The Synergy of Body & Mind

November 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Weekly Blog No. 8, this week I have chosen to write about an article I discovered in the New Scientist 15th of October 2011 Edition.  My reasons? Well because as a gym junkie, I’m a total believer in the holistic view of mind and body working harmoniously together.  The article I read was titled “Your Clever Body” and it discusses new research and evidence, that supports that the mind does not work in isolation from the body but rather that they work together in unity.  So here’s my interpretation…….

Pause, take a chill pill relax and unwind or alternatively if your hyperactive like me, turn up the volume and get ready to burn!!!  Hee, hee either way just listen to what your body is telling you.   Are you feeling physically frazzled, do you need to sleep or are you hungry or do you need the toilet even, perhaps?   Well if so these are the types of body signals that can either help or prevent us from thinking.  In the past there has been a tendency to separate the processes and functions of the mind from the body.  Although it is now more apparent than ever that the body plays a significant role in our thought processes.  Speaking as a self-confessed gym junkie I have suspected this for many years.  After all how many of us get up in the morning ready to deal with life’s challenges without having first thrashed the treadmill.  I know that I personally have far greater clarity of a thought and more balanced emotional reaction’s after a good work out, but now there is actual scientific evidence that corroborates.

Recent research suggests that our bodies are even involved in how we process language and maths.  But most surprisingly that the physiological processes of the heart and bladder also play a part in the psychological processes of will power, intuition and even our susceptibility to conformity.  Such discoveries are a complete u-turn from our past perceptions where the body was viewed as a passive sub-ordinate system to the brain.  Arthur Glenburg of University of Winsonin – Madison claims that “the brain does not work independently from the body”.  He claims that by honing in on our body signals we can use them to our own advantage and improve self-control, memory and creativity. 

Of course this is in complete conflict with the philosopher and forefather of Psychology Rene’ Descartes who argued that the mind and body are two separate devices that work independently of each other.  Although even in the present, mind versus body is still vehemently debated and core to the discussion is the issue of embodiment.  Embodiment for those of us who are unsure is the sense we have of the blood flowing through our veins.   Embodiment is therefore pivotal to consciousness although we are only recently aware of it.  In fact it wasn’t until 1990 when a student called Matthew Botvinik from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania made a shocking discovery.  The student found the answer to embodiment in an illusion.  It provided startling evidence of the processes of incoming information to the senses stimulating the brain.  

 The student was at a Halloween party where someone had a fake arm as part of their costume.  He obscured one of his real arms and positioned the fake arm in its place and asked an acquaintance to stroke both the arms simultaneously whilst he visually focused on the fake arm.  As he suspected he began to feel as if the sensation he was experiencing was from the fake arm.  It was as if the brain had substituted the fake arm for a real one.  It unnerved him so much he threw the arm across the room in disbelief.   Future laboratory experiments produced repeated results reinforcing the reliability of the phenomena, interestingly the laboratory results also revealed that when stroking of the limbs was unsynchronised the effect ceased and the brain was not so easily deceived. (Nature, vol 391, p756).

The illusion looked like providing the answer to unlocking embodiment.  Brains scans were conducted on participants that revealed simplistic body mapping on the right temporoparietal junction of the brain.  This suggests that when we encode from our sensory stores the incoming information is checked against the map prior to integration in the premotor and parietal cortices.  If incompatibility remains unresolved then the fake illusion occurs but only when full integration occurs deep in the insular cortex does embodiment and conscious awareness exist. 

 The insular cortex is also responsible for other internal body signals such as the hunger pains and the throbbing sensations of a pulse.  The process is known as interoception.  Of course individual’s ability to detect such signals has been found to vary to differing degrees.  This is definitely the case for individuals who suffer from Sensory Integration Dysfunction particularly for those individuals who are on the Autistic Spectrum.  Individuals with Sensory Integration Dysfunction can be either hyper or hypo sensitive to certain stimulus depending on their specific systems and the area in which the dysfunction occurs.

Manos Tsakiris of Royal Halloway University London, discovered evidence to support the differing degrees of interoception.  He conducted a study whereby 25% of participants were able to count their own heartbeats with 50% accuracy.  Whilst a further 25% of participants showed poor awareness failing to count beats by as much as 50%.  The conclusions from the investigation were that those whose are highly perceptive or greater interoceptive abilities were less likely to be fooled by embodiment illusions.  (Proceeding of the Royal Society B, vol. 278, p2470). “If you have a strong sense of self from the inside, you are not so reliant on visual and tactile external stimuli”.  

Botvinik’s illusion stimulated others and with it more startling revelations concerning the associations between body and mind.  Hennrik Ehrson Karolinska Institute in Stockholm recently conducted a somewhat bizarre investigation using differing sizes of plastic figures.   Each of the participants were asked to embody a figure, including one of which was a Barbie size doll.   The results from the investigation showed that when they achieved embodiment using the small Barbie doll they perceived things in their context to be much bigger.  The experimenter claimed that even when he was sat next to participants, he was perceived to be far larger than life.  The findings from the research provides evidence to support that body awareness can be influential to our interpretation of visually encoded information (PLos one vol. 6, p201).

Tsakaris extended his research and conducted an experiment that involved participants sat in front of a computer screen observing an image of a face whilst both the virtual face and the participants face were stroked at the same time.  Tsakaris was able to deceive participants and persuade them into thinking that the image displayed was their own reflection (PLos One vol. 3, p4040).  The results of this investigation pose interesting questions as they imply that the body may surpass sensory perception and maybe in part responsible for how we perceive and relate to other individuals.  He claims we are more likely to be convinced by a face swap illusion, in others words that we are looking at a reflection of ourselves,  if  the decoy is mirror our expressions and movement.

Research conducted by Maris Paola Paladina from University of Trento, Italy adds weight Tsakaris’s findings.  Her experiment involved participants who had previously responded to a face swap illusion thus showing their susceptibility, participants were asked to rate the personality of a person displayed on screen and then to rate their own personality.  Then they were asked to rate the quantity of letters that appeared on a screen but first they were told the rating given by the virtual person.  The results showed that participants rated their own personalities similarly to the virtual person but also they rated the letters similarly to the virtual persons estimate.  The conclusions from the research were that individuals who are more aware of their body signals are less likely to be so easily manipulated in social situations and may show less empathy towards others. 

Botvinik’s findings are of significant interest to the research and development of prosthetics. Tsakaris and Paladina’s research is relative to individuals on the Autistic spectrum as it explains the significance of expression and movement as a form of non-verbal communication that has definate importance in the social exchanges and interactions that take place between individuals.

Also see New Scientist Issue November 12 Article Page 23, “Body over mind”.

Video training – emotional expressions for Aspergers:

Link to New Scientist online resources Illusions Page:

Link to News Items Developments Prosthetics:

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BB Ethical or Unethical? YOU DECIDE!!!

October 17, 2011 8 comments

Hey Bloggers!!! Weekly Blog No 4. This week I have decided to write about the television phenomena that is : “Big Brother”, because regardless of whether you love it or hate it, no-one can deny that it is the most recognised social psychological experiment of our era.  In fact during its 2009 launch, figures peaked when it pulled in excess of 4 million viewers demonstrating its popularity and appeal with the nation.  So its formula of throwing a mix of stereotypical individuals into a box Skinner styli!  and  waiting for the consequences to occur, or in most cases explode has proven to be a winning one.  However despite its success and obvious influence on youth culture, it has been heavily criticised for both its content and treatment of participants.   There have been many instances when the BPS has voiced its concern for the participants when the programme has overtly flouted ethical codes of conduct. 

So I’m going to highlight a few controversies that have occurred within the programme and “open floor up for discussion” as they say!! 

  • In 2006 Shahbaz Chaudhry convinced the BB psychologist’s that he was mentally stable enough to take part in the show.  Whilst in the house Shahbaz revealed how he had suffered abuse during his early childhood then he was seen breaking down on national television and threatening to commit suicide.
  • In 2007 Big Brother was the subject of controversy when it projected Peter Bennet into the public eye.  As we have come to know, Pete suffers from the extreme form of Tourette’s syndrome known as (Coprolalia).  The severity of Pete’s condition and his battle to retain his dignity was exposed before the entire nation but it was his diary room visits that revealed the true extent of his vulnerability.  The TSA (Tourette’s syndrome Association) slated Big Brother, accusing the programme makers of exploiting and humiliating Peter.  The TSA claimed that BB had picked Peter as contestant purely because he demonstrated the more pronounced form of the syndrome to add to the programmes shock value.  However, Big Brother maintained that they only ever had good intention and rather that they were merely trying to raise awareness of the condition.
  • Again in 2007 the programme makers selected contestant Nikki Grahame alias “Princess of Tantrums” and the nation was exposed to the plight of a young woman battling with a life threatening eating disorder.  Nikki revealed how during her entire adolescence her OCD had led to repeated hospitalisation for psychiatric therapy.  Yet again BB received extensive criticism and was accused of exploitation of an individual who was in fragile state of mind.
  • Then in 2009 Big Brother shocked when contestants Jade Goody, Danielle Lloyd and Jo O’Meara were accused of launching a racial attack on fellow contestant, Indian Actress Shilpa Shetty.  The participant’s behaviour was exposed for the world to see.  It was subsequently followed by a frenzied debate on whether the ethical rights of the participants had been violated and whether if at all, programme makers should have released footage into the public domain.  Public opinion on this matter varied from those who were concerned with the future well-being of all participants to those who believed that the behaviour was a necessary evil that needed to be exposed.  The back lash from the controversy fuelled extensive media coverage which led to huge newspaper sales.  Indian perceptions of the British public had been tarnished and they responded with huge public outcry to the extent that there were demonstrations and burning of effigies of the shows directors.  BB employs a team of psychologist’s who vet contestant’s suitability for the programme.  So let’s discuss whether or not they have flouted the four main BPS ethical principles of respect, responsibility, competence and integrity?
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Why? Why? Why? to Research.

October 12, 2011 1 comment


Hey bloggers! Weekly blog no 3 at your service.  Background explanation first though, yes!  Well as I may have stated previously I’m a mature student who has been fortunate enough to come back to education after being held captive by my children for a number of years ha ha!  Before this I worked as a Design Project Engineer for a BAE company who manufactured the life-support systems for Euro-fighter Aircrew.  Link?????…….this was a Research and Development Project that involved testing and qualification.  So my blog this week is to going to address the…..Importance of Research.

Research is as fundamental to the field of psychology and the role of a psychologists as it is to technology.  There would be no evolution of psychology as a science without continuous progressive research.  In essence psychology emanates from ideas that are explored through research with a view to determining causation.  Without research there would not be the modern psychology of today as we know it.  Therefore as wanna be psychologist’s we need to embrace and appreciate the importance of research and its methodology. 

Just as modern psychology has revealed exciting new areas of interest such as the structure and functions of the brain. Accordingly research methods have needed to develop parallel to such curiosities or how else could these ideas be investigated?  So psychology and research cannot be separated, you cannot have one without the other.  The more that research evolves within Psychology, the greater the contribution to its credibility as a science.

So with a view to the functions of the brain, did you know that when a fighter-pilot flies at high altitude at about 9G the only thing stopping him from blacking out and falling out of the sky is his trousers.  No?  Neither did I, until I did the research and tested it!  Really it’s true; this is because without the aid of a counter pressure garment the blood would travel from his brain and pool at his feet, resulting in lack of consciousness.  Not a good look!!!

The point I am making here, is that research is crucial to innovation, whatever the discipline.  Finally a message to all the undergraduate ladies, i’ve met a lot of the five nations top-guns and I hate to say it but there actually not that sexy (they wouldn’t like me saying this i might add ha ha!).  But here’s the take home message “SCIENCE IS SEXIER”!!!

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“Belief & Behaviour”

October 5, 2011 11 comments

Hello fellow bloggers, can you believe how time flies and that already it’s time to contemplate our blog topics for the week.  I saw Jess Martin’s blog with the video footage discussing “From what and where young people acquire or place their beliefs?”  Jess advised that he was interested to see commentary regarding this topic.  I was intrigued with the video clip and interesting topic, so with this in mind, this week I have decided to delve into Social Psychology and talk about my take on “Origins of Belief” tadaaaaa!!! 

According to the Oxford dictionary the word “belief” can be interpreted in the following ways “the feeling that something is real and true; something that can be trusted, or something in which we have confidence”.  So how does this relate to human behaviour you ask?  Well let’s assume that our beliefs are socially constructed and question whether they contribute to making us who we are and ask ourselves if they influence how we behave? 

So let’s adopt a behaviourist perspective and argue that all behaviour is learned.  If we consider the early stages of primary socialisation, parents and extended family provide a most obvious vehicle through which “beliefs” are passed on. Therefore, if we learn “beliefs” from this type of socialisation then we must learn “beliefs” from all social interaction.  Education, Science, Literature, Religion, the Government, the Media, the Law are all secondary agencies of socialisation that contribute significantly to the social constructions of “beliefs”.

From past to present day Religion has played a significant role in providing the origins of what different cultures and societies deem appropriate or inappropriate behaviour.    Religion has a strict ethos of expectation, in Christianity there are the Ten Commandments and in Islam there are the Five Pillars.  Punishments for breaking with “beliefs” can be as severe as death, take for example the stoning to death of Islamic women for committed acts of adultery. 

Does this contribute to “beliefs”? I would argue that it does.  Attitudes towards women, ethnic minorities, same sex relationships and disability have changed as a direct consequence of evolving socially constructed “beliefs” that have been heavily influenced by the secondary agencies of socialisation.    Furthermore as we have acknowledged that “beliefs” are ever changing social constructs, it poses a wealth of exciting opportunities for future research.  In conclusion “beliefs” clearly contribute to who we are and how we behave.

“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumoured by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.”

 Buddha quotes (Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta, the founder of Buddhism, 563-483 B.C.)





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Does the use of qualitative methods in psychological research make psychology less of a scientific discipline?

September 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Does the use of qualitative methods in psychological research make psychology less of a scientific discipline?

Comment From ihmsl

I really enjoyed reading your blog.  I felt it was one of the first I have read that was really unpretentious and one which was genuinely thought out rather than just copied from a text book.  I thought the way you put across the pro’s and con’s of the argument in support of either qualitative or quantitative data was well executed.

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Why Scientific Method?

September 26, 2011 4 comments

Q. Why do we use the scientific method – and are there other ways to go about the process of research?

A. We can choose to use the scientific method of research when we are looking to enforce greater control’s over an experiment or investigation.  By adopting an experimental method, investigations can be more easily repeated and this serves as a measure of the reliability of the results.  Additionally expermental methods of research facillitate a means to acquiring quantitative data.  Quantitative data provides objective results which can be more easily generalised.  But it is important to note that there are other methods of investigation, these may include observational studies, questionnaires and case studies but all of which are significantly more difficult to control.  Furthermore the data extracted from case studies is specific to an individual and variable context therefore the data obtained is often subjective and therefore unsuitable for generalisation.

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Hello world!

September 26, 2011 1 comment

Welcome to After you read this, you should delete and write your own post, with a new title above. Or hit Add New on the left (of the admin dashboard) to start a fresh post.

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