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Main page » Periodicals » Scientific American Mind - 2009 - Volume 20 - Number 2 - Lighten Up

Scientific American Mind - 2009 - Volume 20 - Number 2 - Lighten Up



Science often offers a corrective counterpoint to well-intentioned (but sometimes mistaken) folk wisdom and sayings. As we prepared this issue for you, several such aphorisms came to mind. I thought I'd set the record straight on a few of them.

Laughter is the best medicine. That phrase is far from empirically proved, but it contains more than a germ of truth. As you will learn in "Laughing Matters," by Steve Ayan, a good guffaw has powerful physiological and mental benefits. Listening to jokes relieves anxiety. Mirth eases stress and even, as studies have revealed, chronic pain. It bolsters the psyche, making you more resilient. Just forcing a smile can lift your spirits. If that were not enough to show that being jolly improves your satisfaction with life, a sense of humor is sexy, too.

You can't teach an old dog new tricks. Not so. Since the 1970s research has shown that the brains of older adults are much more plastic than once believed. And as you get older, you not only can learn new tricks, you also should tackle mental challenges to help yourself stay sharp. You might, for instance, do Sudoku, crossword puzzles--or one of the growing number of brain-training software games. Our intrepid reporter Kaspar Mossman pitted his gray matter against a battery of eight games over eight weeks.

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics. Actually the statistics aren't lying: we simply misunderstand them--or others misuse them by preying on our fears and ignorance. We are beset by headlines about disease risks and what certain medications can do. How to make sense of it all? Although most Scientific American Mind articles provide insights into the workings of the brain and behavior, they also offer information about how to exercise better critical thinking. "Knowing Your Chances," by Gerd Gigerenzer and his colleagues, explains what various kinds of risk mean and how to interpret statistics. And you thought your math classes were a total waste of time!

Table of contents:

Cover; April/May/June 2009; by Staff Editor; 1 Page(s)

From the Editor; April/May/June 2009; by Mariette DiChristina; 1 Page(s)

Say So

Table of Contents; April/May/June 2009; by Staff Editor; 2 Page(s)

Letters; April/May/June 2009; by Staff Editor; 2 Page(s)

Head Lines; April/May/June 2009; by Roberta Friedman; Marina Krakovsky; Kurt Kleiner; Nikhil Swaminathan; Nicole Branan; Rachel Mahan; Lucas Laursen; David Dobbs; Melinda Wenner; 8 Page(s)

A Gene for Athleticism?; More Tit Than Tat; I Know That Nose; Nanotech Meets Neuroscience; Memory for Grammar; Car Character; Napping Is for the Birds; An End to Senior Moments; Brain Freeze; Put on a Happy Face; Value Vision; Hierarchies among Equals; Depression's Wiring Diagram; Finding Connections

Perspectives: Explaining Fiscal Foolishness; April/May/June 2009; by Jonah Lehrer; 2 Page(s)

A behavioral scientist discusses the irrational human impulses that led to the economic downturn

Consciousness Redux: Neuroscience Meets Psychoanalysis; April/May/June 2009; by Heather A. Berlin and Christof Koch; 4 Page(s)

Suppression and dissociation, two psychoanalytic defense mechanisms, are now studied by modern neuroscience

The Power of Symmetry; April/May/June 2009; by Vilayanur S. Ramachandran & Diane Rogers-Ramachandran; 3 Page(s)

Our brain's preference for symmetry influences how we perceive motion

Calendar; April/May/June 2009; by Rachel Dvoskin and Katherine Harmon; 1 Page(s)

Exhibitions, conferences, movies and more

Laughing Matters; April/May/June 2009; by Steve Ayan; 8 Page(s)

Seeing the bright side of life may strengthen the psyche, ease pain and tighten social bonds

Brain Trainers; April/May/June 2009; by Kaspar Mossman; 8 Page(s)

Put your cortex through its paces with these software games

Perturbed Personalities; April/May/June 2009; by Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg; 4 Page(s)

Scientists are peering into the brains of people with borderline personality disorder and finding clues to the roots of this disabling illness

Knowing Your Chances; April/May/June 2009; by Gerd Gigerenzer, Wolfgang Gaissmaier, Elke Kurz-Milcke, Lisa M. Schwartz, Steven Woloshin; 8 Page(s)

When might a positive HIV test be wrong? Are your chances of surviving cancer better in the U.S. or in England? Learn how to put aside unjustified fears and hopes and how to weigh your real risk of illness--or likelihood of recovery

Building Around the Mind; April/May/June 2009; by Emily Anthes; 8 Page(s)

Brain research can help us craft spaces that relax, inspire, awaken, comfort and heal

Think Better: Tips from a Savant; April/May/June 2009; by Jonah Lehrer, Daniel Tammet; 4 Page(s)

You may never have the memory of Rain Man, but you can still get tips for improving your cognitive performance from this extraordinary thinker

Facts & Fictions in Mental Health: Road Warriors; April/May/June 2009; by Hal Arkowitz and Scott O. Lilienfeld; 2 Page(s)

Often played for laughs, road rage is a real phenomenon with serious consequences for driver safety and society

We're Only Human: All Together Now; April/May/June 2009; by Wray Herbert; 2 Page(s)

An explanation for synchronous swimming and other group rituals

Reviews and Recommendations; April/May/June 2009; by Nicole Branan; Jascha Hoffman; Corey Binns; Erica Westly; 2 Page(s)

Prone to Goof; The Hard Problem; Beyond Rain Man; Worlds of Words

Ask the Brains; April/May/June 2009; by Russell G. Foster, Edward H. Hagen; 1 Page(s)

Do blind people ever suffer from seasonal affective disorder? If so, can sunshine or tanning beds help? Does postpartum depression serve some evolutionary purpose?

Head Games; April/May/June 2009; by The Editors; 1 Page(s)

Match wits with the Mensa puzzlers

Approved by Maria

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