Mental health first aid

MHFA_logo_small.gifWhile many people will get first aid training through school, college or work, few will be taught what to do when they encounter someone who is experiencing severe mental illness and needs help.

An Australian campaign is now trying to remedy the situation by running mental health first aid courses that teaches people the skills they need in an emergency situation with someone who is, for example, suicidal or suffering from severe psychosis.

The campaign also has a website with information and advice so you can educate yourself, wherever you live, so you can help people in crises.

The course manual is online as a pdf file and there’s also some brief advice which is suitable for all situations in which someone might have mental health difficulties.

Apparently, the campaign is going to be launched world-wide, so hopefully courses will be coming to a location near you.

Link to Mental Health First Aid website.

Pamela Anderson and the hindu goddesses

statue_ankor.jpgThere’s a curious letter in today’s New Scientist that takes issue with a recent criticism of V.S. Ramachandran’s theory of the neuroscience of art.

The criticism attacks Ramachandran’s theory on the basis that it fails to distinguish between images of big-breasted women such as Hindu statues of goddesses and actual big-breasted women such as Pamela Anderson.

In contrast, the letter to New Scientist says that the comparison is fair because Anderson’s image “is deliberately created using the specific techniques of plastic surgery, diet, exercise, make-up, clothing and photography”.

Hopefully, the world of neuroaesthetics will now be at peace over this particular issue.

Link to letter in New Scientist.

Cognitive neuroscience of rock!

guitar_eye_portrait.jpgWired has a brief interview with Daniel Levitin, ex-rock music producer and current Professor of psychology who is researching the neuroscience of musicians and music perception.

Levitin has just written a book entitled This is Your Brain on Music that describes his own take on how the mind and brain understand music, both as listeners, and as composers and performers.

The book has a flash-heavy website that contains several excerpts and interactive examples as both a preview and an accompaniment.

Levitin’s book comes at a time when there’s a huge upsurge in interest in understanding the neuroscience of music.

For example, there are now labs focusing on music and neuroimaging and the neuropsychology of music.

There’s even a recent academic book on the subject: The Cognitive Neuroscience of Music.

Link to Wired interview with Professor Daniel Levitin.
Link to website for This is Your Brain on Music.

The Nature of Belief

sand_through_hands.jpgABC Radio’s All in the Mind recently hosted a debate for Australian National Science Week on the ‘nature of belief’ where a neuropsychologist, a minister and a science writer got together to discuss one of the most tricky problems in psychology.

Although we use the term belief in everyday life with little problems, it is actually incredibly hard to define with some schools of thought thinking it will eventually be discarded as useless, like other abandoned theories such the four humours theory of medicine.

This is an important issue, as researchers are now working on the neuropsychology of delusions, often described as pathological beliefs, that can occur as part of psychosis after mental illness or brain injury.

Professor Max Coltheart, one of the panel members in the debate, is trying to do exactly this as part of the Macquarie University belief formation research project.

The debate tackles what it means to believe something, as well as issue surrounding why we believe things, and what evidence justifies a belief.

When asked the now classic question “what do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?” Coltheart gives the wry but accurate answer “everything”.

The show has a half hour edited version, but has also put the whole hour and 20 minutes debate online for those wanting the full story.

Link to All in the Mind webpage with audio downloads of debate.

New source of online psychology news

April cover.JPGThe latest news reports of The Psychologist magazine now appear online first, freely available for anyone to read.

Recent entries include a report on the Royal Institution debate: “What’s the worst ever idea on the mind?”; a discussion of whether increased rates of autism are all down to changes in diagnosis; and – is it the lack of psychologists that makes the Pacific island of Vanuatu the happiest place on earth?

Combined with all its full-length articles older than 6 months also being freely available to view, The Psychologist website now offers a veritable feast of material for anyone interested in psychology (BPS members have full access to all articles).

Link to The Psychologist magazine.

Disclaimer: I work for The Psychologist magazine.

Star struck

jessica_simpson_teen_choice.jpgThe Psychologist has just released an engaging open-access article on the psychology of celebrity worship [pdf] that attempts to explain why people spend time following the lives of celebrities and what benefits this attraction brings.

In adolescence, when celebrity fandom often peaks, research has suggested that celebrities might function as part of an extended social network.

In effect, these are pseudo-friendships that add to the existing social circle and provide opportunities for discussion, interest or intrigue.

However, there is now an increasing amount of research on people who take their fandom further than casual interest.

‘Celebrity worship’ is when someone spends a great deal of time thinking about a certain celebrity. Although not necessarily pathological, this level of intense interest has been correlated with a number of psychological disadvantages.

One finding is that people who worship celebrities for ‘intense-personal’ reasons (rather than just for the entertainment value) are likely to score badly on measures of cognitive flexibility – the ability to change strategy and switch ideas when problem solving.

It is unlikely that interest in Jessica Simpson affects your ability to reason (although sometimes I wonder), but perhaps those with poor cognitive flexibility are more likely to fixate on celebrities as a way of tackling minor difficulties with boredom or initiating social interaction.

It seems this interest can tip over into disorder for some people, leading to stalking or perhaps even de Clerambault’s syndrome – a psychotic disorder where the affected person has a delusion that the celebrity is in love with them.

The article is written by Drs David Giles and John Maltby, both of whom have conducted extensive research into ‘parasocial’ relationships with celebrities.

Although fascinating in itself, especially as we live in an increasingly celebrity-dominated media, this research has obvious implications understanding the psychology of obsession, stalking and related criminal behaviour.

pdf of article ‘Praying at the altar of the stars’.