Cow Brains And Aphantasia: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

Our weekly round-up of the best psychology coverage from elsewhere on the web

New work is providing fascinating insights into aphantasia, a condition where you are unable to see images with your mind’s eye. There even appears to be a flip side to the condition, hyperphantasia, where mental imagery is particularly powerful. Carl Zimmer examines the new findings at The New York Times (and see also our podcast on aphantasia from 2019).

At The Conversation, Penny Paxman explains why children don’t fully grasp sarcasm until they are around seven to ten years old. Understanding why someone is being sarcastic relies on quite sophisticated cognitive processes — not just those directly related to language, but also the ability to empathise and think about another person’s perspective.

Tamer breeds of cattle tend to have smaller brains, reports Michael Price at Science. The researchers think that because humans have selectively bred beef and dairy cows to be calm and gentle, over time the brain areas involved in aggression have shrunk. The work is consistent with other studies finding that domesticated dogs, pigs and other animals have smaller brains that their wild counterparts.

Neurological and psychiatric symptoms are common even in mild cases of COVID-19, a review of studies has found. Loss of taste or smell, weakness and fatigue were each reported by around half of those who had COVID-19 but weren’t hospitalised, according to a story at New Scientist.

Neuroscientists think that for our brains to represent the world accurately, a similar pattern of neurons must fire whenever we have the same perceptual experience. So a new study has left researchers puzzled, writes Ed Yong at The Atlantic. The team found that when mice sniffed the same smell over a period of weeks, the group of cells in the smell-identifying region of their brains gradually changed, so that a month later it was almost a completely different set of neurons from that at the start of the study.

Finally, at BBC Worklife our former editor Christian Jarrett discusses how you can change your personality to cope with the imminent return to the workplace. Also check out our recent podcast, in which I discuss the science of personality change with Christian.

Compiled by Matthew Warren (@MattBWarren), Editor of BPS Research Digest