Bonkersfest!

banana_white_bg.jpgCamberwell Green in London will be home to Bonkersfest! on Saturday 3rd June as mental health agitators and arts collective Creative Routes host a festival that embraces every aspect of the human mind.

The festival will be kicked off by the Mayor of Southwark and the Southwark Town Crier by the firing of a banana laden cannon, while DJs, bands, artists, performers and dancers will entertain the crowds.

Also included in the line-up is a Big Top, caberet café, cinema, talking lamposts and whispering trees, all in the spirit of bringing madness to the masses.

Camberwell is a significant location because it is home to the Maudsley Hospital, the spiritual home of British psychiatry and one of the world’s leading centres for psychiatric training and research. It is also within the same NHS Trust as the Bethlem Royal Hospital – the world’s oldest psychiatric hospital, founded in 1247.

The festival aims to promote an alternative to the psychiatric view, suggesting that unusual experiences and distressing emotions are part of life’s rich tapestry rather than signs of disease or illness.

Creative Routes is run by people who have experience of the mental health system and has promoted healthier happier lives through successful and innovative arts projects and collaborations. Bonkersfest! will be one of their biggest events to date.

See you there!

Link to Bonkersfest! website.

Destructive impact

sciencenews_20060527.jpgThis week’s Science News has a cover article on the psychology, neuroscience and genetics of how violence and anti-social behaviour develops in young people.

The article examines how human biology and the influence of family and social life interact to increase the chances of violence and bullying in some, while leaving others able to control their actions despite being subject to hostile experiences.

Henry’s story highlights a theme that is attracting increasing scientific attention: Like all children, chronic troublemakers and hell-raisers respond to a shifting mix of social and biological influences as they grow. Some developmental roads arc relentlessly toward brutality and tragedy. Others, like Henry’s, plunge into a dark place before heading into the light of adjustment.

Developmentally minded researchers are now beginning to map out violence-prone paths in hopes of creating better family and school interventions. New evidence indicates that a gene variant inherited by some people influences brain development in ways that foster impulsive violence, but only in combination with environmental hardships. Other studies explore how family and peer interactions build on a child’s makeup to promote delinquency. Separate work examines ways to counteract the malign effects of bullying rituals and other types of coercion in schools.

“Violence is such a complicated issue,” Twemlow says. “There’s always a set of preconditions to violent behavior and never just one cause.”

Science News have kindly made the full article freely available online.

Link to ‘Destructive Impact’ from Science News.

Understanding consciousness easier than we think

touching_the_sun.jpgPhilosopher Alex Byrne writes about the problem of consciousness in the Boston Review. Against the current trend of labelling it ‘the hard problem’, Byrne argues that it may be easier to understand than we think.

Byrne does a fantastic job of touring us through some of the classic problems and thinkers in the area, using Thomas Nagel’s famous article on consciousness ‘What is it like to be a bat?‘ as a starting point.

The problem centres around the link between our own subjective conscious experience and the biological function of the brain, and whether it is possible to explain one in terms of the other.

You’d be hard pressed to find a better introduction to the area, and Byrne does a great job of telling an engaging story.

Link to article ‘What mind-body problem?’ (via 3QuarksDaily).
Link to Alex Byrne’s webpage (with publications online).

Wanted: eating disorder experts for Wikipedia

white_scales.jpgI’ve spent most of the last caffeine-fuelled 24 hours re-writing the Wikipedia page on anorexia nervosa which now seems to be in better shape than it was. It needs some well qualified stewards to keep an eye on it though, could this be you?

If you are a clinician, researcher or enthusiastic student with an interest in anorexia, this page could do with your input.

Otherwise, the bulimia nervosa article is in urgent need of attention, which is in a similarly poor state as the anorexia article was.

Wikipedia is currently one of the most visited sites on the internet, meaning millions of people get their information from it. The need for free, high-quality, accurate information is essential.

You could contribute your expertise to the world. Eating disorders have the highest mortality of any psychiatric disorder, so your time could literally save lives.

Unlike other forms of scientific writing, Wikipedia articles are a process rather than a product. The best pages have well-informed, open-minded and diplomatic ‘regulars’ who maintain the article in good shape, steer other contributors into best practice, and back up the information with references to academic studies.

Often this means challenging your own pre-conceptions and point-of-view (no matter how much you know) and getting a broad understanding of the subject, so the article can reflect this rounded approach.

It is an incredible learning experience, but can also be a little frustrating at times, as you meet people with a wide variety of agendas.

I’ll be keeping an eye on the anorexia article, but it also needs adopting by some specialists in the field, as I’m not an eating disorders specialist by any means.

If you’re intending to ‘adopt’ an article, it’s good practice to say hello on the discussion page and discuss your intentions as you go, and if you’ve never edited a Wikipedia page before, now’s your chance to learn.

Link to Wikipedia page on anorexia nervosa.
Link to Wikipedia page on bulimia nervosa.

Eric Kandel talks memory to Scientific American

eric_kandel.jpgNobel prize winning neuroscientist Eric Kandel is featured on Scientific American’s weekly podcast where he discusses his past and current work and his speculations for the future of brain research.

Kandel has just published his autobiography In Search of Memory (ISBN 0393058638) which has got positive reviews in both the mainstream press and scientific journals.

He was also recently interviewed for Science and the City, where you can also get audio and video and a Q&A session with Kandel, and read Chapter 4 of his book.

Link to Scientific American podcast page.
mp3 of Scientific American interview.

Why sex matters for neuroscience

man_woman_sign.jpgNeuroscientist Larry Cahill has written an in-depth review article for Nature Reviews Neuroscience arguing that understanding the difference between men and women is essential if we are to fully comprehend brain function and behaviour.

Traditionally, research in this area focused largely on sex behaviour, and it has only been during the last decade when the sex differences have been found in other areas.

Cahill notes that this includes “emotion, memory, vision, hearing, processing faces, pain perception, navigation, neurotransmitter levels, stress hormone action on the brain and disease states. Even otoacoustic emissions (audible ‘clicks’ made by the inner ear) differ reliably between the sexes, being both louder and more frequent in female than male adults, children and infants”.

The review examines the increasing amount of research in this area, and dismisses some myths regarding sex differences, including the myth that sex differences are small and insigificant, and that they can largely be explained by the action of sex hormones (such as oestrogen or testosterone) on the brain.

The article is available online as an open-access paper.

Link to Cahill’s article in Nature Reviews Neuroscience.