an interview with Sally Satel


Q&A: Sally Satel, psy­chi­a­trist, on the flaws of brain research by Christie Nichol­son at smart­planet

below is an excerpt from this interview

Smart­Planet: Frito-​Lay com­mis­sioned a study of women’s brains as they looked at their chip bags. Appar­ently the brain scans showed that the ante­rior cin­gu­late cor­tex lit up, an area often asso­ci­ated with feel­ings of guilt. Researchers con­cluded that women felt guilty when look­ing at the shiny bags con­tain­ing high-​calorie snacks. So the com­pany switched to matte bags in the hopes of reliev­ing neg­a­tive emo­tions asso­ci­ated with their brand. What is wrong with this strategy?

Sally Satel: Well first there’s no guilt cen­ter in the brain. So infer­ring that the ante­rior cin­gu­late cor­tex is telling you that you feel guilty is a leap.

This is one of the big issues with fMRI interpretations.

Right. One of the big­ger prob­lems with naive inter­pre­ta­tion is some­thing called the reverse infer­ence prob­lem. And what that means is — as they did in that Frito-​Lay study –- [researchers] look at a part of a brain that is dif­fer­en­tially acti­vated dur­ing a task, and the “task” is often hav­ing the per­son look at an image, lis­ten to a sound, or be pre­sented with a prob­lem [to think through].

Of course you’re going to see more activ­ity in cer­tain areas of the brain than in other areas. But look­ing at the brain scan image and work­ing back­wards from that to what a per­son is think­ing is very fraught.


For this rea­son: Var­i­ous regions in the brain play a role in medi­at­ing many dif­fer­ent kinds of sub­jec­tive emo­tional states.

Could you unpack that state­ment a bit?

For exam­ple, the ante­rior cin­gu­late is fre­quently cited as impor­tant in the pro­cess­ing of error detec­tion or con­flict. But that’s not quite the same as guilt. That’s one issue.

Another region of the brain that is fre­quently cited is the amyg­dala. It is most famous for being a fairly prim­i­tive area involved in the pro­cess­ing of fear. And that’s true, but it’s also rel­e­vant to the pro­cess­ing of nov­elty, sur­prise, anger and hap­pi­ness. So, to just basi­cally pick the emo­tion that suits your pur­pose is a prob­lem. In the Frito-​Lay case, I’m sure they imag­ined that women feel guilty when they eat high-​fattening foods; so that was con­sis­tent with the nar­ra­tive that the adver­tis­ers had imagined.

book: Sally Satel on the limits of brain imaging


Brain­washed: The Seduc­tive Appeal of Mind­less Neu­ro­science by Sally Satel

excerpt from book:

Brain scan images are not what they seem…or at least not how the media often depict them. Nor are brain-​scan images what they seem. They are not pho­tographs of the brain in action in real time. Sci­en­tists can’t just look “in” the brain and see what it does. Those beau­ti­ful color-​dappled images are actu­ally rep­re­sen­ta­tions of par­tic­u­lar areas in the brain that are work­ing the hard­est— as mea­sured by increased oxy­gen con­sump­tion— when a sub­ject per­forms a task such as read­ing a pas­sage or react­ing to a stim­uli, such as pic­tures of faces. The pow­er­ful com­puter located within the scan­ning machine trans­forms changes in oxy­gen lev­els into the famil­iar candy-​colored splotches indi­cat­ing the brain regions that become espe­cially active dur­ing the subject’s per­for­mance. Despite well-​informed infer­ences, the great­est chal­lenge of imag­ing is that it is very dif­fi­cult for sci­en­tists to look at a fiery spot on a brain scan and con­clude with cer­tainty what is going on in the mind of a person.

the male gaze and denial of sexual worthiness

Mark Carney Launches New U.K. Banknote
What it’s like to be an ugly fem­i­nist? by Emma Bur­nell at the New States­man

I have been told I am “too ugly to rape”, “too fat to live” that “no man would f**k that” all while walk­ing the five min­utes from my house to the bus stop.

I live with the knowl­edge (and daily expe­ri­ence) that my sex­ual worth will be com­mented on every day when I leave my house and that in the meat mar­ket of the out­side world, I have been judged unwanted, lack­ing, unwor­thy. The aware­ness that part of my expe­ri­ence of every­day life will be to have my worst inse­cu­ri­ties about my lack of looks and sex­ual attrac­tive­ness com­mented on in ways just as crude and shock­ing as those women who are being pestered for their very attrac­tive­ness affects my deci­sion mak­ing, my con­fi­dence and my outlook.

If these bril­liant cam­paigns are to truly suc­ceed, they need to ensure they run the full gamut of the ways in which men are allowed in soci­ety to abuse a woman pub­licly. This can­not mean sim­ply focus­ing on the sto­ries of those who are being sex­u­ally objec­ti­fied, but those for whom the very lack of objec­ti­fi­ca­tion is being used as a weapon to keep us in our place.

V.A. health care benefits and Obamacare

v.a. entrance shrunk for blog

Visit this V.A. web­site about V.A. healthcare:

VA, Afford­able Care Act and You

or call 1 – 877-​222-​VETS (8387)

for infor­ma­tion about health cov­er­age options for depen­dents, you can find infor­ma­tion about

first woman in space: Valentina Tereshkova


The first space­craft piloted by a woman, “Vostok-​6″ was launched in July 16th, 1963. That woman was a cit­i­zen of the Soviet Union – Valentina Tereshkova. She flew into space alone.

First Woman in Space at Only in Rus­sia (Eng­lish version)

technology and psychotic delusions


a tech­no­cul­ture of psy­chosis by Vaughan Bell at Mindhacks

A desert nomad is more likely to believe that he is being buried alive in sand by a djinn, and an urban Amer­i­can that he has been implanted with a microchip and is being mon­i­tored by the CIA.

The Real­ity Show by Mike Jay at Aeon

commercial: guns for children


“If those tar­gets were ATF agents, you’d have to do this faster.”

Cricket: My First Rifle ad at Point­less Planet

Syn­op­sis: A respon­si­ble Amer­i­can gun man­u­fac­turer tries to cap­ture a share of the bur­geon­ing ele­men­tary school-​age mar­ket for lethal weapons by offer­ing chil­dren toy guns that, as it turns out, are actu­ally real.

free paper: drug marketing and unconscious bias among physicians


graph from Think Progress

This free paper has 17 double-​spaced pages of easy read­ing text.Cor­rup­tion of Phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal Mar­kets: Address­ing the Mis­align­ment of Finan­cial Incen­tives and Pub­lic Health by Marc-​Andre Gagnon in the Jour­nal of Law, Med­i­cine and Ethics, Forth­com­ing at the Social Sci­ence Research Network


This paper explains how the cur­rent archi­tec­ture of the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal mar­kets has cre­ated a mis­align­ment of finan­cial incen­tives and pub­lic health that is a cen­tral cause of harm­ful prac­tices. It explores three pos­si­ble solu­tions to address that mis­align­ment: taxes, increased finan­cial penal­ties, and drug pric­ing based on value. Each pro­posal could help to partly realign finan­cial incen­tives and pub­lic health. How­ever, because of the lim­its of each pro­posal, there is no easy solu­tion to fix­ing the prob­lem of finan­cial incentives.