Chalita Thanyakoop, PhD – Brain Blogger Health and Science Blog Covering Brain Topics Wed, 30 May 2018 15:00:03 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Reading between the Blogs Sat, 30 Apr 2011 12:33:32 +0000 Blogger Lorelle VanFossen got it right when she wrote, “Your blog is your unedited version of yourself.” Personal blogs not only reveal bloggers’ opinions on assorted motley topics such as fashion, politics, TV shows, food, pop culture, subculture, whatnots, but also expose the bloggers’ psyche. Psychologists have long suspected links between language and personality, but scientific investigations were restricted to a small number of people tasked to write short essays on a given topic. Recently, Tal Yarkoni, a researcher at University of Colorado at Boulder, analyzed over 80 million words from 694 bloggers and discovered strong, surprising, and sometimes amusing associations between personality traits and word use.

Half a million personal blogs are posted online each day. That number translates to a new post every 3 minutes, or about 2,000 words written per second. The blogosphere has thus become a treasure trove for linguists and psychologists wishing to mine the relationship between language and human behavior. Websites like claim to assess the personalities of the bloggers based on their writing style, but their methods have not been validated scientifically. In a recent study published in Journal of Research in Personality, participating bloggers filled out extensive personality questionnaires and turned over a copy of all their blog posts (written in English) from the previous two years for word use analyses. The questionnaires helped researcher divide the bloggers into five personality groups (neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness) and sixty-six personality subgroups (i.e. vulnerability, gregariousness, intellect, adventurousness, altruism). The blog posts were analyzed for word use frequency and the number of times each word appeared in comparison to blog length.

Most of the resulting correlations make sense. Extraversion correlates with words like Miami, drinking, shots, restaurants, girls, glorious, sang, and pool. An extroverted blogger likely goes to parties and writes about them often (lucky guy). Some correlations are predictable. Neuroticism correlates with awful, lazy, worse, depressing, stressful.

But then there are these perplexing correlations:

Extraversion: cats, grandfather.
Vulnerability: sunset.

And the head-scratchers:

Trust: Reagan, USA, summer, spring, amendment.
Morality: UK, nap, popcorn.
Modesty: Russian, decades, cities.
Dutifulness: popcorn, pathetic.

And some truly baffling correlations:

Self-discipline: mom’s.
Excitement-seeking: cats, sewing (!), knitting (!), blankets, book.
Gregariousness: tickets, Friday, Ryan (Ryan who?).
Adventurousness: diaper (huh?), legal, poet, employment.

Researchers would point out that statistical correlations do not indicate scientific causality. Yet, it is tempting to try to explain some of these correlations using conventional thoughts about personality types. What aspects of excitement-seeking lead one to blog about such domestic activities like sewing and knitting? What is so adventurous about diaper? Or employment? And why is Ryan so gregarious? Figuring out the reasons behind these correlations could make for an interesting pastime. However, one must keep in mind that a few of these correlations are not specific. For example, some words (i.e. cats) correlated with multiple personality traits. Some words are used much more frequently than others and will appear to correlate with many personalities. Besides, some words have many meanings (i.e. plane). Other words mean different things under different contexts (i.e. bloody nose vs. Bloody Mary vs. bloody!). These ambiguities add even more complexity and beauty to languages.

We are what we write. Or maybe we simply write who we are. This study does not distinguish one from the other, but it does suggest a strong resemblance between a person’s online and off-line self-expression. Many bloggers create and cultivate their online personas; however, their actual personas are easily exposed by their word choices. Our words are intricately connected to our thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and speech — all the facets of an individual’s personality. To blog is to bare your unedited soul, indeed.


Yarkoni, T. (2010). Personality in 100,000 Words: A large-scale analysis of personality and word use among bloggers Journal of Research in Personality, 44 (3), 363-373 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2010.04.001

]]> 3
Daytime Napping Improves Memory Sat, 06 Nov 2010 12:00:45 +0000 Napping sounds like just the thing for babies and elderly, but even healthy adults can rely on a daytime snooze to improve their mood, alertness, and memory. Napping has been shown to enhance memory performance and counteract the effects of fatigue. Firefighters, doctors, astronauts, pilots and other professions that handle complicated procedures for long hours are often advised to take a nap during rest time. While many studies support the notion that napping strengthens existing memory, a recent study suggests that napping also reorganizes memory and links information together to form memory networks for easy retrieval at a later time.

A recent research article published in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory examines the role of daytime napping in memory processing. Thirty-one healthy participants are given a task to memorize two sets of photographs called “face-object pairs,” in which the same objects appear in both sets. That is, each object is associated with two faces: one from each set. A group of the participants is allowed to nap for up to 90 minutes, whereas the other group must remain awake and watch a non-arousing video about topics unrelated to the memory task. After the nap group fully wakes up and joins the non-nap group, all participants are tested to see if they remember the face-object pairs. In addition, participants are asked to match the two faces that are associated with the same objects. For instance, if face A is paired with a teacup, and face B is paired with a teacup, participant has to match face A and face B in order to score.

The nap group performs better than the non-nap group at memorizing face-object pairs. More importantly, the nap group also performs better than the non-nap group at matching faces associated with the same object. The nap group even scores higher as the nap gets longer. Since the participants directly learned only the face-object pairs, they have to perform face-matching task using indirect, or relational memory. Therefore, daytime napping not only enhances memory, but also helps reorganize and combine memories with common features together for later recollection.

Short daytime napping is consisted solely of the dreamless non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREM), which also represents up to 80% of nighttime sleep. Research studies suggest that interaction between the neocortex and the hippocampus in the brain is important for forming long-term memory peaks during NREM sleep. Therefore, daytime napping allows our brain to organize and consolidate memory for better performance while we are awake. Nighttime NREM sleep is likely to have a similar beneficial effect on memory. All in all, it appears that the best way to cram for exams is to include a full night’s sleep or, at the very least, a restful nap.


Ficca, G., Axelsson, J., Mollicone, D., Muto, V., & Vitiello, M. (2010). Naps, cognition and performance Sleep Medicine Reviews, 14 (4), 249-258 DOI: 10.1016/j.smrv.2009.09.005

Lau, H., Tucker, M., & Fishbein, W. (2010). Daytime napping: Effects on human direct associative and relational memory Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, 93 (4), 554-560 DOI: 10.1016/j.nlm.2010.02.003

MOLLICONE, D., VANDONGEN, H., & DINGES, D. (2007). Optimizing sleep/wake schedules in space: Sleep during chronic nocturnal sleep restriction with and without diurnal naps Acta Astronautica, 60 (4-7), 354-361 DOI: 10.1016/j.actaastro.2006.09.022

]]> 10
The Psychology of Poker Wed, 03 Nov 2010 12:00:15 +0000 Imagine you are sitting at a poker table with a stranger whose play strategy — how he bets and bluffs — is unknown to you. You are dealt a two-card hand. Your opponent raises. Will you call or will you fold? How do you decide? Conventional wisdom says you look at your hand, gauge the chances of winning based on your cards, and look for clues of bluffing in your opponent’s face and body language. However, recent research published in PLoS One shows that your first impression of the opponent’s trustworthiness influences your decision and that you fold more frequently when the opponent looks trustworthy than when the opponent keeps a neutral expression or a poker face.

Researcher Erik Schlicht and collaborators study a group of 14 novice poker players in a simplified Texas Hold’em. Each poker player is dealt two cards and allowed to see the face of his opponent on the computer screen. The player has to decide if he will fold or call. If he folds, he loses 100 chips that round. If he calls, then he may win or lose 5000 chips depending on how good his hand is compared to his opponent’s. The face of the opponent changes every round. After 300 rounds, the players are awarded money based on their wins and losses during the game.

The opponents’ faces are actually digitized images of 100 real faces; each modified to appear in 3 slightly different versions: trustworthy, neutral, or untrustworthy. For example, happy and attractive faces are associated with trustworthiness, and may include attributes such as increased distance between the eyes and the eyebrows. Angry or threatening faces are associated with untrustworthiness, and may include attributes such as corners of the mouth drawn down. Neutral faces, the canonical poker faces, show neither positive nor negative expressions. The experiment shows that players take longer to make a decision and fold more often when presented with trustworthy faces than with neutral and untrustworthy ones. The players seem to assume that their trustworthy-looking opponents are not bluffing.

The current study suggests that poker players make a rapid assessment of opponents’ facial expression and use that information to make a decision about the opponents’ behaviors and their intentions. Other studies indicate that this assessment occurs within the first tenth of a second and may involve the amygdala, the brain region known to process information about memory and emotions. We size someone up, so to speak, based on our first impression of his face, and assume that he will behave according to how he looks. In this case, we assume that a trustworthy-looking person would not bluff as much as a neutral- or untrustworthy-looking one.

In an actual poker game, players observe each other’s betting and bluffing strategies after each round and factor those into their decision. On the other hand, if you are playing poker with opponents who do not know your strategies, then appearing trustworthy (as opposed to appearing threatening or keeping a poker face) may benefit you by inducing your opponents to make mistakes and fold more often.


Schlicht, E., Shimojo, S., Camerer, C., Battaglia, P., & Nakayama, K. (2010). Human Wagering Behavior Depends on Opponents’ Faces PLoS ONE, 5 (7) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0011663

Oosterhof, N., & Todorov, A. (2008). The functional basis of face evaluation Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 105 (32), 11087-11092 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0805664105

]]> 5