Cover Art for my new book with HUP – Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation

I have a new book due to appear (Autumn/Fall 2015) with Harvard University Press. Here’s the cover art (which is copyrighted HUP, so usual warnings apply regarding reproduction):

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Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation

Shane O’Mara

Torture is banned because it is cruel and inhumane. But as Shane O’Mara writes in this account of the human brain under stress, torture should never be condoned because it does not work the way torturers assume it does.

In countless films and TV shows such as Homeland and 24, torture is portrayed as a harsh necessity. If cruelty can extract secrets that will save lives, so be it. CIA officers and others conducted torture using precisely this justification. But does torture accomplish what its defenders say it does? For ethical reasons, there are no scientific studies of torture. But neuroscientists know a lot about how the brain reacts to fear, extreme heat and cold, starvation, thirst, sleep deprivation, and immersion in freezing water, all tools of the torturer’s trade. These stressors create profound problems for memory, mood, and thinking, and sufferers predictably produce information that is deeply unreliable—and, for intelligence purposes, even counter-productive. As O’Mara guides us through the neuroscience of suffering, he reveals the brain to be much more complex than the brute calculations of torturers have allowed, and he points the way to a humane approach to interrogation, founded in the science of brain and behavior.

Torture may be effective in forcing confessions, as in Stalin’s Russia. But if we want information that we can depend on to save lives, O’Mara writes, our model should be Napoleon: “It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile.”

Bio

Shane O’Mara is Professor of Experimental Brain Research at Trinity College, Dublin, and Director of the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience.

More details to follow. Text is c. 93.6k words.

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Worried about the ‘zero risk’ approach to childhood? Relief is now just a click away

Originally posted on Rethinking Childhood:

Cover image for No FearI am pleased to announce that my 2007 book No Fear: Growing up in a risk averse society can now be downloaded direct from this website as a pdf, thanks to my publishers Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation.

I am also pleased to announce that the mighty Playscapes playground design blog will be offering No Fear as a free-to-download resource. The offer coincides with that blog’s publication of the first of a series of design-related pieces of mine which are to be reposted on the blog.

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Blurb for my new book with HUP – Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation

I have a book due to appear (Autumn/Fall 2015) with Harvard University Press.  My Editor is Ian Malcolm, who has been a wonderful help and great source of advice and sound judgement the whole way through. Lots of difficult terrain is navigated – ethical, instrumental, psychological, epistemological, physiological, deontological, neuropsychiatric and neuropsychological to name a few.

Front quote:

“One did not know what happened inside the Ministry of Love, but it was possible to guess: tortures, drugs, delicate instruments that registered your nervous reactions, gradual wearing-down by sleeplessness and solitude and persistent questioning.”

(George Orwell, 1984)

The blurb:

Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation

Shane O’Mara

Torture is banned because it is cruel and inhumane. But as Shane O’Mara writes in this account of the human brain under stress, torture should never be condoned because it does not work the way torturers assume it does.

In countless films and TV shows such as Homeland and 24, torture is portrayed as a harsh necessity. If cruelty can extract secrets that will save lives, so be it. CIA officers and others conducted torture using precisely this justification. But does torture accomplish what its defenders say it does? For ethical reasons, there are no scientific studies of torture. But neuroscientists know a lot about how the brain reacts to fear, extreme heat and cold, starvation, thirst, sleep deprivation, and immersion in freezing water, all tools of the torturer’s trade. These stressors create profound problems for memory, mood, and thinking, and sufferers predictably produce information that is deeply unreliable—and, for intelligence purposes, even counter-productive. As O’Mara guides us through the neuroscience of suffering, he reveals the brain to be much more complex than the brute calculations of torturers have allowed, and he points the way to a humane approach to interrogation, founded in the science of brain and behavior.

Torture may be effective in forcing confessions, as in Stalin’s Russia. But if we want information that we can depend on to save lives, O’Mara writes, our model should be Napoleon: “It has always been recognized that this way of interrogating men, by putting them to torture, produces nothing worthwhile.”

Bio

Shane O’Mara is Professor of Experimental Brain Research at Trinity College, Dublin, and Director of the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience.

More details to follow.

Text is 93.6k words (approx 240 references; some of them below)

2015-02-21 17.21.19

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SCIENCE GALLERY PODCAST: Science Gallery Dublin, Episode 7: Brain For Business

The human brain is the most complex structure in the known universe. Brain For Business is a new series of events at Science Gallery that explores the latest findings from neuroscience and psychology and applies them to the world of business and entrepreneurship. Hosted by Jess Kelly from Newstalk, the first installment featured neuroscientist Shane O’Mara in conversation with Stephen McIntyre, MD of Twitter Ireland.

Music by Concretism.

Sound Design by Maurice Kelliher.

Produced and Presented by Shaun O’Boyle.

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Decoding signal processing in thalamo-hippocampal circuitry: implications for theories of memory and spatial processing.

Our latest paper, focusing on signals afferent to the hippocampal formation as determinants of hippocampal dynamics, and therefore memory and spatial cognition [download].

Brain Res. 2014 Dec 9. pii: S0006-8993(14)01672-2. doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2014.12.003.

Decoding signal processing in thalamo-hippocampal circuitry: implications for theories of memory and spatial processing.

Tsanov M, O׳Mara SM

Highlights

  • Thalamo-hippocampal projections are vital for episodic memory formation.
  • There is extensive connectivity between these structures.
  • We examine the signals processed within this circuitry.
  • We focus on head directionality and theta rhythm.
  • Thalamic inputs modulate hippocampal processing.

A major tool in understanding how information is processed in the brain is the analysis of neuronal output at each hierarchical level through which neurophysiological signals are propagated. Since the experimental brain operation performed on Henry Gustav Molaison (known as patient H.M.) in 1953, the hippocampal formation has gained special attention, resulting in a very large number of studies investigating signals processed by the hippocampal formation. One of the main information streams to the hippocampal formation, vital for episodic memory formation, arises from thalamo-hippocampal projections, as there is extensive connectivity between these structures. This connectivity is sometimes overlooked by theories of memory formation by the brain, in favour of theories with a strong cortico-hippocampal flavour. In this review, we attempt to address some of the complexity of the signals processed within the thalamo-hippocampal circuitry. To understand the signals encoded by the anterior thalamic nuclei in particular, we review key findings from electrophysiological, anatomical, behavioural and computational studies. We include recent findings elucidating the integration of different signal modalities by single thalamic neurons; we focus in particular on the propagation of two prominent signals: head directionality and theta rhythm. We conclude that thalamo-hippocampal processing provides a centrally important, substantive, and dynamic input modulating and moderating hippocampal spatial and mnemonic processing.

This article is part of a Special Issue entitled SI: Brain and Memory.

KEYWORDS: Anterior thalamus; Head direction cells; Hippocampus; Place cells; Theta rhythm

PMID: 25498107

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The Art and Science of Failure

Originally posted on Longreads Blog:

We are excited to share a reading (and watching!) list on science and failure from guest contributor Louise Lief. In 2014 Louise Lief began the Science and the Media project, an initiative that explores how science relates to our everyday lives. She is the former deputy director of the International Reporting Project.

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How the Wellcome Trust Spends its Money

Originally posted on Wellcome Trust Blog:

The most recent Wellcome Trust annual report showed healthy returns on our investment portfolio, which should allow us to spend in excess of £4 billion in the period 2014-2019. But where do we spend our money? Today, we are releasing the latest data on our grants portfolio and institutional application rates. Alyson Fox, Head of Grants Management at the Wellcome Trust, explains why it’s important for us to be so open…

Anyone who has applied to the Wellcome Trust for funding will know that our assessment process is rigorous and challenging, but it is also important to us that it is open and transparent.

As part of our continued commitment to openness, we are (for the second year running) publishing a range of infographics that show data on our recent funding decisions and our active portfolio of research. We are proud of our varied portfolio and we think that…

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