2005-10-28 Spike activity

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:


Interactive websites can significantly help people with chronic illness (via Slashdot)

“Your brain’s sex can make you ill” says clumsy BBC headline, hiding a story about tailoring treatments by sex.

Chronic nicotine and alcohol consumption seem to have a ‘double whammy‘ on mental function.

Cool visual illusions that change on distance of viewing (via BoingBoing).

Email users and victorian letter writers share similarities in frequency of replying.

People with schizophrenia not fooled by certain optical illusions.

Wired features a story by a deaf man as he gets a cochlear implant to restore his hearing.

Cognitive Daily discuss research on why experts have better memory for their field of expertise.

The addicted brain

drugs.jpgDoes an alcoholic have a disordered brain or a flawed character? The latest issue of Nature Neuroscience contains a special focus supplement on addiction that is freely available online for the next three months.

The Focus contains the latest reviews and commentaries on the neuroscience of addiction, including discussion of the changes caused by drugs to brain circuits and synapses; the cortical and sub-cortical brain areas that mediate the reinforcing effect of drugs; how drugs affect people’s decision making, tipping the balance in their consideration of immediate rewards weighed against future costs; the genetic influences on personality traits that predispose people to addiction; as well as consideration of the social stigma of addiction and the difficulties of developing effective treatments.

Link to Focus table of contents (all free until Jan’ 06)

NewSci on creativity

newsci_20051029.jpgToday’s New Scientist is a special edition on creativity, tackling the subject from a number of angles.

Unfortunately, very little of it seems to be available online, so it might require a trip to the library or newsagents.

If you do get hold of a copy, however, you’ll find articles on the psychology and neuroscience of creativity, as well as tips from artists, scientists and researchers to increase your own creative output.

If you’re not able to get a copy, you may want to look at a couple of articles online from past issues of The Psychologist that discuss ‘Computer models of creativity’ (PDF) and ‘Creativity and innovation at work’ (PDF).

Link to New Scientist.
PDF of article ‘Computer models of creativity’.
PDF of article ‘Creativity and innovation at work’.

Criminal and forensic psychology on the web

murder_outline.jpgCrimePsychBlog has been keeping my attention over recent weeks as it keeps tabs on the world of forensic and criminal psychology.

It’s regularly updated with developments from the world of forensic cognitive science, and with snippets from the mainstream news that has a criminal psychology angle.

Recent posts include an account of false memory researcher Elizabeth Loftus taking the stand in a recent murder trial, the controversy over whether hypnosis can improve witnesses’ memory and a pointer to an article on ‘What makes terrorists tick?‘.

Link to CrimePsychBlog.

Perceptual distortions are common in population

pretty_colours.jpgResearchers from Cardiff University report that anomalies of sensation and perception are common in the general population, with more than 1 in 10 reporting higher levels than the average of patients diagnosed with psychosis.

The research project was inspired by a need for a comprehensive measure of anomalous sensory experience and perceptual distortion, as the majority of existing measures are derived from psychiatric assessment techniques.

Consequently, they often focus on specific forms of perceptual distortion, such as ‘visions’ or ‘voices’, and do not always cover other types of anomalous experience.

To tackle this problem the researchers designed, tested and validated, a new measure of anomalous perceptual experience that specifically uses non-clinical language to ask about a wide range of phenomena, including unusual touch sensations, changes in time perception and being unable to distinguish one sensation from another.

Sensory distortions are traditionally associated with mental or neurological illness, although recent work is now suggesting that unusual experiences are distributed throughout the population (this is known as the ‘continuum model of psychosis’).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, when patients with psychosis completed the measure high levels of unusual experience were reported.

It is not clear, however, why some people with high levels of unusual experiences become distressed and impaired by their experiences, often leading to a diagnosis of mental illness, while others are able to function and remain untroubled by them.

One possibility is that there might be different sources for different types of unusual experience. When the types of experiences reported by healthy individuals in the study were analysed for how they clustered together, three themes emerged.

One cluster was associated with relatively benign smell and taste experiences, another with experiences potentially related to temporal lobe disturbance and another with experiences traditionally linked to psychosis.

This suggests that the distribution of perceptual distortions found in the population may be driven by a number of underlying processes, all which might contribute to producing strange experiences in the individual.

The research is published as an open-access paper in the journal Schizophrenia Bulletin.

Disclaimer: This paper is from my own research group.