Last Week’s Links

Lots of links about how the brain works recently.

How Your Brain Tricks You Into Believing Fake News

Here’s information we can all use.

Wineburg’s [psychologist Sam Wineburg, head of the Stanford History Education Group] team has found that Americans of all ages, from digitally savvy tweens to high-IQ academics, fail to ask important questions about content they encounter on a browser, adding to research on our online gullibility. Other studies have shown that people retweet links without clicking on them and rely too much on search engines. A 2016 Pew poll found that nearly a quarter of Americans said they had shared a made-up news story. In his experiments, MIT cognitive scientist David Rand has found that, on average, people are inclined to believe false news at least 20% of the time.

Although some web sites are obviously biased, this article points how easy it is for organizations to produce sites that look authentic and authoritative. And those of us who grew up way before the internet probably learned how to evaluate only old-fashioned sources found in a library. Add to that the common human tendencies to believe or trust things we’ve been exposed to in the past and to accept material that reinforces what we already believe, and you get a propagandists’ dream.

Therefore, the article says, “we need to retrain our brains.” There’s a description here of some tactics that professional fact-checkers use to determine who is providing the information on a given web site. Another piece of advice is to stop and think before simply accepting web information, particularly that put forward through tweets or other social media: “Another [study] found that false stories travel six times as fast as true ones on Twitter.”


many advocates are suggesting that we reach for another powerful tool: shame… . Wineburg invokes the environmental movement, saying we need to cultivate an awareness of “digital pollution” on the Internet. “We have to get people to think that they are littering,” Wineburg says, “by forwarding stuff that isn’t true.” The idea is to make people see the aggregate effect of little actions, that one by one, ill-advised clicks contribute to the web’s being a toxic place. Having a well-informed citizenry may be, in the big picture, as important to survival as having clean air and water.

She made a career out of studying the brain. Then hers veered off course.

Neuroscientist Barbara Lipska has studied mental illness for much of her career. In 2015 she was diagnosed with brain cancer. After an experimental treatment, she began to exhibit bizarre behavior that alarmed loved ones and colleagues. Lipska was not aware of the change at the time. She recently published a book about her experience.

That book, The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind, co-written by Lipska and Elaine McArdle, was published in April 2018. “She’s made a pretty good recovery, as far as the doctors tell her, but there are still lingering problems in her brain, including occasional difficulty with her mental map.”

This is the story of Lipska, originally from Poland and now at the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, MD, as she works at understanding her own brain.

The line between sanity and insanity may be perilously thin, but Barbara Lipska’s decision about how to respond to her own experience with insanity was unambiguous: She was determined to understand what had happened to her. The brain that had failed her would save her. As she calmly and clinically retraced for me the damage done to her brain, I couldn’t help but be in awe of its resilience.

How Your Brain Decides Without You

In a world full of ambiguity, we see what we want to see.

Tom Vanderbilt examines the psychology of how focusing on one thing can keep us from seeing another.

These Psychedelic Drugs Show Promise for Treating Mental Health Disorders

“Combined with [talk therapy], some psychedelic drugs like MDMA [or ecstasy], psilocybin [the active ingredient in magic mushrooms] and ayahuasca may improve symptoms of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD],” Cristina Magalhaes, an associate professor of clinical psychology at Alliant International University in Los Angeles, said in a statement.

What will your life story say about you?

Life is a story that we write and while writing we rediscover our unique selves as well as the opportunity to newly discover the uniqueness and diversity in others.

© 2018 by Mary Daniels Brown