The neuroscience of early childhood

tree_bg_baby.jpgOne I missed the other week – a fantastic edition of the Australian All in the Mind on Early Childhood and the Developing Brain.

Child neuropsychology is now becoming an increasingly important area as the once neglected field is seen as increasingly important both to understand children themselves, and how adult abilities and disorders develop.

This edition of All in the Mind looks at how neuroscientists are uncovering the neurobiological changes that take place during parental care, and how the brain can be markedly altered by abuse or neglect during the early years.

The programme takes a particularly in-depth look at research on children who were largely abandoned in Romanian orphanages during the communist era and had virtually no human contact for the first four years of their life.

Both their social and cognitive development was markedly impaired, suggested that love and attention is needed both for healthy emotional and intellectual development.

Link to transcript and audio of ‘Early Childhood and the Developing Brain’.

Freudian slips and slippers

freudian_slip.jpgFashion designer Spicy Marigold has created this alluring ‘Freudian Slip‘ for the beautiful Cassandra in your life.

This is a silk slip layered with a purposely weathered image of Freud holding (of course) a cigar. Wearable for out and about under (or over!) layers, it’d also be nice for sleep, lounging about on the (analytical) couch. Floaty and very soft.

And if that’s not your thing, you could do far worse than celebrating Freud’s 150th birthday by putting your feet up in a pair of Freudian Slippers.

Both items are available to order over the internet.

Link to Spicy Marigold’s Freudian Slip (via BB).
Link to Freudian Slippers.

Birds of a feather

grey_cats.jpgPsychiatric Times has a fascinating article on people who hoard animals – a type of compulsive hoarding.

The report is from the The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium – an professional association of researchers and clinicians who aim to better understand the condition.

A recent news report describes the sort of behaviour the association is aiming to explain:

A few years back the focus was on Marilyn Barletta, Petaluma’s so-called ‘cat woman’ who was found to have been keeping 196 cats in her home. In the past week, also in Petaluma, nearly 1,000 rats were discovered in filthy conditions in the home of Roger Dier.

And Friday, in South San Francisco, a man with a soft spot for bunnies was reported to the local humane society. When animal welfare workers arrived at his home, they discovered 80 rabbits chewing on day-old bagels and cauliflower.

The Psychiatric Times article discusses the current explanations for animal hoarding, which are a wide and varied list.

They include the idea that animal hoarders have delusional beliefs about special abilities to communicate with animals, that hoarding is an early sign of dementia, that animals may be collected for sexual gratification, that the condition may be a form of addiction and that hoarding is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Needless to say, the actual behaviour may be motivated by a wide range of factors, and one theory is not meant to explain everyone who hoards animals.

Link to article ‘People Who Hoard Animals’ (via World of Psychology).
Link to The Hoarding of Animals Research Consortium webpage.

The politics of expedience

purple_pills.jpgHarvard Magazine has an article on the increasing willingness of psychiatrists to prescribe medication for distressing but relatively common life problems and whether this is blurring the boundaries between mental illness and mental health.

Using an ever-expanding arsenal of neurochemical drugs, physicians now treat variants of mood and temperament that previous generations viewed as an inescapable part of life. In an earlier era, James’s fears might have forced him to change professions. Today, the exceptionally shy and the overly anxious, the hyperactive and the chronically unhappy can seek relief from their suffering though medical intervention. And the parameters of what constitutes a “mental disorder” have swelled. An estimated 22 million Americans currently take psychotropic medications—most for relatively mild conditions.

This widespread embrace of biological remedies to life’s problems raises troubling questions for psychiatry. Paradoxically, even though psychopharmaceutical sales have soared in the United States during the past 20 years, only half of those with severe disorders receive adequate treatment. Clinicians and researchers disagree over what the priorities of the field should be and whom they should count as mentally ill. Are we over-treating the normal at the expense of the truly disturbed? Can we adequately distinguish illness from idiosyncrasy, disease from discontent? And are we allowing pharmaceutical companies and insurers to define the boundary between illness and health?

Freud famously made a distinction between unhappiness and mental illness, and wanted his therapy to transform “hysterical misery into common unhappiness”.

As with many medical treatments (such as plastic surgery), mind-altering drugs are now being used on those without previously recognisable medical problems in an attempt to improve quality of life.

So-called ‘smart drugs’, ‘cognitive enhancers’ and the use of psychiatric drugs to help with life stresses are examples of something psychiatrist Peter Kramer has called “cosmetic pharmacology”.

The Harvard Magazine article looks at whether this trend is actually negatively affecting the understanding and treatment of major mental illness, and warping the diagnostic systems upon which psychiatry relies.

Link to article ‘Psychiatry by Prescription’ via (3Quarks).

Alternate neuroscience writing carnival

white_keyboard.jpgEncephalon is neuroscience carnival to which anyone can submit their online writing to be featured in the forthcoming edition.

It will run on alternate weeks to Synapse, so there should be two fascinating digests of mind and brain writing for your viewing pleasure.

The first edition of Encepahlon is due to appear on the Neurophilosopher’s Blog on Monday.

Check out the Encephalon webpage for details of how to submit your writing.