Our sordid past

25 02 2006

It’s hard for me to think of reasons why a scientist and doctor would be induced to perform such “experiments,” but this is part of the past psychiatric and psychological scientists need to face up to. We have done some pretty horrific things.

Brainwash victims win cash claims – Sunday Times – Times Online:

Using techniques similar to those portrayed in the celebrated novel the Manchurian Candidate, it was believed that people could be brainwashed and reprogrammed to carry out specific acts.

Cameron developed a range of depatterning “treatments” while director of the Allan Memorial Institute at McGill University.

Patients were woken from drug-induced stupors two or three times a day for multiple electric shocks. In a specially designed “sleep room” made famous by Anne Collins’s book of the same name, Cameron placed a speaker under the patient’s pillow and relayed negative messages for 16 hours a day.

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Mind Hacks: The ‘painful realism’ of eating disorders

22 02 2006

Our Abnormal Psychology course is studying eating disorders this week, so it’s timely that this comes from Mind Hacks. It reports on a study indicating women with symptoms of eating disorders are more accurate judges of their bodies (when compared with a panel of judges). Take a gander:

Mind Hacks: The ‘painful realism’ of eating disorders:

This shows a lack of a ‘self serving attribution bias’ which is a normal tendency to over-attribute positive things to ourselves and negative things to other people or situations.

A recent review of the research suggested that this bias is usually strongly present in most people. It has been suggested that this may be useful, as it might emotionally cushion us from some of life’s hardships.

People with certain forms of mental illness, particularly depression, tend not to have this bias, however, meaning they actually view the world more accurately – an effect coined ‘depressive realism’.

Jansen’s study suggests a similar ‘painful realism’ effect may be present in people with eating disorders, although it’s not clear whether this is specific to body perception, or whether it is primarily associated with emotional difficulties that often accompany conditions like anorexia.

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Speaking of Value-Neutrality in Science…

18 02 2006

When we discuss the scientific method and whether science is value-neutral in my General Psychology class, we review the various ways values can be infused into science, willingly or not. This one seems to be willingly value-laden. The editor’s argument against publishing was that there was nothing compelling enough in the article in terms of interpretation. But, I think the best science presents the data, with a side-view toward the implications. It’s just important to have the data out there. In this case, the values of the editors intervened. The author of the rejected article published it in an online journal.

This is via the excellent weblog, MindHacks.

Telegraph | Connected | Scientists are split on the different ways men and women think:

Peter Lawrence, a biologist and fellow of the Royal Society, accused Science of being “gutless” after it explained that its decision was because the piece did not offer “a strategy on how to deal with the gender issue”.

In his paper, Mr Lawrence questioned why, when 60 per cent of biology students are female, only 10 per go on to become professors.

This “leaky pipeline” has been blamed on discrimination and a lack of choice which, if corrected, will produce equal numbers of men and women in science.

But Mr Lawrence dismissed “the cult of political correctness” that insists men and women are “equivalent, identical even” and argued that “men and women are born different”.

The journal considered the article for seven months and, after making a number of changes, gave Mr Lawrence a publication date, proofs and a chance to order reprints.

But at the last minute he received an e-mail from Donald Kennedy, the editor-in-chief, in which he said that the journal was not going to publish the article.

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Unknown White Male – Memory and Identity

17 02 2006

A new documentary probes the phenomenon of retrograde amnesia. It is the story of Douglas Bruce, who experiences profound loss of existing memories. He “wakes up” on a subway one morning, realizing that he has no knowledge of who he is, where he is going, or how he got there. The movie covers 18 months of his “new” life. This quote is from the movie’s website, which includes some quotes from Douglas:
Unknown White Male:

Who am I? I’m still trying to figure that out everyday. Dr. Daniel Schacter {an expert on memory} suggests that personal knowledge about the past forms a set of memories that mold the core of personal identity. Having less than two years of episodic memories I think I am probably changing everyday as I experience different aspects of life. It’s difficult to have a sense of self as i think it depends inherently on remembering one’s past. I have asked people what I was like before the accident, to try and see if the person I might have been feels like the person I am now, but people’s subjective remembering of me, is so diverse that if anything it makes it more confusing.

The movie’s site also has an interview with Daniel Schacter, a memory researcher who is cited in the text for my General Psychology class:
Unknown White Male:

I think that the sum total of our identities is all dependent on memory but you can break that down into different kinds of memory. For example, you might lose your episodic memory but retain your semantic memory. And if that happens, you will retain some aspects of your identity but not all.

If you live here in the hinterlands of South Carolina, don’t hold your breath waiting for it to play here. It’s not scheduled to play nationally until March, and even then in a few cities. The theaters around here prefer movies with many more explosions in them. Maybe it’ll come to Atlanta, or maybe we’ll have to wait for DVD.

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Stephen Jay Gould on probability in science

8 02 2006

A great quote attributed to Stephen Jay Gould came across my browser window today:

Quote Details: Stephen Jay Gould: In science, ‘fact’ can… – The Quotations Page:

“In science, ‘fact’ can only mean ‘confirmed to such a degree that it would be perverse to withhold provisional assent.’ I suppose that apples might start to rise tomorrow, but the possibility does not merit equal time in physics classrooms.”

Stephen Jay Gould
US author, naturalist, paleontologist, & popularizer of science (1941 – 2002)

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Mind Hacks: Fear of clowns

8 02 2006

I have a friend who has a fear (or perhaps loathing) of clowns…

Mind Hacks: Fear of clowns:

Coulrophobia [fear of clowns] is most commonly triggered by a traumatic experience in childhood, said Steven Luel, a psychologist in New York specializing in anxiety and phobias.

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The trouble with drug treatments

8 02 2006

An interesting article in Prospect Magazine examines the difficult choices psychiatrists have to make when prescribing treatments for mental disorders. (thanks to Mind Hacks for pointing this out) The thesis of the article (that fat is not beautiful) is troubling, but in any event, the rest is quite good. It’s a story of a teenager with early-onset psychosis…

Her story: ‘Beautiful madness’ by Alexander Linklater | Prospect Magazine February 2006 issue 119:

Nia had revealed little to her parents of what was really going on inside her head. But the soft-spoken psychiatrist at the local adolescent mental health centre won her confidence and she began to tell him about the trains. A railway line ran a few hundred yards past the bottom of their garden, far enough away for the family to ignore it. Nevertheless, Nia said she could hear people talking about her inside the painted steel carriages. In the clank of heavy rolling stock she could pick out snatches of conversations about her—derogatory insinuations that crept into her room through the plastic veneer of the double-glazing. She also told him that she had seen things on television. The newsreaders had begun looking at her. In the corners of their eyes she began to read signs. They were sending her messages; messages that linked up with the voices on the trains.

The consultant favoured Olanzapine for Nia; he had found the drug to work well in her age group despite concerns about weight gain and diabetes. Other modern choices include Quetiapine, though many clinicians think it a weaker drug, and Risperidone, which can also cause weight gain and stiffness. The older drugs like Chlorpromazine and Haloperidol were felt to be “dirtier” and to have worse side effects, including the irreversible lip-smacking and protruding tongue movements of tardive dyskinesia. Seasoned sceptics argue that not much, fundamentally, has changed since the 1950s, apart from refining the choice of side-effects. The young psychiatrist wrote Nia up for Olanzapine—10mg, the regular dose. The drug being a sedative, Nia took it at night. She began to sleep.

Not much changed for five days. Then, one morning, Nia was transformed. She left her bedroom, came to meals, had normal conversations with staff. Her face filled out with ordinary human expressions. A day later she was even laughing. A young woman, an intelligent teenager, had reappeared; the psychosis seemed to have left her.

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Neuroimaging the Super Bowl ads

7 02 2006

A group of neuroscientists at UCLA ran the Super Bowl ads for subjects in a Functional MRI (fMRI) scanner to look at brain activity to see if any of the ads surpassed others in certain brain function areas. Turns out one did, way above the others…

WHO REALLY WON THE SUPER BOWL? By Marco Iacoboni :

We have now completed our analyses on the fMRI data from five healthy volunteers that were studied last night at the UCLA Brain Mapping Center while they were watching Super Bowl ads. We tested a total of 24 ads, 21 Super Bowl ads and three ‘test ads’ that were previously shown. Our results show that the overwhelming winner among the Super Bowl ads is the Disney – NFL ‘I am going to Disney’ ad. The Disney ad elicited strong responses in orbito-frontal cortex and ventral striatum, two brain regions associated with processing of rewards. Also, the Disney ad induced robust responses in mirror neuron areas, indicating identification and empathy. Further, the circuit for cognitive control, encompassing anterior cingulate cortex and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, was highly active while watching the Disney ad. We consider all these features positive markers of brain responses to the ad. In second place, the Sierra Mist ad, activated the same brain regions but less so than the Disney ad.

Another interesting finding was amygdala activation:

Remember the end of the FedEx ad, when the caveman is crushed by the dinosaur? We looked at the activity in the amygdala, a tiny brain structure (see picture below) critical for emotional processing in general, especially responding to threat and fearful stimuli.

There is a big jump in amygdala activity when the dinosaur crushes the caveman, as shown below. The scene looks funny and has been described as funny by lots of people, but your amygdala still perceives it as threatening, another example of disconnect between verbal reports on ads and brain activity while viewing the ads.

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Unkindest cut of all

4 02 2006

The Times (UK) has an article about “cutting,” the use of self-mutilation as a means of emotionally expressing things that people otherwise feel unable to express. One of the psychologists interviewed points out that it replaces fainting spells and paralysis which might have been used in Freud’s time, although I find that specious and would question such a claim.

Unkindest cut of all – Health – Times Online:

The UK has the highest incidence of self-harm in Europe, says the Mental Health Foundation and the Camelot Foundation, which are jointly conducting the UK’s first inquiry into self-harm. Early findings show that one teenager in ten self-harms by cutting their skin, burning, scalding, hitting, scratching, hair pulling or swallowing poisons. Children as young as 7 are doing it. Girls outnumber boys by seven to one, but boys’ rates of self-harm have nearly doubled since the 1980s. More than 24,000 teenagers end up in hospital in the UK each year after deliberately harming themselves.

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Study Reveals How to Become a Highly Creative Person » Quantum Biocommunication

4 02 2006

The weblog “Quantum Biocommunication” has some interesting quotes from a new book on the psychology of creativity. The book’s author, R. Keith Sawyer, seems to place video games, and Hollywood movies, and—GASP!—Microsoft’s operating system in the same category of creativity as a Van Gogh painting. That makes me skeptical and wonder exactly how he goes about operationalizing creativity. It could be argued that what comes out of Hollywood in movie form is no more creative that creating a new junk food. The Starry Night is certainly more creative than a new junk food!

Study Reveals How to Become a Highly Creative Person:

“No one is born highly creative,” says R. Keith Sawyer, Ph.D., associate professor of education and of psychology, both in Arts & Sciences. “Psychologists studying creativity have discovered that it is based on cognitive processes we all share. Creativity is not the result of some magic brain region that some people have and others don’t.”

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