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Washington State University
CAS Connect Summer 2014

Exploding heads, ancient skull trigger headline explosion

What does it take to spark an international media explosion these days (short of spending months hyping a Kardashian wedding)?

Publishing research about an alarmingly named sleep disorder like “exploding head syndrome” apparently works. So does breakthrough research that explodes long-held theories about the origins of ancient Americans.

Two pioneering studies by CAS faculty representing three departments touched off news explosions across the globe this spring.

Psychologist Brian Sharpless’s exploration of the sleep disorder “exploding head syndrome” drew attention from scientific and popular press worldwide. Meanwhile, the discovery by anthropologist and biologist Brian Kemp of a genetic link between ancient humans sparked an international press frenzy of its own.

Details from Sharpless’s investigation of the intriguingly named syndrome appeared in scores of print, broadcast, and online media across Washington and the United States and in more than a dozen languages and countries, including Belgium, Croatia, Hungary, Indonesia, Malaysia, Norway, Poland, Romania, and Turkey.

Newspapers in Germany, France, and Brazil requested interviews, and New York Magazine, Fox News, Huffington Post, International Business Times UK, and Sleep Medicine Reviews published articles. Others that got in on the buzz range from Wonder Woman and Fashion Times to Nature World News, MaxHealth, Science World Report, and Neuroscience News.

Brian Kemp examines a 12,000-year-old tooth. Photo: James Chatters
Brian Kemp examines a 12,000-year-old tooth. Photo: James Chatters

Kemp’s study of mitochondrial DNA extracted from a tooth of a 12,000-year-old skull found in Yucatan made global headlines by shattering some previous theories about the earliest inhabitants of the Americas. Numerous scientific and news publications covered the story—from the esteemed journal Science, which first published the research, to Yahoo News, and Archeology News Report to Smithsonian magazine.


Brian SharplessBrian Sharpless is an associate professor of psychology and director of the Psychology Clinic at WSU.


Brian KempBrian Kemp is an associate professor jointly appointed inanthropology and biological sciences.