14-17: Join more than 10,000 psychologists and brain scientists at the American Psychological Association’s 116th Annual Convention. Discuss the latest research in intelligence, emotions and mental health or just sit back and listen to the impressive lineup of speakers. This year’s keynote address will come from Malcolm Gladwell, New Yorker staff writer and best-selling author of The Tipping Point (Back Bay Books, 2002) and Blink (Little, Brown, 2005).
15: What drives some people to break the law and even endanger their lives for the sake of their art? The new documentary Man on Wire delves into the mind of the man who perpetrated what some consider to be the “artistic crime of the century.” In 1974 a tightrope walker named Philippe Petit performed a high-wire routine between the two towers of the World Trade Center for nearly an hour before the New York City police department managed to coax him down. The film celebrates and explores what makes such free spirits tick.
Magnolia Pictures and Discovery Films
6–11: Tired of opening these pages and reading about other people’s brains? Then don’t miss this chance to donate your own neural experiences to science. The British Association for the Advancement of Science and psychologists at the University of Leeds need your “Help!” on their Magical Memory Tour, a study of the link between music and memory. By asking people around the world to share the vivid associations they have with particular Beatles songs, the researchers hope to learn how music—with its strong recollective power—helps to shape personal histories. The results of this mass-participation survey will be launched at the association’s Festival of Science September 6–11.
8–13: As the Games of the XXIX Olympiad are wrapping up in China, Russia will be hosting its own Olympics of the Brain. For its 14th annual conference, the International Organization of Psychophysiology invites attendees to the birthplace of the field. In the late 19th century, Russian neuroscientists and physiologists paved the way for a branch of psychology uniquely concerned with the relations among mind, body and behavior. Lecturers will discuss the neural and autonomic responses that accompany our emotions and cognitive processes, including aggression, anxiety, creativity and consciousness, and address questions such as “What makes humans humane?”
St. Petersburg, Russia
14: The most iconic psychophysiologist, Ivan Petrovich Pavlov, was born in Ryazan, Russia, on this date in 1849. His experimental research on the physiology of digestion won him the 1904 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, and it also led him to first describe the phenomenon of classical conditioning, the research for which he is most famous. While studying canine gastric functions, he noticed that his dogs began to salivate long before receiving any food. Pavlov ultimately showed that this conditioned reflex originated in the cerebral cortex. His study of the link between an animal’s previous experience and its brain-mediated “Pavlovian response” exemplified a new trend in scientific investigation of the complex relations between whole organisms and their environment.
19: Being able to see is a skill most of us take for granted. It is hard enough to imagine the emotional and psychological turmoil that would accompany losing our eyesight, but what if everyone was suddenly unable to see? The new suspense drama Blindness, based on José Saramago’s 1995 novel of the same name, examines the rapid breakdown of social order after the entire population loses this most crucial sense.
Julianne Moore stars.
20: On this day in 1971 the influential psychologist B. F. Skinner appeared on the cover of Time magazine, which proclaimed, “B. F. Skinner Says: We Can’t Afford Freedom.” The story, along with Skinner’s concurrently released book, Beyond Freedom and Dignity (Knopf), expounded his theory that free will is an illusion—human behavior is nothing more than a product of biology and environmental stimuli. To Skinner’s surprise, the article was met with outrage as people took offense to what they saw as an attack on American ideology. Despite the controversy, his ideas paved the way for years of important research.