London’s film, food and science festival in an abandoned psychiatric hospital is back as the Shuffle Festival kicks off its Winter run.
Hosted in the old buildings of St Clement’s Hospital the festival has an impressive programme including everything from Jarvis Cocker to Brian Cox.
There are also regular talks from working scientists including a couple of standout-looking ones on the neuroscience of religious experience and circadian rhythms.
There’s also a full film programme, DJs, a restaurant, music, theatre and an art gallery with a commissioned show.
As with the summer Shuffle Festival, the profits go to the East London Community Land Trust that will ensure that when the hospital gets redeveloped, affordable housing will be available to the local community. A welcome change from the usual practice of converting London’s old asylums into exorbitant luxury flats.
If it’s anything like last time, it should be awesome. And if you didn’t go in August, this may be your last chance to say you’ve experienced a festival in an abandoned Victorian-era asylum.
The full programme is at the link below. See you there!
Link to the Shuffle Festival.
It’s wonderfully written to the point of being painful and if you’re not good with needles, you’ll probably feel a bit queasy when reading it.
But because each heroin molecule gets transformed into two morphine molecules (hence the medical name for heroin – diamorphine) the feeling can be a little different because increased concentration can apparently make the high more intense.
Neurochemically, however, the action in each opioid receptor is the same.
As morphine is used more widely in medicine than diamorphine, it is more likely to be used and turn up in cases of addiction.
As we’ve discussed previously, addiction and abuse of medical drugs by doctors is linked to clinical speciality – likely due to both knowledge of and access to particular compounds.
The AddictionBlog article is a strikingly written, honest, detailed and psychologically insightful piece if you want an insight into this curious corner of medical drug abuse.
Link to ‘What it’s like to take and withdraw from morphine’
By Tom Stafford
The Guardian: Male and female brains wired differently, scans reveal
The Atlantic: Male and female brains really are built differently
An analysis of 949 brain scans shows significant sex differences in the connections between different brain areas.
What they actually did
Researchers from Philadelphia took data from 949 brain scans and divided them into three age groups and by gender. They then analysed the connections between 95 separate divisions of each brain using a technique called Diffusion Tensor Imaging.
With this data they constructed “connectome” maps, which show the network of the strength of connection between those brain regions.
Statistical testing of this showed significant differences between these networks according to sex – the average men’s network was more connected within each side of the brain, and the average women’s network was better connected between the two hemispheres. These differences emerged most strongly after the age of 13 (so weren’t as striking for the youngest group they tested).
How plausible is this?
Everybody knows that men are women have some biological differences – different sizes of brains and different hormones. It wouldn’t be too surprising if there were some neurological differences too. The thing is, we also know that we treat men and women differently from the moment they’re born, in almost all areas of life. Brains respond to the demands we make of them, and men and women have different demands placed on them.
Although a study of brain scans has an air of biological purity, it doesn’t escape from the reality that the people having their brains scanned are the product of social and cultural forces as well as biological ones.
The research itself is a technical tour-de-force which really needs a specialist to properly critique. I am not that specialist. But a few things seem odd about it: they report finding significant differences between the sexes, but don’t show the statistics that allow the reader to evaluate the size of any sex difference against other factors such as age or individual variability. This matters because you can have a statistically significant difference which isn’t practically meaningful. Relative size of effect might be very important.
For example, a significant sex difference could be tiny compared to the differences between people of different ages, or compared to the normal differences between individuals. The question of age differences is also relevant because we know the brain continues to develop after the oldest age tested in the study (22 years).
Any sex difference could plausibly be due to difference in the time-course of development between men and women. But, in general, it isn’t the technical details which I am equipped to critique. It’s a fair assumption to believe what the researchers have found, so let’s turn instead to how it is being interpreted.
One of the authors of this research, as reported in The Guardian, said “the greatest surprise was how much the findings supported old stereotypes”. That, for me, should be a warning sign. Time and time again we find, as we see here, that highly technical and advanced neuroscience is used to support tired old generalisations.
Here, the research assumes the difference it seeks to prove. The data is analysed for sex differences with other categories receiving less or no attention (age, education, training and so on). From this biased lens on the data, a story about fundamental differences is also told. Part of our psychological make-up seems to be to want to assign essences to things – and differences between genders is a prime example of something people want to be true.
Even if we assume this research is reliable it doesn’t tell us about actual psychological differences between men and women. The brain scan doesn’t tell us about behaviour (and, indeed, most of us manage to behave in very similar ways despite large differences in brain structure and connectivity). Bizarrely, the authors seem also to want to use their analysis to support a myth about left brain vs right brain thinking. The “rational” left brain vs the intuitive’ right brain is a distinction that even Michael Gazzaniga, one of the founding fathers of “split brain” studies doesn’t believe any more.
Perhaps more importantly, analysis of how men and women are doesn’t tell you how men and women could be if brought up differently.
When the headlines talk about “hardwiring” and “proof that men and women are different” we can see the role this research is playing in cementing an assumption that people have already made. In fact, the data is silent on how men and women’s brains would be connected if society put different expectations on them.
Given the surprising ways in which brains do adapt to different experiences, it is completely plausible that even these significant “biological” differences could be due to cultural factors.
And even reliable differences between men and women can be reversed by psychological manipulations, which suggests that any underling biological differences isn’t as fundamental as researchers like to claim.
As Shakespeare has Ophelia say in Hamlet: “Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be.”
The original paper: Sex differences in the structural connectome of the human brain
Sophie Scott of UCL has some technical queries about the research – one possibility is that movements made during the scanning could have been different between the sexes and generated the apparent differences in the resulting connectome networks.
Another large study, cited by this current paper, found no differences according to sex.
Cordelia Fine’s book, Delusions of gender: how our minds, society, and neuro-sexism create difference provides essential context for looking at this kind of research.
UPDATE: Cordelia Fine provides her own critique of the paper
Tom Stafford does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
Psychologists have shown humans are poor judges of their own abilities, from sense of humour to grammar. Those worst at it are the worst judges of all.
You’re pretty smart right? Clever, and funny too. Of course you are, just like me. But wouldn’t it be terrible if we were mistaken? Psychologists have shown that we are more likely to be blind to our own failings than perhaps we realise. This could explain why some incompetent people are so annoying, and also inject a healthy dose of humility into our own sense of self-regard.
In 1999, Justin Kruger and David Dunning, from Cornell University, New York, tested whether people who lack the skills or abilities for something are also more likely to lack awareness of their lack of ability. At the start of their research paper they cite a Pittsburgh bank robber called McArthur Wheeler as an example, who was arrested in 1995 shortly after robbing two banks in broad daylight without wearing a mask or any other kind of disguise. When police showed him the security camera footage, he protested “But I wore the juice”. The hapless criminal believed that if you rubbed your face with lemon juice you would be invisible to security cameras.
Kruger and Dunning were interested in testing another kind of laughing matter. They asked professional comedians to rate 30 jokes for funniness. Then, 65 undergraduates were asked to rate the jokes too, and then ranked according to how well their judgements matched those of the professionals. They were also asked how well they thought they had done compared to the average person.
As you might expect, most people thought their ability to tell what was funny was above average. The results were, however, most interesting when split according to how well participants performed. Those slightly above average in their ability to rate jokes were highly accurate in their self-assessment, while those who actually did the best tended to think they were only slightly above average. Participants who were least able to judge what was funny (at least according to the professional comics) were also least able to accurately assess their own ability.
This finding was not a quirk of trying to measure subjective sense of humour. The researchers repeated the experiment, only this time with tests of logical reasoning and grammar. These disciplines have defined answers, and in each case they found the same pattern: those people who performed the worst were also the worst in estimating their own aptitude. In all three studies, those whose performance put them in the lowest quarter massively overestimated their own abilities by rating themselves as above average.
It didn’t even help the poor performers to be given a benchmark. In a later study, the most incompetent participants still failed to realise they were bottom of the pack even when given feedback on the performance of others.
Kruger and Dunning’s interpretation is that accurately assessing skill level relies on some of the same core abilities as actually performing that skill, so the least competent suffer a double deficit. Not only are they incompetent, but they lack the mental tools to judge their own incompetence.
In a key final test, Kruger and Dunning trained a group of poor performers in logical reasoning tasks. This improved participants’ self-assessments, suggesting that ability levels really did influence self-awareness.
Other research has shown that this “unskilled and unaware of it” effect holds in real-life situations, not just in abstract laboratory tests. For example, hunters who know the least about firearms also have the most inaccurate view of their firearm knowledge, and doctors with the worst patient-interviewing skills are the least likely to recognise their inadequacies.
What has become known as the Dunning-Kruger effect is an example of what psychologists call metacognition – thinking about thinking. It’s also something that should give us all pause for thought. The effect might just explain the apparently baffling self belief of some of your friends and colleagues. But before you start getting too smug, just remember one thing. As unlikely as you might think it is, you too could be walking around blissfully ignorant of your ignorance.
A new series of BBC Radio 4′s All in the Mind has just kicked off and to celebrate 25 years of broadcasting they’ve just had three great episodes looking back on the last quarter century of psychology, neuroscience and mental health.
Each make for a interesting discussion of how science and attitudes have changed.
As per BBC usual, you can access the streamed versions at the links above, but you have to go to an entirely separate page for the podcasts.
And because there are no separate podcast pages for specific episodes, I’ve linked them directly below. Here’s hoping that in the next 25 years, the BBC can fix their website.
This is the first of three posts that will cover three important books about how the science of mind, brain and mental health, interfaces with society at large.
First off, I want to discuss an excellent book called Neuro: The New Brain Sciences and the Management of the Mind published this year by sociologists of neuroscience Nikolas Rose and Joelle M. Abi-Rached.
You may be wondering why we need a social study of neuroscience but it becomes clear when we think of how neuroscience has become important.
It is not just due to what has been discovered. Neuroscience research itself, is only driven in part by scientific discovery.
In the main part, it is driven by a complex mix of politics, business, health care needs and public popularity. That’s what provides the funds and makes the scientific discovery possible and this only moderately, some would say weakly, relates to how far we ‘advance’ in terms of learning.
There is also a common idea that discoveries from psychology and neuroscience form the basis of interventions or changes to society, but much of the time, discoveries from psychology and neuroscience are co-opted to justify changes based on social values.
Here’s a really good example from p196 from the chapter on ‘The Antisocial Brain’ that discusses how the neuroscience of plasticity, the adolescent brain and child psychopathology has been used to justify family interventions.
By way of the brain, then, we reach a conclusion that does not differ greatly from arguments reaching back to the late nineteenth century about the effects of the early years on later propensities to problematic conduct.
From Mary Carpenter’s campaigns for colonies for dangerous and perishing children, through the social problem group and “the submerged ten percent” in the early twentieth century, via the mental hygiene movement in the 1930s, and arguments for setting up child welfare services in the years after the Second World War, to the contentious concept of the “cycle of deprivation” in the 1970s, and the interventions of the Head Start program to the Sure Start program – we find repeated arguments that one should minimize a host of social ills, including criminal and antisocial conduct, by governing the child through the family.
In each generation, unsurprisingly, these arguments are made on the basis of whatever happens to be the current mode of objectivity about the development of children – habits, the will, instinct theory, psychoanalysis, and today the brain.
Each time, the scientific programme is received as if it is a new approach to the problem of child deprivation and delinquency, when the success of these programmes lies precisely in the fact that they are largely the same. In this case, based on the idea that the family is the primary point of responsibility and intervention for poor adolescent behaviour.
Similarly, the success of neuroscientific approaches to problems often depends on how acceptable the implications would seem to potential funders because the money has usually to be agreed before significant lines of inquiry can be started.
This is why non-medical behavioural genetics research gets such as hard time. It’s not that it’s necessarily worse science in terms of its empirical methods but it reminds people of unsavoury practices like eugenics that run counter to prevailing values.
Neuro tracks exactly these sorts of interactions through history and between prevailing current interests. It is also brilliant technically, however, and you will actually learn a great deal about neuroscience methods from the book.
From the history and development of brain scanning techniques, to psychiatric drugs, to the rhetorical role of animal models in understanding mental illness, to how our notion of ourselves is changing in light of advances in brain sciences – it’s remarkably wide in scope.
Sociology is famous for its gobbledebook jargon, and this book has none of this, but its only drawback is that it is, in the end, an academic book and is sometimes written without much thought for the general reader.
But if you can tolerate the academic language, it is essential reading. If you want to understand neuroscience – rather than just facts about neuroscience – Neuro is probably one of the most important books you could read.
And the same goes if you are a neuroscientist or just interested in how we, as a society, are integrating the study of the brain into how we live.
Next in this three-part Mind Hacks series on science and society – Ben Goldacre’s Bad Pharma.
Link to more details about Neuro.
Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:
Science News reports on a ‘brain training’ app that actually seems to be a data gathering tool for big data neuropsychology research. Interesting if not a bit ethically dubious.
The US Military’s science wing DARPA wants to fix broken brains and restore lost memories. Interview with deputy director in Science.
Wired Science launches a new neuroscience blog called Brain Watch written by Mind Hacks alumnus Christian Jarrett.
Important piece in Nature about the Many Labs Project which did a mass replication of psychology studies find 10 out of 13 held up.
Slate has an excellent, explicit discussion of the results from the UK’s National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles.
Neurobonkers has an excellent piece reviewing the psychological biases that affect forensic science analyses.
Robots, the ‘uncanny valley’ and identity. Interesting piece in The Telegraph.
The Las Vegas Sun reports on a couple being released from prison after 21 years as evidence for ‘ritual satanic abuse’ based on ‘recovered memories’ and un-validated physical examinations is deemed to be flawed.
A new NeuroPod podcast has hit the wires – this one being a special from the 2013 Society for Neuroscience conference.
Discover magazine reports on a study finding that surprisingly, the more two negotiators match each other’s language styles, the worse things are likely to go.
In 2006, journalist Quinn Norton had a magnet implanted in her finger so she could ‘sense’ magnetic fields.
An article on the ABC Radio National website shows how this simple concept has been taken to its next level by the body modification community to find new ways of integrating magnetic fields into our senses.
Before I was prepped to have a magnet inserted in my fingertip, I had a conversation with my piercer, Kyla Fae, about placement…
I had thought that the only possibility was the finger, but apparently there are many fleshy parts of the body that are viable placement options.
‘I haven’t performed any in genitals, but I’m well aware of people with them,’ said Ms Fae.
‘If you’ve got a magnet in your lady garden or whatever, it will vibrate away near big speakers.’..
Some enthusiasts are also starting to get magnets that act as mini speakers implanted next to their ear. All it takes is a magnetic coil disguised as a necklace, an amplifier and MP3 player to have music piped straight to your brain.
Now imagine that in an MRI scanner. Fast Spin Echo sequence for the win.
Link to ‘Taking body modification to the extreme’.
By Tom Stafford, University of Sheffield
Business Standard: Violent video games make teens eat more, cheat more
Scienceblog.com: Teens ‘Eat more, cheat more’ after playing violent video games
The Times of India: Violent video games make teens cheat more
Playing the violent video game Grand Theft Auto made teenagers more aggressive, more dishonest and lowered their self control.
What they actually did
172 Italian high school students (age 13-19 years old), about half male and half female, took part in an experiment in which they first played a video game for 35 minutes. Half played a non-violent pinball or golf game, and half played one of the ultra-violent Grand Theft Auto games.
During the game they had the opportunity to eat M&M’s freely from a bowl (the amount they scoffed provided a measure of self-control), and after the game they had the opportunity take a quiz to earn raffle tickets (and the opportunity to cheat on the quiz, which provided a measure of dishonesty). They also played a game during which they could deliver unpleasant noises to a fellow player as punishments (which was used to measure of aggression).
Analysis of the results showed that those who played the violent video game had lower scores when it came to the self-control measure, cheated more and were more aggressive. What’s more, these effects were most pronounced for those who had high scores on a scale of “moral disengagement” – which measures how loose your moral thinking is. In other words, if you don’t think too hard about right and wrong, you score highly.
How plausible is this?
This is a well designed study, which uses random allocation to the two groups to try to properly assess causation (does the violent video game cause immoral behaviour?).
The choice of control condition was reasonable (the other video games were tested and found to be just as enjoyed by the participants), and the measures are all reasonable proxies for the things we are interested in. Obviously you can’t tell if weakened self-control for eating chocolate will mean weakened self-control for more important behaviour, but it’s a nice specific measure which is practical in an experiment and which just might connect to the wider concept.
The number of participants is also large enough that we can give the researchers credit for putting in the effort. Getting about 85 people in each group should give a minimum of statistical power, which means any effects might be reliable.
As an experimental psychologist, there’s lots for me to like about this study. The only obvious potential problem that I can see is that of demand effects, subtle cues that can make participants aware of what the experimenter expects to find or how they should behave. The participants were told they were in a study which looked at the effects of video games, so it isn’t impossible that some element of their behaviour was playing up to what they reasonably guessed the researchers were looking for and it doesn’t look like the researchers checked if this might be the case.
You can’t leap to conclusions from a single study, of course – even a well designed one. We should bear in mind the history of moral panics around new technology and media. Today we’re concerned with violent video games, 50 years ago it was comic books and jazz. At least jazz is no longer corrupting young people.
Is our worry about violent video games just another page in the history of adults worrying about what young people are up to? That’s certainly a factor, but unlike jazz, it does seem psychologically plausible that a game where you enjoy reckless killing and larceny might encourage players to be self-indulgent and nasty.
Reviews suggest violent media may be a risk factor for violent behaviour, just like cigarette smoke is a risk factor for cancer. Most people who play video games won’t commit violent acts, just like most people who passive smoke won’t get cancer.
The problem is other research reviews into impact of violent entertainment on our behaviour suggest the evidence for a negative effect is weak and contradictory.
Video games are a specific example of the general topic of if and how media affect our behaviour. Obviously, we are more than complete zombies, helpless to resist every suggestion or example, but we’re also less than completely independent creatures, immune to the influence of other people and all forms of entertainment. Where the balance lies between these extremes is controversial.
For now, I’m going to keep an open mind, but as a personal choice I’m probably not going to get the kids GTA for Christmas.
@PeteEtchells provides a good summary of the scientific (lack of) consensus: What is the link between violent video games and aggression?
Commentary by one researcher on the problems in the field of video game research: The Challenges of Accurate Reporting on Video Game Research
And a contrary research report: A decade long study of over 11,000 children finds no negative impact of video games
Tom Stafford does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.
If you only read one psychology article in the next few months, make it the startling and unsettling Atlantic piece on how ‘people analytics’ is being applied to managing, selecting, and promoting employees.
The idea behind people analytics is that job performance can be measured and predicted by analysing the huge amount of behavioural data generated by the digital tools we use or from specifically designed online tests.
The prediction part comes from analysing data across employees to find out, for example, what characteristics best predict a good team leader, or a poor performer, or someone who needs a specific sort of support or intervention to develop.
The potential power of this data-rich approach is obvious. What begins with an online screening test for entry-level workers ends with the transformation of nearly every aspect of hiring, performance assessment, and management. In theory, this approach enables companies to fast-track workers for promotion based on their statistical profiles; to assess managers more scientifically; even to match workers and supervisors who are likely to perform well together, based on the mix of their competencies and personalities. Transcom plans to do all these things, as its data set grows ever richer. This is the real promise—or perhaps the hubris—of the new people analytics. Making better hires turns out to be not an end but just a beginning. Once all the data are in place, new vistas open up.
In other words, the idea is to develop software that can identify predictors of specific behaviours and use them as the basis of management decisions.
Essentially, you have become a data series in a profit-making algorithm.
It is an important and fascinating article that is worth reading in full as it heralds a future of human resources that will be driven by ultra-personal data.
Link to Atlantic article ‘They’re Watching You at Work’.
Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:
Prosthetics to replace amputated hands can fall into the uncanny valley reports Science News.
The New York Times covers the nascent science of female aggression.
Can gambling machines prevent addiction? asks Scientific American Mind. Answer: of course. Will they? No.
NPR has an excellent piece by neuroscientist Tania Lombroso on whether pictures of brain scans have persuasive power. Only sometimes, it turns out.
The Dream Catcher. Matter has an in-depth piece about sadly over-hippied but genuinely fascinating subject of lucid dreaming.
io9 covers the psychology experiment that led to the phrase “thinking outside the box”.
Brain scans teach us nothing of morality says philosopher of mind Thomas Nagel in a street-fighting review of Joshua Greene’ new book.
NPR reports that your chance is being murdered is heavily to who you have in your social network.
Neuroscientist Kate Mills sets out a programme for understanding the interaction between networked culture and the adolescent brain in a talk from the Serpentine Gallery.
A series of ‘bizarre delusions’ from patients diagnosed with schizophrenia described in a new paper just published in the Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine:
“Some rays are there in me, which create magnetic field and I have the power to affect TV signals. Body is producing charge; whenever I touch anything I get electric current. Some heavenly body comes and makes me powerful and communicates with me.”
“My hands are changed into cat’s paws.”
“I have some special power, if I call the Sun then it will come to me, whenever I look at the Sun, it smiles back at me.”
“My rib-cage is left behind in the bathroom; while I was bathing it got washed away.”
“The heart is moving round the clock in different areas of the trunk.”
“A ray directly from “Delhi University (DU)” used to teach me the engineering course.”
Delusions are one of the central symptoms of psychosis and despite the fact that they can be both distressing and disabling, are often quite amazing in their complexity and content.
Link to article from Indian Journal of Psychological Medicine.
I’ve got an article in The Observer about our tendency to perceive meaning where there is none and how this inadvertently popped up in one of the strangest episodes in the history of psychology.
The article discuss the work of psychologist Konstantīns Raudive who began to believe that he could hear the voices of the dead amid the hiss of radio static – after, it must be said, much re-recording and amplification of the samples.
He wrote a 1971 book called Breakthrough where he explained his technique which was even accompanied by a flexidisc that has lots of not very convincing examples of the dead speaking through noise. You can listen to it on YouTube if you’re so inclined.
He gained widespread media attention but subsequent scientific studies found that everyone was hearing something different amid the static, making it one of the most well-know examples of illusory meaning or pareidolia of its time.
However, the experience of illusory meaning has become widely studied for its relationship to magical thinking and hallucination but was even recently deployed as a practical tool for the assessment of dementia.
More in the full article at the link below. It’s been given a somewhat odd title but hopefully, it should be fairly self-explanatory.
Link to Observer article on illusory meaning.
The Medieval Emperor Charlemagne famously said that “to have another language is to possess a second soul” but the idea that we express different personality traits when we speak another language has usually been left as anecdote.
But The Economist takes this a step further and examines the science behind this idea – which may have more weight than we might first think.
It looks at the issue from lots of intriguing angles. Perhaps the most obvious is that bilingual speakers may have different associations with each language – for example, home and work – and so come to associate different sorts of social behaviours with each.
One of the most interesting is how different language structures might allow for different behaviours, although a grammatical explanation for why the Greeks having a tendency to interrupt during conversation is given short shrift
Is there something intrinsic to the Greek language that encourages Greeks to interrupt?…
In this case, Ms Chalari, a scholar, at least proposed a specific and plausible line of causation from grammar to personality: in Greek, the verb comes first, and it carries a lot of information, hence easy interrupting. The problem is that many unrelated languages all around the world put the verb at the beginning of sentences. Many languages all around the world are heavily inflected, encoding lots of information in verbs. It would be a striking finding if all of these unrelated languages had speakers more prone to interrupting each other. Welsh, for example, is also both verb-first and about as heavily inflected as Greek, but the Welsh are not known as pushy conversationalists.
There’s plenty more interesting analysis in the Economist article and it turns out the magazine’s language blog, called Johnson (relax Americans, it’s a reference to Samuel Johnson) is very good as a whole.
Link to ‘Do different languages confer different personalities?’
I’ve just found a fascinating article in the American Journal of Public Health on ‘America’s First Amphetamine Epidemic’ and how it compares to the current boom in meth and Ritalin use.
The first amphetamine epidemic ran from 1929–1971 and was largely based on easily available over-the-counter speed in the form of ‘pep pills’, widely abused decongestant inhalers and amphetamine-based ‘anti-depressants’.
The idea of giving speed to depressed people seems quite amazing now, especially considering its tendency to cause anxiety, addition and psychosis in the doses prescribed at the time, but it was widely promoted for this purpose.
The following is a 1945 advert for Benzedrine showing a gentleman who has just been treated for depression and is now a proud and dynamic member of society. Thanks pharmaceutical grade crank!
As an aside, when patients complained about the agitation associated with amphetamine treatment, the drug companies brought out new medications which were speed mixed with barbituates, a class of sedatives.
Not mentioned by the article is the fact that one particular brand of this upper-downer mix called Dexamyl has had a remarkable effect on history – but you’ll have to check the Wikipedia page for the details.
As it happens America is in the midst of another phase of massive stimulant popularity – in the form of street methamphetamine and prescribed Ritalin. In fact, use is at virtually the same levels as when you could buy speed over-the-counter.
By the way, the author of the article also wrote the excellent book On Speed if you want a more in-depth look at the history of the drug.
Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:
The worst neurobollocks infographics on the web – found by the neurobollocks blog.
The symptoms of cyberchondria. Only Human covers an interesting study on online hypochondria.
The Chicago Reader has a profile of razor-sharp psychologist and voice-hearer Nev Jones.
The trials and benefits of bringing up a bilingual baby in The Economist.
USA Today has an excellent piece on how elite troops who are hyper-adjusted to combat re-adjust to civilian life.
The excellent Providentia blog has an interesting historical piece on babies born in the then Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum.
Popping the hood on synaesthesia – what’s going on in there? Interesting piece on the neuroscience of synaesthesia from Wiring the Brain.
The Guardian reports on the luxury-stay addiction rehab industry in Malibu.
BREAKING – Psychologist has opinion: Atheism caused by externalised rage at ‘defective father’ according to new psychoanalytic theory of not believing in Gods reported by Religion News Service.
The way people move can influence the likelihood of an attack by a stranger. The good news, though, is that altering this can reduce the chances of being targeted.
How you move gives a lot away. Maybe too much, if the wrong person is watching. We think, for instance, that the way people walk can influence the likelihood of an attack by a stranger. But we also think that their walking style can be altered to reduce the chances of being targeted.
A small number of criminals commit most of the crimes, and the crimes they commit are spread unevenly over the population: some unfortunate individuals seem to be picked out repeatedly by those intent on violent assault. Back in the 1980s, two psychologists from New York, Betty Grayson and Morris Stein, set out to find out what criminals look for in potential victims. They filmed short clips of members of the public walking along New York’s streets, and then took those clips to a large East Coast prison. They showed the tapes to 53 violent inmates with convictions for crimes on strangers, ranging from assault to murder, and asked them how easy each person would be to attack.
The prisoners made very different judgements about these notional victims. Some were consistently rated as easier to attack, as an “easy rip-off”. There were some expected differences, in that women were rated as easier to attack than men, on average, and older people as easier targets than the young. But even among those you’d expect to be least easy to assault, the subgroup of young men, there were some individuals who over half the prisoners rated at the top end of the “ease of assault” scale (a 1, 2 or 3, on the 10 point scale).
The researchers then asked professional dancers to analyse the clips using a system called Laban movement analysis – a system used by dancers, actors and others to describe and record human movement in detail. They rated the movements of people identified as victims as subtly less coordinated than those of non-victims.
Although Professors Grayson and Stein identified movement as the critical variable in criminals’ predatory decisions, their study had the obvious flaw that their films contained lots of other potentially relevant information: the clothes the people wore, for example, or the way they held their heads. Two decades later, a research group led by Lucy Johnston of the University of Canterbury, in New Zealand, performed a more robust test of the idea.
The group used a technique called the point light walker. This is a video recording of a person made by attaching lights or reflective markers to their joints while they wear a black body suit. When played back you can see pure movement shown in the way their joints move, without being able to see any of their features or even the limbs that connect their joints.
Research with point light walkers has shown that we can read characteristics from joint motion, such as gender or mood. This makes sense, if you think for a moment of times you’ve recognised a person from a distance, long before you were able to make out their face. Using this technique, the researchers showed that even when all other information was removed, some individuals still get picked out as more likely to be victims of assault than others, meaning these judgements must be based on how they move.
Walk this way
But the most impressive part of Johnston’s investigations came next, when she asked whether it was possible to change the way we walk so as to appear less vulnerable. A first group of volunteers were filmed walking before and after doing a short self defence course. Using the point-light technique, their walking styles were rated by volunteers (not prisoners) for vulnerability. Perhaps surprisingly, the self-defence training didn’t affect the walkers’ ratings.
In a second experiment, recruits were given training in how to walk, specifically focusing on the aspects which the researchers knew affected how vulnerable they appeared: factors affecting the synchrony and energy of their movement. This led to a significant drop in all the recruits’ vulnerability ratings, which was still in place when they were re-tested a month later.
There is school of thought that the brain only exists to control movement. So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that how we move can give a lot away. It’s also not surprising that other people are able to read our movements, whether it is in judging whether we will win a music competition, or whether we are bluffing at poker. You see how someone moves before you can see their expression, hear what they are saying or smell them. Movements are the first signs of others’ thoughts, so we’ve evolved to be good (and quick) at reading them.
The point light walker research a great example of a research journey that goes from a statistical observation, through street-level investigations and the use of complex lab techniques, and then applies the hard won knowledge for good: showing how the vulnerable can take steps to reduce their appearance of vulnerability.
A new paper in Perspectives in Psychological Science looked at all the possible combinations of symptoms that could achieve a DSM-5 diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder and found there are now 636,120 ways to have PTSD.
This shows one of the many drawbacks of having a ‘check-list’ approach to classifying mental disorder.
636,120 Ways to Have Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
Perspectives in Psychological Science
November 2013 vol. 8 no. 6 651-662
Isaac R. Galatzer-Levy
Richard A. Bryant
In an attempt to capture the variety of symptoms that emerge following traumatic stress, the revision of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) criteria in the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) has expanded to include additional symptom presentations. One consequence of this expansion is that it increases the amorphous nature of the classification. Using a binomial equation to elucidate possible symptom combinations, we demonstrate that the DSM–IV criteria listed for PTSD have a high level of symptom profile heterogeneity (79,794 combinations); the changes result in an eightfold expansion in the DSM–5, to 636,120 combinations. In this article, we use the example of PTSD to discuss the limitations of DSM-based diagnostic entities for classification in research by elucidating inherent flaws that are either specific artifacts from the history of the DSM or intrinsic to the underlying logic of the DSM’s method of classification. We discuss new directions in research that can provide better information regarding both clinical and nonclinical behavioral heterogeneity in response to potentially traumatic and common stressful life events. These empirical alternatives to an a priori classification system hold promise for answering questions about why diversity occurs in response to stressors.
Many argue that psychiatric diagnoses are mostly just descriptions of syndromes: groups of signs and symptoms that tend to group together rather than the result of a single underlying disorder.
Sometimes they are better thought of a convenient classifications for testing treatments against.
When diagnoses are developed, however, there is always the temptation to continually tweak the definition to allow the inclusion or exclusion of different experiences as valid targets for treatment.
These changes are usually well-intentioned but can lead to unintended consequences – as this study shows.
Link to locked paper from Perspectives in Psychological Science.
The Atlantic has an amazing in-depth article on how Douglas Hofstadter, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Gödel, Escher, Bach, has been quietly working in the background of artificial intelligence on the deep problems of the mind.
Hofstadter’s vision of AI – as something that could help us understand the mind rather than just a way of solving difficult problems – has gone through a long period of being deeply unfashionable.
Developments in technology and statistics have allowed surprising numbers of problems to be solved by sifting huge amounts of data through relatively simple algorithms – something called machine learning.
Translation software, for example, long ago stopped trying to model language and instead just generates output from statistical associations. As you probably know from Google Translate, it’s surprisingly effective.
The Atlantic article tackles Hofstadter’s belief that, contrary to the machine learning approach, developing AI programmes can be a way of testing out ideas about the components of thought itself. This idea may be now starting to re-emerge.
The piece is also works as a sweeping look at the history of AI and the only thing I was left wondering was what Hofstadter makes of the deep learning approach which is a cross between machine learning stats and neurocognitively-inspired architecture.
It’s a satisfying thought-provoking read that rewards time and attention.
Both will tell you as much about the human mind as they do about AI.
Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:
Alcohol, Sleep, and Why You Might Re-think that Nightcap. Gaines, On Brains on why booze isn’t the best sleep promoter.
The Verge reports on the shocking state of evidence in disaster response psychology.
A neuroscience study on a patient in a coma-like vegetative state indicates he is probably paying attention to sounds – reports BBC News.
The Guardian reports that babies remember melodies heard in the womb according to a new study.
What does it feel like to hold a human brain in your hands? A beautiful piece on Oscillatory Thoughts.
Rethinking the adolescent brain. Neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore talks to The Lancet.
BPS Research Digest covers a study on the ‘cheater’s high‘.
A new psychology paper has found that, ethically, we get worn down over the course of a day. Interesting take from Science 2.0.
mind splutter has a brilliant piece: Time Out Of Mind: A linguistic analysis of 50 years of Bob Dylan lyrics.