Job Vacancies: Associate and Assistant Professors in Psychology related to Global Brain Health at Trinity College Dublin

Associate and Assistant Professors in Psychology related to Global Brain Health at Trinity College Dublin

The Global Brain Health Institute (GBHI) is a joint venture of Trinity College Dublin and the University of California at San Francisco that aims to train national and international Fellows and Scholars to become leaders in brain health, with a view to developing scalable interventions and policies that will reduce the incidence and impact of dementia worldwide. These four academic positions in the School of Psychology are open to exceptional scholars committed to the training, teaching and research mission of GBHI (50% of the post) and also developing a strong associated research programme in brain health within the School of Psychology and, where appropriate to the candidate’s background, also within the Institute of Neuroscience at Trinity College Dublin. Applications from individuals with a background in human psychology research with a strong research record in a field related to brain health, such as cognitive neuroscience, neuropsychology or health psychology, for instance, would be welcome.

For further details, see:

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Torture doesn’t work, says science: Why are we still doing it? Review in New Scientist

“Enhanced interrogation” may get someone to talk, but there’s no evidence that it’s the truth. A new book cross examines the true consequences of torture (review by Carl Elliott, MD, PhD Professor, Center for Bioethics, University of Minnesota).

Source: Torture doesn’t work, says science: Why are we still doing it?

A review of Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation (Amazon) or from Harvard University Press.

Why Torture Doesn’t Work is a valuable book. O’Mara builds his case like a prosecutor, citing scientific studies and relentlessly poking holes in absurdities and inconsistencies in documents such as the “Torture Memos”. Whether science matters to those who defend torture is another matter, as O’Mara knows: their motivation is often punitive, not practical. But once torture is imposed, the consequences, he says, are that it will be “ineffective, pointless, morally appalling, and unpredictable in its outcomes”.

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The Secret Behind Anton Corbijn’s Signature Look

A respected photographer and filmmaker, Anton Corbijn’s work goes on show in Berlin

Source: The Secret Behind Anton Corbijn’s Signature Look

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Latest reviews from Nature and Science of ‘Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation’, Harvard University Press, 2015 – Now available

Display in Politics and Prose, Washington, DC

Display in Politics and Prose, Washington, DC

Instead of simply providing utilitarian arguments, [O’Mara] argues that there is no evidence from psychology or neuroscience for many of the specious justifications of torture as an information-gathering tool. Providing an abundance of gruesome detail, O’Mara marshals vast, useful information about the effects of such practices on the brain and the body.Lasana T. Harris, Nature

Does torture actually work? To be sure, it can compel people to confess to crimes and to repudiate their religious and political beliefs. But there is a world of difference between compelling someone to speak and compelling them to tell the truth… Yet the assumption underlying the ticking time bomb defense is that abusive questioning reliably causes people to reveal truthful information that they would otherwise refuse to disclose. Few scholars have scrutinized this assumption—and none with the rigor, depth, and clarity of Shane O’Mara in his excellent book, Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation… Invoking the relevant science, he shows that torture undermines the very neurocognitive mechanisms requisite for recalling veridical information from memory.Richard McNally, Science

A catalog of the scientific evidence of how torture is at best ineffective, usually counterproductive, and always inhumane. In his exhaustive examination of the psychological literature on human (and animal) stress responses, O’Mara combs through numerous studies demonstrating how those stress responses are related to memory retrieval and communication, which are the stated goals of the U.S. military’s ‘enhanced interrogation techniques.’ The author’s main argument—that we could argue forever about the ethics of torture, but the point is moot if the techniques don’t even work to solicit the information sought—is confirmed over and over as he works through experiments on the effects of sleep deprivation, pain, drowning, heating, cooling, sensory deprivation, and more. The experiments range from the well‐known obedience experiments of Stanley Milgram to lesser‐known studies that measured the cognitive effects of changes in core body temperature. O’Mara leaves no stone unturned as he meticulously details the procedures and outcomes of each experiment… Everything you never wanted to know—but probably should—about interrogation techniques and outcomes.Kirkus Reviews

O’Mara has written a sober, convincing argument that torture is practically worthless and morally disgraceful.Publishers Weekly

With accurate and compelling neuroscience, this book will be valuable to individuals outside the neuroscience world—in politics, in the military—who should know the scientific basis of torture as they make and execute policy in this area.Howard Eichenbaum, Boston University

One of the most powerful arguments one can make against a practice is that it is self-defeating, given its own goals. This is a highly unusual book on torture—terrifically interesting.Henry Shue, Merton College, University of Oxford

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Written for the forthcoming Trauma Exhibition at Science Gallery Dublin: Trauma and Torture

Ahead of TRAUMA: BUILT TO BREAK opening on Friday the 20th of November 2015, we’re bringing you a series of essays from the curators of the show that explore some of the themes it will explore. Here, in the first of the series, neuroscientist Shane O’Mara looks at the effect trauma and torture has on us as human beings.


Trauma: Late 17th century: from Greek, literally ‘wound’; a deeply distressing or disturbing experience; emotional shock following a stressful event or a physical injury, which may lead to long-term neurosis; physical injury.” (Oxford English Dictionary).

 Trauma, a little word, portending so much: the aftermath of a terrible experience, the feeling of being tested, tried, and falling short. The transitory or enduring loss of autonomy and agency; the knowledge that life may never be the same again, because trauma leaves you different to the way you were before.

Trauma is something that has happened, something that has left its mark. Something unintentional. Something noxious. It is also something that might happen, something to be avoided, but also something to be prepared for. Trauma leaves its traces explicitly and implicitly, in ways sayable and unsayable. Trauma implies a rupture — between what went before, and what happens afterward. Trauma makes its experience felt through change. Changes in relationships with yourself, with others, with the world at large. Trauma survivors often say that they are changed and altered by the experience; that they ‘were not like this before’.

We can be deeply affected by the trauma of others. We possess a vicarious and automatic response to seeing another living being in distress. Our brains possess a specialised network (the ‘pain matrix’) that automatically and reflexively responds to the distress, pain and despair of another, and allows us the feelings of empathy and sympathy for the suffering of another. Indeed, so deep is our response to trauma, that whole occupational groups are devoted, often at great risk to themselves, to reporting on or alleviating the trauma experienced by others.

We humans, at our core, are social beings: we live in a social world, with its simple kindnesses – interactions that smooth everyday life. Trauma arising as an uncontrolled and uncontrollable assault on body and brain by another human being looms particularly large in our response to, and even the recovery from, trauma. The potential for this kind of assault looms large in our imaginations, our literatures, in our art. One special kind of trauma — torture — has been with us for all of recorded history. Torture involves the deliberate imposition of extremes of pain and suffering by one person upon another. Torture is a particular rupture of our social world, an uncontrolled and almost uncontrollable experience of pain and suffering for which our past social lives offer little by way of a guide. Hitherto safe assumptions about how we interact with others must be setaside. Democracies, when they secretly employ torture, use ‘white tortures’ — repeated traumas that attack our integrated psychological, neural, and physiological functions at their core. The tortures employed are variations on fundamental themes: oxygen deprivation through near-drowning and suffocation; shackling and stress positions; extended sleep deprivation; freezing, cooling, and starving the body and brain; overloading the senses with loud noise and bright lights; a drip-feed assault on personal dignity through facial slaps and holds, enforced nakedness, and the imposition of adult diapers; the slow destruction of the integrity of personhood through social isolation, social deprivation, and a deliberate program of deindividualisation; confinement in cramped boxes; threats involving guns and drills and attack dogs; pretended assaults on the loved ones of the captive. Unsurprisingly, torture survivors often live a lifetime with the visible and invisible scars of their experiences.

Chronic and severe traumas compromises integrated psychological functioning and cause loss of tissue in the brain regions involved in memory (the hippocampal formation), and decreases activity in brain regions concerned with intention, planning, and the general regulation of complex behavior (the frontal lobes). Finally, it causes increases in the activity of brain regions concerned with fear and threat-related information, a core problem in post-traumatic stress disorder and generalised anxiety disorder. And what of the torturers themselves? Because these events have happened in a democracy, there is no secret society of fellow torturers from whom to draw succour, social support, and reward. Engaging in physical and emotional assaults upon the defenceless in order to elicit worthless confessions and dubious intelligence is a degrading, humiliating, and, finally, a traumatic experience. The torturers too become broken, and their fate is the bottle, pills, or worse.

Is the experience of trauma entirely negative? Not necessarily. The phenomenon of ‘post-traumatic growth’ is one experienced by many: dealing with trauma and its aftermath can provide for many individuals (estimates suggest between 30% and 70%) new perspectives that were not previously available to them. These can include simply having renewed and deepened perspective on life and living; a re-evaluation of what are the truly important things in life; the simple sense that you can survive the worst that life can throw at you.

This finally leaves us with deep paradox: trauma is an integral part of life, and trauma is something that life can profit from, enhancing resilience, and providing lessons to us all.



Shane O’Mara is Professor of Experimental Brain Research at Trinity College Dublin, and Director of the Trinity College Institute of Neuroscience. He is author of ‘Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation’ (Harvard University Press, 2015) and a co-curator of TRAUMA: BUILT TO BREAK, an exhibition and events programme exploring psychological, physical, and societal traumas.

Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation (Amazon) or from Harvard University Press

TRAUMA opens to the public on Friday the 20th of November 2015 and runs until the 21st of February 2016. Find out more at

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Nature Book review – Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation

Lasana T. Harris commends a book exposing the lack of scientific basis to ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’.

In 2009, following the abuse of prisoners at its Guantanamo Bay detention camp, the US government made a significant decision. It moved the responsibility for ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ from the CIA to a new government organization: the High-Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG). The move upset many CIA insiders; torture had been in their toolkit since the early days of the cold war. The remarks of one official at a HIG-organized conference on torture in Washington DC can be summed up as: how could a new agency, created to both conduct and study torture, replace the decades of practice and perfection attained by the CIA? By adding a scientific component, responded the newly appointed head of the HIG.

This exchange highlights the theme of neuroscientist Shane O’Mara’s Why Torture Doesn’t Work. Rightly, O’Mara takes a moral stand against torture (forced retrieval of information from the memories of the unwilling). However, instead of simply providing utilitarian arguments, he argues that there is no evidence from psychology or neuroscience for many of the specious justifications of torture as an information-gathering tool. Providing an abundance of gruesome detail, O’Mara marshals vast, useful information about the effects of such practices on the brain and the body.

‘Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation’ can be ordered from:

Amazon (.com)

Amazon (

Harvard University Press

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U.S. Police Leaders Demand an End to Mass Incarceration

“We need less incarceration, not more,” the group said.

Source: U.S. Police Leaders Demand an End to Mass Incarceration

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