Fading faces

face_blur.jpgWired Magazine has an article on a curious condition known as prosopagnosia where affected individuals cannot recognise people by their faces, despite being able to recognise and distinguish everyday objects with little trouble.

Until recently, it was thought that the condition only arose after brain injury – usually because of damage to an area of the brain known as the fusiform gyrus. This area is known to be heavily involved in face recognition.

It has more recently been reported as an inherited form, suggesting that some people are simply born with particularly bad face recognition skills.

The article looks at the work of neuropsychologist Dr Bradley Duchaine who is investigating the psychology and neuroscience of face recognition impairment, and discusses the experience of several people who have the condition.

One of the people is Bill Choisser, who created ‘Face Blind!‘, one of the first and longest-running prosopagnosia websites on the net.

A particularly striking feature of his site is a self-published book which is an in-depth discussion of the condition and its effects.

Link to Wired article ‘Face Blind’.
Link to Bradley Duchaine’s page with copies of his scientific papers.
Link to Bill Choisser’s website on prosopagnosia.

How to be funny

laugh_smile.jpgThere’s an interesting (and actually quite funny) article from The Telegraph on the psychology of humour, written by the comedians Jimmy Carr and Lucy Greeves.

Rather than examining the research on the psychology of humour, it looks at how comedians view jokes and joke telling, relating it both to professional comedy and informal social jokes among friends.

For those wanting a view from the science of humour, however, there’s more on the humour research page.

Link to ‘How to be Funny’ from The Telegraph (via 3Quarks).
Link to Humour Research Page.

Synapse 10 arrives

brain mould_image.jpgIssue 10 of psychology and neuroscience writing carnival The Synapse has just arrived on Neurocritic.

This edition has a distinct Halloween theme with an article on the neuroscience of fear and disgust, and instructions on how to make a realistic edible brain (pictured on the right).

Apart from the spookier articles, there’s also a collection of recent writing on everything from obsessive-compulsive disorder in Macbeth, to the role of peptides in neural transport.

Link to Issue 10 of The Synapse.

Why so many US psychiatric casualties in Iraq?

HM3_2545_iraq_war_001.jpgTwo studies published this year have highlighted a stark difference in the level of psychiatric casualties between British and American troops involved in the Iraq war.

A study in the Lancet reported that only four percent of British troops in Iraq reach criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – a trauma related mental illness.

In contrast, approximately ten to twenty percent of US troops are diagnosable with the condition, according to studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine and the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In an editorial for JAMA, psychiatrists Matthew Hotopf and Simon Wessely suggest a number of reasons for why this might be the case.

The first is that US troops may be involved in more dangerous combat duty and are therefore more likely to be traumatised.

However, they suggest other factors are also likely to be important.

US tours of duty are typically for 1 year, whereas UK tours are for 6 months. This means any combat-duty-related psychological stresses are likely to be extended in US personnel.

Further factors relate to the differences in the populations of the US and UK forces:

…the groups described in the US studies were demographically different from those described here. The US forces deployed to Iraq in both studies were younger, of lower rank, and contained more reservists than our UK sample. While less than 10% of the US sample had previous experience of deployment, more than two-thirds of the UK service personnel from both cohorts had been on previous deployments in a range of settings, including both war-fighting and peacekeeping duties. They therefore had much more experience of the stresses of military deployments, and might have been more resilient to these stresses.

In other words, US forces in Iraq are more likely to be made up of younger, non-professional soldiers, on longer tours of duty, with less combat experience, in more dangerous areas, when compared to their their UK counterparts – potentially making them more vulnerable to mental illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Link to abstract of Lancet study on mental health of UK troops in Iraq.
Link to JAMA study on mental health of US troops in Iraq.
Link to NEJM study on mental health of US troops in Iraq.
Link to US National Center for PTSD Iraq War information page.

‘Dying to be thin’ special report on eating disorders

Independent_Cover_2006-10-29.jpgThe cover story on yesterday’s The Independent on Sunday had a special report on eating disorders. The report is in several sections and covers the rising prevalence of eating disorders and the experience of people who have anorexia or bulimia.

Two main reports describe the characteristics of common eating disorders and discuss the possible contributory factors, including the growing concern over online ‘pro-ana‘ or pro-anorexia communities.

It also includes two articles on ‘Living with Anorexia‘ and ‘Living with Bulimia‘ where people who have experienced eating disorders for themselves recount the effect on their lives.

This issue has been in the media recently after Madrid fashion week banned unhealthily thin models from their catwalks and Prof Janet Treasure, head of the eating disorders service at the Institute of Psychiatry, and 40 health professional colleagues, wrote to the British Fashion Council asking them to do the same.

Link to ‘Dying to be thin: a special IoS investigation’.
Link to ‘Why one in 100 young women suffer from eating disorders’.
Link to ‘Living with Anorexia’.
Link to ‘Living with Bulimia’.

Mechanical brain sculptures

Introspection2001_lewis_tardy.jpgNeurofuture is back with a bang after a late-summer sabbatical and has alerted me to some wonderful mechanical brain sculptures by artist Lewis Tardy.

Tardy has created a range of mechanical people and beasts all rendered as if they were powered by complex clockwork and hydraulics.

Some of these include cut-away heads, such as the one featured, with the thinking mechanisms exposed for the world to inspect.

Link to ‘Mechanical brains’ on Neurofuture.
Link to Lewis Tardy’s website.