Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938


Jesus on Toast

By Tim Hannan

The human disposition to find meaning in random data is hard-wired in the brain.

The frequency with which religious imagery is discovered in everyday foods appears to be on the increase. While it remains possible that these manifestations are harbingers of the imminent apocalypse, neuroscientific investigations are converging on a more earthly explanation involving a combination of neuropsychological dispositions and people’s beliefs and expectations.

Deconstructing the Donald

Credit: Gage Skidmore

Trump’s popularity may result from his ability to appeal to the aggrieved entitlement of angry white men. Credit: Gage Skidmore

By Tim Hannan

Donald Trump’s appeal to voters may be explained by a preference for authoritarian anti-establishment leaders.

To many observers, the success of Donald Trump in the Republican primaries has been bewildering, if not frankly terrifying. While his candidacy has featured vilification of ethnic minorities and immigrants, sexist remarks and aggressive language, it has seemed that these displays have not deterred his supporters.

Attempts by media commentators to explain his popularity have largely focused on the appeal of his policies to specific sectors of the American population. Some psychologists are now speculating that a better explanation lies in examining the impact of his caustic language.

The Soul of Wit

By Tim Hannan

Laughter may be the best medicine, but some jokers may be incurable.

Just in time for the Melbourne Comedy Festival, a new study has explored the phenomenon of incessant joking by patients with brain injuries. First described in the 1880s, the pathological compulsion to tell jokes is known in the scientific literature by the German term Witzelsucht. Patients with this affliction are relentless in their attempts to make humorous remarks, which include puns, slapstick or other forms of lowbrow humour. Some repeatedly utter sexual or scatological comments in socially inappropriate situations.

Faces in the Crowd

Credit: kritchanut

Credit: kritchanut

Can naturally gifted face-recognisers improve the detection of lawbreakers?

A Mote to Trouble the Mind’s Eye

By Tim Hannan

The study of aphantasia offers a window into our ability to visualise.

Visualisation is a common and prominent part of everyday human experience when we retrieve memories of people, scenes or objects, or imagine events that have not occurred. A new study has highlighted the implications for those who lack the ability to visualise – people who appear to be born without a “mind’s eye”.

Transcranial Brainwashing

By Tim Hannan

Is it possible to significantly change a person’s beliefs by stimulating the brain?

Religious convictions and parochial beliefs about racial or national groups are strong motivators of human behaviour, with both beneficial and harmful social consequences. These beliefs play a significant role in human decision-making: when facing a challenge or threat, people are most likely to demonstrate their adherence to religious and political ideologies.

Slings and Arrowsmiths

By Tim Hannan

A well-promoted intervention for children with learning disorders lacks reliable evidence for its efficacy.

The recent visit to Australia by Barbara Arrowsmith Young elicited a flurry of media interest in the Arrowsmith Program, with expressions of enthusiasm for its objectives, praise for its uptake by Australian schools, and the gratitude of parents of children with learning disorders. Yet amid the anecdotes offered by its practitioners and the testimonials of parents, little attention was paid to the striking lack of quality evidence for the efficacy of the Arrowsmith Program.

No Matter Who You Vote For

By Tim Hannan

A new study sheds light on how your brain decides your vote.

With their expensive suits, hairstyles and eyebrow trimming, it may be assumed that politicians are firm believers in the proposition that personal appearance is important to voters. Yet, while scientific investigations have established that attractiveness plays a role in voting decisions, it is also known that impressions of a candidate’s competence moderate this effect, even if that judgement of competence is based solely on the candidate’s appearance.

Life in the Third Person

By Tim Hannan

People with severely deficient autobiographical memory do not re-experience their past.

Implausible forms of amnesia are popular fodder for Hollywood, with movies such as Dead Again, The Long Kiss Goodnight and the Jason Bourne series all featuring characters who, despite possessing a full understanding of the workings of the world, display an almost complete inability to recall any personal information. Such a condition has never been documented by clinicians, and the notion of a selective, total amnesia for autobiographical amnesia has generally been assumed to be impossible.

Things that Go Bang in the Night

By Tim Hannan

Exploding head syndrome, which results from neurological dysfunction during the sleep–wake transition, may be more widespread than realised.

In recent years, the neuropsychological literature has been awash with reports of people describing strange experiences when going to sleep. Many of these have described hearing sudden inexplicable noises, such as unseen bombs exploding nearby, thunderclaps on cloud-free nights, or a gun fired in their bedroom by an invisible intruder. At times these sounds are accompanied by flashes of light, or by physical sensations such as intense heat.