Between Your Ears #05: “Critical Thinking: Don’t Believe Everything You Hear”

Main Topic: In this episode, I talk all about things to watch out for while getting information from the media. While the topic could be (and has been) debated upon for hours and hours, I give four simple tips to help you weed out the facts among the fiction.

1. Correlation does not equal causation – “Children who play violent video games tend to be more violent. Therefore, violent video games make kids violent.” Well, NO, that’s not necessarily true. There is a correlation, but there are many different factors at play. Maybe the kid is playing violent video games because his parents don’t take an interest in what is doing, which also causes him to be violent. When you jump to assumptions, you’re making connections that you aren’t backed up by the evidence.

2. Watch out for statistics: “Since implementing cancer screenings, we have seen an enormous decrease in the percentage of people who die following a cancer diagnosis.” This all seems well and good until you actually look at the facts. The number of people who die of cancer hadn’t decreased at all, you were only increasing the total number of people you were looking at. Before Screenings: 50/100 = 50% died After Screenings: 50/1000 = 5% died Here, the same number of people died both before and after! The only reason the percentage decreased was because you included people who weren’t going to die of cancer anyways. Another example for statistics in a more subtle way: Recently, there was a study linking the consumption of diet soda with increased risk for stroke. However, in many articles that reported on the subject, they didn’t give any specifics about the data that were collected. If that’s all you hear, you need to dig deeper. What if the following were true? Didn’t drink diet soda: 1/10000 = 0.01% risk of stroke Drink diet soda: 2/10000 = 0.02% risk of stroke Technically, you could say that drinking diet soda DOUBLES the risk of having a stroke, even though the chance goes from 0.01% to 0.02%.

3. Where is your information coming from? – If the information you receive is getting you to buy something, you may want to take what they say with a grain of salt. One of the biggest weapons business people use is “science talk.” Perfect example: The “Trust Spray,” Oxytocin Surprise, surprise, it doesn’t work. What they didn’t tell you is that oxytocin has a three minute-half life in the blood (within 15 minutes of absorption into the bloodstream, 15mL of this stuff would become 0.46 mL). They also failed to tell you that oxytocin does not cross the blood-brain barrier! It is produced in your brain, but if you introduce it into your body via oral, intravenous, or inhalation, it won’t even reach your brain. If you simply trusted their “science talk,” you would have been played for a fool.

4. The nature of the media beast – We need to understand that the media is much more prone to talking about things that make good headlines. If its not exciting, riveting, or scary, news organizations are less inclined to give the story precious air time. Their priority isn’t giving a continuous picture of the scientific community; they’re on the lookout for a big story. If you educate yourself on the issue, and don’t just accept things as you hear them, you will be less likely to accept misinformation. Remember that game of telephone. It’s hard to understand and stay on top of things if you don’t take responsibility for learning these sorts of things for yourself. E:MAIL: No e-mail or voicemail this week. I’m excited for your feedback, so PLEASE e-mail or call in. I’m not limited to specific myths either. Any topic or question about psychology & neuroscience is worthy of discussion. Pick: Bad Science by Ben Goldacre. Get it, or any other audiobook, and support the show, by visiting

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  • Oxytocin Trust Spray Debunked [Link]
  • Bad Science Website [Link]
  • Unproven Prostate Cancer Screening More Popular Than Valuable Colon Test [Link]
  • Diet Soda & Stroke Risk [Link]
  • Ben Goldacre YouTube Video (Coarse Language Warning)

Between Your Ears #04: “All About ADHD”

Main Topic: In this episode, I tackle eight different myths about attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Before we start…what is ADHD? There are two different subtypes: hyperactive/impulsive & inattentive. Hyperactive/impulsive may include such symptoms as fidgeting, restlessness/difficulty sitting still, excessively loud, interrupts or intrudes, act without thinking, etc. Inattentive may include failing to give close attention to details, does not seem to listen, difficulty organizing tasks, losing objects, forgetful, etc.

1. ADHD is not a real disorder – Oh yes it is! 🙂 The difficulty in understanding and diagnosing ADHD is that the symptoms are most extreme versions of challenges that everyone faces on a day-to-day basis. For example, everybody gets bored from time to time, but if a person finds them-self unable to focus on anything that is not enjoyable, it becomes debilitating and can reduce their quality of life. Furthermore, ADHD is a neurobiological disorder that is recognized by the medical and psychiatric professions.

2. ADHD is caused by bad parenting – Donít blame the parents, for Peteís sake! Bless their hearts for loving their children and putting up with them all the time. ìThat boy needs some discipline!î That wonít help the boy any more than it would help him hear if he were deaf. It’s a neurological disorder. Having said that, environment DOES play a role in ADHD and how the child/adult manages their symptoms. Some factors can aggravate symptoms and make them worse.

3. You have to be hyperactive to have ADHD – As said before, there are two categories: hyperactive/impulsive, and inattentive. Inattentive (ADD) is really the same disorder as ADHD. Inattentive individuals are more commonly undiagnosed because they are often overlooked. However, the effects of the impulsive subtype are just as harmful to the individual.

4. ADHD is a kidís disorder – Approximately half of children with ADHD will experience symptoms in adulthood. Diagnosis may not occur until later in life, especially if academic performance does not suffer dramatically, or if the person suffers from inattentive subtype.

5. ADHD individuals are lazy and stupid – ADHD has nothing to do with intelligence. The decreased ability to sustain attention may hinder their performance on tests that measure performance however. Theyíre not lazy, or lack self-control. They are simply unable to direct or sustain their attention as well as those without ADHD.

6. ADHD is a male disorder – This is not true either. The symptoms may just be slightly different, as girls are more commonly diagnosed with inattentive type. This is commonly perceived as a girl being ditzy, spacey, or poor academically. Undiagnosed girls are more prone to self-esteem issues, depression or anxiety.

7. ADHD meds lead to drug addiction – Quite the opposite is true. Those who are undiagnosed or unmedicated may be more likely to self-medicate with alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs. Stimulant medications, when taken as prescribed, are not addictive. This is due to small doses and duration between drug administration and effectiveness.

8. ADHD is cured by medication – First off, it doesnít ìcureî it, it helps manage symptoms. Between 70-75% of those with ADHD who take medication report positive effects in managing their symptoms (around 1 in 4 have no response to meds). Medication is not the only strategy. Other treatment options include: exercise/healthy diet, planning/organizational techniques, reducing the amount of time interacting with technology/video games, meditation/relaxation.

E-MAIL: Robert from asked about amnesia in movies. I’m planning on dedicating an entire episode to this down the line, but in the mean time, its important to realize that amnesia is really a form of brain damage in the context of most movies. One can have anterograde amnesia (can’t form new memories ‡ la Memento), or retrograde amnesia (can’t access old memories ‡ la Bourne Identity). There are also two different types of memory that can be lost (declarative vs procedural memory), and these two types of memory are located in different parts of the brain. It is possible for you to lose one type of memory but not the other (forget your name but still know how to ride a bike). Want to know more about it? Wait for the amnesia episode! 😛

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Between Your Ears #03: “How Well Can You Multitask?”

Main Topic: Whether it’s talking on the phone while driving, or texting in class, people today think they are capable of doing more than one thing at a time. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Our brain focuses our attention on the most important parts of our surroundings, and tunes out the rest. That means that while you are texting in class, your brain is ignoring the teacher at the front of the room. Your brain is incapable of processing all the information at once, and it forces the information you’re trying to cram into it into some sort of order. You end up with a “focus-pause-switch-refocus” scenario. This reduces efficiency, increases likelihood of errors, increases stress and mental fatigue, and often doubles the amount of time it takes to complete a task. While you can’t teach your brain to handle more than one task at a time, you may be able to improve your ability to switch between tasks. My suggestion, however: do your best to tackle tasks one at a time. You’ll be more productive, efficient, and safe. (Please, don’t be that guy.)

E-Mail: Robert and Alexis both ask if women are better multitaskers than men. As we’ve already discussed, true multitasking is close to impossible in humans. However, some researcher have suggested that women may just accept the challenge of multitasking more than men. Others have suggested that the techniques that women use to tackle multiple objectives may be more efficient than the ones used by men. My opinion: gender is one of several factors that can influence how well you handle multitasking.

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  • “Are Women Really Better At Multitasking?” study by Dr. Keith Laws [Link]
  • “Bad at Multitasking? Blame Your Brain!” on NPR [Link]
  • “Continuous Partial Attention” [Link]
  • “The Multi-tasking Generation” [Link]
  • “Human Multitasking” on Wikipedia [Link]

Between Your Ears #02 – “Do You Only Use 10% of Your Brain?”

Main Topic: In this episode, we tackle the idea that you are only using 10% of your brain. Brain imaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have shown us that we are in fact using more than 10% of our brain. The principle of natural selection and evolution also would suggest that unused brain areas would be weeded out over time; the reality is that the human brain has the largest surface area of any animal on the planet. Finally, there are no “dead zones” in the brain. Even the smallest amount of brain damage can have severe consequences (as seen in the example of Phineas Gage). The myth may have roots in the fact that we may not be using our brain to its full potential, that we are using 10% at any given moment, or that 10% of our brains are neurons while the other 90% are glial (support) cells. E-Mail: Josh sent us an e-mail asking if you can lose brain cells by holding your breath or sniffing paint. While breathing toxins isn’t recommended, there is some interesting information about how the mammalian diving reflex can help you survive longer underwater.

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Between Your Ears #01 – “The Origin of Science Myths”

Topics Discussed on This Episode

This Week in Research: Spacing babies close may raise autism risk

Main Topic: This first episode is dedicated to the purpose of the Between Your Ears Podcast. It is crazy how many people believe things that are just plain false. Usually, these beliefs have roots in real research, but the facts have been twisted and distorted over time. Just like fairy tales, as these ideas are passed from person to person. None of these people have facts directly from the source, so they end up believing and passing on false ideas. My goal with Between Your Ears is to provide an explanation of the facts. I’m going to tackle commonly held beliefs, offer the facts, and help you to understand the science behind these hot topics.


  • Call us on our voice mail line! 26-BRAIN-BIT (262-724-6248)
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  • The public and nanotechnology: how citizens make sense of emerging technologies. (Scheufele & Lewenstein, 2005) [Link]
  • Don’t Dumb Me Down, Bad Science. (Ben Goldacre, 2005) [Link]
  • The Mozart effect: Tracking the evolution of a scientific legend. (Bangerter & Heath, 2004)[Link]