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October 2, 2008

BehindTheMedspeak: Why teenagers don't want to be seen with their parents


We already knew that.

Now come scientists to pinpoint exactly where in the brain that horrified feeling is centered.

Here's Times (London) Online science editor Mark Henderson's September 29, 2008 report.

    Why teenagers cringe when dad gets hip

    Scientists suggest it’s all in adolescent minds

    The moment when dad gets up to strut his stuff on the dancefloor is a toe-curling ordeal familiar to every teenager. While mothers and fathers take pride in watching their adolescent offspring sing, dance or perform, it is a source of acute embarrassment when the roles are reversed.

    An explanation has now been advanced by scientists. The adolescent brain seems to process the emotions of embarrassment and guilt differently from those of adults. The first brain-scan study to investigate the issue, conducted at University College London, identified clear differences in brain activity when teenagers and adults were asked to think about social emotions.

    While both teens and adults use the same parts of the brain when processing emotions such as disgust and fear, which do not involve the opinions of other people, their scans show pronounced contrasts when they think about embarrassment or guilt.

    Adolescents engage a particular part of the brain called the medial prefrontal cortex when considering these feelings, while adults do not, according to the study, led by Stephanie Burnett and Sarah-Jayne Blakemore.

    The findings, which are published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, offer a potential explanation for the way children who, when younger, would have revelled in exuberant parental behaviour start to blush at it after puberty.

    In the long term, they could shed light on conditions such as eating disorders and anxiety, which become more common after puberty and are affected by people’s self-image. “It is well-known anecdotally that teenagers are particularly susceptible to embarrassment caused by family and parents, and they’re much more embarrassed in front of friends than strangers,” Dr Blakemore said. “Studies by social psychologists confirm this. One of the best ways of illustrating it is an anecdote told by one of my friends who has teenage daughters. Before they reached puberty, if they were messing around in a shop, he’d get them to stop by promising to sing their favourite song. After puberty, he’d get them to stop by threatening to sing their favourite song.”

    The differences in activity in the medial prefrontal cortex, which is involved in processing social emotions and planning, might explain this. “If teenagers have more activity in this part of the brain when they are thinking about being embarrassed, it might explain why they are more susceptible to embarrassment,” Dr Blakemore said. She added that it remained uncertain whether the brain activity was a cause or an effect of heightened sensitivity to embarrassment.

    In the study, the scientists recruited 19 girls aged between 10 and 19 and ten adult women, aged between 22 and 32. All the subjects then had their brains scanned, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), while they were asked to imagine a string of emotional experiences.

    Examples designed to evoke embarrassment included thinking about your father dancing in the supermarket, and dribbling food down your top while eating with a friend.

    Other thoughts were designed to invoke guilt, and disgust and fear were used as controls because they are not dependent on the particular reactions of onlookers.

    Dr Blakemore said the research could eventually have implications for medical conditions and for education. Anorexia and bulimia, she said, were “among the reasons why people are doing this research. Anxiety, depression and eating disorders all increase hugely in prevalence after puberty.”


Here's the abstract of Dr. Blakemore's paper.

    Development during Adolescence of the Neural Processing of Social Emotion

    In this fMRI study, we investigated the development between adolescence and adulthood of the neural processing of social emotions. Unlike basic emotions (such as disgust and fear), social emotions (such as guilt and embarrassment) require the representation of another’s mental states. Nineteen adolescents (10–18 years) and 10 adults (22–32 years) were scanned while thinking about scenarios featuring either social or basic emotions. In both age groups, the anterior rostral medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) was activated during social versus basic emotion. However, adolescents activated a lateral part of the MPFC for social versus basic emotions, whereas adults did not. Relative to adolescents, adults showed higher activity in the left temporal pole for social versus basic emotions. These results show that, although the MPFC is activated during social emotion in both adults and adolescents, adolescents recruit anterior (MPFC) regions more than do adults, and adults recruit posterior (temporal) regions more than do adolescents.


Want to read the whole Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience report?

No problem: go here and click on the top publication listed: it will open up a PDF of the entire paper including tables, figures and references.

October 2, 2008 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Blast from the past: World's best tiny pen


This post originally appeared nearly four years ago, on December 1, 2004.

I figure there's a whole new group out there who might never have happened on this essential item, so here's a reprise.

The only thing that's changed is the price — back then it was $1.95 but these days it'll set you back $8.49.

Here's the post.

    World's best tiny pen

    My attention was drawn to this subject by an item in the latest iteration of Kevin Kelly's "Cool Tools," a weekly email newsletter featuring all manner of interesting, oftimes very useful things you never knew existed.

    The "Ever Ready" pen (below),


    from the Derringer Wallet Pen Company, was what caught my eye.

    The fellow recommending it said he found it really handy, and that he always had something to write with since he'd started carrying this pen.

    He said the really good thing about it was that it clips into his wallet so he never has to remember where he put it.

    I investigated, and learned that the 4" long stainless steel Derringer wallet pen, available with black ink, sells for $6 on the company's website [now defunct].

    Wait a minute.

    I went downstairs and got my wallet, and measured it: it's 3.88" long.

    So this pen would protrude from my wallet.

    Unlike the pen I've got in my wallet already, which is almost invisible unless you know it's there.

    I use — and have done so for many years — a Swiss Army Knife pen refill, Victorinox model number 30422 (top).

    It costs $1.95.

    It's a replacement pen for the one that comes as original equipment in Swiss Army Knives.

    91mm (2.75") long, with a gray, curved top that fits snugly into the body of a Swiss Army Knife, these handy little pens come in blue or black ink.

    There's also an even smaller (2" long) version that fits the smaller, key-chain size knives.

    I don't recommend it because it's very difficult to grasp and write with.

    Now, you are not going to want to copy out "Moby Dick" with my little pen, but for quick notes, sudden flights of fancy or inspiration, phone numbers, and the like, you can't beat it.

    And I always have a pen.

    So often no one does, and I don't think I do, until I realize hey, I do have one.

    People smirk and scoff but they're very glad when they see it writes just fine.

    A life-saver.

    I'd always paid $3 or so for one at my local outdoor store until one day I went in to get a replacement and they were out.

    It took over six weeks for them to call and tell me that they'd gotten more in.

    By then I'd long since discovered I could get it


    faster, cheaper and easier online.

    I'm gonna send a copy of this post to Kevin Kelly to send on to the guy who tipped him off to the Derringer.

October 2, 2008 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

World's smallest park


The flowered island pictured above is Mill Ends Park.

Located in Portland, Oregon, it covers 452 square inches, barely two feet across.

You could look it up.

[via Milena]


This just in (3:28 p.m. today) from Mary Sue:

"That's the old location of Mill Ends, they had to do a major street widening/sewer project down SW Naito Parkway about two years ago. They moved it about a block over during the construction, and then had a gala re-opening about six months ago. Here's what it looks like now,


but remember the flowers change with the seasons. My friends from California came up to visit recently, and Mill Ends was on their list of things to see and have photos of their infant daughter taken at. Let me tell you, nothing more thrilling than manhandling a two-month-old into a concrete planter in the middle of a six lane road!"

October 2, 2008 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

You don't have to be crazy to work here — we'll train you!


Official T-shirt of my crack research team.

Get yours today!

Just $12.98!

October 2, 2008 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

What is it?


Answer here this time tomorrow.

October 2, 2008 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Personal Tabletop Crumb Vacuum


From the website:

    Tabletop Crumb Vacuum

    This super-fun automated sweeper sucks up crumbs and other whatnot from your table, desktop or counters — just unscrew the top and dump out the debris.

    Color will be Black, White or Red (we will choose for you).

    Uses 2 AA batteries (included).



Don't be fooled like I was at first into thinking it's a mini Roomba — you have to move it around yourself.


October 2, 2008 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Best ... clock ... ever


[via Milena]

October 2, 2008 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Limited Edition (of one) cat 1 Über-bike — by Byron Hemmes


• Length: 2.3 meters

• Wheel center to center: 1.7 meters


• 1200cc Buell 97 S3 Thunderbolt engine

• Body made from high-grade stainless steel


• Air intakes and exhaust system custom-engineered to suit cat profile

• Cat fairing: Fiberglass finished in ultra-high-gloss ebony polyurethane lacquer


• Handlebar width: 1 meter

• Weight: 360 kg

• Seat: Stingray


£320,000 ($567,000; €404,000).

October 2, 2008 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

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