Is reading French a problem for you? Don't worry, there is a very sharp review by The Neurocritic of the neuroscience of bilingualism (a mandatory capacity chez AlphaPsy) read part 1 and part 2. While debunking an fMRI study that found the caudate nucleus the universal language-switcher in the brain, the Neurocritic makes an extensive review of all fMRI studies that found left caudate activity for pretty much everything, from sadness to semantics. That might not help Monsieur read the menu, but it will sure help him read the litterature on basal ganglia.

Speaking of all-powerful basal ganglia: the Neurophilosopher has a trick to deflate the problem that may arise in Monsieur's couple when your significant other has a new haircut/piece of clothes/piercing that you can't detect. Next time you can't answer the question "Don't you notice anything?", just blame it on your hippocampus. Not very elegant, but sometimes one has no choice if one is to avoid a faux pas.

For the hors d'oeuvre, I would suggest that Monsieur read two posts that present answers in search of questions: these are beautiful molecular findings that are certainly very relevant to psychology - except that no one really knows how or why. It seems that a gene that augments your susceptibility to some mental diseases also enlarges your pulvinar, says Deborah Sehrani. In the same kind of line of research, Pure Pedantry presents a key to Huntington's disease: cholesterol. These are appetizers: tantalizing perspectives that won't bring you to satiety. Once you grasp the acronyms, they're quite easy on the stomach.

Before you proceed to the main dish, you might want to try a curiosity: Humpback Whales' spindle neurons (with garlic): these had never been previously identified outside the primate line. When they were discovered in our line in 1999, they fueled a wealth of speculation about their putative role in breaking the modularity of mind and achieving intermodal integration, that sort of things. The more sobering idea that they may be nature's way to cope with brain size and complexity while avoiding disrupting the brain's connectivity is rarely raised (but I am simply a waiter, mind you, our cooks, the Neurophilosopher and the Neurocritic, know better). Their discovery in whales is exciting since these animals seem to show a high degree of tool use, cultural transmission and social complexity (but Monsieur, if I may make a remark, this is the bare minimum for any self-respecting stylish animal species nowadays).

Now for the main dish: we have some very roborative stuff at the Mouse Trap (don't get mistaken by their name, it is an excellent restaurant). He has a thorough post about categorisation that also adresses the question of typicality - why are easy-to-process stimuli preferred to others? and two others that paint a very broad picture of cognitive tendencies. To put it shortly, there are two cognitive styles among humans: the analytic, splitting, asocial brain and the holistic, lumping, and hypersocial one. According to Sandy, these style respectively characterize men, persons with autism, western culture as studied by Nisbett for the analytic style, women, schizophreniacs and eastern cultures for the schizophreniac style. I wonder whre the French stand in that picture; we're probably autistico-schizophreniac (see the 2 cultures of schizophrenia and autism part 1 part 2).

How about some Thinking Meat Project? They have an interesting review of Stumbing on Happiness, centered on the problem of the subjective assesment of happiness. Oddly enough, this is also the subject of a post by Will Wilkins: Can you be wrong about how happy you are. In the same skeptical mood, Mind Blog questions the science of happiness. My guess would be, Monsieur, that if you find time to ask the question of happiness subjective assesment, sitting here chez AlphaPsy, you certainly are finding happiness in some way.

Speaking of cultural differences, it seems that some americans, for example Jonah Lehrer, are at long last acknowledging the fact that their Thanksgiving menu is a gastronomical mistake - in particular the roast turkey, huge and dry like the Arizona, is a nightmare for your teeth. A friend of mine who is dating an american girl finds Thanksgiving more difficult each year. Incidentally, Jonah is making a fascinating point about why roast meat seems less dry than it actually is: that's because it stimulates the salivating system. This great mechanism makes Thanksgiving turkeys even more unforgivable - maybe our american friends just lack the sense of taste]?

But perhaps some Americans find pumpkin pies alright? This bring us back to the psychological study of cultural differences, the next item in our menu. Chris at Mixing Memory and Cognitive Daily analyze a recent experiment in the cross-cultural psychology of causality. I'll let my fellow-waiter Hugo give you his advice: he is a cross-cultural psychologist - and not merely in the sense that he attends english-speaking customers. Here is Hugo's point of view: there are two problems; the first, that is beautifully exposed by Chris, is that there is no theory behind the study. The second is that the study exposes only quantitative differences: the subjects seem merely to be investing a little less energy in some mental processes than in others. A third problem is that Hugo thinks he can explain the author's findings in exactly the reverse hypothesis - but I'll leave that for the comments, since it's fromage time.

I recommend you a beautiful plate on BPS Research Digest with various delicacies on it: a post on Testing delusions such as the Capgras syndrom, the Cotard, etc. (no, these are not names for french cheese), another about the Psychology of Prestidigitation, centered on a recent paper tracking the eye-movements of subjects seeing a magical trick. The author, himself a prestidigitator, seems a fascinating figure (judging from his website).




Feeling remorse about all that rich food you swallowed? Then it's time for a little fitness. Sharp Brains has a post about brain-training in basketball players: just because you're sitting on your chair does not mean your skills are not improving. Speaking of engineering the brain, there are two beautiful posts, one about electrically-induced Coma reversal in Mind Hacks, the other by Developping Intelligence on treating brain injury.

You will find a very savory desert on CogDaily, who posted about the relationship between tone perception and rythm perception. Tonedeaf people, it turns out, also make bad dancers (see here). Don't forget to check out PsyBlog's impressive collection of emotions-related posts.

Sorry, Monsieur, but this is a french restaurant: we do not give away chinese horoscope-cookies after supper. Beside, as you can find out at the Frontal Cortex, Vietnamese horoscopes can have some pretty perverse self-fulfilling effects: children born on "bad" years do have a harder time in life than others.

Will that be all? Are you sure? Well, merci beaucoup for your attention. Encephalon n° 13 will be hosted at Neurotopia on December the 18th.