Psychology professor’s study bends theories of the mind

A new report in the journal Science shows that people with profound amnesia are as capable as people with intact memories at doing tasks that require the ability to exercise what scientists call theory of mind, wrote the Canadian Press Nov. 23.

The work was led by Shayna Rosenbaum, professor of psychology in York’s Faculty of Health and an associate scientist at the Rotman Research Institute at Toronto’s Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care. "The belief was that perhaps the ability to travel back and maybe even travel forward would also be necessary for travelling into someone else’s mind – or taking on someone else’s perspective,” Rosenbaum said in an interview.

Rosenbaum said she hopes that the findings will persuade doctors treating patients with brain damage not to jump to conclusions about which capacities might be lost and which might be spared. And, she suggested, the findings also underscore that brain imaging data can only reveal part of the story to scientists mapping the brain.

“I hope that people will be a little more cautious interpreting imaging data,” she said. “You do need the patient part of the puzzle in order to better understand whether the parts of the brain that are activated in these imaging studies are actually necessary. So hopefully people will realize that there are advantages to many of these techniques to investigate the brain but there are also limitations.”

  • A leafy suburb in Mississauga seems an unlikely place to find one of the world’s most famous amnesiacs. But Kent Cochrane, a man who could be described as a prisoner of the present, is indeed famous, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 23.

Cochrane has no memory of past events, whether they occurred years ago or yesterday. Even his capacity to imagine events in the future has been stolen from him, says York psychologist Shayna Rosenbaum, who featured Cochrane as one of two near-total amnesiacs in a study published today in the journal Science.

Although she’s encountered Cochrane more than 40 times, he had no recollection of having met her. "Once in a while, but it really does take many, many visits, he might actually say my name spontaneously," Rosenbaum explains. "But he doesn’t have any information that he can associate with my name."

The paper, of which Rosenbaum is the lead author, showed that despite a near-total memory collapse, Cochrane, along with a fellow brain injury patient known as M.L., could still comfortably interact with people through an intact ability to read their emotional state.

York prof trys to raise debate on crime without raising panic

James Sheptycki knows more about crime, and the effects of criminal behaviour, than any 10 people I know, wrote Joe Fiorito in the Toronto Star Nov. 23. Sheptycki teaches at York University’s Faculty of Arts.

He organized a seminar downtown not long ago…a bit of show-and-tell in advance of a conference – Guns, Crime and Social Order – coming up next spring. Sheptycki said, "We’re trying to do the impossible – raise the profile of debate about crime without raising panic." A neat trick, if he can pull it off.

The question remains: Do roving packs of trigger-happy thugs own the streets? Sheptycki said, calmly, "Our homicide rate has remained steady over time." He had with him a series of charts and graphs: according to the latest and best information, there are 1.8 gun homicides a year in this city for every 100,000 people.

Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair [who attended the seminar] went on to talk about crime-prevention strategies. And he noted that, while crime has been on an upswing almost everywhere else, it’s been on a general downswing here. He wants to know, if it is possible to know, why that is. When he said he was willing to open up his data, Sheptycki’s eyes lit up with thoughts of spring.

How Bob Dylan became a living pop-culture god

No living artist has died and been reborn as many times as Bob Dylan, wrote CanWest News Service Nov. 23. From folk messiah and electric-rock maverick to evangelical Christian and country-crooner, Dylan’s five decades in the spotlight are best defined as indefinable.

The big surprise is that much of his modern creative output – after a lacklustre span in the 1980s – has the "same power and intelligence of his protest albums of 1963," says Rob Bowman, professor of ethnomusicology in York’s Faculty of Fine Arts. Not only is Dylan always re-inventing himself, he’s also constantly re-shaping his classic material, Bowman explains.

"There is not a single person in modern popular music who has not been directly or indirectly influenced by Bob Dylan…in a way, Dylan invented modern rock," Bowman says. Bowman says Dylan changed the possibilities for language in pop music and helped transform it into a legitimate art form. "(He represents) the transformation from the pop artist as entertainer to the rock music as artist…he didn’t do it alone, but he spearheaded it."

Faith group honours Lakhani family

The Canadian Council of Christians and Jews honoured the Asper family of Manitoba and the Lakhani family of Toronto last night for their contributions to "the fabric of Canadian culture and society, wrote the National Post Nov. 23. The two eminent families were presented with the Human Relations Award at the organization’s 60th annual anniversary gala before more than 650 guests at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto.

The Lakhanis, led by Hassanali Lakhani, founded Toronto’s Noor Cultural Centre, which is dedicated to promoting Islamic culture while respecting diversity in people and religions, wrote the Post. The centre collaborates with York University on various events, including a lecture series.

Middleton says no late fees for videos was a ‘dumb idea’

Barely a year after Rogers Video adopted a "no-late-fee" policy for movie rentals at its national chain of 288 video stores, the company has introduced a new "pay-per-day" policy that boils down to charging people up to $4 extra if they fail to return top new releases on time, wrote the Toronto Star Nov. 23.

"I thought no late fees was a dumb idea in the first place," said Alan Middleton, marketing professor in York’s Schulich School of Business. "For the most popular movies, you either need to significantly increase your inventory or risk making people angry.” Middleton said Rogers may also be trying to squeeze money out of a dying business so it can be invested in more promising products, such as its video-on-demand service.

Theatre alumna  takes on a ‘Porn Life’

It may not be a lifestyle to which she’s accustomed, but local actor Rebecca Nicholson (BFA ’03) will spend the next few weeks immersed in Porn Life, wrote Toronto’s City Centre Nov. 22. Nicholson will star in the tawdrily titled play, a comedy that sends up the adult film genre with a mockumentary-style look at the behind-the-scenes lives of a fictitious porn film crew.

In the play, she portrays a veteran of the adult film industry who is looking to return to the movies after a forced retirement. While she loves the heightened comedic elements in the play, Nicholson said she still gets plenty of raised eyebrows from others who have not seen the play. "When I talk about it, I get a lot of weird looks and I’ve had a lot of people ask me ‘is there nudity’?" she said. "But the good thing is that people are definitely interested in it, and I hope people open their eyes and ears to it."

On air

  • York alumna Kulsoom Anwer (BA ’03, BEd ’03, MEd ’05) and Carl James, professor in Yorks’ Faculty of Education, spoke about black-only schools on TVO’s “The Agenda” Nov. 22.
  • Adjunct Professor James Morton and Professor Alan Young, both of York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, spoke about the issue of assisted suicide, on CTV’s “The Verdict” Nov. 22.