine–green with brown “freckles”–might indicate. 

February 15, 2007

New Evidence for Adult Neurogenesis….

Filed under: Biological Psychology,Psychology — Laura Freberg @ 10:52 pm

One of my least favorite factoids in the neurosciences is the fact that the human brain begins to lose weight after the age of 45 years. I have other parts of me where weight loss would be much more welcome. However, I optimistically enjoy data that suggest that we can continue to produce new neurons in the adult brain.

The existence of neurogenesis in the adult hippocampus has enjoyed substantial support [1], although neurogenesis involving the neocortex has been much more contentious [2, 3].

Maurice Curtis of the University of Auckland and Peter Eriksson of the Sahlgrensak Academy in Sweden report in Science additional evidence of adult neurogenesis in humans [4]. Their participants were cancer patients who had been given a chemical known as BrdU, which was subsequently incorporated into the DNA of any new cells following its administration. This technique allows physicians to track the growth of tumors, which of course are characterized by rapid and uncontrolled growth.

When the patients eventually died, Curtis, Eriksson, and their colleagues found cells with BrdU in the olfactory bulbs. In addition, the BrdU allowed the researchers to identify new neurons in the ventricular zones. Even more surprisingly, examination of these brains identified tube-like structures linking the ventricular zone with the olfactory bulbs. These tubes, previously observed in rodents but not humans, apparently form a highway used by the newly born cells to migrate to the olfactory bulbs.

Although the number of these new cells born in the adult brain is quite tiny relative to the massive neurogenesis that occurs early in development, I’ll be quite happy to have them join the party.

This image from New Scientist illustrates the pathway discovered by Curtis et al.



[1]  Eriksson PS, Perfilieva E, Bjork-Eriksson T, Alborn AM, Nordborg C, Peterson DA, Gage FH. (1998) Neurogenesis in the adult human hippocampus. Nat Med. Nov;4(11):1313-7.

[2]  Gould E, Reeves AJ, Graziano MS, Gross CG. (1999). Neurogenesis in the neocortex of adult primates. Science. Oct 15;286(5439):548-52.

[3]  Bhardwaj, R. D., Curtis, M. A., Spalding, K. L., Buchholz, B. A., Fink, D., Bjork-Eriksson, T., et al. (2006). From the Cover: Neocortical neurogenesis in humans is restricted to development (Vol. 103, pp. 12564-12568).

[4] Curtis, M. A., Kam, M., Nannmark, U., Anderson, M. F., Axell, M. Z., Wikkelso, C., et al. (2007). Human Neuroblasts Migrate to the Olfactory Bulb via a Lateral Ventricular Extension (pp. 1136281).

February 6, 2007

Action Video Games Improve Vision….

Filed under: Biological Psychology,Hobbies,Psychology,Videogames — Laura Freberg @ 2:52 pm

For those of you looking for a fresh new excuse for playing videogames instead of studying for your Biological Psychology midterm, here’s one I might actually buy into.

Daphne Bavelier and Shawn Green of the University of Rochester demonstrated that participants who played 30 hours (over a one month period) of Unreal Tournament, a first-person shooter, showed a 20% improvement in visual acuity. In contrast, the control group playing Tetris showed no improvement.

Unreal Tournament screen shot

One has to ask what 30 hours of Tetris would do to your brain, however….

The action game participants showed visual improvements beyond the part of the visual field used to play the game, suggesting that the players’ brains had changed the way they processed visual information. At my age, I can use all the visual acuity I can get, and if you can have fun getting there, why not?

When thin becomes too thin….

Filed under: Psychology — Laura Freberg @ 2:38 pm

Although we all enjoyed the film The Devil Wears Prada chez Freberg, I cringed when Meryl Streep’s character referred to the very slender Anne Hathaway as “the fat girl,” and “Nigel” stated that “2 is the new 4; 4 is the new 6; and 6 is the new 14.” I had images of girls recovering or on the verge of eating disorders being sent over the edge by such comments, even in the context of make-believe.







 This is “fat?”



The fashion industry, which of course forms the context for Prada, is beginning to assume some responsibility for eating disorders that might arise from the influence of ultra-thin models. As we mentioned in a previous post, Spain banned models with BMIs below 18 from their fashion shows.

Now, Italy has joined the movement to ban both underage and underweight models. In order to participate in an Italian fashion show, a model must be 16 years old or over and have a BMI of at least 18.5. To put these BMI numbers in context, this means that models who are 5’8″ need only weigh 122 lbs. To calculate your own BMI, you can use this calculator from the National Institutes of Health.

It’s also interesting to note that Tovee and colleagues have found a consistent preference on the part of males for a female shape that corresponds to a BMI of 20 [1]. This means our 5’8″ model should weigh an additional ten pounds before men think she’s attractive.

Spain and Italy appear to be responding to the recent deaths of two models, Ana Carolina Reston of Brazil and Luisel Ramos of Uruguay, due to complications of anorexia nervosa.




 Ana Carolina Reston


Can we expect a similar action on the part of the American Fashion Industry? Don’t count on it any time soon. The Council of Fashion Designers of America has issued a number of health recommendations, but none mentions BMI or weight. I consider myself pretty good at searching for information, but on the very glitzy CFDA site, I was unable to find any news of the guidelines at all.

Thank goodness for Giorgio Armani, who has spoken out against using ultra-thin models.

In the meantime, although we are making progress with Jenny Craig, I don’t think we are in danger of dropping our BMIs to dangerous levels. The BMI works fine for me, but Roger and Karen have way too much lean body mass as athletes for this measure to be meaningful.

1. Tovee MJ, Reinhardt S, Emery JL, Cornelissen PL. Optimal BMI and maximum sexual attractiveness. Lancet 1998; 352:548.


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-------- Nietzsche

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