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Lectures for a New Year: The Divided Brain

In this eleven-minute animation, psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist explains how our notion of the hemispheres of the brain being ultra-separate is a drastic oversimplification, and has had consequences for how we think about our behavior, our culture, and our society. This talk complements Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor's talk (posted in this series two weeks back), in which she discusses the profoundly different minds present in her own hemispheres -- and how she experienced the world differently during and after her stroke. McGilchrist comes across in this condensed animation as exceedingly academic -- I frankly felt a bit lost at times -- which is why, under 'Bonus Points' below, I've included the somewhat longer original talk, which isn't condensed, and thus does a better job of making these points without hurrying. My advice: if you watch this animation and find it intriguing but confusing, just switch to the next video. You'll get a lot out of it.

Topics: why the brain isn't actually symmetrical, how and why the frontal lobe inhibits us, empathy, why "simpler is better," lefties and tool use, the Berlusconi of the brain, how our society puts incorrect values on different types of thinking, and how you must use both sides of the brain each task...even if one side is "dominant" in that arena.

For: people willing to devote their full attention to this talk's super-smart/super-dense content; you might want to go ahead and watch the half-hour version (which isn't quite as densely packed).

Viewing Note: the video is very detailed; you might want to go fullscreen and turn on HD.

Representative quote:

[Initially quoting Einstein:] "'The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind is a faithful servant.' We have created a society that honors the servant but has forgotten the gift."

Further Reading

McGilchrist wrote a book on this subject called The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World. There's an incredible Wikipedia page summarizing the book.

Transcript

Oddly, I couldn't find a transcript of this video, though other RSA talks have nice PDF transcripts and even dotSUB transcripts. Anybody out there have better luck?

Bonus Points

Here's the original half-hour RSA talk from which this animation was produced. I was taken by this YouTube comment:

Perhaps it's germane to the topic that I cannot grasp this lecture when it is presented in the RSA Animate way...too dense, too? distracting, too tightly edited and rapid. When Machiavelli is mentioned, I know the connotation intended, to have a tiny picture of Machiavelli drawn for me at the same time is irrelevant. This pertains to the lecture point about the utility of a map when one doesn't need/want to know all information about the area. To come watch the original lecture was a relief. -clif9710

Suggest a Lecture

Got a favorite lecture? Is it online in some video format? Leave a comment and we’ll check it out!

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The Surprising Link Between Language and Depression
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iStock

Skim through the poems of Sylvia Plath, the lyrics of Kurt Cobain, or posts on an internet forum dedicated to depression, and you'll probably start to see some commonalities. That's because there's a particular way that people with clinical depression communicate, whether they're speaking or writing, and psychologists believe they now understand the link between the two.

According to a recent study published in Clinical Psychological Science, there are certain "markers" in a person's parlance that may point to symptoms of clinical depression. Researchers used automated text analysis methods to comb through large quantities of posts in 63 internet forums with more than 6400 members, searching for certain words and phrases. They also noted average sentence length, grammatical patterns, and other factors.

What researchers found was that a person's use (or overuse) of first-person pronouns can provide some insight into the state of their mental health. People with clinical depression tend to use more first-person singular pronouns, such as "I" and "me," and fewer third-person pronouns, like "they," "he," or "she." As Mohammed Al-Mosaiwi, a Ph.D. candidate in psychology at the University of Reading and the head of the study, writes in a post for IFL Science:

"This pattern of pronoun use suggests people with depression are more focused on themselves, and less connected with others. Researchers have reported that pronouns are actually more reliable in identifying depression than negative emotion words."

What remains unclear, though, is whether people who are more focused on themselves tend to depression, or if depression turns a person's focus on themselves. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people with depression also use more negative descriptors, like "lonely" and "miserable."

But, Al-Mosaiwi notes, it's hardly the most important clue when using language to assess clinical depression. Far better indicators, he says, are the presence of "absolutist words" in a person's speech or writing, such as "always," "constantly," and "completely." When overused, they tend to indicate that someone has a "black-and-white view of the world," Al-Mosaiwi says. An analysis of posts on different internet forums found that absolutist words were 50 percent more prevalent on anxiety and depression forums, and 80 percent more prevalent on suicidal ideation forums.

Researchers hope these types of classifications, supported by computerized methods, will prove more and more beneficial in a clinical setting.

[h/t IFL Science]

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The ‘Scully Effect’ Is Real: Female X-Files Fans More Likely to Go Into STEM
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Fox

FBI agent Dana Scully is more than just a role model for remaining professional when a colleague won't stop talking about his vast governmental conspiracy theories. The skeptical doctor played by Gillian Anderson on The X-Files helped inspire women to go into STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers, according to a new report [PDF] from the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which we spotted at Fast Company.

“In the world of entertainment media, where scientists are often portrayed as white men wearing white coats and working alone in labs, Scully stood out in the 1990s as the only female STEM character in a prominent, prime-time television role,” the report explains. Previously, anecdotal evidence has pointed to the existence of a “Scully effect,” in which the measured TV scientist—with her detailed note-taking, evidence-based approach, and desire to autopsy everything—inspired women to seek out their own science careers. This report provides the hard data.

The Geena Davis Institute surveyed more than 2000 women in the U.S. above the age of 25, a significant portion of whom were viewers of The X-Files (68 percent) and women who had studied for or were in STEM careers (49 percent). While the survey didn’t ask women whether watching Dana Scully on The X-Files directly influenced their decision to be a scientist, the results hint that seeing a character like her on TV regularly did affect them. Women who watched more of the show were more likely to say they were interested in STEM, more likely to have studied a STEM field in college, and more likely to have worked in a STEM field after college.

While it’s hard to draw a direct line of causation there—women who are interested in science might just be more inclined to watch a sci-fi show like The X-Files than women who grow up to be historians—viewers also tended to say Scully gave them positive impressions of women in science. More than half of respondents who were familiar with Scully’s character said she increased their confidence in succeeding in a male-dominated profession. More than 60 percent of the respondents said she increased their belief in the importance of STEM. And when asked to describe her, they were most likely to say she was “smart” and “intelligent” before any other adjective.

STEM fields are still overwhelmingly male, and governments, nonprofits, schools, activists, and some tech companies have been pushing to make the field more diverse by recruiting and retaining more female talent. While the desire to become a doctor or an engineer isn’t the only thing keeping STEM a boy’s club, women also need more role models in the fields whose success and accomplishments they can look up to. Even if some of those role models are fictional.

Now that The X-Files has returned to Fox, perhaps Dana Scully will have an opportunity to shepherd a whole new generation of women into the sciences.

[h/t Fast Company]

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