Friday, 29 June 2012

Is Hypnosis Real?

A regular question I hear crop up time and time again goes something like 'Is there really such a thing as a hypnotic state?' I think this article from Hull University UK explains things nicely, backed up by some hard scientific evidence. Source:

Hypnosis is increasingly being used in clinical settings, as a way of helping people lose weight or stop smoking. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recently approved the technique for treatment of irritable bowel syndromebut despite such endorsements there is still a great deal of scepticism about whether there really is a hypnotic state.

New research from the University of Hull, published this week in Consciousness and Cognition, however shows that hypnosis is real. Psychologists have discovered that basic brain activity undergoes change when people are hypnotised.

Dr William McGeown and his colleagues in the department of Psychology and Centre for Clinical Neuroscience hypnotised university students and looked at brain activity, employing a technique called functional magnetic imaging (fMRI). The research team included Professor Irving Kirsch, a world-known expert in hypnosis, Professor Annalena Venneri, an expert in brain imaging techniques and Professor Giuliana Mazzoni, an expert in suggestion and suggestibility.

Hypnosis studies usually require participants to do a task and researchers look at their brain activity during this time. In this experiment however, students’ brain activity was monitored in the rest periods between each task. This is the first time a hypnosis study has investigated brain activity in this manner; studying participants in rest whilst they are not performing any particular task.

The participants’ brain activity was also scanned without the hypnotic induction so that the resting states in and out of hypnosis could be compared. The researchers first tested students for their ability to respond to a range of hypnotic suggestions, including suggestions to see a cat that was not there, to hear non-existent music, and to forget what had happened to them during the hypnotic session. They then invited subjects who could respond to these suggestions, and some that could not, to have their brains examined in an fMRI scanner while under hypnosis. Hypnosis altered anterior brain activity only in those subjects who were able to respond to suggestions. These are the people who may be termed “highly suggestible”.

The study led to the unexpected finding that hypnosis decreases activity in areas of the brain that support the so called “default mode” network. Activity in this network generally occurs when people are resting, day dreaming or letting their minds wander.

Dr McGeown says: “These results are unequivocal; the changes in anterior brain activity observed in our study occurred only in highly suggestible subjects, those most open to the idea of hypnosis. By contrast, no changes in brain activity were detected in these areas in the low suggestible subjects. This shows that the changes were due to hypnosis and not just simple relaxation.”

He concludes: “Our study shows that hypnosis is real; it corresponds to a unique pattern of brain activation which was not observed in any other experimental condition and was not seen in people who were not hypnotizable.”

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

5 Ways to Increase Your Intelligence

Your brain needs exercise just like a muscle. If you use it often and in the right ways, you will become a more skilled thinker and increase your ability to focus. But if you never use your brain, or abuse it with harmful chemicals, your ability to think and learn will deteriorate.
Here are 5 simple ways anyone can squeeze a bit more productivity out of the old gray matter.
1. Minimize Television Watching – This is a hard sell. People love vegetating in front of the television, myself included more often than I’d like. The problem is watching television doesn’t use your mental capacity OR allow it to recharge. It’s like having the energy sapped out of a muscle without the health benefits of exercise.
Don’t you feel drained after a couple hours of TV? Your eyes are sore and tired from being focused on the light box for so long. You don’t even have the energy to read a book.
When you feel like relaxing, try reading a book instead. If you’re too tired, listen to some music. When you’re with your friends or family, leave the tube off and have a conversation. All of these things use your mind more than television and allow you to relax.
2. Exercise – I used to think that I’d learn more by not exercising and using the time to read a book instead. But I realized that time spent exercising always leads to greater learning because it improves productivity during the time afterwards. Using your body clears your head and creates a wave of energy. Afterwards, you feel invigorated and can concentrate more easily.
3. Read Challenging Books – Many people like to read popular suspense fiction, but generally these books aren't mentally stimulating. If you want to improve your thinking and writing ability you should read books that make you focus. Reading a classic novel can change your view of the world and will make you think in more precise, elegant English. Don’t be afraid to look up a word if you don’t know it, and don’t be afraid of dense passages. Take your time, re-read when necessary, and you’ll soon grow accustomed to the author’s style.
Once you get used to reading challenging books, I think you’ll find that you aren’t tempted to go back to page-turners. The challenge of learning new ideas is far more exciting than any tacky suspense-thriller.
4. Early to Bed, Early to Rise – Nothing makes it harder to concentrate than sleep deprivation. You’ll be most rejuvenated if you go to bed early and don’t sleep more than 8 hours. If you stay up late and compensate by sleeping late, you’ll wake up lethargic and have trouble focusing. In my experience the early morning hours are the most tranquil and productive. Waking up early gives you more productive hours and maximizes your mental acuity all day.
If you have the opportunity, take 10-20 minute naps when you are hit with a wave of drowsiness. Anything longer will make you lethargic, but a short nap will refresh you.
5. Take Time to Reflect – Often our lives get so hectic that we become overwhelmed without even realizing it. It becomes difficult to concentrate because nagging thoughts keep interrupting. Spending some time alone in reflection gives you a chance organize your thoughts and prioritize your responsibilities. Afterwards, you’ll have a better understanding of what’s important and what isn’t. The unimportant stuff won’t bother you anymore and your mind will feel less encumbered.
I’m not saying you need to sit on the floor cross-legged and chant ‘ommm’. Anything that allows a bit of prolonged solitude will do. One of my personal favorites is taking a solitary walk. Someone famous said, “All the best ideas occur while walking.” I think he was on to something. Experiment to find the activity that works best for you.
Conclusion – I hope you aren't disappointed that none of the techniques I’ve proposed are revolutionary. But simple, unexciting answers are often the most valid. The challenge is having the will to adhere to them. If you succeed in following these 5 tips, you’ll be rewarded with increased mental acuity and retention of knowledge.
By John Wesley Source:

Monday, 25 June 2012

Rat City: Effects of Overcrowding on Human Population

Calhoun's 'Rat City' experiment is a nightmare for animal rights activists yet it produced so many interesting results it has to go down as one of the most famous psychology experiments of all time. Maybe it does not apply exactly to human behaviour, but certainly it goes a long way to explain several diverse behaviours within modern society. Are serial killers a societal product? Is homosexuality natural? Is inbreeding natural? Who can infanticide ever happen? All controversial questions I have heard asked between friends over the years and this study touches on each of them and more. Diverse behaviours exist in small communities (just google tribal studies) but the effects of over population on the range and frequency of these behaviours are interesting both for now and the future as the global population continues to rise.
The article below is written by Edmund Ramsden. Source:
In a 1962 edition of Scientific American, the ecologist John B Calhoun presented the results of a macabre series of experiments conducted at the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). He had placed several rats in a laboratory in a converted barn where – protected from disease and predation and supplied with food, water and bedding – they bred rapidly. The one thing they were lacking was space, a fact that became increasingly problematic as what he liked to describe as his “rat city” and “rodent utopia” teemed with animals. Unwanted social contact occurred with increasing frequency, leading to increased stress and aggression. Following the work of the physiologist, Hans Selye, it seemed that the adrenal system offered the standard binary solution: fight or flight. But in the sealed enclosure, flight was impossible. Violence quickly spiralled out of control. Cannibalism and infanticide followed. Males became hypersexual, pansexual and, an increasing proportion, homosexual. Calhoun called this vortex “a behavioural sink”. Their numbers fell into terminal decline and the population tailed off to extinction. At the experiments’ end, the only animals still alive had survived at an immense psychological cost: asexual and utterly withdrawn, they clustered in a vacant huddled mass. Even when reintroduced to normal rodent communities, these “socially autistic” animals remained isolated until death. In the words of one of Calhoun’s collaborators, rodent “utopia” had descended into “hell”.
Calhoun’s experiments with rats and mice proved extremely influential. His findings resonated with a variety of concerns, including population growth, environmental degradation and urban violence. In the course of a project on the history of stress, Jon Adams of the London School of Economics and I have traced how evidence of crowding pathology, generated in the rodent laboratories of NIMH, travelled to an alternative setting: the buildings, institutions and cities of the social scientist, city planner, architect and medical specialist. While urban sociologists and social psychiatrists explored correlations between density and pathologies in their statistical studies, environmental psychologists moved to the laboratory and fields such as the prison, the school and the hospital. Social and medical scientists were attracted to the possibility of providing evidence of how a physical and measurable variable – density – had important consequences demanding policy response. Many had already begun using Calhoun’s rats to support family planning programmes or for improving the physical design of the city.
However, results from human studies of crowding proved inconsistent. In an influential series of experiments by the psychologist Jonathan Freedman, individuals employed to carry out tasks under varying conditions of density displayed few pathologies. Focus now shifted away from simply identifying the pathological consequences of density and towards factors that mediated its effects. This was aided by a distinction between “density” as a physical measure and “crowding” as a subjective response. Feeling crowded was determined by a range of social and psychological factors: an individual’s desired level of privacy, their ability to control a situation or their social role. Increased density might be inevitable but human beings were capable of coping with crowding.
Yet this did not mean that Calhoun’s research was rejected. Researchers recognized that Calhoun’s work was not simply about density in a physical sense, as number of individuals-per-square-unit-area, but was about degrees of social interaction. By reducing unwanted interaction through improved design of space – providing prisoners with individual cells or patients with independent living areas – crowding stress could be avoided. This had been the focus of Calhoun’s later research. Through improved design and increased control, Calhoun attempted to develop more collaborative and adaptable rodent communities capable of withstanding greater degrees of density.
Continued problems of prison overcrowding and transport congestion ensure that the subject of crowding stress remains pertinent, but the relevance of Calhoun’s experiments is less commonly acknowledged. Towards the end of his career, Calhoun, who died in 1995, would be increasingly dismayed that it was a simplified, negative message – population density equals pathology – that was more commonly associated with his work, making his contribution seem not only flawed in the human context, but dangerous. In the words of the sociologists Fischer & Baldassare: “A red-eyed, sharp-fanged obsession about urban life stalks contemporary thought.” In focusing upon crowding, not only were the benefits of dense city-living ignored, but other causes of urban pathology, such as poverty and inequality, were neglected. Yet Calhoun’s work considered many of these factors, suggested how they could be overcome, and as such, his role deserves reconsideration.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Documentary: Psychopath

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Natural it Complicated??

Tuesday, 19 June 2012

10 Top Tips For Con Men

Successful con men are masters in the art of conversational hypnosis, and while their profession is far from admiral the methods they use to prevail are quite fascinating. They build an illusion of trust in order to get what they want often simply by the choice of words they use in conversation. This post comes from and includes the '10 commandments' of one of the worlds most notorious con men.

"Count" Victor Lustig was a con man of considerable note. Born in 1890, by the 1930s he was wanted by approximately 45 law enforcement agencies worldwide. He had 25 known aliases and spoke 5 languages. He cunningly gained $5k from Al Capone. Better still, in 1925, Lustig posed as a government official in Paris, took five businessmen on a tour of the Eiffel Tower, and then "sold" it to one of them as 7300 tonnes of scrap metal; the con went so well, he tried it again soon after. 

He also wrote the following list of commandments for aspiring con men.

(Source: Fakes, Frauds & Other Malarkey, via Marc Manus)

1. Be a patient listener (it is this, not fast talking, that gets a con-man his coups).
2. Never look bored.
3. Wait for the other person to reveal any political opinions, then agree with them.
4. Let the other person reveal religious views, then have the same ones.
5. Hint at sex talk, but don’t follow it up unless the other fellow shows a strong interest.
6. Never discuss illness, unless some special concern is shown.
7. Never pry into a person’s personal circumstances (they’ll tell you all eventually).
8. Never boast. Just let your importance be quietly obvious.
9. Never be untidy.
10. Never get drunk.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Video: Hypnosis in Nature, Deadly Attack

Friday, 15 June 2012

The 10 Rules for Being Human

Dr Cherie Carter-Scott is an author, life coach and motivational speaker. She has come up with the ten rules for being human which many people have since used as a guideline to make their own lives work better. What do you think of the list? Has there been something missed or has she hit the nail on the head? Leave a comment below. 

1 You will receive a body. Whether you love it or hate it, it's yours for life, so accept it. What counts is what's inside.

You will be presented with lessons. Life is a constant learning experience, which every day provides opportunities for you to learn more. These lessons specific to you, and learning them 'is the key to discovering and fulfilling the meaning and relevance of your own life'.

3 There are no mistakes, only lessons. Your development towards wisdom is a process of experimentation, trial and error, so it's inevitable things will not always go to plan or turn out how you'd want. Compassion is the remedy for harsh judgement - of ourselves and others. Forgiveness is not only divine - it's also 'the act of erasing an emotional debt'. Behaving ethically, with integrity, and with humour - especially the ability to laugh at yourself and your own mishaps - are central to the perspective that 'mistakes' are simply lessons we must learn.

4 The lesson is repeated until learned. Lessons repeat until learned. What manifest as problems and challenges, irritations and frustrations are more lessons - they will repeat until you see them as such and learn from them. Your own awareness and your ability to change are requisites of executing this rule. Also fundamental is the acceptance that you are not a victim of fate or circumstance - 'causality' must be acknowledged; that is to say: things happen to you because of how you are and what you do. To blame anyone or anything else for your misfortunes is an escape and a denial; you yourself are responsible for you, and what happens to you. Patience is required - change doesn't happen overnight, so give change time to happen.

5 Learning does not end. While you are alive there are always lessons to be learned. Surrender to the 'rhythm of life', don't struggle against it. Commit to the process of constant learning and change - be humble enough to always acknowledge your own weaknesses, and be flexible enough to adapt from what you may be accustomed to, because rigidity will deny you the freedom of new possibilities.

6 "There" is no better than "here". The other side of the hill may be greener than your own, but being there is not the key to endless happiness. Be grateful for and enjoy what you have, and where you are on your journey. Appreciate the abundance of what's good in your life, rather than measure and amass things that do not actually lead to happiness. Living in the present helps you attain peace.

7 Others are only mirrors of you. You love or hate something about another person according to what love or hate about yourself. Be tolerant; accept others as they are, and strive for clarity of self-awareness; strive to truly understand and have an objective perception of your own self, your thoughts and feelings. Negative experiences are opportunities to heal the wounds that you carry. Support others, and by doing so you support yourself. Where you are unable to support others it is a sign that you are not adequately attending to your own needs.

8 What you make of your life is up to you. You have all the tools and resources you need. What you do with them is up to you. Take responsibility for yourself. Learn to let go when you cannot change things. Don't get angry about things - bitter memories clutter your mind. Courage resides in all of us - use it when you need to do what's right for you. We all possess a strong natural power and adventurous spirit, which you should draw on to embrace what lies ahead.

9 Your answers lie inside of you. Trust your instincts and your innermost feelings, whether you hear them as a little voice or a flash of inspiration. Listen to feelings as well as sounds. Look, listen, and trust. Draw on your natural inspiration.

10 You will forget all this at birth. We are all born with all of these capabilities - our early experiences lead us into a physical world, away from our spiritual selves, so that we become doubtful, cynical and lacking belief and confidence. The ten Rules are not commandments, they are universal truths that apply to us all. When you lose your way, call upon them. Have faith in the strength of your spirit. Aspire to be wise - wisdom the ultimate path of your life, and it knows no limits other than those you impose on yourself.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Does Positivity Lead to a Longer Life?

What's the Latest Development?
Scientists at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine have found that an individual's personality plays a strong role in determining how long he or she will live. In a study of over 500 Ashkenazi Jews over the age of 95, and 700 of their offspring, scientists paid particular attention to the group's 243 centenarians. They found that most had an outgoing, optimistic, and easygoing attitude. "They considered laughter an important part of life and had a large social network. They expressed emotions openly rather than bottling them up." Ashkenazi, or Eastern European, Jews were chosen for the study due to their genetically homogeneous makeup, allowing scientists to spot genetic differences within the study's population.
What's the Big Idea?
Previous studies have suggested that personality traits, positive and negative, have their roots in our genes, and that those genes may directly affect our health. Scientists behind the Einstein study were surprised to find positive personality characteristics associated with increased longevity, since a gristly attitude might be more suited to weathering life's bumps. "When I started working with centenarians, I thought we'd find that they survived so long in part because they were mean and ornery," said Nir Barzilai, M.D., director of the Einstein's Institute for Aging Research.  Still, personalities can change over time, leaving researchers to wonder if longevity is a cause or a result of old age.
By: Orion Jones

Monday, 11 June 2012

Night Terrors

I have covered different dream states before in a number of posts, but never Night Terrors. According to research Night Terrors affect around 15% of (mainly) young children and 3% of adults... but what are they and how do they affect our sleep?

Sleep terror disorder or "night terrors" is a condition that occurs during stages 3 or 4 of non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. It is characterized by repeated episodes of abrupt awakening, usually with a panicky scream, and accompanied by intense anxiety, confusion, agitation, disorientation, unresponsiveness, marked motor movements, and total amnesia concerning the event.

Night terrors usually occur 1/2 hour to 3 1/2 hours after falling asleep. During these episodes people wake up sweating heavily, their hearts pounding and eyes glazed over, screaming in fear. They are unaware of their surroundings and unresponsive to attempts to comfort them. They may not calm down for 10 or 15 minutes, although they return to sleep quickly once the episode ends.
Generally they do not remember what scared them, but rarely a person will retain a vague image of something terrifying. A few children and adults who experience night terrors will sleepwalk during the episode.

Night terrors strike children, usually between the ages of 3 years and 8 years. They rarely occur in older children, adolescents and adults.
In both adults and children, night terrors may be caused by unresolved psychological conflicts, traumatic events or fatigue. In children, traumas such as the loss of a favorite toy, overhearing a loud argument between parents, watching scenes of violence on television or listening to frightening stories could trigger a night terror.
Particularly among adults, prescription drugs such as antihistamines, decongestants, levodopa, reserpine, beta blockers, and antidepressants, as well as withdrawal from addictive drugs, all can provoke sleep disturbance.

Night terrors in children usually disappear with adolescence, so standard medical treatment is not necessary. The doctor may advise the parents to adjust the sleep habits of the child to allow for more sleep time, and eliminate stresses in the child's life.
Additionally, the parents should determine when the night terrors usually occur and fully awaken the child about 15 minutes before that time. After 4 or 5 minutes, the child can return to sleep. The waking is discontinued once the terrors stop, which in most circumstances is usually within a week.
In severe cases of night terrors the doctor may prescribe an antidepressant such as imipramine (Tofranil) or a benzodiazepine drug called chlordiazepoxide which relieves nervousness or tension and also treats insomnia.
Night terrors in adults can be treated with medications such as an antidepressant called Tofranil or benzodiazepine drugs such as Klonopin or Valium. Additionally, the doctor may recommend psychotherapy, which is a method of treating emotional problems. In psychotherapy, the patient talks with a therapist about their concerns and problems that may be linked to this sleep disturbance.
Note: never yell or shake a person experiencing a night terror, this will only confuse and upset them more. Comforting them with a hug or gently restraining them will help.

Hypnosis has also been proved a successful method of treating Night Terrors WITHOUT the use of potentially harmful drugs, in both adults and children. In the same process as removing recurrent nightmares from your sleep, if the root cause of the psychological stress can be located it can then be dealt with and removed, and this process can be carried out quite simply using hypnotherapy. 

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Video: Super Brain Yoga

Why go to the gym when you can do Super Brain Yoga? This CBS News clip gives a brief overview of the subject matter.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

What is NLP?

NLP is one of those acronyms often mentioned on TV or in magazine articles - but how many people truly know what Neuro Linguistic Programming is, or what it can be used for?  The article below was written by Theodoros Manfredi  from and gives a great overview of the subject.

For those who haven't heard of it, NLP stands for 'Neuro-Linguistic Programming'. This is a set of principles based loosely on psychology (but not considered a part of 'mainstream' psychology) that looks at basically 'reprogramming' the mind through language and cognitive behavioral therapy style strategies.
Originally NLP was intended as a set of tools to be used by therapists, based on observations of successful therapy, but it has since been adopted and the techniques have been used by everyone from self help gurus who instruct people to use self directed NLP in order to change their own thought processes for the better, to marketing and sales experts who look at how they can influence the thoughts of others to buy their products. The idea is that a combination of language distortions and behavioral practices can influence the functioning of our mind, and that at the same time our own speech and behavior can reflect this. By using language, visualization and other techniques it is then possible to 'reprogram' the mind in certain ways.
NLP was founded by Richard Bandler and John Grinder, and they describe it as a 'model of interpersonal communication' and a system of 'alternate therapy'. The goals are self awareness, communication and control of mental and emotional patterns. While critics state that NLP is not supported by scientific evidence, and that it uses a number of 'incorrect' terms and concepts that class it as a 'pseudoscience', many have still found that it can be useful in a range of applications.

There are various different 'models' within NLP that contain set rules and practices. The 'meta-model' for instance is a pragmatic communications model that is used in order to specify information within a speaker's language. The model was originally presented by Bandler and Grinder in their book 'The Structure of Magic 1: A Book About Language and Therapy'. The model was based on looking at the successful techniques used by the best psychotherapists in order to effect change through language. The meta model aims to be very precise in communication in order to clarify distortions and to help uncover information that might have been 'repressed' or overlooked.
If you were to state for instance then that 'everyone thinks that X is going to be the next big thing', then a practitioner could ask 'who is everyone?', 'do you necessarily agree with that statement?', 'what was the last big thing?' or 'how do you define what a 'big thing' is?'.
There are many examples of distortions, presuppositions and 'deletions' that we use in day-to-day language. One such distortion is known as 'mind reading violation' which is a presupposition about what someone thinks or how they will react. For instance 'X is going to angry when they find out!', 'how do you know that X will be angry? Have they told you?'.
Presuppositions are often used in a different way, and these are statements in which prior knowledge is contained. For instance if you say 'I did that too' without specifying who else did it, then a savvy practitioner may ask 'who else has done it?' and this could uncover some information they otherwise wouldn't have shared. Similarly words like 'again' suggest something has happened before.
People also tend to over-generalize in conversation and might say something like 'everyone hates me'. Of course the meta model would encourage you or another to question whether 'everyone' is really the right word to use here, and who specifically is causing you the problem. Of course this is also an example of mind reading violation as no one knows that 'everyone' hates them.

The Milton Model
The Milton model meanwhile was inspired by Milton H. Erikson and was created as an answer or alternative to the meta model. Here the model is designed to be purposefully vague, and to this way direct people's thoughts. Milton was a pioneer of 'medical hypnosis' and suggested that the unconscious could be lead by creating openings and blanks for it to fill – whereas direct conscious commands are simply refused.
For instance if you tried to hypnotize someone to be confident you would not say 'when you are in front of the audience you won't feel nervous', instead you would say 'when you are in front of an audience you may feel yourself feeling ever more confident'. This is not as commanding and opens the brain up to the 'possibility' of being more confident – getting it to ruminate on the subject and to think around it, rather than there being a direct statement to oppose. Even more indirect could be a statement such as 'you might find it appealing how much more confident you could feel when commanding an audience'. The word 'commanding' is quite descriptive and can encourage imagination, while the there is also a presupposition here in the language that you are going to feel more confident without actually stating that you will.
The Milton model also means using universal quantifiers and other such generalizations in order to help encourage the patient. For instance quantifiers such as 'always' can be used as in: 'you can always improve your confidence'.

Rapport, Pacing and Leading
NLP also involves the process of building a rapport with subjects in order to help them open up to suggestions and ideas. This is achieved through the use of the Milton model, alongside gentle mimicking of the client. For instance then an NLP practitioner might sit in the same position as the individual, use similar language and aim to mirror their body language, and this would in turn allow them to feel closer to that person (it happens naturally when two people are getting on). This eventually allows the practitioner to start 'leading' the other person who will then begin to mimic their postures and gestures if they change.
Pacing and leading can also be used through scripts, and this is a part of the Milton model that is also present in hypnosis. The practitioner for instance might say:

1. You are breathing in and out
2. You are sitting down
3. You are breathing in a rhythm
4. You are hearing the sound of your breathing
5. And as you move slightly in the chair
6. You might start to feel yourself relax

The first 5 statements here are 'pacing' where you simply tell the patient what they are already doing. This has the effect of making them believe that what you say is 'true' so that when you tell them they might start to feel calm, this then makes them more likely to actually feel more relaxed. Statement 6 is leading and this way you have gently allowed yourself to start guiding the process.
Similarly sales people use a technique in which they get people to agree with them before starting to try and 'lead' them. They might do this by asking questions to which the obvious answer is yes, and then ultimately start asking less obvious questions. For instance:
1. It's a beautiful day isn't it?
2. Would you say you are someone who enjoys feeling good?
3. Would you be interested in something that can make you feel very good very easily?
4. Would you like to see our new product?
Because the person has probably said yes to one and two, and probably three, that makes them far more likely to also say yes to number four.
Conversational postulates meanwhile are when you say things like 'can you take a moment to just relax?'. This way the question is really 'can you' and not 'will you' and this makes the person more likely to respond well.

Clients and patients may also give away things about their mental state and the way their mind works through a variety of cues and this can tell you how they picture things in their mind. For instance a verbal cue might be for someone to say that something 'sounds interesting' or that they 'see what [you] mean'. This then tells you that they use either 'auditory' or 'visual' 'representation systems' and that they are thus perhaps more likely to respond well to visual or auditory stimuli.
Meanwhile accessing cues are when people look in a certain direction while thinking which NLP proponents believes corresponds to visual or auditory memory, as well as 'fictional' or 'factual' information. By watching where people look it's believed to be sometimes possible to spot lies or other things.
Finally someone might convey more than they mean to in a gesture or hand signal. For instance if they are talking about their table at home, they might hold their hand up as they do and this can tell you roughly how high up that table is and where it's located in their home. They are after all essentially recreating the image of their table with their hands for you.

The aspects of how we see something in our own mind, and its properties (moving or stationary, acoustic or visual, 1st or 3rd person, colorful or black and white) are known in NLP as 'submodalities' and it is believed that these can communicate a lot of information about how a person feels on that subject or memory.
It is also believed that this is a two way correlation, and that by 'reframing' those memories or images you can change the way you feel about them. For instance, if you imagine yourself talking in front of an audience but the image is small and dim and black and white then it may be that you don't feel positively about it. Practice reframing it then, by imagining yourself in vibrant color and 'full screen' and you might feel more positive about the thought/memory.
At the same time you can reframe memories by thinking about the context of them. For instance if you think of an injury as a set back in your work life or relationships then it can be very upsetting, however you can 'reframe' it by looking at the positives and seeing how you can use the time constructively to do something else.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

The Advantages of a Bilingual Brain

As I continue my struggle in learning Spanish, I found this article by Robert Lee Hotz (from to be rather inspiring, and certainly a motivation to boot up the Rosetta Stone again...

The ability to speak two languages can make bilingual people better able to pay attention than those who can only speak one language, a new study suggests.
Scientists have long suspected that some enhanced mental abilities might be tied to structural differences in brain networks shaped by learning more than one language, just as a musician’s brain can be altered by the long hours of practice needed to master an instrument.

Now, in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at Northwestern University for the first time have documented differences in how the bilingual brain processes the sounds of speech, compared with those who speak a single language, in ways that make it better at picking out a spoken syllable, even when it is buried in a babble of voices.

That biological difference in the auditory nervous system appears to also enhance attention and working memory among those who speak more than one language, they say.

“Because you have two languages going on in your head, you become very good at determining what is and is not relevant,” says Dr. Nina Kraus, a professor of neurobiology and physiology at Northwestern, who was part of the study team. “You are a mental juggler.”

In the new study, Kraus and her colleagues tested the involuntary neural responses to speech sounds by comparing brain signals in 23 high school students who were fluent in English and Spanish to those of 25 teenagers who only spoke English. When it was quiet, both groups could hear the test syllable — “da” — with no trouble, but when there was background noise, the brains of the bilingual students were significantly better at detecting the fundamental frequency of speech sounds.

“We have determined that the nervous system of a bilingual person responds to sound in a way that is distinctive from a person who speaks only one language,” Kraus says.

Through this fine-tuning of the nervous system, people who can master more than one language are building a more resilient brain, one more proficient at multitasking, setting priorities, and, perhaps, better able to withstand the ravages of age, a range of recent studies suggest.

Indeed, some preliminary research suggests that people who speak a second language may have enhanced defenses against the onset of dementia and delay Alzheimer’s disease by an average of four years, as WSJ reported in 2010.

The ability to speak more than one language also may help protect memory, researchers from the Center for Health Studies in Luxembourg reported at last year.

After studying older people who spoke multiple languages, they concluded that the more languages someone could speak, the better: People who spoke three languages were three times less likely to have cognitive problems compared to bilingual people. Those who spoke four or more languages were five times less likely to develop cognitive problems.

Not so long ago, people worried that children who grew up learning two languages at once were at a developmental disadvantage compared with those who focused on only one.

New research suggests that even babies have little trouble developing bilingual skills.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia’s Infant Studies Centre reported that babies being raised in a bilingual family show from birth a preference for each of the native languages they heard while still in the womb and can readily distinguish between them.

Moreover, bilingual infants appear to learn the grammars of their two languages as well as babies learning a single language, even when the two languages are as different from one another as English and Japanese, or English and Punjabi.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Video: Human Brain Development

A Thomas Jessel PhD lecture explains...

Friday, 1 June 2012

What is Artificial Intelligence (AI)? Questions and Answers

Q. What is artificial intelligence?
A. It is the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent computer programs. It is related to the similar task of using computers to understand human intelligence, but AI does not have to confine itself to methods that are biologically observable.
Q. Yes, but what is intelligence?
A. Intelligence is the computational part of the ability to achieve goals in the world. Varying kinds and degrees of intelligence occur in people, many animals and some machines.
Q. Isn't there a solid definition of intelligence that doesn't depend on relating it to human intelligence?
A. Not yet. The problem is that we cannot yet characterize in general what kinds of computational procedures we want to call intelligent. We understand some of the mechanisms of intelligence and not others.
Q. Is intelligence a single thing so that one can ask a yes or no question ``Is this machine intelligent or not?''?
A. No. Intelligence involves mechanisms, and AI research has discovered how to make computers carry out some of them and not others. If doing a task requires only mechanisms that are well understood today, computer programs can give very impressive performances on these tasks. Such programs should be considered ``somewhat intelligent''.
Q. Isn't AI about simulating human intelligence?
A. Sometimes but not always or even usually. On the one hand, we can learn something about how to make machines solve problems by observing other people or just by observing our own methods. On the other hand, most work in AI involves studying the problems the world presents to intelligence rather than studying people or animals. AI researchers are free to use methods that are not observed in people or that involve much more computing than people can do.
Q. What about IQ? Do computer programs have IQs?
A. No. IQ is based on the rates at which intelligence develops in children. It is the ratio of the age at which a child normally makes a certain score to the child's age. The scale is extended to adults in a suitable way. IQ correlates well with various measures of success or failure in life, but making computers that can score high on IQ tests would be weakly correlated with their usefulness. For example, the ability of a child to repeat back a long sequence of digits correlates well with other intellectual abilities, perhaps because it measures how much information the child can compute with at once. However, ``digit span'' is trivial for even extremely limited computers.
However, some of the problems on IQ tests are useful challenges for AI.
Q. What about other comparisons between human and computer intelligence?
Arthur R. Jensen [Jen98], a leading researcher in human intelligence, suggests ``as a heuristic hypothesis'' that all normal humans have the same intellectual mechanisms and that differences in intelligence are related to ``quantitative biochemical and physiological conditions''. I see them as speed, short term memory, and the ability to form accurate and retrievable long term memories.
Whether or not Jensen is right about human intelligence, the situation in AI today is the reverse.
Computer programs have plenty of speed and memory but their abilities correspond to the intellectual mechanisms that program designers understand well enough to put in programs. Some abilities that children normally don't develop till they are teenagers may be in, and some abilities possessed by two year olds are still out. The matter is further complicated by the fact that the cognitive sciences still have not succeeded in determining exactly what the human abilities are. Very likely the organization of the intellectual mechanisms for AI can usefully be different from that in people.
Whenever people do better than computers on some task or computers use a lot of computation to do as well as people, this demonstrates that the program designers lack understanding of the intellectual mechanisms required to do the task efficiently.
Q. When did AI research start?
A. After WWII, a number of people independently started to work on intelligent machines. The English mathematician Alan Turing may have been the first. He gave a lecture on it in 1947. He also may have been the first to decide that AI was best researched by programming computers rather than by building machines. By the late 1950s, there were many researchers on AI, and most of them were basing their work on programming computers.
Q. Does AI aim to put the human mind into the computer?
A. Some researchers say they have that objective, but maybe they are using the phrase metaphorically. The human mind has a lot of peculiarities, and I'm not sure anyone is serious about imitating all of them.
Q. What is the Turing test?
A. Alan Turing's 1950 article Computing Machinery and Intelligence [Tur50] discussed conditions for considering a machine to be intelligent. He argued that if the machine could successfully pretend to be human to a knowledgeable observer then you certainly should consider it intelligent. This test would satisfy most people but not all philosophers. The observer could interact with the machine and a human by teletype (to avoid requiring that the machine imitate the appearance or voice of the person), and the human would try to persuade the observer that it was human and the machine would try to fool the observer.
The Turing test is a one-sided test. A machine that passes the test should certainly be considered intelligent, but a machine could still be considered intelligent without knowing enough about humans to imitate a human.
Daniel Dennett's book Brainchildren [Den98] has an excellent discussion of the Turing test and the various partial Turing tests that have been implemented, i.e. with restrictions on the observer's knowledge of AI and the subject matter of questioning. It turns out that some people are easily led into believing that a rather dumb program is intelligent.
Q. Does AI aim at human-level intelligence?
A. Yes. The ultimate effort is to make computer programs that can solve problems and achieve goals in the world as well as humans. However, many people involved in particular research areas are much less ambitious.
Q. How far is AI from reaching human-level intelligence? When will it happen?
A. A few people think that human-level intelligence can be achieved by writing large numbers of programs of the kind people are now writing and assembling vast knowledge bases of facts in the languages now used for expressing knowledge.
However, most AI researchers believe that new fundamental ideas are required, and therefore it cannot be predicted when human-level intelligence will be achieved.
Q. Are computers the right kind of machine to be made intelligent?
A. Computers can be programmed to simulate any kind of machine.
Many researchers invented non-computer machines, hoping that they would be intelligent in different ways than the computer programs could be. However, they usually simulate their invented machines on a computer and come to doubt that the new machine is worth building. Because many billions of dollars that have been spent in making computers faster and faster, another kind of machine would have to be very fast to perform better than a program on a computer simulating the machine.
Q. Are computers fast enough to be intelligent?
A. Some people think much faster computers are required as well as new ideas. My own opinion is that the computers of 30 years ago were fast enough if only we knew how to program them. Of course, quite apart from the ambitions of AI researchers, computers will keep getting faster.
Q. What about parallel machines?
A. Machines with many processors are much faster than single processors can be. Parallelism itself presents no advantages, and parallel machines are somewhat awkward to program. When extreme speed is required, it is necessary to face this awkwardness.
Q. What about making a ``child machine'' that could improve by reading and by learning from experience?
A. This idea has been proposed many times, starting in the 1940s. Eventually, it will be made to work. However, AI programs haven't yet reached the level of being able to learn much of what a child learns from physical experience. Nor do present programs understand language well enough to learn much by reading.
Q. Might an AI system be able to bootstrap itself to higher and higher level intelligence by thinking about AI?
A. I think yes, but we aren't yet at a level of AI at which this process can begin.
Q. What about chess?
A. Alexander Kronrod, a Russian AI researcher, said ``Chess is the Drosophila of AI.'' He was making an analogy with geneticists' use of that fruit fly to study inheritance. Playing chess requires certain intellectual mechanisms and not others. Chess programs now play at grandmaster level, but they do it with limited intellectual mechanisms compared to those used by a human chess player, substituting large amounts of computation for understanding. Once we understand these mechanisms better, we can build human-level chess programs that do far less computation than do present programs.
Unfortunately, the competitive and commercial aspects of making computers play chess have taken precedence over using chess as a scientific domain. It is as if the geneticists after 1910 had organized fruit fly races and concentrated their efforts on breeding fruit flies that could win these races.
Q. What about Go?
A. The Chinese and Japanese game of Go is also a board game in which the players take turns moving. Go exposes the weakness of our present understanding of the intellectual mechanisms involved in human game playing. Go programs are very bad players, in spite of considerable effort (not as much as for chess). The problem seems to be that a position in Go has to be divided mentally into a collection of subpositions which are first analyzed separately followed by an analysis of their interaction. Humans use this in chess also, but chess programs consider the position as a whole. Chess programs compensate for the lack of this intellectual mechanism by doing thousands or, in the case of Deep Blue, many millions of times as much computation.
Sooner or later, AI research will overcome this scandalous weakness.
Q. Don't some people say that AI is a bad idea?
A. The philosopher John Searle says that the idea of a non-biological machine being intelligent is incoherent. He proposes the Chinese room argument The philosopher Hubert Dreyfus says that AI is impossible. The computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum says the idea is obscene, anti-human and immoral. Various people have said that since artificial intelligence hasn't reached human level by now, it must be impossible. Still other people are disappointed that companies they invested in went bankrupt.
Q. Aren't computability theory and computational complexity the keys to AI? [Note to the layman and beginners in computer science: These are quite technical branches of mathematical logic and computer science, and the answer to the question has to be somewhat technical.]
A. No. These theories are relevant but don't address the fundamental problems of AI.
In the 1930s mathematical logicians, especially Kurt Gödel and Alan Turing, established that there did not exist algorithms that were guaranteed to solve all problems in certain important mathematical domains. Whether a sentence of first order logic is a theorem is one example, and whether a polynomial equations in several variables has integer solutions is another. Humans solve problems in these domains all the time, and this has been offered as an argument (usually with some decorations) that computers are intrinsically incapable of doing what people do. Roger Penrose claims this. However, people can't guarantee to solve arbitrary problems in these domains either. See my Review of The Emperor's New Mind by Roger Penrose. More essays and reviews defending AI research are in [McC96a].
In the 1960s computer scientists, especially Steve Cook and Richard Karp developed the theory of NP-complete problem domains. Problems in these domains are solvable, but seem to take time exponential in the size of the problem. Which sentences of propositional calculus are satisfiable is a basic example of an NP-complete problem domain. Humans often solve problems in NP-complete domains in times much shorter than is guaranteed by the general algorithms, but can't solve them quickly in general.
What is important for AI is to have algorithms as capable as people at solving problems. The identification of subdomains for which good algorithms exist is important, but a lot of AI problem solvers are not associated with readily identified subdomains.
The theory of the difficulty of general classes of problems is called computational complexity. So far this theory hasn't interacted with AI as much as might have been hoped. Success in problem solving by humans and by AI programs seems to rely on properties of problems and problem solving methods that the neither the complexity researchers nor the AI community have been able to identify precisely.
Algorithmic complexity theory as developed by Solomonoff, Kolmogorov and Chaitin (independently of one another) is also relevant. It defines the complexity of a symbolic object as the length of the shortest program that will generate it. Proving that a candidate program is the shortest or close to the shortest is an unsolvable problem, but representing objects by short programs that generate them should sometimes be illuminating even when you can't prove that the program is the shortest.

By John McCarthy